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.38 Degree Burn: A Tartan Brothers Book by Tom Ladd Copyright, Creative Commons Lic.

(non-profit, no derivatives), all rights reserved by Tom Ladd 2012

Chapter 1 The last measures of the song floated away into the air. The woman listened with her eyes closed, but there wasn't any more. The man put the guitar back in its case. Blair, you play a mean guitar, said the woman. Thanks, Blair said. So why aren't you on a record label? They pay me to investigate scams, Leti, not lay down my sound. You ever make tapes? Records? I have a few tapes somewhere, Blair said. But this is 1968, people want Hendrix or Janis. This is just me and my friends messing around. It'll never top the charts. I just want to hear it, man! Okay, I'm sorry, Blair said, laughing, I'll find the tapes and you can play them all you want. Okay. I think the coffee's ready, said Blair. I'll go get it. Let me come with, Leti said, I'll get the breakfast, and you carry it. Blair walked into the kitchen, and Leti followed him. She soon had prepared a meal of toast and juice to go with the coffee. They went into the living room. Blair carried a tray with the breakfast, and Leti carried a rectangular bag over her shoulder. They glowed in dawn's golden sunrise. Thanks so much for seeing me, said Leti. I really need these proofed and laid out before tomorrow. You know I'm happy to do it, Blair said. Anything for a friend. They sat on the couch. Leti put her bag on the coffee table. They drank their coffee. A silver blur, like a foot-high raincloud, strode over to Leti and sat before her on its haunches.

Who's this? asked Leti as she looked down at her feet. A silver cat wove between her ankles and walked beneath her and Blair. This is my cat, Nike, Blair said, after the goddess of victory. She's very friendly, but she's also very shy. I'm surprised she's come out to see you. Well, she must have shown her good cat sense and knows I'm friendly too, said Leti. Nike, this is Leti. She's a friend of mine, Blair said. Leti put her hand down for the cat to investigate. Nike sniffed intently at her fingers and knuckles, then rubbed her cheeks and nose along them. Nike's a sweetie, isn't she? Leti said to the cat. She's always friendly and happy to see Leti, isn't that right? She scratched Nike's head softly. Nike sniffed some more and purred. Just like her human here, Leti said, and Blair laughed. Nike wound around their ankles, then walked to a wicker basket by the kitchen, climbed into it and lay down. So where are your prints? Blair asked. Right here, Leti said. She reached into the bag, and pulled several glossy photographs from it. She handed them to Blair. He looked at them carefully. You sure must keep a pretty low profile, Blair said. Nobody here seems to be looking at the camera, which means they probably didn't see you when you were shooting them. I work hard at not being seen, Leti said. It's the only way to get a real candid shot. They didn't even know you were there. Blair nodded his head. The mark of a true professional. I worked all day yesterday getting these ready for you. Of course. So, besides my pictures, what's on your plate today? Leti asked. Anything fun? I have to make phone calls to people I detest. Maybe things will look better by lunch. Leti laughed. Here's to lunch, then. Here's to lunch, Blair seconded. They finished their coffee. I'll share anything I get from the pics, fifty-fifty, Leti said. And thanks so much for proofing everything for me.

No sweat, Blair said. So we're good? Leti asked. We're good, Blair said. Awesome, she said. I'll see you in a couple of days, then. She got up, put her bag over her shoulder and walked to the front door. So, are you free on Friday? Blair asked. Friday, she said, and closed the door behind her. Blair looked at the telephone and made a sour face. * Get me that dress, Susana, the pink one, the blond woman said. Si, Seora Vera, Susana said. She then drew a pink gown from the walk-in closet and brought it to Vera. Yes, this one's pretty good, Vera said. Make sure you carry it by the hanger with your palm on the back. Don't mess it up like you usually do, or I'll send you back to Mexico or La Salvador or wherever it is you're from. Then there'd be no one to take care of your little boy. Savvy? Si, Seora , I savvy muy bien, Susana said. 'Kay, Vera said. Now bring me the phone. I need to call the dressmaker, and Blair will call, and so will his mom, my Aunt Laura. Susana went to the nightstand near the bed, picked up the phone, and brought it to her. The phone rang. Susana! Vera hissed. Go to the kitchen and get me dessert. And shut the door on your way out. Si, Seora, said Susana, who walked out and closed the door. Vera picked up the receiver. Hello? Oh hello, Blair, how are you today? Across the city from her, Blair said, I'm fine, Vera. What do you want? Would you please be a dear and come over and fix my car? Vera asked. I want to take a drive this weekend. No, Blair said. But why ever not?

