ATTENTION! If you'd like to read the whole book as a FREE PDF or EBook complete copy of this book, send an email to me at bob@magic1online.com.com and I'll send you the entire book. Thanks, Bob Moats.


     Classmate Murders      

By Bob Moats




Classmate Murders

Jim Richards has reluctantly turn sixty and has just quit his job as a security guard. He describes himself as "I live in my old bedroom in my parents house, lousy credit score, over-weight, balding, gray beard, I drink at least 8 beers a night, I'm now unemployed and I just became a senior citizen, I'm such a loser". One day he receives an email from a childhood sweetheart he hasn't seen in over 40 years, pleading for help but he doesn't get to her in time. A killer is now stalking and killing his old female classmates (while they are under police protection) for unknown reasons and Jim, along with his only friend Buck, a big, mustachioed biker, are trying to stop the killer before the class of ‘67 has lost any more of it's female alumni.

This is a work of pure fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Classmate Murders by Bob Moats

Copyright © 2009 by Bob Moats.
Cover design by Bob Moats

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information and address:
Magic 1 Productions
P.O. Box 524, Fraser MI 48026-0524

Website:
http://classmatemurders.com
A Magic 1 Productions Book / published by arrangement with the author

Paperback ISBN # 978-1-4276-4149-6 - ISBN provided by Aardvark Global Publishing
EBook ISBN # 978-1-4523-0445-8 - ISBN provided by Smashwords.com

**

Dedicated to any person who loves good crime novels and characters, especially those characters like Spenser, Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall, Women's Crime Club, Travis McGee, Alex Cross, Harry Dresden, Eve Dallas, The Camel Club, etc...

My thanks to...

• George “Buck” Carver, for being the inspiration for the character of Buck, and for his support.

• Jan Kimball, for editing all my punctuation and grammar errors.

• Ray Zink, for his motivating me.

• Anyone else who read and endured my early drafts of the book.




"It's never too late to take a chance, it's never too late to change your life."
Last Chance Harvey

"The primary benefit of practicing any art, whether well or badly, is that it enables one's soul to grow."
Kurt Vonnegut

"Fiction is the combination of I remember and let's pretend."
Berlie Doherty

So, let's pretend. Thanks, Bob Moats.




Chapter One

Turning 40 and then 50 years old didn't really bother me, but turning 60 was something I just couldn't accept. I ignored it the day it happened, and tried my best to do so despite my family and friend's attempts to make sure I didn't forget. Damn them.

I was now one month past 60, and it still bothered me. The only good thing about it, I was just one year and eleven months closer to social security.

I grumbled around my tiny room tapping the keyboards on my computers, bringing them out of sleep mode, and wishing I had something better to do with my life. Actually anything at all would have been better since I was now doing nothing in the present time of my life. I was unemployed due to the stupidity of my former employers, an age old problem for most good workers, and the state unemployment agency decided I didn't qualify for benefits. Maybe it's the fact that I had quit my job because I really hated it, possibly that was the reason I was denied compensation. I wrote a nice letter in response to their request for more info explaining that my former employers were jerks and they were just abusing my good nature and forcing me to abuse my car in the duty of my job.

I had spent the last 22 months as a security guard driving my car around a large suburban Detroit Cadillac dealership midnights from 7 p.m. till 6 a.m. the next morning, guarding car tires that were the main goal for addicts and the poor to steal. They'd steal them right off the cars. It amazed me that they would haul in a heavy hydraulic jack, tire irons and concrete blocks to remove about 2-4 tires that they would sell for a couple hundred dollars risking being caught. I was a good little trooper and managed to stop two attempts at theft, being told by my employer that I would get a whole twenty dollars as a reward, which I never did receive. Not the first lie they told. My poor car, a twenty year old Ford Crown Victoria was slowly feeling the same ailments I was, old age. I had to do a number of repairs on it during the time I was working and the heater would give out, usually when winter hit here in southeast Michigan. Well, to shorten boring details, I had enough of the car abuse and asked for time off to get the car fixed properly. They gleefully took it as my resignation and I was out of a job.

My computers finally winked to life and I hooked the laptop to the internet dial-up connection and checked my email which usually consisted of spam and a number of forwarded jokes, dirty pictures and chain letters from Buck, my former co-worker and the only friend I have. I would delete the spam and the chain letters and then read the jokes, admire the nubile naked bodies of the women in the pictures from Buck, trying to remember the last sex I had about 12 years ago. It was fading from my memory banks, now a wistful image that I could no longer enjoy. Don't get me wrong, I have occasional sex, just not with another human being.

Buck was another guard that I worked with and he was not a person that thieves would want to have facing them down. Buck was a big, mustachioed biker who carried a silver plated .38 in his belt. We were not supposed to carry but he'd rather be caught with it than without it. Me, I just refused to get out of my car if confronted by criminals. Ok, I'm a coward. Buck was also a big teddy bear with a soft spot for others, he cared, a rare commodity in people now days. He would fuss over my problems and occasionally buy me a 30 pack of beer in exchange for loaning him my DVD collection of movies. Buck was my only friend that I had other than my computers and my beer.

I looked up at the wall clock, it was just now 7:45 in the evening and all was quiet in the house. My parents were in bed, they usually were in bed by at least 6:30. My Dad was ill and my Mom was his caregiver. I helped Mom with things she couldn't handle, like getting my Dad into bed, doing the shopping and odd jobs around the house. It was an arrangement that suited my Mom, but being an unemployed, beer drinking, 60 year old man living with his parents, I wasn't exactly a prime candidate for any woman seeking a relationship. God, what a loser I was. I can see the profile in the online dating form: "Well, I live in my old bedroom in my parents house, poor credit score, over -weight, balding, gray beard, I drink at least 8 beers a night, I'm unemployed and I just became a senior citizen. I can be the man of your dreams, we just can't meet at my place."

The clock now ran up to 8:00 p.m. and I opened the first of the six beers that I had to cut back to now that I was out of work and money. A thirty pack of beer now lasted five days and kept my expenses down. My Mom gave me a bit of money each week for gas to run for her, so I divided the allowance between the gas for the car and the fuel for me. I have a cardinal rule, I never drink beer before 8:00 at night and I never drive even after one can. I've seen the hell a person can go through after a cop pullover and a few beers.

Tonight my email contained the usual crap, along with Buck's stuff, but one letter caught my eye. The sender was "DWittenfield@gomail.com" and the subject said in big letters: "JAMES, PLEASE HELP!" I knew a Dee Wittenfield in elementary school and she always called me James. Actually I had a huge crush on Dee and we even went steady for about a month before the school district broke into smaller divisions and she was sent to a different school. I went to the download on my mail program and recovered the letter. It read:

"James, I know its been years since we've seen each other, but I talked to joyce harper and she said she heard you were working for a detective company. I got your email address off the alumni website and I don't know who to turn to but I'm afraid for my life, I can't call the police and I thought you might help me. if you could call me, I'm at 555-3682. I can't even go out of my apartment. please call, Dee."

I printed out the letter and read it again.

I pulled my trusty Palm Treo cell phone out of my pocket and dialed the number. It rang about four times then a male voice answered.

"Hello?"

"May I speak with Dee, please?"

"Who's calling?"

"I'm a friend of her's from high school, can I talk to her please?"

"I'm afraid she can't come to the phone." He paused. "She was murdered earlier today."

Hearing those words sent a shuddering chill through my body.

The voice on the phone asked, "Who are you again?"

I didn't know what to say. "I'm a friend from high school." I blurted out.

"You said that already, but who are you?" He demanded.

"Well, who's asking?" I demanded back.

"Detective Sergeant Will Trapper, Clinton Township Police. Now, you wanna to answer my question."

"Oh." My mind was blank. "Uh, My name is Jim Richards, I knew Dee from high school."

"Yeah, I got that much already. When was the last time you saw Miss Wittenfield?"

"I guess it's been over 40 years." My brain tried to do the math but I just rounded it off.

"You call now after 40 years, why?"

"She sent me an email today to call her."

There was a silence for a beat then he asked, "What did the email say?"

I read it to him from the print out, he was silent again.

"That's all she said?"

I assured him that was it. "What happened to her, may I ask?"

"We're investigating, that's all I can say right now. Wittenfield said in her email that you were with a detective company, who do you work for?"

"Oh, it's actually a security company, I was a guard. They had a contract with Dooley Cadillac on Eight Mile and I worked there 4 nights a week watching the cars. I'm not working for them at the moment. I quit."

"Why'd you quit?"

"Long story, be happy to tell you about it sometime, unless you got about 20 minutes now to hear me rant about my employers." He let it go.

He asked how I could be reached, I told him and he said I'd probably be called in to answer some more questions. I don't know what more I could have told him, other than Dee and I went steady for about a month 40 years ago. I hope that wasn't grounds for suspicion.

I hung up the phone, in a daze. A girl I had a super crush on years ago had been murdered and she wanted me to help her. I sat there for a long while, my mind just numb.

I knew Buck was working the midnight shift tonight at the dealership so I called him. He and I spoke to each other just about every night on the phone, but since I left working there our calls just amounted to when he was working, I didn't want to bother him at home.

"Hey, Jimmy, wass up!" His voice was smooth with a touch of southern in it. I never did ask him about that.

"Well, I've got a mystery on my hands."

"Talk to me, man, I'm intrigued." I could hear his smile through the phone.

I told him about the email and the phone call. I read the letter to him and he was quiet for a bit.

"Wow, a murder mystery. When you gonna start investigating?" The smile came again.

"Buck, she was a long ago love in my life and now her life is gone. I'm at a loss here as to how to feel or what I should do about it."

"Well, she thought you could help her, maybe you should." Buck has this outlook on life to seize the day and damn the torpedoes.

I loved good crime/mystery stories and I own over a hundred e-books that I read on my Palm TX when I have some free time. I read just about every Alex Cross book by James Patterson and I was up to my 20th "in Death" book by Nora Roberts writing as J. D. Robb about the futuristic police detective, Eve Dallas. My other crime heroes were Spenser, Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone in separate books by Robert B. Parker and lately Travis McGee by John D. MacDonald were the tasty meat that I devoured. The thought of being a P.I. intrigued me.

"Ok, so where do we start?" I posed the question.

"Whoa, you offering me a job as junior detective?" He kidded.

I ignored him and was studying the email printout.

"You know she mentions a mutual friend, Joyce Harper, in her email, maybe she would know what Dee was afraid of." I commented.

Buck was excited. "When do we start, Kemosabe?"

"I'm not the Lone Ranger, Buck. I'd rather be Spenser." Buck had no idea who I was talking about. "Remember 'Spenser for Hire', 80's TV show with the late Robert Urich?"

"Oh yeah and the "Hawk" his sidekick, one big mean mother fricker. Spen-sahh"

"Yeah that one." I had to relate Hawk with Buck, now my sidekick in crime solving. I smiled at the "Spen-sahh" reference which was the name Hawk often had called Spenser on the show.

"Ok, so how do you find this Harper woman?" Buck queried.

"Well, for the last 5 years I have been the web guy for my high school alumni website and I have seen her name on the alumni board. I could go there and get her email address and contact her that way. Or do a Google search for her. Either way this town is small enough I can locate her."

"So go look her up and talk to her, man." Being caught up in the flow, his excitement came through the phone.

"I'll see what I can do tomorrow to locate her. But tonight I have to get through the fact I lost an old friend and not to old age."

"Hey buddy, I understand. I've lost a few friends over the years." He spoke quietly. Buck was a biker, and I knew he lost some people he knew due to careless and often drunk drivers on the roads. People in cars don't watch out for those smaller vehicles on two wheels.

"Yeah, I know. Well, I'll call you tomorrow night and let you know what happens."

"Well, good night, buddy, you need me, just call! Don't get yourself murdered." He grinned through the phone.

"Not about to, take care."

I hung up and sat back in my rickety desk chair. It made it's annoying squeal that I often worried would wake my parents. I listened and heard nothing. I probably could oil the damn thing but that would have meant doing physical labor, I wasn't up to it anymore. I went to my computer's keyboard and brought up Google and typed in Dee Wittenfield. It came up with just over one million hits which was a bit of a lie, since Google looks for every instance of the name Dee and and every instance of Wittenfield. That can cover every Dee online, from Dee Wallace-Stone to Dee Dee Myers. My Dee Wittenfield was not to be found even after I searched through about ten pages. I knew then she wasn't a person to be found on the web. I tried Joyce Harper and she came up on the first page with her real estate agency. I added the address and phone number to my Palm Treo and put my computers back to sleep for the night. I wasn't in any mood now to be looking for more free software to download and pack into my already bloated computer.

I turned off the desk lamp and was left with all the tiny LED lights from numerous computer accessories that made my room look like the starry night sky. I still sat in my aging chair and just took in the lights. My mind wandered back to a day on the school bus when I passed Dee a note asking if she wanted to go steady with me. I watched her reading the note and she looked up and smiled, nodding a yes to my note. I was in heaven, but fate took us apart when she was bussed off to a new school in the district just a few weeks later. We lost touch and then when we all joined back into the big high school, I was afraid to approach her, so I lost her again though she was still close by. She was a beauty and after graduation I often wondered what had happened to her. Now I knew and even though I never saw her all these years, I still remember her as a young beauty.

I plopped down on the bed but didn't get much sleep that night.

*

Chapter Two

I did finally doze off by around 4 a.m., I think, it was the last time I looked at the clock. The alarm on my Palm TX rattled me out of bed playing the James Bond theme that I ripped off the DVD of the latest movie "Quantum of Solace". It had a jazzy attack on what was the thread for every Bond movie beginning from "Dr. No". The gun barrel moving across the screen as Bond walks into view and shoots his weapon. The music blares, our blood stirs as the screen goes red with blood.

I was already dressed since I forgot to get undressed last night, and it was just after nine o'clock. I whizzed out of my room almost knocking my Mother over in the hall way. I said my good mornings and gave a quick excuse for heading out the door. But I did pause long enough to ask her if there was anything she needed while I was out. After a bit of sorting through her gray matter, she said no. I think my Mom is tops but at 80 years old she was becoming a little slow getting her eggs in order.

I refuse to get any older than I am now.

Sitting in my car, I started up the map program on my Palm TX and did a quick find on the Harper Reality address. I got a pinpoint on the location on the tiny road map and headed there. Her business had what they used to call "banker's hours" and didn't open till 10. I wandered over to the small restaurant in the shopping plaza where Joyce had set up shop. It was a small diner and I scooped up the local paper off the counter and went to a booth. The front page screamed out about the murder yesterday of a local woman, giving a bit more detail than what Trapper had provided me with last night which actually was nothing. It said she was killed in her apartment by strangulation and there were no witnesses. My mind played a gruesome image of her having the breath squeezed out, and I had to shake my head to move it out. The waitress came over for my order and I said milk and a donut. I hated coffee since the army tried to make me drink their crap back during my tour of Germany, '69 to '71. I missed going to Vietnam twice after basic training and through two Advanced Individual Training sessions. I was a generator operator for a Pershing nuclear missile unit in Germany where I first learned to love beer.

My milk and donut came and I wolfed it down as I read more of the story. It seemed that Dee had returned last year from living in Denver, away from her divorced husband. She resumed her maiden name as there were no children, although she had one son from a previous marriage, location unknown. She was working for the local school district as a secretary in the offices of the superintendent of schools. She was also active in helping with the girl's high school volleyball team. I remember Dee was really into sports, I was just into Dee.

