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Part One?Cutting a Deadline Close

Writer?s block. It had never bothered me much before. It just waited until our livelihood depends upon my writing. I sat and stared at the monitor, wrote a few lines, and deleted them. It was more satisfying in the typewriter days when you could rip a page out of the platen, wad it up, and throw it across the room. My first detective novel, Bald-Faced Lies, is experiencing reasonably successful sales. ?A promising start with a fresh new character,? one reviewer put it. That character would be Harry Christopher, a state detective who is strong, tough with bad guys, gentle with women, wise, and totally hairless. He has alopecia. My current project is The Bald Truth, the second in the Bald Detective series and I couldn?t get going on it.My own dark brown hair, long, fine, but thick, hangs down into my peripheral vision. I scooped it back and reached for a scrunchie on my wrist, but it isn?t there. Good excuse for leaving the computer. I?ll just go fix my hair into something more manageable. ?How you coming, hon?? asked my husband Terry. I swore a little. He went back to his computer, where he was doing job searches. On the publication of Bald-Faced Lies, I had quit my teaching job to pursue full-time writing. Then last month, Terry was laid off from his IS job, though he still works part time as a consultant with his old company and with others. Terry was my inspiration for Harry Christopher. He?s not a tough cop, but he is gentle, wise, and not very hairy. Terry has a world-class case of male pattern baldness, and was totally clean on top by the time he was in his mid-twenties, when we first met eight years ago. Two years after that, my family thought I was marrying an older man, even though we?re the same age. He keeps the sides shaved to keep from looking twenty years older. When I first explored writing a mystery novel, he asked me, ?Why not have a bald hero?? One of his pet peeves is that the media?novels, film, television?always cast bald people as the bad guys, the mad scientists, or the crazed killers. It was an inspiration. I?m able to incorporate his experiences?stupid things people say, for example?into my writing. But now I needed to do something to get past this stupid writer?s block. Fear of bankruptcy doesn?t do it. What else might force me to keep to my schedule? My hair in place, I leaned down to kiss my hubby?s head. Then the idea came. I blurted it out, knowing that if I gave it any serious reflection, I would chicken out and would say nothing.?Would you promise me something?? I asked, smiling sweetly.?Sure, I guess,? he hedged.?I really need something to keep me on track. If I have not completed my first fifty pages of rough draft by the end of the month?I?m on page 18 now?I want you to shave my head. I should be able to do 32 more pages this month. I know that it sounds drastic, but it may be the motivation I need. Don?t allow me to make any excuses. Just do it. Then when my hair is growing back in, I?ll be forced to stay inside to work. Please say yes. I need you to.?Terry laughed. ?We?ve never had the opportunity for his-and-her haircuts before, but if that?s what you really want, you have a deal. Thirty-two more pages or a chrome dome, and no excuses. So you better get back at it, only twenty five days to go.?With that incentive, I started to write again?not fast, but enough. I didn?t always like everything that I wrote, but writing is better than no writing. And hair is better than no hair. At least I could go back and rewrite later. And I found myself deleting less.Then, a week later, Marti called. Marti Hannen, a vivacious redhead, was my publicist. It was her job to see that my books got the best promotion possible, no matter what, and she?s great at it. ?Guess what, Harriet,? she started. Everybody else calls me Joanna, my given name. Harriet Snow, my pen name, is a combination of my middle and maiden names. My married name is a four-syllable German concoction that would not fit on a book spine. Joanna calls me Harriet to make sure that I?ll answer to that name when I?m doing promotions. So far, I had only done a few local ones. After I told her I couldn?t guess what, she started. ?Remember when I said that we didn?t have enough budgeted to send you on the big Road Trip later this month? One of the other writers is in poor health and cancelled, so I requested that the spot go to you! Can you do it? It would be great for your sales.? Wow. The Road Trip was a coast-to-coast twenty city in thirty days marathon, where writers traveled in teams to promote their work. My team would have four other writers and Marti. I hesitated, since I was behind on my second manuscript. ?We can give you an extension?believe me, it?ll be worth living out of a suitcase what you will gain in name recognition and sales. But we leave next Friday. Please? Please? We have other writers on the list, but you?re our fresh new talent, and I?ve already moved heaven and earth and the accounting department to have you fill the spot. All expenses paid.?I checked with Terry and he