This is my psychiatrist's couch. Take from it what you will.
But do leave a note.
I still am a late middle aged former government worker marking time until the cliff.
Short Fiction, Doggerel and Insensitive Opinion are spoken here.
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Silently, Jim motioned the officers in. Jerry sat with a beer stopped halfway to his mouth, looking like he saw a ghost. Detective Williams suppressed a grin at the sight. The scene was out of all the best mystery books. They had never seen them coming.
"I hope we haven't interrupted dinner."
Heads slowly shook in unison. Jerry turned off the music and fetched chairs from the closet, placing them on the opposite side of the table. The detectives walked along the sides of the room, making mental notes of possible hiding places. Satisfied there were no surprises, they sat and began the process.
Petite, with coal colored hair and matching eyes hidden behind thick rimmed glasses, Sgt. Angela Lopez was the image of a professional. Behind the façade, however, was a street smart woman who had seen a lot in her career. Ray Williams was the was her polar opposite. The sandy crew cut belied his military background. The rather large gut said he didn’t like to train. But neither Jerry or Jim were willing to take him in a fight.
With a voice like fingernails on chalkboard, she stated why they were there.
"We are following up on a request from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. They want to speak to Ms. Schffier about a boat transaction she was involved in." She pulled a sheet of paper from her notebook. "They have reason to believe she has been in this area. Do you know her?"
Jim looked intently at the paper. It was a mugshot from 2012. The zombie like figure with mascara stained eyes and darkish red hair done up in a messy bun. She resembled a sad clown. He wondered if it had been her first arrest. He slid the paper across the table to Jerry.
"We met her a couple of times, didn't we Jerry?"
Jerry put down his beer to look. Scratching his ear, he handed the paper back to the detective.
"Yeah. Nice girl. But she hasn't been around here in six or seven months.
"Excuse me," Sgt Lopez turned toward Jerry. "I didn't get your name."
"What do you do for a living, Mr Holden?"
"Boat mechanic at the Marina." Jerry grinned. Lopez wasn't bad looking and there was no ring on the hand. He bet she was a zoo in bed. Of course, this was no place to find out.
"And Mr. Herrington, your work is?
The answer came out a little too sarcastic.
"Retired. Got hurt working on a freighter and got enough settlement buy this place and cover my bills. I really don't know why this..."
Detective Williams spoke up.
"You knew Harvey Lloyd, right? Ms. Shiffer was his partner and we have reason to believe she might have had a part in his death. Can you tell us exactly when you saw her last?"
Dejectedly, he sighed.
"The last time I saw either them was at a party on the houseboat a couple of days before they left town."
Sgt. Lopez looked up from her notebook. "Do you remember the name of the boat?"
"It was called “The Last Chance Harvey." Annoyed, Jim took a long drink. "It was a 44 footer he lived on down here at the Marina. The Monday after the party was when Harvey’s indictment came in. He left and I assumed Corinne went with him."
Making direct eye contact, Williams asked the next question.
"And she never came back?"
"No. It didn't occur to me she hadn't until about month later." Jim paused. "A few of us asked around, but nobody every did anything."
Sgt. Lopez’s eyes were dark pools through the thick lenses. The next question was softer.
"You liked her, didn't you?"
Jerry piped up.
"We all did. Harvey treated Corinne like a two-bit hooker. She deserved better."
"And, Mr. Holden. When was the last time you saw them?"
"The day after the party. I was working in the next slip when she came to get something out of The Harvey. Said she was going to Miami for a few days." A pause. "She did looked scared when I asked if she was going with Harvey. She wouldn't answer."
Scribbling intently, Lopez asked a question they weren’t expecting.
"Did either of you date her?"
A wry smile passed over Jim's face. "A couple of casual dinners when Harvey was out of town. Nothing intimate."
We were together, I forget the rest. The thought echoed and Jim glanced toward to floor. Sgt Lopez picked up on it.
"And you regret that."
"Are there any relatives you know of?"
The answer came a little to quickly. "She never talked about family."
"Never said anything about her background?
"Her Dad was a drunk and her Mom beat her. She left home at 17 to become a Boat Bunny, drifting up and down the East Coast."
"A girl who hangs around docks."
Lopez and Williams looked at each other. This was all the information they were going to get. They rose in unison and shook the men’s hands.