The clock on the wall said a couple of minutes before ten so I paid my bill, left a tip and ambled toward Joyce's office. The steady stride I once had in my younger days was now downgraded to a slow amble. The legs didn't ambulate as easy as they used to. My parents used to warn me about getting old and the body falling apart, I didn't listen. As I was approaching the office I saw Joyce at the door with keys in hand. She seemed to be having problems with the lock.

"Joyce." I called to her. She whipped around looking spooked and squinted up her eyes, then she realized it was me, although we hadn't seen each other in years.

"Jimmy, damn, you startled me." She looked frazzled.

"Sorry, I was just at the diner waiting for you. Having problems with the lock?"

"Oh, I'm having all kinds of problems today. It started when I heard about Dee." She managed the lock and opened the door for me. We both went in.

"Yeah, I couldn't believe it when I called her place last night and ended up talking to the police."

She looked at me a bit weird and asked, "You never talked to her about her problem?"

"No, I didn't get her email till almost eight last night, then I called but I was too late." I said quietly.

"Shit, she was hoping to get a hold of you. Fuck." Joyce said like a sailor.

"What was it about? What did she have to be afraid of?"

"She called me here day before yesterday, saying last week she got an email with a warning." She paused, thinking, "It said she was going to be the first classmate to die. She thought it was some kind of joke at first, but then it started to bother her, after a while it just wasn't funny."

"Why didn't she call the police?" I questioned.

"She got a couple more of those threatening letters afterwards, one saying if she told the police she would die faster."

"Dying sooner or later, what's the difference! The police might have kept her alive!"

"You know Dee was never the brightest bulb. She was scared. I told her to call the police but she just wouldn't listen."

"I don't suppose you saw any of the letters?"

"No, I never saw her in person, just on the phone. I hate to say it but my business keeps me busy so I never got to visit her."

"Maybe lucky for you that you didn't." I responded.

"Yeah" she choked, "I thought about that today when I heard it on the news." She looked a bit more shaken. "What are you going to do now?"

"Well, I'm not a cop or a detective, but I may just snoop around a bit to see what I can do to help."

Joyce was getting her office opened as she talked, she was flitting around turning on computers and lights and she finally sat down at her desk and waited for her computer to boot up.

Joyce looked up at me and said, "I don't have any idea who would want to hurt Dee, she was a really sweet girl. And why was she the first classmate to go. Who's the classmate who wanted her dead and is there a second classmate to go? This is scary."

I was wandering around her office seeing how successful she was as a realtor by all the plaques on the walls. I heard her make a small chortling sound and turned to see her staring at the computer screen, her face flush. I walked over and looked at the screen where she had opened an email and I read:

"Joyce, congratulations, you are chosen to be the second classmate to die!"

Joyce was still making gurgling noises and I had to shake her to bring her back to reality.

"Joyce, relax, no harm is going to come to you. We will show this to the police and you will be safe!"

She was still shaking, but looked at me. She was in her 60's also and graying worse than I, but I could almost see the rest of her hair turning a dull white as I spoke.

"This is insane! Who would want to kill me?? I've done no one any harm! Neither did Dee! Who is this sick fuck who is threatening me!?"

I took out my flash drive I always carry and told Joyce to download the email to it. She looked at me with wild eyes but took the drive and plugged it in and copied off the email to the drive and then returned it to me. I told her not to mention this to anyone. She sat back and wept. I picked up the phone and dialed information and asked for the Clinton Township police and asked them to connect me. I waited a bit then got the operator and asked for Detective Sergeant Trapper. It took a bit of waiting, so I went over and locked the front door to the office and rehung the closed sign. He came on the line and I reminded him who I was and related what had just happened. He told me to set my ass down and that he was on his way.

Joyce and I sat in silence for a bit then she looked to me and asked, "Who would do this? I haven't hurt anyone."

"This could be someone from our school who has serial killer tendencies. For some reason he's snapped and acting out, for what ever reason, his sick twisted mind is making him do this." I knew it wouldn't soothe her nerves but I had to say something, I probably could have toned it down a bit.

She said no more and I was at a loss for any more words. A person has been threatened with murder, what do you say? Sgt. Trapper arrived and pounded the door till I opened it and let him in. He gave me a nasty look, like why was I popping up when there was a murder or threat of murder. I spent about an hour in a small room in Joyce's office explaining over and over why I was there and what did I have to do with it. Trapper didn't seem to like me for some reason. I tried to be as polite as possible, but he still had an annoyed look in his eyes when he questioned me more. Having read a great number of crime books I knew police were suspicious of any person in close proximity to a crime. It didn't make me feel any better. I could see Joyce through the open door, she was holding together better now that the police were there. After a bit they sent me out to sit and brought Joyce into the room and questioned her for a bit less than they did me. Trapper came out of the room.

"Richards, get out of here, and stay available. We'll need you to come in and make an official statement tomorrow."

"What are you going to do for Joyce?" I needed to know that she was going to be safe.

"She'll get police protection until we wrap this up. Now get lost."

I waved to Joyce and went out the door being held by a uniformed officer. I got in my car and sat a minute gathering my thoughts. There was really not much to go on, the little information Joyce provided along with the news article and Trapper's lack of info, I had nothing. I drove out of the plaza and into traffic, I was going back to my room to examine the email on my flash drive.

Traffic was light and I turned into the drive of my parent's modest little house and guided the big Crown Vic into the garage. At the back door I was greeted by my mother and given all the day's news from the home front. I wanted to get into my room to check out the email but I had to give Mom her time too. I found an opening to get away and was safely into my room and closed the door. My Mom knew that a closed door meant privacy, as a door partly opened was an invitation for her to fill me in on what was going on with her reality shows, which I couldn't stand, I didn't need reality in my TV viewing.

I woke my computer from sleep and plugged in the flash drive, waiting for the icon to pop up. I opened the drive and started up my mail program and imported the email. I opened the letter using the full header mode and studied it. Most people don't know that when an email goes out it picks up a lot of information telling everything from where the mail started, what program created it, where it went through the net from server to server and so forth. Like a postal letter that travels the world, it picks up stamps and info as to where it's been.

The header on this email read:
________________________
Return-path: <whipit@gmail.com>
Envelope-to: joyce@harperreality.com
Delivery-date: Sun, 05 Apr 2009 09:35:13 -0600
Received: from Pompo Deli by box505.Myhost.com with local-bsmtp (Exim 4.69)
        (envelope-from <whipit@gmail.com>)
        id 1LqUNJ-0004KZ-7o
        for joyce@harperreality.com; Sun, 05 Apr 2009 09:35: 13 -0600
X-Spam-Checker-Version: SpamAssassin 3.2.4 (2008-01-01) on box505.Myhost.com
Received: from mail-gx0-9.google.com ([209.85.2.159])
        by box505.Myhost.com with esmtp (Exim 4.69)
        (envelope-from <whipit@gmail.com>)
        id 1LqUNI-04Jx-Vp
        for joyce@harperreality.com; Sun, 05 Apr 2009 09:35: 09 -0600
Received: by gk3 with SMTP id 3s4828gxk.8
        for joyce@harperreality.com; Sun, 05 Apr 2009 08:35: 08 -0700 (PDT)
MIME-Version: 1.0
Received: by 10.11.4.20 with SMTP id a200ybk.7.123266; Sun,
        05 Apr 2009 08:35:08 -0700 (PDT)
Date: Sun, 5 Apr 2009 11:35:08 -0400
Message-ID: <9704f95c@mail.gmail.com>
Subject: Your next
From: <whipit@gmail.com>
To: "Joyce Harper" joyce@harperreality.com
X-user: ::::209.5.217.19:box505.Myhost.com::::::
X-Identified-User: {5214:box505.Myhost.com:Pompodeli.com} {sentby:program running on server}
X-Antivirus: AVG for E-mail 8.0.238 [270.11.39/2038]
Content-Type: multipart/mixed; boundary="=======AVGMAIL-49D8E275======="
__________________________

Well, a bit Greek to anyone who didn't know how to look at a header but it told me a few things. The person who sent it called himself (or herself, I wasn't sexist) "whipit" a flashback to the days of DEVO. Or a bondage freak. It was sent from a place called Pompo Deli, I presume a cyber cafe using a mail program on their server for the web based gmail program through Google. Most likely a faked email setup for just this purpose. May be hard to track down for me as I'm not a total computer geek, but I now know a bit of where to start.

One thing I noticed, the line: To: "Joyce Harper" joyce@harperreality.com suggests that the person sending the mail has an address book set up since the email printed out the full name of Joyce Harper. I'd like to know who else was in that address book. If I could have only seen the email sent to Dee, but I'm sure the police have seen all this too and were probably at Pompo Deli right now asking questions. Then again, maybe not, they didn't have time to take the email back to their lab for examination.

My cell phone rang and I answered, "Hello?"

"Richards, Trapper here, Did you bring a cup of coffee to Joyce Harper's office or did she bring it?"

"Well, I hate coffee and I didn't bring it, I don't even know if she drinks it. She had a bunch of stuff in her arms when she got there, I didn't see a coffee cup. Why?"

"She took a drink from a cup on her desk and started to convulse. We got an EMT wagon in but it was too late, we think she was poisoned. Nobody else came into the office before I got here?"

"No, just her and I."

"You need to come down to the station and make a statement. I don't like people dying on my watch and you seem to keep being around when it happens."

"Yeah I can come down. I'm not hiding anything, I've told you everything I know which is not much. I'm being sucked into this too, you know."

"Make sure you get there, I don't want to have to chase you down." His tone wasn't friendly.

He hung up and I put my computers to sleep again and headed out to the car after checking with Mom for any needs. I was starting to not like the situation, I just knew I was going to end up a suspect. I hope my name doesn't make it to the papers, my Mom wouldn't like that.

*


 Chapter Three

Trapper was pacing around Joyce Harper's office fuming. He looked at the two uniformed officers, Becker and Davis, standing there looking about as vacant as two men could be. The EMT people had left with the body of Joyce Harper and the office was quiet until Trapper exploded.

"How in the hell did a cup of poisoned coffee just materialize without anyone seeing it?"

One officer offered, "Maybe it was the CSU guy who came to copy the email off the computer, Sarge. "

Trapper's eyes glazed. "Just when was there a CSU guy in here, Becker?"

"Right after I let Richards out the door. He came up and told me he was called to extract an email. You and Davis were in the back room with the vic." Becker winced.

"One guy?" Trapper asked.

"Yeah, just one." Becker replied.

"When was the last time you ever saw less than two CSU guys at the scene?"

"Well, now you mention it I thought it was strange."

Trapper's eyes glazed again. "What was he carrying?"

"One of those cases they all carry, I guess."

"Did you watch him?" Trapper now moved into Becker's personal space, just short of nose to nose.< /p>

"No, I was watching you and Davis with the Harper woman through the open door. The CSU guy was done in just a couple of minutes and I let him out." Becker wanted to move back from Trapper, but the desk blocked him.

"Just enough time to leave a cup of spiked coffee and...." He paused and his face went blank. " Shit," he spit out and went to the computer and sat at the desk. He looked at the mail program still up on the screen and made a couple hits on the keyboard. "Shit! The email is gone! He left the coffee and deleted the email. I don't believe this, right in front of us."

Trapper picked up the desk phone and dialed a number. "Yeah, dispatch, this is Trapper, was there a call for CSU to come to my location in the last couple of hours, yeah, OK. Thanks. No one was sent here." He mostly said to the air. "This was some real ballsy guy to waltz in and do what he did then skate out."

He turned the chair toward Becker, "What did he look like?"

"About my height, dark hair under a CSU cap, tinted glasses, oh I can tell they were prescription since they made his eyes look huge. He had a mustache and large nose." Becker strained to remember.

"Glasses, mustache and a big nose, like those gag glasses, mustache and a big nose they sell in a novelty store?" Trapper said sarcastically.

"No Sarge, his were real."

Trapper looked frustrated. He stood, walked to the door, turned and said, "You two wait here, don't touch anything until the real CSU shows up, check their ID's and wait till they are done, then seal the place up. Can you do that?"

They both nodded and Trapper stormed out.

Back at the police station I was sitting on a hard wooden chair, making my butt sore so I had to shift a lot to get comfortable. About three more butt turns later Trapper showed up. He led me to his office.

"Well, Richards you lucked out. It seems the killer dropped in to the Harper office and left a present while we all just stood around." He wasn't smiling and he briefly filled me in on the incident, then continued. "He left the coffee and deleted the email. We can't even examine that now. "

I hesitated, "Um, I could help you on that. Before you got there I had Joyce copy the email to my flash drive."

He stared at me and grumbled, "You suppressed evidence?!?"

"No, I copied evidence, It's only suppressed if I didn't tell you about it, which I'm doing now. You're lucky I copied it."

"Ok, I don't care, give me the the flash drive!" He bellowed.

I thought this might happen so I had copied the email off to a blank SD card I had. I handed it to him.

"This is not a flash drive." He observed.

"The email is on there, I moved it." I lied. Joyce's original email was now on my computer. "Oh and Dee's email to me is on there too, I cooperate with my police."

"Ok, fine. We got one up on the classmate killer now", He looked hard at me, "I don't approve that you did this, but thanks."

"Are you calling him the classmate killer now?"

"Police have a way of naming perps so we are all on the same page, yeah."

"Did anyone see the killer well enough to ID him?" I wondered.

"We have a description but I'm sure he was disguised. What I can't figure is how he knew the routine and how he figured Harper would be the one to drink the coffee."

"Where was it placed?" I asked.

"On the desk next to her computer."

"Joyce was so shook up maybe she thought she brought it and needed the caffeine." I theorized. " He must have known Joyce's habits and he was confident knowing that after Joyce had found the email she would have called the police. Your guys would have arrived and did what good cops do, and he waited and did his thing. I'm sure none of your people would have drank from the cup. He was just snubbing his nose at everyone. Guy's got guts."

"It was planned. He couldn't just get a CSU outfit at the last minute. This was calculated." Trapper said in admiration of a bad deed.

"Dee Wittenfield's murder wasn't very spectacular, where was the drama in that?" I wondered out loud, "But she didn't call the police. So the killer had no show to put on, he just did her in to start the ball rolling I guess."

I thought more on it and said, "But Joyce said that Dee was warned not to call the police, why would he do that if he wanted to play?"

"Maybe he figured she would call us after another threat. Maybe if she had called us, we would have been guarding her and he would still have slid in through the crapper window, while she was in the shower and strangled her." He went silent and focused his eyes past the walls.

I was almost speechless, "My god, is that what happened??"

"You didn't hear this," He hesitated and leaned toward me. "I wasn't there, it was a different crew assigned to the case, but after it happened they sent me and my people in to clean up." He went quiet again. "The papers were not told this bit of info, just what we wanted them to know. Same with the Harper case, it will be known that she was found poisoned. I hope you are cooperative about the suppression of certain facts that are to be kept from the press."

"What, that two woman were killed while the police was on guard." I uttered.

"Just when I was getting to like you Richards, Don't upset me." He growled.

"I'm sorry, it's just that I'm not involved with murder everyday the way you guys are. Two personal friend's lives have been snuffed out and I don't know any way to do anything about it." I looked into his eyes and saw he understood.

I was feeling tired, "Are you done with me, I missed my afternoon nap." I gave him a fake grin.

"Yeah, get out of here, but don't leave town." He gave me a fake grin back.

Then we both stopped grinning.