Because I've never seen such a beautiful machine wasted so badly, Blair said. You treat it like crap. You don't care about it at all. You leave it out in the rain, you're always stripping the gears, you don't even change the oil. Now it's falling apart. But that's why I want you to come over and fix it. Blair said, That car was something really special, and now it's a total loss, wasted on nothing, nothing at all. When I sold it to you it was in prime condition, because that's how I always kept it. The paint was new, I'd just rebuilt the engine, I'd put in a new stereo. And you promised me you'd take care of it. Now the engine sounds like a garbage disposal, and there's rust everywhere. Rust! Stuff happens, Vera said, and the weather gets to things. I can't be responsible for the weather. Weather? No way, Vera, that's all you. And all that after you promised me that you'd take care of it. I guess I just have more important things to do than play with cars all day, said Vera. Well, I have more important things to do than throw good time and effort after bad, Blair said. I won't help you fix your car. Not for anything. You talk about that car like it's a person. That sounds really strange, coming from you. Because I know that you treat people even worse than you treat that car. Talking to you is pointless. Goodbye. Blair hung up. Vera hung up the phone. There was a knock at the door. Who's that? she asked. Seora, it's me, Susana, the maid said. Well, get in here, then, said Vera. Susana entered the room carrying a platter, on which rested a bowl filled with marshmallows, and placed it before Vera. Vera ate a marshmallow. * Blair brought his car to a stop in his usual place, on the lower first level of the parking lot. He locked his car went to the elevator. He put a key in the panel and turned it, pressing a button at the same time, and entered the elevator when the door opened. He rode to the fourth floor and got out. He walked to the fourth door down the hall, opened it with a key, and entered his office. The sign on the door read, Tartan Investigations, Inc. He picked the mail off the floor, directly beneath the maillot He walked to his desk and sat down. He took a

bladed object from a pencil holder on his desk, cut open an envelope, and began reading his mail. On his desk lay a telephone and a newspaper. The headline on the newspaper read: Bar Fire Destroys Building Bulbs, Booze Burn in Blaze He picked up the receiver on the phone and dialed. Buenos das, he said in Spanish. Let me speak to the officer in charge, please, he continued. He waited. Hello, he said, I'm calling for Jerry Gray and Steve Forrest. I'm their representative. May I speak to them, please? Yes, I'll wait. Blair waited again, this time for about five minutes. A voice on the other end of the line said, Yeah? Who's this? It's me, Steve, Blair said, wondering how you got where you are today. What? You mean, like in jail? In Tijuana? Are you trying to be funny? We got busted, man! Busted, you mean, like with evidence? Y'know, I don't know if they found the...what you said. They got close to it and then just busted us. Steve sounded like he was remembering events of not too long ago. Did they find anything on you guys? You know, in your pockets, your socks, or whatever? No, man, we had all that fun the day before we left. How's Jerry? Is he there? Nah, they left him in the cell. It's just me. Well? Did they find anything on him? Did you see them frisk him? No, they didn't find anything. I was right there when he turned out his pockets and stuff. Then you guys just sit tight and wait for your lawyer to call. Can you do that? Stay in one place and not get into any trouble? Yeah, sure. Hey, aren't you gonna help get us out? All this Mex food is starting to get to our insides. Don't start with me, Steve, you know that lawyer can do the job. And you ought to be thankful to Mexico that you get any food at all. I'd probably just stick you on bread and water. But they said they could keep us here as long as they felt like it... I'm not gonna sit here playing guess-what-Mexican-Law-Enforcement-is-gonna-do-to-you. I just told you. Stay out of trouble.

