Part one of Maxine’s new life

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73 The end of part one

Lucas hadn’t made an appearance by 10AM, so I left with the days work. I made three deliveries, in Aster and four in Tryon, before the phone rang with the call I had been expecting.

“Hello,” I said into the phone.

“Ms Stone, this is Earnest Davenport, you wanted to meet with me.?”

“That was earlier this morning. I’m already scheduled for today, and probably tomorrow as well. I might could fit you in on Wednesday. Of course by then you might find your empire crumbling a bit.”

“Alright I get the point. I did some checking, since your call this morning. You are a pragmatist, so if you are teaching me a lesson, I have learned it. If you come by now, we can end this nonsense. If not, I warn you, I plan to defend myself.”

“Then Earnest, bring it on. You might want to tell your thugs to lay in a supply of body bags, before they come to dance with me,” I said before I clicked the phone off. I knew his type. Do a little song, do a little dance, and nothing changes. When I started, I hadn’t wanted him to change anything. I just wanted Julie out of there and for her to see the truth. It hadn’t worked out the way I wanted. So at that moment, I wanted more. Exactly what I wasn’t sure, but it was definitely more.

Before Lucas disappeared he had gotten me the names of Davenport’s resident thugs. The problem was that Davenport had access to lot more thugs. Hell, he was running two branches of ‘Thugs is Us.’

I needed a shower big time. That wash off in the sink at the office just hadn’t done it. Before I returned to the office to call it a day, I wanted to drive home for a shower. I checked the online surveillance system, yet again. I had been checking it off and on all day.

If it didn’t look as though I would have power, I might check into a motel. The opening and closing of that gate was just more than I wanted to face again. Once a day was more than enough for that bit of torture. Oh yeah, that was part of my generally fucked up Monday morning. I had forced the gate open and closed it by hand before leaving for work. I didn’t think I could face that again.

I was thrilled to find the cameras working. From the rewind it appeared that the cameras had been up and running no more than twenty minutes. I checked the cameras very carefully, before I opened the gate. There was nothing like a threat, from a man with lots of criminal connections, to make me careful.

The Cat was sitting on the concrete pad when I arrived. She or he hadn’t been there, when I checked the yard out with the camera. I had a strangely warm feeling, when I realized the cat had come to the stoop at the sound of my car driving into the yard. If the cat ever let me get close, I would try to determine if it was male or female, so that I would know what to call it.

“Let’s make a deal, you and me. I will feed you once a day, and in exchange you will stay out of my trash can. So what do you say? I paused and waited but the cat said nothing in reply. I forgot you are a cat of few words. Okay, then tell me if the deal is not satisfactory.” The cat didn’t answer, so I assumed that we had a deal.

From the cabin I removed the cereal bowl from which I fed the cat corned beef hash. I opened one of the cans of cheap cat food. Those I had bought the night before from Wal-mart. It didn’t have feeding directions for a half starved cat, so I gave it the full can. Screw it, 60 cents a day I can manage, I thought. I even put fresh water in the small bucket beside the bowl.

“Get this straight buster, you don’t own me.” I almost burst into song, but I didn’t think the cat would appreciate old bubble gum music.

After the cat was fed, I took my longest shower, since I moved into the cabin. I felt a lot better, when I got into clean clothes as well. I didn’t want to return to the office, but I knew that I should not leave the delivery records in my car overnight. I planned to go to the Cop Out and hope to meet Blevins there. Yeah and to look for signs of Mosby and Jerry as well.

When I arrive back at the office, the door was locked. Ed was out posting bail for one of his mooches. It was clear that Lucas hadn’t come to work. In the rushing around that morning I hadn’t asked Mike about it. Mike had followed me around all morning, but in a separate car. He ahd backed off when I told him that I was headed home. I was forced to wait for him to catch up, before I could ask about Lucas.

Just as soon as Mike walked in I asked, “Okay what is the deal with Lucas? Is he with Gwen?”

“He spent the night at our tourist cabin. He was going to do some thinking about his future. To be honest Maxine, Gwen wants him to come to Boston with her.”

“So that is what this is all about. He is looking for someone to make his decision for him.” I said.

“What do you mean by that?” Mike asked for the camera.

“When someone can’t decide an issue, they look for a sign. In Luke’s case it was to see where he stood with me. Then he could make a better decision. Lucas is not a partner, he is an employee. He needed me to tell him that, so that he could make an informed decision. That’s what Sunday was really about.”

“That makes a lot of sense.”

“Sure it’s what presidents do all the time. Most of them, when they need to make a decision, they float a trial balloon instead. What will the media say, if I do this? It isn’t the public opinion any more it’s about the media, because they make public opinion these days.” I said truly believing it, when I said it.

“Since I can’t compete with love or sex, I guess I need to start thinking about a replacement.” I suggested.

“I really have no comment on that,” Mike said.

“Yeah, I know Mike the rules of engagement don’t allow you to comment, just state obvious facts. So why did you tell me about Gwen trying to lure Lucas away. Is there a little jealousy there?”

“Maybe,” he replied. Then added. “You do know that it is infuriating to be continually searching for motives in everything we do as people. You tend to make everyone look a little too deeply into their soul.” He was grinning when he said it.

“Hell Mike that’s what us women do. Listen and listen, then make a statement so insightful and brilliant that it makes men kneel before out superior intellect.”

“I have seen some of your notes on the computer. No offense Maxine, but you are no intellectual.”

“None taken I assure you,” I replied.’

Mike was my designated chaperon, so when I left the office at 6:30, he followed me out the door. “I’m going to dinner at Kaplin’s Barbecue house.” I informed him.

“Thanks for the warning, I’ll stop for a roll of Tums,” Mike informed me.

“Wimp,” I said with a smile. I knew Mike was no wimp, and he knew that I did. So he smiled back at me. I am pretty sure that he mumbled “Bitch,” under his breath.

The one thing everyone noticed about Kaplin’s was that when you finished eating, they wanted you gone. It was a policy that applied even when there were hardly any other customers in the place. They still dropped the check off with the food. It was to speed your exit. I didn’t mind, but some folks did I’m sure.

Kaplin’s had great hush puppies, but I never ate them. It’s the ‘woman constantly on a diet’ thing. I usually leave them in the plastic basket. That night I asked for a paper bag. I figured the cat would be happy to have them as a snack the next morning.

7:15 was too early to head for the Cop Out, but I had to leave Kaplin’s. I thought I might take a look around Wal-mart for an hour. Somehow I had lost the thermal outfit I had slept in over the winter. It was time to be thinking about cold weather. That train of thought pulled into the ‘I needed to think about the cabin’ station. I had two options buy it or move out. Moving out might be the better option, since the only person who knew where I lived might well be on the loose. It would be a definite breach in security.

The two men with jailhouse tattoos met me in the parking lot. “You Maxine Stone?” the smallest one asked.

“Yeah, Davenport must have sent you?” I replied.

“That’s right. He has a message for you. Call off the cops and the inspectors or your life and the lives of your family will not be long.”

“I see, now you can take my answer back to Davenport when you go. My family is all gone. It’s just me all alone in the world. The cops will be visiting him a lot more often from now on. He might want to reserve a parking spot for them. And the inspectors are just doing their job. They will continue being zealous in the performance of their duty. By the way there will be reviews of all his grants and contracts with the government as well.”

“Lady, you got a death wish?” The big one asked.

