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Muriel True stood outside Bill McCurdy's hundred-year old cottage, gawking at the boarded up window and jotting in a leather notebook. It wasn't real leather, but then True wasn't her real name, either. She'd changed it back in the Sixties, when seekers like herself were throwing off the shackles of convention and pursuing higher truths and higher purposes, or at the very least, higher highs.

She'd picked up guitar chords and survival skills from guys and gals she'd slept with, so that by the time she was twenty, she had a reputation locally as the Mary Magdalene of Folk. She was still free-spirited and insatiable. But somewhere in her journey through the Aquarian dawn, she'd come to detest those qualities in anyone else. People started calling her Mad -- and doing their best to avoid drawing her attention to their business.

"Got the last verse nailed yet, Muriel?"

She ignored the fathead yelling at her from across Itasca Road. Kirby Glennon didn't fool her. You'd have to be a moron to believe he'd been digging in and around Shadoe Lake for years in search of fossils. The only fossils up here could easily be found on barstools and in cabins out at the lake -- or in Bill McCurdy's case, on a corner lot in the center of town. Muriel craved that piece of main street real estate. So did Kirby Glennon, which was another reason she hated him.

Mostly she despised him for what she knew he was really up to -- poking around for clues in the sordid saga of the disappearance and presumed murder of summer transient Lisandra DelRey. The fortune in reward money her family had offered five years ago had yet to be claimed.

"You're writin' a ditty about the hubcap?"

Kirby crossed the road, carrying the shovel he never seemed to leave home without and smiling his phony grin. Muriel had written a song about him called, "Smiling Deceiver." A versatile he/she-done-me-wrong song, it was still one of her most requested numbers.

"Isn't it too cold to be fossil hunting, Kirby?"

"I'm workin' indoors today, sorta. Out of the wind, anyways. You ever give any thought to what some sheds and crawl spaces might be built over?"

"Never. And I don't want to. Question is, why do you?"

He grinned. "Everybody needs a hobby. Hey, I got a real scoop for you." He gestured with his shovel to underscore the pun. "About Asa Cawley."

Muriel sighed impatiently. "Like I care about that putz."

"He spent his last night of freedom with Janine Wilson."

>From inside the old cottage, Bill McCurdy's binoculars picked up the

>rush of

outrage across Muriel True's face. With the kitchen window out of commission, he'd had to move his observation post to the tiny living room. Every now and again his wife glanced at him from her recliner in the corner as she pretended to be reading. The pistol she kept loaded was tucked into the chair's magazine pocket.

"She's saying she's going to the wedding," Bill reported. "I can't make out what he's telling her -- that damned beard of his hides his lips."

"Doesn't mean you have to go crash the party."

"The bride doesn't know what she's getting into with that son of a bitch Asa.

It's not right."

"It's none of our business. Not anymore."

"I got a sign, Lorraine. It came to me for a reason."

"It's just a hubcap, hon. It came to you by accident."

"Oh, yeah? I've calculated the arc that thing had to take from the street to the window. It was no accident." He inclined his head, listening for sounds from above. "Is Joshua home?"

"Oh, don't bother him. He worked late last night."

"Doing what?"

"I don't know -- taking inventory at the shop. He's trying, Bill. He wants to please you."

Bill grunted, shook his head, and marched to the narrow stairway he rarely climbed anymore since the arthritis in his knees had gotten so bad. "Joshua!" he bellowed. "Come down here."

In the attic room he'd always loved for its safety, cozy quiet, and countless places to hide things, Josh McCurdy took his time responding. He could conceal from the old man the bliss he felt when silk and lace touched his skin, but his mother would know. She never missed a line of stress in his face, the slightest hint he needed release. She adored him, and he had no desire to taunt her.

Reluctantly he shed the cream-colored camisole with its exquisite pattern of frilly, feminine fabric, folded it carefully, and tucked it into a box under his bed. He pulled on his flannel shirt and wiped the drop-dead red lipstick off his mouth. But he couldn't stomach another of his father's rants without a compromise. So he zipped up his baggy work jeans over the French-cut, satin pink panties, and trudged down the stairs.

Bill was clutching the hubcap like it was some kind of UFO fetish. "I want to go out to the lake," he informed Josh.

"No way. Not today." When his mother's eyes went to his lips, Josh scrubbed the back of his hand against them.

"You just gonna let him take her away from you?"

"Dad, get off it. She loves Asa. She picked him. Not me."

Bill snickered. "I suggest," he said, slapping the hubcap against Josh's chest, "you take this and put it where you need some steel."

Lorraine cried out as Josh ripped the hubcap out of Bill's grasp and flung it like a lethal frisbee through the living room window.

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