Lanie and Ezra

by happyhugo

Copyright© 2011 by happyhugo

Romantic Story: Ezra was humiliated when his wife cheated on him. Matt was humiliated when Ezra beat him up in front of several people. Bad things happen to both good and bad people. See how it all plays out.

Tags: Ma/Fa   Heterosexual  

Some person in the past who was a great thinker had this to say, "Man is always hoping that tomorrow will be better than today and much better than yesterday." That may be, but I don't think that philosopher had me in mind when he uttered this observation.

I was sitting in the almost dark eating my supper which consisted of a cold piece of steak and a bowl of crackers and milk. I needed the protein to keep me from getting hungry and to give me that full feeling. The crackers and milk was just something I had always liked. I planned to have some meat left over from my noontime meal just for this purpose. This was not what a nutritionist would recommend, but my cholesterol numbers and my sugar levels stayed fine so I ate what I enjoyed.

There was no one to tell me different and there had been no one for the last four years. When my cheating wife left while I was in jail, I just withdrew from society. I did have a decent job, going every day to the shop where I operate a milling machine.

The place where I'm living belonged to my dad and his dad before him and now it is mine. Oh yes, the name came down from them as well. I was entitled to put "The Third" after Ezra Johnson, but I didn't bother very often.

Dad and Mom bought a condominium down in South Carolina and came up north to visit for a month in the summertime. This was about the only time I let anyone come through the front door since Samantha had taken off. She was still in town, but we certainly didn't travel in the same circles.

I had ninety-two acres of land, half of it being in woodland. To entertain myself I was out there most days when I had free time in the woods working or just walking. There was nothing like a gentle wind sighing through the pines to calm and blunt the bitterness I felt about how life had dumped on me.

There was no hesitation going out into the woods when it was blowing a gale either. That rather matched some dark, depressing thoughts that visited me now and then. The open fields and pastureland I let out to a farmer to use. In return for keeping it up and keeping the brush pushed back to the fence lines, he could use it as his own.

There was a line of sugar maples down the west side of the fields with a lane through them. At the edge of the field before the woodlot began there was a sugarhouse constructed and there was about ten acres of maple trees on land sloping toward it. Over the decades, this became a fine sugar bush and I kept it clear of brush.

When the older trees were damaged or died, I nurtured small, new maples to replace them. The trees needed to be tapped out to catch the sap in the early springtime. The sap ran to the sugar shack through a pipeline and into a tank. The sap was boiled down in the sugar pan, much water leaving as sweet smelling steam, and leaving a golden maple syrup.

I heard a car engine sputter and die. I got up from the table and looked out the back door. An old car was just coasting to a stop in the lane, about three car lengths in from the dirt road that passed by my house. The wood road was often used as a lover's lane for kids parking, but they usually drove farther in.

I could just barely see a small woman get out and go around to the other side of the car. Five minutes later, she came back around with a child boosted up into her arms. She came out onto the road and started toward the house. She spotting me watching her and came across the yard to the door.

This girl was cute! She had on jeans and a short sleeved top of yellow. It was conservative, but it was just a little small which accented her bust. Her hair was short and curly brown. The kid was dressed nice in the same type of jeans and top. You just knew they were mother and daughter.

The woman smiled and asked, "May I leave my car on your land for a little while? Something is wrong with it. You can get by it if you have to go down your wood road."

I was tongue tied for a minute because the two made an attractive picture standing before me. "How long?"

"I don't know. Until I get it fixed anyway. I'll work at it. How far is it to town?"

"Three miles, give or take a bit."

I could see the child was a little girl about three. She was fussing and crying. She was hungry. "Shush, Abby, we'll get something to eat when we get to town." The woman looked at me. "Are there many cars on the road? I need to hitch a ride and three miles is a long walk."

"Not many this time of night. They would all be coming this way, not toward town."

"Okay, I guess I had better get moving."

"Don't you think you had better feed your kid something before you start?"

