F is for Fugitive Page 11

"Why not a private attorney? Was Bailey indigent?"

"In essence. He didn't have the dough himself and his old man refused to pop for any legal fees." Clemson took a drag of his cigarette.

"Had Bailey been in trouble as a juvenile?" "Nope. His record was clean. He probably figured all he'd get was a slap on the wrist. This is armed robbery, you understand, but Tap carried the gun, so I guess Bailey thought somehow that let him off the hook. Unfortunately for him, the statute doesn't read that way. Anyway, when they offered him a deal, he turned 'em down cold, pleaded not guilty, and went to trial instead. Needless to say, the jury convicted and the judge got tough. Back then, robbery was one to ten in the state prison."

"That was still indeterminate sentencing?"

"Yeah, that's right. Back then, they had a Bureau of Prison Terms that would meet and set parole and actual date of release. We had a very liberal board of prison terms at that time. Hell, we had basically a much more liberal government in California. Those people who ran the board were appointed by the governor and Pat Brown Junior… well, skip that tale. Point is, these guys get one to ten, but they're out in two years. Everybody starts screaming and yelling because nobody was doing nine or ten years on a one-to-ten. Bailey only served eighteen months."

"Up here?"

"Nuh-unh. Down at Chino, the country club of prisons. He got out in August. Came back to Floral Beach and started looking for work without much luck. Pretty soon he was back doing drugs again, only it was cocaine this time, along with grass. Uppers, downers, you name it."

"Where was Jean all this time?"

"Central Coast High, senior year. I don't know if anybody filled you in on this girl."

"Not at all."

"She was illegitimate. Her mom's still around in Floral Beach. You might want to talk to her. She had a reputation as the town roundheel, the mother, this is. Jean was an only child. Cute kid, but I guess she had a lot of problems. As if the rest of us don't." He took another drag from his cigarette.

"She worked for Royce Fowler, didn't she?" "Right. Bailey got out of prison and she took up with him again. According to Lehto, Bailey claimed they were just good friends. The DA maintains they were lovers and Bailey killed her in a jealous rage when he found out she'd hooked up with Tap. Fowler says not so. It had nothing to do with Granger, even though Tap got out two months before he did."

"What about Granger? Is he still around?" "Yeah, he operates the only gas station in Floral Beach. Owned by somebody else, but he's the manager, which is about all he can handle. He's not smart, but he seems steady enough. He was a wild one in his day, but he's mellowed out some."

I made a note about both Tap Granger and the Timberlake woman. "I didn't mean to interrupt. You were talking about Bailey's relationship with the girl after he got out of jail."

"Well, Bailey maintains the romance was over with. He and the girl hung out together and that was it. They were both outcasts anyway, Bailey because he'd been in prison, the Timberlake girl because her mother's such a slut. Besides which, the Timberlakes were poor. She was never going to amount to a hill of beans as long as she was stuck in Floral Beach. I don't know how much experience you've had with towns the size of Floral Beach. We're talking maybe eleven hundred people max, and most of 'em have been here since the year zip. Anyway, she and Bailey started running around together just like they did before. He says she was dallying with this other guy, involved in some affair that she was being real tight-lipped about. Claims she never would say who it was.

"The night she was killed, the two of 'em went out drinking. Hit about six bars in San Luis and two more in Pismo. Around midnight, they came back and parked down at the beach. He says it was closer to ten, but a witness puts 'em there at midnight. Anyway, she was upset. They had a bottle and a couple of joints with 'em. They had a tiff and he says he left her there and stomped off. Next thing he knows, it's morning and he's in his room at the Ocean Street. These kids are swarming all over the beach down below, doing clean-up detail as part of some local church do-good project. He's sick as a dog… so hung over he was pukin' his guts out. She's still down on the beach, passed out over by the stairs… only when the clean-up crew gets close, they can see she's dead, strangled with a belt that turns out to be his." "But anybody could have done it." "Absolutely. Of course, Bailey was favored and they might have made it stick, but De Witt had had a string of wins and he didn't want to take a chance. Lehto saw an opportunity to bargain and since Bailey'd been burned once, he went along with the deal. On the armed robbery, he was guilty, went to trial, and got himself nailed. This time he claimed he was innocent, but he didn't like the odds so when they offered him a plea of manslaughter, he took it, just like that." Clemson snapped his fingers, the sound like the clean popping of a hollow stick.

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