That's all? Yeah. Oh, don't ever call me again with this crap from Mexico. They're good people down there. They deserve a lot better out of life than worries from you cracker boneheads. Blair hung up. * Vera ate another marshmallow, then dialed the phone. Hello, she said, I ordered a dress last week. Where is it? No, I don't have the number, but you know who I am. Brooks, she said, Vera Raven Brooks. No, I don't want to wait. Vera checked her watch. So, is it there yet? The guy said he'd have it...okay, that's good. I want it today. Will you be open at four o'clock? I'll be there to pick it up then. Good. 'Bye. She hung up the phone. Susana! Bring me the mirror, Vera said. Susana went to the dresser next to the bathroom, picked up a hand mirror which rested there, and brought it to her. Vera looked at herself in the mirror, positioning it at different angles before her, making smiles of various forms, winking, and silently laughing and telling it private jokes. The phone rang. Vera picked up the receiver. Hello? Hi, Aunt Laura, how are you? Yes, I'm almost out the door right now. I'm just getting my shoes on. Well, I'm pretty selective, make it Swiss. Fine, then I'll eat it. Okay, I'll see you in about an hour. Goodbye. Vera hung up the phone. Vera took off her slipper, revealing pink dress socks. Go in there and get me my walking shoes, she told Susana, and you'll need to use the pink laces so bring them too. Si, Seora, said Susana, who turned and entered the closet. Vera ate a marshmallow. Susana came back with pink tennis shoes and laces. What's the matter, Susana? asked Vera, you look a little down today. I'm fine, Seora , said Susana, but I found a bag of something in my bed today, and I don't know who could have put it there. And what was in the bag?

Mierda, said Susana, what Pippy leaves in the yard. Well, maybe Mr. Pippy was upset with you today, said Vera. and didn't want to bark at you about it so he just wrote you a little letter. Si, Seora Maybe Mr. Pippy thinks you stay gone too long when you're going to lunch, and you aren't working for him as hard as you can. Si, Seora Maybe Mr. Pippy thinks if you were paying more attention to your job than feeding your fat ugly face, you'd remember to pick up after him in the yard! Si, Seora Maybe Mr. Pippy thinks dirty sp--s like you don't deserve any money for the kind of work you do, and paid you what he thinks you people really deserve! Si, Seora Now get out! And don't come back in here till I call you! Si, Seora Susana left the room. * Blair dialed the phone again. Hi, it's me, Blair, said Blair. Hello, Blair, how are you today? said the voice on the other end. It's about the same, Lyndon, which is to say, pretty good. It's pretty good, and, you hope it doesn't get any worse, right? Blair laughed. How do you know stuff like that? I'm your big brother, said Lyndon. I know stuff like that. What's up? I thought we could get coffee. When? Today? Yeah, today, that's what I was thinking.

You know how busy my schedule always is. Yeah, but we usually meet sometime. Let me check my calendar. Blair waited patiently. Blair, you there? asked Lyndon. Yeah, here I am. How's 11:30 sound? We could make it a lunch. That's fine, Blair said. I'll buy. Good! That means dessert, too. Did you want to talk with Fred and Charlie too? Nah, I don't have anything that serious going on. You'll do. Lyndon laughed. I'm very happy to hear you say that. Where do you want to meet? How about Giorgio's? That sounds good. Then eleven-thirty at Giorgio's it is. Eleven-thirty at Giorgio's. See ya there, Lyndon said. See ya, Blair said, and they hung up. * The woman was steaming vegetables in her kitchen and boiling some water. She added rice to the vegetables, then put a lid over the steamer. She took the water off the stove and poured it into a white teapot on the counter. After letting it steep, she took a glass cup from the cupboard and poured some tea into it. The phone rang on the counter and she answered it. Hello? she said. Yes, this is Laura, she said. She put her glass of tea down on a table next to the kitchen, then sat in one of the chairs there. A pen and a pad of paper lay in the center of the table. Well, that's good to know, said Laura. I've been looking forward to it getting here. I've shopped around for it but it's out of print. When can I pick it up? Laura waited for the answer. Can I buy any of these copies? Oh, good. Our library has a copy but borrowing it wouldn't help much, I want