agreed that I should go. My laptop computer would come with me, though I doubted there would be much time and energy for writing, exept maybe on the planes. So, after hitting the malls to get the right outfits for bookstore signings and TV interviews, Terry saw me off at our regional airport to catch a puddle jumper to Philadelphia, our first stop. ?A whole month without you? I don?t know if I can do that.? I cried, hugging him closely. It would be hard on him, too, he admitted, but he was going to work some things out so he could make connections with my caravan at least once or twice. At least I didn?t have to worry about the stupid promise that I had asked him to make to me?this was a whole new ballgame. Hadn?t Marti gotten an extension from my editor? If I still had the writer?s block when we got back, then maybe we?d look at it again. For now, my hair was lightly frosted, beautifully shaped, and ready to make a wonderful impression. Marti had sent me an advance on my expenses for the trip, so now my hair, nails, and suit would make a wonderful impression.Marathon was right! I?m basically a moderately friendly introvert, and being around people all day, on my best behavior, is exhausting to me! Each day I would sign books, do radio or television interviews, and visit schools, then travel to another city and start over again. Each night I would collapse into my lonely bed after supper. And I missed my Terry. We talked each day on cell phone and emailed each other, but we were both lonely for the other. Day nine and City six?Minneapolis, I believe. It was Sunday and part of me wanted to go to church, but I was too exhausted. I was ready to call room service for brunch when the phone rang. Marti invited me down to the hotel dining room?s brunch to go over the schedule. Today was the lightest so far?only a twenty-minute interview on the local PBS affiliate. Thank heavens for Sabbath rest. Marti was drilling me on a busy Monday schedule when I heard a familiar voice behind me. ?Harriet Snow, I presume?? I jumped up, whirled, and hugged Terry. ?No, you Gort!? I laughed. Gort was a pet name I had for him?Good Old Reliable Terry. ?It?s Joanna Harriet Osterheimer, your wife, and what in heaven?s name are you doing in Minneapolis?or wherever this is?? He had caught a red-eye and had just arrived. His bags were sitting at the reservation clerk?s desk. We hugged and laughed and cried. We moved to a quiet area of the restaurant.?You can thank Marti,? he said. ?My only current work is something I don?t need to be on site for. I can write my little programs and email them to headquarters, and hotels this expensive have modems in the rooms. The rooms are the same rate with one or two people in them, and she said we could squeeze your per diem a little to cover part of my food. And I have enough frequent flyer miles to keep you company the rest of the Tour.? ?Thank you, thank you, thank you, Marti. You?re a terrific friend!? I hugged the short redhead. She smiled, but a little weakly.We ate and talked, saying stuff we?d already said or written, but it was nice to say it to faces.
Finally, Terry looked seriously at me and said, ?Do you know what day this is???Uh, yeah. Sunday. The first. Oh, my G?.? My face fell. ?So, how?s the book coming?? he asked. I could tell he was uncomfortable. But this was ridiculous! The deal was off, wasn?t it??Okay,? I stammered. ?I haven?t been able to write much on the road, but it?s not at a complete standstill. And with you here, maybe I can write more.??So should we celebrate fifty pages with a little party tonight, or do we use the clippers?? he asked quietly.?Clippers! No way! I?ll not lie to you. I?m about ten pages short. But with the tour, surely you can?t expect for me to?.??Hold up to your word?? he responded, his eyes gazing into mine.?Terry, get real. When I said that, I thought that I was going to be at home, and that if I did lose the deal, having to hassle with a wig and everything would make me more likely to stay at home than to find excuses to go out, for the few months it would take to look presentable again. My editor gave be an extension, and you should, too. I?m on tour. Hundreds of people see me each day, and sometimes thousands more on television. This hairdo cost nearly $200. Marti wouldn?t want you to do it now, would she? It would sabotage everything. Marti, do you know what he?s talking about?? I cried, needing her help to sidetrack my husband?s crazy quest. It was Terry?s voice I heard. ?Yes, she knows. I told her.? The guilty look on Marti?s face convinced me that he was right, and that she wanted Terry to shave my head. ?Why?? I asked them both. ?Why are you punishing me for being behind on my manuscript when it isn?t my fault anymore??Marti spoke. ?Harriet?Joanna?you don?t have to do this if you don?t want to, and it isn?t to punish you. Actually, it?s a great promotional idea. I have to convince the media people that there?s something different about you, a new angle, before they choose you over any of our more established authors as a good interview. If the writer of the Bald Detective books has enough