I swore I would never drink like that again. My head pounded, and my mouth felt like the whole Viet Cong army had camped in it overnight. I managed to get out of bed after three previously futile attempts. I looked around at my sorry living conditions. An efficiency apartment, the owner had billed it. The space was one large room with a couple of partitions tossed together on either side. One partition hid a kitchen and postage stamp dining area, the other a dressing room, and bath. The center portion served as both living and bedrooms. A neat trick managed by a folding sofa bed. It would have been a back killer had it not been for the eight-inch thick air mattress atop it. The air mattress and a couple of plastic tables where the only things that belonged to me.
I stared into my bloodshot eyes, in the permanently fogged mirror. Mornings like that, I thanked god for the fog. I stripped off my few remaining clothes to step into the shower. I spent a long time under the water. The water made only a small difference but every little bit helped, the orange juice and aspirin did a little more. Coffee, followed by a day old donut seemed to raise me to about fifty percent of normal. Hell, normal wasn't all that much.
I looked about the one large room. I had called it home for the previous two months. It was still filled with cardboard boxes. Most had never been opened. I planned to open them before I tossed them in the dumpster. It would at least be nice to know what I was tossing out. I promised myself that I would do just that the next day.
That day was a day of rest. The next I had meetings with lawyers all morning. Maybe in the afternoon I could get to the boxes. I really needed to make more space in my little room. After my coffee and donut, I dressed for the day. Since it wasn't a work day, I dressed in army fatigue pants and a navy blue cotton thermal shirt. I covered the thermal with a white dress shirt. A walking contradiction, that was me, mostly fiction.
The knock startled me. I didn't know anyone in the building. "It must be a neighbor," I thought. Knocking on my door was a waste of time, unless they wanted to borrow a cup of cold air. That was about the only thing in my refrigerator. Nonetheless I opened the door. I should have looked through the spy hole first. Then again, why? The building was filled with eighty-year old widows. I had a hell of a time convincing the owner to rent me the apartment. At the time, I was only thirty.
"Hi," the attractive young woman said, "My name is Jennifer, I just moved in two doors down." She waited for me to respond. I couldn't think of anything to say. Not only was I hung over, I was shocked to see a woman without a walker.
"Could I borrow your phone? Mine hasn't been connected yet." she said. When I still didn't respond instantly she went on, "It is a local call."
I opened the door wider. "Sure you can use the phone. You just surprised me." I said it stupidly.
"Thanks," she said it as she passed. "I have to call my parents. They are expecting me for lunch."
I left her alone with the phone while I returned to the kitchen for more coffee. I didn't want her to think I was eavesdropping, even though I heard every word she said. I listened to her talking, presumably to her mom for a few minutes. When she hung up, I walked back into the room.
"Would you like a cup of coffee. It is about the only thing I have to offer." I said it partly to make up for my rudeness and partly because I wanted her to stay.
"No thanks, I have to run. I appreciate the use of your phone though." She said that as she turned to the door.
"Anytime," I replied. After she had gone, my mind processed her for storage. Jennifer was probably twenty-five or so, about five eight or nine, tall for a woman. She was thin with almost the shape of a pencil. Still, it had been a long time between women for me. I put her onto the temporary A list.
Other than that interruption, and a couple of trips out for hamburgers, I spent the day watching football on my portable color TV. It was my one and only luxury. That night I slept the sleep reserved for people with the last dregs of a hangover. I slept hard, so hard that I never even heard the sirens. Living in an older apartment building in those days, meant living downtown. In my case, it meant living in the same block as the police and fire stations. I had taken the place for the extra security.
The owner boasted that there had never been a break-in at his building. What he didn't tell me was that the sirens blasted almost continuously some nights. On a full moon weekend, it was almost impossible to sleep. Thank God, I had only lived through one of them at that point.
Unfortunately the previous weekend had been it. A full moon which lasted until New Year's day, which was on Tuesday. Until I died from exhaustion, I had listened to sirens for four straight days.
