Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Jason Bard in....

The Case of the Disappearing Heiress

by Syl Francis

Author's Note: I took some liberties with Jason Bard character, updating him from a Vietnam veteran to one who served in Desert Storm.

The shots overhead whiz by too close for comfort. Reminded me that I could be home, catching the Gotham Griffins/Metropolis Meteors game. But no...I'm here in this godforsaken place. Getting shot at. All because I can't resist a pretty dame in trouble.

By the way, the name's Jason Bard, Private Investigator. And this is: The Case of the Disappearing Heiress!


As soon as she walked in my door, I knew she was trouble. But with legs like that and a face to match, well, I'm only human. I immediately stood and cleared a box of dusty, old files from the room's sole vinyl chair. Admittedly, its worn cushion had seen better days. But then, so had I.

She was the first new client since I'd returned from that tropical Hellhole of Rheelasia where I'd been undercover, tracking an international drug lord. But that's another story, already filed and forgotten. Just like my engagement to Barbara Gordon--filed under 'F' for 'Forget Her.' Since I guess she's forgotten me.

These thoughts and others flashed through my mind as I smoothly indicated that my visitor take a seat. Ever the suave gentleman, I then offered her a drink.

"Care for a shot?" I held up a shot glass and a half-empty bottle of Johnny Walker. Grimacing slightly, she shook her head.

"No, thank you." Her voice was elegant, a soft contralto that went down smoothly just like the best bourbons. Like Barbara's, I recalled.

Annoyed with myself, I glared at the glass, noticing for the first time that it had a ring in the bottom. Okay, so I hadn't washed it for over a week. It still worked. Shrugging, I poured myself a shot and walked around the desk and sat down.

"How may I help you, Miss--?"

"Demaree," she said softly. "Constance Demaree."

Of course. Constance Demaree, heiress to the Demaree Cosmetics fortune. I should have recognized her as soon as she walked in. One of Gotham's elite citizens. With her face plastered in all the fashion magazines and local society columns, she was a bona fide member of the beautiful people.

She'd made her debut a few years ago at her sixteenth birthday party. And if memory served me correctly, she'd been escorted by the then sixteen-year-old heir to the Wayne fortune, Dick Grayson. Another member of the Gotham elite--and Barbara's current squeeze.

Life was funny. It laughed when you were down and then kicked you in the teeth. Yeah, my life was just one big cosmic joke.

"--and that's why--"

"Huh? What?" I jerked back to the present. "I'm sorry, Constance...May I call you 'Constance'?" At her nod, I continued, "You were saying?"

Bard, I fumed silently, sometimes you can be such an idiot! Here I was. Months behind on my rent, and instead of listening to a potential client, I was mooning about Barbara Gordon. Whom I'd filed under 'F'--for 'Forget Her'!

Constance looked slightly annoyed at having to repeat herself, but nonetheless, she started over again.

"I'm not sure, Mr. Bard--"

"Please, it's Jason," I interjected. She nodded distractedly.

"--but I think that someone's following me." She looked so terribly frightened that I wanted to believe her. Or rather, I wanted to believe that *she* believed that someone was stalking her. Then again, I'm a sucker for a dame in distress--especially one as stunning as Constance Demaree.

"Why do you think someone's following you?" I asked, absentmindedly taking out my pipe and relighting it. I took several puffs, watching her as she shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Could be the worn cushion, I thought. Or she could be having trouble with her story.

"Have you noticed anything unusual? A person you don't know suddenly appearing in the same places you're in? Or maybe a strange vehicle that's tailing you?" She shook her head.

"No...nothing like that. It's just a feeling that I have...like I'm being watched. I know this sounds ridiculous, but--" She stopped, glancing around the dingy office ill at ease. Nervously, she pushed a lock of hair back behind her ear.

"Go on." I sat back, puffing on my pipe, watching silently as she nervously clasped and unclasped her hands.

"Mr. Bard--I-I mean, Jason...I--I feel so foolish about all this. Oh, I shouldn't have come. You'll think I'm crazy!"

Seeing my rent money ready to get up and walk out the door, I leaned forward, and with long-practiced, cynical ease, spoke in soft, soothing tones. "Constance, no one here thinks you're going crazy. Just tell me why you think someone's following you, and we'll try to get to the bottom of this." She nodded, looking ready to burst into tears.

"A few days ago, when I came home from a...a business trip, I had the distinct feeling that someone had been in my apartment." She shook her head. "I'd been gone for several days, so I immediately checked to see if anything was missing--I checked every room, every closet, even the kitchen cabinets. Nothing." She shrugged.

"I figured that I was probably imagining things, so I took a hot shower and went to bed." She looked like she wanted to say more, but stopped, unsure.

"Is that all?" I asked. "I'm afraid that that's not much to go on." She shook her head.

"No," she whispered. "There's something else." I waited. Finally, she spoke. "The next night, my phone rang. I figured it was Mother. We had a dinner date." She stopped, her cheeks flushed with sudden anger. "It was some--some terrible person. I couldn't tell whether it was a man or woman. I don't know...probably disguised his voice somehow. But this person...said some awful things. Vile, disgusting things. I hung up immediately."

She paused, and to my surprise, opened her handbag and took out a cigarette. Shakily she tried lighting it, but couldn't. I was instantly at her side, my lighter held out to her. Gratefully she leaned forward and lit up. As I closed the lighter, her eyes caught the design on it. Wordlessly, she took it from me and then looked up questioningly.

"Special Forces," I explained succinctly. "Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm...and a few other places that remain classified."

"Is that how--?" Constance didn't finish, but her eyes did. She was looking at my knee. Catching my eye, she hastily looked away. I limped back behind my desk and sat down, feeling my knee aching from standing up too quickly.

"That's all right," I said, shrugging. "I got a bit banged up on my last mission. Some long-forgotten jungle on some classified map." I grinned ruefully. "Helping keep the world safe for freedom and democracy."

"I'm sorry...It's none of my business. I shouldn't have--" The catch in her voice is what did it, I guess. It melted the last traces of doubt I might have had. Whatever Constance Demaree might be, she wasn't a liar or a lunatic. I was suddenly in her camp and determined to help her.

"Constance, let's get back to your case," I said. "Did you have any other harassing phone calls?"

"Yes...that same night. After I got back from my dinner date with Mother. I'd been home for about an hour, when it happened again. The same horrible voice, saying all of those terrible things that he'd do me." She took a shaky puff from her cigarette. "'Who are you?' I asked over and over. 'Why are you doing this to me?' But he just ignored me and kept on repeating those dreadful words." She stopped, her hand barely able to hold her cigarette steadily enough to take another puff.

"Did you call the police?" I asked. She nodded.

"They filed a report." She gave me a rueful grin. "Told me to call them if it happened again. I guess there's not much they can do." There's plenty, of course, but I saw little point in telling her. It looked like someone at the GCPD had dropped the ball. And I knew just the guy to call and complain about it.

"How about the phone company? Did you call them?"

"Yes...they said they'd look into it."

"And did they turn up anything?"

Constance shook her head. "They said there were no records of any calls to my apartment on the nights in question."

"That's interesting. Did you get the name of the phone company representative you spoke to?"

"No..." She bit her lip, and gave me chagrinned look. "I'm sorry...I didn't even think to ask."

"And the service representative didn't bother to identify himself or herself?"

"Himself. It was a man. And no...I can't be sure. I was terribly upset, you see. But I don't believe he ever identified himself."

"Interesting. How about the GCPD? Did the officer who took your report identify himself?"

Her lovely face scrunched in thought, Constance finally shrugged and shook her head. "I don't think he did, but I'm not sure."

Curiouser and curiouser.

Upset as she'd been I can certainly understand that Constance might not think to ask for their names. However, both the service rep and the police officer should've identified themselves as a matter of policy. Furthermore, the GCPD hadn't bothered to follow-up on a legitimate complaint. Not to mention the phone company stating that there were no records of any phone calls for the nights in question. Something didn't smell right.

She looked up at me, pleadingly. "Mr. Bard--I mean, Jason...am I going crazy?"

"No, but I think someone wants you think that."


We agreed to meet the next day at her apartment, where I could check for 'any clues.' Her words not mine. I agreed because I figured it was as good a place as any to start. The scene of the crime and all that.

We had a ten a.m. appointment, and I arrived promptly at 9:45. Army habit--report at least fifteen minutes early to any official meetings. It gave me enough time to look around the area first. As I drove through her neighborhood, located in the Old Gotham district, I was surprised at its general seediness. The crumbling brownstones and boarded-over windows hinted at its former genteelness. I wondered why the sole heiress to one of the largest fortunes on the East Coast would settle for such a place.

When I arrived at her apartment building, the reason became clear. The facade was an architectural marvel. Its Art Deco design was a grand reminder of a sophisticated era in the City's bygone days. It had obviously undergone some major renovations recently to bring it back to its previous grandeur.

No doubt a post-No Man's Land urban renewal project, I figured. Still, the surrounding neighborhood--located just a few short blocks from what we Gothamites 'affectionately' called Crime Alley--left much to be desired. I was therefore curious to inspect the building's security measures.

I found a parking space less than a block from her building, and stiffly climbed out. I ensured that the Corvette was securely locked before beginning the painful trek to her apartment. It was a clear, briskly cold February morning, and my bum knee was sending angry warning signals up my leg. Leaning a little more than usual on my cane, I ignored the pain and approached the building doorman.

"Jason Bard..." I said, holding out my ID. "I'm here to see Ms. Demaree." He nodded and buzzed her room. There was no answer.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Bard, but Ms. Demaree isn't answering. Perhaps you should try again later?"

"Could you try again? I have a ten o'clock appointment with her." Shrugging, the doorman did as asked, but again there was no response. "Did you see her leave this morning?" I asked.

"No, sir."

"How long have you been on duty?" I asked.

"Since six this morning."