gumption to be bald for awhile?for the tour?we can say that you?re doing research into what a bald person?s real feelings are, if you want?then you?re the one they will interview. You?re the one whose books will sell. You?re the interviewee that people will remember when they go to the bookstore or library.??You?re wanting me to shave my head, and then to appear in public that way? Bald? It?s okay for Terry. He?s a guy. You?re thinking that it will intrigue people. But it might turn them off, too. I don?t think that I can handle it emotionally?the looks, the pity, the hatred.? Tears trickled down my nose. Terry reached over to comfort me and I batted his hand away. ?Have you been plotting this for long? Couldn?t you have prepared me a little rather than just coming here and saying, ?we?re shaving your head tonight???Marti said, ?I didn?t know about your deal until last week when I called Terry to see if he wanted to join us on the Tour. It took us until the last minute to make the arrangements for him to come.? Marti looked straight at me. ?Again, it?s your call, finally. We can?t force you to do it. Terry didn?t want to do it, either. He told me about it as a joke, and I started to see the possibilities as a publicist. Your book is an advocate for bald people, you can be, too. This can be big?national publicity. Remember your request for an advance?? I nodded. We needed an advance on my next book while waiting for royalties on the first. ?We were planning to give you twenty thousand based on expected sales. If you do this, we will make it a hundred thousand, nonrefundable. If your book doesn?t earn that in your royalties, you don?t owe us the difference.? She got me. We would be on shaky ground financially if I declined. ?For that, however, we will ask that you keep shaved during the Tour and for whatever other promotional opportunities we set up for the rest of the year.? That was bad news. My original thoughts were that my hair would grow back to a nice short but feminine style in a few months. Now I would stay bald?or have it grow a little and shaved again as needed?for a six month period before it even started growing out. But there was the money. We really needed it.?I guess that it was my idea in the first place,? I said quietly. ?Me and my big mouth. Okay. It?s a deal.? It was difficult to do that interview in the afternoon, knowing that my next stop would be with the clippers. The hotel beauty/barber shop wasn?t open on Sundays, but Marti had made the arrangements. ?Let?s get it over with,? I muttered. It would be private, except for a beautician whose name was Liz, Marti, Terry, and two photographers?one video and one taking digital stills. My depilation would be the object of press releases, sound bites, and video clips. Later news at eleven.Marti introduced what was happening to the video camera. I talked bravely about Terry being my inspiration and my deciding that if I was going to write authentically about good people who were bald, I should try being such a person myself. It would help my character be more authentic. My voice wavered a bit, but I think I sounded more sincere than I felt. Maybe I talked too much, trying to put off the inevitable. Marti thanked me and asked Terry to begin. He smiled wanly, received the big clippers from Liz?s hand, and switched them on. They roared next to my left ear as he raised a handful of hair with his other hand and pushed the clipper to my skin. It vibrated as it tracked up, kicking out clouds of hair, until it reached the crown of my head. Terry hesitated and looked confused. Liz nodded, and pointed to the hair in front of the bald path. I watched in the mirror as the hair floated away from my temple, and the white track widened, again to my crown. My hair had always been one of my good features, now it was being systematically carved away. The cameraman was squatting on his knees, shooting up into the angle of the clippers. I absently wondered if my hair would cover his lens, since it seemed to be raining at a good clip.With the left front quadrant of my head pretty much shorn except for a few tufts and strips, Terry handed the clippers to Liz. ?I?m sorry. This is really weird for me. Would you finish?? I was aghast for a moment. If Terry was having second thoughts now that it was too late, would he find me ugly? Before Liz could begin, Terry put his face close to mine. ?Sorry, hon. I guess that I?m too personally involved in this. But you?re doing great. I?m proud of you having this kind of courage.? He kissed me and stepped aside.Liz?s work with the clippers was more self-assured and rapid. The clippers moved more insistently, more businesslike, and soon the left side of my scalp lay bare. The cameraman panned around my head, emphasizing the difference between the two sides. Interestingly, where I had been nervous and depressed before, my writer instincts were kicking in. I was experiencing something totally new for me, and probably for the only time in my life. One of my female characters in one of my novels would at some point lose her hair, and I needed to remember everything?my feelings, the