to it as a gift for a friend. Let me take down your information, she said, then drew the paper and pen to her from the center of the table, and began writing. Yes, I'll take two copies then. You're right, it's much cheaper that way. Standard shipping is fine. She finished writing. These books are so wonderful, and so hard to find. I'll be sure to call you when I want more. Thank you again, she said, and hung up. Laura went to the kitchen and filled a plate with the rice and vegetables, which she took back to the table. She sat down and unfolded the newspaper, unfolding it to the index of headlines. One read: Music Festival Slated for Isolated New York Pasture. Laura read the newspaper and sipped her tea. When she finished her meal, she took a pile of envelopes from the table and began to address them. She occasionally referred to an address book she had next to her. Laura wrote on the face of each envelope, put a letter in it, then sealed it and placed on a pile of similar envelopes on the corner of the table. After sealing the last envelope, she took her purse and put the envelopes inside it. She then stood, shouldered her purse, and went to the front door to leave. She locked the door behind her on the way out. She walked down two flights of stairs to the lobby, then turned left. Adjacent to her building was a small shop with pastries beckoning from behind the front windows. Above the entrance a sign read, Peninsula Bakery. She walked in. A man in a white cupcake-shaped chef's hat stood behind the counter, on either side of which was a large glass case, filled with cakes, pies, biscuits, cookies and other baked goods. Good afternoon, Ms. Tartan, the man said. What can I do for you today? Hello, Byron, she said, I'd like two dozen cookies, please. Byron picked up a pink square from the counter and began folding it into a box. What kind do you want? he asked. Oatmeal. Right away, Byron said, and picked the order out from the pastry-filled cases. Byron covered the cookies in wax paper. How is your fine son Blair? he asked Laura. He's fine, he's getting plenty of work, enjoys his new house. He says he's happy, Laura said. Well, that's a great thing, a great thing. Find work you love, and you'll be happy, so I hear. I know it's good for me, at least, he said. Smiling, he faced the cash register. He rung up the charge on the machine, pressing the heavy green and beige cylindrical keys, and tearing off the resulting receipt. Here they are, he said, passing the pink box to Laura, A dollar ten. Don't I owe you a dime? Laura asked. Aren't they five cents a piece?

Byron's Discount Dozens, today only, just for you, he said. And you know they're fresh because I bake them every day. Thanks, Byron, my company will be very happy with these. I hope so, Ms. Tartan. Come back anytime, I'm open every day except Sundays and Christmas. Then I'm open all day Christmas Eve so everybody can take home a nice treat for dinner. Thanks again. You're welcome, Ms. Tartan. Laura left the bakery and continued down the block till she reached a small grocery store, and entered it. She bought a box of saltines and a pound of American cheese. She then left the store, going back the way she had come. She re-entered her building, and took the elevator to her floor. * Blair pulled up to Giorgio's restaurant at 11:15 a.m. Few cars were in the parking lot, but he noticed Lyndon's Ford was one of them. Inside the restaurant he found Lyndon, seated at a table at the window farthest from the door. So, how are you? Blair asked Lyndon as he sat down. I'm fine, Lyndon answered. Try the coffee, they have espresso. Sounds good. You know this is the only pizza place between L.A. and San Francisco, right? asked Lyndon. Yeah, and they do a good job, too. It's the best coffee outside of North Beach. You're right about that, said Lyndon. San Francisco is a world class city with world class food and entertainment, but it can't make a good cup of coffee for anything. I know, said Blair, it usually tastes like warmed over swill. The waitress came and to take their orders. And what will you two gentlemen have today? We're both going to have espresso, said Blair. And I want the steak sandwich and soup. And what about you, Lyndon? the waitress asked. I'll have the lasagna, also with the soup, he said.