I didn't like the sound of this. Worriedly, I wondered if she'd even made it home the previous night. She was afraid someone might have been following her. Could something have happened to her? "Do you know what time she got home last night?"

"I wouldn't know about that, sir," he replied quite primly.

"Is there someone here I might ask? The desk clerk, perhaps?"

"I'm sorry, sir. But the management has a strict policy against any private information regarding our residents being given out. We respect their privacy, you see." Even as he spoke, the doorman gave me a knowing look, and pointedly glanced down at his hand.

I followed his eyes. Uh-huh. Sure he respected the privacy of the building's residents.

Returning his look, I reached inside my jacket and pulled out a leather billfold. With a big show of going through its contents, I mentally winced at the sight of the sole ten-dollar bill. Steadily looking into the other guy's eyes, I pretended to be pulling out a large bill when I stopped.

I raised a single eyebrow. "Well?"

"A 'C' note, pal," he said, wiggling his fingers. "In the palm first. I remember a whole lot better that way." As he spoke, his eyes darted left and right, checking to see if anyone might be watching the transaction.

"Nice talking to you, bub," I growled, shoving the nonexistent 100 dollar bill back into the wallet. "My mother taught me not to pay for merchandise I hadn't checked out first." With that I turned to go. I'd taken only two steps when he stopped me.

"Okay, okay!" he said hurriedly, nervously waving me back. "The Demaree dame--a real looker, y'know? But quiet...a real nice girl. The other guys an' me...we kinda like to keep an eye out for her. Just to make sure she's all right and everything, y'see?"

Yeah, right. And I'll bet you also help little old ladies across the street.

"Well, she ain't been around the place for a few months, and just when we figured she must've moved away, she showed back up again. Just last week, in fact. Anyway, we figure she must have a guy stashed away some place--where Mommy Dearest won't be able to find him, see?"

My ears pricked at the sudden revelation. Perhaps Constance hadn't come home last night after all, but for a much different reason than I'd figured.

"Anyway, the guy I relieved this morning said that she left yesterday morning and hadn't returned all day...or all night. If you know what I mean?" Again he gave me a knowing look, but this time it was closer to a leer. Disgusted, I firmly folded my billfold and tucked it away again.

"Hey! How about that 'C' note?" he protested. Smirking, I gave him a knowing look in turn.

"Didn't your mother ever teach you not to sell on credit? Have a nice day." I left him sputtering and walked back to my car, wincing with each step. My limp seemed more pronounced than usual that morning.

As I neared my car, I was already planning a means of how to enter the apartment building undetected. I thought of Barbara. She certainly had the means to help me. If I asked nicely. All those wonderful Bat-toys of hers. Besides, 'a friend in need' and all that. But no. I'd forgotten her, I reminded myself.

Again.

I sighed. As if I ever could. In my mind I could still see her hair, the same russet of the flaming sunsets I'd seen in the Saudi desert. And the green of her eyes...the same cool, misty green of the South American rainforests. Yeah, I'd forgotten her all right. Forgot her so well, I couldn't put her out of my mind.

Which is probably why the three punks thought they could get away with roughing me up in broad daylight. They appeared out of nowhere, surrounding me before I had time to react. They'd probably been lying in wait for an easy target--and what could be easier than a guy who limps and walks with the aid of a cane?

"Hey, you sure picked the wrong neighborhood to visit, man. This is our turf, and we don't like no gimpy PIs asking a lot of questions around here. So, why don't you just give us your wallet? And maybe we won't kill you."

The speaker was clearly the leader of the three. His two henchmen stood on either side of me, ready to pounce. One held a switchblade, the other a lead pipe. All three laughed at his words.

"And if I don't give you my wallet? What then?" Stupid, I know. I only had ten bucks on me, but, hey, that could buy me a whole month's supply of peanut butter sandwiches.

"This is what, man!" With that, they attacked. 'Lead Pipe' swung with enough force to knock my head out of the ballpark, but I ducked and blocked with my cane. I felt the power behind his swing vibrate up my arms, but I didn't have time to worry about it. Twirling the cane quickly, I adjusted my hold enough to suddenly jab him with it in the solar plexus.

Lead Pipe went down with a 'Woof,' and I followed through with my own counter-swing to his head. He fell face down on the pavement, unconscious.

"Get him! Cut him, man! Cut him bad!" The ringleader pointed at me, livid that I'd taken down one of his men.

It was 'Switchblade's' turn. Grinning with yellowed teeth, the young hood went into his stance. I instantly assessed his style. Sloppy. It was almost too simple. He lunged and I easily parried. I grabbed his wrist and twisted it behind him, disarming him. I felt the bone break. He let out an agonized scream, and I released him. He fell to his knees, still shrieking in pain.

Planting my cane firmly on the ground for leverage, I kicked out at his temple and promptly put him out of his misery. I'm a nice guy deep down, see. I hate to see dumb animals suffer. The ringleader made a move to run, but I caught him with the hooked end of my cane, sending him flying head over heels.

"Going somewhere? And here I thought we were just getting acquainted." I pressed the end of the cane to his Adam's apple. "Now it's my turn, punk. And your answers better be good, or I might be tempted to crush your throat."

Wide, frightened eyes looked up at me. He had his hands around the cane, futilely trying to pry it loose.

"Now, how did you know I was a private investigator?"

The punk choked, trying to talk. I released the pressure slightly, just enough to let him speak.

"I-I didn't, man...we was just--~Urk!~"

I'd cut off his air supply once more. As his panic rose, I looked pityingly down at him. "You said, you didn't like--let's see...How did you put it? Ah, yes. You said you didn't like 'no gimpy PIs asking a lot of questions around here.'" I smiled coldly. "So, once again. How did you know I was a PI? And who sent you?"

To 'inspire' truthfulness, I pressed down harder on the cane until I could feel his larynx beginning to give way. Panicking, the punk flopped his arms all over the place, like a fish out of water. When it looked like he was about black out, I released the pressure and bent down, grabbing him by the collar.

"Talk."

Gasping and wheezing, the punk struggled for breath, but finally, began to talk. "W-We was told to rough you up, man. To scare you off. You know...keep you from coming back here."

"Who?" I asked, threatening to cut off his air supply again.

"No, please--" he begged. Shaking his head, he spoke quickly, "I don't know, man--" I held the cane against his throat as a reminder, but he waved his arms, weakly. "No, man...on my mother's grave, I swear! My homeys and me...we was hangin' out. Some dude we never seen before came up. He paid us 500 bucks to rough you up a little. That's the truth, man!"

"What did this 'dude' look like," I asked. The punk shrugged, still fighting for air.

"Dressed good, y'know? An uptown dude."

"Anything else? How about hair color? Eyes?"

"He wore a hat and dark glasses, man. I swear!"

I nodded. "Okay, punk." I released him and started walking away. "You'd better call an ambulance for your two friends there. I think they need a doctor."

"Hey, man...where'd you learn to fight like that? A gimp like you?"

"The U.S. Army. You should think about it. It makes men even out of two-bit punks like you."


A visit to the Gotham City Library stacks and several hours later, I found myself standing in the middle of a tastefully decorated waiting room, admiring its collection of watercolor landscapes. Even to my untrained eye I could tell that the paintings were all originals. Whoever the artist was, he must've made a killing selling what must be his entire gallery to a corporate giant like Demaree Cosmetics.

"I see you have a taste for art, Mr...Bard? Is it?"

I turned and stopped. I knew I was gaping, but couldn't help myself. If Constance Demaree had been stunning with her quiet, understated beauty, this woman was sheer elegance itself. Swallowing, I stepped forward and introduced myself.

"Jason Bard, private investigator."

"Really? A PI? Just like in the movies? How absolutely divine!" I actually blushed as she offered her hand by way of greeting. "I'm Faith Demaree, current President and CEO of Demaree Cosmetics." She waved an arm around the spacious waiting area, taking in the watercolors. "My late husband, Armand Demaree, was quite the artist."

She walked up to one watercolor in particular, that of a young woman and little girl sitting in a sunny meadow surrounded by wildflowers.

"This is my favorite," she said. "I remember the day clearly--a warm, beautiful spring day. The air was softly scented by the wild honeysuckle you can see growing there and alive with the songs of birds nesting in a nearby stand of trees. My daughter Constance was barely five, but already showing signs of the lovely young woman she would grow into. Armand just captured the light so exquisitely, don't you agree?"

I nodded. That was the one painting that I'd actually admired the most and said so. At this, she smiled appreciatively and led me into her office. "Now, Jason Bard, private investigator, how may I be of help? Your message was a bit vague, I'm afraid."

I sat down, reflecting on my visit to the library earlier that day. I was glad now that it hadn't been a waste. And no, I didn't purposely go there due to some masochistic wish to run into the ghost of Barbara Gordon.

I actually went there on official business, to run a check on Demaree Cosmetics before I came here. I read through as many of the microfiche files as I could in order to learn as much as possible about the lady who now sat regally before me: Faith Demaree.

The former Faith Brown, daughter of a bricklayer and short order cook, at the age of twenty-six, married Armand Demaree who was thirty years her senior at the time. While the tabloids had a field day over the May/December marriage, implying that the young bride was little more than a gold-digger, the union seemed to have been a long and happy one, producing one child--Constance.

In the ensuing years, the company's stock climbed steadily until it was now selling at its highest prices. Demaree Cosmetics booths were located in only the most exclusive department stores and enjoyed a high volume of repeat customers. Its perfume line was currently one of its hottest selling items, and Faith Demaree was mostly responsible for it.

In fact, Faith Demaree had been the brains behind the company for the better part of the past twenty-five years.

"I'm here about your daughter, Mrs. Demaree," I began. She gave a slight look of start at the mention of her daughter, but quickly recovered.

"Constance? For heavens' sake, why? Is she in some kind of trouble?"

"You mean, you don't know?" At her blank look, I explained about Constance's visit the previous day and our conversation.

"Oh, but this absurd!" she protested. "Constance hasn't said anything of the sort to me."