I awoke the next day, just in time for a quick shower before rushing off to the lawyer's office. My lawyer, when I needed one, was John Gilmore. That day I met with Edward Simpkins, who was my wife's lawyer. Why she thought she needed a lawyer was beyond me. Simpkins kept me waiting in the reception room for twenty minutes. I recognized it as a ploy. One intended to humble me.
I stood, walked to the receptionist, then said, "I am sorry but I have to leave. Please have Mr. Simpkins call me for another appointment." I turned before she could answer.
I was almost out the door when she hastily said, "Mr. Simpkins can see you now."
I was tempted to just keep on going. I probably would have, if I thought I could have avoided returning the next week. Instead I turned to face the receptionist. "You sure? If Simpkins is all that busy, I can come back another day."
"No, he is ready for you. Just walk this way please."
There was no way that I was ever going to be able to walk the way she did. She moved with the grace of a young woman who wanted to flaunt her almost perfect body. I trudged along behind. She led me into a conference room. It was a small conference room with a table for six. My wife Maggie and a tall thin man were seated at the table. The man stood when I entered. He didn't extend his hand, so I didn't either.
"Mr. Rollins?" he asked.
"That would be me," I said it with as much sarcasm as I could manage.
"Yes, well Mr. Rollins you know why we are here?" he asked.
"I think so, but why don't you tell me anyway."
He ignored the heavy sarcasm. I don't know whether it was to avoid an argument, or just so that he could show off for Maggie.
"Well yes, we are here to sign the final divorce degree. Oh yes, we are also here to make the final division of the property."
"Let's not forget the property," I said. I was being as nasty as I could.
"Ronnie, why don't you try to at least be civil." Maggie said.
"Why should I? I have nothing to gain by civility. What is done is done. You can't possibly get more now. So, just in case you missed my meaning, you and the fancy boy here can just kiss my hillbilly ass." As always Maggie had pushed me over the edge.
"I don't think there is any need for that kind of language," Simpkins said.
"Let me explain again, I am not here to win any popularity contest. If you want me to leave because of my language, just say so. I will be happy to get out right now. The air in here is filled with cheap perfume."
"If it's cheap, it isn't mine," Maggie said with a cool smile. I knew she was right. There was nothing cheap about Maggie.
"Mr. Rollins, why don't you just read the papers and sign them," Simpkins suggested. He was trying to play tough for Maggie. Men were always trying to impress Maggie.
I accepted the papers. I read the first couple of pages quickly. It was all in a foreign language, legal double talk. Page three was the only one I cared about. It contained the division of assets. Maggie got the new car, I got the ten-year old Toyota land cruiser. Maggie got the house, I got the bank accounts, not even close to a fair trade. Maggie got the furniture, I got the boxes stacked in my apartment. The few credit card debts we had, were split between us. Most of the debt had been Maggie's anyway. Maggie got the mine, I got the shaft. Even with all that, I got the better deal. I got the hell away from Maggie.
I hadn't always felt that way. I had loved her when we first married. At that time she hadn't been a drunk or an adulteress. Those things took a couple of years to happen. Don't let anyone tell you that a woman strays because she isn't getting it at home. That is bullshit.
Maggie didn't want to get it at home. She wanted to get it from her boss. You guessed it, the honorable Eddie Simpkins. He probably already had my garage office converted to his home office. I thought for a minute about not signing the papers. That thought only lasted a minute. Getting the two of them off my ass was worth every penny.
I didn't return home until after lunch. Lunch most days was no more than a hot dog at a local diner. That day was no exception. I celebrated by having a coke instead of iced tea. Lucille the black waitress said, "What in the world has gotten into you lately Mr. Rollins? You been actin' mighty mean."
"I'm sorry, did I forget to leave you a tip again?" I asked jokingly.
"You knows damned well you wouldn't get out without leaving' me something. I mean you ain't been laughing and joking with Miss Nomie. That ain't like you." she said.
"I'm sorry, I signed my divorce today. It kinda pissed me off a little. You know?"