Be right back, said the waitress, who headed back toward the kitchen. So what's on your mind, Blair? Asked Lyndon. Why rouse me from my peaceful rest? I have a case I'm working on, it looks like there's some fraud involved. What kind of fraud? Burning down a place for the insurance money, Blair said. The Fire captain I spoke to says he's pretty sure it was arson, and we're into it for a huge amount of money. How much? asked Lyndon. About a hundred thousand dollars. You're right, that's a lot of money. What'd they burn down? Happy Go Lucky's. That's downtown, right? It was. Now it's a smoking ruin. * Once inside her apartment, Laura brewed coffee in a percolator and arranged the saltines in a ring on a plate. She cut some slices off the cheese and placed them in concentric circles, expanding from the center out toward the saltines. Then she carried the plate out to the coffee table in the living room. When the coffee was ready, she placed some coffee mugs and sugar spoons beside the pot. She sat down in the living room and read her book. After some minutes a buzzer sounded from a speaker next to her front door. She got up to answer it. Hello? she said. Hi, Aunt Laura, it's me, Vera, said Vera. I'll buzz you up, said Laura. She pressed a button on the speaker and held it for a few seconds, then placed a sugar bowl next to the coffee pot. There was a knock on the door, and Laura checked the peephole before opening for Vera. Vera entered carrying two shopping bags which were filled with new clothes, some still bearing shiny labels and tags. Hi, Aunt Laura, said Vera. Hi, Vera, how are you? asked Laura. I'm doing pretty well, said Vera. But for some reason I'm having a hard time getting a job.

Vera set her bags down next to the coffee table.. Sit down, Laura said, And just pour yourself some coffee right here. Have as much crackers and cheese as you want. Thank you, that's wonderful! Just the thing for the later morning. They each poured a cup of coffee. Vera put some cheese on a cracker and took a bite out of it. When she'd consumed all of it she put some more cheese on another cracker, and sipped her coffee. Thanks, Aunt Laura, this is really good.. You're welcome. I do like to make good things for people, Laura said. It sure is more fun to visit you then to go on job interviews, Vera said, I just can't stand doing them. Why not? asked Laura. Because all those people are so dumb! They always ask the dumbest questions, never about whether I can do the job, or how well. If I were the one doing the interview, the first thing I'd do is kick all those idiots out into the street. Tell 'em, 'Dream on, buddy, because you sure aren't gonna be working here! In fact, you won't ever get a steady job again if it's the last thing I do. 'Cuz you're dumb!' You know, Laura said, when I interviewed for my first job thirty years ago, I made sure to listen to everything the interviewer was saying in order to figure out what he wanted from his employees. Oh, I listen to those guys well enough, Vera said. But it's all ridiculous. It's just like the rest of society, everything's gone to the devil in the last few years. It's those longhairs in the colleges. They've messed everything up for everybody else. Laura laughed. I must admit, no interviewer ever had hair down past his shoulders, or wore jeans and psychedelic shirts, when he interviewed me. You see what I mean? They knew how to dress back then, at least. Laura laughed again. Well, I just tried to figure out what the interviewer wanted in the next person he hired, whether or not it was directly related to the job. Like whether I was good with other people or not, you know, a friendly addition to the office. Well, I'm plenty good with other people, said Vera, and I'm real friendly when you get to know me. Those people are idiots, and I wouldn't want to work for them anyway. Vera stirred her coffee. Then she asked, How's Blair? Oh, he's fine, said Laura. He's been getting regular cases through his insurance company, and he really enjoys his house near the beach.