"I didn't want to bother you, but maybe a piece of bread and peanut butter."

"Come in and I'll see what I can scare up. I wasn't expecting company."

"I wasn't expecting to be company, but I'm glad I am."

"How would you like an egg and a piece of toast?"

"That sounds wonderful. My name is Lanie Cosgood."

"Mine's Ezra, Ezra Johnson. Sit there at the table." There was a half stack of crackers laying there and the little girl reached for one.

"No, you wait. The nice man is getting you an egg."

"Let her have some if she is that hungry. Milk is in the fridge behind you."

"Your wife not home?"

She was prying and that upset me. "Does this place look like a wife lives here? Look at the dust and the dirt. I keep the dishes done and once a week I shovel out some of what piles up." Actually, I kept a decent looking house.

"Sorry, I wasn't looking around."

I got out two frying pans and put two sausage patties in one, along with two strips of bacon. The other one, I buttered three slices of bread both sides and heated the pan up hot. I browned the bread right in the pan. I dropped an egg in the pan, just breaking the yolk and pressed the toast down onto it.

"Let me do that for you. My Mom used to make these and I haven't had one forever. Abby, you are going to love this. Don't eat any more crackers or you will be too full to enjoy a real treat."

I tended the bacon and sausage and when she had the second egg cooked, I told Lanie to eat it while it was hot. I made up the last one and slid this one onto her plate. It was full dark by now. There was no way this woman and child could make it to town tonight and arrange for a place to stay.

"I don't know your situation, but you had better stay here tonight. There are bedrooms upstairs. Pick one. The blankets might be a little stale. Can't help that. I will be going to work in another hour so you will be alone. You can lock the door after I leave. I'll be home a little after seven in the morning."

"You'd leave me in your house, not even knowing anything about me?"

"Why not? Your car is here and it doesn't run. You have told me your name and you have a baby with you. You both are clean, so I know you respect yourself. That tells me you would respect my things and not take them." Why I continued, I couldn't say. "What's here is just stuff anyway and I don't ever expect to get to know you well enough to have you trifle with my heart. You wouldn't want it anyway. It has turned cold as stone."

I turned and went into the backroom I used for a bedroom without waiting for a comment. I shut the door. I heard her take the dishes to the sink and I heard her running water to wash them.

I changed into my work clothes. I started cussing to myself. Why in hell had I let her and her kid into the house? She was younger and smaller than my ex-wife, and not even as pretty. She appeared friendlier though. You know what I mean--it was the smile. She had a nice shape and why did I notice that. She looked more like a girl you would find next door. The kid was damned cute too. Her mother probably had been cute when she was that age.

I heard her climbing the stairs and looked at the clock. I had spent too much time sitting on the edge of the bed thinking back. I would be late if I did not leave now. I walked to the foot of the stairwell. "Lanie, I'm leaving. I'll see you in the morning. Good night."

She came to the top of the stairs. "Thank you Ezra Johnson and I don't believe your heart is all stone. I think there is some warm gold hidden in it somewhere. Good night. Abby is asleep or she would say good night too." I turned and went to work.

I was a good machine operator. Something I had learned in prison. Four years ago I was sentenced to prison for three to five years. I was released in two years and two months. The prison sentence had come from beating the man who had stolen my wife. While I lay in my bunk in prison, I wondered why I didn't beat her instead of the man. I guess she must have worried some about it, for she immediately asked and received a restraining order and she got it.

Before prison, I drove a local bus. Another driver who came down sick drove another route. I was asked to cover for him. I was stopped while letting a passenger off when I saw Samantha going into a motel. On my return trip an hour later, her car was still there. I pulled the bus I was driving in behind her car. The thirteen passengers I had on board questioned me, but I growled for them to be quiet. That shut them up. Ten minutes later the door to the motel started to open.

I was out of the bus and as a man stepped out, I grabbed him around the neck and threw his surprised ass to the ground. He was bigger than I was, but there was no stopping the beating. I gave him all he deserved, and I hoped a little for interest. I just never quit and he didn't have a chance to retaliate.

