MATT LED LOREN to the Eager Beaver's darkened back booth. They sat down as ABC began to sing "The Look of Love." The room was dark. The strippers felt suddenly far away.

"You're not armed, are you?" Matt said.

"I didn't have time to get a weapon approval."

"You're also here on your own."


Matt shrugged. "If I wanted to, I could probably still knock you over and run."

"I'm tougher than I look."

"I don't doubt it. You were a tough kid."

"You weren't."

He nodded. "So what do you know about my wife?"

"Why don't you start, Matt?"

"Because I've done all the stuff that shows trust so far," he replied. "You haven't."

"Fair point."


Loren thought about it but not for long. There was no reason not to. She truly believed he was innocent and if she was wrong, the evidence would prove it. He wouldn't be able to talk his way out of it. Ex-cons don't have that luxury.

"I know your wife's real name is Candace Potter."

She started talking. He did too. He interrupted with questions and follow-ups. When Loren reached the part about the Candace Potter autopsy, about the AIS woman, Matt sat up and his eyes widened.

"Say that again."

"Max Darrow checked off the part about the victim having AIS."

"Which you said is like being a hermaphrodite?"

"A little, yeah."

He nodded. "So that's how Darrow figured it out."

"Figured out what?"

"That Candace Potter was alive. Look, my wife had a daughter when she was fifteen. The baby was put up for adoption."

Loren started nodding. "So somehow Darrow found that out."


"And then he remembers the AIS from the autopsy. If Candace Potter was at one time pregnant-"

"Then it couldn't have been Candace Potter who was murdered," Matt finished.

"Your wife is supposed to meet with her daughter here tonight?"

"At midnight, right."

Loren nodded. "That's why you made this deal with me. That one A.M. thing. So your wife would be able to keep her rendezvous with her daughter."

"Right," Matt said.

"Nice of you. To make that sacrifice."

"Yeah, I'm a prince except..." Matt stopped. "Oh, Christ, think about what we've been saying. It's all a setup. It has to be."

"I'm not following."

"Okay, let's say you're Max Darrow. Let's say you figure out that Candace Potter is still alive, that she ran off. How would you find her after all these years?"

"I don't know."

"You'd try to draw her out, right?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"And how? By forcing her to show herself. You might post something about her long-lost daughter being on death's door. You, if you're a cop, might be able to find out some details about the hospital, the town, the doctor. Maybe you even find out from the adopted daughter herself, I don't know."

"Risky," Loren said.

"Risky how?"

"What would make him think she'd still be looking up her old name like that?"

He thought about that. "I'm not sure. But of course that's not all you do. You try to follow up on any old leads. You go back over the case step-by-step. But if she's out there, if she's got a computer like everyone else in the free world, maybe she's going to be curious and Google her old name. It's bound to happen, right?"

Loren frowned. So did Matt. The same thing kept troubling him.

"Those pictures on my camera phone," he said.

"What about them?"

He was thinking about how to put it when the waitress popped up to their booth. "Another drink?"

Matt took out his wallet. He plucked out a twenty-dollar bill and showed it to her. "Do you know Kimmy Dale?"

She hesitated.

"I only want a yes or no," Matt said. "Twenty bucks."


He handed her the twenty and took out another.

"Is she here?"

"Just yes or no again?"



He handed it to her. He took out three more. "You get these if you tell me where she is."

The waitress thought about it. Matt kept the money in sight.

"Kimmy might be home. I mean, it was weird. Her shift is supposed to run until eleven, but she just ran out an hour ago with some lady."

Loren turned to him, but Matt did not blink. His face kept still. He took out another twenty. He also took out a photograph of Olivia. "Was this the lady Kimmy left with?"

The waitress suddenly looked scared. She didn't answer. She didn't have to. Loren was already up and starting for the door. Matt dropped the dollars and followed her.

"What's up?" Matt said.

"Come on," Loren called back. "I already have Kimmy Dale's address."

Kimmy put the videotape into the player. "I should have known," she said.

Olivia sat on the futon and waited.

"You remember that closet in the kitchen?" Kimmy asked.


"Three, maybe four weeks after your murder, I bought this big vat of vegetable oil. I got on a stepladder to put it on the top shelf and behind the lip on top of the door, I saw this"- she pointed with her chin toward the screen-"stuck up there with duct tape."