I must say he sure has grown up well, Vera said. He always manages to avoid trouble, he never gets into any. You did a great job with him, even though he wasn't really yours. He never gave me any trouble, said Laura. I guess that's more proof of how good a mother you were, said Vera. They talked a while longer. Finally Vera looked at her watch and said, it's getting toward eleven. I'll need to be going. It's been good seeing you, Laura said. I'm going to lie down for a little nap now. I've got plenty of things to do this afternoon. Of course, said Vera. You just go ahead and lie down, I'll clean this stuff up and you won't even hear me leave. Thank you, said Laura. She stood and went to her room, closing the door. Vera carried the dishes back to the kitchen and washed them. She then went to the front door, opened it a few inches, then closed it again until she heard it latch. Then she walked quietly into the living room, picked up her bags, and carried them through a door into a guest bedroom. She closed the door behind her and locked it. She sat down in an easy chair. * The waitress brought coffee for Blair and Lyndon. You know your way around a fire scene, said Lyndon. Why do you need me? You were a city fire marshal. You know why stuff burns down, but you also know best who stands to gain from it when it does. Usually, said Lyndon. But these days, who knows? Maybe it was someone playing a prank, or taking care of a bar tab in a kind of a drastic way. This was no prank, it was done by a pro, said Blair. That bar was in a two-story building, and the whole thing went up in less than an hour, Blair said. Somebody who wanted that fire to burn real fast, and to do something pretty specific. Are you sure they targeted the bar? Asked Lyndon. Blair looked at him quietly. I don't see how they could target anything else. There was nothing else worth anything in that building, he answered. What else was in the building? asked Lyndon. Who were the other tenants?

There was a flower shop, Blair said. Not exactly high priority on your arsonist's to-do list. I hear a lot more people want to burn down bars. Nothing else? No, nothing else. * Laura went to the kitchen after waking up. She brought out another tray, and some more plates, cups and saucers. She boiled more water for tea. She arranged the cookies she'd bought on a plate, then put the plate on the living room table. The intercom buzzed again, and she answered it. Hello? she said. Hi, it's me, Luciana, said a voice. Okay, I'll just push this button and you open the door when you hear the buzzing sound. She pressed the button. Soon she heard a knock at the door. She looked through the peephole, then opened the door. A young woman with long black hair stood there. Hi, Ms. Tartan, how are you? she asked. Hi, Luciana, she said, gesturing for her to enter, I'm very well, thanks. Just sit down there at the table, I've got everything ready. Thanks, said Luciana. She sat down. It looks like you've prepared for quite an occasion here. Look at all this food! It's just some tea and cookies, said Laura, who sat down with her at the table. I bought the cookies fresh this morning right downstairs. Please help yourself. And the teapot has hot tea I just made. Oh, thank you, Ms. Tartan. These treats of yours are always so good. Laura brought a book out from her purse and placed it on the table. I really liked it, she said, smiling at Luciana. It's a great book. The characters are all so vivid! Garcia Marquez is a great writer, said Luciana. He's famous in Latin America, but hardly anyone's heard of him here. Well, it's about time they did. He's marvelous. Is it available in English yet? They're preparing a translation now, but it'll probably take a couple of years before it comes out. Do you know who the translator is?

Gregory Rabassa, said Luciana. He's great, he's translated Julio Cortazar and Jorge Amado too. How wonderful. We didn't read anything like it when I was in school. Well, most Latin American writers are pretty obscure here. You almost need to take a special class on them in college in order to find out who they are. Speaking of college, said Laura, How are things at the University? Will you make the Dean's List again this term? Luciana laughed. That's up to the Dean, she said, But my grades are about where they were in the fall. So I'm pretty sure I'll do alright. I'm so glad. It's not easy for immigrant women to go to college, especially those from working families like you were. My mother said always go to school, it was the only way to get ahead in life. There's a lot of stuff in the news about all the demonstrations and protests, said Laura. Are you coping with that okay? I don't let it stop me from learning, said Luciana. I know a lot of people in student organizations, and nobody thinks stopping the war is an excuse to stop doing classwork. Except where they're on strike, of course. That's at the State College, right? Yes. I'm across the bay at Cal. But we all want to stop the war, we're all doing something. * Well, what about that florist? Lyndon asked Blair. Have you talked to him? No, said Blair. He had nothing to do with our bar. They're the ones we have to pay out to, not him. Well, maybe he had nothing to do with your bar, but maybe the real story was the other way around. Other way around, how? Maybe what happened was, it was your bar who had nothing to do with the florist. Maybe whoever burned the place was actually targeting him, or his records or whatever, and your bar just happened to share the same roof and walls as his shop. But who'd wanna burn down a flower shop? asked Blair. Who'd wanna do anything? Because there was some money in it, or his name was involved, or something. You're the investigator. You investigate, and then you tell me.