Samantha, that was my cheating wife, came out, but couldn't get into her car with the bus behind it. She was crying and then screaming not to hurt him. I didn't know what he was to her at the time, but I had a good idea. The full knowledge came later.

I landed one last blow to his gut and that is all he had in him. He was just a limp lump on the ground. I looked around. Samantha saw me looking at her. She knew I could outrun her if she ran. She opted for the safety of the bus and the people on it, striding to the rear with all of the passengers between her and me. I could see there were four phones in the hands of the riders calling the police. I got in, saw where Samantha was, backed up the bus, and pulled out into the street.

I announced, "I'm not picking up any more passengers. As I get to your stop, pull the rope and I'll let you off."

There were only four passengers left by the time the police pulled the bus over. Samantha was a very worried wife who had been caught cheating by this time. She had been afraid all the passengers would have gotten off the bus, and it then would be just she and I left. She was lucky!

I guess I was lucky as well. The bus company tried to charge me with theft of property, but I proved I was responsible by continuing my route. I was discharged, however. The assault, well I paid for that, but the rich son-of-a-bitch who had taken my wife, paid a little as well. He could still run, but not very far and it hurt to do so. The cartilage in his knee was badly damaged and the knee had to be replaced.

When in prison about six months, I was notified that there was a civil suit being filed against me by this asshole. It was for the bodily damage I had caused. Something like two million dollars. I laughed and forgot about it--I was a bus driver for God's sake. Two weeks later the poor bastard was in the hospital getting his other knee replaced.

The men who worked him over suggested he drop the lawsuit. He screamed that I, Ezra Johnson III, had ordered it from my cell in prison. An investigation was instituted. It turned up nada and he dropped the suit I do believe he was in fear for his health. I had not spoken to Samantha since the incident.

Samantha, I kept her blocked in the back of my mind, but she came to the fore occasionally. I met her in Boston before going home to see my folks after getting out of the service. I wore my uniform to a dance given to honor the retuning troops. She was tall and thin, with small breasts and narrow hips. Her hair was dark and she kept it styled. She had money of her own to dress and keep looking beautiful.

We danced several dances and before the evening was over, she was as intrigued with me as I was with her. This was enough to keep me from coming home for three more weeks. We were a couple when I said Mom just had to see me. She followed me home saying farm life was what she always wanted to do.

The problem was the farm wasn't big enough to support me and a wife even when Dad and Mom decided to move to a warmer place. Farm life was also a lot more work than a nine to five job. It wasn't long before she became disenchanted and I moved us to town. Jobs were scarce and I took what I could find. I was a truck driver in the service and a bus route was open.

Samantha sued for a divorce immediately following the incident with her lover. Good, she was nothing I wanted anymore, and I immediately signed the papers. She could not touch the farm, and my lawyer had enough evidence to show she was just a cheating wife. She did not get much, but then she didn't try very hard, for this man, Matt Grisholm had plenty of money and of course she had her own.

I had gained a skill while incarcerated. I was put into a work program and taught how to operate a computer-guided, milling machine. I concentrated and by the time I was released, I was in good condition to hold a job. In addition, it was a skill much in demand right here in my hometown.

I had to pass a test and I had to work the night shift just to be hired. I aced the test and hoped no one cared about me any longer. I wanted to keep to myself and out of the public eye. Of course, it did not hurt that the manager of the factory had caught his own wife cheating a few years before. He was the one who conducted my interview.

Some of these thoughts passed through my mind as I worked this night. Most of the work occurred when you set the machine up and after that, it was just keeping stock loaded in and checking tolerances. My thoughts tonight traveled to my wife's husband as it usually did. I knew he was still after me. Me going to prison was not enough for him.