“Well, I think we have everything we need for now. If we need anything else, can we come back?”
Is it to Telluride? I wish. I had lunch with a friend yesterday and she showed me a brochure for the house she just contracted for in Aurora. She moves in June. I’ve never been there. John Denver said it was a fantasy in moonlight to get high there (not that I do that anymore). And it sounds so much nicer than Buffalo.
My current fantasy project is called “One Lap of America”. I take a trip around the country to all the sites I’ve been told about over the years. The original plan was thought up when I was in high school and I saw an article in the Whole Earth Catalog on converting school buses into living quarters. It was a nice day dream, but real life got in the way of the mojo. Now I have more time the dream has been rekindled. YouTube is a treasure trove of Nomad attention seekers willing to give me tips and advice.
And, my wife is somewhat on board with it.
We’ve done a couple of trade shows and looked at rigs that would fit. We have also increased the number of short trips (like this one to Nashville) to gauge how long we can be out without having issues. I found my tolerance for being away from home has increased as long as I’m in control of the situation (don’t put me in an airport with an unlimited delay).
In 2005, my family did a road trip up the east coast. It was one of the few times I wanted to fly, but the wife said planes were too expensive. Overall, it worked out for the best and cemented in my mind the allure of floating from town to town with no set itinerary. How long would be do it? I’ll start with two weeks and see where it goes from there. The whole circuit would take 6-9 months, longer if I throw some Canadian stops along the way.
How long before I take off for real? I don’t know for sure. More than a little depends on finances, maybe a year or two. We’ll see.
Jerry climbed in the boat, looking like he’d lost a knife fight. Three gashes were visible, the largest sporting a makeshift tourniquet. Three inches long and shallow enough not to need stitches. It did use all the gauze they had, though. Given the circumstances, they had to go back. The last bit of tape went over the cut as the rain started.
Thunder rolled as they skidded across the lake. A smudged rainbow arced behind them as pulled up, belying the storm to come. After tying up, they grabbed the camera and booked it up to Jim’s cabin for showers. Afterward, they settled with some Chinese delivery to see what they captured.
The video flickered on the laptop screen. Sienna brown punctuated with an occasional curious bass, just like the first dive. The rhythmic in and out of Jerry's regulator soothed their ragged nerves. Jim thought of late night TV ads he would see hawking sleep aids. Maybe there was a market for this.
About three minutes in the wreck came into view, the gaping hole just above the mud. The storm hadn't changed anything. At this depth, it would have taken something catastrophic to have made a difference. They paused and replayed the area around the hull, noting melted fiberglass at the edges. The cracks radiating from the center confirmed the internal explosion.
“Amazing the thing is upright”
Jerry backed up the video up and hit replay.
“It should have turtled.” He took a drink. “But it looks like it went straight down.”
“Harvey would have thought of that. Looking for it would be wasted time, though.”
“He was good at hiding his tracks.”
The rest of the video didn’t tell them anything they hadn’t already logged. The bottom of the cabin window had buckled from the sinking, but no other revelations were obvious. Loose dishes and bottles were scattered around the floor of main cabin. A kewpie doll dangled from the lone blade of the ceiling fan, a lone observer to the carnage.
The camera paused on the panties hanging on the door, original pink darkening to magenta through the lens. Funny how they were still there, like an invitation, rather than scattered to the deep. There was a view of Jerry’s hand reaching out for the door knob, only to be pulled back hurriedly.
The glass wasn’t obvious, lodged in the door jamb on the starboard wall. The tear it made was more frightening than it was. They could see Jerry take a rag out of his equipment belt and tie it around the gap. He then swam back out the way he came.
It was almost an afterthought to turn the camera back toward the front window of the boat. It was a slightly different angle than the first time, but the view was surprisingly clear. The rail was there, but no handcuffs. With a sigh, Jerry shut off the laptop and leaned back.
“I was dreaming of finding a body.”
Jim responded with a snort.
“Our imaginations got away from us, especially with the panties on the door.” He took a drink from his beer. “So what do we do now?”
“Hell if I know.” Jerry got up to go to the kitchen. “I know I’d kiss the girl if she showed up right now.”
There was a knock. Tripping on the corner of the table, Jim almost went face first into the door. On the other side was a woman dressed in business clothes. Behind her was a tallish balding man in an open collared shirt.
