The Smell of Leather

Written by Spinner

***1*** (Mary)

Frank was at the front door reaching out into the mailbox the second the postal carrier's shadow crossed to the next lawn. I was stacking dishes into the sink, and glanced up to see him precariously balanced out the screen door. He dug crooked fingers into the box to clutch at the many envelopes and shopping circulations. I dried my hands on the nearest towel and closed my eyes in dread. Always pushing himself- he's never satisfied with whatever progress he does make. How many times have I told him to go out the front door, close the door, and then reach into the box for the mail? The screen door slammed. I opened my eyes. Frank walked towards the divan. He was trailing envelopes from his unsure grasp, casually tossing others with his left hand over his shoulder.

"Bill, card, bi--bill, card---"

He came to a halt, and his face lit up with excitement. He dropped the rest of the letters where he stood and threw himself into his favorite spot on the divan. In his grip was one communiqué alone.

"Letter from Tim yet?" I asked, nonchalantly picking up the discarded correspondences and piling them on the coffee table in order to sort them. I opened the front door to check and see what he had dropped in the bushes. When I returned, Frank had managed to get the small, thick envelope opened, and was holding the wrinkled letter in both hands.

"At least--- least it's not another damn post--- postcard," Frank grumbled to cover up his happiness.

For the first couple weeks of Tim's assignment in Colorado, all Frank had received were those two for a dollar postcards from Walmart- those weird, greatly exaggerated depictions of life in the Midwest that played off the ranching, farming, rural themes along with sarcastic or funny sayings. The cards were on Frank's desk in a neat pile: two bulls staring at each other over a rickety fence, bucking broncos throwing their riders, rodeo clowns risking their lives for a few laughs, lassos and leather chaps, and such as that, and one with a fictional animal called a jackalope. That one had left Frank laughing for no reason I could ascertain. Every time he picked it up, he laughed. Each card had had a small message like, 'Having a good time', 'Wish you could see this in person', 'Say hello to Mary and Livie'. The bull one had said, 'Moo'.

After a space of six days without even a measly card from Tim, Frank was worried what may have become of his partner. After all, it wasn't a vacation but a dangerous assignment to root out a possible drug manufacturing and smuggling ring, or so I had gathered from a couple of conversations I had overheard before Tim had left. I was relieved that Tim had finally written Frank an actual letter- several pages long by the appearance of it. Frank was beaming, but struggling hard not to show his excitement now that he felt me watching him. Getting comfortable in the chair, I sorted the rest of the mail.

"What does he say?" I asked.

"Mary!" Frank exploded. "I'm- I'm- trying to concentrate!"

"Want me to read it to you?" I offered.

"No," Frank snarled, focusing on the letter and tuning me out entirely. He held the pages close, and devoured the words with ravenous hunger.

***2*** (Tim)

Hi Frank,

How are you and the family? Hope you are getting stronger day by day. Sorry I haven't sent messages for a couple days. Where to begin??

You know I'm in Colorado- I can't tell you exactly where, cause to tell you the truth, not only is a security risk, but I think we're in between townships. It's in Kit Carson County, if that's any help. Since I have some time and space to myself for the night, I wanted to write you a real letter. I hope you haven't thought I was being brusque with you. You of course know you can't write back. That would defeat me trying to maintain my cover here. I can hear it now. "Why is he getting mail from Baltimore?"

The assignment has been one damned thing after another, I tell you. The guy I'm attempting to tail has decided he doesn't trust me whatsoever, and he spends his days surveying me. Every time I glance up, there he is- Duane Koch, Sheriff of Kit Carson County. Do you know how difficult it is to tail someone when they are practically stalking you?

To make matters worse, the man I was hired by as a farm hand has most inconveniently decided to pick this time to pass away. He was older than Moses, and had heart problems, so it's not unexpected. He drove me nuts for two weeks, teaching me about taking care of his horses and the bit of land he still worked. The majority of his land holdings, given to him by his wife before her death and passed to her from her father's family, has been worked by his oldest son for five years. I went down to help Mr. Halfhide with morning chores Monday, and found him on the kitchen floor, apparently struck down in the middle of fixing coffee. Boom- just that fast.

I was figuring my assignment would be over at that point. Stick a fork in me- I'm done. But noooooo. Lieutenant Underwood decided that I should remain here for the duration purely for reconnaissance reasons, in order to give the next person he sends here a better chance of acclimating to the surroundings more quickly.

I have inspected every room in every building on this guy Halfhide's property, and found no sign whatsoever of meth production or distribution. Clearly he was never involved in whatever illicit actions were going on. I moved to the farmsteads, nothing there either. I've taken in the ten surrounding places in the last couple weeks. I haven't found squat. Mostly, this time has been passed with me staring at horse's butts and loading feed into trucks. The only time I have to do real police work is at night.

So that's where things stand- Mr. Halfhide is deader than a mackerel. I've been taking care of the place while his children arrive from great distances and decide what to do about funerary arrangements and whathaveyou. Mr. Halfhide's wife is dead. Their four kids are full grown. The eldest son, Chad, takes care of most of the land already, and his wife is excellent with the horses, so it's my guess she will take charge of the ones Mr. Halfhide owned. Chad wants to buy out the other three siblings in regards to the family acreage. Not sure how that will proceed.

The second oldest, Brad, won't be flying in from Los Angeles because he and his father hated each other's guts and he refuses to step foot in this god-forsaken state ever again. He sold Chad his part of the land already.

The third child, Debbie, is apparently climbing mountains in Tibet in search of spiritual enlightenment, and they have been unable to reach her with the news. Chad is hopeful she will sell out quickly too. He boasts actually that Debbie is his favorite sibling, and she would do whatever he wanted. She's his only 'sane' sibling, he said.

The last kid, is also a girl. I should say woman because she's 33. She's been living in Chicago under an assumed name since graduating high school and leaving for college. She put herself through art school, and is a painter of some renown in the Chicago area. D. Margaret Tanner. Have you heard of her? I haven't either, so don't feel bad. Chad calls her 'Daisy', and when she protests that, he calls her 'Mags'. Since she arrived, they have done nothing but fight. It may be that they've never gotten along. I'm guessing it's going to take years and years of ass-kissing on Chad's half to get his baby sister to part with her chunk of the farmland.

Bear with me. I am coming to an actual point. I'm staying at Mr. Halfhide's house while Chad decides what to do with me. He needs the help, but he doesn't know where I best can help him. He's a smart guy, and he's figured out his horses simply don't like me. He's diplomatic about it. "They don't take to strangers well", he keeps saying, telling me to be careful not to get kicked or stomped. This one named Buckshot snorts and stomps his feet if I even come near him. Who knows what I'll end of doing the day after the funeral? I suspect it won't be horse duty though.

Here comes the best part. D. Margaret has decided that since she is entitled to one fourth of whatever was her father's (and rightfully so) that at least one fourth of my day should be hers. I could help her clean up the house for arrival of guests, pack up clothes, get things in order, that kind of thing. And at first, I was annoyed to be considered part of the package deal of her inheritance. I understand what it must have felt like in the South when inheritances were passed on from one generation to the next. I hope you don't mind me making that analogy. If you find it in poor taste, feel free to save up an argument for me when I return to Bawlmer.

At first, I was going to complain to Chad about Mags feeling like she owns me, or whatever, but I have to tell you that Mr. Halfhide could be a Grade A prick, and the first apple didn't fall very far from the tree. To say Chad is unfeeling, stiff, and repressed is a gross understatement. The family ricochets between being totally silent or screaming at each other with blood in their eyes. I've decided that cleaning out boxes of clothes and kid's toys out of attics and bedrooms sounds far more enjoyable than mucking stalls and being menaced by Buckshot.

Mags is nice, actually, once you get past that icy outer cover. I will tell you sometime how we first met. But I don't want to bore you. Maybe you aren't interested in hearing about this. I dunno. I feel like I've been neglecting you, Frank, not writing to you and all. But I know how you hate to hear me ramble on and on. I hope you aren't mad at me for accepting this posting. Remember, it's only temporary. And I want you to know that I'm not mad at you for what happened. It was a simple misunderstanding, that's all. I'm sure it won't happen again. I do miss you, and I hope you are doing better. When I come back, we'll sit down and have a nice, long talk. If you're interested, I'll teach you how to use a lasso. You'd find me pretty amusing as a farm hand. I'm pathetic. Sunburned. Sore. Grumpy. Tired cause I can't do any surveillance except at night. I miss Baltimore. I miss you.

Talk to you soon. Hugs to everyone.


***3*** (Daisy Margaret)

His name is Tim Thorskahl. Yep, he looks Scandinavian. French too. Such big, beautiful eyes. The most fuck-luscious mouth I've ever seen in my life. If I'd've known he was here, I'd have come home earlier. I've been promising Dad for two weeks that I would come visit soon. He called me every other night, which was practically unheard of. Maybe Dad was thinking of me after all for a change instead of himself??

When I first arrived Tuesday night, the house was dark and desolate. I assumed no one was staying there, so I made myself at home. Dad had told me he had hired a guy, but I thought he must be staying with Chad and Jen's hired help at their farm. Dad must have felt he needed someone living in the house with him. Did he know his time was short? Is that why he had asked me to come for a visit?

I was sitting in the front room, typing away on my laptop, thinking I should get up and turn on a light soon. It was a half hour before sundown, and the shadows were starting to take over the house. Of course, the shadows and spirits in this house have always been a stronger presence than any of us living entities. This house holds centuries of the bottled up anger and passion of my family. Has Dad achieved any comfort and release in the next life? I have to wonder how they will ever keep him busy, no matter where he winds up.

That first night, I was typing away in my personal memories, trying not to be maudlin or emotional while recording my feelings. This looming figure strode onto the mud porch at the side of the house. He was huge, and it sounded like thunder rolling over the Rockies as he dropped off his boots on the hard wood planks. The discord of boots to wood took me back to being a little girl, as my father would also strip off his boots and dirty clothes before coming into the house proper. Mom would not allow mud and dirt and stable muck any further into the house than the mud porch and the downstairs bathroom. Dad knew she meant business too. The carpets were as clean as when Mom had been here to care for them herself.

Once I glanced up at the thump of dropping boots, I couldn't tear my eyes away. This huge guy with a tight crewcut was on the porch, and he was starting to strip off down to the skin. Dad must have taught him to do this- his next step would be dropping the clothes into the outside washer on the porch, and a quick dash to the downstairs bathroom, just inside the door from the mud porch, right next to the kitchen Mom had had modernized the year she died. "Setting it up for the next woman of the house", she had said, casting an eye my direction. The man on the porch, he was six and a half feet tall, with a chest and shoulders as big as the trees that crowded the west side of the house. He obviously couldn't tell I was here. The lights were all off. My car was in the garage. I was deathly quiet. As far as he knew, it was him and the field mice, and they didn't care if he was practically naked. He had no clue what a show he was putting on by the glow of the setting sun.