What about the woman and the kid I had let into my home last night? I guess it would depend on if she shared her own story with me. Lanie, that was her name, looked to be about twenty, but I would guess she might be a little older. I deduced this by her having a three-year-old. I will say, she appeared to view her situation with an unworried eye, accepting what was dealt her. This struck me in a way as strange.

I stopped and bought groceries on the way home. There wasn't enough in the house to last three people very long. Now why did I think that? Was I hoping Lanie would stick around for a while? It would be nice to have someone to talk to for a change. Just having her sitting across the table from me would be worth a lot. I hadn't had a feeling such as this for a long time, especially concerning a female.

I could smell coffee before I opened the door. Lanie was just crossing to the table with a cup as I hung my cap behind the kitchen door. "Sit Ezra, I found enough flour to make pancakes. I'm not too certain about the baking powder. The can was almost empty."

"It's old. I haven't used any since my wife left. That was more than four years ago. The maple syrup for the pancakes is made right here and I will guarantee there is nothing old about that."

"You've lived alone all this time since your wife left you?"

"Nope, the first two years I had plenty of company. I was in prison and that was too much company. They were all of one gender as well. Just these last two years I've been alone."

"You beat up your wife? I'm just asking because I have to look out for Abby."

"No, I didn't touch her. I assaulted her lover. I stomped him some when I caught the two coming out of a motel room."

"Good for you. I did not go to jail when I caught my husband and his lover, but I got me a whole handful of hair from her. I hope it never grows out either. She'd look funny with a bald spot just left of center."

"Well, aren't we a pair?" We both burst out laughing. Abby was watching and then she started banging her feet on the table leg laughing because we were.

"Lanie, you know this is the first laugh I can remember having in the last year. It feels good."

The pancakes, bacon, and sausages were excellent. When Lanie took the dishes to the sink, I asked, "Do you have to be any place right off?"

"No, not really. I have to get me a job sometime, that's all. I have an interview in town this afternoon. An older woman was looking for a roommate and is willing to watch Abby after I find work. Until I get a job, she is going to let me keep house and run errands for her. Now I just have to get into town."

"Lanie, how old are you?"

"I'm twenty-three. How old are you?"

"Twenty-eight, but I feel forty sometimes."

"Joy has gone out of living, you mean."

"You said it." I didn't know if I was making a mistake, but I had to find out. "Lanie, how about coming to work for me? I will pay you to keep house. I realize you don't know anything about me, but I will tell you one thing. I'm never going to do anything that would put me in prison again. I like my job and I'm making good money, so I can afford to pay you."

I looked at her and she was not saying anything. "Your car isn't drivable. There is an almost new one backed onto the barn floor. You can use it to get around. You could work here and watch Abby yourself. Do you know anything about gardening? That would keep you busy in any spare time you have. If you don't, I can show you how."

"Sounds good, but I don't know about working for you."

"I think you want to know if I'm expecting benefits. No, I'm not. I haven't been upstairs in the last six months for anything and I do not expect to be going up there in the next six. Look, I have to sleep for a little while. You think it over and let me know. I usually have something to eat about one and again about seven in the evening. We'll discuss it when I get up at noon."

"I'll think about it. It is okay to call my mother isn't it? She lives upstate. After that, can I wander around outside?"

"Sure. Oh, if you want to call references concerning me, my Christmas card list is in that box over there. Call any of the people on the list. You can get their numbers out of the phone book. Of course after you call any of the people, we'll have company because they will be coming to see the woman who I am hiring for a housekeeper." I was thinking of some special friends of mine. I smiled and then said, "Thanks for breakfast. It was a treat having someone cook it for me. Goodnight."

I was up at noon and after showering and shaving, I went across the lawn to the barn. I opened the doors wide and backed out a five-year-old Ford Escort. I drove it up and parked it in the driveway. Lanie came out and looked at it.

"It does look new."

"It should, because it has only 1600 miles on it. I bought it for my wife to drive just before I caught her cheating on me. You can drive it if you need to go somewhere."

"Thank you. I will until I get my car fixed."