“You aren’t the first one to ask me that, but the others are all dead. Now you just bring your bad ass self on over here, or get in your car and go home to daddy.” He had to know that I had my right hand on the .38, he probably didn’t know that I had my left on the stun gun.

The big one rushed me. he obviously wanted to intimidate my by wrapping me up in his arms. Since I was able to keep my cool, I stepped to the side and when he tried to adjust his charge, I zapped him with the stun gun. I got him in the neck even though I would have preferred to get him in the eyes.

The little one reached for something in his pocket. It didn’t come out clean but my .38 did. It looked as though the little one had brought a big ole knite to the gun fight. I shot him just as he launched himself at me in a kamikaze attack.

I felt a blinding pain. Then a warm sensation. Then I wondered who would feed the cat, as the parking lot light faded then went out.

This is not the end of the story.

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72 bad ass Monday

Monday morning was always a bad ass experience. That Monday morning proved to my average Monday times ten. First of all my power was off. No power meant no coffee. Not a good way to start any day, especially a Monday. It also meant no hot water. It was either a cold shower or a barely warm wash in the kitchen sink with water headed on the oil stove … I chose none of the above. I put on my work outfit and headed to the office with an overnight bag filled with soap towels and clean underwear.

Half way up the county road which connected to the more or less main road, I passed the utility trucks. There were two of them parked under a wooden power line pole. I didn’t even bother to ask them how long my power would be out, I just drove by slowly.

I speed dialed Mosby to see where Helen’s breakfast bag truck was at that moment. The phone rang once, before I remember seeing Mosby and Jerry the night before. I quickly broke the connection. I would give her the space she wanted. She was the one with the job. I figured she would either call me to play nice or Jen to quit. I could hardly wait to see what her decision was. I also wondered if she could really bring herself to choose Jerry over her career. If so, did she had the nuts to tell me in person, as we used to say in the military.

With the breakfast bag no longer a possibility, I altered my route to swing by the Hardees. Coffee and a big biscuit was the plan. The line of cars was all the way to the street. There was no way all those people had a power outage from a single pole being down. I figured it was a conspiracy to deprive me of coffee.

I parked the cruiser as close to the door as possible, without parking in the handicapped space. If I had parked in one of those, a cop would have pulled in right behind me. I knew it, because it was going to be one of those days.

Since I was already inside, I decided to eat breakfast in the dining room. The big advantage to eating in was that I could drink all the coffee I wanted. Hardees only sold one size coffee to regular customers. It was a bottomless cup but it was small. That being the case, I sat my ass at a booth near the coffee bar. I had probably the best biscuit made by anyone, anywhere. Helen’s breads were exceptionally good, but they were no match for the Hardee biscuits. Their bacon egg and cheese biscuit was a thing of beauty. The coffee was adequate, so over all the meal was almost excellent.

I had finished the biscuit only moments before she stopped by the table. I didn’t recognize her at first. I just knew a middle-aged woman in nurse’s scrubs stopped at my booth I was expecting trouble from the Cop Out crowd, but I was wrong.

“Ms. Stone, my name is Lois from the clinic.” She saw that I didn’t get it. “Your doctor’s office?”

“Oh Lois, I’m sorry my memory is crap and I’m not even forty.” I knew right away that lying to her was a mistake. “Yes I am forty. I lie about my age.” I laughed.

“Is there a woman who hasn’t at one time or another?” Lois asked me, making me feel a hell of a lot better.

“Probably not, well, sit down Lois,” I suggested.

She sat at the table, opened her coffee then spoke again, “You know I was one of the nurses those gangsters threatened. I was terrified. I almost quit the clinic that day. Then when Jeff’s dad sent your skinny ass over, I was really terrified. I can still remember the sight of you sitting in that chair in our back hall. Then I remember the smell of gun powder and our problems went away. I guess I stopped to say thank you, I never got the chance that day. It scared the pee right out of me, but it also ended our problems.”

“That’s quite a speech but not necessary. You guys took care of me. I think we are even.”

“Even that was because of us, so we owed you that and a lot more. I’m glad that it all worked out.”

“Well it took a while for me to give another blow job, but it worked out.” I laughed manically. Lois joined in.

“You know, you are something else,” she said laughing and shaking her head.

I felt a lot better because of Lois. Maybe there is no conspiracy after all, I thought. That up tick in my morning lasted only until I got to the office. Ed was sitting at his desk with his first cup of fancy coffee, while I struggled to make coffee in the Mr. Coffee, he began on me. “Max, what the hell have you done?” he asked.

“Well my power is off, so I stopped by Hardees. If you mean the bag, I’m going to wash up in the bathroom and change my panties. Why?”

“I don’t give a shit what you had for breakfast or that you need to take a whore’s bath, I’m talking about Lucas.” Ed wasn’t angry he was worried.

“Ed, what the hell are you talking about?” I asked angrily.

“Lucas called me at home last night. He is all upset and is talking about quitting.” Ed suggested.

“Yeah, I got that from the last time we talked. Maybe it’s for the best. He needs to get his ass back in school. There is no real future here.”

“Bullshit, you didn’t have words about his future with your little business. You had words because he dared to question your decision.” Ed had some of it right.

“He wanted me to explain a decision, so that Gwen and Mike could get the answer on tape before it happened. That wasn’t Lucas, that was the TV star-wanna-be talking. Ed he either is loyal to me, while he is on the job, or he shouldn’t be on the job.”

“Oh, and you didn’t willingly sign on to that TV thing.” Ed asked.

“Come on you know that I agreed, but I also told them I would not change anything to accommodate them. They knew that they would have to find their own way. I don’t have a problem with them. They were doing what they do; it’s Lucas I had the problem with. As far as I’m concerned that is over, but he has to make up his own mind about whether to stay or go.” It was quite a speech for me to make without having digested an adequate amount of coffee.

“One of you better back down or the outcome is not going to be good for either of you.”

“Ed, he needs to go back to school. That is the best outcome for him. As for me, I can adapt to almost anything.”

“If you say so?” Ed replied effectively ending our conversation.

“I don’t suppose you have any idea why he is late?” I asked.

“No, if he doesn’t show, we will know what he decided.” Ed said sarcastically. There is nothing worse than sarcasm from a man old enough to be my dad.

“Well, I expect the Pros from Dover will show up anyway. We can always ask them.” When I said that, Ed gave me a really nasty look

While the coffee was dripping, I went into the bathroom and locked the door. I used my towel and washcloth from home to clean up. I didn’t bother with even my usual small amount of makeup. I felt like crap and by all indications it was going to be a crap day.

I felt some better as I sat sipping my coffee trying to decide whether the time was right to go for Davenport, or not. I knew about all I was going to know about him, without a face to face meet. It was nine in the morning, so it was plenty late enough to at least make the appointment. If Lucas didn’t show up for work, I could work in Tryon delivering papers before and after my meeting with Davenport. It would be an efficient use of my time, I decided.

I wanted to give Lucas a little more time before I committed myself to any plan, so I went to the Internet. I plugged in the web address for Google, then entered Calico cat. I quickly found that calico was only a descriptive term of one pattern of tricolor cats. I also found that tricolored cats are almost always female, but not always. I had not gotten close enough to know for sure the sex of the cat at home. I had assumed because of the injuries that it was a male.