"I ain't never been married, but I knows what you mean. Nobody wants to feel like a failure" she said.
"I guess that's it. It's a pretty sorry man that can't please one little whore." I said it with a smile.
"That's better. Now you go back and speak to Miss Nomie. She be mighty hurt you leave without speakin' to her again."
I walked through the kitchen door and found Miss Nomie with a long thin wooden paddle in her hand. "What in the world you going to do with that Miss Nomie?" I asked.
"I'm gonna shove it up your sorry ass, if you ignore me one more time. Where you been keeping yourself?" The very large, very black woman asked it with a smile almost as large as her face.
"Here and there, you know how it is with us popular guys." I said.
"Bullshit, if you was a popular guy, you wouldn't eat half you meals in my café alone. You are a Liar but you are a good customer."
"I thought that was the same thing," I said.
"I guess it is at that," she replied.
"I just stopped in to say hi. I got to be getting' back to the office."
"What office. I heard that no good wife of yours got it in the divorce."
"She did, but I still got to work. I've been working' out of my apartment."
"Well you go on back to work then. You disturbin' my cookin' anyway."
I didn't reply I turned to leave. I made it out the door without running into anyone I knew. All the regulars at the Sanitary Café spoke to each other. They also knew everything about every other regular. A nosier bunch could only be found at the retirement home down the street. The Sanitary was the only truly integrated place on earth. Half the customers were black and half were white. At the Sanitary, if you were white you better have thick skin. I have very thick skin.
The atmosphere might be lousy, but the food was wonderful. It was mostly heavy with animal fat, but damn it tasted good. You exchanged a good meal for five years of your life.
Nomie always said, "Honey, that five years comes off the back end."
When I finally made it back to the apartment, I found the message light on my new answering machine blinking. I punched the button and heard, "Ron, this is Norma. Am I ever going to get that piece on the Benson Festival. I needed it yesterday. By the way, are you available to cover a Dog show for me this weekend."
"Damn," I thought. "Thousand word articles for magazines were a hell of a way for a serious writer to make a living." I was a serious writer, even if my two novels had been rejected by about every publisher in the western world. Meanwhile, I did pretty well writing humor pieces for magazines like the Southerner. They didn't pay all that well, but I cranked out pieces for a lot more than just the one magazine.
Novels on the other hand took months to write. They so far had been a total waste of my time. I wrote the occasional mystery short story for true detective and the like. They paid better, but still barely enough to make them worthwhile. I sat down with my new fangled word processor. I inserted the disk marked Benson. I wrote a couple of quick paragraphs then printed it out. The printer was slow and noisy, but it did better than I could have done. When the pages were completed, I unfolded them, tore them apart then packaged them to ship to the Southerner. I then called Norma with a clear conscience.
"Norma, Ron, I just finished your piece on Benson's Mule Festival. I am headed to the post office as soon as we hang up. Where is the dog show? How much do you want? and most important, what are you paying?" I asked it without a break.
"Damn good to talk to you too." Norma said it in a cracking voice. "The show is in Greensboro. It runs through Sunday. I don't really care who wins. I want a piece on the camper lifestyle. You know, traveling with a couple of dogs in a tin can, that kind of thing. Give me a couple of thousand words. I'll give you five hundred for it." she said.
"Hell you gave me three hundred for the Benson thing, it was only one thousand."
"Sure, but this one is in your back yard. Besides you can do two thousand as easy as one." There was dead air for a couple of seconds. "By the way, how do you like that new computer?" she asked.
"What this glorified typewriter? I can't believe you talked me into spending five hundred bucks on this piece of cap."
"Well at least it can spell."
"No much," I countered.
I just got one exactly like it. If you want, you can mail me the disk."
"Like hell, it is bad enough I have to mail you a copy. If that thing got lost in the mail, it would be the only copy. I would have to start from square one."
"I know, these things have a long way to go," Norma said.
"You sure got that right. The only good thing about them, is that you can make corrections without striking over the word. The print out at least doesn't have a lot of X'd out words."