"I'm afraid that your daughter has been terribly frightened, Mrs. Demaree. Enough so that I thought it best to investigate further."

"I see..." she said thoughtfully. "Then, you feel that perhaps there is some truth to what she says?"

Surprised, I looked up her. A pair of cool, gray eyes held mine steadily. "Is there some reason why you'd believe that your daughter would not be entirely truthful, Mrs. Demaree?"

She held my eyes a moment longer, and then sighing leaned back in her seat. "I suppose, it's useless to try to protect her," she said. "Mr. Bard, you must understand that Constance took her father's death quite hard. They were very close you see, and I'm afraid that she hasn't yet gotten over the loss."

I nodded, wondering where she was going with this. "Go on, Mrs. Demaree." At my words, she stood and walked to the large picture window that overlooked Gotham City below. In the back of my mind I noted that the woman didn't just walk to the window, she practically glided there.

As I watched her, a line from a poem suddenly came to me. 'She walks in beauty, like the night.' I shook my head in annoyance. Dames...!

"I'm afraid that soon after poor Armand's death, I was forced to temporarily place Constance in a rest home." She turned quickly, pleadingly. "It wasn't anything serious, mind you. Just that--" She stopped, dropping her arms suddenly. "Well...she was having terrible nightmares and couldn't sleep. She moved back home for a few weeks, but even that didn't seem to help. She claimed that someone was trying to kill her. I called a specialist--a personal friend, Dr. Adam Carter. He tried prescribing sleeping pills, but she refused his treatment."

Mrs. Demaree looked down sadly. "She accused us all of trying to kill her. Even me." She raised her eyes slowly. I could see the unshed tears shimmering in the sunlight. "She even accused me of being responsible for my husband's death." Her voice caught slightly. "When Adam suggested a few weeks in a rest home, I agreed. I had no choice, Mr. Bard."

"I see. When was she released?" I asked.

"Only last week," she said softly. "We had dinner together her first night back." Last week? If that were true, then Constance's claim of having returned from a business trip was a phony. Mrs. Demaree nodded as if she were reading my mind.

"Yes, Mr. Bard. Constance didn't return from a business trip last week as she claimed. She was only recently released from the hospital." Making up my mind, I stood to go.

"I'm sorry to have taken up your time, Mrs. Demaree. You've been most helpful."

"Not at all..." she said, offering her hand. "I only wish that we hadn't met under these circumstances."

"By the way, have you seen Constance today? We had an appointment this morning."

"Why no..." She said after a slight hesitation. "I haven't seen Constance since our dinner together." She stopped, looking suddenly worried. "Mr. Bard, you don't think that something might've happened to her?"

Yes, Mrs. Demaree, that's exactly what I'm thinking, I said to myself. Smiling, I shook my head. "No, ma'am. I'm sure there's a perfectly innocent explanation."

She nodded, looking unsure. The next instant, she recovered her composure and smiled. "You're right, of course."

"Of course." I thanked her again, and walking out wondered what if anything Faith Demaree might have to gain by making her daughter appear insane.


"Bard, I ain't got time for you right now!" Lt. Harvey Bullock slammed the filing cabinet for emphasis. "I told you, already. I'm busy!"

"It's nice to see you, too, Harvey," I said easily, taking a seat. "And you know I wouldn't bother you, if I didn't really need your help. So come on, Harvey...how about it?"

Harvey looked ready to relent, but then bit down on his cigar--one of those vile stogies he preferred--and shook his head. "No! The last time you asked for my help, I ended up walking a beat in Crime Alley! Thanks, but no thanks!"

"But that was only temporary!" I protested. "And besides...admit it. It was good experience for you. You got to see how the little people lived, right?"

"The little people...!" he spat out. "I oughta ram this cigar up your--"

"--Harvey, come on!" I cajoled. "We're friends, aren't we?" When no help appeared immediately forthcoming, I threw in my trump card. "All right, Harvey...if that's how you want it. Fine. But just remember...you forced me to do this." I stood to go.

"Don't let the door slam you on your--" he stopped. "Wait! Hold it!" I stopped, my hand on the doorknob. "Okay, College Boy, what are you up to now? What're you plannin' on doin'?"

"What do you care? As long as I don't do it in your office?"

He glared at me. I held his eyes. A message passed between us. Suddenly, a look of pure desperation mixed with outrage came over him. "Aw...no, not that again! Bard, you can't--!" I crossed my arms and simply looked at him. "Jase, ol' buddy...come on! You wouldn't!"

'Jase,' huh?

"Oh, wouldn't I?" I knew I had him. Smirking, I made my way back behind his desk and sat down on his chair. "Wouldn't your captain be a little disturbed to find out that one of his lead investigating officers was responsible for putting a serial killer on death row--by planting false evidence which led to his conviction?"

I held up my hands to keep him from protesting further. "Harvey, I can't say that I blame you. In fact, I completely understand it. I might've done the same thing myself. But that doesn't take away the fact that--"

"All right! All right!" he yelled. "What is it you want, you--you lousy traitor? But believe me, this is absolutely the last time--!"

So, it's 'traitor' now.

"Sure it is, Harvey," I said agreeably. "The absolutely last time." For now, anyway, I added silently. Smiling, I told him what I wanted.


My next stop was the phone company. It turned out to be a dead end. Not only were there no records of any harassing calls on the nights in question as Constance had already reported, there were no records of anyone calling to file a complaint to report such an incident.

I returned to my office and poured myself a drink. Sitting down, I put my feet up and leaned back. Mulling over the morning's activities, I had a sudden cold feeling. I immediately called Harvey, dreading what I already knew he was going to report.

"Yeah, that's right, Mr. Hotshot PI," he said sarcastically. "We got nuthin'. No phone call by a Ms. Constance Demaree was ever logged in. And I happen to know the desk sergeant on duty this past week. A real straight-shooter. He'd never cover up something like this."

Tiredly, I brought my hand up to my eyes. I felt a headache coming. Figuring that I was up against another dead end, I asked him for the rest of the information I'd requested.

"According to the medical examiner's report, Armand Demaree died of natural causes after a long fight with terminal cancer. Nothing unusual in the case."

"And what about Constance Demaree's recent admittance to a rest home?" I asked.

"Again, nothing out of the ordinary. The hospital records show that she was admitted shortly after her father's funeral. Reason for admittance--suffering from exhaustion. Her doctor recommended a long rest." Harvey paused. "Translation? Your girlfriend took a sudden left turn to limbo and needed to be locked up in a padded cell. The so-called 'rest home'? Sunny Acres in upstate Gotham--a psychiatric hospital."

"She's not my girlfriend, Harvey," I corrected tiredly. "She's my client." So far, he hadn't told me anything I hadn't already surmised. Certainly no 'smoking gun' that pointed at anyone who was waging a campaign to drive Constance crazy.

"Is that all?" I asked, unable to keep the disappointment out of my voice.

"As a matter of fact, Mr. Private Gumshoe, that ain't all I got," Harvey replied. "It's a good thing you two-bit PIs have us professionals in the GCPD to do your dirty legwork for you, 'cause otherwise I don't see how you'd ever eat."

"Harvey, come on!" I bellowed expectantly. "What have you dug up?"

"Well...it may be nuthin' or it may be everything," Harvey said curtly. "I found out that before his death, the old man had always said that his wife, Mrs. Faith Demaree, would one day inherit controlling interest in Demaree Cosmetics. It was understood that because she'd been the de facto head of the company for over twenty-five years that it was only right that one day she'd be officially named as its President and CEO. However, at the reading of the Last Will and Testament, it was the daughter, little Constance, who was named to take over the company."

"Anything else?" I could feel my heart hammering in my chest, the excitement building inside me.

"Just one more item, Sam Spade," Harvey replied dryly. "It seems that the younger Ms. Demaree was slated to be named President and CEO of Demaree Cosmetics upon reaching her twenty-second birthday or graduating from college, whichever came first."

I thought about the fact that Constance had been in a mental institute for almost six months, forcing her to withdraw from her senior year at Gotham State University.

"Harvey, I don't suppose Constance's birthday happens to fall in February?" I asked.

"Go to the head of the class, College Boy. Your girlfriend should be celebrating her twenty-second birthday on the 28th. That's in another week or so."

"She's not my girlfriend, Harvey. She's my client. And a very rich client, I might add, so you'd better be nice to me." I ignored him as he grumbled over the line. A sudden thought came to me. "Harvey, any word on the lawyer who handled the Last Will?" I asked.

"I knew you were going to ask that, hotshot, so I got a name for you. Armand Demaree worked with a shyster by the name of Richard D. Diamond of Diamond and Associates. They were supposedly good friends...fraternity brothers or something. He's in the book."

I wrote the name down and thanked him. "Since you seem to be in the business of reading minds, I don't suppose you got the doctor's--?"

"--Carter. Adam Carter, M.D., Ph.D., clinical psychiatrist." I could just make out Harvey's smug tone in believing he'd anticipated me again. I grinned. I saw no need in letting him know that Faith Demaree had already given me the name.

"I guess this is why you're one of the GCPD's Finest," I murmured.

"And don't you ever forget it, Mr. High-Priced Dick!"

I winced at his words. Harvey's coarse humor was never meant to endear him to others, but I don't know. I always felt that his complete lack of charm was his charm.

"I won't, Harvey--and thanks. You know, I never really believed what Commissioner Gordon used to say about you being such a--"

"Never mind that, College Boy. And don't bring the Commish into this. He hates your guts, and you know it--God Bless 'im for it--for what you did to his little girl."

"For what I did? Hey, listen here--! She's the one who left without so much as a reason--!"

"You need a reason?" Harvey taunted. "Why don't you ask me? I can give you plenty! Starting with, 'Have you looked in the mirror lately'?" He laughed out loud.

"Ha. Ha. Very funny. This--coming from a guy who shaves every other week, wears secondhand suits, and smokes five-cent cigars."

