"I think my real personal stake is you," she said without looking away. Then she surprised John with a wink.

He leaned over and kissed her softly. She squeezed his hand as he backed off. "Don't think I've ever had a case like this before."

"I'm your first?"

John smiled.

They sat holding hands for a few more minutes, digesting their roles in the case and in their relationship. The thin sound of a cheap radio was coming from the kitchen behind the bar. Late night rock filled the air. John did not want to see her go for all the record deals in the world.

"I agree," she said. "Besides, it's getting late. I think I'll get myself home."

"Wait a minute. Let me say something to Brad and then I'll walk you to your car."

Out in the parking lot, the air smelled fresh with a hint of rain. There was a gentle, steady breeze blowing between the hotels from the calm Atlantic Ocean. The lot was almost empty and her car was sitting out by itself near the road. The rigging on the flagpole at the gas station across the street clanked in the wind.

"Well, when I got here it seemed like a good spot," Tammy said.

John laughed. "Look where I'm at." His Jeep was backed into the small space between the dumpster and the side of the building. "When I got here that was a pretty good place to park."


She got out her keys as they approached her car and unlocked her door. John reached in front of her to open the door. "Such a gentleman," she remarked and kissed him on the cheek before sitting down in the driver's seat.

This was not the kiss John was hoping for, but it was better than nothing. He made sure her legs were in before he shut the door. She rolled down her window. "Lock the doors," he reminded her.

She smiled and then pressed the power lock button. "Should I call you tomorrow?"

"I'll probably call you first."

She started the engine and he backed up a step. There was an obvious chemistry developing between them. Finally, Tammy's face relaxed and her mouth spread into a broad grin.

The wind picked up as she drove out of the parking lot and turned north on Baltic Avenue.

John was on his way back into the Sundowner when he noticed a folded white piece of paper on the windshield of his Jeep. He didn't notice it a few minutes ago when he pointed out his Jeep to Tammy. He plucked it from under the windshield wiper and froze in his tracks as he read. In blue ink, BACK OFF NOW OR DIE was written in angry bold print.

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