I left his office and the station. Back to my car and out on the road, I was mystified by the events of the last two days. I had two friends go out in violence and I wasn't prepared for the drama. I got back to the house and into my room. I checked my email online, thankfully no pleas for help,

I went out to the kitchen and made a light lunch, I never eat big meals. Which is why I can't figure why I have such a big gut. OK, I guess it would be called a beer belly, and I was proud of it. Back to my room to eat, and then I crashed on the bed. I really feel miserable anymore if I don't catch a nap in the afternoon. I hated it but I hate feeling miserable more. I slept poorly till it was time to put Dad to bed and back to my room.

Around 7 p.m., I thought about Buck. He wasn't working tonight but I just had to talk to someone, so I called him at home.

Buck answered the phone by the third ring and must have checked his caller ID, "Hey Jimmy, solved the case yet?"

"No, and it got worse." I replied, then went over the details of the last two days and I swore him to secrecy about the suppressed info to the press.

"Wow, man. Must be hard to be in the thick if it." He said impressed with my story. "I did read about your old girl friend in the paper today. Can't believe he did it right when the cops were there, guy's got brass."

"Yeah, well I'm thinking this guy's not done yet. He called Joyce the second classmate to die, like there will be more. I have to find out what Dee and Joyce had in common to make him put them on his list."

"Where you gonna start?" He asked.

"I don't know, I would like to be able to see the emails he sent to Dee, though."

"You'd have to get to her computer to do that, huh?"

"Yeah, but I'm sure the police have her computer by now."

While I was talking with Buck I was getting my laptop online. I opened my mail program, scanned down the list and my eyes caught an address that I recognized. It was from Dee. I felt that chill again and told Buck to hold on. I downloaded it and opened it up and read. I told Buck about it, then read it to him.

"James, I'm waiting for the police to come to my place, I just called them. You haven't called so it's ok if you don't. I didn't give you much warning. I got a threatening email and I put off calling the police, so when Joyce said you worked for some detective company, I thought you might be able to help. After I sent you that last email I got another threat and I decided to call the police. I've attached the emails so you can see what I was worried about. I know it's been 42 years since I saw you last. I had hoped when we got into high school that you would contact me, but you didn't so I figured you weren't interested anymore. Life sucks doesn't it. Well, if you'd still like to call, or not, you have my number. Take care, Dee."

"Damn internet, this email was delayed from the first email she sent me. Crap, and she was interested in me back then." I lamented.

"Man, what a cruel blow. But she said she sent you the email threats?"

I was already opening the attachments, there were just two. I read them to Buck.

"Hello Dee Wittenfield, You don't know me but we are connected. I just wanted to send a friendly warning: You are honored to be the first classmate to die!"

and the second:

"Dee, I've been watching. Hiding in your room won't stop me, oh and don't call the police or I'll rid you sooner."

"He was goading her to call the police." I said realizing when she didn't call them after the first email, he had to get her motivated. "He wanted to have the police there when he did it. Two blows, one to Dee and one to the cops."

I was opening up the email headers to see if they were the same and told Buck what I was doing.

"Yep, same headers as before. Came from whipit and sent out of the Pompo Deli. I think I need to take a trip there and check out the set-up." I told Buck.

"Hey buddy, I'll meet you there, it's not far from me." He was excited.

"Yeah, well don't go in till I'm there. See you shortly,” and hung up. I threw on some clothes and left a sticky note on my door in case Mom needed me in the night. I quietly slipped out the back door. It was a bit after 8 p.m. and my taste buds were missing that first beer of the night, but I knew they could wait till I got back. I drove out Groesbeck Hwy. toward Mt Clemens to where the Pompo Deli was located just below the city limits putting it in Clinton Twp., which was the jurisdiction of Sgt. Trapper. I had no idea of how to reach him this late and I didn't really want him around, to be honest about it. I pulled into the parking lot and spotted Buck's SUV, big man, big vehicle. He must have spotted me, since he got out as I was pulling up. Buck stood about one head taller than me and I was at five-ten, putting him well over six foot. I hoped he didn't have his .38 in his belt and asked. He said he didn't, but he then said it was in the car. He was licensed to carry concealed so it didn't bother him or me I guess. I wasn't expecting any trouble to need a gun. We entered the deli and it was about half full of people eating, talking and some working on their laptops. There were six desktop computers along a wall for those who didn't have a computer. Buck and I took a table by the workstations and the waitress was quickly there. I ordered a Pepsi and Buck got a Diet Sprite. Why diet I couldn't figure, he was thin enough, although most of him was muscle.

"This is eerie, the killer was right here sending out his threats." I whispered to Buck.

"Why are you whispering, it's noisy enough in here? No one is even close enough to hear."

"I don't know." I said louder now. "It just seemed the right thing to do. Besides the killer could be here right now."

"I hope he is, I'd like to kick his ass right up to his throat", he snarled.

I was looking around the room, ruling out people by their looks. The killer had to be strong enough to choke Dee to death, so the wimpy geeks were ruled out. Honestly, I wouldn't know what a killer even looked like. All my crime books left that to my imagination. On TV, they were all the last person you would suspect, not very outstanding looking. One thing I did check, earlier at home, was the time and date the emails were sent from here. The waitress came back and dropped our drinks. I stopped her.

"Hi, you are?"

"Stacy." she replied.

"Do you get a regular crowd in here, Stacy? I mean a lot of repeat customers?" I asked.

"Yeah, we get a few of the same people, I just don't really get into their lives. They're mostly engrossed with the internet."

"Did you work last Sunday night around 10 p.m.?"

"Yeah, I was here, seems like I'm always here, with everyone calling in sick. You know they aren't sick and with jobs at stake now days, they shouldn't be messing around, know what I mean?" She rambled.

"Yeah, I understand. But back to Sunday night, was anyone here on the computers acting strange?"< /p>

"Honey, they all act strange. Especially when they are downloading porn. We just look away, so I don't pay much attention. Say, the police were in here this afternoon asking about the same questions, you a cop?"

"No, just a concerned citizen. You read today's paper about the woman who was strangled yesterday? " She nodded. "Well, she got a threatening email that looks like it may have been sent from here."

The waitress just stared at me, then look shocked. "You mean to say the killer was right here? The cops didn't say anything about that!"

"Maybe, it looks that way. Could you help by keeping an eye out for suspicious people and let me know?" I handed her one of my website business cards and she took it like maybe I was the killer. "I think he was here three different times and may be back for more."

She didn't speak, just walked away looking distressed.

"I think you got that girl all flustered." Buck smiled.

"Well, if I stir up some people, it may make the killer do something stupid."

"Or do something stupid and kill you." He gave me his trademark big grin, making his mustache flair out like a walrus.

We drank our drinks and Buck filled me in on all the goings on at the dealership making me more contented that I no longer worked there. After a while I told Buck that I was a bit tired and had a beer calling me at home so we said our so longs and went off into the night.

I snuck back into the house, seeing the sticky note still on my door, went in and undressed again. I snapped open a can of beer and opened up my email program again to look at Dee's letters. I did a new scan of my email and noticed a new one had come in while I was gone. What hairs were left on my bald head were tightening up as I saw the sender's name, whipit. I downloaded and read the letter.

"Richards, you're getting too nosey, drop it or you'll be on the list too!"

*

Chapter Four

Now I was concerned.

This was getting to close to my home. He didn't say I was going to die, but he implied I would be on the list if I didn't back off. Should I back off or was this a challenge to me? I figured Buck was still up and called him. I read the letter to him.

"You want me to come down with my pistol and camp out in your drive?" He was concerned.

"No, I'm not on the list yet and I think he is wanting to go after that list first without adding to his load." I had just put human life into a load, not meaning to do so.

"Well, any suspicious activity around your place, you call and I'll be there!"

"Thanks, Buck, but I'm only three blocks from my local police station, I'm going to call there and see if anyone wants to hear my story." I said to relieve him. We said our good nights and I called the Clinton Twp police, instead of my local cops. I asked if possibly Sgt. Trapper was around and was told he wasn't. I left my name and cell phone number and asked if they could call him and have him call me. It was an emergency, about the classmate killer. They said they would and I sat back staring at the email.

About fifteen minutes later my cell phone rang, it came up on caller ID as "private number". I hate to answer those calls but figured Trapper wouldn't want people having his number.

"Hello." I said into the phone.

"Richards, what do you want?" He sounded tired.

I related the whole night from when I left his office and I could hear his grumbling as I went on.

"Who told you that you could start your own investigation!" He exploded. "You're not even licensed to investigate!"

"I wasn't investigating, I was asking questions for my own benefit. Just to ease my mind." I countered. "Besides now you have something more to draw him out."

"I'm not using you for bait, Richards, so get that idea out of your head and don't pursue it anymore!"

"Well the date-time on the header of my email says that he was in the deli while I was there. He sent it out just after I left." I could imagine what the waitress would have said had she known that. "He would have had to know me or how would he have sent the email so quickly, and why did he assume I was asking questions about him?" I thought about the waitress, she could have gone around talking to people about my being there.

"Well I doubt he's still there. But I'll have Becker drive me by there to have a look, we're in the area checking out a few leads on another case, the crap never rests. It will probably just chase him out, if he is still there."

"Ok do that, let me know if anything develops." I said with a grin that he couldn't see through the phone.

"Forget it Richards! You're not part of this and I don't want to find out you are nosing around again."

"Ok, Sarge, I won't let you find out." I grinned again and hung up before he could reply.

I'm sure I was pissing him off which may not be a good thing. But I had become part of this when the killer threatened me. I had to be careful though, I didn't want any backlash toward my parents.

I pulled out the local business phone book and looked up the Pompo Deli and added the number to my cell phone book. I dialed the number and after a couple of rings and female voice came on.

"May I speak to Stacy?" I asked.

"You got her." She replied.

"Stacy, I was in there a couple hours ago, I asked you about suspicious people, I gave you my card."

"Yeah I remember you and the big bruiser with you." She replied.

Bruiser, I never thought of that word to describe Buck, but I guess it would fit.

"After we left did anyone ask about me?"

"Yeah, as a matter of fact. Some guy asked if your name was Jim and I said yes, since it was on your card. He said he thought it was you and knew you from high school. I showed him your card and he asked if I knew you, I said no I had just met you and told him you were asking me about suspicious people. He was nice and talked a bit but I had to work, he thanked me and went back to his computer. Funny thing, he didn't look as old as you to be in high school with you, no offense to your age."

"What did he look like." I asked ignoring her age comment.

"Well, he had a baseball cap on, tinted glasses, really big nose and a mustache. He was sitting so I don't know how tall he was, and he left about 15 minutes later but I didn't see him go."

The description fit the one Becker gave the Sarge earlier. Strange I didn't see him while I was there, but most the people at the computer workstations had their backs to me.

"Stacy, there should be a police officer coming in shortly, tell him what you told me and which computer was the guy using. I would suggest not letting anyone touch that computer till the police see it."

I could hear that same choking sound Stacy gave earlier when I told her about the classmate killer.

"Oh GOD, are you telling me I actually talked to the killer??"

"Stacy, calm down, I don't know if it's anything. Take a breath and wait for the police."

She said she saw a patrol car coming in the drive and dropped the phone. She was gone but I could still hear the noise from the deli and Stacy in the back ground yelling help. I'm sure that got Trappers blood up. I hung up and sat back in my creaking chair. I've got to oil this damn thing.

OK, I was trying to put a few things together in my head. What was the connection between Dee and Joyce other than they were in the same class. Same as me. I went over to my book shelf and down at the bottom was my senior year book. I had it there because I used it often as reference for when I was working on the alumni website. I plopped down on my bed and fluffed up the pillow behind me. I started from the front and slowly worked my way back checking the pictures as I skimmed. I went all the way through it and found nothing, so started again. Sometimes you see things better the second time around. I hated sports so I had breezed through that section the first time, but figured I better look a little closer this time. Then I saw her, Dee standing next to Joyce in a picture of six cheerleaders all in formation. I had forgot that Dee was a cheerleader. My fondest memories of her in that tiny skirt doing somersaults, as I took pictures. Not that I was a pervert, but I was the school photographer. Matter of fact the picture I was looking at was one of mine. I took the book to my desk. The computer was still online and I took one of my sticky notes and wrote down the names of the other cheerleaders. Hey, it was a start.

I set the book aside and started with the first name, Linda Grolich, and did a search on her. I knew of Linda, but not to talk to her, she was royalty in high school, you know the stuck up princess, who looked down at everyone. She was also buddies with the head cheerleader, Sue Carter. The usual million hits came up so I started with page one and clicked my way through a couple of pages before I found something interesting. It seems that Linda had opened a dance studio in West Bloomfield, so I clicked the link to go to her webpage. There she was looking a lot older than her cheerleader picture, but still not bad for a woman of sixty. She had turned the dance studio over to her daughter about two years ago, but kept a tight rein on it.

I copied her website off using a program called Local Website Archive, which can store an entire website in my computer. It finished downloading and I did a search on the next smiling cheerleader, Marge Holden. I had pretty good luck finding four out of six girls and had their websites stored away for later perusing. It was now just about 11:30 and I was wearing down.

I checked my email one last time, then I stretched out on my bed after closing down the computers. My Treo rang and I saw it was a private number again. It was now 4 a.m. and Trapper was probably calling to chew me out about stirring up Stacy.

"Hello"

"Richards, it's Trapper." Here it comes. "Did you know a Marge Holden from school?"

She was the second girl I found on the web. "Yeah, she now lives in Warren, owns a kennel."

"How'd you know?"

"Long story that I was going to tell you about tomorrow or I should say today. What about her?"

"The Warren police just called me, she's dead. Killed while they were protecting her."

Trapper wanted me to come in that morning so we could get our facts straight. I hung up and again tried to sleep. The killer wasn't wasting time, and half the class of 1967 cheerleading team was now dead.

Around 6 a.m. my mother was knocking on my door, stirring me out of a great dream, where I was giving a massage to Pamela Anderson in Las Vegas. I called out, asking what she wanted.

"There's a strange car in the drive, with a man sitting in it. He looks asleep."

I shot out of bed and threw on a robe and went to the living room window over looking the driveway. I saw it but didn't believe it. Buck was parked in the drive and he did look sound asleep, or dead. I told Mom not to worry, I'd explain and went back to get dressed.

I banged on the car window and Buck came to life bringing his .38 up with his hand. I yelled his name and he focused his eyes on me. The window slowly rolled down.

"Hey Jimmy. You still alive?"

"I guess if you hadn't been sitting here guarding my castle I probably would be dead by now. Thanks." I said with a smirk.

"Well, it was bothering me, knowing you were threatened, so I stopped by around 1 a.m. and kept an eye out" He grinned.

"Oh, like the eye you had out when I snuck up on you?"

He just looked sheepish and got out of the car.

"May as well come in while I calm my mother down. Don't say a word about the murders or my connection to it!" I warned.

We went in and Mom recognized Buck from the time he helped me move some things out of the garage and took them to my storage rental unit.

"Mom, Buck was out celebrating a birthday with a friend close by and was heading home but was feeling a bit woozy, so he parked in the drive to take a nap. Just so he wouldn't get stopped by the police on the road."

"Shame on you Buck, drinking and driving. Well, you were smart to stop before you got into trouble." She went off to deal with my Dad.

"Why'd you tell her that? I've been sober now for five years, now you got me drinking again." He grinned.

"Come with me, I've got more to tell you since last night."

We went into my room and I closed the door so Mom wouldn't hear. I sat and related all the new information since last night. He sat upright and let out a low whistle.

I continued, "I have to go over to visit the investigating cop and give him everything I know, want to go with me."

"Police don't like me. I got a history. I'll take you there but I'll just wait in the car, if you don't mind."