Still laughing, Harvey asked, "Anything else, College Boy? I mean, I ain't got nuthin' better to do than help you in your investigation!"

"Just one more thing." Unhurriedly, I explained what else I wanted him to look into.

"Y'know...you're a real piece of work, pally."

"I know, but you love me anyway. And Harvey, I really appreciate--" But he'd already hung up. I sat back, considering my options. Whatever was going on, I knew one thing. Someone was trying very hard to make Constance look like a nutcase, perhaps to keep her from gaining control of Demaree Cosmetics. And so far, they were succeeding.

Except for one grim mistake. They'd hired a trio of loser punks to discourage me from my investigation. And in my book, that only made me more determined to get to the bottom of whatever was going on.

I tossed back my drink and stood to go. Before I reached the door, the phone rang. I picked it up and heard the desperate voice on the other end. Constance!

"Jason! Please...you have to help me!"

****

I waited in McSurley's, a greasy dive on Dixon Docks. A group of stevedores sat together in a corner, drinking heavily. Outside, the usual sounds of the Gotham City riverfront tapered off as the docks slowly emptied of workers and tourists. Out in the distance, the forlorn bellow of a ship's horn announced that an oil trawler was pulling out to sea. Nearby, the water softly lapped against the pier providing a soothing background to the early evening.

I checked my watch. 7:00 pm. Constance was late. Two hours late, in fact. First, she'd stood me up this morning, and now she'd again left me holding the bag. She wouldn't tell me where she was when she'd called me earlier, afraid that her call might be tapped. Instead, she'd insisted I meet her here, away from everyone and everything she knew, far from anyplace where she might possibly be identified.

Sighing, I stood and signaled for my bill. Paying, I stepped out into the cold night. The temperatures had plummeted, and a light snow had started to fall. Here along the waterfront, it seemed even colder. Shivering, I pulled my jacket collar in closer and started walking towards the 'Vette.

I reviewed what I knew so far about the case. Not much, admittedly:

  1. Constance Demaree was days away from inheriting a controlling interest in Demaree Cosmetics. She'd only recently been released from a mental hospital where she'd been admitted for 'exhaustion.' And, she was now claiming that someone was after her, terrorizing her with harassing phone calls.
  2. Her mother, Faith Demaree, the current President and CEO of the company until her daughter reached her majority, had signed the earlier commitment papers six months ago, along with a Dr. Adam Carter, a practicing clinical psychiatrist. Faith stood to gain the most should her daughter not be able to come into her inheritance. Did the good doctor also have something to gain?
  3. Armand Demaree died six months ago, apparently from natural causes. I mentally placed a question mark here. Could the cause have been not-so-natural, I wondered?
  4. And the lawyer, Richard Diamond--what did he know about the Last Will and Testament? Why was it changed at the eleventh hour? Especially since Armand Demaree had always promised the company to his wife? Did Diamond have anything to gain by the situation as it stood?
  5. All right. There seemed to be more questions raised than answered by my rather short list. And what else didn't I know, I asked myself. Mentally, I ticked them off:

  6. Why is someone actually playing some kind of harassment campaign against Constance? To keep her from taking over Demaree Cosmetics, or for some other reason?
  7. If so, then who? One of the three players I'd already mentioned, or someone else? Did this 'somebody' hire the three thugs that tried to work me over earlier?
  8. And finally, where is my disappearing heiress? What frightened her so much, she didn't return to her apartment last night? Why has she missed two appointments so far? Is she in trouble?

Reaching my car, I decided that it was dark enough now to try a little breaking and entering at her apartment building. The last thing I remember was unlocking my car door.


The cold water sweeping over me was my first warning. The second were the handcuffs holding me secured to the steering wheel. Looking around in desperation, I realized that I was about to take a long drink in the Gotham River. I didn't have much time, so I worked quickly.

Leaning forward as far as I could go, I reached for my collar pin. My numbed fingers closed clumsily around it. I had to be careful, because I only had one chance. If I dropped it, then it was all over. Slowly, with infinite care, I removed the pin from my collar.

By then the water was up to my chin. Moving my hand awkwardly, I placed the collar pin on the handcuffs, and started working the locking mechanism. The brackish water was up to my nose by this time. Taking a deep breath, I ducked my head underwater to try to get a better view of what I was doing. Working with a steadiness borne of desperation, I miraculously felt a sudden ~click~!

I was free!

Okay, I still had to get out of the car, but now I had a chance. I found an air pocket near the back window, and thankfully, took a deep gulp. Next, I kicked out. After the third try, the back window went, but unfortunately, a new torrent of water poured in, knocking me head over heels backwards towards the front seat. I was disoriented momentarily, but recovered sufficiently to swim back to the rear window and out into the open water.

Just as I thought my lungs were about to burst, I broke through the murky waters of the Gotham River. I treaded water and gulped air for a few seconds, coughing and heaving as I struggled to get my lungs started again. I soon realized that I was losing all feeling in my arms and legs, so I began the short swim back to the docks.

I don't remember how long it took, but eventually my hand felt the wooden ladder that led topside and to safety. Climbing wearily, I just managed to crawl out onto the wooden pier where I collapsed in exhaustion.

"Not the 'Vette...!" I groaned.


Two hours later, I was ready to hurt someone real bad--Hey, I loved my Corvette! That car and I had been through a lot. She was more loyal than most of the women I'd dated in and out of college. She'd been supportive and uncomplaining when Barbara and I used to take those long Sunday drives upstate. Then, when Barbara left and the world turned black and gray, my 'Vette was there for me, comforting and responsive to my every touch and need.

And now she lay on the bottom of the Gotham River.

Controlling my seething anger, I checked the immediate area to make sure it was clear, and then pulled myself onto the rooftop of Constance's apartment building. As I crossed the rooftop, I reviewed that night's activities.

As soon as I'd been able to, I'd found a pay phone and called for a cab. Of course, the ride back home cost me my last ten bucks. (Another grievance to get off my chest once I met up with these punks, whoever they were.) At home, I quickly changed into dry clothing, grabbed some necessary equipment, and called the GCPD, leaving a message for Harvey.

And now, I was casing her apartment by way of a remote control camera. I sat cross-legged on the rooftop overhang, studying the infrared video feed on my pocket PC. So far, nothing.

"Not a creature was stirring," I murmured. Time for a little B & E--Breaking and Entering.

First, I located a sealed junction box that had been installed by building security and quickly neutralized the alarm system. Next, I tied one end of my safety line to a metal 'O'-ring on the roof, which the window washers used when working. I carefully checked it for secureness. I'd never been all that good at tying square knots, and I didn't want it to unexpectedly slip.

Satisfied, I hooked up to my safety harness and tossed the remaining length of line over the side of the roof. Without hesitation, I jumped.

Rappelling is a marvelous sport. Certainly not for the faint of heart, but not dangerous, either. Of course, in the Army Special Forces, rappelling isn't considered a sport, but a fast means to deploy into a hot spot under heavy enemy fire. Still, I felt a certain thrill whenever I slid down my safety line into a hot LZ.

Talk about a rush!

Within seconds, I was hanging outside her apartment. And a few seconds after that, I was inside. Night vision goggles let me see as clearly as if all the lights were on in the room. Moving stealthily through the apartment, I scanned for any surveillance devices.

I theorized that if Constance felt as if she were being watched, perhaps it was because her stalker knew what she was doing while in the privacy of her own apartment. In other words, someone was watching more than just her comings and goings. Therefore, it was highly probable that these unknown persons had secretly installed surveillance equipment in her apartment during her absence. I don't know...just an idea.

Forty-five minutes later I was ready to admit defeat. As far as I could tell, the place was clean. If Constance thought or felt that someone was watching her, then it was beginning to look like it was indeed all in her mind. Perhaps the lady did belong in Sunny Acres, after all.

But no--someone did hire those three punks to rough me up, and now someone else tried to drown me. Whoever they were, these people were determined to stop my investigation. Something I wasn't about to do now.

Constance claimed that on her second night home, she'd received the first of several harassing phone calls. Calls for which the phone company had no record. Logic supposed then that the calls never went through the regular telephone system.

Quickly crossing the living room, I reached for the phone, when some sudden instinct stayed my hand. Lifting the receiver could send a signal to Constance's watchers, letting them know that someone was snooping around her apartment. Instead, I ran a couple of jumper cables from the receiver to my pocket PC. Within moments I had it--a definite spike. I watched intently as the readings told me what I needed to know.

The phone had been tapped and rerouted. Constance could still call out and receive her normal telephone traffic, but she was also cross-patched to receive traffic from a second line. Furthermore, whoever controlled it, could also intercept and reroute her outgoing calls, explaining why her calls never got through to the GCPD and the phone company.

Eyes narrowed, I thought of the terror that had been perpetrated on Constance. More importantly, I was growing concerned for her safety. She had now been missing for several hours, and it was beginning to look like it wasn't voluntary.

Not bothering to stay in stealth mode, I reactivated my scanner and started a second search in earnest for any more surveillance equipment. It was one thing for whoever was making these phone calls to observe Constance going in and out of her building. It was quite another for him to know when--or if--she was going to make a phone call to someone who might be able to help her.

Therefore, in addition to monitoring her outgoing calls, they would also have to be able to monitor her movements in the apartment. Meticulously running the scanner through the living room, I was almost ready to admit defeat again, when I found it.

"Pay dirt, pal!" I muttered. "I got you now." Hidden in the dark recesses of the ceiling was a miniature camera positioned with an excellent line of sight towards the phone. Placing a chair directly beneath it, I reached up and carefully pulled the minicam out, inspecting the wires. Working quickly, I connected it to my scanner with jumper wires and ran a systems check.

"There you are, you son of--" I muttered an unprintable word and threw the camera to the floor, breaking it. Not caring who saw me, I stalked out the front door and took the stairs down to the lobby. Shoving the fire door open, I made it to the night desk in three long strides.