"I tell you what we can do. I'll take my tractor, bring your car down, and push it onto the barn floor. I can have one of my friends look at it and see how serious it is. If it will cost too much to fix, you had better sell it for junk." Lanie was hesitant, but said okay.

Over lunch, she said she would work as my housekeeper and we agreed on terms. I paid her in advance from a wallet I kept in the cupboard containing my slush fund. "You're awful trusting to someone you have just met. You're going to let me use your car and I know where you keep some money."

"It's just material stuff. It isn't as if it was my heart."

"That's a bitter statement."

"I guess so. Let's get that car of yours into the barn. I'll get the tractor and you can put the brakes on after I pull it back onto the road. I'll get in and coast it right into the barn from there. Come on Abby, would you like to ride on a tractor?" This excited the little girl so she was jumping up and down with joy.

The car did not quite make it onto the barn floor and I had to push it in the last little bit with the tractor bucket. I put the tractor away. "Let's take a walk in the woods. I usually do after I do dishes. No dishes for me to do. That's a real plus."

It was a half mile down the wood road to the backside of my property. Abby was tired so I carried her on my shoulders most of the way back. That was fun for her and for me as well. This was the closest I had been to another human being for more years than I wanted to count.

Lanie cooked a steak for supper and we had mashed potatoes and carrots with cake for desert. I laid down for an\ couple of hours before getting ready for work. I laid on my bed thinking about this woman who had come into my life. Except for the one statement about pulling the hair of her husband's lover, I knew nothing personal about her. She had shared nothing else.

One thing I did know, while I was supposedly sleeping this morning and she was outside wandering around, I checked my desk. She had been through it thoroughly. Even my nightstand in my bedroom room had been opened. Was it just curiosity or something else? Time would tell.

I left for work a few minutes early so I could make a call to one of my friends. "Jim, I have a car shoved into my barn. It belongs to a woman who I have hired to be my housekeeper. I thought everything was aboveboard, but a couple of things make me suspicious. The woman has a little girl and that part is wonderful. The little girl thinks I'm pretty wonderful, too.

"However, I have noticed the woman went through all of my personal effects. I think she tried to do it without me suspecting anything. I told her I would have someone look at her car to see what it would cost to repair it. Would you show up Saturday morning and go over it? I mean look into it as only you can do. In addition, she said she wanted to make a call. Can you find out if she did and to where?

"Sure, I can do that. Who do you suspect is behind this?"

"I have no idea. I can't believe it goes back to my trouble with Matt Grisholm that put me in prison, but I suppose it could. The son-of-a-bitch is rich enough, but I can't see him loving Samantha enough to still come after me."

"Two things to remember that might cause this, Ezra. One he is rich, and two, he is now walking around on two replacement knees. He backed off on the civil suit and I can't see him going after you again. Loving Samantha is another reason, but that would be far down the list in my estimation. Also, don't forget you might be just a little paranoid over Samantha. I know how much you loved her."

"I agree. Anyway, I'll see you Saturday." The rest of the week went well. My meals were on time and I had time to get out in the woods sooner everyday. I had cut trees last fall for my sugaring operation. I was now cutting it into furnace length and bringing it to the woodshed to be split, stacked, and dried.

Abby, whom I think thought I was the best thing since Twinkies, wanted to be out in the woods with me. Lanie pitched in picking up wood and I taught her to drive the tractor with the trailer full of wood. It had been so long since I had been this near to a woman, I sometimes caught myself staring at her. I was cautious though she didn't catch me looking. Anyway, I was enjoying myself.

Saturday afternoon Jim called me down to the barn where he had the car engine running. "Ezra, there is some cause for concern, just as you suspected. The car was partially disabled. There was a wire disconnected. That could happen, but this is the kicker, there were two wires off. That tells me they were removed on purpose.