When we worked together Buck had told me about his bad boy times, back when he was into heavy drinking, and had run-ins with the law. I understood his concern, although he was clean, sober and an upstanding citizen now. Just old feelings are hard to shake off.

"That works for me. Let's go." I told a white lie to Mom that we were going out for breakfast, she insisted on making us breakfast but Buck said he had to take care of a couple of errands before we could eat and needed my help, so it would be his treat. She accepted that and scampered back off into Dad's room.

"Good, now we both have lied to my mother." I smiled.

Since it was still early, we decided to actually get breakfast, so we stopped at a Denny's by the police station. We ate and talked about the murders and I gave him a timeline on the whole mess. We talked till about 8:30. Buck paid, since he was still employed and we headed out.

We got to the Clinton Twp. police station by about 9am and Buck parked. I said I'd be back soon as possible and Buck replied that he had his DVD player with him and was going to watch a movie. I went in and told the desk officer I was supposed to see Trapper, he got on the phone and sent me in to the waiting room. I ended up on the same wooden chair while I waited. Trapper came out and signaled me to follow him into his office.

"Early yesterday, the Warren police received a call from a hysterical woman saying she got an email threatening her life. They sent a detective out and he recognized the M.O. and assigned an officer to watch her. He called my office but I was out on the Harper case. Some knucklehead didn't get the message to me. I swear I'm working with idiots. Last night around midnight, the protecting officer let the woman go into her kennel to calm a dog going nuts. The officer stood by the door but didn't follow her in, bad move. She was in there way too long so the officer went in, he found the woman lying in a dog cage, dead. Coroner was called and said it looked like blunt force trauma, blow to the head, hard enough to crush her skull. Their investigation didn't find the weapon, but they are still looking. The same detective from earlier got on the horn and tracked me down to confer on the facts between his murder and my two. I went there to observe. I called you to see if this woman was any classmate you knew. Now how'd you know about this woman's location and occupation? "

I told him about looking through my yearbook and the cheerleading photo of Dee and Joyce together and checking the internet for more info on the other girls. I passed on the info on the other women and showed him the yearbook photo, which I copied on my scanner. He sat listening, then sighed.

"I guess I'm not going to be able stop you from invest... sorry, asking questions to relieve your mind, so I want you to give me anything you come up with as soon as you get it. I'll give you my cell phone number. This nut job is moving too fast for us. You are now an unofficial civilian advisor on the case."

"Do I get a badge?" I grinned.

"Don't push it." He snarled. "Give me the names and locations of the other cheerleaders you have. "

I started to write them on the pad he had tossed to me.

"Are we going to change the name to the "Cheerleader Killer" now?" I inquired.

"No, classmate killer still sticks, besides we don't know officially yet if it's the cheerleaders he's after."

I half joked, "Maybe it's some guy who tried out for cheerleading and was laughed off by the girls. Now he's getting his revenge."

"Forty years later. That's a stretch. And that's also a weak reason for murder, otherwise more than half the cheerleaders in the U.S. would be dead by now."

I handed him the list and asked if he was done with me. He said he was, but to keep in touch. He was going out to track down the list of survivors. I went back to the car and found Buck engrossed in some movie. He unlocked the car door and I got in, then told him more of the gory details.

I was startled by a tapping on my window and turned to see Trapper standing there.

"Damn it! You scared the crap out of me," I scolded.

He said, "I forgot to give you my number, here's my card with my cell on the back. If you get anymore emails threatening your life, call me immediately"

He looked past me and saw Buck.

"Well, hello, George." He said to Buck, then to me, "Richards, are you cavorting with criminals too?"

Buck took issue, "Trapper I haven't been in any trouble in years! I gave up my wild ways. And I was never a criminal! Just misguided youth."

"Back when I was a patrol cop, George gave us a run for about ten miles down Gratiot Avenue in his Barracuda. Chased him through three cities and six parking lots before we finally corralled him by the mall, with tire spikes. It was a chase that made the papers and was the talk of the precinct for days. Luckily no one was injured."

"Except me. After the chase." Buck lamented.

"Well it seemed you were resisting arrest, George." Trapper smiled.

"Bullshit", Buck said under his breath not loud enough for Trapper to hear.

"Buck is a good friend of mine and still works for the security company I just left. He is now wearing the badge and protecting the property, so leave him be." I defended Buck.

"Damn, George with a badge. That's like the reformed drunk owning a bar. OK George, I guess I'm all right with your reformation. Richards, keep me informed." he smiled, saluted Buck and walked off.

"He was one of the few cops that did treat me nicely though, but he's still a cop." Buck said to the window.

"If you got the time and can get past your past, I'd like to take a run by an address I have." I said.

"Where to Spen-sahh?" He mocked.

I grinned at the reference, "To visit a cheerleader who hopefully is still alive."


Chapter Five

We drove out of the city, just north of Mt. Clemens and according to my map program on my Palm, we found the address. It was a beat up farm house looking like no one gave a crap whether it was falling down or not. The battered sign out front said "Sue's Beauty Shop". I presumed the shop was set-up in the front of the house so we went up to the door. The sign on the door said to walk in and be seated, we did. There was no one in the room. It had two styling chairs in front of two sinks and counters, with all the stuff to cut, curl and tease a woman's hair. An elderly woman came out, from where I presumed was the house part of the building and just looked at us.

"I don't do men's hair, besides both of you are bald, so what do ya want?"

I looked at her through the wrinkles and gaudy make-up and realized I was looking at Sue Carter, the head cheerleader and the Prom Queen. She now looked like a drag queen. I stood up.

"Sue, you probably don't remember me, Jim Richards, from our class in high school?"

"Yeah, I think I do, you were always running around with a camera." Her gaze looked a bit alcohol induced.

"Yep, that was me. Could I ask you a few questions?"

"Why, you a cop?" she slurred.

"No, just a friend of Dee Wittenfield and Joyce Harper."

Her eyes perked up a bit on hearing that.

"Wow, there's two names I haven't heard in a while, what are those two bitches up to." She sat on one of the styling chairs and lit a cigarette.

"Well, they're both dead." I could have said it politer but I didn't want to beat around the bush.

That seemed to shake her just a bit, "No shit! Old age?"

"No, murdered, both within the last two days."

That really shook her now. Her eyes went wide and her mouth slowly opened, but no sound came out. The cigarette hung off her lip.

"And Marge Holden was killed this morning, at her business." She sat quietly. "Seems someone is after the cheerleaders, huh, Sue?"

She seemed to be thinking.

I got closer and asked, "Have you gotten any threatening emails lately that you thought may be a joke?"

"Honey, I don't get the internet out here, hell, I can't even get cable."

No internet, how was the killer going to reach this one?

"Oh god, it's him! I knew he'd get back at us!" She looked panicky and started to gag, the cigarette fell to the floor. I turned the chair toward the sink and she held her head over but didn't puke. I crushed out the cigarette with my foot. She held there for a minute then continued, " He threatened all of us so long ago and I was just waiting for him to strike, but after all these years. Why now?"

"Who are you talking about, Sue?"

"Mr. Rocco, the gym teacher." She gagged again, but nothing surfaced.

I remembered him, Nathan Rocco, and how he just left the school one day and vanished. There was no talk about why and it was all pretty hushed. Sue turned in the chair and looked at me with dull eyes.

"We did it. We didn't like him and wanted to get rid of him. I knew this would finally bite us in the ass. But not murder. God, am I in danger?"

"Sue, calm down and tell me what happened."

"Senior year, the six of us cheerleaders were fed up with his pandering and treatment of Mrs. Stone, our gym teacher and cheerleader advisor. He was a mean, rotten man and deserved to be accused of sexual misconduct. We told the principal, Mr. Varga that he had attempted to molest each of us at different times, and we were afraid to say anything. But all of us together figured safety in numbers."

I sat in the other styling chair and listened.

"The police were called in, they took him to the station and they worked him over good before turning him loose. No charges were made because it was all on our word and they had no proof. He was fired from the job and he left the state, but not before he told Linda Grolich that he would get back at us one day. Oh, man, it's come. We lied about it and he knew we did!"

I was shocked that Dee and Joyce would have gone along with this plot to ruin a man, even if he was bad. I was now sixty, so Rocco would have had to be in his eighties or older by now. It didn't fit the person who we thought was the killer. Did he have a helper?

"My life has been crap since I got out of high school. I married Darrien York, the big bad football jock, you know the jock and the head cheerleader. Old story. He was a bum without his football, couldn't hold a job for more than a year. We drifted from place to place keeping ahead of the evictions and I finally went to beauty school and got my license. The money was lousy and then I inherited this shack from my Dad when he died. I opened up shop here, looser zoning laws out here in the county. And here I've been for the last ten years. Darrien left me for some slut he met in a bar, good riddance. Now this. I'd welcome death right now." Her eyes watered and she got up and went into the other room.

Buck said behind me, "The plot thickens."

"I got to let Trapper know about this." I pulled out my cell phone just as Sue's phone rang a couple times. I waited for some reason, then I heard Sue let out a low scream and came running back in the shop.

"The voice on the phone said I was next to die!! Oh my God." She fell to the floor curling up in a ball and bawling like a baby. I told Buck to help her up to the chair. He did.

I dialed the number Trapper gave me and asked where he was. He said he was out looking for Penny Wickens and I gave him the address and told him to get here fast. He asked me who was crying, I said it was a long story, but bring troops with him. I told him I was with a cheerleader and a new threat just came in. He said it wasn't his jurisdiction, out of the county, but he would call the Sheriff's office and have them meet him here.

I looked at her phone and she had caller ID, I went back through the list and wrote down the last number that came up. After about a half hour the sheriffs rolled in followed closely by Trapper and Officer Becker. Sue was a bit more in control and Buck was soothing her. As soon as Buck saw all the cops, he excused himself from Sue, and moved over to a corner of the room and quietly sat in a chair.

"Richards, I told you not to investigate!" He growled.

"I was just visiting an old school friend when all this happened."

Sue looked terrible so Trapper asked a deputy to take her in the other room and let her rest, but to stay with her. He moved over to me.

"What's the word?"

The Sheriff moved next to Trapper as I filled them in on what I knew. I told him about the cheerleader's charges against Nathan Rocco and about as much as I could remember about him from school. Trapper told Becker to get on the radio to the station and see what he could find out about Nathan Rocco, and to make sure that the last two woman on the list were given protection. I stopped Becker and gave him the number off the caller ID. I said he might want to check where it came from. Trapper gave me a look and said "Who's in charge here?"

I said, "Time is fleeting."

He ignored me and said, "If Rocco was accused of sexual misconduct, he might be in the registry. Sheriff, If you don't mind giving me jurisdiction on this, it ties in with three murders I got going now."

The Sheriff was more than happy to avoid the paper work and said so. Trapper went into what was the living room of the house and sat down next to Sue. She was looking slightly better than 15 minutes ago.

"Miss Carter, What exactly did the voice say on the phone?"

"It's Mrs. York, or was, but you can call me Sue. I said hello and I heard some breathing then a voice said 'Sue Carter, you are the fourth classmate to die. Congratulations'. That was all and he hung up.

"Well, it's him, this time he's not getting in or out," Trapper said emphatically. "We are going to need a few men from your office Sheriff, if you can spare them." The Sheriff said no problem and Trapper went on, "I'm going to put in a couple of mine too, station them around outside if need be, he's going to slip up, I'm sure of it and we'll get him."

I looked at my watch, time had just whizzed by and I had to get back to the house to help get Dad to bed. I excused myself and asked Buck to drive me home. As we were heading out the Sheriff stopped Buck and asked, "Hold on there, you Buck Carson?"

Buck said he was and waited for some kind of crap.

The Sheriff grinned, threw his arm around Buck's shoulder and said, "Hell boy, I went to school with your older brother Mark. How is the old fart?"

Trapper was not amused that an officer of the law was being friendly with Buck but let it go. Nothing he could do.

Buck replied, "Mark is doing good, he's been married, second time, about ten years now, four kids and living up in Anchorville. He's a fireman for the county."

"Damn, Mark and I used to get in heaps of trouble when we were young. I haven't seen you since you were just head high to my waist. I heard you were a little hell raiser too." Buck just grinned, Trapper just grimaced. "Tell Mark that Tate Wallace said howdy."

"I'll do that, Sheriff," Buck smiled.

"Hell, call me Tate, we're like family. Have that old coot call me sometime." He handed Buck his card. "Nice to catch up with him."

"Sure enough Tate, I'll call him tomorrow." Buck said. They shook hands and he gave that big walrus smile to Trapper as we headed out.

Outside by the car I said "I'll bet that just made your day."

"Sho nuff." Buck grinned and we left the property.

Driving down Groesbeck Hwy., we sat quietly, reflecting on what had happened.

"You think the killer will try a hit on Sue? With the city and county cops hovering around?" Buck inquired.

"Well, he was gutsy enough to kill three other women while they were hovering, I guess he likes a challenge. But the cops are really on the watch for him now, doubt he will slip through." I said with my head back on the rest, totally wiped out from the day. At one time, in years past, I'd be wired for more to do and probably end up the evening at some bar, dancing the night away. Now I wanted to crawl into bed and just hide my head under the pillow. Growing up sucks. My mind went back over the day, murder and mayhem. I enjoyed reading about it but was it worth being right in the middle of the real thing. I had talked to a woman from my past just an hour before she was brutally murdered, not a pleasant memory.

"What are you going to do now, Spen-sahh?" Buck broke my thoughts.

"Go to bed and hope tomorrow I get no calls about more cheerleader deaths."

"Not going to investigate any more? Man you're not going to disappoint me now, are you?" Buck sounded distressed.

"Yeah, well, expect disappointment, I'm worn down. We'll see what tomorrow brings."

"Ok, buddy. I have to work tonight so I won't be camped in your drive. Protect yourself."

Buck pulled into my drive and we said our good nights and I went in.

I got home with time to spare. I went into my room and checked my email to see if whipit had anymore threats for me, there were none. I guess I was a bit disappointed.

I finished helping get Dad to bed and went back online. I just sat there staring at the monitor, almost in a trance before I caught a second wind and went to do a search on Nathan Rocco.

After about three search pages I found an obituary with his name in it. I opened the link and read.

"Nathan R. Rocco, 78, past away December 15, 2008, quietly after a lengthy illness. Mr. Rocco was a janitor at Heavenly Chapel Church in Bad Axe, MI for the last seven years and taught Sunday school for the youth. Divorced, he is survived by a daughter, Julia Waters of Chicago, Ill. Mr. Rocco had attended Michigan State University receiving a degree in physical education. He taught PhysEd for five years in the Macomb County school district before moving to Bad Axe. Donations can be sent to the Heavenly Chapel building fund to add a wing for improved classrooms."

Dead now four months. Well, he couldn't be killing the women, unless his ghost was slipping through the walls to kill. There were no more search links to be found on Rocco, so I did a search on Julia Waters, his daughter. She came up pretty fast as she was a big time criminal lawyer in Chicago. She had received many awards and acclaim for her work for woman's rights and protections from abusive spouses. I read further but there was not much more info, and nothing about her father. Although it did say she came back to her hometown in Michigan once a year to visit family. Didn't say what that hometown was, I presumed Bad Axe, but it did say she was in her late thirties so Bad Axe couldn't be her original hometown.

I wrote down the name of the law firm that she worked at and shut down the browser after checking my email again, nothing important or harmful. I looked up to the clock and it was now almost midnight. I had used up my quota of beer for the night. I put everything away that I had dragged out and put out on my bed during the day. The bed was the only flat surface in my crowded little room that wasn't piled up with my toys or property. Since I moved in with my parents I've been living out of boxes and the limited space in my room made for cluttered living. My mother is amazed that I can pile items upon items to form little towers that could topple over at any shake of my room. I usually drag things out that I need for the day and they are all laid out on the bed, then at bedtime I have to figure where to put all that stuff so I can crawl under the covers.