“James Herrington?” She produced a badge. “My name is Sgt. Lopez with the Hall County Sheriff. This my partner Det. Williams. We’d like to talk to you about Corinne Shiffer.”
He resembled an over sized frog, kicking from bow to stern and back. Diving solo is not recommended for a reason, you could distribute some of the gear. He would swim a little, then stop to adjust an item. Rinse and repeat. Finally, he surfaced and cleared the regulator. And with a kick, Jerry faded into the murky depths.
Jim was left alone with his thoughts. As he turned on the radio, a whippoorwill called to his mate. It sounded as lonely as he was. It would be a little bit before the dive began in earnest. A breeze started to pick up, making the air suddenly fresh. A dark cloud bank was forming on the opposite shore. An owl hooted in response to the false darkness. Slipping on the headset, something became apparent.
They wouldn't finish today.
He was too old to be chasing ghosts. This whole project was like a bad late night movie, one in particular he used like, "The Tell Tale Heart." The main character was haunted by the sound of the heart of the man he had killed. And now her heart was the haunting, even though he had nothing to do with any of this.
He looked down at his watch. Only a couple of minutes had passed. The movie involved a watch, didn't it? Yes, it was the source of the beat. But that was wind up, not A modern Casio on his wrist.
Motown layered over the beat. "Stop...in the Name in Love." Jim was breaking her heart, over and over again. Corinne was kneeling, face vividly before him. There were soundless words and a noose over her head. Everything sped up. Lips looping over and over. The tempo in his chest accelerated. His head marched in time.
What was she saying? "I wish" ? Yeah. "I wish I may, I wish I might"...
"Diver to base...test...test"
He jumped. With a shake of his head, he grabbed the dive log.
"Whoa!" Sputtering into the mike. "Loud...sounds good."
A slug of coffee helped his voice.
"What's the visibility?"
"Bad. Storm kicked up a lot of silt." The regular sighed. "I'm here, though. Much easier to get to from this side."
"How close did we get?"
"About 100 feet. No obstructions."
"As far as I can tell." Another breath. "Light is working."
So far, so good. The next few minutes sounded like a surgeon dictating notes from the deep. A brief introduction to the boat, how it was damaged and how it came to be found. Jerry began at the port bow, taking pictures of the damaged hull. Working toward the stern rail, an abnormality was found in the cabin window and noted. Decking was intact. Good information if they salvaged the beast.
Each bit of information was logged as he went through the main cabin. Several empty bottles on the floor. The remains of a broken dish lay on a counter, waiting for a chance to grab a suit. No surprises, really. It was turning into a wild goose chase. One they were obligated to finish.
A bit of static.
Jim looked up from the pad.
"Did not get that. Repeat."
The next transmission was clearer.
"Caught my hand on the window." A pause. "Bleeding. I'm coming out.'
Shit. How? Jim tapped the button.
"Roger that. I'll be ready."
Unclipping the first aid kit from its holder, He tossed it on the dash It had the usual variety of bandages and gauze patches, along with a needle and thread for stitches. Nah. If it's that bad, we'll just go to the Emergency Room. They were boat trash and story of getting it caught it on a boat prop would probably be believed.
Why couldn’t anything just run smooth? It was always something with Jerry, breaking his leg water skiing, wrecking his car...Come to think of it, wasn't that about when the boat disappeared? A chill came over him.
The radio came back to life.
"Diver to base. I looked in the stateroom window on the way up. Handcuffs are gone. Repeat, gone."
Jim took the helm while Jerry suited up. The surface was almost glass smooth this early. He took a sip of coffee and put the mug back in the holder. When Jerry finished, he sat on the bench and sighed.
"This is bizarre."
Jim laughed and took a slug of coffee.
"We're all pretty bizarre when you think about it. Some of us are just better at hiding it."
Jerry snorted. "Thank you, Andrew."
With a laugh, they settled down for rest of the trip. It was important to be focused.
Ashy clouds drifted over the tree line on the far shore. He shrugged. They had been diving for a long time and knew preparation was key. He made a mental list of the equipment, four double tank rigs, a GoPro, and a slick radio rig. Jim had gotten it in trade a while back and it made things easier. Bags of strawberries and nuts were on the dashboard and a couple of gallons of water in the cooler. You didn’t want to eat a lot, but getting dehydrated caused cramps.