"I found more when I searched the car. In the passenger door pocket, I found a crumpled up receipt for an oil change. It was made out to a firm called 'Ace investigations' with an address in Rutland, Vermont. The call was made to a Mrs. Anderson who lives in a suburb of Rutland. You've got yourself a spy working for, and I suspect against you, my friend."

"It looks like it and it's too bad. I love the little girl. Hell, the woman has only been here a few days and I like her too. I guess I'll keep quiet about what I know and not say anything yet. Let's go up to the house and have a beer. You might let the boys know what is happening in case I get into a bind again."

"Just say the word if you want anything done. We all owe you, big time. Just don't do anything to land your ass back in prison again. We can help you, but we can't have it known. That is why what we do has to be undercover."

"I won't." I was changing though. I had become almost a recluse after prison. I never went anywhere socially. I went to work and I went home, only stopping for groceries and shopping for the bare necessities. Now I had a little girl and she saw no reason to fear or exclude me from her world. I was just a nice person to her. I couldn't exclude her from mine either. Too sweet.

If anyone had asked me about Lanie, I would have stated she was just my housekeeper. I did come over time, to think of her as much more. Where before I didn't leave the farm because I wanted to stay away from people, now I wanted to stay on the farm just to be near Lanie and Abby.

Sometimes she would glance at me when she didn't know I noticed. Did she want to say something? These times, she looked sad and I knew something was bothering her. Most of the time she acted friendly, but even then I felt she had to force herself to act that way.

Planting season started and I had a plot plowed up by the farmer who used the fields. Abby was out gathering fish worms as the ground was turned. I took her over to the lake and we caught a dozen perch. When it was time to clean the fish, she was right there with me watching closely. The last one she managed to gut and clean herself. Lanie wasn't too happy about it when her daughter came in with fish blood and guts on her hands, but Abby was so proud she didn't say much.

We all went to Agway to get seeds and plants to set out. We came home with much more than we had room for in the garden. Lanie and Abby had the rows marked out while I was sleeping and the next morning I stayed up and we put in the sets and seeds. I planted two rows of potatoes the next day. Abby was so excited when the radishes popped through the ground and even more so, when she tasted the first small one I deemed big enough to eat.

Within a few weeks, we were comfortable with each other. I knew Lanie was here under false pretenses, so I held back from demonstrating any affection. That is not to say but what I was falling in love with her. I could show love for Abby, though, and I did.

I suppose we acted much like any family. We went to the movies on weekends and I took them out to breakfast at McDonalds at least twice a week. Three weeks after Lanie was hired, I said, "I'm going into town for a haircut. Wouldn't you like to go get your hair done?"

"I can't really afford to, but thanks for thinking of it."

"I'll pay. Your hair is getting long and I can tell it is a bother. I'll bet you would look nice with a perm."

"Do you think so? I've never considered having my hair cut that short."

"It would go nice with your freckles. Just a thought anyway."

"Most men don't care for freckles."

"I'm not like most men, I guess. I like them."

"I'll make an appointment."

The weeks went by and I think my housekeeper examined every personal paper in my house. Jim stopped by for a beer one Saturday in July. We went for a walk in the woods. "Matt Grisholm was seen going into the Ace Detective Agency during the week. He didn't look happy when he came out."

I suspected things would be coming to a head for Lanie and she would be leaving me soon. It came sooner than I expected. She was hanging up the phone as Jim and I returned from our walk. "Ezra, I just received word that one of my friends is very sick and wants me to come take care of her. I guess I will have to say goodbye. I'll be leaving just as soon as I get packed."

"Okay, I'm sorry your friend is sick. If you must go, you must. I know how friends are and sometimes you have to help them out."

I turned to Jim, "Jim, would you back her car out of the barn. I want to say goodbye to Abby. I've come to love the little girl and I'm going to miss her terribly." I had tears in my eyes.

Jim didn't stay to see me say goodbye to Lanie. Abby could not stop crying when it was time to go and was holding on to me as hard as she could. "Lanie, the last woman I said goodbye to, I was glad to see go. I do not feel that way about you. May I hug you? It will have to hold me until we meet again."

