At Providence's Gate
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Chapter Fourteen

          After Chris left, I went upstairs, took a shower in the public bathroom and changed back into my one set of clothing.  I had some more changes of clothes in my backpack back at the dumpster, but was reluctant to see if it was still there.  If the police didnt find it, the character that stole the diamonds may have and I was in no hurry to talk to either the authorities or the thief.

            Goodwill had a great superstore on Fredericksburg Road so I went to the downtown VIA Transit Center, purchased what was called a Big Pass for 15 dollars and then set out to do some shopping.  The Big Pass is the best transportation buy in the city.  It allows you unlimited rides on any of VIAs fleet of comfortable and usually not overly-crowded buses.

            The superstore had a super selection of not too used clothing and footwear and I spent almost one hundred dollars on an almost new wardrobe.  I also went to a Big Lots store down the street and purchased underwear, socks a steam iron and towels.  The entire shopping trip totaled less than 150 dollars and I was quite proud of myself.

            Arriving back at the Yellow Rose just as darkness was preparing to settle on the city, I went up to my room and deposited my shopping bags there.  Then I went to the McDonalds about three blocks west and pigged out on two double cheeseburgers, a large fries and a medium Coke.

            I was heady from the events of the past 24 hours and the new lease on life they seemed to be providing me.  After I ate, I took a stroll down the riverwalk and simply enjoyed being alive for the first time in many many months.  Arriving back at my hotel, I chose what I would wear to my job interview, ironed the outfit and went to sleep.

            Sleep didnt come as easily for Jeff Begley that night.  He had distributed all but around 50 of the flyers he had made and not one homeless person reported knowing or even seeing Nick Soto.  What if Soto didnt take the case?  What if the cops recovered it?  No, this Soto guys got it alright, thought Jeff, a hot sensation rising in his chest.

            But why would he stick around San Antonio with all those diamonds and that cash?  He mulled the questions around in his mind, trying to convince himself that I had the case and had not left the city.  Actually Begley had no choice but to try to locate me. 

The million dollars plus he inherited as a result of the accidental deaths of his parents was tied up in a trust that allows him 50,000 dollars a year until he reaches 30 when it would all go to him.  A lot of good it would do him in prison.

With less than 8 thousand dollars left of the money in his Begley checking account and with a total of 3345 dollars he had withdrawn from Bouchers and Biggs accounts, he knew he could not leave and be able to live in the style to which he desired to become accustomed.

            After several hours of tossing and turning in bed, while trying to devise a plan of action for tomorrow, Jeff Begley finally drifted off into a fitful and not very restful sleep.  He kept seeing the bearded face of Nick Soto laughing hilariously at him and that image made him awaken no less than five times during the night.

            Matt Hammond and Maggie Wong worked until late in the evening.  They, along with Dan Foley, viewed tape after tape taken of the cashiers lines at the HEB Marketplace over the 72 hours leading up to the truck crash.  Each had a yearbook in his or her hands, scouring the videos for the faces that bore red circles: Mel Dixon, Frank Carr and Al Bateman.

            The next morning, Foley, Wong and Hammond would be back on the case, but now, with pictures becoming blurry from lack of sleep, Matt decided it was time to call it a night.  He instructed Dan to return to viewing the videos bright and early the next morning.  He told his two team members he was picking up Ina and taking her to the hospital to bring her father home first thing in the morning and asked Maggie if shed like to go with him or Dan.  She though it would be more productive to view video and Matt told Dan and Maggie hed arrive as soon as he could.

            It was nearly 10 pm when Matt pulled his black 2001 Lexus from the police department parking lot.  He had been on the force for 28 years and this was his most puzzling and difficult case to date.  Nothing seemed to be what it was.  And, since this very probably would be one of his last cases, he hoped he could wind it up before his retirement in six months and 15 days.

During almost his entire career he had been married and devoted to one woman, Thelma Porter Hammond.  However, when the kids started leaving the nest three years ago, their relationship changed more and more with the departure of each child.

Matt began to spending more time at work and less with Thelma.  She really didnt mind, her career was taking off and frankly business thrilled her more than being in bed with Matt did lately.  As her desire for intimacy waned, her reputation as an interior decorator grew.  Three months ago, less than two weeks after their youngest son, Eric, left home to become a soldier, Thelma left too.

Matt wasnt sure why and really didnt care.  He made no effort to get her back.  She earned more than enough money to take care of herself and if she wanted her freedom, he was willing to give it to her.