Either way the cat was going to be special. Either it was the rare male model, or it was a female cat that didn’t take any shit from anyone. I wasn’t quite sure which I preferred. Since I knew almost nothing about cats, I got lost in reading about them. Any animal would fight when attacked, but some cats would fight for territory with other animals. It all made me even more curious about the cat’s injuries. If it was a she, had she been that badly abused and how the hell did the other animal or person look? How well had she defended herself? If it was a male was he super aggressive and could I handle a cat like that? Oh hell, I thought. He might not even come back. I closed that and began to work on what to say to Davenport.

I dialed the office number for the Family Mission. “Family Mission, how may I help?” The voice on the phone asked.”

“I need to speak with Mr. Davenport,” I suggested.

“Who may I say is calling?” she asked.

“My name is Maxine Stone, and I represent one of his runaway’s parents. I’m not sure what name she goes by there, but her real name is Julie. She has been with you about two weeks. She works in the kitchen, I’m told.”

“Hold please while I check.”

“You might want to inform Mr. Davenport, just in case he doesn’t know, that she is 16 years old and does not have her parent’s permission to be there. We need to discuss her future.”

“Hold please,” the secretary said. What a cheap operation, I thought. They didn’t even have music playing while I was on hold. It took about five minutes for the secretary to come back on the phone. “I’m so sorry Ms. Stone, but brother Davenport is not going to have any time to see you today; maybe I could make you an appointment with someone else.”

I laughed out loud. “Let me give you my number sweetie. You should write it down somewhere, I think Brother Davenport will change his mind in the near future.”

I called the Aster police department with Mike listening. He had arrived while I was on hold for Davenport. “Hello,” I said to the receptionist. “Is detective Blevins back on duty yet?”

“Let me check,” she said putting me on hold. The city switchboard had music, but it was awful. “Ma’am Detective Blevins is out of the office, but should return in an hour or so. Would you like to leave a message?”

“No thanks,” I said it because I knew his personal cell phone number. As a matter of fact, I had it on speed dial. I hadn’t called him, while he was playing Russian Roulette. It did seem like time to make a call.

“Blevins pick up your damn phone. I need some help.”

“My first day back and you are on the phone looking for favors,” Blevins said. I could see the smile through the phone.

“Blevins, I’m just calling in one of the many favors you owe me.”

“Bullshit, but what do you need? I’m feeling generous today.”

“Every heard of the Family Mission in Tryon?”

“Yeah they run some nasty halfway houses for ex cons. Nobody has much trouble from them, but some of the cons say that stir was better than that halfway house.”

“The Family Mission does a lot more than that. I don’t give a crap what they do for the most part, but they have Helen and Jack’s girl Julie. I want her out of there.”

“Is she the one who was in the Hazelwood sting with you?”

“One and the same and the court ordered her to a special school or juvie. She ran away and the Family Mission wound up with her. Now the guy who runs it is named Davenport. I tried to call him to discuss returning Julie to the custody of her family. What they do with her is none of my business. He had his secretary tell me that he had no time for me.” I laughed out loud.

“The nerve of him, I’ll give this Davenport a call. See if I can’t convince him to have a powwow with you.”

“I want a little more than just to have him cut her loose. I want him to explain that he is a fraud. Otherwise she will just run back and that ass will keep her there.”

“I can maybe get you in to see him, but the rest is up to you. Now if she stole something and you wanted to press charges, I could go jerk her ass up.”

“I can get an arrest warrant, if Davenport wants to play rough. For right now just give him a call for me please. I really want to talk to him.”

“Okay Max, I’ll take care of it.”

“By the way Blevins, how was working with the FBI? Or should I ask how was it working with Anya?”

“Boring as shit, I missed you and the other guys from the Cop Out. I’m looking into a string of B&Es. You want to come help me out here.”

“You get the Julie thing settled for me, and I’ll bring them in for you,” I said with a laugh.

“You know Max. I believe you could at that. I’ll call Davenport and suggest he see you.”

Thanks Blevins,” I said.

My next call was to Jennifer. Once her receptionist put me through to her I said, “Did you know you have the best hold music I have found today.”

“How nice is that? All you have to do today is check out hold music?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m rattling Davenport’s cage. Could you have the inspectors start surprise inspections for me?”

“Oh, I have them on stand bye. We were just waiting for your call.”

“How did you know I would call?” I asked.

“Because nobody pays any attention to you the first time you ask for something. Eventually they do, but not at first.”

“Then start rattling his cage.” I hung up the phone then said to myself, “I wish Lucas were here.” He was obviously playing hooky or his decision was made.

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71 change of heart

The thing with Lucas was on my mind all afternoon Sunday. Even so, I did as much research on Davenport as I could manage on my own. I knew that Lucas had become very important to the business, as it had evolved. If Lucas decided to go, I would probably be looking for a new Lucas. I also knew that I could not back down. Lucas either worked for me, or Gwen and Mike. For me it was that simple. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, I had to make a decision right or wrong. I had neither the time not the inclination to explain my reasons to Lucas or anyone else. I often made the wrong decision and I had to live with that, but there are times you just have to do something, even if it is the wrong thing.

I knew that I had been right in what I said to Lucas. I was just sorry that it came to that. Of course Lucas was like a teenager. He had gotten more confident in his abilities, so he had begun searching for his own identity. It’s why parents of teenage kids age faster than parents of younger or older children.

I shook it off while sitting at my makeshift desk trying to find a handle on Davenport. I had said something to Lucas about using Marty’s resources to at least threaten Davenport. Maybe it was time to listen to myself.

I speed dialed Jen on the cell phone. Of course it went to voice mail. It was the weekend. Jen most likely was playing around with Reverend Archer, or Bob, or both. “Jen I need your help with the Julie thing. Call me when you get a chance.”

Just as I put the phone down I heard a high pitch screech from the front yard of my cabin. I also heard the sound of the trash can going over. Before I ran into a pissed off raccoon, I decided to check the front of the cabin with the surveillance camera.

What I saw was a ball of fur rummaging through my trash. It was the wrong color and marking for a raccoon. Since the cameras were black and white. I wasn’t sure of the color, but I was damn sure the it was a cat. I couldn’t tell if it were a house cat or a feral cat. It was for sure a cat though.

I had no desire to have my eyes scratched out by either, so I racked a shell into

the Mossberg 12 gauge riot shotgun. The Mossberg was the one I kept at home. The antique Winchester riot gun stayed in the safe room of the office, most of the time.

I opened the front door with the shotgun pointed at the ground, not anywhere near the cat. I could bring it up quickly, if need be. I didn’t want to shoot a starving cat by accident. I got my first good look at the cat and knew for sure that it was no cute cuddly kitten. Even from ten feet away I could see scars. One of his eyes was closed as well. Even I could see that he was reduced to raiding my trash only because he was dragging one leg. He didn’t seem to have any open wounds, but the leg, though not useless, was definitely not a 100%.

I spoke in a soft voice, since he hadn’t run away. “You have seen your share of combat haven’t you boy. You might not have always won, but they sure as hell knew you were there.” Since he sat in the pile of garbage eating on a left over Subway sandwich, I decided to see what I could do. “If you don’t run away, I can probably do a little better than my trash can restaurant’s menu.”