"You just wait, one day every office in the country will have one," Norma said.
"Sure and a chicken in every pot." I replied sarcastically.
"Okay smart ass, you going to do the dog show for me.?" she asked.
"Why not, I need the money."
"I want it by a week from Friday, no excuses," Norma said.
"Hey, my writing may be cap., but it is always on time." I replied. I was hurt.
"I know love, I just have to say that to all our writers."
"You said it, so now let's forget it." I said it but not nearly as angrily as I wanted.
"How about you come to Atlanta this next week?."
"Norma, I am not about to let you pay me off in ass. I want real money." I said it with a laugh.
"Ron, you know I can't balance the budget, if you keep insisting on cash." she returned my laugh. "Damn, I got to run, my husband just walked in." She said it while breaking the connection. I had no idea at that time whether she was married or not.
I actually kept my word, I drove straight to the post office ten blocks away. After my short trip, I was walking down the hall toward my apartment when a door opened. "Remember me," the thin redhead said as she stepped into the hall.
"Sure, Jennifer, right?" I asked.
"Yes, I need another favor." She stated that with a coy smile.
"Sure come on in, the phone is where you left it." I said it as we walked toward my apartment.
"Not the phone this time, I need to leave a package with you."
"Why," I asked. I had long ago stopped agreeing to favors, before I knew the extent of the services required.
"I have to take off for a couple of days. Business, anyway a friend of mine is going to be coming for the package. I am going to leave a note on my door. That is if you agree to keep it for me."
"When is your friend coming? I have to go to Greensboro tomorrow."
"Don't worry Pat will be here tonight. If she isn't, don't worry she will catch up with you sometime." I hadn't agreed so she stood waiting.
"One more question, What exactly is the package. I mean I am not delivering dope, or live animals am I?"
Jennifer giggled, "No, nothing like that. It is just a book, I promised to loan her. You can look, if you want." she said offering me a paper bag. I opened the bag and found inside a hard cover romance novel. It was exactly what she said it would be.
"Sure, I'll take care of it for you," I finally agreed.
"You certainly are a suspicious man," Jennifer said.
"That's what my ex said, when I caught her sleeping with her boss."
"I guess that would make you suspicious. Don't worry, I'm not sleeping with my boss." She said it with that coy smile of hers.
"I guess that's a good thing." I took the book to my apartment. Once inside I began working on the last two pages of a short story I was working on for a detective magazine. I had already rewritten the ending twice. I still couldn't get it to end cleanly.
I didn't realize how long I had been working on the story, until I glanced out the window. The sun was going down. I looked at my watch to make sure the sun was on schedule. Sure enough it was five thirty five.
I pronounced the story complete at six. It was printing, while I heated a TV dinner in the oven. I knew that one day those things would change. They hadn't changed much since their invention in the fifties. As a matter of fact, the one in the oven might have been around that long.
While I waited, I sipped on a glass of iced tea. Yes, I drank iced tea even in the winter. Also it was always summer in my apartment. The heat was controlled by a little old lady on the first floor. She kept her apartment warm as toast. The upstairs apartments got that same amount of heat, plus some from the downstairs apartments as well. It was probably eighty degrees in my apartment at any given time. I never complained, I like a hot room. Besides the heat was included in the rent.
I heard the timid knock on the door above the whine of the printer. I looked out, since I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from Jennifer's pick up person. I saw the pale distorted face of a woman standing in front of my door. I quickly opened it for her.
"Yes?" I asked.
"I don't know if this is the right place or not, but there is a note on my friends door. I am supposed to pick up a package?" There was a larger degree of uncertainty in her voice, than the note should have caused.
"And your name is?" I asked.
"Adrian, my friend's note said she would leave a package with you for me to pick up."
I had been writing too many mystery stories, I told myself. Still I couldn't get over her nervous manner. "I'm afraid not. Sorry, but I don't have any package for you Adrian."
"I don't understand?" she made the statement a question.
"Who was supposed to leave the package for you?" I asked.