"Have you watched it?"

"Yeah," she said softly. "I should have- I don't know- gotten rid of it. Given it to the police, something."

"Why didn't you?"

Kimmy just shrugged.

"What's on it?"

She looked like she was about to explain, but then she gestured toward the screen. "Watch."

Olivia sat up. Kimmy paced, wringing her hands, not looking at the screen. For a few seconds there was nothing but static. Then it snapped to an all-too-familiar scene.

A bedroom.

It was filmed in black and white. The date and time were stamped in the corner. A man sat on the edge of a bed. She did not recognize him.

A male voice whispered, "This is Mr. Alexander."

Mr. Alexander- if that was his real name- started undressing. From stage right, a woman appeared and started to help him.

"Cassandra," Olivia said.

Kimmy nodded.

Olivia frowned. "Clyde was taping customers?"

"Yes," Kimmy said. "But with a twist."

"What sort of twist?"

On the screen, both participants were naked. Cassandra was on top of the man now. Her back was arched. Her mouth was open. They could hear her purported cries of passion- they couldn't have sounded more fake if she'd used a cartoon voice.

"I think I've seen enough," Olivia said.

"No," Kimmy said, "I don't think you have."

Kimmy hit the fast-forward button. The onscreen activities became more hurried. Changing positions, quick shifts. It didn't take all that long. The man was done and dressed in fast-forward seconds. When he left the room, Kimmy let go of the button. The tape slowed back down to normal speed.

Cassandra moved closer to the camera. She smiled into the lens. Olivia felt her breath grow deep. "Look at her, Kimmy. She was so young."

Kimmy stopped pacing. She put a finger to her lips and then pointed it at the screen.

A man's voice came on. "This is a souvenir for Mr. Alexander."

Olivia made a face. Sounded like Clyde Rangor trying to disguise his voice.

"Did you have fun, Cassandra?"

"I had lots of fun," Cassandra said in the flattest monotone. "Mr. Alexander was just great."

There was a brief pause. Cassandra licked her lips and glanced toward someone who was out of the shot, as if waiting for her cue. It came soon enough.

"How old are you, Cassandra?"

"I'm fifteen."

"Are you sure?"

Cassandra nodded. Someone off camera handed her a sheet of paper. "I just turned fifteen last week. Here's my birth certificate." She put the document close to the lens. For a moment the picture was blurry, but then someone worked the focus. Cassandra held it up for nearly thirty seconds. Born at the Mercy Medical Center in Nampa, Idaho. Parents were named Mary and Sylvester. Dates were clearly visible.

"Mr. Alexander said he wanted someone fourteen," Cassandra said, as if reading her lines for the first time, "but then he said I'd be okay."

The camera went back to static.

Olivia sat in silence. So did Kimmy. It took a while for the full weight of what Clyde Rangor had done to hit her.

"My God," she said.

Kimmy nodded.

"Clyde didn't just blackmail them with prostitutes," Olivia said. "He set them up with underage girls. He had their birth certificates for proof. He even pretended that the johns were the ones who requested pubescent girls, but either way, even if you claim that you thought the girl was over eighteen, that's a serious crime. This guy, this Mr. Alexander, he didn't just risk being embarrassed or found out. He could be ruined. He could end up in jail."

Kimmy nodded.

The static ended and another man appeared on the screen.

"This is Mr. Douglas," the whispery voice said.

Olivia felt her blood go cold. "Oh, no."


She moved closer to the screen. The man. The man on the bed. No question about it. Mr. Douglas was Adam Yates. Olivia watched transfixed. Cassandra entered the room again. She helped him undress. So that was it. That was why Clyde had gotten so desperate. He had taped an important federal officer. He probably didn't know that- not even Clyde Rangor would be that stupid- and when he tried to blackmail him, it had all gone wrong.

"You know him?" Kimmy said.

"Yeah," Olivia said. "We just met."

The front door burst open. Olivia and Kimmy both spun toward the sound.

Kimmy shouted, "What the...?"

Cal Dollinger closed the door behind him, pulled out his gun, and took aim. Copyright 2016 - 2023