It took me a couple minutes to compose myself and stop staring. He set his hat on the washer lid. Off came the shirt and undershirt. He undid his belt, and pulled it from the loops. He was half out of his jeans. I reached the door and flipped on the kitchen light as he faced the door, hopping on one leg.

"JESUS CHRIST!" he exclaimed.

He had his jeans back up and fastened in the blink of an eye. I wasn't blinking though. I didn't want to miss a thing. It was too drippingly adorable. He was blushing over all the sunburned skin I could see, holding his hat in front of his chest. Awkwardly, he cleared his throat, and regained as much of his composure as possible.

"A lady would have turned away," he commented.

"I suppose," I replied, smiling. "You must be Tim?"

He nodded. "Are you Daisy or Debbie?" he wondered.

"D. Margaret Tanner. Formerly Daisy Halfhide."

"Ah, well, D. Margaret, sorry about the.....I was just...I was....I....I'll be in the shower," he finally got out.

I let him pass into the house for the three foot walk to the safety of beige tiles and hot water. As he went by me, the smell of leather and manly musk filled the air. That confirmed it. I was home.

He hung his hat on the outside handle and closed the bathroom door.

Tim barely spoke to me through dinner that first night. By then it was nearly nine, and Chad and Jen were there. Chad and I made it a full twenty minutes before the topic of what to do with the land came up. Tim and Jen had sat shame-faced at the half-cleared table as Chad and I took our hollering into the office off the front room and closed the door. Not that the door made a whole helluva lot of difference in the volume of the conversation.

When we emerged an hour later, Tim was helping Jen dry the dishes and put them away. Chad grabbed Jen by the arm and hauled her out of the house before she could give a decent goodbye. Tim quietly finished drying the dishes while I went to the front room and pouted in front of the tv. Tim excused himself to go to town, he had said, and I was in bed asleep before he returned that night.

At breakfast the next morning, I broke the news to Tim that he would be helping me get things in order around the house after the funeral tomorrow. He seemed surprised, but didn't argue. I told him to be back from helping Chad by five or six. He blinked at me over his coffee and nodded, bleary eyed. How late had he been out last night?

***4*** (3rd person)

"Why didn't Chad find it necessary before to tell me you were an ex-con?"

Tim smiled persuasively as he sat down on one of the straight back wood chairs in the small bedroom. The hand-carved object didn't protest or squeak at the addition of his weight. He rocked back in the chair just a touch, and regarded her from beneath long lashes- he was a scolded boy wanting to sweeten her accusing tone by whatever means necessary. He put a box on the floor between his spread knees, and carefully unsealed the tape.

"You certainly believe in getting directly to the point of a conversation, don't you?" he finally answered D. Margaret. Peeved, she waited for a damned sight more explanation than that.

"Chad finally got around to telling me at lunch today, while you were out. He and Duane Koch were here."

"The sheriff? Yep. I've seen a lot of him since I've been here. Confidentially, I don't think he trusts me," Tim added in a conspiratorial whisper. D. Margaret summed up that smile, and the charm that warmed up from inside his deep eyes. This man was not a criminal. Mentally of course she realized it wasn't entirely out of the question. But she considered herself a better judge of character than this. He was not the sort she expected to turn to a life of crime, not when he had that much charm to rely on. Or perhaps he couldn't rely on that charm all the time. Could be it worked better on her than other people. He did have the air of someone she could trust though, someone broad-shouldered and dependable. His deep, soft voice crept into her body and made her shiver with lust in spite of her better judgement. Him? An ex-con??

He had been alone in a house filled with antiques and valuables for nearly three days, and there was not a thing missing. There were her father's guns, and her mother's silver, her grandfather's coin collections, her grandmother's china from France, her great-grandfather's books. Not a thing was missing, and yes, she had checked. Chad had checked. Duane had suggested they do so often and at regular intervals. All D. Margaret had noticed was that someone had recently dusted- there was a brand new feather duster in the place where her mother's dilapidated, worn to a frazzle brown one had been since memory began for D. Margaret.

Besides that, Tim washed and dried dishes after every meal, by hand, either on his own or with Chad's wife Jen by his side. He had the politeness of a man trained to behave with a certain decorum- the civility and courtesy was not falsely forced but rather ingrained in him. He had grown up with someone who made sure he treated others with respect and kindness, gentleness even. D. Margaret had never known a man this mannerly in her life. One thing she was certain of- he was neither an ex-con nor a farm hand by trade.

"Duane said you served twenty four months for an armed robbery in Maryland a couple years back. You've been drifting around since then," she said.

"Yes, ma'am," Tim replied, putting a hand in the box and retrieving a tiny, red felt cowboy hat with the name "Debbie" on the brim in white ribbon. He gave the hat to her with a delicate touch of hand on hand. D. Margaret quivered at the brush and closed her eyes. When she opened them, Tim was regarding her. His gaze darted away though.

"You care to elaborate on what Duane told me?"

"You went to high school with him, didn't you? You've known him for longer than most," Tim ventured. "Chad hinted you and Duane might have dated once."

This brought a snide smirk to D. Margaret's face. She shook her head, deciding not to embellish his remark with details. Did Tim need to know Duane Koch's past? Dated? Hardly what she would have called having a drunken Duane paw at her and made lewd comments about her breasts one night in a movie theater, when she took leave of her senses and decided she would give him one night to prove to her what kind of man he was. She had barely needed part of one evening to find out he wasn't the kind of man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with!

"My father would never have hired you if he didn't feel he could trust you. He trusted you in his home, and that's enough for me." D. Margaret stumbled through the sentence, meaning it even if she couldn't pull the words off with enough sincerity to please herself, let alone Tim.

"You can trust me," Tim promised. And she believed him.

"No harm in telling me the gory details, is there?"

Tim dug out a blue baseball cap emblazoned with a D. He handed that to D. Margaret as well. His face glowed with a sudden, bashful twinkle. He put his hands both in the box. This time, he removed a brown baseball cap with stiff, felt moose antlers on each side. Flop, flop, flop - he dusted it off. Tim straightened the antlers, smoothed down the top of his head and the mere fourth inch of hair left on it, then slid the cap tightly on his skull. He wiggled the brim around to the back, and leaned carefully to the side to stare around D. Margaret into the mirror behind her. A giggle wrinkled his mouth and face, and blossomed into a full fledged laugh that made him rock back in his chair.

"Do you have a camera?" he asked when he caught his breath. She cocked a brow, wondering why on earth he would want a picture of himself in that appalling cap.

"As a matter of fact, yes."

"Would you....could you....??? I would love to send a shot of this to my mom," he grinned, pointing to himself.

"Give me gory details first," D. Margaret bargained. Tim became solemn, as she wondered what he might look like with longer hair.

"Well, Rocky," he began in a Bullwinkle voice. D. Margaret found a smile and a small laugh at last. Tim was pleased he had made her smile. "Can I ask why you're so curious about my prison time?"

"Always good to be familiar with the people you sleep around."

"Good reason," Tim agreed. He began again in the Bullwinkle voice. "Not much to tell really. Wouldn't you rather see me pull a rabbit outta my hat?"

D. Margaret's eyes traveled down Tim's chest and remained between his thighs long enough he couldn't help but notice. He cleared his throat and stood up, pacing back and forth in the small bedroom.

"You ever have one of those days where your whole world goes to pieces, and you're starving hungry, and you're standing in the line at the quickie mart? Your stuff is on the counter, and you're ready to pay and go home."

"Yeah?" she nodded, watching him walk. At least he wasn't using that moose voice. Now if only she could talk him out of that silly hat.

"All you want to do is ring up your purchases, perhaps get a little friendly chit-chat from the clerk, service with a smile, and then drag yourself home, where you can drink your beer and eat your cookies, call your mom, and complain about your day?"


"That was one of those days for me. My, well, she wasn't my girlfriend, actually, more of a seriously bad judgement call on my part. Whatever. She dumped me for wanting to protect her from her abusive boyfriend. I took it all waaaaay too personally. Cause the sex, it was fantastic, but it was anything but personal for her, no matter what it meant to me. I was nothing to her. Maybe I always knew that. I don't know. But this prick behind the counter, he rings up my shit, and it's beer and cookies, and it's $10.78. I lay my money on the counter, and I'm digging through all my pockets, my pants, my jacket, everything. All I can come up with is $10.67."

"Eleven cents? Big deal. Give it to him next time you're in the store."

"Right! Exactly!" Tim exclaimed, his face lighting up as he paced furiously, nervous energy shooting through his body. "Yes! YES! YES!! I asked, I begged, I prostrated myself before this smug-faced bastard," Tim squinted with anger, "and all he told me was 'I have to void the sale'. Void the sale? Void the sale?" Tim shook his hands in the air on either side of his antler cap, and for all the world, it reminded D. Margaret of the holy roller preachers getting deep into their sermons, summoning strength from above in a gesture of pleading. She fought another giggle, trying to hide it behind her hand. "I yanked out my sidearm, and I shoved it in his face, and I took my damned beer and my damned cookies. I walked fifteen feet into the parking lot, sat in my jeep, and got good and drunk before the cops arrived."

D. Margaret blinked, choking on her humor, her wide brown eyes taking in Tim's animated movements. Aware suddenly why she was staring, he stopped himself, and sat on the bed, shaking with intensity.

"You robbed a store of beer and cookies for want of eleven cents?" she asked for clarification, full of bewilderment.

"Well....yes, that pretty much sums it up."

"Why didn't you write him a check or hand him a credit card?"

"I was out of my head. I lost it. I wasn't thinking."

"Lord above," she sighed in an exasperated tone. "Duane made it sound like you were a totally ruthless, nun-killin', baby-snatchin', armed lunatic, with swastika tattoos and double-x-y chromosomes."

"I wouldn't go that far," Tim defended. He tucked one arm behind his head and leaned back on the bed, stretching out his legs. The moose antlers spread out on the pillows and the fake fur blanket. "You do know him well, don't you? Duane, that is. Were you and he dating seriously?" he pressed. D. Margaret rotated her chair and gazed at Tim in the bed, tilting her head to one side.

"I would love to paint you like that," she blurted.

"You have a weird fetish for men in moose hats?"

She dove back into the box, retrieving more cowboy hats, a flannel winter hat with flaps, and finally uncovered a replica of a Viking horned helmet. She held the heavy silver cap in her lap, caressing the tip on one of the white horns. Tim was nervously eyeing her by that point.

"Trade me," D. Margaret persuaded. Tim sat up, and switched the moose antlers for the Viking horns. He put on the metal skull cap, but positioned the horns front to back instead of side to side. His lopsided grin returned.

"This hat makes me wanna burn houses and pillage the countryside," he mused.