"My friend, she lives two doors down. Her note said she had left it with the man in two J. That is your apartment number?"
"It sure is, but I don't have a package for you." I tried to sound like I had no idea what she was talking about. "What is your friend's name?" I asked.
"If you don't have the package, then I must be mistaken." She said it as she turned to hurry from the hall. I was more puzzled by that, than by her giving me the wrong name. Damn that Jennifer, what he hell had she given me?
I closed the door, then threw the extra bolt, which I had never done before. It was probably my imagination working overtime, but I wanted a closer look at that book, before I delivered it to anyone. I opened the bag, then thumbed through the book. The book was empty except of course for the words. I checked the blank pages in the front and rear, hoping for some kind of message or something. I was at the point of deciding that Jennifer just gave me the wrong name for her friend, when I found it. Inside the hollow of the spine someone, presumably Jennifer, had placed a piece of paper.
I carried the paper to my desk, where the light was better. The note read, "Pat, meet me at Billy's tonight. It is important. Jen." I looked at the note several times before I replaced it inside the book's spine. I added the book to my small bookcase. I did it to hide the book. I know that sounds paranoid, but then like I said, I write a lot of mystery stories.
While all this was going on, my TV dinner was burning. It never caught fire, I doubt anything in it would have burned. It just got hard as a shoe sole. That was just the mashed potatoes, you can imagine what the hamburger was like. I threw it out. I gave it a lot of thought before going out to dinner. Like I said, I'm a little paranoid so I expected the worst when I returned. That being the case, I wasn't at all surprised to find the uniformed cop standing outside my broken door.
"So you live here?" he asked as I headed to the door.
"Yes, I do officer. What happened?"
"Your neighbor heard the door being kicked in. She called the emergency number."
"Did you get him?" I asked.
"Can I go in? I have a computer in there. I want to see if they took it."
"He didn't have time to do more than rifle the place for cash. You got good neighbors. I wish I had them. My place has been broken into twice." the cop said.
I checked the computer first thing. It seemed to be the same as when I left it. The short story had even finished printing. Next I looked at my sealed boxes. Each was still sealed. I knew what the burglar had been looking for. He wouldn't have bothered with the cartons or the computer. Not, if time were short. He would have rifled my desk drawers. That is, if my desk had any drawers. Instead he dumped everything from the two open boxes I used as file cabinets. He had also pulled every book from the bookcase. They lay in a heap on the floor.
Hidden among them was the book Jennifer had left with me. I wanted to check the spine but I decided to wait till the cop left. "It looks like everything is here."
"What do you think he was after?" the cop asked.
"Probably the computer. That and a couple of cameras are about all I have of value. At least in the apartment."
"Did you check the cameras?" he asked.
"Actually I didn't. Wait here just a minute. I went into the dressing room to open a drawer in the wall filled with drawers. I didn't think the burglar had gotten that far. I thought that, since none of the drawers appeared to have been opened. As I expected, I found my cameras right where I left them. Unlike the cop, I knew what he was looking for. "Everything is fine here," I said returning to the living/bedroom area.
The cop walked to the door. "You are going to need a whole new door. Is there anywhere else you can stay?" he asked. He saw my blank look. "You know just in case he comes back."
"Do you really think that is likely?"
"You never know about a burglar." he replied.
"Do me a favor, will you?"
"If I can." he replied.
"A young woman lives a couple of doors down. I haven't seen her today. Would you go knock on her door?"
"Sure, just point it out." he said.
A close look at Jennifer's door showed that it too had been pried open. The cop told me to stand back, while he entered the room. Inside we found that it had been searched a lot more closely than mine. Evidently Jennifer didn't have neighbors as good as mine.
"Do you know where the woman who lives here is at the moment?" the cop asked.
"I have no idea. I just haven't seen her around since early afternoon. She is a bit of a busybody, if you know what I mean. I would have expected her to be standing outside my door. I was a bit concerned, you know with the break-in and all." I explained lamely.