As he brought the boat around the bend, a rainbow arced over the southwest shore. The sight made him think of Corrine’s smile and it calmed him. Maybe he was part of a little girl’s dream. The one where the prince comes in shining armor t her rescue. Or maybe it is just a piece of driftwood.
Jim began to run through the order for today. The itinerary was ambitious. Each trip would be 45 minutes, including decompression, with an hour break. Starting at the stern, they would work up to the stateroom, recording everything along the way. Given Harvey's past, there could be anything. Jerry would go first, while he stayed topside to monitor the equipment.
Long day, but it would be worth it.
Three good things came out of the first dive: They found the wreck, it was stable and the cabin was clear of debris. It was as unexpected as a unicorn. Often they had turned turtle, making entry impossible. Or worse, perched on a ledge where any pressure would make them slide. Last Chance was far enough in the silt where it wouldn't be a problem. It would be a pain if they ever salvaged the thing, though.
On the first dive they found a better approach to Last Chance from the opposite side. They would anchor closer to shore and out of the main channel. The last thing they needed was a drunk fool not paying attention.
Jim cut the motor and swung the boat parallel to shore, with the wreck off the port side. The anchor and dive buoy made small ripples as they hit the water. They both watched as they rolled out toward shore. This was big step. Ether she was there or she wasn’t.
When Jerry was ready, Jim lifted the tanks up over his shoulders. Safety checks were started. When they finished, Jerry sat on the port rail to get ready. Almost without thinking, Jim blurted out.
"If it turns out..."
"We'll cross that bridge. Let's keep an open mind."
The sun was over the trees behind him, leaving pieces of the dream...
Was it a judgement on him? How could he be judged if he wasn't there and knew nothing of the events. Painfully, he shook his head to the side and caught sight of the coffee cup. It said “Don’t worry. Be Happy.” Sure. I’ll do that. Grumbling, Jim sat up and slammed down the steaming liquid.
Blinking and rubbing his eyes improved the focus. Jerry was in the chair eating, unwashed face still sporting bits of sour cheese. The 50lb weight on his shoulders kept him pinned to the bed. It was hard to keep his head from sinking to his chest. Jerry smiled.
"Good Morning, Sunshine!"
The sound was like a cartoon pot had been put over his head and struck. His hands involuntairly covered his ears.
"Fuck you." He moaned. "...and the horse you came in on."
That brought a laugh.
"My aren't we grumpy today." Taking a gulp from his cup, Jerry pointed to the table where bacon, eggs and steaming grits waited.
"Grub is on, if your stomach can take it."
That was questionable. Jim struggled over to the table, footsteps echoing in his head. The boat's charts were laid out and the Weather Channel up on the screen over the bulkhead.
"Uggghh" He rubbed his head. "What's the weather look like?
"Clear this morning." Jerry said betwen mouthfuls of egg. "Storms later. If we want to dive, we'd need to go now.
His head spun as eggs and grits appeared on his plate. At least everything was soft and it didn't feel like his stomach was going to rebel too bad.
"Jesus." He saw the first line of clouds forming over the far shore. "No dive today. My head won't take the pressure. When's the next good window?"
"Wednesday, maybe Thursday depending on how much crap gets kicked up. " He tossed the remains of his plate overboard and wiped the table down. "No sense dying for something that may not be there. But that doesn't mean we can't plot the dive."
Jim’s mind fog lifted as the food settled. It was going to stay down. Good. He got up and went to the sink to clean up. The water felt good on his hands as he washed off the egg remains. God, he could use a shower, It would need to wait until he got home. The head on this boat was broken. It had been all the time he had known Jerry.
As he put the dish in the drainer, Jerry took the NAUI dive chart and began to work. It was just as well they weren't going out. This dive was going to take more time, and with it more equipment. One thing SCUBA had in common with flying, mistakes were deadly and proper planning minimized mistakes.
But even this task was hard to do.
Broken shards of the dreams alternated with each other. Men with raised sticks followed by naked flesh torn to pieces. The coffee only made them sharper.