D. Margaret stood and approached the bed. She lifted his chin with one finger, and then straightened his horns to the correct alignment.

"May I paint you?"

"In this?"


"Better not," Tim refused, his voice growing soft and husky. "Your brother will kill me if he finds out."

"I'm not gonna tell him," she whispered. She let her hand drift down his cheek, drawing his chin back up from where it had dropped. "What wonderful eyes you have. Your mouth too. I can't express in words what I can express in paint. I want to let my brush at you, every bit of you," she breathed, drawing her thumb over Tim's bottom lip.

***5*** (3rd person)

Tim was lying on his stomach on the fake fur blanket, with the Viking horned helm at a rakish tilt on the back of his head. D. Margaret was studying him various angles (mostly from the back, he was quick to note). He gave her an impish and impatient smile.

"I feel perfectly ridiculous," he informed her.

"Sure I can't talk you out of the jeans too?"

"Yes, quite sure," he insisted, frowning playfully at her as he rested his cheek on the fur. "I hardly know you. Do you do paintings like this all the time?"

"Actually, I tend towards landscapes. Someone told me once that while staring at one of my prairie scenes, he could feel the wind roll around him and motion through the tall grasses in the painting. It's always been my favorite compliment. But I have been known to do the occasional tasteful nude."

"Hey, hey, hey," Tim protested, sitting up on his elbows. The helmet tumbled off his head. "The shirt is as far as I'm going."

"Pity," D. Margaret purred. "Tim, quit squirming."

She reached for the Viking helmet. He sat up, kicking his feet over the side of the bed, nearly colliding with her as she crowned him with the helmet.

"Let me get my camera. Then I'll pose you again," she said. Tim scooted to the very edge of the bed, sliding one of his legs between her feet. Like a dark magician, he conjured one of his most evocative, deep-eyed stares.

"These jeans are not coming off..." he began, waiting for dramatic pause. "At least not without more compelling reasons than I've had so far," he added slyly. D. Margaret pecked a platonic kiss to Tim's upraised cheek. "Nope. You'll have to do a loooooooot better than that."

"Let me get my camera," she crooned, stroking his cheek. When she returned, Tim was sulking against the wall beside the bed, one knee propped up. His eyes glittered at her. "Relax and act naturally," she suggested.

"As naturally as possible," Tim quipped. "I'd much rather wear the Bullwinkle hat."

D. Margaret handed him the antler cap, and he switched hastily. She patted the fake fur blanket with one hand.

"Lie down."

Tim obeyed, chuckling to himself. D. Margaret straightened the antlers on the rise of the pillows. She removed the lens cover, popped in a disk, and adjusted the controls.

"You're simply edible, Tim," she murmured, peering at the small LCD screen.

"Is that digital?" Tim asked, curious.

"Yes. I can show you the shots on my laptop in a few seconds. Don't talk now. Hold still. I'm trying to find the perfect shot."

Tim moved his arm as she directed him with the touch of her slender fingers. A small red light flashed rapidly, and then a whirring noise erupted from the machine.

"See, almost painless," she soothed. "Wait. Hold still," she commanded when he began to sit up. Tim froze, and she repositioned his antlers again as he put his back against the fur. She took a couple more shots, leaning closer and closer to the pillows and his face. "You're a good subject. The camera loves you, Tim."

"If I buy it a drink, will it kiss me?" he asked devilishly. D. Margaret balanced one hand on Tim's chest as she sat on the bed. She brushed her lips tenderly to Tim's, sucking and nibbling on his bottom lip, dipping her tongue deep into his mouth. As she kissed him, her free hand roamed across his chest side to side.

"Mm. Keep your eyes closed. Don't open them yet," she hummed. The camera whirred as she added, "Slowly now." The camera buzzed at Tim. Lips prowled over Tim's neck and down his throat. He caught his breath as her tongue darted through the downy hairs on his chest and washed over one nipple. The camera continued to whirr at regular intervals as she kissed down his chest at a leisurely pace that he found maddening. She teased his navel briefly with her tongue, glancing back up at him, getting a double echo shot of live and LCD screen. A frown crossed her mouth.

"Okay," she said as she sat up. "The antlers have to go. I can't get serious with you wearing that hat."

Tim growled deep in his chest, dropping the moose hat to the floor. D. Margaret lifted the silver skull cap by one horn and readjusted it on Tim's head.

"Better?" he asked dryly.

"Much," she affirmed, perching on the bed between his knees. Her hands climbed his thighs. "Better?" she quipped.

"It's a start," he challenged, showing the merest hint of wicked impatience and white teeth.

D. Margaret put the camera on the chair closest to the bed and reached for Tim's waist.

"I was kidding," Tim sighed. Her lips traveled up his chest, and she bit him tenderly along the way. "You really don't.....mmmm.....oh...." he inhaled sharply. She pressed her mouth over his, and her tongue captured his as her fingers worked loose the fastenings on his jeans. Her fingers were down his fly and into his boxers. The fur tickled and caressed his bare skin as she lowered his clothing. She coaxed him up off the bed far enough to completely undress him, boots and all. He nibbled her lips and chin, and to his surprise, she eased him back. She reached out for the camera, and almost dropped it. She was spellbound by his eyes as they followed her. With a couple quick adjustments, she lifted the camera to her face. With more nonchalance than most people could have mustered, she slid her hand between his thighs and stroked his erection as she captured his troubled expression.

"Shhhh, relax. Pretend the camera isn't here," she soothed. She slid her fingers to the head of his cock, squeezing forcefully. Agony and bliss colored his sunburnt cheeks, and he opened his mouth with a deep moan. Tim dug his teeth into his bottom lip to stifle a cry, and turned his face away. His eyes fluttered closed, and his fingers reached for her wrist. "Put your hands above your head," she instructed in a far away voice.

He chuckled at those words.

Why did he laugh when I said that? she wondered.

Tim shuddered as she handled him expertly, like a woman who knew her way around a man's body. His arms rose above his head, and his fingers locked around the ornamental railings of the headboard. The camera continued to whirr at regular intervals.

"Tell me you like what I'm doing," she spoke.

"Yes," Tim moaned, making two syllables of one. D. Margaret slid further down between his legs, and rested her cold, clammy, metallic device against Tim's hot belly. She kissed one long, luscious thigh with a line of tantalizing touches, and licked her way through his dark brown body hair. "Yes....." Tim repeated, quite urgently.

"Be careful not to move too much," D. Margaret whispered, pulling his cock into her mouth. Tim's right hand practically mauled her shoulder. She curled her fingers through his and held his hand away, managing a smile. His cries were loud, then muffled. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched the LCD screen reveal the cause. He was covering his mouth with the back of his left hand. Naughty boy, she thought, giving him a small taste of teeth. The left hand seized the railings on the bed again. That's better.

One long leg wrapped around D. Margaret's side as Tim struggled not to move from the waist up. He wasn't going to last long in the attempt to hold still. She knew a few of the shots were going to be blurry. Damn it, she HOPED so!

Tim groaned deep in his chest and fought with a loud groan as she moved up and down over him mercilessly. His self control was giving in. His moans rose into whimpers, then pleas and half- muted words. She thought she could make out a "please" and a "yes", but the rest was a blur. He grew more incoherent the longer she tormented him.

A tell-tale shiver started through him, foretelling the approaching torrent. She drank him dry and left him quivering with glow. It hadn't taken him long to forget the small voyeur on his belly.

"Oh damn," D. Margaret tisked, kissing Tim's abdomen where the oblong, rectangular indentation made by the bottom of the camera was visible when she picked up the device itself. "This disk is full now. Don't worry though. I have more in my suitcase."

Tim groaned low and stretched out his limbs in a tumble when she climbed off the bed.

"How many hats are in that box?" he asked.

"At least three or four more," she replied. "Don't move an inch," she pleaded. Tim more than willingly obliged, delighting in the tickle of the fake fur against his thighs and legs.

***6*** (Frank)

Mary beat me to the mailbox today, and she had Tim's letter read before I returned from physical therapy with Gee. Looking flushed and vaguely embarrassed at our arrival, she folded the new letter up and put it on the table as I sat down on the divan. I glared at her and frowned.

"Sure you won't stay for dinner, Al?" Mary asked Gee as he hung by the side of the divan.

"No. I've got a desk loaded with paperwork to get back to. Is that from Tim? How's he getting along in Colorado?"

"He's making out very nicely," Mary chuckled to herself mostly. She walked Gee to the front door to say goodbye. I retrieved Tim's letter and began to scan through it.

"GOOD- GOOD- GOOD GOD!!" I exclaimed loudly. Gee poked his head back inside.

"Something wrong, Frank?" he asked. My appalled expression was impossible to ignore or retract.

"No," I lied poorly. "Pa- papercut."

Mary winked at me and stepped outside with Gee to talk.

***7*** (Daisy Margaret)

"How are things going over at your dad's place, Daisy? Are you getting his effects in order?"

I was standing in line at the local mini-mart one minute, happily sipping my diet coke, pondering which of the delicious shots of Tim I wanted to commit to canvas when I got back to Chicago. The next minute, Duane Koch was grinning at me, waiting for a reply to his question. It amazed me, as I stared at him, that this guy had spent two years of junior high and four years of high school bouncing back and forth between pursuing me sexually and then mocking my Native heritage, not to mention leading local police on high speed chases while under the influence of alcohol and the drugs he stole from his father's medical practice. How in the world had Duane Koch wound up carrying a gun and a badge and defending the law?? It was clear the standards of acceptance into law enforcement must be lowering for him to even qualify for entrance. Did he still misspell every other word in his reports? I stepped closer to the cashier and smiled finally at Duane.

"Things are fine," I said briefly, not curtly.

"If you need help, you let me know. But Chad surely is willing to help you with whatever you need. Have you decided to sell him your fourth of the land, or are you going to move back home and build a life for yourself here?"

"I haven't decided," I answered honestly. "Thank you for asking though."

Duane tipped his head to one side and touched the end of my nose.

"Did you get some of that bobbed off? I seem to recall your nose being much much bigger than it is."

"No," I assured him, dodging back from the touch. Why had I left my keyring with the mace cylinder attached to it in the car?

"I am sorry about your father. He was a good man."

How ironic.

Was he really talking up my father to me? All I ever heard before was how fortunate it was my mother had agreed to marry my father, give him a job on her father's farm, allow him to inherit the lands that had been in my mother's family since Colorado was first settled. Being without job skills, wasn't that how Duane had once put it? As though farming was the occupation of choice for those without skills? I think not. Koch had no clue what a remarkable amount of skill and patience it took to coax your survival from the earth and sky alone. No point in trying to convince him at this late date. Duane had never had to work for what he got. It either came to him through his father being a doctor, and the prestige that carried, or through sheer dumb luck and accident. Duane must have been born under a lucky star.

And why was he suddenly being so nice to me? What was the catch?