These were the thoughts Matt Hammond had rolling around in his mind while driving home at a little after 10 pm, less than 24 hours after the biggest jewelry heist in history.  I have to keep my mind on business, Matt told himself when his mobile phone helped bring him back to the reality of the moment.

Hammond, was all Matt barked into his little flip phone.  On the other end of the line there was a pause, then he heard, I hope Im not bothering you, Matt.  It was Ina Walstein.  Not at all, er uh, Ina, he said awkwardly, Is everything okay?

No Matt, everything is NOT okay, she said emotionally.  My father is in the hospital.  My business is up in the air until this insurance stuff is taken care of.  Im alone in this big old house Realizing Ina was about to lose it, Matt interrupted, Ina, look Im just now leaving the office, I live near the Olmos Basin, not very far from you.  Would you like me to stop by?

There was another pause and then he heard Inas coy response, Youd do that for me?  Slightly taken off guard by her flirtatious response, Matt said, Sure, Ina, youve had a pretty stressful day and you are alone.  I think you just need someone to talk to.  Ill be waiting Matt, youve got the address? she said in the form of a question.  Ill be there in ten minutes, Matt said and terminated the conversation.

Matt pulled in to the circular drive that was in front of the expansive Walstein residence.  Ina was standing in the front doorway, wearing a shear white nightgown, her arms crossed over her ample breasts.  After assuring herself that Matt got a good look at her in her sleepwear, she donned a robe that was nearly as shear as the nightgown.  It was red.

Determined not to let the situation get beyond his control, he stopped short of opening the outer door and asked, Are you alright?  I am now that you are here, Matt,  Ina replied.  Come in.

That might not be a good idea, Ms. Walstein, Matt said in his most professional police detective voice. Come now, Matt, we are both adults, Ina replied invitingly as she opened the door.

When the burly detective stepped inside Ina closed the door and turned toward him.  He was standing a good four feet from the sexy and confident woman and while that made for an adequate comfort zone, he feared shed be coming towards him and Matt blurted out, Look, Ive got to tell you, we both are pretty vulnerable right now.  I usually dont let people know about my personal life, but, well, my wife left me three months ago.  Weve been married 28 years, as long as Ive been a police man.  So you can see why I am so uncomfortable with you in that, uh, nightgown and us being alone and all.

Matt, Ina retorted in a scolding manner, Im not trying to seduce you.  I am just grateful for your kindness in coming over tonight.  Ive been so alone and so nervous since I left the office this evening.  I promise I wont bite.  Now, would you like a cup of coffee, tea, maybe something stronger?

Got any beer, Matt said lowly.  Beer it is, Ina said brightly, Heineken, okay?  Great, said the detective, following her into the kitchen.

Ina told Matt that she appreciated having him to talk with and that she hoped they might become friends.  Then they each proceeded to spend the next two hours seated at the breakfast bar sharing the trials and tribulations of their domestic lives.

Ina told Matt about her husband who had died.  She did so in a subdued, yet controlled manner.  It was the first time she ever talked with anybody besides her parents about Eric and she told Matt she felt a great weight lift from her shoulders.  Matt told Ina about Thelma, how she seemed to become colder and more distant when one-by-one, each of their four children left home to be on their own.  Coincidentally, his final bird to leave the nest was named Eric as well, he said.

The antique grandfather clock in the hallway chiming 12 times reminded Matt how late it had gotten.  Looking at his watch to confirm the hour, Matt said, Ina, Ive really appreciated talking with you tonight. I think it helped me as much as you.  Ina replied, I know it helped me.  Ill be able to rest tonight and I just know we are going to become great friends.  She opened the front door for Matt and stood on her tip toes to plant a friendly kiss on his cheek.  Matt felt his cheeks become warm and took Inas hands in his and said, Thanks.

Ina closed the door and locked it.  She watched as Matt unlocked the door to his Lexus with the remote and entered the car.  When he closed the door, the deep gray tint of the window obliterated him from view, but Ina knew Matt was there and she fantasized that he took one last look at her standing in the doorway before he started the engine and drove away.

After the taillights of the Lexus disappeared behind the stonewall that surrounded the Walsteins front yard, Ina turned toward the kitchen and said aloud, Im going to have you Detective Matthew Hammond.  I havent had a man or felt this way about one in 14 years.  It feels good and I am going to have you.

Ina then went to the kitchen, placed the empty beer cans in the recycle box, checked the back door, turned out the lights and retired to her room upstairs.  As she removed her robe and let the bedspread and top sheet down, Ina once again thought about Matt and she knew he would be all she would think about for the rest of the night