I returned to the inside of the cabin and rummaged aground. I found a can of corned beef hash. Once upon a time I had planned to have it for breakfast. Since I never got around to it, the stray cat might enjoy it, I thought. I knew that if I fed him, he might own me. It was a calculated risk,

The beat up old guy was still in the trash when I returned with the small bowl of hash. I set it on the stoop’s edge, then went inside to watch on the hidden camera. The poor beat up thing dragged his injured leg behind as he made it onto the stoop. I took a good look at the leg since it was the only wound that didn’t appear to be healed. The cat stood on it to eat, so I had to assume that it wasn’t totally paralyzed. It might even get better on its own, I thought. I knew there was no way in hell that I could capture him, so he was on his own. I knew for sure as long as he was eating and craping, I would not shoot him.

“God I wish you could talk. I would love to know what all you have been into.” After he finished the hash, he wandered through the garbage again. Just to be sure he hadn’t missed anything good, then he hopped away on his three good legs. I decided that his three colors qualified him as a calico.

I returned to my search of all things related to Davenport. After fifteen minutes of Davenport on the net, I heard the theme from the movie The Magnificent Seven. It was obviously coming from my cell phone. “Damn it, I wanted the phone to just ring,” I said aloud to no one.

“Hello Jen,” I said after the caller ID let me know that it was her.

“Max, what do you need now?” she snapped at me.

“Hey bitch, take it easy on me, I’m having a bad weekend, so you know. You got me into this crap with Marty and his film crew. It’s all their fault.”

“I didn’t get you into the Julie thing, you slut. Jack came to you, not to me. You sent him over to me, remember?” she said with mock severity.

“Only so that I could get paid. Look, I need to know does Marty has any pull with the Tryon city government?”

“Marty has pull with every government in the state.” she said.

“So if we need the inspections department to do their job, they would?”

“You mean to inspect the property of the Family Mission?” she asked.

“I see you have been talking to Archer. Yeah, I’m going to have a sit down with Davenport, I want to know how much juice I have.”

“I can get his property inspected and be damn sure the inspection department does it right, no matter who he has bribed,” she said. “You still have friends with the police there. Why not use them to go at him for the minor thing. I would bet Julie isn’t the only underage runaway.”

“To be honest, if the kids aren’t being abused, they are better off there than turning tricks. I just want Julie out of there. I don’t necessarily want the place shut down. I don’t mind crippling his operation, but I don’t really want him in jail just yet. That might change as we go along.”

“Just let me know, when you are ready to make a move.” She paused a moment then added. “You know screwing around with you is the only fun thing I ever do.”

“Bullshit,” I replied.

“Okay, the only fun thing I do out of bed. I have got to take up golf or something.” she said hanging up on me.

Since I was bored already, and since it appeared that I might need cat food, I checked on the web about cats and pain. Chances of me ever getting the cat to a vet were pretty remote. If he was in pain, I would like to help. Otherwise he was pretty much going to be on his own. After a quick Google I added baby aspirin to my shopping list.

It was 7PM when I left the cabin. I drove to the Wal-mart for the grocery items. It was always easier for me to shop there, because almost anything I really needed was somewhere in the store. I even picked up a hot pizza from the deli on the way out. I always bought a large anyway, but I decided to save a slice for the cat this time.

In the cruiser I had a better idea for the pizza. I decided to swing over by the Cop Out to eat my dinner. What I didn’t eat, the riff raff would. It would definitely not go to waste. I might even get some information in exchange.

Once inside the Cop Out, it took a second for my eyes to adjust. When they did, I saw Mosby and Jerry sitting at a table in the back. I was faced with a dilemma. Should I stay and confront them, or turn and slink away. While slinking away was contrary to my nature, it seemed like the thing to do. I remembered my own advice, it is better to know something, if the other parties don’t know that you do. With that in mind, I left the Cop Out and drove home.

There was no sign of the cat, and my trashcan was upright, so my guess was that he was somewhere sleeping off the corned beef hash. I parked the cruiser, then headed for the front door. I saw the cat wander out of the woods. He was trying to walk on that injured rear leg, but not putting much weight on it. It appeared to be a painful limp.

“You still hungry or just lonely?” I asked gently. Tell you what, it isn’t too cold tonight, and I really don’t want to be alone either. So how about I go in the house, breakout this pizza and sit on the stoop. We can share it. Do you think you would like that?”

I went inside got myself a chair and bottle of diet coke. I spiked the end of one pizza slice with a baby aspirin before I returned to sit on the concrete pad I called a stoop. It was no more than 6′ by 8′ but it was big enough. I sat in one of the two chairs from the kitchen table, while I held the pizza on my lap. I began drinking my coke and munching on the first piece of pizza. I held out the spiked piece but the cat wouldn’t come close enough to reach it.

“Had some bad experiences with people, huh?” I asked. “Well not to worry sport, I have had my share as well.” I tossed the pizza about six feet from my chair. Since my yard was covered in pine needles, the pizza didn’t get dirty. I doubted that it would have mattered to the cat. He obviously remembered the smell of pizza from better days. He ran right to it and made it disappear quickly. He also stood where he had eaten it. He wasn’t quite sure, but it looked as though he thought there might be more coming. He was right of course.

“You know cat, I shouldn’t be at all upset that Jerry and Mosby are together. After all they are both young and attractive people. Also they do have a history, even if it is with me more than each other.”

I tossed the cat another piece of the pizza just to keep his attention. “So what should I do. I am jealous, I admit to it. So do I make an issue or just wait them out. After all Mosby will be gone in a couple of weeks. Jerry and I don’t really have a relationship of any romantic kind to be honest.”

I tossed more pizza and the cat came a little closer. “Yeah, I always knew that it was business with Mosby. My God if it is just business, then that makes her a whore.” I actually laughed. “Actress, whore, if she isn’t careful she will be a politician next.” Cat didn’t laugh with me, he probably would have if his mouth hadn’t been full of pizza.

The cat got close enough for me to take a good look at his scars. “Who gave you those cuts buddy. I do hope it was some nasty dog. One that you cut up a little as well. If some human did that to you, point him out to me. Maxine will make it right, I promise.”

“So you are the strong silent type,” I said after he didn’t answer me. “Well maybe later you will talk. Now I have to get you some water.”

I put a bowl of water on the stoop for the cat. Then I went into the cabin to watch online TV. It wasn’t cold, but it was chilly. I left the door cracked for fifteen minutes just in case the cat had a change of heart. Then I closed it, locked up for the night, and went to bed with my mind spinning.

To shut it down, I masturbated quickly. That almost always worked, and it did again that night…

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70 God hates me

I managed to drag my lazy ass to the local Hardee’s for a biscuit. I always take my own coffee in my huge delta cup. You know the kind shaped like a mercury space capsule. It is only partly because I am miserly. I like my coffee better than theirs.

Sunday morning is quiet in our town. I have never figure out how it is possible, but there is no ‘before church’ traffic to amount to anything. After church the roads are jammed for a half hour at least. So how the fuck, do those people get to church is my question. It’s a mystery to be sure.

It was after nine before I left the restaurant. I had three hours to kill before I met with Lucas. I tried to think of anything that the bikes needed. I had almost a full gallon of premix, so that wasn’t an issue. What is premix you ask? Premix is a mixture of gasoline and oil used in 2 cycle engines. The engines used on both of our bikes were originally meant for some garden tool, I’m sure.

I drove to the office simply because the Mr. Coffee was there. I made coffee, then went back to the cruiser for my tool kit. When I returned to the office, I leisurely drank coffee while checking all the bolts for tightness.

When all the prep work that I could think of was done, I turned on my laptop to watch a TV show from the week before. I found a show with a couple of cute guys playing detective. It was humorous and entertaining. I am a bit of a wise ass, so I love wise guy TV. Yes bits and pieces of the dialogue find their way into my conversations. I admit I steal; I just try to steal from the best.