"Thank you," I said, lowering my head. I didn't always agree that my father was a good man. Certainly he had always provided me with what I needed growing up. But he was a hard ass, emotionally distant man who pretty much felt Chad was all he needed, and that the rest of us kids were decorative but useless. How well we learned that too. Brad inherited my father's emotional distance, and baked it deep inside with the burning hatred in his heart, until it transformed into a physical distance he wouldn't even breach for the man's funeral. Debbie never shook off the shadow of self-loathing. She had drifted through relationships and careers, searching for love and acceptance, putting herself into dangerous situations to gain one ounce of the approval she never got growing up. I couldn't believe we hadn't heard from her yet. Where the hell was she in Tibet? Don't they have phones there?

"So...." Duane began, his tone betraying that he was about to launch into a big conversation on a touchy topic. With some amount of glee, if I weren't mistaken. "I'm sorry to have to spring that thing on you about your dad's hired hand yesterday at lunch. I didn't realize Chad hadn't told you. I assumed he'd tell you the second you were here."

He wasn't sorry at all. He was glad he had taken me by surprise with the news. I could tell from the look in his eyes yesterday that he had taken great amusement in my initial alarm.

"Oh, that?" I whispered, stalling for time as I crawled forward to the cashier.

"Chad says he's practically dangerous with the horses."

"Yep, Chad did say that."

"Did you ask Tim about his time behind bars?"


"What did he tell you?"

"What?" I mused. "You can't find the information for yourself? You are the sheriff."

"I could, if I had a reason to suspect him of a crime while he's been here."

"Going with my gut instincts about Tim, I'd say you have nothing to worry about with him."

"Armed robbery is nothing to laugh about. Do you feel safe around him?"

"Perfectly safe," I replied, digging out change for the girl behind the counter. She stuck out her hand and waited impatiently for me. Silver glanced from her mouth. She was clicking her tongue piercing around like a tiny barbell. Well that was perfectly revolting to watch.

"He told you all about his prison time? What did he say? If you don't feel safe, Daisy, I can ask Chad to make Tim stay with the rest of the hired help."

Duane walked me to the parking lot, and put his butt against the side of my car.

"Tim is harmless, and he's been a big help around the house to me, even if he's not the farm hand Chad wishes he were."

"Whatever you say. Don't be afraid to tell me if he gives you a second of trouble. I'll have someone keep an eye on him for you."

"That's kind of you," I murmured.

"If you move back, Daisy, I'll be your neighbor."

"You will?" I questioned, gulping down a swallow of soda.

"Didn't you know? I bought the land on the far side of your father's property, next to the highway, clear to the state line. My house is about five miles from yours, but we're almost neighbors."

"No, I didn't know."

"My dad said I should get a little land, put down roots."

"He's right," I nodded. "You could find yourself a nice little girl around here, get married..."

"Why aren't you married yet?" he asked, sliding a hand against mine. "Pretty woman like you, I can't believe no one has asked."

"I'll take that as a compliment," I said, sliding my hand away from his as delicately as possible. "Thanks for telling me the truth about Tim."

"He gives you trouble, you call me."

"I will," I promised.

"You take care," he nodded, patting the top of my car and shooing me along my way.

***8*** (Tim)

"Oh, no. Chad is right. Gimme that brush before you hurt yourself."

I was busy attempting to smooth the coat of the brown and white horse before me when I heard Daisy's voice behind me. D. Margaret, I mentally corrected myself. Her hand captured the large brush from under my grip, and she stepped between me and the horse.

"Jen has been taking such great care of Dad's horses," she added. "I'm glad they'll have her to look after them. You've never taken care of horses in your life, have you? You look like you're trying to wash the side of a car when you brush them," she complained.

"I'm new to this animal grooming career," I admitted sheepishly. "The largest pet I ever had growing up was an Irish setter."

"This isn't a Honda. It's a living being," D. Margaret chided tenderly. She stroked down the side of the horse, then darted a pointing finger at the opposite wall of the barn. "Get another brush, and I'll show you," she directed me.

As I crossed the structure, I wondered if she had gotten her bossiness from her father. Probably. Chad was constantly saying how much his baby sister reminded him of their father. She resembled him in the face too, in her slightly large nose and squared jaw, her thick dark hair and penetrating brown eyes. It was easy to see her father in her, now that I went over it in my head. It made my thoughts turn to my own father, of course, and how everyone who had ever known him had told him I had his eyes. Even my mom. Especially my mom. Personally, I didn't want to think so, but some mornings staring half awake into the mirror while I shaved, I could see him staring back at me. Especially with my hair this short. I always sworn I would never wear my hair this way. But I had been hot and tired one day when I woke up, drained of energy, hair sticking to my face and neck and ears, and I just wanted it all gone off my head so I could breathe again. My mom had turned green when I showed up on her doorstep that first morning with this haircut. I knew what the first words out of her mouth were going to be. I was getting the lawn mower out of the tool shed, and she watched me with sad nostalgia in her face.

"You look so much like your father with your hair that way."

Mom must have loved him deeply at one point, maybe when she still hoped that things could only get better between them. Perhaps it was a hormonal spell cast on her when she was pregnant with me? She hadn't gone into marriage with him with her head full of dreams of love everlasting. She had had her eyes wide open from the start that he wasn't perfect, and he wasn't about to change for her or any child she was expecting. But over the years, being around him seemed to suck the life right out of my mother.

Gee, I don't know why I'm not married. Maybe I never wanted to suck the life and hope out of another human being the way my father did my mother. Would it have really been as bad for her to raise me alone?? She never should have stayed with him. We'd've been fine without him. D. Margaret's reaction to losing her father was sedate, to be sure. Maybe they had never been close. Nothing to do about that at this point, I guessed.

"Your father," I began when I returned with the second brush. I waited for a reaction in her face, and all I received was a placid stare. She was anticipating the rest of my statement or question. I stood beside her with the second brush, following her hand movement's over the beast's withers, across its back, and down its haunches. "He loved these horses very much. He would race out here first thing in the morning to trot them out, feed them, let them run in the corral."

A tiny smile graced D. Margaret's face.

"If he had never had a family and a farm to worry about, I suspect he'd've been off to the trainers and tracks with these pretties. Pebbles here is a quarter horse."

"What's that mean? Is it good?"

"It means she's one fourth Arabian. You can tell by the shape of her nose and head. My mother's father bred horses for a living. The farming was a hobby for him. My mother was one of the best trainers around. My parents could have gone far in the horse world if they hadn't been tied to making a living off this land. Why in the world Chad wants it all is beyond me. What does your mom do?"

"She was a housewife for a lot of years, till I was in junior high, and she felt safe about me being home by myself in the afternoons. She volunteered with various charities, women's shelters, that kind of thing. She used to take college courses every now and then, but that was more out of boredom than actual pursuit of a degree. She's actually smarter than she lets people know. She loves to dance too."

"My parents did not dance, ever. What about your dad? What's he do?" D. Margaret whispered.

"He was an MP in the service, then worked in a factory making car parts and engines after he married my mom and left the military."

"Past tense. He's dead."

"Yep, for some time."

"How did he die?"

I found a small short laugh, and her expression revealed dismay before she secreted the emotion away. This was such a repressed family! I contained my dark humor and explained.

"He died from internal bitterness and spite. He smoked for many years, until I came along. Did more than his fair share of drinking. He had high blood pressure, and he ate a horse," I mused, stroking Pebbles' side while D. Margaret stopped to listen to me. "He got cancer in his mid-fifties, and it took him a year and a half to die. It was horrible, and it was ugly, and we never got along when he was healthy and alive. Matters got worse and worse while he was dying. He used his health to make Mom and I feel guilty. Then he used it as an excuse to pick fights with us. He died hating me, mad at God, and pissed off at the universe. I had him cremated, specifically against his wishes, and dumped him in the bay. So much for him. He probably gave the crabs indigestion."

D. Margaret moved to Pebbles' front and nuzzled noses with her.

"You and he weren't close, were you?"


"You have a lot of tension when it comes to him. Your whole body gets rigid when you talk about him. Touchy subject?"

I laughed a little, nodding.

"You have siblings?" she asked.

"Nope, thank goodness."

"Life might have been easier with someone around to talk to."

"I'm close to my cousin Jim. He's like a brother to me, although he's a few years older. He was my idol when we were growing up. My earliest memories are of Jim sharing toys with me, and the sound of my mother and aunt talking in the background."

"My earliest memories are of boots on the mud porch, and this big loud guy who would walk through the house at night. There were other small people in the house besides me, and a tiny, quiet blonde woman too, but mostly it was all about who that loud guy was that I only saw at nights. Why doesn't he ever pick me up and spin me around like he does that blond kid?"



"You don't have rivalry with Brad or Debbie?"

"No. Debbie is sweet and soulful. She is just like Mom, who used to melt into a puddle when someone gave her a minute of attention. Debbie is in Tibet, looking for enlightenment in the mountains."

"So I gathered. Sorry she couldn't make it back for the funeral." "I doubt word has reached her yet. But she'd've made an awful spectacle of herself. It's better she wasn't here. Sobbing and sobbing and crying and wailing. You should have heard her carrying on at Mom's funeral. She would have made it hard on everyone else."

"God forbid," I teased gently. D. Margaret frowned and nodded. "What about Brad? Why isn't he here?"

"As much as it might pain Brad to know this, he got my dad's workaholic nature, and didn't want to put down his work long enough to come out. They never saw eye to eye on life and such, and Brad would much rather stay in L.A. and build his buildings than return to Colorado and fight with my dad's spirit in that house."

" 'That house'?"

"Can't you feel it when you walk through? There's centuries of pent-up emotions in there."

"Do you fight with your father there too?"

"No. He's still ignoring me, even after all this time."

"You're so mad at him, you changed your last name," I brought up.

"I didn't want people to automatically look at me and see my name and think I wanted a free ride in life because of my Native heritage. That's why I changed my name. I wanted to be judged for who I am as a person on my own merits, not by what my name says about me. And would you ever take a grown woman named 'Daisy' seriously?? I had no choice but to change my name, and my father never cared. Really. When I told him, he acted like, no big deal. He has Chad to carry on the Halfhide name. That's all that mattered to him."

I shrugged uncomfortably. She could deny it all she wanted to, but she had a lot of hurt and anger inside from what she saw as her father's apathy towards her. Any person with half a brain could see it. Now that he was dead, she was never going to resolve those feelings either. I knew just how she felt.

"I wish I could have gotten along better with my father. Wish I could have done one thing that would have made him proud of me. Too late for that though. Nothing short of being someone other than myself would have cheered him up. But I can't blame him," I admitted.

"Why do you say that?"

"I was a teeny, shy, quiet thing."

"You, teeny?" she giggled. "I find that hard to picture."

"Very teeny," I replied. "He wanted someone.....someone like Jim."