I crawled into bed thinking about the day and how fate can screw with people's lives. I was thinking about Sue Carter and the miserable life she had. I hoped the police would at least keep her safe. Tomorrow I would try to get in touch with Penny Wickens, from her website she was the most successful of the cheerleaders. She had a small local talk show on cable TV and was high profile around the community for her charitable work. She would probably be well protected by now. The police wouldn't want the publicity of her murder on their hands. I wondered if I should share what I found about Rocco and his daughter with Trapper, or wait till I had more information. Probably wouldn't matter, he most likely has all the gory details by now, he does have the internet. Amazing thing the internet, it keeps us informed, entertained and yet it still has a dark side. Like email threats. My eyelids started to droop so I just let them go into the night.

*

Chapter Six

By 9 a.m. I awoke feeling quite refreshed. No calls during the night to disturb my slumber and no mother banging on the door about some suspicious characters stalking around the house. My first goal of the day was to call Chicago to see if Julia Waters has been out of the state. I knew the police would be doing all the investigating, but this was too close to home for me to just let go. My curiosity was peaked and I couldn't get the thought of people I knew just being killed, and doing nothing about it. That wasn't me.

I dressed and said my good mornings to my parents and went to the front porch to get the local newspaper. The delivery person had thrown it in the bushes again, and bending over for me was getting to be harder to do every day. Again I threatened to not age anymore. I brought the paper in for Mom but checked it first to see what they had said about Joyce Harper. The article was fairly brief, I'm sure at the request of the police. There was nothing much more there that I didn't already know, except I did know a bit more than reported. Marge Holden's murder was in another county so the local papers didn't carry it. I was sure the police didn't want the connection to the two murders in this county to be linked to minimize the panic. I realized this wasn't random serial killings, this was premeditated toward specific persons but the public would believe what they wanted, just like some people believe our government is doing a good job. The local police had stated that it looked like an accidental poisoning by Joyce Harper, looked like, their unofficial statement.

Since Chicago was an hour behind us, I waited till about ten to call the Law office of Bander, Witt and Grey. I always disliked the names that law firms have by using the partners names, they should do like other business' do and give it a catchy name like, "Stab'em, Slab'em and We Get Them Off". I checked my email again for the tenth time, nothing still. I watched the clock slowly crawl up to 10 a.m. and picked my cell phone up, set the call number block on it and dialed the number.

It rang twice and a voice spoke, "Bander, Witt and Grey. How may I direct you?"

"Well, I just want some information, maybe you can help me?" I said with a smile on my face. I learned long ago from when I was sucked into selling life insurance, when you cold call on the phone, you put a really big smile on your face and it comes across on the other end. People tend to trust you.

"I'll try sir, what is it you would like to know?" She replied pleasantly.

"I'm on staff with a woman's shelter here in Michigan and a friend of mine said he heard your Miss Waters was in the Saginaw area talking to a group there this last week. I was wondering if she is still in the state and would she be able to come to speak to our group?" I lied.

The voice on the phone hesitated and said, "Miss Waters has been in California for the last month with our new branch there. She's helping to open up the offices and isn't expected to be back for a couple of weeks. She has not been in Michigan since the funeral of her father last December for sure. Who are you, please?"

"Well, I guess I was mistaken, thank you." and hung up the phone. Now I knew she wasn't involved locally, but could have set something up with an accomplice here. Being a criminal lawyer, she must know some unsavory people.

I had just started my day and my brain was already weary from coming up with a good front for my call, I think I should start taking vitamins. My mother tries to get me to take Centrum Silver, but the name implies that I'm old, ok I am old, but why push it.

I called Trapper and did my duty to report. He came on in his usual grumpy voice, "Speak!"

"Good morning to you sunshine." I did that big smile thing.

"What the hell do you want now Richards?" He wasn't smiling, I could tell.

"Just some info I picked up while easing my mind. Not investigating, mind you, just looking." My smile widened.

"Fine, whatever, what have you got?"

I told him of my exploration on the internet and the obit of Rocco, which he already knew that Rocco was dead. I told him of the daughter and that she was in California for the times of the murders, but how she could have hired someone to do the deed.

"Richards, stop theorizing, that's our job. I do appreciate the info on the daughter. I guess I should teach my men to use the internet for more than just for watching porn. I'm still trying to track down Linda Grolich, she's on vacation somewhere but no one seems knows where. I've got men hanging around Penny Wickens, she's not happy, but they are staying out of the way of the cameras so she's going along. Especially since her cheerleader pals are being knocked off, she doesn't want to be one. I still have to interview her, so don't go snooping around, eh?"

"Me, snoop, hardly, I inquire".

"Well, quit it. I've got enough of a headache without you getting killed. Remember you were threatened too." He hung up.

I sat back and thought about that last statement. I was threatened and this person had succeeded in killing three people already with police standing around, I had no police protection. So I called Buck.

He didn't answer his phone, I presumed since he worked midnight last night, he was sleeping.

I checked my email again, nothing dire or threatening, but there was a couple of pictures of winsomely naked females playing soccer while drooling men stood on the side lines that Buck had included in his batch of email. The girls had their uniforms painted on their upper body but you could tell they were naked other than a thong to cover their lower private parts. I really shouldn't start my day with that image in my head, I have to remember to read Buck's mails later in the evening.

I went to Penny Wickens website again, it was about her TV talk show, "Penny for Your Thoughts", I wonder who dreamed that up. They taped early in the day for broadcasting later in the afternoon. I went to see a taping of the Bozo the Clown show years back in Windsor, Canada, across from Detroit. It was amazing how they can make such a small studio look so huge on TV. I got the address of Penny's studio, it wasn't too far away and then gathered my toys: Treo cell phone, Palm PDA, flash drives, earbuds, Swiss army knife, business card case, etc. I was ready for anything. I left after consulting for Mom's needs.

I did a search for the location of the studio on my Palm TX and set the Mapopolis GPS to guide me there. Traffic wasn't too bad this morning so it took me only thirty-five minutes to get there. I parked in the visitor lot after telling the gate guard that I was there to see Penny. He gave me a suspicious look and told me to wait while he called in. I gave him my name when he asked and he waited for whoever was on the other end to confer with Penny to see if I was legit. He smiled and sent me through. I thought about asking if they were hiring for more guards, I had the experience. I parked and went in the door marked main entrance and told the receptionist who I was after and she also called ahead to verify. I'll say the killer definitely wouldn't get in here without an appointment. The receptionist pointed me in the direction and I dutifully follow orders.

I came down a long hallway with people buzzing up and down and around, then found the door with Penny's name on it. There was a big burly cop sitting on a metal chair by the door looking uncomfortable, he stood up as I approached.

"You got business here?" he growled.

"Jim Richards. Miss Wickens is expecting me." I hoped she had from all the calls ahead.

He poked his head in the door and inquired. I heard Penny yell "Tell that S.O.B. to get in here!".

Wow, that made me feel welcome. I smiled to the cop and slipped through the door. Penny was in a pink, furry robe and was having make-up put on. She pushed the make-up girl aside and bounced up and latched on me with a bear hug that would give me dreams for a month. Soft flesh, smelled great, with perky breasts, she looked as young as she did back in school, the wonders of cosmetic surgery. I'm sure she stopped aging at forty.

Damn, Jimmy, you look... Old." She laughed, it was a nice laugh, soft and airy. "But still good looking."

"Thanks and your fortunes have kept you looking young." I smiled, she punched me lightly on the shoulder and laughed again.

"Sit down you old coot, tell me about yourself," she commanded as she went back to her make-up table.

I was fixated on her. There are some people on TV who look good, but in real life they can be gorgeous. She was. I sat facing her and she bent over to pick up a brush she just dropped exposing a breast through the front of her robe. My crotch got tighter.

"Well," I stammered as she grinned, "after high school I goofed off for about six months then Uncle Sam called me to action. I ended up in Germany. Out of the army, I goofed off again, then got married, the first time. Divorced four years later, goofed off for about a year having sex with as many young innocent girls as I could, then married again."

"Damn, you are a glutton for punishment." she winked, "You still married?"

"God no. I divorced about 12 years later after one son. I'm on the loose again, but I don't move as fast as I used to," I winked back. "I've been single now for about six years and very happy with it. I'm kind of a misogynist now days."

"Damn, are you gay now," she looked disappointed.

"Oh hell no. Nothing against the gays, I just have been burned too many times to get involved with women again. A little gun shy you might say." I kind of went blank on that.

"Gun shy? Is your pistol still working?" She had a devil of a smile now.

I really went blank on that, too. I had a feeling this conversation should be done in private.

"Are you trying to embarrass me or is this part of your talk show 'Old Men and sex, is there life after the fall' or you just want to see me squirm?"

"Jimmy, would I put you on the spot. You have an aura about you that says 'I'm horny' or am I wrong?"

"Again, are you auditioning me for your show? Or is there dinner and a movie in there somewhere?"

"I'm sorry Jimmy," she laughed again, "Being honest here, confession time, I had a serious crush on you back in school. You and your cute little camera, always roaming the halls. But you were so hung up on Dee, rest her soul, and that other girl, what was her name?" She snapped her fingers a few times, I guess, to help her remember.

"Sara Lester, I chased her all through high school. I should say wasted my time chasing her through high school," I sighed. "I really never seemed to have much luck with women."

"Only because you didn't get together with me." She gave me a cute coy smile and then turned her attention towards the mirror to get herself ready for her show.

I just sat silently as her people fussed about her, getting her camera ready. I was a bit speechless with her confession about her crush on me. It seems like we always go after the ones who we shouldn't be with and the good ones get away. Point in case, Sara Lester is now weighing in around 280 pounds and is a bit mental, but I wanted her. The girl who wanted me is now a glamorous, beautiful star of her own TV show. Go figure.

She stood and walked to the bathroom, but turned first to ask if I wanted to help her change into her clothes. She laughed and ran in but not quite closing the door. Yeah, I watched. And she knew it.

She came back out a few minutes later looking all spiffy in her expensive clothes. Maybe if I had married her, I'd be broke by now. She reached down to me and took my hand. Her's was soft and very warm.

"Time to go play savior of the city." She led me out the door and down the hall being followed by the burly, and now surly, cop.

We went through a heavy metal door and into the studio. It was small like on the Bozo set, and the crew was busy adjusting the cameras and lights. The back stage was fairly dark and the stage hands were milling about on the other end, that I could see of them. They all said their "Hi's" and "Good mornings" to Penny and she beamed back to them. Some guy, I presumed was the floor manager, came up to her and gave her a couple of pages of paper. She studied them for a bit and then gave them back and told him she was ready.

"Sit here where I can admire you from the stage." She guided me to a tall stool and let me get comfortable. The cop sat a bit over from me, on another metal folding chair like the one in the hall. I could almost hear him grumbling about that.

For the next hour I watched the show being created, the guest today was a doctor talking about men's sexual dysfunctions. Oh, great. Penny peeked over to me every time he mentioned sex. I was feeling warm and not from the hot lights overhead. Penny opened the questioning to the audience, you know, "Penny for Your Thoughts" kind of thing. The doctor held up well through the inane questions that people were asking. Penny told the doctor that she had a question. 'When is a man too old for sex?' I squirmed as she looked to me. The doctor laughed and said that man is capable of sexual relations no matter what age, even after sixty, as long as he was healthy and could survive the ordeal. The audience chuckled and Penny laughed as she drew her attention back to the Doctor and away from me. There were a few more questions then the show wound down, as they rolled the end credits. After saying her good-byes to the Doctor, Penny bounced over to me and grabbing my hand again, she led me back to her dressing room. She told the burly surly cop to shoot anyone who even tried to knock on the door. She gave him a big wet one on his cheek, I've never seen a cop go so red. She pulled me in and locked the door. Oh,oh.

She swung me around and pinned my back to the wall and searched for my tonsils with her tongue. Twelve years of being a monk had just shattered into sweet oblivion as we moved from wall to chair to couch and then floor. My heart was pounding out a conga beat, mostly from my lack of exercise, but partly from the moment. Her body was amazingly firm and smooth, not at all like a woman almost sixty. About thirty minutes later we took a breather.

Penny slipped back into her robe as I gathered my wits and my clothes.

"Were you trying to kill me?" I smiled.

"No, sweet cakes, just seeing what I may have missed back when we were more flexible in our youth. "

"Disappointed?"

"Hell, no. I may make you my fourth husband." She looked serious, then laughed.

"How about a long engagement first?" I pleaded.

"Sounds good, the anticipation is more fun that way." She went back to the bathroom and came out a few minutes later in her street clothes, silky blouse, short skirt and a big smile.

"Are you still a misogynist now?"

"Well, my opinion about women has been elevated to a new level." I watched her fussing at her dressing table, straightening out her make-up. Beyond the glamour she was a very handsome woman, I could get used to her. "So, are we a couple now?" I smiled.

"Sure Sweety, but I'll need a pre-nup."

"Well, don't expect much of my fortune. There is none," I joked, her laugh was infectious.

"Well, we just got through the honeymoon night. It's uphill from here." She was tying her hair up on her head, just the way I liked women to have their hair up.

"You know, it's been twelve years since I last tasted a woman," I confessed.

"Damn, you sure could have fooled me. You must have a great memory." She looked at me in wonder.< /p>

"I do now, and that will go with me to the grave." I hoped it wouldn't be too soon.

She picked up an envelope from her dressing table and opened it. She read the paper from the envelope and went pale. A small choke came from her throat and looked at me with wide eyes. I grabbed the paper and read.

"Star light, star bright. Your star is going out tonight. You're the next classmate to die!"

*

Chapter Seven

The police were insistent about not wanting anyone around Sue Carter, but the old woman was just as adamant about doing her work. She said she had to take care of customers to make some money, unless the police were going to fund her. They weren't too happy about it, but Trapper warned his men to closely check each person who came in, just to calm Sue down. Trapper went off looking for Linda Grolich and warned his two officers to stay at their post around the house to make sure no one got in without them knowing. One of the sheriff's men was inside with Sue, so Trapper figured she would be safe. Sue's business was not booming so her and the young deputy sat a good while before a car drove up the drive. One of the outside officers stepped up to the vehicle and saw that a very elderly lady was driving. His muscles relaxed a bit as he watched her struggle to get out of the car as he opened the door for her. She thanked him and struggled up the couple of rickety steps of the porch, then the officer rushed around her to open the door as she slowly waddled in. The well wrinkled, gray haired woman stepped into the salon and saw Sue and the younger officer sitting.

"My, all the police, is it all right to get a little trim on my hair?"

"Sure ma'am. Come on and sit down. Just ignore the police, they're here to sell tickets for some policeman thing, but you don't have to buy anything to have your hair done," Sue said with a smile. The woman set her oversized hand bag on a chair and toddled to the seat. Sue helped the woman onto the styling chair and helped straighten her up. The woman thanked Sue and inquired if Sue had a bit of coffee to offer. Sue paused and looked at the young deputy and asked, "Do you know how to make coffee, officer?"

The young cop replied he did and Sue instructed him where to find the coffee maker in the kitchen. He dutifully headed into the other room and Sue picked up the hair cloth to cover the woman.

"Just a little off the ends, dear," smiled the woman as Sue swing the cloth around the woman and fastened it at the neck with a clip.