"What makes you think we will meet again?"

I didn't know, but I had to answer her somehow. "You helped cut the wood so when the sap starts to run next spring, I'll plan on you being here to have the first taste of the syrup when it comes from the pan."

Through the tears came, "Old Vermont proverb?"

"No, it's just Vermont hope that a person's life will be better in the future than what is behind you." I went forward and Lanie came into my arms and clung to me.

"You know, Lanie, we have become friends in the last three months. I would like to see if soon we couldn't become more. We both have kept some things hidden, but all we have to do is share our secrets and we will be fine. I firmly believe this. I will be in touch with you in a few days. Someone has to be here to harvest what we have planted together."

Abby's arms left her mother's and came around my neck. "I kiss you."

Samantha was standing by her car parked in front of the house when I got home a week later. "Ezra."


"Matt got beat up again last Friday and his arm broken in two places. I suppose you have an alibi the same as last time he was injured?"

"If you think I broke his arm, you had better have me investigated." She might not have known Matt was looking into me again, but she might be behind it all. "Really Sam, what are you doing here?"

"Matt is never going to give up. He wants you back in jail. He has the money to do it too. You humiliated him too much by giving him a beating in front of too many people."

"That was almost five years ago. I suppose stealing a wife from a man wasn't humiliating? I wasn't smart like he was, and I just struck out not knowing or caring what the results were to be. It cost me my job, my wife and my good name. I am now a felon. You thought a lot of my parents at one time. Think what my being in prison has done to them?" I was disgusted, as it all seemed to be about her and her husband.

I had to get in one more bitter comment. "Samantha, you're looking well. The rich life agrees with you."

"Ezra, why didn't you come after me instead of going for Matt? It was me who cheated on you. If you had, that would have been the end of it because I would have felt guilty. Matt hasn't been able to let it go. What brought it on this time?"

"The rumor is he has been having me investigated. That is all I know about it. What happened to him is all on his head. My mother taught me to never hit a woman. I listened to her so you have had a free pass. That hasn't stopped me from hating you, though."

"You do know Matt could have you killed don't you? He has enough money."

"Go ahead and have him do that. I don't have much of a life, so death does not scare me very much. I hope he would have it done quickly, though. I would hate to die slow and painful. Then again, we can't choose how to die, can we? I can't and Matt can't, but one could cause the other death."

Samantha was trying to figure if what I said was a threat or not. I continued, "Of course, killing me would cause a real mess. You could get Matt to kill me and then he would die and leave you a widow with all of that money. I bet you would like that wouldn't you?"

"Ezra, stop it! Believe it or not, I'm terribly sorry I caused you so much trouble. If you hadn't seen us at the motel and lost your freaking mind and beat up Matt, this all would never have happened. I was going to talk to you about leaving within a day or so anyway. You would have been pissed and hurt, but you would have given me a divorce, wouldn't you have?"

"Hard to tell after all this time and what has happened since then. Samantha, I'm not going after Matt, but he keeps coming after me. Why don't you two move out to the west coast somewhere and start a family? You've screwed up my life and prevented me from having any happiness, but that isn't to say you couldn't."

"You honestly mean that?"

"I do."

Samantha looked at me, turned and opened her car door. She started the engine and drove off, not even glancing my way again. I was worn out from lack of sleep. I went in and did not even stop to eat. Just one more reminder of how my life sucked.

I awoke near noon and lay there thinking. I wondered if Abby was missing me. I sure was missing her. Lanie had showed just more than a bit of longing for me as well when we said goodbye. Should I try to contact her? She had worked for an investigator so she most likely had seen all the darkness that went with the underbelly of life. Maybe she wouldn't want anything to do with me.

I made my dinner. Damn, I missed the meals being on the table when I got up. I went out to see what the mail carrier had left me. There was a 9x12 envelope from one of my friends. It had a Rutland postmark.