"How did your mom react when your dad died?"

"Oh......well....." I avoided the question.

"When my mom died, my dad went into the guest room and slept for a week. Then he removed all her clothes from the closets and put them in storage in the attic. He didn't talk about her for six months. For half a year, no one breathed her name around him. And then one day, he was perfectly normal again. He could talk about her and how much he missed her, but he wouldn't show his emotions about losing her. That's not normal, is it? How did your mom react?"

"She went home from the hospital the night he died, and she smashed every last piece of their wedding china all over the kitchen floor, at least what they hadn't thrown at each other over the years. She took her wedding band off, and she's never worn it again. She cried for an entire day straight, wouldn't eat, wouldn't sleep."

"She loved him and missed him?"

"No," I sighed. "She resented him for making her life miserable for twenty six years, and felt guilty because she had wished him dead long before he got around to dying."

"Oh," D. Margaret said quietly, clearly shocked at my frankness. "Isn't it strange how death makes people react?"

"You don't know the half of it," I assured her. "Shall we move on to the next one?"

She nuzzled another kiss to Pebbles' nose and followed me to the next stall. Waiting there was the gray stallion, who eyed me imperiously and stamped his front feet.

"Hmm, you better stay back. Buckshot doesn't like you," D. Margaret warned. The horse lowered his nose to her touch, but stamped his feet at me again when I approached.

"Your dad said they can sense if you don't know what you're doing around them."

"They can," she agreed.

"What did I ever do to you?" I asked the horse. Buckshot blew a neigh out his nose and shook his head and neck. "That must be horse talk for 'Beat it, Jack'."

"He's moody. Don't take it personally," she soothed. "You don't talk like that to Jen, do you?" she asked the horse. Buckshot lifted his head, and danced side to side. "No. You like Jen, don't you?"

"I know what moody people are like. One minute they hate you, and then next minute...."

"The next minute what?" D. Margaret asked as I let my voice drop away.

Should I be honest with her about my situation with Frank? Probably not. It had been a month, and I couldn't get it out of my head. Why in the world had Frank acted so strangely towards me? There had always been a little friendly joking, even a bit of harmless flirting between us, tension of a nature that I wouldn't label sexual so much as harmless friendly interest? I don't know what to call it. Okay, we had kissed once before. But that had been different. The first time, the kissing had been gentle and soothing, a way of numbing away the pain and the fear inside. The first time had been borne of Frank trying to reassure me he wasn't going to leave me, his job on the police force that is, and me secondarily.

This time, it was totally different. At first, it was much the same, or I wouldn't have let it continue as long as I had. Frank could feel my pain, and primarily, he was drawing the hurt back into himself. But then he turned aggressive on me. That's what had frightened me. Frank had all but pinned and striped me right there. I didn't need that. I didn't want that. I never had given him the impression that was all right, had I? If I hadn't resisted him, how far would he have gone? If I hadn't been totally and completely freaked the fuck out by his actions, what would he have done to me? I leaned against the side of the stall, letting my brush dangle from the strap around my wrist.

"The next minute, people lose their minds and pounce on you," I joked. D. Margaret faced me slowly. She was somewhere between astonished and amused.

"I'd hardly equate wanting to pounce on you with losing my mind," she said.

"Not you. Someone else. Someone back home."

"Oh. Someone important in your life?"

"Mmmm, yes," I admitted. Well Frank was at least that.

"Someone you love?"

"I wouldn't go that far."

"I dunno, Tim," she grinned suddenly, moving to Buckshot's other side and peeking across the horse's back at me. "I've seen how far you'll go. Hey, I even have pictures," she kidded me. What a sweet and kind smile she had, the way it lit up her face with tenderness.

"This someone is married,"I ventured.

"The forbidden is always what we hunger for."


"Because we've all got enough of the devil imprinted on our souls. You know what happens though. You get what you long for, and then you don't want it any longer."


"Are she and her husband going through a rough spot? Often times we will search for comfort from our friends when we are going through hard times in a marriage."

"Ehn," I shrugged. "In a way that's true. But that's not the biggest problem."

"What is?"

I tested her with a patient eyes, and decided not to tell her the truth.

"It's a long story,"I avoided.

"There are two rules for sex you should never forget."

"What are those?"

"Never sleep with a friend. And never sleep with someone you wouldn't have as a friend."

"That leaves you with complete strangers," I smiled.

"Exactly my point," she nodded.

"That causes fewer emotional entanglements, and the less emotion in sex, the better, hm?"

"Never let it be said you've just another pretty face, Tim."

"Don't worry. It's not," I assured her grimly.

"Grab that blanket and follow me," she murmured, pointing to the green and blue plaid throw over the side of the stall.

"Where are we going?" I asked. "On a picnic?"

"Not exactly," D. Margaret purred, picking up a riding crop. She gently poked me in the side when I faced her. "We're going to play a little game."

***9*** (Daisy Margaret)

"Too tight?" I asked, whispering in Tim's ear. He shook his head no, smiling as he blindly tried to find the source of my voice. I made certain he couldn't see through the blindfold, and then tested the tension in the cords that held his hands above his head in the hay loft. His arms went tight as I stroked slowly from his upraised elbows to his waist. I rested my hands on his hips, taking hold of his belt loops to give him a side to side turn.

"Believe it or not," I continued, "this is the perfect way to show you the finer points to taking care of whatever pet you may have."

"Pet??" Tim gave a muffled laugh and quickly composed himself. I kissed his neck, moving the collar of his shirt aside.

"They can't talk to reason with you. Shh. They depend on you for whatever they need. Food, water, a place to sleep, a warm bath every now and then. Discipline," I added as I traced the handle of my riding crop down his back and over his rump.

Putting the whip in my back pocket, I began to unbutton his shirt, kissing my way over his incredible chest as I bared his skin to the shafts of sunlight peeking into the loft. Untucking the ends from his jeans, I tugged the shirt open and left it hanging loose around his shoulders. I unbuckled his belt with a click and rattle, and he twisted with the movement as I removed the belt from his jeans with a quick swipe. I slid my hands around his waist and down the back of his beautiful ass, giving him a kneading squeeze. Tim moaned softly against my hair. I nuzzled into his open shirt and kissed his chest, sucking each nipple in turn.

"What would you like first?" I asked softly, circling my hands up his back. He rubbed his nose against my cheek, angling downwards to reach me. "I could brush your coat."

Tim shook his head no.

"How about a nice bucket of oats?"

Tim indicated no again.

"Oh! I have something I bet you'll love," I said. Tim nodded anxiously. I reached into my pocket, and teased his mouth with the rough edge of a sugar cube. His lips formed a damp, gorgeous, quick grin.

"Sugar cube? Very funny," he muttered.

"Open your mouth," I persuaded. He obeyed, sucking briefly on the sweet before crunching it to bits in his teeth. "Sugar isn't what you were after?"

"Not exactly," Tim said, finding my cheek and then sucking hungrily on my mouth. Crystals of sugar cube melted in the heat as he slid his tongue deep into my mouth. I reached into my other pocket and wrestled with a plastic bag before retreating from the kiss.

"How about a nice chunk of apple?" I mused, caressing his lips with the firm, red fruit. He sank into the crisp flesh with his teeth, crunching and chewing as ripe juice dripped to his chin. I captured a drop with my tongue, and pressed my mouth over his once more.

"I suppose you've got a saddle for me too?" Tim quipped a moment later.

"You never know," I replied, picking up a nearby bucket of fresh water.

"What's that splashing noise?" he asked as I set the bucket down with a plunk.

"Would you like a drink?"

"Yes," he played along. I raised the ladle to his mouth and held it for him. Trickles of water rolled down his mouth and over his throat as I tipped the scoop up too quickly. "Are you trying to drown me?" he worried, nosing off his wet face against his shirt on his upheld arm. I traced the cold ladle down his chest, and he lunged back from it. "Ow. Watch it. I'll report you to the SPCA."

I slipped the scoop to the bucket; it went 'ploink' as it hit the surface and sank. Turning back to Tim, I captured his hips and ground against him as I sucked and kissed his mouth with growing intensity. This could turn out to be a fun afternoon.

Out on the driveway, I heard a car on the gravel. I quickly pulled back and ducked down to the floor. A second later it occurred to me that Tim couldn't see, and he was still dangling there half dressed. I released his hands from the loft rafter and pulled him to the straw with me this time. I inched towards the loft opening. Tim removed his blindfold and followed me across the floor on all fours. We reached the opening and gazed over to the house, concealing ourselves in the hay.

There was Duane Koch, his patrol car in my driveway, no sirens on though. He knocked on the front door and waited. Tim rolled his eyes and buried his head in his hands.

"It figures," Tim muttered.

"Where does he think he's going?" I asked as Duane opened the front door and walked inside the house. Tim busily chewed at the knot around his wrists, and loosened the tie.

"You suppose he's after a friendly visit, or that he's back to spy on me?" Tim asked.

"I don't know."

"Do you let people walk into your house like that all the time?"

"No. He'll leave soon, then we can pick up where we left off," I promised.

"Actually," Tim said, "you should go see what he wants, and I'll get back to work. I've gotta.....gotta...get some hay hauled over the Chad's place. Why don't you keep Duane occupied for me for a couple hours?"

"Keep him occupied? Why do you put it that way?" I wondered.

"No reason," Tim answered with a boyish grin.

"Wouldn't you rather stay here with me instead of hauling hay to Chad's?" I pouted, more than a little miffed. Why was he suddenly being all business? Tim nuzzled my neck as he pinned me to the carpet of hay.

"Yes," he whispered, dotting a kiss to my chin and then to my mouth. He wasn't fooling me in the least. This was only to placate me for the time being. "Yes, I would rather stay with you. But we both have work to do."


"You have to entertain Duane for me, and I have to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak."

Tim slid a single strand of straw into his mouth and climbed to his feet with a graceful sweep of limbs. He buttoned his shirt and pulled on his gloves before dropping down to the main floor of the barn. I pouted in the hay, throwing a handful of stray into the air with both fists.

Damn it, Duane, this had better be good.

***10*** (Daisy Margaret)

I entertained Duane on the porch, listening to his chit chat for hours it seemed, as Tim loaded small hay bales into the back of the farm truck. He stacked them neatly to the wooden side walls, and slowly filled in the middle of the bed. He dusted the loose straws off his clothing before he sat down on the very end of the bed of the truck. I whistled and motioned him over to the porch, picking up his hat off the chair beside me. He ambled my direction, his boots kicking up dirt that clung to his long, lean legs. Tim stepped on the porch steps, but maintained a clear distance from me. Duane was staring meanly at him. No wonder.

"I'm on my way to Chad's, and into town," Tim said as I gave him his hat. He played with the rim as Duane ground his teeth together.

"What kind of stuff do you need? I can get it for you," I offered. Anything to get away from Duane!