Scout Camp floated in the confusion. Somewhere in the mountains they were working on Map and Compass skills. Orienteering was what they called it. Scoutmaster said a compass would never let you down and would get you home. But he lied. The one from the supply closet had been demagnetized. No one saw the needle was 105 degrees off. The bearing went to the wrong side of the ridge. He was alone when the storm blew up. Taking cover behind a clump of rhododendron, he knew he had been utterly abandoned by the troop.
He was crying when the old Indian found him the next day. Jim hadn't heard him come up behind him. Squatting on his haunches about ten feet away, he sat quietly looking at his forlorn face. Without speaking, he asked to see the compass. It was handed over without question. Somehow, this man could be trusted. The spinning device lifted to the sky. With a quiet voice, he spoke to the wind.
"Oh, Great Trahlyta, assist this fellow traveler. He is innocent and means no harm."
When the compass was returned, the needle pointed toward true north. Turning around to thank the Shaman, Jim found himself staring at an empty space. Maybe Corrine was like that. Blessing the traveler and declaring him innocent when he lost his way. Or cursing him because he failed to act in her time of need.
Or it could have just been the weed. Shaking his head, he tried to focus on the present.
The empty box on the table stood as a testament to the battle against the munchies. Jim stood up and looked at Jerry comatose in his chair. Mozzarella and flecks of tomato sauce scattered along the edge of his mustache. The mouth looked tasty, good enough to eat. He was close enough to smell the stale smoke and sweat. This weed must be good. In all the years Jim had known Jerry, he'd never wanted to do kiss him.
Silence closed in as he paced around the deck. Poppng the cap on another beer he found an unlabeled CD. With a shrug, he stuck it in the portable player and turned up the volume.
Operatic riffs of Metallica filled the cabin. Jerry stirred and let out a huge snore. The reaction struck him funny. He thought of all the pranks he could pull. He began to giggle and it went on for a until exhaustion came. An old church pew sat on the port wall. God only knows where it had come from. The hard wood wasn't the most comfortable place he had ever crashed, but it would have to do.
Pulling a small striped blanket over him, he settled down. The GPS display over the wheel glowed softly in the darkness...11:11.
Sleep with one eye open, gripping your pillow tight.
Make a wish. Count to three.
Exit light. Enter the night.
Sandman transition complete.
Time traveled forward, then back. Levitating over the lake, he raced over trees on the far shore. Sawnee Mountain lay on the horizon. A voice more sensed than heard beckoned him towards it. As he approached, he saw the Seats of Judgement set into the cliff. Like a hawk, he circled until he found his place, the one in the center.
Perched on a hickory tree above the cliff was an angel, watching his actions. Taking flight, she floated towards him shrinking, landing on his nose. Nothing remarkable about her, a triangular nose and closed lips. Eyes were a dull matte. She wore Chanel.
Auraria lay a quietly in the valley. His vision was clearer than it ever had been. In the center of the village, a circle of Cherokee danced and sang entreaties to Trahlyta, the great traveler. One, then another would enter the circle and chant with their hands up in supplication for safety. The women watched passively as the ceremony progressed. Jim looked at the Angel and shared a smile. The were also travelers. A sense of peace flowed over him, of power.
But he was a trespasser.
The Cherokee saw them and became angered. They approached with sticks raised. Alarmed, the angel took his hand and they descended the shear face of the judgement seat.
At the base of the cliff, he noticed a man panning for gold on a creek bank. Over and over the pan would dig into the muck, the crunch audible over the flow. The pan would be dumped into to the sieve box and shaked to reveal the pebbles. Every three or four passes an intense look at the contents. A small with a bright fleck is discarded. Pyrite. Not what he is looking for. He goes back to the grind.
A voice asked about the passing. Without a word, the angel floated back up to the sky and he followed.
They landed inside a houseboat, The Last Chance. The dark wood trim was clean and shiny. A row of bottles stood at attention behind the bar, ready to be of service. He remembered the bottle on the floor from the dive and smiled. Harvey had been a clean freak and wouldn't have stood for even one thing out of place. The door to the stateroom opened and he entered.
It looked like a broken sack of potatoes on the mattress. It was Corrine naked and pale as a ghost. The small breasts rose over a pillow-like tummy. Scars from misadventures past stood in relief over the skin. Leaning on the bulkhead wall, she was alone. Or at least it looked like it. But this wasn't a solo screw. Fear and torment twisted her face as she knelt. It was an act of penance.
Gazing back at the angel, she nodded.