The desk clerk looked up startled, and taking in my thunderous expression, instantly jumped up and tried to run. Ignoring my bum knee, I vaulted over the front desk and tackled him to the floor before he'd made it to the door.

"Talk!" I had my left knee on his chest and my left hand around his throat. I smashed his face with my right fist and slammed his head against the marble floor. He cried out in pain, but I ignored him.

"I said, 'Talk'!" Enraged, I didn't wait for an answer, and instead began slamming his head against the floor in time to my words. "Where--" ~Slam!~ "--is--" ~Slam!~ "--she?" ~Slam!~ "Who--" ~Slam!~ "--hired--" ~Slam!~ "--you?" ~Slam!~

By then my suspect was bleeding from several places--ears, nose, mouth--and he was slobbering all over me, pleading with me to stop.

"Please..." he whimpered. "I'll tell you everything I know...Just don't hit me anymore...please...!"

Holding him tightly by the throat, I jerked him up to a sitting position. "Okay, creep," I growled. "Start talking. Who hired you and why? And where is Constance Demaree? I swear...if anything's happened to her, there's nowhere that you can run that I won't find you. Do you understand?" In the distance, I could hear the wail of approaching sirens. I reached back ready to pound him again, when he started spilling his guts.

"No--no! L-Like I told you...I'll tell you everything--!"


I drove the several miles to the Demaree Estate, located outside the city limits, taking the many blind curves along Finger Drive at dangerous speeds. Halfway there it started to sleet and I was forced to slow down. While the jeep didn't have the smooth handling of the Corvette (which was just one more thing that I'd have to get off my chest later that night) it did have four-wheel drive.

I pulled off the main road onto the narrow, tree-lined private drive that led up to the estate. Driving in as close as possible to the house, I finally parked well inside the trees. Grabbing my cane and backpack I groaned silently when I estimated the distance to the house.

"Wonderful. Just one more thing..." I grumbled, stumbling over the uneven ground, my limp making the hike more awkward. I reconned the estate on the lookout for any guards, but the grounds lay quiet, stark in the icy February night. I walked around the house, looking for any means of entry, when I spotted them through the window--Faith Demaree and a man I didn't recognize.

I watched from the window, unable to hear their conversation. Reaching inside my backpack I took out a miniature sound amplifier, which was self-adhesive and about the size of a quarter. I placed it against the windowpane and then donned a wireless earpiece that could pick up a digital RF transmission from the amplifier up to 1000 feet away.

Ten minutes later, I'd learned that the gentleman was Dr. Adam Carter and that he and Faith seemed to be a lot closer than I'd anticipated. However, from where I stood neither had said or done anything incriminating so far. They were just your typical, well-groomed middle-aged couple enjoying a quiet, after dinner drink, and listening to soft, classical music. On occasion, I caught her musical laugh after he'd murmured something particularly endearing.

Whatever they might be, Faith Demaree and Adam Carter didn't act like vicious co-conspirators who were trying to drive a beautiful young woman insane.

And yet?

"Darling, I'm afraid that it's time."

I pressed the earpiece in closer, intent on Carter's words.

"Are you sure, Adam?" Faith asked doubtfully. "I hate this. There must be a better way. She was so frightened."

"I know, my dear. But remember what happened the last time we waited too long. The hallucinations grew out of control. She almost killed you."

"But, Adam...I've explained over and over again. It was an accident. She didn't mean to push me down the stairs."

"Darling...it's for the best. I'm afraid that Constance is suffering from severe schizophrenia brought on by her deep depression over the loss of her father."

Faith brought her hand up, stifling a cry. Carter took her in his arms. "When I think of the beautiful baby I held in my arms almost twenty-two years ago," she sobbed. "--and what's become of her. Oh, Adam...I wish Armand were here. He'd know what to do. Our sweet, wonderful child. I simply can't bear it. I feel as if my heart were breaking."

"Faith...you must be strong," Carter said in soothing tones. "For Constance's sake."

"I-I know," she whispered, sitting down. "I know."

"Everything's ready." A newcomer walked in and purposefully strode towards the sofa. Sitting down, he placed his briefcase on the cocktail table and opened it.

"Did you bring it, Richard?" Carter asked. Richard, I wondered? As in Richard D. Diamond, head of Diamond and Associates, Attorneys at Law? Hail, hail, the gang's all here, I added sardonically.

"It's all here," Diamond replied, shuffling several papers together. Taking in Faith's anguished expression, he glanced questioningly at Carter, who nodded at him. Shrugging, Diamond gently pushed the papers towards Faith. As the head of the law firm of Diamond and Associates, Diamond served as the Demaree family's personal attorney. He'd have been responsible for drawing up Armand Demaree's Last Will and Testament, and now Constance Demaree's commitment papers to Sunny Acres.

Because that's what they were discussing, the permanent commitment of the schizophrenic, manic-depressive, Ms. Constance Demaree--sole heiress to the Demaree Cosmetics fortune and soon to be appointed President and CEO of the company upon reaching her twenty-second birthday.

Of course, once those commitment papers were signed and formerly filed at City Hall, the only inheritance Constance would see was a life-long supply of basket weaving kits.

I'd heard all I needed. About to remove my equipment, I stopped when I saw Faith suddenly stand and leave the room. The two men glared at each other with neither speaking momentarily.

"You're pushing too hard, Adam," Diamond hissed. "She's not ready."

"You leave Faith to me. She'll sign the papers," Carter said with confidence. "It's for her daughter's own good, remember? And after we're married, she won't need to worry about the company, because I'll--" He stopped at Faith's sudden return. I closed my fist in frustration.

They were getting married, I wondered?

"I'm ready," Faith said quietly. She dabbed her eyes and smiled tremulously. "I'm sorry for acting so--" She stopped. Carter took her solicitously in his arms again.

"No one blames you, darling," he said, kissing her lightly on the forehead. "We all know how you must feel." Diamond nodded in agreement. Faith smiled gratefully, and then taking a deep breath, she straightened her shoulders and made her way back to the cocktail table where the commitment papers lay in wait.

I'd heard all I needed for now.

Removing my mini-amp, I moved away from the window and walked around behind the servants' entrance and peeked in through the kitchen window. It was empty. Trying the door, I raised an eyebrow, surprised to find it unlocked.

"Sloppy, sloppy," I tsked and entered. Quickly getting my bearings, I found the back stairs leading to the second floor. Noiselessly, I took them, two at a time. Reaching the upstairs landing, I first checked to see if the hallway was clear.

It was. Quickly, I went through each bedroom, checking bathrooms, inside closets, and any other nook and cranny where a 110-pound woman might be hidden. No luck. Making up my mind, I creeped over to where the front staircase made a graceful turn as it continued to the next floor. I stood, listening along the banister that overlooked the formal den below. Snatches of conversation wafted up.

"...I wish I could be sure..." Faith.

"...It's for the best, darling..." Carter, insistent.

"...Only if you sign, Faith..." Diamond, soothing.

Looking over the railing to the threesome, I saw that they were deep in discussion, oblivious to everything else around them, their backs to me. Taking a chance, I placed my foot on the bottom stair that led up to the next floor, and my back to the wall, quietly began climbing to the next level.

My heart hammering, I again checked to see if it was clear.

It wasn't.

Two goons in white hospital coats stood outside the door at the end of the hallway. This basically told me that that's where Constance was being kept prisoner. Retreating the way I came, I once again forced myself to sneak past the three conspirators in the den, and didn't release the breath I hadn't known I'd been holding until I crossed the kitchen floor and safely walked out the back unnoticed.

I hurried around the outside of the house until I found Constance's bedroom window. Looking around I saw that a couple of tall, bare maple trees stood a few feet from the house. On closer inspection, I noted metal hooks that had been permanently driven into each tree, probably for a hammock for backyard lounging during the summer months.

Further up, exposed by the tree's seasonal nakedness, I spotted the remains of an old tree house, complete with trapdoor, a 'No Boys Allowed' sign, and a ladder leading up to the child's hideaway. The homemade ladder was made up of individual rungs solidly nailed to the tree trunk. Testing them for soundness, I shrugged and jamming my cane into my backpack started climbing.


Inching awkwardly along the sharply angled gabled roof, I sort of dragged my injured leg behind me, mindful of the falling sleet and the icy sheen that had formed within the past hour. Reaching her window, I saw that Constance was lying in bed, surrounded by IVs and other medical paraphernalia.

Her eyes were closed, and she appeared to be sleeping fitfully, tossing restlessly. This is when I noticed the restraints on her arms, and from the stiff way she was moving, I hazarded a guess that there were also restraints across her chest, thighs, and lower legs.

The anger that I'd placed on the backburner returned full-blown--this time against Faith Demaree. What kind of mother would do this to her own child, while putting up a charade of the loving, caring parent?

Diamond and Carter I might understand: A shyster lawyer out for himself--where had I heard that one before? And a doctor who abused his position of patient trust by seeking self-reward!

But a mother who deliberately hurt her own child?

I suddenly remembered my own drunken, abusive father, and the years of terror he'd inflicted on my little sister and me. One day after school I found her lying, unmoving in the middle of the living room floor. She was only five. Dad lay passed out on the worn couch. He didn't even remember what he'd done. Later, when I heard that he'd been killed in prison, murdered by some other inmate, I felt nothing.

I squeezed my eyes shut, vainly trying to discard the long-suppressed memories. Blinded by fury, I made a nearly fatal error.

I slipped.

The next instant I was fighting for my life. Sliding out of control down the steep roof, I saw the edge rushing towards me faster than I could react. Unable to stop myself, I went over. And jerked to a sudden, backbreaking stop.

My backpack got caught on some of the Gothic décor--miniature gargoyles--that lined the gutters. I now hung by the backpack's harness in quite an undignified position from the roof's dizzying height.

With no time for thinking or self-recrimination, I reached up until I felt the gutter directly above and behind me. Grunting with effort, I pulled up with aching biceps, and called upon abdominal muscles that protested from long disuse to bring my legs up and over.

