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THE HONCHO OF GREAT MEADOW VILLAGE CHILDCARE % at first howard merely cruised Critter’s hard drive, telling himself he was looking for clues but actually spending more time than necessary eyeballing the porn. The exercise began as exciting, grew tedious, then disturbing, and finally educational by telling him something of Critter’s disposition. Critter didn’t settle on any particular sexual activity . He filed away a little bit of everything, with emphasis on the illegal, near-illegal, and downright embarrassing stuff. The pictures were always accompanied by notes regarding the posters of the material along with mysterious codes such as “In 3g.” It occurred to Howard that Critter was less interested in the collections than in the collectors. Howard remembered that it was Internet porn that had ruined Critter’s porn shop and peep show emporium. For Critter porn was neither a hobby nor an obsession, it was a business. But what kind of business? How does Critter Jordan make money from Internet porn? Critter’s metal desk included a station for his laptop beside a much bigger desk where he would write with thick-point Number 1 pencils on yellow legal notepads. By going through the file cabinets, Howard found manila folders that referenced the computer files. The “In” in “In 3g” was short for “incest”; “3g” meant the third last name starting with the letter G. In the manila envelopes Howard found websites, email addresses, telephone numbers, and notes. Critter was a regular in chat lines and had discovered the identities of some of the porn collectors. What was odd was he was selling them items from his flea market: “Roll top desk, primo condition.” He was asking for and getting two or three times the going rate for the objects he was selling. 156 Makes no sense. Yes, it does. Think about it. Howard did think about it, but nothing in his mind fired off. Then, that night while he was in the bath tub, imagining what it would like to be unable to get out, his anxiety was relieved by an intrusive thought: Critter is indulging himself in low-grade blackmailing. He’s not after big money. Probably most of the perverts he tracks down are not all that rich. He allows his victims to keep some pride by selling them items they can use, even if the price is outrageous. Howard lay there in the tub thinking thinking thinking. Howard recognized Jordan reasoning at work: Critter’s system of blackmailing helped Critter justify himself in his own mind, that he was not felon but a successful business man. Congrats, Howie. You’re a real cop now—well, sort of. No doubt some of Critter’s victims were not amused. He must have scores of potential enemies who would want him dead. Suppose one of his victims came after Critter but got Billy instead? Was poor Billy collateral damage? Funny how that word “collateral” changed over time. For years I thought it was money or property you promised to fork over if you didn’t pay off your loans and was preceded by the words “put up.” You “put up” collateral. Somehow the word got changed around to mean the killing of innocents along with those targeted. Now “collateral” is associated with the word “damage,” as in “collateral damage.” In the end, the porn connection only confused Howard’s main line of inquiry, which was to discover who had cut down his elm tree and why. It was the why—the motivation—that nagged at him. Was he, Howard Elman, mere collateral damage from the felling of a tree? No, Howie, you were the target. The tree was the collateral damage. Constable Howard Elman successfully struggled out of the tub and went to bed wearing only his cockeyed thinking cap. A couple of days before the planning board hearing, Howard got a lead while he was going through Critter’s files. It was just a scrap note in a manila envelope marked “Lucre Out.” The note said, “Tubby coming by this afternoon for his filthy lucre.” The note was dated the day after the elm had been taken down. Tubby McCracken had been a high 157 school friend of F. Latour back when he was Frederick-don’t-call-meFreddy . Elenore had referred to Tubby as “the bad influence.” Tubby had left Darby, served time out west someplace, and now he was back; it was safe to assume he would be short of cash. It used...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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