After the TV show Lucas still wasn’t in the office, so I found the local newspaper’s web site. On the website they published tidbits every day. The ‘tree killer’ addition came out every two weeks. I noted with distaste that I made the on line edition already. Damn there must have been a reporter sleeping with a cop to have gotten that story so fast.

I did learn the child thug’s name and age. Daren Brown, age 17, almost became a victim of his own stupidity. The story was reasonably accurate. It even had a bit of a twist, since the reporter focused on Thelma’s version. It did state that I was not available for comment. Thelma obviously went back to work after the robbery attempt. She would have been much easier to find for sure.

“So are you okay?” Lucas asked as he entered the office with Gwen at his side.

“I’m just fine.” Mike must have given them the news, I thought.

“You know you are beginning to look like a TV show. Every time I turn around you are there with that dumb looking pistol in someone face.” Lucas said it for the camera I’m sure.

“Well it’s a small town. There are only a half dozen stores you can just run in for gas and potato chips. I guess we just happened to be there at the same time. Or maybe God hates me.”

“I’m going with God hates you,” Lucas said. “So give me the phone. I think I have the perfect ring tone. I’ll put it on and you can test drive it today.”

“Here,” I said handing him the hated phone. “After that I have a little computer job for you. It shouldn’t take long at all.”

I drank coffee and ignored Gwen until she asked, “So what’s it like to live a life that makes no sense at all?”

I had to think about that a long time before I answered, “You mean my life makes no sense to you. It seems to make sense to me.”

“How could it. You bounce around like a ball inside a pinball machine.” It was obvious that someone had been doing some script writing.

“Gwen there is framework even in a pinball game. The top, bottom, and sides keep the ball in play. There are rules, you hit a bumper and you fly off, but you can only go so far. The flippers are your salvation, sometimes they save you, but eventually they don’t and you just fall off the planet. It is the same with everyone. I have just been able to stay in play longer and play harder than some of the other players. You and I play a different version of the pinball game. Mine is a faster one perhaps, but everybody plays some version of it. No one has total control of their own life.

“You believe that?” she asked.

“Yes I do,” I replied not at all offended by her attempt to fit my life into her sound bite.

“Here you go,” Lucas said handing me my cell phone and breaking the conversation. I had to give it to him; he knew when to jump in with both feet. “So what do you want me to check on the computer?”

“Earnest Davenport runs the Family Mission in Tryon. I need to know who he is, and what he owns. I also want to know who his employees are. He has several government grants through some kind of social services programs. The people who operate the half way house on a daily basis should be listed somewhere.”

“I should have it for you in a few minutes.” Lucas said going back to his computer.

When I went back to ignoring Gwen, it was a lot more personal. I had really begun to dislike her. If we were men, I would have thought that we were in a who’s is bigger contest.

While Lucas worked, she kept her camera pointed at him. I was glad his was the only interesting thing happening. Then out of nowhere Gwen asked, “You would have let that kid kill the clerk wouldn’t you.”

“Why would I do that?” I asked bewildered.

“Just to see if he would. You really are that cold aren’t you?”

“Gwen, do you have a list?” I asked smiling.

“What?” she asked instead of answering.

“Have you and Mike sat down to make a list of things that are supposed to piss me off. Are you looking for a reaction of some kind?” She didn’t deny it, or answer me at all for that matter.

“Here you go boss. Davenport has no criminal record. He left Duke University ten years ago. No reason was listed for his withdrawal. I can follow up with the university tomorrow, if you want.” I nodded to keep him talking. “He got involved in community action groups, when they were hiring ground troops. He drove the van for the get out the vote efforts. He even helped at the community centers. Probably how he got started working with the elderly.”

“Yeah, he can’t run a nursing home, so a geriatric day care is next best thing.” I agreed.

“He can’t even run one of those, since he isn’t qualified. That feeding project of Archer’s was ideal for him to get a foot in the door.”

“Is there any connection to Archer?” I wanted to know before I devised my strategy for Davenport.”

“Nothing at all, in fact there is an article written by Archer critical of Davenport.” I nodded again.

“You know about the two half way houses and the residential mentally challenged facility?” he asked.

“Yes I know about those and all the slums he rents out as well.”

“He has three thugs who work for him, as well as a secretary and a money/property manager.” Lucas said.

“Ah if Davenport doesn’t want to play on our team, we may need to contact the secretary or the money manager. Get everything you can on them. It’s 1 PM, you can do the follow up tomorrow. We need to ride.”

“Do you want the list of his property? It’s pretty extensive,” Lucas asked.

“Save it Luke, we can never have too much information.”

We immediately pulled the motors from the two bicycles, then put the bicycles onto the van’s carrier. Gwen followed us to the parking lot of a church in the rental car. I chose the church as our start point. It was in the center of the route I wanted to take. It also would have people coming and going so the van would be safe there. Reassembling the bikes took only minutes. It was a couple of minutes after 2 PM when we pedaled from the parking lot. The bike motors were humming but providing no help. We didn’t rev them into action until we were on the road. We hit a flat section with no cars parked on the sides, so we let them out. I did not have a speedometer but I guessed we were doing about twenty miles an hour. I had the route in my head, so naturally I got lost a few times.

Eventually I found myself across the street from the Friendly Missions volunteer’s living quarters. The runaway dorm, as I thought of it. It was even worse looking in the sunlight. The house was one step away from condemnation. There was no Julie hanging out in the yard for me to approach, so after only a few minutes of observation we moved on.

The halfway houses were even more grim looking, in the light of day. Those did have guys sitting on the front porch. Some looked more like active thugs than guys who had learned a lesson while in the joint. Boxer shorts showing above their barely hanging on jeans. Pure exercise yard gear, I thought. That made it look even more like a prison, and not so much minimum security either. I had to admit it made my anxiety level rise.

The housing for the mentally challenged was not any better than the halfway house. The only difference I noticed was the same as I saw the night before. The fence wasn’t as high. There were people sitting on the porch there as well. The people there seemed harmless. I knew better but they made me nervous as well.

After the tour Lucas pulled up beside me and motioned me to pull over. I found a shady spot to stop the bike. “You got trouble?” I asked.

“No I’m just wondering why all the interest in Davenport. We don’t need the grand tour to hijack Julie.” he suggested.

“If we just grab her Luke, she will just run away again. When the Pros from Dover leave, there will be nobody to finance another rescue. I want to try to solve this problem once and for all. Most likely it won’t work, but while we have all the resources that Marty’s money will buy, let’s use them.”

“Now that makes sense. Why didn’t you tell me that before?” he asked. He really was developing some bad habits since running around with Gwen. I didn’t want to do it but it was time to set him straight.

“Well first of all Lucas, you work for me. I am not required to inform you of my thinking. But even more important, you are dating one of the TV producers. I don’t want to share my thoughts with them. I am pretty sure they are putting you up to this shit, but don’t try to second guess me unless you are prepared to move on to some other job.”

“Maybe I need to do that,” he said anger creeping into his voice.

“Luke I think it is obvious that I like you. We usually work well together. Frankly, if you are going to think with your dick, then maybe you should move on. That is a decision only you can make. I hope you stay, but if you can’t get your head out of Gwen’s ass, you probably should find something else to do.”