physical sensations, the tickling on my right cheek as loose hair drifted by, cut away by Liz?s clippers. The outline, the shape, of my head was becoming clear. I was seeing myself in a whole new way. I thought that it would be terrorizing, but it was liberating. ?I?d never done this to a woman before,? Liz admitted. ?A few with short crops, but none down to the scalp. There?s a few guys that I mow regularly. You?re taking it really well. I?m not sure if I could deal with it or not.? She had put down the clippers. I reached up and tentatively felt a slight roughness. ?We?ll fix that,? Liz said. ?The guys really enjoy this?it?s sensuous.? I heard a wooshing noise and felt foamy lather being spread onto my scalp. I giggled at a white wig of bubbles. Smoothly she began scraping off the cream with a safety razor. I?m sure the noise sounded louder to me than to anyone else in the room, as the blade met the resistance of what was left of my hair. Soon all the foam was clean and my scalp smooth?but not smoo
th enough. I studied this bold, bald new person in the mirror, tipping my head this way and that. Liz spoke again. ?Usually, they use the hot towel before the first shaving. I like to do it between the first and second,? she said, wrapping the steamy cloth around my head. I almost felt feverish with the sudden warmth. I hadn?t even realized there would be a second shaving. We chatted small talk for a few minutes about the tour and writing, then she removed the towel, added more foam, then shaved it all again, coming from different directions than before. She wiped off the remains, and said, ?Ta Da! One beautiful bald lady.?I felt it. It was incredibly smooth, and I noticed the nerve endings of my hand for the first time making direct contact with the nerve endings of my scalp. ?There?s a bit more shadow than I imagined,? I said. ?On you, Terry, the shaved portions and the bald portions sort of blend in.?My husband answered. ?That?s because my hair is more the color of my skin tone, and it?s thinner, too. But you look ravishing, love. Liz did a great job.??That?s almost as smooth a shave as anyone can give you,? Liz said. ?It?ll grow faster than you imagine, and you?ll barely be able to start feeling the new growth tomorrow evening. But if you want me to take care of the shadow and make it a lot easier to maintain, come back tomorrow. There?s an intriguing new product you can try.?We went back to our rooms, and I felt a bit awkward and embarrassed as people in the lobby glanced at me and quickly looked away. Would other people still consider me attractive? Terry did. We had an intense, passionate night together, and I discovered firsthand what he had told me for years?that a bald scalp is a great erogenous zone.

Part Two?Going and Gone

The next morning, we woke up early and I dressed in a rich maroon skirt suit. I gathered my wits about me for an early morning interview on the city?s largest television station. The announcer, a beautiful blonde in her mid-thirties, asked me why I had shaved my head. ?They say to write what you know,? I smiled, ?and I knew a little bit through my husband?s experience what it?s like to be bald in a society that values hair as part of being attractive. But now I?m going to be dealing with the emotional content myself, and from a woman?s perspective. I was frightened to death going in, let me tell you, but by the time it was over, I felt that I had reinvented myself.??So, do you want to stay this way, or will you be glad to have your hair back when this is all over?? she asked.?I think that I?ll like staying like this for awhile, but yes, I?ll be much more comfortable when I?m a blend-in-the-crowd person with a normal feminine hairstyle,? I admitted.After the interview, I stopped and picked up a cute short curly wig at a beauty supply store. For the day, I decided just to keep it in the box. Later, I would wear it between my working engagements and after I went home. Being bald was a fun game right now, and an interesting experience I could use to learn more about myself and others. But I was sure it would get old, and I?m not the kind of person that likes to be stared at.From the studio, we went to the giant Boundaries mega-bookstore and for the first time on the Tour, my lines of people seeking autographed copies were longer than the other writers?. We even ran out of books before my time was over. During the day, I kept noticing the wide variety of reactions of people to the two of us with our shiny heads. ?If people react negatively, it?s their problem, not ours, love,? my husband said. ?You?ve always been beautiful to me, but I really, really like the new reinvented you. We have a few minutes before supper, by the way. Do you want to see what Liz was talking about? Something to lessen the shadow? I?m a bit curious myself.? I figured that it was some kind of makeup, and hadn?t thought too much about my own slightly darkening shadow, but I agreed to stop. Liz was finishing up a businessman?s haircut when we walked in, but she was soon ready for us. ?I?m so glad that you stopped back,? she said. ?Tell me about your day.? I did, and