I don't really know how long it took me, but I was eventually lying, gasping on the edge of the roof, beating myself for not having worked out these past several months.

"Flabby, Jase..." I rasped. "You're getting old and flabby. What would Barbara think?" An image of Dick Grayson--renovating her kitchen after No Man's Land--flashed in my mind. He'd been dressed in worn jeans and t-shirt, which emphasized his perfect physique, tool belt around his narrow waist.

"Face it, Jase...You're probably the last person Barbara would bother to think about nowadays." I guess this was my night for recalling unhappy memories.

I took a few seconds to recover from my second near-death experience that night, and then crawled back to Constance's window. This time, I took care to pay attention to what I was doing, and within minutes of reaching her window, I was inside standing next to her bed.


She looked so gaunt and helpless. Her dark hair had lost its lustrous sheen and now lay matted with sweat against her head. Dark circles under her eyes emphasized her deathly pallor. It was hard to imagine that this pitiable creature was the same lovely young lady who'd stopped by my office only yesterday morning.

I remembered how nervous she'd been, fidgeting in her seat, seemingly unable to know what to do with her hands. Although she'd tried to convey a cool exterior, it was obvious to me that she was deeply frightened.

As I reached for the IVs in order to remove them first, my conversation with the night clerk at her apartment building abruptly came back to me. Knowing how he'd terrorized Constance, I'd almost smacked him once more when he started talking. Somehow I managed to hold back. He informed me that he'd been paid to keep an eye on her in the evening hours, alerting his boss as to her movements...


"I swear I don't know his name. All I do is dial a certain number--"

"What number?" I interrupted. Shakily, almost pathetically trying to please, he rattled it off. "Okay...You said you dialed it. When? What'd you tell 'im?"

"Whenever I saw her getting ready to leave...or when she returned...or when she was gonna use the phone. She was gone for several months, man...I thought the gig was over, but then she came back and this dude--he called me up right away. Gave me the heads up."

"What about the phone? Who tapped it?"

"I-I did. B-But that's all, man! I-I never made no phone calls to spook the lady...Sh-She's kinda nice, you know? Always says 'hi' and waves. I-I wouldn't do n-nuthin' to hurt her...You gotta believe me!"

"I'm sure you'll get a medal! Okay, if it wasn't you, then who did make those phone calls?"

"I-I don't know...I swear!"

"Where is she?"

"I-I c-can't--! They'll kill me--!"

"Where--!?"

"Th-The Demaree Estate--!"

Which is when I stopped holding back.

And how Harvey and his boys found me a few minutes later. It took four of them, but Harvey's men eventually pulled me off him. Which I suppose was a good thing, 'cause I probably would've killed him. To help me cool down, Harvey pulled me aside and basically pinned me against the wall until I stopped making like I was clobber the guy again.

"H-He hit me! Y-You saw him! I-I'll sue! That's what I'll do! I want to call my lawyer. I got rights!"

"Get 'im outta here!" Harvey growled. "Scum like him make me sick."

"You wanted these papers, Harvey?"

We both turned to the new speaker--Sgt. Rene Montoya of the GCPD. She glanced warmly at me. "How are you, Jason? Haven't seen you in awhile."

"I've been around," I said, shrugging and then almost kicking myself. Rene and I dated casually a few times--dinner, movies. That sort of thing. But neither of us was ready for any new commitments at the time. I was still reeling over losing Barbara, and while Rene never talked about it, I felt that she was on the rebound, too.

"Me, too," she said. Smiling, she added, "Maybe we'll see each other--around sometime."

"Yeah, maybe we will." My eyes followed her as she walked out again. I was brought back to the present when Harvey shoved a few sheets of paper into my hands.

"Here, College Boy. Thought you might be interested," he growled. Then nodding towards the exit that Rene had just walked through added, "And don't even think about it. She's a nice kid and she's had a lot of heartache. She don't need no more pain."

"And what are you?" I asked, taking the papers. "Her older brother?"

"Something like that." Glaring at me meaningfully, he patted his .38 special and then moved over to where his uniformed officers were still taking witness statements.

Everybody's a critic, I complained silently.

Grimacing, I glanced down at what he'd given me. My eyes widened when I saw that it was a copy of the Medical Examiner's Report on Armand Demaree. Quickly scanning it I saw nothing of particular interest. In fact, the ME stated that there were no unusual circumstances in his death.

I glanced up and saw that while Harvey was still with his men, apparently listening to their reports, he was actually looking in my direction. Puzzled, I again read through the report, more carefully this time. That's when I saw it. The ME had run the standard drug test for chemicals in the deceased's system and a slight positive had been placed next to amphetamines.

I again looked up at Harvey. This time he winked at me and shrugged. I nodded my thanks. I'd asked him earlier to check the ME's report for any signs of illegal drugs in Demaree's system.

Deep in thought, I left the apartment building without letting Harvey know where I was going. I figured that as a detective of his caliber, he'd get it out of that crud before the night was over. I grinned. The clerk was in for long night. Harvey's 'bad cop' interrogation style wasn't an act.

Taking the on-ramp to Aparo Expressway, I kicked around some ideas that could explain the presence of illicit drugs in Demaree's system. A good lawyer might argue that because Demaree was in the final stages of terminal cancer, it was possible that his system had been pumped with an inordinate amount of drugs. Amphetamines in his system could be easily explained. Could even be a false positive. Still...


Still, I couldn't be sure that what was being dripped into Constance's veins was a simple saline solution or some deadly poison that was killing her slowly. So I pulled the IVs as quickly as safely possible.

Amphetamines are hallucinogens and could explain the earlier 'symptoms' of schizophrenia and severe depression that Faith and Carter had been discussing. Toxic doses of the drug can result in the user suffering from both visual and audio hallucinations, as well as clinical depression, both of which to the untrained eye could appear as schizophrenia.

Add a series of terrorizing phone calls that were designed to make her appear paranoid--afraid that someone was after her--and Constance had been caught in an almost inescapable web of deceit. Because continued amphetamine use could also result in the victim falling into a coma or possibly even suffering from a brain hemorrhage, I wasn't taking any chances.

I was about to undo her restraints, when Constance's eyes snapped open. Her head jerked in alarm, taking in one side of the room, then the other. Finally, her eyes settled in my direction. She blinked rapidly, as if to clear her vision. Automatically I reached for her to offer comfort, when she suddenly stiffened.

Eyes wide as if she'd just seen a ghost, she went completely still. Horrified, her eyes followed my hand. Shaking her head in terror, she opened her mouth to scream. Instantly, I clamped my hand tightly over her mouth, stifling her efforts.

A bone-deep shudder shook her body from head to toe. I kept my hand over her mouth and leaned in closer. I spoke into her ear in low, urgent tones.

"Constance, it's me, Jason. I'm gonna get you out of here," I said. "But you have to be quiet. Do you understand?" Constance stared back at me. Her panic-stricken expression showed no sign of recognition. Her pupils were so dilated that the gray of her irises had practically disappeared into them.

Drugged. Amphetamines, I was sure of it now.

"Constance...I'm going to remove my hand from your mouth. I'm here to help you. Do you understand?"

I could feel her alarm rise. Still restrained to the bed, she'd begun thrashing in earnest. I felt my own panic start to set in. If I freed her mouth, she'd scream. As it was, her muffled cries were growing ever louder.

"Constance--!" I hissed. "It's me, Jason! I'm here to take you out of--!"

The door opened suddenly. Carter strode in, followed by Faith, Diamond, and the two goons.

"You!?" Carter cried out in surprise. Was that a note of recognition, I wondered?

"Mr. Bard?" Faith gasped. "What are you--?"

"What is the meaning of this?" Diamond demanded bombastically.

"Orderlies!" Carter snapped. "Stop him! He's obviously here to harm Miss Demaree." The two goons gave me identical grins, sort of a cross between a piranha and Doberman pincher, which let me know that I was about to get chewed.

I stepped away from the bed, and Constance at once let out the bone-chilling scream I'd been suppressing. Faith immediately ran towards her daughter's bedside. Constance tossed about, more violently and agitated than before.

"What have you done to her?" Faith demanded. Carter was instantly next to her, gently pushing her away as he made a big show of examining his patient. Of course, I didn't have time to pay too much attention to what they were doing, because I had my own problems at the moment--namely Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum.

"What do you mean what have I done to her?" I snarled, not taking my eyes from the two so-called 'hospital orderlies.' They appeared even larger and more menacing than they'd seemed at first.

"I should be asking you that question!" I added. Meanwhile, I took my cane out of where I shoved it into the backpack for safekeeping, while I did dumb things like climb trees and hang dangerously from roofs. I held it out ready for them to attack and glanced over to where Faith stood, her arms protectively around her daughter.

"I gotta hand it to you, lady. You're sure putting on one helluva an Academy-winning performance!"

"I don't know what you mean, Mr. Bard--" she began, but I interrupted.

"And I suppose that your husband changing his Will and making your daughter his sole heir had nothing to do with you and your two 'friends' here scheming to have Constance committed to a mental hospital?"

"Mr. Bard, you're wrong," she insisted. "Just look at Constance. You can see how ill she is. And besides--what does my husband's Will have to do with anything? We're only--"

"You didn't like that fact that your husband went back on his word. That he didn't leave Demaree Cosmetics to you as he'd promised in the past. Instead, he left it to your daughter. You couldn't stand the humiliation and you--"

"Mr. Bard, this is totally absurd! My husband changed his Will because I asked him to."

Okay, she floored me at this point.

"I felt that it was time I stepped down. That it was Constance's turn to--"

"Don't bother explaining anything to him, Faith," Carter interrupted. "My orderlies will take care of him for you, I promise."

"But what about the police?" she asked. "Poor Constance's condition splattered all over the news?! Oh, Adam, there'll be scandal. I-I couldn't bear it."