Blair laughed. For this I gotta buy lunch? And dessert, man, don't forget that, said Lyndon. The waitress reappeared with their meals. She smiled. The dessert today is chocolate cake, she said. What do you know? My favorite, said Lyndon. Two slices, please, Blair said to the waitress, who smiled and left for the kitchen. You knew they were serving that here today when you suggested it, didn't you? asked Blair. I'm your big brother, said Lyndon. I know things like that. * I don't see how you make time to do everything, said Laura, having a small child as you do, and a job, too. Well, I love doing all of it, said Luciana. That makes it a lot easier. And of course I'd do anything for my little ninito. How sweet. I read the book you gave me, by the way, Luciana said. Did you like it? Oh, yes, it was wonderful. said Luciana. Hemingway was reporting in Spain when he wrote it, wasn't he? Actually, he had left Spain by then, because the Civil War had ended. He had been reporting from the Republican side, and was one of the last journalists to leave at the Battle of the Ebro. In fact, he was one of the last ones out of Spain. When did he write the book? Right after the war, and just before World War Two broke out. It sold millions of copies. He was a really great writer, said Luciana. Fue un gran escritor. He sure was, said Laura. They spoke for a while longer. Then Luciana gathered her purse and backpack. Unfortunately, I've got to get going, Luciana said. I've got to shop for housecleaning stuff, and I still have school later today. You know, there's a shopping center right down the street, said Laura. It's got a store for housewares and all sorts of things right in front. Maybe it'll save you a trip.

I'd sure appreciate that, said Luciana. I'll leave with you, said Laura. I'm going to the library to take back some books anyway, so I might as well go now. Okay, said Luciana, and thanks for the wonderful cookies and tea. Come by anytime, said Laura, You're always welcome here. They left the apartment and Laura locked the door behind them. After a few moments, the door to the guest room opened slowly and quietly. Vera stuck her head out and peered around. Then she picked up her bags, walked quietly to the front door and opened it, and locked it behind her as she left. * 38 Degree Burn Chapter 2 Luciana left the housewares store, carrying her backpack on her back and holding a shopping bag. A woman with blond hair approached her. Hi, she said, stopping before Luciana, do you know where the beauty shop is? No, said Luciana, I'm sorry. Oh, no, I must find it, said the blond woman, I have an important appointment there, I'm going to meet a friend I haven't seen in years. Are you sure you can't help me? Do you know where I could find a map? Luciana looked around. I don't see one, she said, Maybe we could ask somebody. It's supposed to be here, she said. But I don't see it anywhere. Luciana looked around again. They were standing in front of a storefront, and through the glass she could see it was deserted and empty, except for some tools and a chair. On the window of the storefront, she could make out stenciling on the glass. It read, Bella's Beauty Parlor Luciana pointed inside. Is this it? It looks like it's under construction, she said. The blond woman looked inside. No, she's supposed to meet me here, in the Parlor. We're getting our hair done, and catching up after twenty years, she said. She's got to be here somewhere. Will you please help me? I don't know what I can do...