"No, no, no. You stay here and have a nice talk with the sheriff. You haven't seen each other in years. You must have a lot to talk about," Tim grinned. "Don't move a muscle. I'll even pick up dinner. What would you like?"

"Surprise me," I replied. Tim tipped his hat to Duane and I before walking back to the truck. He climbed into the drivers' side, started the engine with some effort, then slammed the door.

"I don't like him being here with you," Duane muttered, suddenly right next to me at the doorway.

"Why not?" I pressured.

"He's a felon, Daisy. He's an armed felon."

"He doesn't have a gun."

"He bought one from the pawn shop last week."

"He did?"

"He's planning on pulling off a job while he's here. Doug said the man displayed an inordinate knowledge of weaponry. He was familiar with the make and model of every damn gun that Doug had, and he was awfully choosy about the one he wanted to purchase. You mark my words. He's up to no good. I don't want you staying here alone with him. I'd never forgive myself if he did something to you. You don't have to worry about the gun from Doug's shop," he added, patting his side where he had an extra gun under his jacket.

"Where did you find it?"

"In the guest room nightstand. I hope you don't mind me in your house. But I wanted to make sure you were safe."

"How did you know where to find it?"

"He told Dough at the pawn shop that he likes to sleep with a gun beside the bed. Daisy, please stay with Chad and Jen."

"Relax, Duane," I smiled, watching the dust rise in the gravel as Tim drove away. "I've got Tim eating out of my hand."

***11*** (Frank)

Another day. Another trip to the physical therapist's office. Another letter from Tim in the mail. Another trip to the doctor's office. Another trip to the grocery store, where I will follow Mary around while she buys green vegetables, seafood, chicken, and fish. Never red meat. I'd murder a nun for a thick, juicy steak and a pack of smokes. Oh God. Giving this all up at once it killing me no caffeine, no nicotine, no food I love. God, God, God, God.

Fuck God. This is all His fault. He's the one who did this to me. God took away my worldly pleasures, everything that makes me happy. He's punishing me. I don't know what I've done, but I'm being punished.

Tim isn't here. I want Tim back!

"Why are you so moody tonight?" Mary asked as I frowned at my thoughts.

"I'm not moo-- moo-- moody."

"Gee said told me you might be in a loathsome mood tonight. Lieutenant Underwood is hinting he would like to have Tim on a permanent basis."

"I know.....I know. Tim said said so in last letter."

"I didn't get to read Tim's letter today," she said.

"Yeah, so?" I scowled. Olivia was snoozing in her seat in the front of the cart. Mary dropped a box of diapers into the carriage and stifled a smile.

"Tim said something private in the letter that you don't want to share with me?" she ventured.


"Okay. There's no need to be defensive," she replied. "Must be about police work."

No, actually it had been about how much fun my partner, still my partner, was having out there in Colorado. I especially didn't want to hear about his latest sexually adventure with that Daisy woman. What is it about Tim that he is always falling for the weird and kinky artists? Letting her take pictures of them while they're fucking? Letting her tie him up and treat him like her pet? For such a clean cut, wholesome, middle class white boy, Tim sure ended up having peculiar predilections and fantasies, didn't he? Why wasn't he concentrating on his job out there instead of his sex life? He wasn't in Colorado to fornicate in hay lofts with girls named Daisy. He certainly wasn't out there to become a porn model either. I hoped he got all this nonsense out of his system before he came back to me in Baltimore. Cause he is coming back to me, in Baltimore, in Homicide, and I won't let him misbehave like he has been out there.

"Frank, are you listening to a word I'm saying?" Mary blurted, patting my arm.

"What?" I snapped.

"I said, is Tim writing to his mom as much as he's writing you?"

"Yes," I nodded, thinking he certainly wouldn't be telling his mom what he was telling me. Why did he have to be telling me for that matter? Did he have to tell me all about it in such incredible detail? What was he trying to prove to me? Was he rubbing my nose in his fun? I didn't want to know that he had let a virtual stranger fuck and suck him, make him wear strange helmets and leather chaps, but he wouldn't permit me one small indiscretion with him. One itty bitty harmless sin?

"You are in a foul mood," Mary decided as we rolled along at a slow pace that allowed me to maintain my balance.

***12*** (Daisy Margaret)

"So, Duane, I've been reading in the paper that your house has been broken into twice in the last two weeks," I said, putting a lump of mashed potatoes on my dinner plate and darting a glance around the table for the gravy boat. "Anything come up missing?"

Chad and Tim were rushing in the front door to assume their seats at the table. Jen poured iced tea into glasses for them. I picked up the gravy boat and poured liberally around my plate.

"Where have you two been?" Jen admonished in a motherly tone. Chad and Tim smiled simultaneously, simply oozing naughtiness.

"We were target shooting," Chad said, pointing at Tim. "Would you believe his mom taught him how to shoot a gun?"

"Yes, she did," Tim challenged. "I'm a better shot than you are."

"By a damned sight," Chad agreed.

"I seem to have misplaced my gun somewhere. Thank you for lending me one of yours for the practice," Tim said. "Sheriff, was anything stolen when your house was broken into?"

"No, nothing was stolen," Duane replied finally. "Whoever did it came in, walked through the house upstairs and downstairs, in the basement, outside in the storm shelter, and left by the back door, but didn't take a thing."

"Pretty odd," Jen commented. Tim salted tomato slices and cut them up with his fork.

"You should get a better security system," he told Duane.

"Having a stranger in your house makes you feel so violated," Duane moaned.

"When I was in Baltimore, my place was broken into twice," Tim commiserated.

"What did they take?" I asked.

"The first time, they started to take my stereo and tv, and for some odd reason, changed their minds after they got everything unplugged. The second time doesn't count."

"Why not?" Chad asked.

"It was my birthday. I came home and found the door ajar. So I pulled out my gun and stepped inside, and damned near shot my partner and a couple friends who were in the midst of decorating my place for a surprise party."

"Your partner?" Duane cocked his head at the word. Tim froze between one bite and the next. He was had. I could see it in his face. How was he getting out of what he had said?

"Partner," he repeated slowly, nodding.

"How do you mean?"

"We weren't married. We weren't living together. I don't give out my door key to everyone. What do you call them here? Significant other? Main squeeze? The woman with whom you on occasion fornicate?" Tim asked.

"Out here, if a guy says 'partner', we think he either works on a dude ranch, or he's gay," Chad replied bluntly.

"Oh," Tim lit up with humor. "In this case, none of the above. My mistake," Tim said. There was awkward silence, into which Tim began to giggle. "What if he works on a dude ranch, and he's gay?" Tim asked. "Wasn't there a comedian who did a routine on that once?"

Jen snickered, gulped a drink of tea, and booted Tim under the table. Duane stabbed his rare steak and let bloody juices run freely on his plate. Jen was getting her smile under control, as Chad found a small, unhappy frown.

"Tim, would you get me a diet coke from the kitchen?" I asked. Tim got up and strode into the other room.

"He doesn't know?" I whispered to Chad.

"I didn't tell him," Chad replied hotly.

"Then don't be mad at him for not knowing," I added. Tim returned, tipping across the table to give me the can of soda. "Thank you," I said.

"My pleasure," he answered.

***13*** (3rd person)

"You shouldn't do that," Jen whispered to Tim as they stood at the kitchen sink doing dishes. In the dining room, Duane, Chad, and D. Margaret were arguing about the Denver Broncos. The conversation had started out with horse breeding, and was somehow still on the same track, as it concerned the questionable parentage of several team players.

"About what?" Tm asked.

"Chad's sensitive know," Jen said. Tim smiled at her and stepped close enough to whisper in her ear.

"Gay men?"


"Why? He's not."

"No one told you, but Brad, he decided six years ago that he was gay. It's another reason why he didn't come back for the funeral. He and Chad would have fought about it like last time Brad was home, and Chad wasn't up to that, so I guess I'm glad Brad didn't come home for the funeral, but Chad is sensitive on the topic. So don't tease him, okay?"

"Okay," Tim nodded. "I didn't know."

"Brad brought his partner home with him to Christmas the last year their mom was alive. Mr. Halfhide about had a stroke right there at the front door."

"Sounds like yelling is the only way they communicate with each other," Tim sighed.

"I'm working on Chad to get him to loosen up," Jen said. "But that what the golden rule they had growing up: he who screams loudest gets heard."

"Been there, understand that. You said 'decided'. Brad decided he was gay?"

"No one around here had a clue until he came back and announced it, like he was purposefully wanting to make his dad's blood pressure go through the roof. Truth of it is, no one gives a damn one way or the other, except we're concerned he's going to get his skull bashed in by some hell-bent wild redneck somewhere. Brad was so in their faces about his sexlife when he was here that it left hard feelings between he and Chad."

"Bad timing too, with their mother being sick."

"Not only that, but Brad had always done whatever he could do to be the center of attention in the house. This time the oneupsmanship went too far."

"Sounds like Chad isn't the only one who is touchy on the topic."

"I'm not touchy. That reminds me though. Chad wants to know why you help me with the dinner dishes."

"Because, my mom taught me that you don't eat at someone's house and not help clear the table and wash the dishes. It's not polite. Why do you always get stuck doing the dishes?"

"I don't mind," Jen said. "I get to avoid listening to them scream at each other when I'm in the kitchen."

"Chad doesn't like that I help you's work?" Tim smiled. "Sudsy water compromises my masculinity?"

"He's hinted that."

"My dad would agree," Tim mused. "Why doesn't Daisy help you with the dishes, if that's the way you all were raised? Guys argue in that room, and girls hide out in here and stick their hands in soap water?"

"She's not the domestic type," Jen answered, not bitterly, but sadly.


"In fact, Chad's been making snide remarks behind her back for years that she and Brad traded libidos somewhere around puberty."

"He's afraid she's gay?"

"She's thirty three and unmarried. People start to wonder. Duane thinks it might be true too. He's been hitting on her since high school, and she won't give him the time of day."

"The sheriff's definition of a lesbian is a woman who won't sleep with him?" Tim laughed. "Wow, that would be like ninety percent of women, I'm guessing."

Jen squeaked when Tim tickled her sides. She slapped him with a towel.

"Daisy won't date Duane cause he's a pig."

"She doesn't like cops?"

"No, I mean a pig pig. He made fun of her all through junior high and high school, about her name, about her nose, about being a Native American, until she got boobs, and he suddenly wanted to be her best friend. It was embarrassing to watch."

"You don't believe Daisy is gay, even though Chad does."

"My husband doesn't do my thinking for me. Chad didn't catch Daisy in the boys' locker room senior year, making out with both the Rodriguez brothers."

"What?" Tim gasped loudly.

"She swore me to secrecy." Jen raised a hand and covered her mouth with one finger. "Shhhhh. I kinda suspect she's had her eye on you while she's been here. Why else would she stay a whole month? It's unprecidented."