Sue picked up a comb from the back bar and walked around to the front of the woman, leaning in to get a look at the woman's hair from the front. Sue looked a little puzzled and asked, " Ma'am, are you wearing a wig?"

The woman smiled and said, "Why yes dear, It's my disguise." and brought her hand up and across Sue's throat with the open straight razor she took from her pocket. It was a very good slash, little blood spurted but was caught by the hair cloth, as the woman pushed Sue back and down. The woman pulled the hair cloth off and bundled it up with the razor and gracefully stuffed it into her large purse. She pulled a small handgun from an outer pocket of the purse and quietly sprinted to the other room, gun held out. She came to the tiny kitchen and found the officer standing in front of the coffee maker humming to himself. The woman didn't want to fire the weapon so picked up a small skillet from the stove and whacked the deputy across the back of the head. He went down with little noise as the old woman quickly went to the back door. She removed a small package from her pocket and took out ten wrapped firecrackers from it and then lit the long end of one with a lighter. She threw the crackers out the back door and ran toward the front gathering up her bag. She waited for the first cracker to pop, setting off the rest sounding like an machine gun. She watched through the window as the two outside cops drew weapons and sprinted around back. She broke through the front door, was in her car and heading out the drive before the police understood the situation. They busted through the back door, guns at front and found the deputy, down but still alive. They rushed carefully into the salon and found Sue Carter bleeding out on the floor. They called for an ambulance and back up. Then called Trapper, something they regretted having to do.

After the coroner took the now deceased body of Sue Carter away, Trapper stood in the salon looking frustrated and pissed. The Sheriff's forensic lab people and Trapper's CSU people were bumping into each other, looking for any trace of the woman that they could find. Finally, the Sheriff called his men out and told them to let it be and go back to the station leaving Trapper's men to feign for themselves.

"I'm not believing this! Three big strong cops against one little old lady! Do you know how this looks?" roared Trapper.

Everyone just stood silently taking in the abuse. That went on for another five minutes before the Sheriff quietly called Trapper outside.

"I don't blame you one bit, losing four women like this, but you got two more out there that you'll really need to be on your toes about. I'm done here, it's all yours. I'm going to take my bruised deputy, who also happens to be my nephew, not that I'm overly proud of it, and head back to fighting crime in the sticks and leave murder to you big city cops," He grinned wide, tipped his smokey the bear hat as he headed to his car, signaling his nephew to follow.

Trapper just let all the air go out of his body and stood there for a while taking in the sunshine. Becker came out and said the CSU couldn't find anything that would point to the woman. She had taken everything she came in contact with. Trapper looked at him and rasped, "Not a one of the officers who were here could really ID her, old, gray hair, walked slow, etc. And the car she drove was reported stolen from a used car lot in Mt. Clemens early this morning. If we find it, I'll bet my pension that it'll be wiped clean."

He sat on the hood of the nearest patrol car and just stared at the house.

"Murder doesn't bother me, I've seen it way to much to be bothered. What bites my ass is this guy, person, old lady, whatever, is doing this while we're watching the vic. That makes us look incompetent. I'm not retiring in two years with this blot on my record. Becker you're in charge here, I'm going to see if I can still find Linda Grolich where ever she's vacationing. Maybe we shouldn't protect her, it might just get her killed!" He winced as if in pain, slid off the car hood and walked to his vehicle and then drove off. Becker stood there for a bit watching him, then went back into the house.

I was trying to comfort Penny, but she was shaking so badly I could hardly hold her so I sat her on the couch. I called Trapper and told him about the note and he told me about Sue Carter. I definitely wasn't going to tell Penny about Sue at the moment. He asked about the cop watching her and I told him he was on the job, but the note was dropped off while we all were in the studio. He said to sit tight and he'd be there shortly with reinforcements. I put my phone away and Penny reached up to me and pulled me to the couch and snuggled under my arm. She was still shaking, but not as bad.

"You'll protect me won't you?" Her eyes were misting now.

"You're my girl now. Would I let anything harm you? Hell, no!" I was trying to reassure myself as well as her.

We had locked the door to her dressing room again, until there was a banging on it. I asked who it was and the now familiar voice of Trapper bellowed, "Open up Richards!"

"What's the password?" That got a smile out of Penny briefly. Trapper started cussing, so I opened the door.

"Richards, if I really could find a good reason to haul you in, I would," he threatened.

Penny stepped up next to me and said "Over my dead body you will!" Then she realized what she said and started to cry on my shoulder. I moved her back to the couch where just an hour ago we were in bliss.

Trapper entered with two of the biggest uniformed cops I have ever seen, they would even make Buck look puny. He surveyed the room.

"Ok, fill me in," asked Trapper more politely now.

I gave him all the details prior to Penny locking the door, skipping over the intimate details, and on to when she found the envelope.

Trapper sat on the chair and just went thoughtful for a bit. "We need to get her to a safe location, one where the killer won't find her. I'm not making her the fifth murder victim."

Penny looked at him and said, "Fifth? Who else has died besides Dee, Joyce and Marge?"

Trapper was hesitant but volunteered, "Sue Carter was killed about three hours ago."

Penny started shaking again, I held her closer and more firm. She put her face into my shoulder and wept quietly. Trapper got up and said he was going to ask some questions around the studio. See if anyone saw someone go in or out of the dressing room. He went out. The two giant cops just stood by staring at us sitting on the couch.

I looked at the one closest and said with a big smile, "When do they throw the meat into your cage?"

He gave me a smile back, "They don't feed us, we go out and hunt for our food, usually elephant." The other big cop grinned and said, "I like water buffalo better."

Penny was peeking out from my shoulder, listening to our conversation and began to giggle.

Everyone laughed. It was good.

"Sweety, will you stay with me?" She said in my ear like a child.

"Well, I'll have to make a few phone calls, I'll do what I can to stay around." I explained to her about my situation with my parents, she understood and told me how good it was of me to do that. I think I scored a few more points with her, not that I was counting.

Trapper came back, "Amazing, no one saw anything. I talked to the floor manager and he said a couple of people in the audience had asked to use the restroom. They don't usually closely watch where these people may wander off to. So I guess someone could have slipped down the hall and left the note. They don't keep track of names of people in the audience, but I'm sure he would have used a fake name anyway. There are no security cameras around which also amazes me. We are no where."

He turned to the giant cops and said that he wanted them to stick to Penny like glue. If anything happened to her, they would be cut off at the knees bringing them down to his level so he could smack their faces. He asked Penny what her agenda was for the day. She said that she was done at the studio and would just be going home. Trapper asked if she would have any problems with the officers hanging around her house. She said it was fine with her. She told Trapper that I was going to protect her tonight, too. He just grimaced and asked who was going to protect her from me. He told her that he was going to set up a couple officers outside her home also, so not to worry.

"As I understand it, four women have been murdered while under police protection and you don't want me to worry." She sounded like she was interrogating a guest on her show.

Trapper's face contorted, "Well, we will be on our toes this time. I promise."

She looked at me, "You have some calls to make and then we'll go home." I liked the way she said we would go home.

I went off into the bathroom and called my brother to ask if he could get Dad to bed, he said he would. Then I called Mom and told her that I had plans to do something with Buck and that my brother was filling in with Dad. She asked if I would be late, I said I probably would stay at Buck's so not to worry about me. She was placated and I hated to tell her a tale, but she would have fretted all night if she knew I was camping out in a place where a serial killer may visit. I thought about that and I called Buck.

"Hey, Jimmy, still alive?" Buck said as he heard my voice.

"Barely, Sue Carter was killed today and a threat was made at Penny Wickens." I replied.

"Whoa, what happened to Sue?"

I told him the gory details and then told him about my morning with Penny leaving the intimate details just barely suggested. He congratulated me and asked when Penny and I were getting married.< /p>

"I just got to know her today after forty years of not knowing she was crazy about me. I'm not rushing anything yet."

There was a knock on the door, Penny called in to ask if I was ok. I said yes and that I was arranging for extra calvary. She said she missed me and would wait. I smiled. I asked Buck if he had any plans for tonight, he wasn't working. He said he would help with anything I needed. I told him to hold on and went to the door. I opened it and called Penny in. I sat on the closed toilet and she plopped down on my lap. I asked Buck to get a paper and pen and then asked Penny for her address and directions. I gave them to Buck and then asked him to bring his little silver persuader with him and pick up a couple of good DVDs. We arranged to meet around 7 p.m. and hung up. Penny kissed me on the nose and thanked me for doing what I was doing. Then she said she hoped there wouldn't be anyone around later tonight. She'd send everyone outside if we couldn't get privacy.

We gathered her stuff and took our little posse out to her car. One cop went to get their patrol car and he picked up the other cop with us. I was surprised they could fit in the car. They followed us to Penny's home on Lake St. Clair and she pulled into the garage. I told her to wait in the car and lock the doors after I got out. Both of the cops and I went into her house and made a sweep of the place and made sure it was safe, then we went out and brought her in. Her black cat scared the hell out of me by jumping up on the counter in front of me, I jumped back and into one of the giant cops. He laughed out loud and picked up the cat.

"Hey I wasn't scared, just surprised," I defended myself.

Penny put her things away and gave us a tour of the house so we knew where everything was. She told the officers they probably should camp out in the family room since it was in the center of the house and easily accessible to the rest of the house. They thanked her and sat at the snack bar just between the kitchen and the family room. She turned on the TV and gave them the remote, then grabbed my hand and led me to the back porch. It was enclosed with a fantastic view of the lake. I loved the water but hated contact with it. I was not into water activities. We sat on a porch glider and swung slowly back and forth, the cat joined us and plopped down on my lap. I told her about my first sexual encounter, it was on an old metal porch glider like this one, it was in the girl's parent's basement and it squeaked and groaned with our gyrating, I was surprised her parents didn't come down to find out what all the racket was. She laughed and wondered what sex on a porch glider would be like. We'd have to try it sometime when there was less people around.

I thought about Buck and excused myself to go warn the officers about him. I noticed another patrol car pulling in the drive and the giant cops and I went out to greet them. The newcomers stationed themselves outside blocking the only drive onto the property, a long way from the main road. I warned them about Buck and they said they would watch out for him.

I left the four of them to plot world domination and went back to the house. Penny was standing at the door and hugged me as I came in. God, she felt so good, I didn't want her to let go. We went to the kitchen and she asked what I'd like to eat.

"Wow, you can cook?" I kidded.

"I'm hot in the kitchen too, besides the bedroom." That coy smile came back. I said to surprise me and she went to work pulling food stuff out of the fridge and cupboards. I sat at the snack bar and watched her. Even flitting around the stove she looked luminous. I do believe I was falling in love.

Every now and then she would stop to give me a kiss then back off to cook. She made a quick stew with ingredients she had on hand and after a while it was ready. She asked me to get plates out for everybody, and told me where to find the utensils. I called the officers and they took turns filling their plates with the stew, I hoped there would be some left for Penny and I. There was, so Penny and I sat at her dining table and ate while talking. I wanted to hear her life story after high school and she gave me all the details. I filled in a few more of the holes in my life that I hadn't covered earlier and then we just sat there staring into each others eyes for a very long time.

The two giants came back in and said that Buck was arriving. I was surprised that it was already 7:00 and went out to greet him taking Penny with me. Buck had seen Penny's show so he was a fan already and was delighted to meet her. Penny was shorter than I was so Buck towered over her and lifted her off the ground when he gave her a friendly hug. She laughed and said she enjoyed the ride. Buck got a big chuckle out of that. He pulled out a 30 pack of my favorite beer from the trunk and handed it to me. I called him a saint and he said more of a devil. We went into the house and one of the giants recognized Buck and told him he was an admirer of Buck's classic cars that he had seen at local car shows. Buck went to various car shows to display his restored 1961 T-Bird and had won numerous awards. Buck was surprised to have to look up at the giants but they started to get along great. We finally found out the giants' names, Tim and Deacon. Deacon's real name was Francis but he warned us not to use it, he was named after Francis Albert Sinatra, a favorite of his Italian mother. We all talked for a while then Penny and I gathered the dishes and went into the kitchen to wash them.

It was almost 8 p.m. and I asked Penny if she would be upset if I had a beer. She said she would be if I didn't offer her one. Ok, now I was really in love. I knew Buck didn't drink anymore and the cops couldn't so we had the 30 all to ourselves. We finished the dishes and stood in the living room making sure everybody was comfortable.

Penny and I excused ourselves, grabbed a couple more beers and went back out to the porch where we just talked until the sun went down. Buck and the cops were talking cars and Buck was relating some of his wild days adventures with the police. The giants were amused by his stories.

I decided to go back in the house as we could be targets on the porch from someone out in the dark. She locked the porch door and we went into the living room plopping down on the couch, Penny snuggled under my arm and we just sat there in the quiet.

*

Chapter Eight

Buck came over and slid down on an armchair and gave us his walrus smile.

"I got a couple of DVDs like you requested Jimmy. A new James Bond movie and that cute robot movie."

"Buck is a softy for animated robot movies," I said to Penny.

"Well, Wall-E is my favorite too, I can watch it again." She excused herself to go make some popcorn.

Buck and I talked a bit about the day's events and plotted for the night's possibilities. Buck said he would camp out on the couch. The giants from behind us said they would take turns napping on a recliner.

"Where you gonna sleep Jimmy?" Buck grinned.

"For sure not on the couch with you," I laughed.

Penny came back in with a big bowl of popcorn and five plastic bags of popcorn, she handed me another beer and set one down for herself on an end table, yep definitely love. She asked Deacon if he would take two of the popcorn bags out to the officers in the car, he did gladly, then she gave one to Buck and Tim. I thought what a great woman this person was, she thinks of others and not just herself.

Penny took the Wall-E disc and put it in her DVD player and turned on the huge LCD TV mounted on the wall and we all settled in for movie night at Penny's. Every now and then Penny would toss a popcorn at my head and pretend she didn't, so I started to toss a few back. After a while it turned into a popcorn battle, with more on our bodies than in our mouths. I called for a truce and she called me a wimp. Taking offense, I said that I would be leaving now and she leaned over and quietly said I had better not, she had plans for me later. I said I was staying.

A short time later Penny and I started talking like Wall-E and Eve, Buck asked us to grow up or he'd send us to bed, without the popcorn. We started mimicking more, saying "send us to bed" in robot talk. Buck just shook his head and watched the movie while he could.

It was almost 11:00 when the movie finished and Penny said she needed to get her sleep for work tomorrow. She looked at me and said, "There's a soft chair in my room that you can sleep on while guarding my precious body."

"Hmm... yeah that would work. Excuse us gentlemen, don't get up, we'll see our way out." Buck gave me a wink as we headed down the hall, Penny giggling under her breath.

"Think they fell for it?" she whispered happily.

"Oh I'm sure they don't suspect a thing," I chuckled. I couldn't believe this fifty eight year old woman was acting like a giggly teenager, I was really hooked on her now.

Once in her bedroom she went after me like a sex maniac. I was stripped down and we were rolling on the bed in record time. Then we took things slow. Real slow. Oh boy, twice in one day, this woman would kill me if she could. After a session of fantastic love making, we cuddled and rested. She was asleep quite fast and thankfully she didn't snore. I laid there holding her for a long while, I was not a good sleeper. Some nights it would take me hours before I would drift off then wake a couple hours later.

I was just drifting off around 2 a.m. when I heard a noise. Being a light sleeper also helped. I sat up listening, it seemed like it was outside the bedroom window. I quietly woke Penny, who sprung wide awake, and told her to get out of bed and throw on a robe. She did. There was a bathroom off her bedroom that had no windows to the outside, I told her to go in and lock the door. She did. I was pulling on my pants and shirt and shoes when I heard a noise outside again. I softly went to the bedroom door and listened. I could hear the TV playing quietly and went down the hall but not out into the living room.