"Well her TV and Stereo are still here. My guess is that nothing of any great value is missing. Unless she kept a lot of cash around?" He obviously thought I knew whether she did or not.
"I have no idea. This is the first time I have ever been inside her apartment." I answered truthfully.
"I think, I ought to get the crime scene boys out here. There is something more to this than I am seeing."
I nodded my head in agreement. I didn't know what else to do. I stayed in the hall for two more hours. First, while we waited for the middle aged fat man to spread finger print dust everywhere. Then while we waited for a detective unit to arrive.
"Rollins is that you?" I heard the voice from my rear.
I turned to face detective Marsha Thomlinson. "Marsha when did you become a detective?" I asked.
"A couple of years ago. That would have been a year after you left the department. You still writing for those trashy magazines?"
"Every chance I get."
"So what happened?" she asked of me. The cop seemed a little disappointed that she didn't ask him.
"Got me, I was having dinner at the time. The officer over there is the one to ask." I said. I wanted him on my side.
"Somebody broke into the apartment down the hall first, then into Mr. Rollins' apartment." he said.
"Rollins, you ever get used to being called Mister," Tomlinson asked.
"Don't have to. He is the first one who ever called me that." I said it with a broad smile.
"Kid, you are looking at a bona fide hero. Rollins here was decorated, what Rollins twice?"
"Come on Marsha give me a break. You know you are going to tell him the rest of it, so let's just skip it all."
"No way, the kid should know. After all, how often does he get to meet a legend. Kid, he was decorated once during the black panther stand off, and once for pulling another cop out of the open during a shoot out with a nut case." she said aimlessly.
"Really, you used to be a cop?" the kid asked. He couldn't believe it. Hell, I couldn't either. I was long past those days.
"Yeah, just don't believe all that cap., she is dishing out. In those days they gave you medals instead of raises." I said it trying to play it all down.
"Then kid, he gets fired. You know what for?" she asked. The kid of course shook his head. "Excessive force, Rollins pushed a suspect down two flights of stairs. Actually it wouldn't have been so bad, but the kid stopped after the first flight. Rollins kicked his ass down the second one. If we hadn't had a review board at the time, he wouldn't even have had to explain."
"Okay detective, you have rehashed the whole sorry mess for the kid. He has now been warned that medals for valor mean nothing, when it comes to race relations. How about giving it a rest."
"Okay hero, you got any idea who trashed your place?" she asked sarcastically.
"Not unless you did. Give me a break Marsha, that was all a long time ago. Let's move past it." I said it hoping she would ease up a bit.
"You got a coffee pot in there?" she asked.
"Sure come on in. We can all have a cup, while we try to sort this out." I suggested.
"Kid you stay and chaperone," Marsha ordered.
"I was about to suggest that myself. God knows, I don't trust you worth a damn." I said it just as sarcastically as she had.
Once inside my apartment, I began the long process of making coffee. I poured boiling water into a funnel filled with coffee grounds.
"Why don't you come into the twentieth century Rollins. They have machines to do that now," Marsha suggested.
"I guess I am old fashioned," I answered. I didn't reply as I wished I could have.
"Okay, so who is the broad down the hall?" she asked. I knew I was in trouble. The patrol officer had heard me imply that we were friends.
"I don't really know her. You know how it is living in an apartment. I spoke to her a couple of times." I didn't say that it had been exactly two times.
"How long has she been living here?" Marsha asked.
"I can't say. Like I said she was just here one day. Come on Marsha, you know how it is in apartments."
"Try this one then. What is the connection between you two?"
"None that I know of. She just lives down the hall."
"Do you happen to know where she is?" Marsha kept it up.
I poured us each a cup of the finished coffee. I think she has family in town but I don't know their names. She might be with them. Hell, she might be staying with a boyfriend. Some people are lucky that way."
"Speaking of that way, how is that wife of yours?" Marsha threw it in innocently enough.
"Divorced," I replied.
"Really, she finally wised up?"
"Got a better offer, I expect." I said that with as much malice as I could manage.