"Don't worry, Faith," Diamond spoke for the first time. He nodded at Carter who gave his two 'orderlies' the go-ahead to attack me. "I think that we can arrive at a suitable compromise with Mr. Bard."


Which is how I ended here, in the pool house, getting shot at.

When the two goons came at me, I struck one with my cane, and avoided the other's outstretched arms. Using the hooked end, I caught his ankle and pulled. He fell face forward, hitting his massive head on the foot of the bed. As I struggled with the other goon, I heard Carter shouting in the background.

"Get him, you fools!" he cried. "We can't let him leave here!"

"What are you talking about, Adam?" Faith asked, shocked.

"He means that he can't let me leave here alive, Mrs. Demaree," I interjected. I jabbed with my cane, catching my opponent in the chin. "Is that what you want?"

"Is what he saying true, Adam? Richard?" she asked. She brought her hand up and covered her mouth.

"Faith, you shouldn't be in here, my dear," Carter replied soothingly. "A woman of culture such as yourself shouldn't be witness to such violence."

"You mean she shouldn't be a witness, period!" I said. At this moment, the goon I was fighting against slammed his fist in my face. The world teetered momentarily, which was all the time he needed to belt me with a solid roundhouse to the abdomen. All the air whooshed out of me as I bent over, seeing stars in nonexistent constellations.

"Richard, get her out of here," Carter snapped, his tone steely.

"No...I won't leave Constance," Faith protested. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Richard was holding her firmly by the upper arms and dragging her towards the door. "No--! I won't leave my child! Richard! Please! You're hurting me!"

"It's for your own good, Faith," Carter said reassuringly. "We'll protect Constance from this culprit." By then, I was being held up between the two goons. The first one that I'd knocked out had recovered and wasn't in the most pleasant of moods. The other one was simply content to know that he was going to break me into little pieces in another few minutes.

"You know that they've been drugging your daughter, don't you, Mrs. Demaree? You're wonderful Dr. Adam Carter and your dear family friend, Richard Diamond? They've been--" The rest was lost when my babysitter to my left backhanded me across the mouth.

As soon as the door closed on her, Carter whipped out a small pistol.

"You should've taken the hint to stay out of my business, Mr. Bard," he began unpleasantly.

"Then I was right," I mumbled around swollen lips. "You did recognize me just now, when you came through the door. You were the 'uptown' dude who hired the punks who tried to work me over earlier. And later tried to have me drowned."

Shrugging, Carter didn't bother to deny it.

"I would've preferred discarding of a minor annoyance such as yourself, Mr. Bard, by a slightly less obvious means. But that's the nice thing about being a respected member of the community. My version of what happens here tonight will be the one that appears in the papers tomorrow." He aimed straight at my heart.

"But regretfully for your version," he added, sounding not the least bit regretful, "you'll be too cold and stiff to offer one."

I threw myself against the goon to my left and knocked him into the line of fire. He shrieked in pain as the bullet hit him in the arm. At that moment, the room exploded into a free-for-all. The other goon picked up a chair and hauled back to throw it in my direction. I saw him and ducked in time. The chair crashed into the dresser mirror, shattering it.

Carter meanwhile kept trying to drill me, while I dodged and avoided getting hit. The situation was growing out of hand. A stray round narrowly missed Constance and lodged itself in the headboard. She was in harm's way. I knew that I had to put an end to this. Or somehow move the fight to another location.

I was about to take a running leap and attempt tackling Carter, when the good doctor tossed his small pistol aside and pulled out a Glock-17. My eyes widened as I saw that it had a customized longer barrel. Nine inches I estimated. Not taking time to let him re-aim, I dove out the window and slid down the icy, steep roof until I found myself once again going dangerously over the edge. However, this time, I was ready for it.

I deliberately caught the edge of the gutter before I went careening completely over and soon found myself, yet again, hanging from the roof's disconcerting heights. Not looking down, I slowly began easing hand over hand in the direction of the maple trees. As cold as it was, I felt sweat suddenly break out on my forehead. I gritted my jaw as my arms strained with the unaccustomed exercise. My hands grew numb from the cold and the weight they were being forced to support.

That's when Carter probably figured out that I hadn't gone 'gentle into that good night,' and the bullets started whizzing by me in earnest.

Almost ready to give up, this added danger pushed me to greater speeds. Sooner than expected, I was grabbing the same overhanging branch that I'd used to reach the roof earlier. They'd stopped shooting at me temporarily--probably running downstairs in order to reach the doors--but I didn't waste time catching my breath.

I wrapped my arms and legs around the tree trunk and slid down. As soon as my feet hit the ground, I heard them coming around the corner. By now my bum knee felt painfully swollen from the night's exertions. Gritting my teeth against the ache, I ran, stiff-legged, in the opposite direction. Before I reached the far corner of the house, Carter's 'orderlies' spotted me.

I couldn't see Carter or Diamond. They might be going around, trying to encircle me. I took off, not wanting to chance being trapped between the four of them.

They fired off a couple of shots, narrowly missing me. Searching desperately for a place to hide out, I saw the pool house and headed towards it. Kicking the door open, I dove in just as another hail of bullets struck all around me. I rolled on the floor until I wound up beneath a stack of lawn and patio furniture.

So, like I said earlier, I was caught underneath a fusillade of hot lead that made tiny, yet deadly ~zinging~ sounds as they whizzed by overhead. As the rounds impacted on the furniture above me, pieces of a rattan lounger and chair rained down on top of me in a cloud of dust.

I sneezed suddenly and shook my head, disgusted with myself. Some hotshot private investigator I was.

I thought of Faith Demaree and what she'd said about her husband changing his Will at her behest. I also recalled the real concern she'd demonstrated for Constance. Had I been wrong about her? Was she an unwilling dupe in this whole scheme? I wanted to believe that.

Suddenly, I realized that there hadn't been anything in a long time that I'd wanted to believe in more. At least, not since Barbara left. Pathetic, I know. A grown man moping over the girl that got way. But you don't know Barbara. Women like her only come along once in a lifetime.

And now I wanted to believe in a mother's love for her daughter.

"Bard! You ain't got a chance, Bard. Come on out and we promise...we'll make it quick."

Clenching my jaw, I looked around the small pool house for anything useful. Not much there except rattan furniture, a large umbrella, a forgotten swim cap, and a few other odds and ends.

"Come on, Bard! It's freezing out here!"

"Yeah! And you don't want to make us mad, do you?"

"If we get mad, we'll only take it out you when we catch your miserable carcass."

As my eyes scanned the room in growing hopelessness, they fell upon what looked like a fusebox. Eyes lighting with a sudden idea, I low crawled to the area directly under the fusebox. Then, despite the unceasing hail of lead, I took a chance and stood, flipping it open.

"And it won't be fast, neither!"

I quickly located the control switch to the pool pump generator and took my mini amp out and Swiss Army knife out of my pocket. I easily removed the amp's outer cover and found the miniature RF transmitter. One thing a guy who dates Barbara Gordon learns early on their relationship: You'd better know your equipment--both its design capabilities and those that were never listed in the original specs.

"Oh, yeah?" I called, using the knife's screwdriver attachment to make some necessary adjustments to the transmitter. "Sounds to me like you goons are both too chicken to come in and get me!"

Silence. I took the earpiece and again used the screwdriver attachment to make some quick changes, ensuring that it could now receive the adjusted RF signal. I slapped the mini-amp to the fusebox, its self-adhesive outer skin adhering to the metal strip.

"Two big goons like you!" I taunted. "Too afraid to take me on, huh? I knew guys like you in the Army. Know what we did with them? We--"

I heard what sounded like a roar and a screech from outside. I grinned and then forced myself to do the hard part: I waited. They still had guns, I knew, and what I had in mind required split-second timing. So, I waited.

They burst in the door, spraying the pool house with another volley of bullets. I don't know how so many rounds managed to strike everywhere around me--above me, behind me, to my right and left--and yet miss me, but I guess tonight just wasn't my night to die. Instead, I dove out of the way as soon as they burst in, and made one final adjustment to the earpiece. As soon as I did, I threw it towards my would-be killers.

When the earpiece was in mid-flight, a high-pitched signal began to be emitted from the direction of the fusebox. It was the mini-amp--the adjustments I'd made had worked.

In seconds the sound went from just ear grating, to too high for human ears to hear. Unfortunately, for my favorite goons, the earpiece I'd just tossed towards them was actually a miniature receiver, and when the RF signal emission reached a certain harmonics range with it, the earpiece exploded unexpectedly in a bright, magnesium flashbang.

It wasn't much. The flash couldn't hurt them. But it blinded and confused them temporarily. Just long enough for me to kick the weapons from their hands and then knock them both out. I quickly found some rope and tied their hands behind their backs.

Looking down at my handiwork, I smiled. Yep...I was some kind of private investigator all right!


The rest was almost disappointingly cliché.

By now, the sleet had turned to snow, and it was coming down hard. I hurried back to the manor as quickly as I could. My limp made trekking through the freshly falling snow awkward and painful. When I entered the den where I'd seen them earlier, I saw that Constance had been removed from her upstairs bedroom and was now sleeping fitfully on the couch, crying out from whatever drug-induced terrors she'd been forced to witness. Faith sat next to her, offering what solace she could through her quiet presence.

Carter and Diamond were arguing about--get this--the current road conditions and the pros and cons of staying or making a getaway. I gave a mental sigh. They just didn't make crooks like they used to.

"Okay, hands up!" I ordered, gun in hand. Carter and Diamond immediately froze in place, staring at the customized Glock. The weapon felt uncomfortable. A little too much unnecessary firepower for my taste. Besides, while I was well qualified on most handguns, I didn't really like to use them. Death was too permanent--clean even. I preferred my crooks to rot for a long time in Blackgate.

Appraising these two, I pegged them for a couple of pansies. They'd last an hour--tops!--in Gotham's infamous Big House. But, since they'd had no qualms about using guns against me, I figured I could return the favor. And remain in good conscience.