From the hall I could see that Buck was nowhere in the room, Deacon was sitting at the snack bar watching TV, and Tim was crashed out on the recliner. I came further down the hall just as I heard glass breaking and from the kitchen a figure stormed in firing a stun gun, hitting Deacon and incapacitating him. Tim jumped up groggily and before he had time to think the figure fired a second stun gun hitting Tim in the chest and knocked him out. I turned quickly back down the hall and hid behind the almost closed door in Penny's bedroom. I could hear soft footsteps coming down the hall and up to the door, I was trying not to breathe or pee my pants and wondering where Buck was. There was a long pause at the door, then it slowly opened. I waited till it was half open then I threw my body full force into the door bashing whoever was on the other side. I heard a howl then the door came back at me forcing me against the wall.

I was trapped, he was strong. His head came around the end of the door, he wore a ski mask.

"Well, Richards, you didn't heed my last warning to you? Now you can die with the TV bitch." He shoved the door again crushing me, which took my breath away.

"Yes, I'm going to enjoy this. Maybe I'll have my way with Wickens, she is a looker, eh? I'll let you watch."

He brought his hand around the door edge, he had another stun gun. He laughed and suddenly there was a sound from the hall, I looked over to the crack in the door and could see Buck. He lunged forward at the killer and they both fell into the room and wrestled around on the floor. There was a small pop and Buck fell back with the stun gun cord in his side. He roared at the killer and wouldn't go down. He reared back up but the killer swung at him, Buck ducked, fell back and that gave the killer the opening to jump up and head out the door. I caught my breath and went to Buck who was trying to find his legs but they seemed to go in different directions. His gun was tucked into his belt, I grabbed it and fired once into the ceiling to see if the outside cops were still awake. I went to the door and carefully looked down the hall with the gun held out, I heard a noise coming from the kitchen. Summoning up my nerves, I ran out and was ready to fire the gun when the outside cops came busting through the front door. I held my hands up and yelled my name, and said the killer went out the back, they ran that direction. I went back to the bedroom, Buck was sitting on the floor in a daze.

He was babbling nonsense and then laid over on his side and lost consciousness. He was still mumbling but I knew he was going to be all right . I wasn't going to have Penny come out of the bathroom until I was sure the killer was dead, caught or gone. I yelled to her through the door and told her to just wait till I said it was safe, I could hear her say she would. I went back out and into the kitchen and saw that the large window was busted in, the killer must have jumped through it into the room when he did his commando raid. I heard a shot from out back by the water, then two more shots. I tried to see what was happening in the dark of the backyard, when I suddenly felt dizzy and short of breath. I moved back to the snack bar and had to sit and try to catch my breath. I heard a female voice from the hall calling my name. Penny came down the hall and saw me looking pale and heaving my breath. She ran to me and I had trouble talking, I was in pain, the patrolmen came back in and rushed over to me. They did a check on me and determined I had broken ribs that was causing pressure on my lung. They had called for EMT's already and laid me down on the couch.

Penny was fretting over me as the patrolmen checked the giants, now looking rather small on the floor. I felt sorry for them when Trapper would get here.

About 4 a.m. the medics had me bandaged up like a mummy and Buck and the giants were all sitting together on the couch looking a bit frazzled. Trapper was talking to the outside cops, and then he came over to me where I was sitting in an armchair, Penny sitting on the arm.

"Ok, Richards, lets hear your part in this attempt." He was a bit friendly, probably since Penny wasn't murdered. Chalk one up for the good guys.

I told him everything from when I heard a noise outside Penny's room, in the backyard.

He looked a bit puzzled and asked "Why were you in Miss Wicken's room?"

We both smiled and Trapper just said "Oh, aww..all right let that go, so where was our hero Buck while the killer was bashing you with the door?" He looked over to Buck.

I looked over to Buck, too, wondering the same thing.

He grinned and said "I went out for a breath of fresh air and was talking to the cops out front. I had just came back in and saw Tim and Deacon on the floor and went to the bedroom to check on you guys, that's when I ran into the nut job."

"Why didn't you have your gun out?" I asked.

"I was concerned over not shooting you or Penny so waited till I assessed the situation. By that time he was standing in front of me, I had no time to draw, I just jumped at him. I hate men in ski masks," he grinned.

"George, why did you have a gun?" Trapper asked.

"I'm licensed to carry concealed, for protection from the criminal element."

"Whatever, just keep it concealed from me. The officers who ran out the back said the killer was escaping in a boat, that's how he got here unseen. We were watching the road and front, he knows the layout here." He turned to Penny, "Have you had anyone in the house recently who could get a look at the place?"

Penny thought and said "There was a man came out two weeks ago to give me an estimate on carpeting. He drew out a floor plan with measurements. He was the only person to be in the house in a long time. I never did get the estimate, I just figured they weren't interested in doing the job and then I forgot about it."

"I'll need the name of that carpet store," He asked her. She said she would write it down and went to get the address.

Trapper looked at the giants and said, "Richards explained your part in this, I'm going to assume you men did your jobs the best you could under the circumstances. You two will still be assigned to protection. Just stay on your best." The giants smiled and nodded.

"Miss Wickens, I'm still having a hard time locating Linda Grolich, but after this I think the killer may wait to get back to you till this all settles. He will probably try for Grolich now, I just hope he has as much trouble finding her as I am."

"Well, Sergeant, if it helps, I talked to Linda about a year ago, we ran into each other in a restaurant, and after talking a while she told me about a cabin she had up in Lakeport. She said she goes there every so often to get away from people." Penny related.

"Oh, man, that helps. I'll do some checking with the Lakeport police and see what they can track down." Looking to Penny again, "I really think we should put you in a safe house till this is over."

Penny paused, "I understand your concern, but with this crack team of protectors I have here, I'd rather stay in my home. I can take some time off from my show. Phil, the station's weather man can do a decent job of filling in for me, he has in the past. But not great enough that he would replace me." She had a cute little smile, an evil smile, but cute.

"Well, that's up to you. I'll leave things the way they are for now, that may throw off the killer figuring we would change things. I'm going to call Lakeport to see if I can find Grolich and alert the police about the situation."

He told the outside officers to wait for a relief team and asked the giants if they needed relief. They both said they were fine with staying. Trapper said his good-byes and went out.

We just all sat there, not knowing what to say and too tired to say anything. Penny slipped down on the armchair with me making me flinch from the ribs, she apologized and started to get up but I pulled her back down. We snuggled.

"You'll need to get that window in the kitchen boarded up and the front door jam fixed. Oh, and there's a bullet hole in your bedroom ceiling," I said to her.

She smiled, "I'll leave the bullet hole to remind me of your gallant attempt to protect me."

Buck offered, "I need to go home for a bit to get a few things, I'll measure the window and get a sheet of plywood for it at Home Depot, and some wood for the door. I'll bring it all back then we can have a construction party. I saw a barbecue out back, seems like a shame not to use it." The walrus smile came out.

Penny got up and took some money out of her purse and gave it to Buck, "Get the wood and some nice steaks with this. Big juicy steaks."

Buck said, "Yes ma'am, as you wish, I'm at your command." He got up, swayed a bit, but steadied himself, then left. The giants got up and said they needed fresh air so went out with the other two officers to wait for their relief.

Penny and I were finally alone in the house, it felt good. She tightened her hug on me.

"Jim, I really like having you around. For more than just sex." She grinned and kissed me on the cheek. "Although that's a good reason. I was really in a bad way over you back in high school. You were my first serious crush, the kind you don't get over easily. I was so jealous of the way you used to talk about Sara in the lunch room. You probably don't remember but I used to hang around with the small circle of friends you had."

"I do remember, I used to hang with the underclassmen, my class was so annoying. You were a doll even back then, so I do remember. I thought cheerleaders were only accessible to the jocks and that one jock, Jeff Lyons, seemed to be always around you. I even fantasized about you occasionally. It was hard not to notice you, especially in your short cheerleader skirt. You honestly had the best legs of all the cheerleaders," I confessed.

She looked at me for a bit then said, "We've got some catching up to do. I'll have to buy a new cheerleader outfit and you can bring your camera."

"Hmm.. interesting thought. I like it!" We made out like teenagers for a while.

*
Chapter Nine

After a half hour, we came up for air. Since we were getting a little hot and heavy, we stopped so not to embarrass anyone walking in and finding us possibly rolling naked on the rug.

Besides, I wanted to have a talk with Penny about the Rocco incident. It could lead to finding out who is doing all this. I really didn't want to change the mood, but I needed to know.

"Penny, I have to ask you about something that I really don't want to hear about, involving you." She looked at me with a puzzled expression, I continued, "It's about Rocco, and the charges that were made about inappropriate behavior toward the cheerleaders."

Penny stiffened a bit, then got up. She didn't say anything for a moment, just walked over and sat on a stool at the snack counter. "I've always tried to push that whole thing out of my mind. Dee and I were so against it, but Sue and Marge kept at us for days, until we broke down and gave in. Linda and Joyce were mean girls anyway, so they thought it was all just fun." She went quiet for a bit as though trying to think. "Sue didn't like Mr. Rocco, she didn't like the way he would always treat Mrs. Stone, our gym teacher. He was always pawing at her, in their office when he thought no one was looking, but Sue saw them a couple of times."

I got up and went to stool next to her, and said, "I always thought Mrs. Stone was a bit on the lesbian side. Even though she was married."

"Her husband was a teacher at another school in the district. No, she may have been a bit butch looking, but not a lesbian. Definitely not. Mr. Rocco was a mean, ornery person towards the students. He treated the football team like they were idiots. In gym, he would torment the slow kids, and the overweight ones, pushing them way too hard. He sent many a boy out crying. He was not well liked by just about everyone. I guess, I justified what we did as punishment for him being such a rotten person."

She looked at me and had such a sad expression. "I never realized that we could ruin his career and his life. He left the school and we were told not to talk about it by the school administration. Linda told us later that he had gotten mean with her, in the locker room, before he left and threatened all of us. She was scared, but he didn't harm her, just the threat."

"What was Mrs. Stone's reaction, did she know you girls made up the charges?"

"Oh God, no. We never talked to her about it, and she never brought it up. It was so weird, like it never happened. But Mrs. Stone was never quite the same after that, she became moody and sullen. She wasn't even happy when we found out she was pregnant a couple of months later. Her husband would stop by, about twice a week, to see if she was all right. At least he was happy."

We both were silent for a while. I was deducing things in my head, which didn't do much.

Penny took a big breath and continued, "Mrs. Stone worked up to the last month of her pregnancy and then just disappeared. She never came back after her son was born. We wanted to visit her, but she told us to stay away. As for Mr. Rocco, Sue told us she heard one of the teachers in the office, saying that he heard that Rocco was in jail, in Lansing for drunk, disorderly and assault. He was working as a janitor in some factory and he came in drunk to work one day. He had a fight with his boss. They called the cops and took him away, but not before he had broke a pop bottle over his boss's head causing a severe concussion. He went into a coma. Rocco was sent to jail for a year. God, did we push him to that?"

"Hey, he had the meanness in him. It would have only been a matter of time before he may have hurt someone at school. You can't blame yourself for his actions." I tried to comfort her, she was still looking so sad.

"You really think so? I've had nightmares about screwing up some man's life, and what he would end up like. It's been my shame for years."

"I remember Rocco from my gym class. He kept calling me four-eyed Richards, because of my glasses. It was annoying and after way too many insults, I wanted to pound on him for it, but he was the teacher and bigger than me and I was a wimp back then." I smiled and the corners of her mouth turned up a little. "Ok, we need to assess this situation and figure out who, and why, someone is killing off the cheerleaders. The connection has to be Rocco, unless you remember someone else who hated the cheerleaders?"

She grinned and said, "Yeah, all the homely girls in school."

We laughed and then went quiet.

"You really think this has to do with Rocco? Why would he wait till now to attack us?" She looked sad again.

"Well, he can't attack you, he died last December." I said.

She looked surprised, "Well, if it's not him, then who?"

"I did some checking, he has a daughter in Chicago. She's a criminal lawyer and I'm wondering if this is some death bed promise for revenge on the girls, who he believed may have brought him down." I saw the look in her eyes, it was blame this time. "Penny, get it out of your head, that what you did caused his miserable life. He was destined to it."

She was just staring off into the distance, I snapped my fingers in front of her face and said, " I need to use your computer. May I?"

She finally got a smile, and said, "Sweety, you don't have to ask, it's now community property."< /p>

"Wow, what happened to the pre-nup?" I joked.

"Hell with it, I trust you." She kissed me, then got up and went to the computer desk across the family room and turned on the computer. She turned to me and looking deeply into my eyes, for a & nbsp;long beat of our hearts, she said "and I love you. Silly woman that I am, but I do."

I got up from my stool and went to her, putting my arm around her and whispered in her ear, "I do love you too, and I won't let your past harm you, in anyway. I promise that with my heart." While we waited for the computer to boot up, and while we clung to each other, I thought about love. It could latch on to us fast, when we least expected it, you know like 'love at first sight'. Penny and I have known each other for over forty years, and yet didn't. This one day we spent together, talking about our lives and loves, and what we did and didn't have, brought me closer to her than if we had seen each other every day for years. I didn't take love for granted, been hurt by it too many times, this time it felt real, like in our souls. Soul mates, if that's what it was, I knew it to be.

The computer was beeping, so I went to the desk chair and sat. I brought up a browser and typed in "Julia Waters" in Google. Penny was watching over my shoulder and asked who she was, I told her. She asked if I knew anything about her. I said she was born years after Rocco left our school. Must have had some good times in his life. And from my call to her law firm, the last time she was in Michigan, was for her father's funeral last December.

The search brought up the usual million hits. I flipped through the pages stopping at anything related to her. Penny brought a dining room chair over and sat beside me. I took her hand whenever I paused to read something.

I knew she was hurting over bad memories, and reading about someone attached to those memories didn't help. I finally found an article written recently, in a Chicago newspaper, that went into more detail about her life in Michigan.

"Here we go, a little more info about her." I read the story, then looked at Penny. "She had a very miserable childhood growing up with her father. Her mother ran off when she was twelve, because her father beat on her mother so bad that she ended up hospitalized numerous times. Her mother wouldn't press charges, so the police always turned him loose and Julia wanted to escape from it all, but wouldn't leave her mother. After her mother finally left one day and disappeared, Julia ran away from her father's home numerous times, but was always brought back. When she finally reached legal age to go out on her own, she left. She lived with a cousin back in Lansing, and went to Michigan State for a law degree. She worked two jobs and was still able to complete her courses. She very rarely visited her father, after he moved to Bad Axe, Michigan. When she graduated, she moved to Chicago to work for a small law firm there. After a few years, she made a name for herself and moved up to the prestigious law firm of Bander, Witt and Grey."

"At least she made something of herself," commented Penny.

"Yeah, she started working with abused women about five years ago, and has been praised for fighting against abusive spouses. It says 'spouses' because she stressed that men can also be victims of bad relationships. I know how that is, I had lived with an abusive woman for two years. I got far away from her when I finally had it." I looked at her and grinned, "You're not abusive are you?"

"Shut up and keep reading, or I'll smack you upside your head." She looked serious, then her mouth cracked a tiny smile. I kissed it.