"I figure someone was looking for something. What do you think."
"I expect Maggie found what she was looking for." I said it, knowing full well she had switched subjects again.
"I mean the burglar. I think he was looking for something in your friend's apartment. When he didn't find it there, he came looking here. What do you think?"
"Seems logical," there was no sense denying it. "Though I have no idea what it might have been, or why he thought I had it."
"Were you sleeping with her Rollins?" Marsha asked.
"That a cop question, or a personal one?" I had about reached the end of my cooperation.
"You know damned well it isn't personal," Marsha snapped.
"I told you, I only spoke to her a couple of times."
"That isn't really an answer. It has been my experience that men don't talk a lot." She said it with the hint of a smile.
"No, I wasn't sleeping with her. I have no idea where she is, or why anyone would rifle her apartment. That should just about cover it."
"Well, if you see her before me, tell her I need to talk to her." Marsha said that as she stood to leave.
"I'll do that," I promised. as I walked to the door with the two cops.
"You going to be all right Mr. Rollins? I mean with the broken door and all?" the young cop asked.
"Don't worry about Rollins, worry about the burglar, if he is stupid enough to come back." Marsha said it without a hint of a smile.
Once they had gone, I set about fixing the door as best I could. Which turned out to be a chair propped against the knob to secure the bottom. I used the deadbolt to secure the top. I was tempted to sit thinking about the incident, but I needed to start on a piece I was writing for the American Artist Magazine. I wrote for them under an assumed name. It was standard practice. As a matter of fact I used several pen names. It would never do for the public to learn how few writers actually filled their magazines with trash.
I finished the first draft of the piece, before I heard the knock on my door. Before I answered, I picked up my Colt. The little five shot snub nose was accurate only about twenty feet. I planned to be a damned sight closer than that, if I used it. I looked out the spy hole to see Detective Thomlinson standing in the hall. I slowly removed the chair then threw the bolt.
"What can I do for you detective?" I asked.
"You could invite me in for more coffee. You still make the best damned coffee in the state." she said it as she strode past me.
I followed her into the kitchen, where she planted her ass on a chair. I poured her the several hours old coffee. She might have expected me to speak, but I wasn't about to say a word.
"You were expecting me weren't you?" she asked.
"Let's say, I'm not all that surprised. Then again, nothing much surprises me anymore."
"So how long you and Maggie, the bitch been divorced?" she asked.
"Most all day today," I replied.
"No seriously?" she asked.
"Tomorrow at ten it will be one day. I signed the papers this morning."
"You really have had a full day, Haven't you?" she remarked.
"Yeah well, some days are better than others." I said it with a smile.
"You never change Rollins. Would you have called me? I mean, now that you are divorced."
"Marsha, that part of my life is over. I'm not a cop and I don't spend time with cops."
"You know, I have always cared about you." She said it looking down into her coffee cup.
"I care about you, Marsha. That's why I don't want to start anything with you. It would be for the wrong reasons."
"You said that before, but you never explained. I want you to explain it now," she demanded.
"No you don't," I answered.
"If you don't explain it to me right now, so help me God, I am going to pull my gun and shoot your sorry ass." She was almost in tears.
"Okay, if you want me to explain it that badly, I will. Look, what you felt for me was gratitude. What I felt for you was friendship. That isn't much to build a relationship on. It wouldn't have lasted a week."
"Gratitude, why you insufferable prick. Just because you dragged my ass out of the line of fire. Hell, it wasn't that big a deal." she said it with a smile. "Besides, I know you were just doing it to get a feel."
"Exactly, and that's what it would be again."
"So what's wrong with that. I am way over twenty one." she said.
"Come on Marsha, you wouldn't be satisfied with that. You deserve better and you know it." I said it hoping to finish the conversation on a high note.
"Rollins, how long has it been since you and Maggie did the dirty deed?"
"A couple of months, what has that got to do with anything?"
"Because old buddy, if you didn't care for me, you would be jumping me this very moment. The only reason you don't, is that you are scared I will get too close to you." She said it with a knowing smile.