she grinned. ?My sister works for a pharmaceutical company that?s testing a new product for easy hair removal. I?ve tried it on my legs and pits and it works great. It?s much longer lasting than shaving, and not as painful as waxing. Its working name is HG3 until they?re ready to market it and give it a commercial name. It?s a combination of a new gentle but effective depilatory and a mask like you might use for a facial. You put it on and it hardens, and the chemicals soak the hair follicles and loosen the hair. Then you pull it off and it brings the below-the-surface stubble right up without hurting at all. It?s enjoyable, even, like a good facial. Here. Feel my leg?just you, Harriet,? she said, with a teasing glance at my husband as she lifted her knee. I did, and it was soft and smooth. ?I treated it almost a week ago. They think that it?s safe for any part of the body. My cousin shaves his head, and he?s been using it for weeks. The hair takes four to six days to re-form and grow to the surface again. If you want to be part of the test, I can give you your first treatment and you can take it with you on your travels. All the company asks is that you keep careful track of when you use it, what the results are, all that kind of thing. And that you seen release waivers, of course.??So they?re not sure it?s completely safe,? I said.?Well, no, that?s part of what they?re trying to find out. But they tested it extensively, and so far none of the side effects include significant hair loss?just a very few allergic reactions like rashes. So, what do you think?? Terry admitted that he?d like to try it, to get rid of the slight horseshoe shadow around his head. I agreed to give it a shot, too. I had to laugh, because as she spread it above Terry?s ears and around his head, it was bright green like a cucumber facial. But soon I had a green scalp covering, too. It was cool, comfortable, and soothing. We chatted for twenty minutes, and then Liz loosened a corner of Terry?s coating and pulled it off, all in one motion. There was a little resistance and a soft tearing noise, and Terry laughed, saying that it didn?t hurt at all. My turn was next, and when she pulled it off, I was fascinated to see all the little black dots that were my hair roots clinging to the green translucent sheet. Liz rubbed some more soothing lotion onto our heads, and we admired our new looks. ?That?s so much smoother and cleaner looking,? Liz said. ?I like it!??I do too,? I had to admit. Now we looked really bald, rather than shaven. Marti liked the difference, too, when we showed her.Traveling with Terry added so much fun to the trip. He volunteered as a driver and luggage handler. When I wasn?t wearing Curly, my wig, my bald head continued to attract response, sometimes negative, often stupid, but mostly positive. One young man worked his way up through the line in Denver, and I looked up to see that he was completely hairless, just like my detective hero. He wept softly and said, ?I just knew that you were one of us. It means so much for me to meet you.? I hugged him and we later had lunch, and I gained new insight into the difficulties of being a bald person in a hairy world. I didn?t have the heart to tell him that my baldness came from a bottle of green lotion that we applied every four or five days when the stubble would begin to show again. Terry and I had fun with the lotion, and at one point I even removed all his beard and body hair except for his brows and lashes. We let it grow back, though. Our lovemaking was great. The publicity from my little stunt worked to our advantage, and kept me busy. My favorite headline from a newspaper story about me was ??Bald Detective? Writer Becomes a Bald Detective Writer.? Another was ?The Case of the Disappearing Hair.? And I made more local TV and radio appearances than any of the other writers in our group. When we finally returned home I kept applying the HG3 since Marti had gotten me onto some morning network and cable talk shows, scheduled close enough together that there was no use letting the stubble grow. My sales were nearing the best seller mark. Around town I wore Curly, my wig, so I was a normal looking person when I was Joanna, which was most of the time. I was smooth on top only when I was Harriet Snow. Harriet with no hair. I enjoyed being Harriet, but I really looked forward to the end of the experiment, when I could get up in the morning, wash my long hair, and brush it out smooth. Even after weeks without hair, I never thought of myself as a really bald person. My hairless style was just a temporary thing. Over the course of a few days, seven weeks after my head shaving, we received great news and troubling news. The great news was that I was pregnant, evidently from that night of lovemaking after the great shave. I decided to stop using the HG3 immediately, as a safety precaution for the baby, in the same way that I stopped drinking wine with my dinners. The bad news was a call from the pharmaceutical company that made me glad I had stopped the HG3 treatments.?It?s probably not a concern for 99% of our testers, but we?re asking that you all stop using the product. We are not going to be able to put it on the market. On a few people who have used it for six weeks or more, allergic reactions have developed that involve hair loss.? I calmly thanked her and replied that I had already stopped using the product, but it concerned me. Terry was devastated with guilt for being part of that series of decisions that led to this point. I assured the poor guy that I didn?t blame him, it was my idea in the first place. Besides, even if my scalp hair didn?t grow back?worst case scenario?I still had my lashes, brows, and Curly my wig. If he loved me bald, I would be content to be bald, if t