Hey, I only said I didn't like to kill. I never said that I wouldn't hurt them.

"Now, see here!" Diamond cried pompously.

"How did you--?" Carter began, looking around helplessly for his goons.

"You just can't get good help these days," I deadpanned.

"Mr. Bard!" Faith cried. "Please! Constance is so ill. We must get her to a hospital and soon. Please...! You must help her!" I glanced at Constance and didn't like what I saw. Glaring at Carter, I walked up to him and pressed the gun barrel against his temple.

"You are going to do something to help her," I said with quiet menace. "And you're doing it now." As emphasis, I deliberately chambered a round. He gave a little jump and sweat broke out in a beaded sheen along his hairline. "And if I even think you're thinking about doing something to hurt her, I won't hesitate to squeeze the trigger."

Carter nodded in quick, jerky movements. I could almost smell his fear. He picked up his bag, and in slow measured steps to avoid startling me, moved towards Constance. Taking out his stethoscope, he began to examine her.

"I'll call for an ambulance," I told them. I glanced out the window and saw that the snow was falling harder and faster. Thinking about the icy road conditions, I began to worry. It was possible that we were about to be snowed in for the night.

"We need to get her to the emergency room." Carter's words brought me back to the present.

I gave him a skeptical look. "And why should I believe you?"

"Because you told me to do the job right or else!" he snapped. Holding Constance's left wrist, he checked her pulse. "I don't like this, Faith," he said. "I want--"

"Don't you dare tell me what you want!" Faith snarled, pushing him away and protectively gathering Constance in her arms. "You did this to her. How could you, Adam? I trusted you. I even thought I could be in love with you. How could you betray us like this? I don't understand."

Carter didn't reply. Instead, he moved away from them and sat down in the chair opposite.

"And you Richard," Faith continued. "You were supposed to be Armand's friend. Why--?"

"Yes, Richard, tell us why," I echoed. "We're all ears."

"In another minute, pally, you're gonna be all dead!" I froze at the vaguely familiar voice behind me. Faith gave a small gasp and covered her mouth in sudden fear.

"Diamond, take the gun," the voice behind me said. Addressing me he added, "And you, don't try nuthin' funny, 'cause me and Mike see, we don't mind it one bit if we kill you now or later. Do we Mike?"

"Naw, Charlie. Don't mind it one bit."

Looking frightened, Diamond nervously walked up to me, giving the muzzle a wide berth. I wanted to smack him across the face, but instead, looked at Faith. She had a direct line of sight to whoever was behind me. I raised a questioning brow and she nodded imperceptibly. My surprise visitors were armed. Sighing, I handed over the gun.

"Okay, what now?" I asked, half-turning to look at the two goons who'd somehow untied themselves earlier. Like I said, I've never been that good at square knots. Should've killed them when I had the chance.

"This!" Diamond grunted. Some instinct warned me. I might've been a lousy Boy Scout, but I was damned good at unarmed combat. Instantly, I shifted to my good leg, turned and lowered my upper body at the same time. The lawyer's own momentum carried him clumsily over and across my back.

Diamond yelled in surprise. Faith screamed. Carter sort of bleated, like a sheep or something.

"Down!" I shouted, struggling with Diamond for the gun. Mike or Charlie, I didn't know which was which, fired. A strange gurgling sound came from where I'd last seen Carter standing. Without hesitation, I pinned Diamond against my chest, his back to me. My arm around his neck held him securely.

"What are you doing?" he choked, terrified. Ignoring him, I grabbed his gun hand, placing my own hand over it and raised the gun.

"Charlie! Look out!" The goon on the left took a flying leap out of the way. Mike, I guess. The other one--Charlie--dove in the opposite direction. He fired off several rounds at us. I felt Diamond violently convulse as the bullets impacted against his body. My trigger finger over his, I coolly squeezed off three shots.

Charlie went still. Methodically, I untangled Diamond's fingers from mine, and without giving him another thought, tossed his limp body aside. I turned to Mike.

"Freeze."

Mike was sitting perfectly still, hunched over where he'd landed earlier behind a decorative table. Without being told to do so, he'd already placed his hands behind his head. Feeling slightly exhilarated, I walked over to Charlie's body to inspect my handiwork. Two shots hit center mass directly over the heart. A third struck slightly above and to the left.

Sloppy.

I looked around the den. Charlie and Diamond dead. As for Carter? I walked over to where he'd fallen and checked him. Shoulder wound. Still breathing. Good. Maybe now we'd get some answers, I thought with satisfaction. A soft sob from behind startled me from my post-battle high.

Faith was staring at me, her eyes wide with fright. She was huddled over Constance, rocking her slightly. I felt suddenly ashamed. I'd just killed one man and was indirectly responsible for the death of a second one. And here I was feeling proud of myself. Glancing down at the gun in my hand, I suddenly remembered why I hated the things.

Not as I'd said before because I preferred my bad guys to rot in jail, but because death was so permanent. And I'd already had my fill of killing. Of taking the lives of faceless people I'd never met, of people I had nothing against while in the service of my country.

More importantly, of seeing that same look of terror that I now saw in Faith's eyes on the faces of the very men, women, and children whom I'd been sent to 'protect.'

Unable to face her, I walked over to the phone and called Harvey.


Feeling weary, I stood outside in the cold, watching as the Medivac helicopter was loaded. The storm had finally passed, and in one of those odd weather phenomena common to the East Coast, had blown completely out to sea. The sky was now crystal clear, each star a diamond pinpoint in velvet black.

As I'd figured, Harvey and his boys had already been on their way, but had been slightly delayed because of road conditions. Still, a little ice and snow were simply not enough to stop the big guy.

"Okay, hotshot, here's what we got--!" he began.

"Carter was responsible for Armand Demaree's death," I interrupted. "Demaree was going to die anyway, but Carter sent him on to the other side a little ahead of schedule."

"Yeah, and of course, he was then available to offer comfort and support to the poor, grieving widow," Harvey added dryly.

"Faith Demaree loved her husband. She didn't know--"

"I know, I know, hotshot!" Harvey interrupted. "You ain't the only one who's done his homework here. Faith says that she began seeing Carter shortly after her husband's death. When Constance accused them of being responsible for her father's death, Faith chalked it off to--and I quote--her daughter's natural feelings of betrayal at her mother taking up with someone new so soon after the death of her father."

"Which according to the good doctor was about the time he first spiked the kid's food and drink with amphetamines," I offered.

"Go to the head of the class," Harvey said. "The drugs played whacko with the her head and she started acting all psycho and stuff. At one point she even pushed the old doll down the stairs." Thinking of Faith's beauty and elegance, I could only roll my eyes at Harvey's description of her as an 'old doll.'

Instead, I added, "This was about the time that Faith and the company's board of directors had been discussing the transition necessary for Constance to take over as president." I shook my head. "But her erratic behavior basically poured a bucket of cold water on that idea."

"Which was exactly as Carter had planned. As for our shyster lawyer Diamond's involvement," Harvey segued. "Apparently, Faith had discussed with her 'good friend' her idea of bringing in an outside accounting firm to go over the company's books. It was only a formality, she said--a way for her tenure as company president to smoothly turn over the company with a clean bill of health. However, Diamond didn't much care for the idea."

"Because Diamond and Associates had 'hired' the current accounting firm that had been handling the company's books for over 30 years. A company that happened to have a silent partner," I said. "Diamond and Associates."

"You know, you're not as dumb as you look."

"Thanks."

"You're welcome."

We glared at each other.

"Diamond had been cooking Demaree Cosmetics' books for years," Harvey continued. "And pocketing a not inconsiderable amount of money in the process. Apparently Carter knew about Diamond's little side scheme and threatened to expose him, unless he helped out with his own little plan to drive our Miss Demaree, the younger, crazy."

"Which he did," I said. "Diamond drew up the commitment papers, and was even working with Carter on a pre-nuptial agreement that would've guaranteed the good doctor several million should Faith Demaree ever agree to marry him."

"And I was about to say, yes," a quiet voice said from behind us. We both turned. I looked at her admiringly. Even after all she'd been through, her appearance was impeccable not a hair out of place. "I should've known," she said sadly. She shook her head and shivered.

"Will Constance be all right?" I asked.

Faith shrugged, nodded, shook her head, and then shrugged again. "They said it's too early to tell for sure. They're confident that eventually she will recover fully, but the road ahead will be very long and painful. And they can't make any promises." Again, Faith appeared indescribably sad. "When I think of what that monster did--to my husband and to my poor child..." Taking a deep breath, she straightened her shoulders and raised her chin.

"Whatever happens, Demaree Cosmetics is hers. And it'll wait for her until she's ready to take it over. I'll make sure of it." Smiling, she held her hand out.

"Mr. Bard, I owe you a debt of gratitude. My daughter's life is very precious to me. I am forever in your debt. Thank you." The Medivac crew chief indicated that the helicopter was ready to lift off. "Gentlemen." She gave slight nod and turned to go.

"I guess she hasn't seen your bill yet!" Harvey said with a laugh. Slapping me on the back, he began heading towards his squad car.

"Buy a girl a cup of coffee?"

I turned towards the warm voice. Rene. Unable to help it, I Barbara's voice faintly echoed the same words. Buy a girl a cup of coffee? Seeing Rene's look of shy disappointment, I determinedly shook Barbara's memory out of my head. For the present, at least. Besides, how did the song put it?

If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with.

Smiling suddenly, I took Rene's arm in mine. "Rene, I'd love a cup of coffee. But, um, I'm afraid that you'll have to do the buying. I'm a little short right now." She rolled her eyes and made a sour face.

"Harvey's right, Jase. You are a piece of work."

"I know. But you love me anyway."

The End

Syl Francis --who totally ignores current canon in her Batman/Nightwing fanfiction -- teaches by day, feeds her cats by night, and on occasion enters into an intelligent conversation with her husband.

 
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