"No Marsha, the reason I don't, is because I don't screw people, who can really screw me." I said that with a genuine smile.
"I am going to give you a chance to change your mind, but only fifty of them." she said with a small laugh.
"I know I'm stupid, but I won't change my mind."
"Sure you will, how many women do you know who look like me, and can whip your ass at damned near everything?" She knew there was no answer coming.
"Why in the hell would you want a washed up old man like me anyway?" I asked.
"You aren't old, but you are washed up. Tell me the truth, are you making any money with this writing cap.?"
"So far, it has paid the bills," I said.
She made a big show of looking around. "Yeah, I can see how well you are doing. Why don't you come back to my place. At least you can sleep in a real bed, in an apartment with a lock on the door."
"Thanks for the offer, but I think I will stay here."
"You are about to do something really stupid, I can tell."
"Probably, but at least you won't get hurt." I replied.
"Meaning, I would if you came to my place. Rollins let me tell you something. All you men think you are big enough to hurt a woman, but none of you are, especially not you. Remember, I have seen you without your clothes."
"Now that was dirty pool." I said.
"The truth is really what hurts isn't it," she said it with her first hearty laugh.
"Look, it's getting late. I think you should be running along."
"Don't do this Ron. What ever your little friend is into, it ain't worth your getting jammed up over."
I knew better than to admit to anything. "I don't know what you are talking about. I have a bunch of dog show people to interview tomorrow. I just need my sleep."
"Have it your way. I am going home, but I expect to be hearing from you, or at least about you tomorrow." she said.
"Fair enough," I answered.
After Marsha had gone, I sat at my keyboard a few more minutes then gave up. The rewrite on the art show would have to wait another day, at least. I opened the sofa then turned out the lights. In the dark I stuffed my heavy coats and pillows under the sheets. I sat on the floor, by the door waiting to see who would visit me next. That scrap of paper was pretty important to someone. I didn't know what it meant, but I knew someone wanted it bad. Bad enough to break into two different apartments looking for it. I should have given it to the police at the first opportunity. I hadn't, maybe to protect Jennifer, but more likely because I hated cops. I didn't trust them to do the right thing, not the legal thing, the right thing.
I had drifted into a light sleep when he came. It was hard for him to open, even the unbolted door, without a sound. The wood creaked where he had broken it. I gripped the colt even tighter as I saw his shadow pass me. He moved to the bed, then leaned over it to poke me with the barrel of his pistol.
"I wouldn't bother. I am over here. I also have a rather nasty pistol pointed at your sorry ass. If you want to live till the sun comes up, drop the gun, otherwise pray." I waited.
I was low enough so that if he turned to fire, he would most likely shoot over my head. I wouldn't make that mistake. He took a few seconds to think about it, then dropped the pistol on the bed. He was back lighted by the downtown, as the street lights glowed through the tall windows behind him.
"I don't much care for the cops, so if you tell me what the hell is going on, you can walk. Otherwise I call the police."
"How do I know, you won't call them anyway?" asked the gravely voice.
"You are going to have to trust me on this one. Come on man make up your mind."
"Can I at least sit down?" he asked.
"Sure, if you want to find yourself in hell when you get up." I answered. "Come on friend spill it quick."
"I am looking for Jennifer," he said.
"That much, even I could figure out. Why are you looking for Jennifer?" I asked.
"She has something of mine."
"I am getting tired of this cat and mouse shit. Either tell it to me, or to the cops. I am going to make that call in about five seconds."
"Jennifer has some pictures of us. Some pictures I would rather no one else sees."
"Blackmail, that isn't much of a reason to come looking for her. That is, unless you intend to use that nasty little pistol you brought in with you?"
"I don't want to hurt anyone, I just want the pictures." He was almost whining. The only problem was that, none of it made much sense. I finally figured out why it didn't make sense.
"What did you do with Pat?" I asked. It seemed I had asked the question that drove him over the edge. He lunged for his pistol on the bed.