"It does mention that she came back to Michigan for her father's funeral. She admits that she wasn't fond of her father, a polite way to say she hated him, but respected him for the good years he gave her. She said he wasn't always bad, just had problems from an incident that happened to him years ago, that left him bitter about life."

Penny took a breath and said, "He didn't forget. I am so ashamed of all us for what we did."

"You guys were just teenagers. You weren't supposed to be smart. At least, you realize what you did was wrong, and you just have to get over it. Nothing you can do about now." I hope she didn't beat herself up over this. I wish it never had happened, that someone is out on a vendetta possibly over this.

"I really should write her, or call, or something to apologize for it." Her eyes were welling up, I reached up to a tissue box, on the computer desk and gave her a tissue.

"Something to think about for later, but for now we have to keep you alive to be able to apologize." I pushed back from the desk and thought a bit. "We need to stop him, before he gets to you and Linda. We have to play detectives and solve this mystery."

"You haven't done much of this detecting have you?"

"I take offense to that, ma'am I have read just about all the good crime, detective and P.I. novels written, so I feel I'm qualified to investigate this case." I said whole heartily, but with a grin.

The stress was making her giddy, I think she finally snapped.

"Does that make me your moll? Am I a floozy in a tight dress, just swooning over your masculine wiles? Tell me Mike Hammer, can you save me?"

Boy, could she put on a show. I haven't heard talk like that since late night, black and white, TV crime shows. The kind you can tell were filmed on a cheap set, in some small studio.

"Listen doll, I ain't gonna tell you again, don't talk, unless I tell you to, while I scrutinizing this case."

She laughed out loud, which sounded better than she did for the last half hour.

I took the adult position, "OK, back to reality. Remind me today to make some calls to track down Julia Waters whereabouts for the last week. I was told she was in California, but is that what she wanted people to believe? California is three hours behind us, so I'll call this afternoon."

It was now almost 8 a.m. and Penny said she had to call the studio to explain her absence. She got up and went into the kitchen to use the phone. I just stared at the computer screen which still had the article about Julia Waters on it. It had a picture of her, not very beautiful, kind of a plain, ordinary looking woman.

I needed to track down the new offices of Bander, Witt and Grey in California, and talk to Miss Waters. I wasn't sure what story I was going to make up, but I would find out if she came back here during the murders of four women who screwed up, but didn't deserve this fate.

Maybe I should just come out with the truth, it sometimes works.

The giants came back in, and said that the relief cops had arrived. Changing of the guard, but Tim and Deacon elected to stay.

"Are you guys all right with pulling an extra shift?" I inquired.

"We need to make some extra points with the Sarge, especially after letting that scumbag slip by us. You feeling better now?" Tim asked.

"Yeah, my ribs don't hurt quite as bad now, as long as I don't breathe or move I'm all right." I smiled.

Penny came back into the room and said she took a couple days off from work. She didn't tell them she was hiding out from a killer, but it would make a good show when it was over. I silently told myself that I hoped she was still alive to put on that show. I vowed that I would not let anything hurt her, this was very personal now. I needed to talk to Buck about getting a gun, on the side.

Penny asked me if I had seen her cat? Shadow, was it's name. I said no, but it may have slipped out with everyone going in and out. She looked concerned, then said it had gotten out before and was days till it came back. She frowned.

Penny asked the cops if they would like some breakfast, and they started drooling, really they did. It was like watching two huge St. Bernard's in front of a gigantic bowl of dog kibble. They even offered to help, but Penny told them to just guard the house. She went off to the kitchen.

"Man, that is some woman." Deacon drawled. He must have come from the south, I deduced. He looked at me, "If you two don't make it, let me know." He said with a really huge smile on that huge head of his. He actually looked kind of cute.

"I have no intentions of letting her go, sorry. You can fight me for her and I sure you'll win, but my heart will still be her's." I got up and went to him real close, "Got that big guy?"

He put his face close to mine and said, "You just better watch your back tonight, shorty."

We both laughed out loud and hard. Penny poked her head back in the room and asked what was so funny?

"We're fighting over you," I answered.

"I'm betting on the big guy," she replied, looking serious.

"Yeah, well, I love you too." I looked back to Deacon and said, "This is not over, mister."

"Shoot your best shot, Mr. I'm-afraid-of-cats!" He shot back.

"Oh, low blow. Thanks, Gargantua."

He took a pretend poke towards me. I went into the kitchen crying that Deacon was brutalizing me. Penny chased me out telling me to grow up and telling Deacon to stop fighting with the little kid.< /p>

She scored more points with me.
*

Chapter Ten

Buck came back around 11:30, hauling out a big sheet of plywood from his mini-van. He headed around the back with it. I went out and met him coming back around the house, and we went to get the rest of his shopping. I grabbed the steaks, and said he could do the heavy work. After all I was injured and had to take care of my body. He said for what, more sex?. I ignored his comment and headed back to the house. Penny gave Buck a big hug when he came in, he looked at me and stuck his tongue out. She took the steaks from me and headed to the kitchen again after giving me a kiss.

"I get the kiss, you get the hug," I smirked.

"She'll get tired of you once she finds out how boring you are," He smirked back.

With all the male population in this house salivating over Penny, I hoped we didn't all kill each other before we catch the real killer.

My cell phone rang, it said private number, I took a gamble, "Yes Trapper?"

He was quiet for a couple seconds, then said, "Richards, the Lakeport police have located Linda Grolich, she's all right for now, how's things with Wickens?"

"All's well here. We're getting ready to patch up the holes in the house and barbecue some nice steaks."

"Do you have enough meat for the hulk brothers?" I could tell he was smiling.

"If not, they can chew on the furniture. Are you with Grolich?" I wondered.

"No, I'm heading up there to see her now. It's an hour ride up that I'm not looking forward to, at least I'm not driving. I'm going to see if we can get her back down here so she and Wickens are closer together, making it easier to watch them."

I told Trapper to hold on and went to the kitchen. I told Penny that they found Linda and were going to talk her into going back home to be closer to us. Penny suggested that Linda could come and stay here in the guest room. That way the cops could keep the place surrounded. I asked if she really wanted more people in the house, she smiled and said she was having fun. I was amazed, her life was in danger and she thought it was fun. I got back on the phone.

"Trapper, Penny said it would be OK with her, if Linda stayed here in her guest room. See if she would be amenable to that."

"Well, if it's all right with Wickens and Grolich agrees, that would make our lives easier and more confusing for the killer. He'd really have to do his homework to figure on killing two woman in one place."

"There's always a bomb." I half joked.

"Wonderful, give me a bigger headache. I don't think he'd do that, he would be killing cops and so far he hasn't tried to kill any. I think he just wants to murder the women and embarrass the police."

"Well, whatever. Let us know what Grolich says." I finished and Trapper hung up. I've noticed he doesn't like to say good-bye.

"I'm not going to regret inviting Linda here? You aren't going to chase after her now?" Penny looked me in the eyes closely and snarled.

"I've all ready seen a picture of her on her website, I'm not interested."

"Oh, is it just my good looks that makes you want me?" She inquired, as she pounded on the steaks with a very large meat hammer. I feared for my life.

"No, darling, I love you for your brain, well, maybe your cute butt, too." I confessed.

"Better. Now I'm going to let the steaks marinate in beer for a while." She had just elevated to sainthood. She took a couple cans out of the fridge and popped the tops like a pro. She poured the contents into a deep pan, soaking the raw meat.

I told her I was going back to the computer to see if I could located Waters' law firm in California. See turned me and pushed me toward the computer. I sat on the desk chair and she plopped down on my lap.

"Kind of hard to type and molest you at the same time," I grimaced.

"You can't multi-task? I'm not getting up." She bit my neck and growled in my ear. It sent a chill up my spine, so I had to draw my attention to the computer. I reached around her being sure to run my arm across her breasts. She giggled and did a little lap dance on me. This was not going to be easy.

I managed to bring up an article about the new law firm in San Francisco and noted the phone number. I started to get up and she protested about being comfortable. I slid her off my lap, took her hand and led her to the bedroom. Buck and the bruisers were outside playing carpenters, so we had time to do some investigating.

"The bedroom? So early in the day?" she panted in my ear.

"Knock it off. We have to play Nick and Nora Charles now." Referring to the classic detective stories about "The Thin Man".

She looked at my beer belly and said, "Not exactly the thin man are you?"

I stared at her for a moment, then went to get the phone, as I sat on the bed. She climbed on the bed and straddled me from behind and nibbled on my free ear, I swatted at her. I dialed the number and waited.

"Law offices of Bander, Witt and Grey. How may I direct you?" Came an efficient voice sounding much like the one in Chicago.

"May I speak with Julia Waters, please?" Doing the big smile thing.

"Miss Waters is not available at the moment, may I ask who is calling?" Miss Efficiency inquired.

"Yes, I'm personal assistant to Penny Wickens. She has a TV talk show, "Penny for Your Thoughts", here in the Detroit area, and she is interested in having Miss Waters, as a guest, to talk about spousal abuse." Penny squeezed me from behind reminding me that my ribs were still trying to heal.

"I can't speak for her, although I'm sure Miss Waters would be willing to talk about the subject, but she is presently out of the state. She's on a much needed rest somewhere in Cabo for now." More info than a receptionist should give out, but glad she did.

"Wow, Cabo is great. Sorry I missed her, has she been gone long?" I dug.

"Just for the last week, she should be back in Chicago, directly from Cabo. You can call her office in Chicago to see when she is due back. Do you have the number there?"

"Yes, I do, that's how I found out she was in San Francisco."

"Of course, I hope you can reach her. She is passionate about spreading the word on abuse." She was giving that big smile, too.

I thanked her and said I would call Chicago, said good-bye and hung up.

"OK, plot thickens, she's been off somewhere for the last week." I twisted to Penny.

She pulled me back on the bed, "Do I have to pay you as a personal assistant now?" She said biting me on the ear again. I wrestled her, but had to pull away when I felt pain in my ribs. She let me go and looked concerned.

I laid on the bed catching my breath. "I hope this won't interfere with any rough housing we may do tonight," I grinned.

"Oh, you expect it now. I may start making you earn it." She got up from the bed and left me alone.

"Hey, not nice." I protested.

She peeked around the door and said, "I never said I was nice." Then she disappeared again.

I followed her out to the kitchen and she stuck her finger in the beer and made me lick it. I sucked on her finger for a bit then stopped. "I don't know where that finger has been, but I like the taste."

"Maybe some time I could marinate myself in beer, would you like that?" She teased. The image in my head was delightful.

"On a serious note, I have to do something for a couple of hours. First change my clothes, and then I really need to explain you to my mother. I think you'll be safe with Buck and the Gorgo twins, till I get back. Although I don't know how safe they'll be from you." I kissed her cheek.

"I think I can survive, till you get back. I want to meet your parents when this is over, my parents are both long passed, so you lucked out. Go do your thing and get back to me."

We locked lips for a bit. Then I headed out the door, around to the back, and told Buck what I was going to do. He said I shouldn't leave Penny alone to his charms. I said he better watch himself or I'd sic the giants on him. They agreed to keep an eye on Buck and Penny, and with that I left. While I was outside, I introduced myself to the relief cops and told them I'd be back.

As I was driving down Gratiot Avenue, I reviewed the past few day's events. It seemed like a dozen days had passed, time doesn't fly when there's murder involved. I was surprised that my mother hadn't called me, to see if I was still alive. She was a worrier, something that was nice, but it bugged me a bit. I'm sixty years old, and still feel like a child. Parents always say, 'you'll always be my little boy', but I don't buy it. I am a responsible, mature person, not a damn child. Let us children grow up and turn us loose. Do birds call on their young after they throw them out of the nest? I think not. Because the young birds are smart, they move far away from Mom and pop.

My lack of sleep was catching up on me. I pulled into the driveway and almost didn't get out of the car. Yeah, I was nervous about talking to my Mom about my relationship with Penny. I don't share feelings easily. Penny was the first girl I ever even confessed my love to, and meant it. It was crazy, I've only been back in touch with her for two days after forty years, and I was ready to run off with her. Stupid love, anyway.

I got out of the car and into the house. Mom was cheerful this morning, which was good. I went into my room and grabbed a change of clothes, being sure not to let Mom see my bandages, so I changed quickly. I went back out to the kitchen where Mom was sitting at the table which served as her desk, and pharmacy, for all the pills that she gave my Dad.

I sat down across from her and said I needed to talk. I didn't tell her the whole story, she would have had a coronary, if she knew I was involved with murder. Maybe I'd tell her after the dust settled. So I told her I met a woman, her name was Penny, we hit it off and liked each other, and would be seeing each other a lot more. I told her I would still be around to help with Dad, and running errands, but I would be spending more time with Penny. Surprisingly, Mom was happy. She was worried I was turning into a hermit, always in my room. It wasn't healthy for a grown man to be alone. She told me to go have a happy life and she wanted to meet Penny. I told her it was Penny Wickens from the talk show and Mom got all excited. Now she really wanted to meet her. I said that it would be a while but she would have a chance to get together. Penny was a bit busy right now.

Mom was satisfied, I told her I had some running to do, and then back to Penny. I said I would come back to help get Dad to bed, and excused myself. I wanted to get back to Penny's to be sure she was all right. I asked if Mom needed anything, she didn't. I packed up my laptop and a few other things I would need and head out.

I stopped at a store and bought some Pepsi and chips, I needed them to survive each day. I drove into Penny's drive and waved to the cop in front, I presumed the other was out back. They had to also watch the water now. I noticed Deacon was prowling around outside, I asked him what he was doing. He said he was making sure all was good out here, and getting some fresh air. I went in, Penny was in the kitchen, assembling potato salad.

"Well, back in time to start the barbecue. Buck and Tim are out back getting the fire going." She handed me the plate of steaks and steered me to the back door. I said 'Hi' to everyone. Deacon had now drifted around back and joined us. Buck took the plate from me and insisted he was the grill master. I didn't argue. Penny and I sat together on her picnic table and watched the festivities. Tim and Deacon went off to visited with the other cop by the water, talking strategy, or cars. I was trying to keep an eye out for anything suspicious outside the yard. A person could fire a high power rifle from the woods, next to her property. Penny could see I was a bit tense.

"Sweety, stop worrying, I'll be all right. The killer seems to only hit at night and usually up close." She comforted me a bit with her braveness. I sort of knew she was right, but killers don't have set rules.

"Yeah, well, this killer won't get close to you." I gritted my teeth, and pulled her closer to me.

"Did your talk with your mother go well?" she asked.

"Yeah, better than I thought it would. But now she really wants to meet you, since I told her who you were." I smiled.

"Well, I want to meet her, she brought you into this world, just for me." She grinned.

After a while the steaks were ready. Everybody got their plate full of steak and potato salad and sat, or stood, around the picnic table. After we ate, everyone helped clean up. Buck, Penny and I went into the house. The cops decided to stay outside for a while.

The three of us went to the family room and sat, feeling full from all the food. I told Penny that around 6:00, I would have to run back to my house to get my Dad to bed. She said she wished she could go, but was sure the cops would object. I said I wouldn't be gone long.

We had about four hours before I had to go, so I suggested we take a nap. She grinned and thought that would be nice. Buck was already involved watching the James Bond DVD on the TV. So he waved us off and we went to the bedroom. We snuggled and kissed a bit, but we decided to actually take a nap. We had a long sleepless night. I set the alarm on my Palm TX for two hours and we slipped off to dreamland.

Continued in the book...



ATTENTION! If you'd like to read the whole book as a FREE PDF or EBook complete copy of this book, send an email to me at bob@magic1online.com.com and I'll send you the entire book. Thanks, Bob Moats.


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