"Suspect no more," Tim whispered. "She's had a lot more than her hands on me."

"Glad to hear it," Jen smiled.

"But don't tell Chad, cause she's worried he'd flip out."

"Yes, he would," she said. "Shhhhh."

"She could give you a hand once in a while with the dishes."

"No. I've chased her out of the kitchen too many times. You let her clear the table, and she scraps the dishes off, and just sticks them in the dishwasher. She won't even rinse them. I hate to think what her house in Chicago must look like."

Tim glanced down at his wet stomach, and his head bounced back up.

"There's a dishwasher?" he asked, puzzled. Jen pointed a dripping finger at a side corner of the cabinets.

"It's right there. You mean to tell me you've been here for more than six weeks, and you haven't opened that cabinet yet?"

"No one told me there was a dishwasher. Mr. Halfhide never used it. Why don't you put them in there?" he mumbled.

"Because, I enjoy the quiet time I get away from them shouting at each other. So, forget about the dishwasher," she warned, shaking a finger at him.

***14*** (3rd person)

"Where are you off to?" D. Margaret asked as Tim slid on a light jacket and smoothed down his bristly hair. He must have cut all his hair off recently, she decided, because that had been an unconscious gesture.

"I thought I'd go into town for a bit, grab a beer."

"Why don't you get a beer from the fridge and come watch tv with me?" she asked.


"You would rather go out?"


"Oh," Daisy said with a forlorn face.

"Why don't you come with me?" he offered shyly.

"I'm in my pj's."


"It's Saturday night."

"Yes," he nodded.

"That's not wise, is it? Us having a drink together? Out there? In public? Together? In a bar? On a 'date' night?"

Tim sat down on the divan and put his knees on his elbows as he winked at her.

"Trust me, it would be a good thing."

"People see us, and they'll talk."

"People are already talking."

"Chad will hit the roof. You could lose your job."

"You've got discretion down to a super science," Tim teased.

"I know how small town people gossip. I prefer to keep my life private."

"You should go put on something slinky and red, and we should go dancing."

"I don't think so," she refused.

"I let you tie me up and treat me like a pet," he reminded her softly, his eyes twinkling with mischief. "You can't go dancing with me??"


Tim knelt before D. Margaret, nestling between her knees, circling his arms around her waist. Their mouths met in a slow kiss, and he trailed little bites down the side of her neck.

"Pretty please?"

"Are you wearing a gun?" she asked, touching his side and pulling back.

"Yes, I am," he answered honestly.


"You never know when you might need one."

"With me?"

"No. But I would like to teach you how to shoot."

"I have no interest whatsoever in learning how to shoot a gun. Do you always wear a gun when you go out dancing?"

"Are you going to put on some clothes so we can go out?" he asked.

"Why do I need to learn how to fire a gun?"

"I read the paper too. Have you seen how many break-ins there have been in your area lately? What if you found yourself in a compromising position?"

"I carry mace in my purse."

"It takes you ten minutes to find your car keys in that thing. How long will it take you to find your mace if you are in a dangerous situation? There has been a serious rise in drug problems around here too. Doesn't that concern you?"

"I suppose. Doesn't mean I'm going to become a vigilante though."

"I feel more comfortable carrying a gun when I go out, that's all."

"As a convict, how can you get a gun legally? Wasn't your gun missing?"

"That was a decoy," Tim whispered slyly.

"Why do you need a gun?"

"The world is filled with dangerous people."

"How long ago did your gun come up missing?" I cleared my throat.

"Around the time Duane's house got broken into."

"I didn't notice anything else in the house missing."

"No, there isn't. Only my gun."


"Very specific, I would say."

"Have you lost anything else? Bazooka? Grenade launcher? Pipe bombs?"

"Are we going to go out dancing or not?" he asked, nipping at her earlobe.

"No," D. Margaret replied. "I'm in my pj's, and I don't want to get a bad reputation with people in town as one of those women who goes out drinking and dancing."

"Suit yourself," Tim smiled. "You know there's only one thing worse than a girl with a bad reputation."

"What's that?"

"A girl with no reputation," he teased. "I won't be gone long."

***15*** (Daisy Margaret)

Perhaps it was a bad idea, not going out with Tim tonight. I sat watching the evening news, wondering if I should follow him. How often did a man ask me to go out and dance? Around eleven, I clicked off the tv. I pulled on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, and picked up my purse off the kitchen counter. It only took me eight minutes to find my car keys.

It was a twenty minute drive to the nearest bar. As I circled the packed lot, I didn't see my dad's truck among the vehicles. Odd. Where else could Tim have gone to drink? Had he simply gone to the mini-mart, bought a six-pack, and parked in a quiet place to drink in private? If that were the case, why hadn't he remained at home with me?

And why did I care? It's not like I owned him. We weren't in a relationship. It was great to have someone around I could talk to, even better to have a gorgeous, willing man to roll in hay lofts with, but it wasn't what I would call a relationship. I could tell it wasn't going to be any more serious than a hot roll in the hay, and that's the way I wanted it to remain, until I was sure I could trust Tim in my life. I could sense he was keeping part of himself hidden away from me, and no matter how intimate we had been, he always would have secrets inside I could never know.

"Where in the world are you?" I wondered out loud. For ten minutes, I followed the high school kids, cruising in their cars,. They went six blocks through town, through the grocery store parking lot, back out on the highway that intersected with main street, and back to the other end of town to the Walmart parking lot. No matter where you go, there's Walmart. No sign of Tim. Where could he be??

I went back towards home, darting along the access roads and back roads off the main highway but running parallel with it or at right angles to it. I was looking for farm trucks with solitary occupants. I wasn't far from Chad and Jen's house. All the lights would be off by this time of night. No other vehicles were present on the back roads. The only thing to do was head back home and wait for Tim to show himself.

A pair of headlights came to life on the road ahead of me. No one had been there in that spot when I went by the first time. I swerved in alarm. My car swept into the loose gravel on the side of the road. A quick twist of the wheel brought the vehicle back under my control. I pulled up behind the string of trees along the side of the back road. Across the tall meadow to my left, I could see the main highway running parallel to me, and to another access road, with more trees bordering the turn off entrance. The pair of headlights spun around behind me and came back my direction. I didn't see sirens. It wasn't Duane. Thank goodness. It would be just like him to give me a ticket for reckless driving. I waited for the vehicle to pass, but it didn't. It pulled up behind mine. The lights went off, and the engine did too. The horn tooted once, and the driver door opened and closed.

"Daisy Mae, what are you doing out here?" Tim asked, his voice carrying on the night even before he got to my window, his boots crunching in the gravel. I rolled down the glass and put an elbow on the rim, watching him in the side mirror.

"What are you doing out here? And don't call me that horrible name."

"Margaret, you were swinging all over the road. Are you drinking and driving?"

"No. Answer my question."

"It's almost eleven thirty. You should be at home asleep, shouldn't you?" he asked. A semi jetting by on the highway illuminated Tim from head to toe. He bent down to my window and tweaked my nose. The tractor-trailer moved on, and we were left with my dash and grill lights.

"Are the lights in Dad's truck not working right?"

"No. They work. I had them off. Why are you here?"

"I'm following you," I admitted.

"As though Sheriff Koch doesn't do enough of that??" he huffed. "Why are you following me? I've got a gun, you know?"

"Level with me, Tim."

"About what?" he asked kneeling down in the gravel and bumping his nose to mine.

" 'Partner'. 'Put your hands above your head' 'Pulled out my firearm'."


"You have had more than a casual run-in with the law, haven't you? You know far too much about criminal procedures, and you are way too fond of guns. How much time did you spend in prison, and what was it really for?"

"What are you asking?" he feigned innocence.

"Are you putting together a plan to rob some place in town?"

"No," Tim smiled. "Duane took my decoy gun from the house when he was there that day talking with you, didn't he?" he asked after a small pause.

"Yes,"I admitted.

"Did you ask him to take it?"

"No. I didn't know about it until he told me."

"That's okay. I wanted him to have it," Tim murmured. "I got his fingerprints off the night stand. A perfect entire left palm and tips off the top, and a right thumb off the space above the handle." Tim mimed opening and closing the night stand drawer. I watched him, my brows furrowing. "I can't believe how easy he was to lead into that."

"You wanted him to take the gun you bought at the pawn shop?"

"Yes. He was sure to find out about it. I spent two hours in there with the guy behind the counter looking more and more nervous. He was picking up the phone before I even left. It took me forever to conceive of a way to get Duane's fingerprints."

"Why in the world would you need his fingerprints? Are you purposely antagonizing Duane? He's not afraid to hurt people. He was a real thug in high school."

"Some things never change. We have to talk about this, kid, but this is not the right time and place. You should go home and wait there. Okay? I don't want to put you in danger. You could go to Chad and Jen's and wait for me, if you'd rather not be alone."

"Why am I in danger here?"

"That's a long story, and one I'm dying to tell you, but.....oh, no. Eleven thirty," Tim said. He silenced his beeping watch, and reached inside to shut off my headlights. The car engine hummed in the pitch black night, and a whole range of stars became visible in the sky. I could feel Tim's breath against my cheek. "Crawl into the passenger seat," he begged.


"Get in the passenger seat. Quick!"

I unhooked my seatbelt, and did as he asked. Tim got in the driver's seat and slouched way down. Out on the highway, two cars were pulling to the side of the road. Headlights went off. They turned for the opposite side of the road from Tim and I, and vanished behind the line of trees exactly like the one we were hiding behind.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"Shhh," Tim chided, pulling me closer to him. A third car was coming up the highway. It slowed as if to pull off to the far side of the road as well. "You have to stay in this car," Tim ordered. "I don't want you to get out, okay? No matter what you hear. If things get ugly, you tear out of here, and go as fast as you can to the city police chief."

"To who? Why not Duane?"

"Because he's in one of the three cars that pulled in over there."

"How the hell do you know that?"

"Every Saturday night, like clockwork, here he comes, driving a beat up Buick. He joins or is joined by at least two other cars. The three of them pull over across the way, and fifteen minutes later, Duane drives back to his house, puts the Buick in garage, and leaves it there while he goes on about his life. The other two cars get back on the road, and pick up I-70 east. I followed them half way across Kansas one night, to make sure that's where they were headed. One car had Maryland plates, and the other had New Jersey plates."

"I know for a fact that Duane's Buick doesn't run. That's why it's in the garage. Why are you following these people?"

"Stay here, and remember what I said," Tim murmured. "Do not get out of this car." He slid a hand into his back pocket, removing what I thought was his wallet. He put it in my hands, and climbed out of the car window without unlatching the door. Long legs slithered past my head. He steadied himself and crouched down to the ground, removing the gun from his side holster. I watched him scurry into the tall grass of the meadow.