There was a definite tension between us. I could feel it even on the bikes. It was more evident in the van as we drove back to Aster. We put the bikes away before he and Gwen left without a word.

I probably should not have said anything, but I did it as much for Gwen as for Lucas. If she had any honor at all, she would tell him to cool it. She would be gone in two weeks, and he had his whole life ahead of him. However, if she planned to take him back to Boston, then it would all work out for the best. Either way the ball was in his court.

Outside my compound, I found thing not quite as they should be. The tape revealed my big plastic trash can overturned, and paper food wrappers spread around the yard. I knew there were raccoons around the area. I also knew that garbage was high on their list of food sources, but I had never had an encounter. I wanted to write the trash as animal theft, but first I checked the other cameras carefully. I even went back and fast forward the last thirty minutes. All of the tape had the can already turned over, so I learned nothing, other than the cabin didn’t appear to have been breached. The gate area looked just it had when I left.

I took the chance and went through the gate. I cleaned up the mess while I looked for signs of animals. There were paw prints on the trashcan from the dirt in the yard. I decided it had been a raccoon.

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69 Davenport the slime

After my meeting with Reverend Archer, I had a pretty good feel for Davenport. He was different from Archer, but only in that he didn’t have any feelings for the people he supposedly served. In fact they served him. Human misery was the end product of his little business. The prolonging of it meant a steady income for him. In my opinion he was no better than the guys who smuggled in sweatshop labor from Asia. He had just found a way to turn a profit from home grown misery. He most likely got a certificate of achievement from the politicians as well.

At least Archer, for all his faults, tried to get his workers off their knees and back into society. Davenport counted on them never becoming independent. He was in fact being paid to keep them dependent on him. And worst of all, he was endangering their lives in the substandard houses where he placed them.

Since it was all hearsay and from people with an ax to grind at best, I needed to see it for myself. I had a feeling Davenport wasn’t going to be all that cooperative. If I planned any slight-of-hand, I probably needed to do it before he could recognize me as me.

I dialed Lucas’s cell phone. It went to message right away. My guess was that he and Gwen were somewhere playing house and he didn’t want to be bothered. Since the message wasn’t urgent, I didn’t mind.

“Lucas when you get this give me a call. I thought you and I might take a bike ride on our new toys tomorrow afternoon. I need you to do a computer search first, if you can meet me at noon tomorrow in the office. Give me a call to confirm. If I don’t hear from you today, I will just handle it. I do need to ride the bike tomorrow. Oh yeah the weatherman says bright and sunny. It will be a good day for it.

I was watching a TV show from the night before on my laptop, when the cell phone played that horrible music. “Hello,” I said to the phone number I didn’t recognize.

“Max, it’s Jerry. Are you coming to the Club tonight?” he asked.

“Jerry, I haven’t even decided where I’m going to eat tonight. Why?”

“Mosby won’t answer her phone.”

“Call me back in ten minutes,” I said. Yes, I was concerned. I had too many friends get into shit because of me. I was always concerned when my friends did the unexpected. In Jerry’s case my guess was that Mosby was just too embarrassed to speak with him.

“Mosby,” I said in answer to her hello.

“Talk to Jerry, people like Jerry and me are paranoid. If you don’t talk to him, he will be at your door. If that is what you want, I will just send him over.”

“God no, I don’t want to see him now. I’m still trying to work out how I feel about last night.”

“Then take his call and tell him that. I will leave you alone tonight. I have some things I need to do anyway.” I didn’t really, but it sounded good.

“Hello Jerry,” I said when he called. “Give Mosby a call now. She will explain. And I put your phone in my speed dial list for business calls.”

“You can put it in your personal file. I found you just as amazing as Mosby.” he said. I could almost see the stupid male conquest smile on his face.

“And, I found you adequate,” I replied. He needs just s touch of deflation, I thought. “Anyway call her, you make a cute couple. Jerry, give her some time this is all new to her.”

“Okay Max, so how are you?”

“Jerry it was Mosby’s first time at the dance, not mine. But to answer your real question, you did just fine.”

He laughed gently then said, “I guess that really was my question. It was my first time at the dance as well.”

“Okay, tell Mosby that. Also tell her she was the reason you went to the dance. Just so she doesn’t feel like a piece of meat.”

I did not want to stay home alone on a Saturday night. Especially not after a Friday night like the one I just had, so I rode over to Tryon. First I called Mike; since it appeared he was on duty. I drove by the addresses that Archer had provided, with Mike following behind. It was his choice to being a separate car.

The houses were always the worst ones on the block. By the time Davenport’s Family Ministry got them, they would have been rundown. Old people have to let the upkeep on their homes slip, if they want to survive. Particularly those in need of a hot meal from the Family Ministry’s kitchen.

Add to that Davenport’s practice of not doing any routine Maintenance and it was a recipe for continued slum housing. Each of the two halfway houses, the ministry ran, was surrounded by a six foot chain link fence. They were not supposed to be prisons, but they might easily have been mistaken for a minimum security prison. There were no guard houses, but they still looked like prisons to me.

The facility for the mentally challenged was no better. The fence was lower, but there was still a fence around it. I shook my head as I did the drive by at the runaway kid’s dorm. It was a large brick house, so it looked a little better, but the yard was littered and the porch looked ready to cave in. There were three colors of shingles on the roof. It was not a happy looking place at all. Hell the Adams family was most likely their decorator of choice.

I had seen all I could from the car. I needed to get onto the grounds of the kid’s dorm at least. First I needed to know, whether Julie would come willingly, or if I needed to snatch her up. It would be a different kind of rescue, if Julie resisted.

“Hey Max, I will be at the office tomorrow at noon, if that is okay” Lucas’s voice said over the cell.

“That’s fine and dammit I want this ring tone changed tomorrow.” I said finally remembering.

“That’s easy you could do that yourself.” he suggested. Hanging around with Gwen had not been a positive influence for him. He was getting way to independent. I did smile at the thought though.

“Then good, it won’t take you long. Note the emphasis on you.” I said smiling.

“All right ring tone change tomorrow. I’ll down load some for you to choose from.”

“Don’t bother anything but that stupid song that plays now. I think it’s Barry Manilow for God’s sake.”

“Okay no Manilow,” Lucas said. “Max are we doing something out of plumb tomorrow?”

“Hell no, it’s just a little bike ride around Tryon.”

“Why Tryon?” he asked.

“I thought a change of scenery would be nice.”

“I have a feeling it isn’t going to be nature, which we will be observing.”

“Oh hell, Lucas we are going to be bird watching some of the time, I promise.” ‘Jailbirds, ‘ I thought. I overlooked telling him that part. No sense getting his hopes up, nothing might happen at all.

It was seven thirty when I stopped for a Subway Steak and Cheese sandwich on the way home. Mike came inside to order a sandwich as well. I smiled and he ignored me. I also stopped at a convenience store for chips. I wanted a bigger bag, than I would have gotten at Subway and some chili cheese dip as well. Mike stayed in his car in the back corner of the parking lot. It was his way of observing without being noticed. I thought it was foolish, but I said nothing. Besides he did that James Bond shit all the time. I was used to it.

I swear to you I have the worst fucking luck of any human being on the planet. I’m back picking out a can of dip for use with the chips, when some black kid comes in with his hand in his hoodie’s pocket.

“Give me all the cash or I’m going to blow your fat ass away,” he said it all in some ‘gangsta’ style. If his voice hadn’t been quivering, it would have sounded better.