Just come with me, my eyes aren't so good, and maybe you can see her around here, or a map or something. My name's Vera, I really need your help! But I don't know what she looks like. She's tall, dressed all in pink, she said. With a big matching hat and everything. You can't miss her. They walked past the other storefronts. Luciana could saw neither a pink-clad woman, nor another Beauty Parlor. I'm sorry, said Luciana, but I don't think this is... The blond woman started to cry. Her shoulders shook and she sobbed, gasping for air as though she were drowning. No, no, please, she said, I've got to find her, I've got to see her. Luciana stood silently and watched her. The blond woman sobbed some more. I've got to find her, she said, don't you see? She waved a purse in front of Luciana. Don't you see this? the blond woman repeated. What, the purse? asked Luciana. You're holding it... This purse, my friend must have it, it's over twenty years old, sobbed the blond woman. She left it at my house the last time I saw her, and now I can give it back to her. She gasped for her and her shoulders shook. She said to go to the Beauty Parlor, and if she wasn't there, to leave it there, and she would show up... Well, that's the Beauty Parlor, right back there, said Luciana. You can put it there, and then you can wait for your friend, said Luciana. Oh no, no, I can't believe this, I don't know what to do, I'm so tired now, She said. She gasped for air. She dropped the purse and stood there, weeping. After some seconds, Luciana picked up the purse. Here, she said, let me come with you. We'll put it there in the shop and then when your friend turns up you can give it to her. The blond woman looked at Luciana for the first time since she had begun to cry. Her eyelids were red and swollen. Could you do that? I don't know where it is? Could you really help me? she asked. Sure, said Luciana, I'd be glad to help. They walked past some storefronts and approached a diner. The blond woman pointed into it. We were going to eat lunch there, she said. She waved limply at whoever might be looking from inside.

Here, she said, wave, she might be inside, just wave the purse. Luciana waved the purse gently as they passed the window. The until they reached the empty Parlor. Here we are, said Luciana, Let's go inside here. They walked inside. Luciana headed for the chair. Here, she said, I'll just put it right here, and you can wait for your friend. Or maybe you can wait in the diner. The blond woman had stopped at the door. Oh, thank you so much, she said, you've been such a great help. I can see you're a really good person. She looked over her shoulder toward the parking lot. I think she could be in the diner after all, said the blond woman, Could you wait here just a couple of minutes while I check? I'll be right back, and you can be the one to give her her purse if she comes while I'm gone. I'll be your best friend, I really will! Luciana looked at her watch. Well, she said, I guess I could... Thank you! said the blond woman. She darted from the doorway. Luciana looked about the room, and confirmed that nobody was there. She placed the purse on the chair. She looked at the doorway, and out to the parking lot. There were hardly any cars there, and there was hardly anyone walking in the shopping center, either. It appeared to be deserted. She took a step toward the door, but a woman had appeared there. She was taller than Vera, and wore a pink hat. She walked toward Luciana. Hi, said Luciana, your friend just left... My friend? Oh, I have lots of friends, don't worry about that! shouted the woman. She marched up to the chair and pointed at the purse. Where did you get that? I...your friend... Did you have it? asked the woman. Are you the one who waved to me in the window? Luciana smiled. Why yes, that was me. You see we... It's her! It's her! shouted the woman. She's right here! A policeman walked into the room and approached them. He stopped in front of Luciana. Who are you? he asked. The pink-clad woman stared at her.

My name is Luciana, she said. I... What are you doing here? asked the policeman. I was...I was...Vera asked me to... Is that your purse? asked the policeman, pointing at it. No, said Luciana Did you walk past the diner just now, and wave it at this woman through the window? Yes, but I wasn't waving it at her specifically, just anyone who.... Please don't move from here, said the policeman. Stand right there, please. He walked behind her, as though headed to investigate something in back. Luciana looked at the pink-clad woman. Is this your... Don't you dare talk to me, you damn little sp! shouted the woman. Luciana felt a nudge against her arm, as though she were passing through drapes. The policeman reappeared before Luciana. You're under arrest, he said. Put your hands behind your back. What? said Luciana. She felt as though someone had just kicked her. She noticed she could not move the arm already behind her back. You're arresting me? But why? I've done nothing... Put your hands behind your back, said the policeman. Luciana put her remaining arm behind her back. Steel rings bit into her wrists. But I... said Luciana. Walk outside, said the policeman. He took hold of her elbow. Luciana and the policeman walked to his police car. She saw the cage behind the driver's seat. The officer opened the passenger door. Get in, he said.

To Be Continued.

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