What in the world was going on here?

I pulled myself back into the driver's seat, and reached for my purse. I found my keyring with the cylinder of mace attached, and pulled it into my grip. But that wasn't what I was searching for. In the darkness, I fiddled with the small squeeze light on my keyring very useful when getting into the car at night in Chicago parking garages. I held Tim's wallet down in the cave of my purse, and squeezed the plastic light.

It wasn't his wallet! It was the badge of a Baltimore City Homicide Detective! Stuffed inside the opposite flap was the Maryland drivers license of Timothy J. Bayliss, complete with a tiny picture of Tim. My Tim. Tim Thorskahl. Thorskahl, not Bayliss.

I caught my breath, and hid the badge down inside my purse. The bag dropped with a thump into the passenger side floorboard. Tim was halfway across the meadow of tall grass, hardly leaving a trace behind himself. I cocked the transmission into drive, and rolled smoothly along the road at about three miles an hour. I drove to the intersecting street, and guided my car away from the highway. I sped up, knowing it was less than a mile to Chad and Jen's house from here. Steering the car with one hand, I wiped out my cell phone.

"911 dispatch. What is your emergency please?"

"I'd like to report......"

"Report what, ma'am?"

"You better send someone out, fast."

"Where are you, ma'am?"

"There's a cop, and he's in danger."

"Where are you, ma'am?" the dispatcher repeated more urgently. Behind her, it sounded like the entire fucking room started beeping and wailing. Echoes of her voice reverberated back through the phone.

"Meet me at 11329 Pilcher. It's not far from Three Corners Road."

***16*** (3rd person)

"What do you mean, you've known for weeks?" D. Margaret hollered at Chad. They were standing on the front porch of Chad and Jen's house, listening to sirens wailing a short distance away. White, blue, and red lights were dancing around on the highway, at least six sets as far as Daisy could tell from here. The cop cars were surrounding the three civilian cars on the access road. They had heard no gunfire, but all kinds of shouting and carrying on. Chad held Tim's badge absently in his hands, smiling vaguely at Daisy.

"Duane was all curious about him. There had to be a good reason. With his connections, if Duane couldn't find out what he wanted to know, there had to be another good reason. I could tell Tim wasn't a former convict any more than he was a horse caretaker. When I saw him shoot that gun at target practice, it was clear he had had some kind of formal training. I was guessing either former military or undercover cop." Chad's tone was one of casual acceptance.

"You could have told me! He could have told me!"

"What? And spoil all the fun?" Chad grinned. "Daisy, ''undercover' means you don't go around telling everyone."

"Did you tell Jen?"

"No," Jen answered from the doorway.

"Tim's a cop??" Daisy repeated, shaking her head in disbelief.

"A patrol car is coming this way," Jen said, hiding behind the screen door. "I'm going to throw on some clothes." She snapped the waist of Chad's boxers as if to hint he should get decent too. He scratched his bare chest and chuckled under his breath.

The county patrol car pulled up the road to the house with the hood lights rotating but no sound on. Daisy could see Duane in the backseat, ready to chew through solid steel to escape. He was shouting something, muttering, then pounding his head against the cage between the two seats. The officer in navy blue behind the wheel put the car in park, and regarded Duane with one eye. Duane quieted down. The officer motioned out of the car. Tim opened the passenger side door.

"Back in a second, Lieutenant."

Tim walked stiffly to the porch, avoiding D. Margaret's piercing gaze. Chad tossed him his badge. Tim caught the badge, and continued brushing dirt and grass off his jeans and shirt.

"You get rolled around a bit out there?" Chad asked.

"A bit," Tim nodded, holding his side. "Duane and his friends didn't want to come along quietly. The sheriff has a pretty vicious right hook. There I was, quietly surveilling them from a safe distance, minding my own business, when all these sirens came screaming along the highway. Can you believe it? Someone panicked and called the cops?"

"I don't know if I should kiss you or mace you," D. Margaret said hotly. Tim put his badge in his back pocket, climbing the stairs carefully. He swallowed his amusement as Chad glared at her.

"I don't think you'd better do either," Chad interjected.

"What would you have done if I said I wanted to go dancing?" Daisy asked Tim.

"We'd've gone out on the town, and I'd've hauled Duane in next weekend," Tim murmured with a charming wisp of a grin.

***17*** (Frank)

"I'd've been back Monday, but I had a couple loose ends to tie up in Colorado," Tim explained to Mary as he helped her put Olivia's pj's on.

"Saying goodbye to all your friends?" Mary asked. Olivia jumped up and down on Tim's long thighs in the chair where he was sitting.

"Yeah. D. Margaret can't believe it all yet. I shared a flight with her from Denver to Chicago. We talked about it the whole way."

"She must feel like you led her on," Mary laughed.

"I don't get that," Tim replied. "She even said as much as that."

"You had her believing you were a scoundrel, an ex-con even, a dangerous and wanton man. Then she has to find out you're a good guy, a cop no less," Mary kidded.

"Ick.....ick....ick," I mocked from the divan. "A cop?"

Tim caught my eye, and smiled in his special way.

"How could she be upset that I'm a cop?" he wondered.

"You should give her time to cool off, and visit her next time you're in Chicago," Mary suggested.

"I dunno. She's pretty pissed at me."

"Give her time to cool off," Mary repeated.

"I'll be in Balto for a long while," Tim said.

"You missed us, didn't you?" Mary asked as Olivia hugged Tim around the neck.

"Yep," he nodded, hugging Olivia back. "My mom cried and cried when she met me at the airport. She couldn't take it if I did more undercover work again soon."

"How- how- does your mom feel about- your- modeling ca- career?" I tormented.

"Frank, play nice," Mary scolded. I raised a brow at her. "I'm going to put Olivia to bed. No mauling Tim while I'm gone," she warned.

"Night," Tim whispered, kissing Olivia's cheek. She licked his cheek, dripping drool all over him. He made a face at her, drawing his fingers down his face. "Ewwwwww," Tim whined. Olivia squealed with laughter and waved bye-bye as Mary carried her from the room. They danced up the steps two stairs at a time.

Tim folded one leg up under the other and leaned an arm on the side of the chair. He regarded me in a regal fashion as a youthful smile rounded his cheeks. I patted the coffee table, and waited. He laughed, standing up.

"No mauling me," he warned, sitting down in front of me.

"Humph," I snorted.

"How have you been?" Tim asked. "Your speech hasn't improved much."

"I'm tired today is all," I got out.

"I won't stay long. Wanted to pop my head in before going home. Do you feel better?"

"Yes," I told him, taking his hands and squeezing his fingers tightly.

"Your grip is stronger," Tim commented, watching my hands.

"I'm- telling- telling your mom on you," I lied.

"It was all harmless fun," Tim said. "Besides, she'd never believe you. I'm a good boy most of the time," he added, his eyes becoming sad as a stray thought wandered through his head.

"I missed you," I whispered.

"Me too," Tim answered, uncomfortable and sad both. He looked away and swallowed loudly. "Gee told me you will be back at work in three weeks, a month at the outside, depending on what your doctors say." He embedded his gaze in the carpet between our feet and knees.


"Wonder who they'll stick me with until you're back."

"Search me."

"So..." Tim murmured.

"Surprised you got work- in- your busy schedule out there," I tormented. This brought the curl of humor back to Tim's mouth. "Out there, didd- didd- diddling around."

"Sex with one libidinous painter person does not constitute diddling around," Tim defended against my accusation.

"I wanna know, Tim- Tim- Timmy," I whispered, sitting up and getting almost nose to nose with him.

"What, Frankie?" Tim gulped.

"Are you cured?" I whispered, letting my breath caress his cheek. His eyes narrowed, and lashes shaded his emotions. "Cured of all those- nasty- dirty thoughts about what you want me- me- to do to you?"

An embarrassed chuckle warmed up inside Tim's throat. He was going for a strong bravado, and came up with hot pink shyness instead.

"I don't have any idea what you mean, Frank."

"You have every idea," I teased, lifting his chin and locking gazes with him.

"No, I don't," Tim protested, a skip in his voice.

"Liar," I chided. "Remem- member now. When I come back to work, no being- being nice to me. Be mean to me."

"You pin me to any more coffee tables, I'll punch you in the kisser. How's that grab you, Francis?"

"No helping me-"

"Finish sentences??" he tested. I pulled on his ear.

"Finishing sentences. No getting wa- water for me. None of that shit."

"Okay, Frank. Geez. God forbid I show you a bit of tenderness."

"No.....tenderness," I scoffed. "Say it."

"Say what? Oh, Honest to God. I won't be nice to you, Frank, I swear, I swear, I swear." Tim rolled his eyes at me. I put one arm around his waist and the other around his neck, tugging him forcefully to my shoulder. Big hands clumped onto my back as his chin gouged my shoulder. His chest shook inside with nervous laughter. I pounded on his side.

"You're a good boy, Timmy," I murmured in his ear. Tim jolted back from me, his humor replaced by ill-concealed terror.

"Please don't say that," Tim whispered, gulping for air. "Ever." Puzzled, I nodded.

"Okay. Wanna- wanna walk after work? Tomorrow? Night?"

"Um....yes....that would be great," Tim agreed, heaving for a breath a couple times. "I'm going to go home, unpack, answer e-mails, and sleep in my own bed."

"See you tomorrow," I said. Tim hesitated before giving me a second hug, one much more gentle than I had greedily stolen from him. His fingers gingerly met at the middle of my back. He was trembling. What for? He nosed shyly against my neck. Had that been a kiss? It was almost a kiss. Practically. Why was he shaking? I petted his back awkwardly, going over his words in my head.

Please don't say that. Ever.

I stroked his quivering frame, and he folded an arm against my chest. It was a defensive barrier between us. His nose left my neck, and his forehead touched my shoulder. He pulled away, drying off his cheeks.

"Careful, Tim," Mary said from the staircase as she strolled casually back to the ground floor. "He's allergic to affection. It makes him break out in a rash, and he itches for days and days."

Tim stood up, finding a small laugh. Mary hugged Tim, and booted me in the shin. How long had she been there, and how much had she heard? Apparently quite a bit. She booted me again before letting go of Tim's waist.

"See you tomorrow," Tim whispered, waving as he stepped out the front door and into the night. Mary closed the door behind him and leveled a curious look at me.

"What did you say that scared him?" she asked.

"What? It's rude- rude- to eavesdrop."

"For your information, I wasn't eavesdropping. I left the room, and he was happy. I returned, and he was upset. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know you opened your mouth and said something that dismayed him. What did you say?"

"I don't remember," I lied.

"You didn't want a foot rub?" Mary asked.

"Did- did he seem tired to you?" I worried, watching Tim drive away.

"A little. He'll be himself again tomorrow," Mary promised. "All he needs is a good night's rest in his own bed."

"That'll be a- a- switch," I laughed.