“I don’t think you have a gun,” the overweight white lady behind the counter said.

“What the fuck do you think this is,” the kid said it while showing her the chrome automatic. It was most likely a 9mm. One of those walk around guns, that thugs bought to impress each other. Even my hammerless .38 revolver had more hit.

Since the Mendez brothers, I never went anywhere without it. He was so invested in the clerk, that he didn’t even notice the most dangerous bitch in the place, me. I slipped up behind him and put the .38 against the base of his skull.

“Drop it or I put a slug in your brain pan,” I said.

“I can shoot her before you can shoot me, ” he said.

“Kid, I don’t even know her. What makes you think I give a shit, if you shoot her? Now drop the piece or use it. It’s a couple of years for armed robbery or a bullet in the brain, your choice.” I said again.

He carefully placed the pistol on the counter. “You that Stone bitch?” he asked looking into the surveillance mirror.”

“That’s me. If you had looked up sooner, you would have known this was a bad idea.” I turned my attention to the chubby old lady. “You okay Thelma?”

“Yeah Maxine, would you have really let him shoot me?” she asked a little shocked.

“Of course not. If he showed any signs of that, I would have covered you in his brain matter.” I said while smiling at her. The truth is I might not have known his intention till after she was dead. The paperwork and interviews for apprehending him were much easier than they would have been if I had killed him. Since I had done both kinds, I gave him the chance to put the gun down.

“Now Thelma call 911 and tell them that you are holding a robber at gunpoint. Tell her to be sure to tell the officers not to come in guns blazing.”

“Oh yeah,” Thelma said reaching for the store phone. I saw Mike move his car across the street. Thelma didn’t notice, so I didn’t mention it.

“Now kid let me tell you something. I’m tired of holding this gun to your head, but I will shoot you, before I allow myself to get sloppy. So take a step back, then lean forward and put your hands on the counter. Spread your legs just like you do for the cops or your boyfriend. Might as well go ahead and get in the position. They will have you do it when they get here anyway. ‘The position’ was about a lot more than ease of search. The mooch was way off balance, any move he made would give me plenty of time to react.

I smiled over at Thelma as the cops pulled into the parking lot. “Looks like the game is over and you won,” I said to her.

“I don’t feel like a winner. I feel like I need to pee.” she said. I laughed.

We rated a sergeant and two patrolmen. When they came in things were tense for a moment or two as the patrolmen told me to drop the gun.

“Sunny this is a collector’s piece. I will put it on the floor with the barrel facing me, but I will not drop it.”

“Do it,” the sergeant said quietly.

I did exactly as I said I would. The sergeant recovered my pistol and carefully put it on a box of candy bars. “Ms Stone, do you hire these idiots, just so you can get more publicity?” he asked.

“Sure, I have a standing order with ‘Idiots are us.” They deliver me one every week. Actually I just came in for a bag of chips. I have a subway steak sandwich out in the car getting soggy as we speak.”

“Hell, I like mine soggy, even a day old,” he said. “You know the drill, we are going to have to interview you. I will try to make it quick.”

“Okay, this is the quick version. The idiot came in stuck a gun in Thelma’s face and demanded money. This place belongs to Thelma and her husband. I was afraid she would do something stupid to save her money, so I put the .38 in his ear. That’s it.”

“Sounds about right to me. I know where to reach you, if we need more. One of the new robbery/homicide dicks will be around I’m sure.”

“See if you can keep this out of the papers please,” I said.

“Not a chance, newspapers are about to die. In their death throws they are reading every scrap of paper that comes across the booking room desk.”

“How very wonderful for me,” I said with a sarcastic tone.

After the interview ended Thelma gave me the chips and thanked me profusely. I drove home ate the soggy sandwich and went to bed. Of course I had to masturbate to get my mind off the almost shooting. I waved goodnight to the camera before I fell asleep in my wet panties.

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68 To buy or move

I had slept off my sexual hangover by 3AM, so I left Mosby’s apartment. I figured that Jerry and Mosby would do better with breakfast alone. I knew for damn sure I would do better with breakfast alone.

It wasn’t just chilly. It was cold that Saturday morning in mid November. I could managed to make it home and into my small bed before I got core body cold. The heater in the cruiser was pure crap. From Mosby’s apartment to my cabin was about eight miles. The heater in the cruiser got warm at 6.7 miles. Toss in the fact that I was not dressed for the cold, and you had a woman who drove six miserable miles at 3AM.

Fortunately there were no lights in my rear view mirror at all that night. Thank God there were also no signs on the surveillance cameras of any intruder, so I got through all my security precautions rather quickly.

Once in the tiny bed, it was all over for me. Sometimes I lay in bed waiting for my mind to disengage. Not so that early morning, the sexual fog residue put me right out of it again. I closed my eyes at 3:30AM, then opened them again at 8AM.

When I awoke the sun was not shining, and all was not right with the world. It was a dreary day, which put me in a dreary mood. In my case a dreary mood manifests itself as aggression. I might have been in an aggressive mood, but I wasn’t pure evil. I decided to let Jen sleep until 10AM at least.

While I waited I fixed myself an egg sandwich which was every bit as good as Helen’s. It should be, she taught me how to do it.

First I reached into the freezer unit of the small refrigerator to remove one of the two frozen sandwich rolls, which I had stored there. Those rolls were from Helen’s day old roll supply. I got them before she made stuffing or some such from the bread. Helen refused to use anything but fresh bakery rolls for her sandwiches. Which helped explain why people paid almost double the going rate for them.

I put the frozen roll into the microwave for 22 seconds exactly. While it nuked, I broke one ordinary egg into a cereal bowl. I added salt and pepper then a generous dash of Texas Pete hot sauce. I stirred the hell out of it. By the time it was ready for the microwave, the bread was soft and warm.

I replaced the bread with the egg bowl, then reset the timer of the microwave to exactly fifty seconds. While that ran, I found the sliced cheese in the refrigerator. I removed one piece, on which I folded the corners back making the square piece into one the shape of a stops sign. When the microwave beeped, I put the cheese on top of the egg. I ran the ‘nukalator’ another ten seconds. I added just bit of Mayonnaise to the roll before I assembled it.

That sandwich, along with day old, strong ass, coffee, started me on the way to a better mood. Making the best egg sandwich in the world is easy, but I seldom bothered. I did it that morning only because it was Saturday. On Saturday Helen didn’t run her truck. Also because I just didn’t feel like leaving the cabin that early. I know 8:30 isn’t all that early, but after Friday night, it was indeed too early for me to be out for the world to see.

I even washed the one cereal bowl, since I was killing time that morning. I wasn’t sleepy, but I was still exhausted. My energy level was low for some reason. So low in fact that I was still in the sweater I had slept in the night before. It was also the sweater I had worn to the Cop Out. I was still in the soiled panties as well. Even I knew it was time for a shower and clean clothes.

My cell phone played that stupid song right in the middle of my shower. If I didn’t remember to have Lucas fix that damn phone soon, it was going to find itself in the city sewer system one day. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t get down my cabin’s plumbing, but it would fit down the toilet at Ed’s converted service station for sure. The phone had gone to message, before I could get out of the tiny shower stall.

I had expected the call to be Jen, but it was Ed instead. “Max,” the message began. “I have some news. I’m not sure if it is good or bad, but my client’s mother called me at home last night. She has convinced her son, the cabin’s owner, to sell it. Since you already lived there, and it would be a quick easy sell, she is going to give you the first option. If she doesn’t hear from you by Monday, she is going to list it with a Realtor. That means your cover is blown for sure. You would also lose all the money you put into the place. So let me know what you want to do.”