hat was what was to happen. Then I waited, worried, and wondered. Would that brown, reassuring shadow appear, then become stubble, then a pelt, then hair long enough to comb? Or would it not?A week later, I still had no stubble on my head, my legs, anywhere. I only had my brows and lashes, which I had never treated. In the past few weeks I had appreciated those little bits of hair as I never had before, for they were signs of normal feminine attractiveness. Each day, several times a day I would look at my scalp in the mirror, and would see only clear, shining skin. A sickening realization filled my heart?my crazy haircut in Minneapolis might have been my last haircut ever. Then one day, the situation became even worse. I reached up to smooth my eyebrow and brushed away a bald spot in the middle of the brow. I tugged lightly on some lashes and they came off in my hand. Soon, they all fell away, abandoning me to what seemed a featureless, almost genderless face. Even the fuzz on my arms washed away at the bathroom sink. Like Harry Christopher, my detective hero, I was now completely hairless. My journey into the land of baldness had become my permanent address.The dermatologist called it alopecia universalis, complete baldness. She spoke in a kindly tone. ?Alopecia is an autoimmune condition where the immune system thinks that your own hair is a foreign invader. Evidently, with one or two of the other people using HG3, you built up a sensitivity to the chemical and your body started rejecting it, and it rejected your remaining hair as well. Four other of the testers experienced ongoing hairlessness in the treated areas alone. It wasn?t a big deal for them?they just won?t have to shave their legs or armpits anymore. One other?a young man?had the chemical-triggered alopecia like you and lost all his hair. I?m afraid that for both he and you, the process is most likely irreversible. Although once in awhile an alopecia sufferer will experience the return of hair, you will most likely be hairless the rest of your life. I?m very sorry. I?ll be glad to help you with cosmetic prostheses?a prescription for wigs, tattooed eyebrows, maybe, to help you be less noticeable.?My concern at the moment wasn?t totally with me. ?What about my baby, doctor? Will it have a problem, too???I frankly don?t know,? she said. ?Probably not. A slight tendency to alopecia may run in families, and you may have had that tendency, which set you up for the allergic reaction. There?s a chance that your child might have the same reaction to the chemicals in your shared bloodstream, but there?s no way of telling, and frankly, nothing we can do about it. But if your child doesn?t have hair, it will have one advantage many children with alopecia don?t?a mother who shares its condition. It won?t feel alone in the world.? We didn?t know yet the gender of the child in my womb. How would that child?boy or girl?experience life growing up hairless, if that were the case? Hair or no hair, the child would experience nothing but love and acceptance from its balding father and hairless mother. I put on my wig and we left the doctor?s office. That was two years ago. Terry was a great help, a real rock, through the whole adjustment and pregnancy. We actually laughed at the realization that he might be the only member of our family with hair?at least until we had other children, whose bloodstreams might not be tainted with the chemicals of the HG3. But bald or hairy, we?d love them all. We sued the manufacturers of HG3 and got a decent settlement, in spite of the release papers that we had signed earlier. The suit made national publicity, which was good for the sale of my book, and of the next one, which I indeed finished, as well as the one after that. Now I?m working on the fourth title in the Bald Detective series. When I?m not writing, I sometimes travel and speak as an advocate for hairless people to be accepted and understood in our society. I no longer wear wigs as Joanna, or any time, because my beautiful, beautiful daughter Amy needs me as a role model. Amy is perfect in every way, including being perfectly hairless like her mommy. I put away my wig when she was born. She doesn?t need to be seen as the only bald girl in town. I want her to be proud and strong, like me. ?She won?t need a fictional hero like the Bald Detective,? bumping Amy on his knee. ?She has a real live hero in her own mother.?

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