Another presence was in the room. Hands drew up and were hooked on the rail above the bed. The mouth opened silently as something drew up each side of her hips and across her small breasts. Jim shuddered as the body flipped over. More and worse things were shown. After a while, she became still.
Nothing made sense. He turned back to the Angel whose steady gaze told him everything he needed to know.
Nodding, Jim took the bottle. Jerry''s boat was nice, but he'd rather have gone back to his trailer. The bong looked lonely on the table next to him. and Should he? Hell, yes. The whole dive kept rolling like a endless looped movie. Mere alcohol wasn't going to be enough. Even weed may not be enough, but at least the view will change.
The bag was in his jacket pocket. Looking intently, he could still see sticky sap on the leaves. And more than enough for now. Loaded and fired, smoke filled the short glass tube. Rings curled as communion was passed. Burning his fingers with the lighter, Jim drew like there was no tomorrow. The quicker conscious thought is obliterated, the better. Almost imperceptibly, the edges of the day-mare blurred and time began to drag.
He looked over the stern rail into the moonless sky. Cabin lights looked like eyes peeping at them. No words had been said on the way back to the dock. Even stowing gear didn't draw a sound. Only thoughts themselves repeating over and over. What had they seen? Harvey had his kinks, but did he really...
"Do we call the cops?"
The suddeness of the question caused the acrid smoke to catch in his throat. The reply came out in a series of coughs.
"Are we sure it was a hand? It could have been a branch. And besides, if there is anything of value, they'll take it."
Silence filled the room again. Suddenly, he was hungry. They hadn't eaten since this morning He picked up a stray peanut off the floor of the boat and munched.
"Want a pizza?"
"Yeah, I'll call it in." Jerry stood and staggered as the houseboat rolled. "Delivery. Ain't no way either one of us is driving."
He stepped into the main cabin to make the call. When he was finished, Jerry brought out two more beers.
"Good thing I got an extra case yesterday." Sitting on side bench, "We're going to need it."
After a long slug, he asked.
"Think it's her?"
The answer was slow.
"It would make sense." Jim finished his beer and set it down. "Corrine disappeared about that time."
"I thought it was Colleen?"
For some reason, that irritated Jim.
"Hell, I can't remember. Forgettable name for a forgettable girl, right?" He stopped for a moment and thought. "Especially for fake one."
"You took her out?"
A slow smile came as Jim reloaded the pipe.
"Yeah. Harvey was out chasing boats and she wanted some company."
That brought a laugh as the bud glowed.
"Hell, no." He took a quick toke. "Harvey wasn't all that jealous. But given some of his friends, I knew better."
After the laughter died down, time traveling in his mind, the dive movie was replaced with the date.
"We had dinner over at the Frog. I remember she was wearing a Pele World Cup shirt, her dragonfly pendant perched on the side of the head like a black Bride of Frankenstein or something. Her hair was pinned up and matched it. She wore some fancy perfume, Chanel or something. Totally mismatched for a boat bunny and quite interesting. If I had been a little drunker, I might have made a move."
Jim passed the bong over and walked over to the cooler for another beer.
Said she was from Brooklyn. Dad was a drunk and Mom beat her. Or was it the other way around? Really doesn't matter"
"Her esacpe was a older guy, a mechanic on the docks. She said he was a big lug, but sweet. Let her live on one of the tugs he worked on in Sheepshead Bay. After they broke up, she drifted up and down the east coast, working around boats. She said she'd worked on some freighters, but I doubt it. I never saw her work any lines around here."
Jerry took a hit and closed his eyes. "How did she end up here?"
"They met at a party in Fort Lauderdale about six months before he came up here. She said next to the mechanic, he was the best lay she'd ever had. So good she would risk anything to keep him in the swim of things. She started doing favors to close deals. He brought her up after he scored that big deal and put her up in a house over near Gainesville."
They sat quietly drinking and wondering. Another question seemed to come from the deck.
"How long was this date before the boat sunk?"
Jim paused a minute. "A week. Maybe two."
"Did she say anything about Harvey?"
Again, the answer was slow in coming. Like it had to be pried out of a rock.
"Kind of paranoid and looking around when they were together. He kept talking about disappearing. It wasn't just the Feds. There was somebody else. He never would say who and she knew better than to pry. "