Now that just sucks rotten eggs, I thought. I had never spent a complete winter in the cabin. The last winter I had been in Jen’s apartment. Fuck, it is always something, I told myself as I began to dress. I was going to spend the weekend trying to decide, whether I wanted to live in a tiny cabin, or take my toys and leave.

I still hadn’t heard from Jen. The call from Ed put me in an even worse mood, so I called her.

“Hello,” her sleepy voice said into the phone.

“Get your ass out of bed you lazy heifer.” I said it way too cheerfully. Yes waking Jen up had cheered me up some.

“Max what the hell are you doing calling me at 9AM on a Saturday?”

“It’s 9:30 Jen and you were supposed to call me?” I informed her.

“Why would I call you, you cow?” she asked. I could see the smile on her face through the phone.

“Because Helen’s husband came to see you, and you have an agreement with Marty. So are you taking Jack’s case. Even more important are you hiring me?”

“Oh hell yes, It was after six when all that got decided. I figured you had already started your weekend, so I didn’t call. Now can I go back to sleep?”

“Is the Reverend there?” I asked more to piss her off than anything.

“No, our mutual friend the Reverend, does not spend his nights here,” Jen snapped.

“Temper, Temper. I know that he spends a few nights there. Like anytime Bob is out wandering around, or the three of you want to play at the house of kink games.” Thank god she didn’t know about the Jerry, Mosby and me tryst just yet. Of course she would, since it was going to be all over the Internet one day. I had no doubt that it would be complete with a ‘shadows on the wall’ video as well.

That image just dawned on me. It was why the setup was in the living room with the lights on throwing images against the curtains for Mike or Gwen to film. That had to be Mosby’s idea. I expect there were negotiations going on, or soon start for Jerry’s waiver. What a fucked up mess my life had become.

“Well he isn’t here,” Jen insisted.

“I need to talk to him. That mission story sounds a lot like the Reverends Empire in the sun.” I said it humorously I thought.

“Hey the Reverend does good work. His is not a cult,” she said not quite angry but it was snippy.

“You can bet your ass Archer knows something about it. The plan is the same one he is using. His might be for the community’s betterment, but we both know that plan can be twisted to make some asshole rich. So if it isn’t Archer, he most likely knows which asshole it is.”

“He might, I am not going to speak for him.” Jen said.

“Always the a lawyer aren’t you Jen?” I asked.

“Always the cop, aren’t you Max. I thought when you left the military, you would get past that.”

“Hey bitch, you got me into all this shit,” I replied angrily.

“Bullshit, I got you into delivering court papers to supplement that tiny little pension you got from the Air Force. You didn’t even let me apply for the disability add on.”

“Because, I’m not disabled. If you had done that, I would just have to give it back now that the business is profitable. Let’s not go through this again. Just call Archer and tell him I’m on my way to talk to him. Call me back with his location.”

“Say please, you ungrateful bitch,” she insisted just before she broke into a hearty laugh. “I’ll call, just as soon as I find him.”

“Jen honey, I know you. Archer is on your speed dial and he knows better than to not answer you.” I laughed that time.

“I’ll call you,” she said. She was wide awake so I trusted that she would call soon.

I met Archer at noon at the bike shop. He was in the small office that was used by everyone who worked there. It was the office, the break room, and probably the meeting place for lots of loose women. Hell, I fit right in.

“So Max, Jen explained about Jack’s daughter. What do you want to know?”

“Are you running that mission?” I asked.

“All my work is here in Aster. My calling is to improve the lives of the forgotten people here.” Archer said.

“Reverend, it’s Max you are talking to, not the chamber of commerce. I know most of the money goes into the ministry, but you didn’t take a vow of poverty. Now if you aren’t running it, who is and what is their game?” I asked.

“I gave a lecture at one of those community improvement conferences two years ago. It was about how to grow a ministry from the streets. The representative from Tryon was there and he seemed to have a real interest. His name is Earnest Davenport. He went home and began a program like mine. But Davenport is not a minister. He is probably not even a servant of God.

“So is it a nonprofit organization, a scam, or a cult?’ I asked.

“I’m not sure. It could be a little of each. Enough nonprofit to avoid the 35% tax bracket. He is skimming off enough of the profits to make me look like a saint.” he said.

“And the cult part?” I asked.

“If you aren’t doing it in the name of god, you have to have something for the lost ones to cling to. In this case it is the personality cult of brother Davenport, aka the Family Mission.” Archer said.

“So tell me how is it organized?”

“Davenport began with the runaway kids in Tryon. Kids who leave home flock to Tryon or Charlestown. Most of them wind up on the streets. Living and working there. If they aren’t hooked on drugs, they are half starved. He fed them and gave them a chance to make a more or less real contribution. They think they are involved with a higher calling.

He has a zero tolerance drug policy, so a lot of kids pass through the mission, but don’t stay. He tries to move them from drugs to his personality cult, some make it, some don’t.”

“So does he put them fixing bicycles?” I asked.

“No mostly it was maids and gardeners at first. He chose the kids because they were easy to con. He can’t get ex-cons and drunks to buy into the bullshit he lays on the kids. You know the old Charlie Manson, we are family bullshit.”

“So he used part of the money to do a hot lunch program at the community center?”I asked.

“Oh no, the community center wouldn’t touch him. His hot lunch program is in the basement of a non denominational church. One that doesn’t look too hard to see if the food is tainted by greed. Like it or not it is a good way to accumulate wealth and hungry people get fed. Sometimes the wealth goes to the church, sometimes it goes to the Family Mission.”

“So the old folks die off and leave him their property. Is that the scam?” I asked.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg. The old folks without family or any real ties to the church or anything else may remember those free meals. So yeah, some of them leave their property to the Family Mission.”

“If it was you, there would be the thrift store to move the personal property of the benefactors.” I suggested.

“Oh hell that’s too smalltime for Davenport. That stuff he sells to me by the pound. We move it through our thrift store at a profit of course.”

“So what happened to the houses and cars?’

“The first house he uses as his dormitory for the kids. It is a dump. Even I wouldn’t let people live there.”

“So what about the others?” I asked

“The Family Mission is a giant slum lord enterprise. The houses that are pretty nice, he rents to families at reasonable rates, but he does no maintenance. He makes that clear to the renters. They are responsible for any needed routine repairs. The laboring few have done some serious repairs. Just enough to keep the houses from being condemned. It is so hard to collect that we will only work for cash in advance these days.”

“How about the houses that really need work?” I asked.

“He does the minimum repairs then they become half way houses for paroled cons, drug addicts and the mentally challenged…”

“Does he provide counseling?” I asked looking for some good in Davenport.

“He calls it peer counseling and the government buys it. Davenport houses the ex-cons and the recovering druggies in the same house. Then he hires an ex-con bad enough to keep the others in line. One for each halfway house is all it takes, if the counselor is violent enough. He has a couple of people he claims kicked the drug habit who hold group sessions with the addicts.

“As for the mentally challenged shelter, the rescued kids go in and help out with their needs. He is only certified for the functioning level patients.”

“Davenport sounds like a real slime ball,” I said even though he didn’t sound all that bad. He was warehousing people no one wanted wandering the streets. My objection was that he was screwing everyone in the process.

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