I took it in and opened it. It contained a dossier on Lanie Cosgood. Included were her full name, her address, and her phone number. She was living with her mother. In addition, I found where Lanie was working and what her relationship to the detective agency was. There was a copy of the bill that had been charge for investigating one Ezra Johnson. The grandmother of Abby cared for the child during the day while Lanie worked with her brother in the agency.

I took a chance that Abby would be the one to answer the phone. It was because she always ran to answer it when it jingled. I called the number listed. It wasn't Abby, it was an older woman who answered. "Hello."

"Hello, Mrs. Anderson. My name is Ezra Johnson. I was calling about Abby. The last time I saw her, she was crying terribly hard and heartbroken. I wanted to know if she has come out of the trauma of having to leave me."

"Oh Mr. Johnson, Abby is so sad. She prays for you in her nighttime prayers. Lanie is quieter than she has ever been and I think she is thinking of you as well as the child. I just knew the investigation she was on for the last three months was going to turn out poorly. She never in her worst-case scenario thought it would cause her any trouble. She has done something similar to this before.

"What hurts her most is what it has done to Abby." She uttered an involuntary sound and then said, "You did discover you were being investigated by my son's agency didn't you? I mean I haven't let out a secret have I?"

"No you haven't. I would ask one favor of you though. Would you invite me to your home and have both Lanie and your son there at the same time? I want to talk to both."

"Of course. Would you like it be Saturday or Sunday?"

"I think maybe Sunday at noon would be best for me."

"Do you have my address?"

"Yes I do."

"Okay. Would it be okay if I give Abby a little hope that she will be seeing you soon? She really misses you. I think she has made you a father figure. That is not surprising as there has never been any male presence in her life she would remember. That is except for her uncle, of course."

"I will see you Sunday then."

I called Jim and let him know I had received the information from our friend in Rutland. I also let him know that Samantha had come to my house and told me she doubted that Matt Grisholm would ever give up trying to sending me back to prison in some fashion. That was the point of Matt hiring an agency from out of town to conduct an investigation.

"Okay, I guess we had better visit him again. They usually dine at the New England House in the evening. If they are there tomorrow night, I will give you a call. It will only take you a few minutes for you to come down."

"Okay, I'll be ready." I lay down for my evening rest and thought about where I was in this problem with my ex-wife and her husband. Except for my job, I had almost hibernated when I was released from prison. It was time I took a stand. I had let my friends continue to protect me, but eventually they would have to get on with their own lives, just as I wanted to get on with my own.

I made reservations at the restaurant for tomorrow evening. I had to eat anyway, and if Matt and Samantha didn't show, it was no great loss.

The call came as expected. I was ushered to a table where there were nine other men at the three tables close by the alcove. Samantha and Matt were the only ones sitting within the closure. I took a seat. Samantha spotted me first and her face went pale. She leaned over and whispered to Matt. Startled, he looked around seeing ten men effectively blocking their exit from the alcove.

Samantha took a mouthful of food, choked and started coughing. She started to rise. I shook my head, no. Tears came to her eyes. Matt would not look our way. The waitress came and took our drink order. "Samantha and Matt, would you let me order you a beverage?" Both shook their head, no.

All during dinner, I questioned my various companions about their lives. I asked how many children they had, and if they were happy in their line of work. I'm sure Matt and Samantha took it all in. Only about half of my group wanted dessert. The rest said they would pass. I offered to buy dessert for the couple in the alcove. No takers.

The waitress came with checks. I lifted Matt's off the tray and said these were good friends of mine and I would take care of their bill. I gave the waitress my credit card. "Samantha, would you change places with me so I can talk to Matt?" I said when she hesitated. "Please?" I stood.

Samantha acted as if she had no will of her own as she got up, came, and took the seat I had vacated. I sat opposite Matt. "Matt, I see you have hurt your arm. Is it painful?"

"You know it is as you caused it. What do you want? Who are the men with you?"

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