F is for Fugitive Page 22


"And you never done any time yourself?"

"Not me. I'm a real law-and-order type."

"That's good. You keep that up. You're too nice to get mixed up with prison types. Women are the worst. Do all kind of things. I've heard tales that'd make your hair stand right up on end. And not the hair on your head neither."

"I'll bet," I said. I changed the subject, not wanting to lie any more than I had to. "How many kids you got?"

"Here, lemme show you," he said, reaching in his back pocket. He took out his wallet and flipped it open to a photo tucked in the window where his driver's license should have been. "That's Joleen."

The woman staring out of the picture looked young and somewhat amazed. Four little children surrounded her, scrubbed, grinning, and shiny-faced. The oldest was a boy, probably nine, snaggle-toothed, his hair still visibly damp where she'd combed it into a pompadour just like his dad's. Two girls came next, probably six and eight. A plump-armed baby boy was perched on his mother's lap. The picture had been shot in a studio, the five of them posed in the midst of a faux picnic scene complete with a red-and-white checked cloth and artificial tree branches overhead. The baby held a fake apple in one chubby fist like a ball.

"Well, they're cute," I said, hoping he didn't pick up on the note of astonishment.

"They're rascals," he said fondly. "This was last year. She's pregnant again. She's wishin' she didn't have to work, but we do pretty good."

"What's she do?"

"She's a nurse's aide up at Community Hospital on the orthopedic ward, night shift. She'll work eleven to seven. Then she gets home and I take off, drop the kids at school, and swing back around to the station. We got a babysitter for the little guy. I don't know quite what we'll do when the new one comes along."

"You'll figure something out," I said.

"I guess," he said. He flopped the wallet shut and tucked it back in his pocket.

I bought a round of beers and then he bought one. I felt guilty about getting the poor man sloshed, but I had another question or two for him and I wanted his inhibitions out of the way. Meanwhile, the population in the bar was thinning down from ten to maybe six. I noticed, with regret, that Shana Timberlake had left. The jukebox had been fixed and the volume of the music was just loud enough to guarantee privacy without being so obtrusive we'd be forced to shout. I was relaxed, but not as loose as I allowed Tap to think. I gave his arm a bump.

"Tell me something," I said soddenly. "I'm just curious."

"What's that?"

"How much money did you and this Bailey fellow net?"

"Net?"

"In round numbers. About how much you make? I'm just asking. You don't have to say."

"We paid restitution on two thousand some-odd dollar."

"Two thousand? Bull. You made more than that," I said.

Tap flushed with pleasure. "You think so?"

"Even bumpin' off gas stations, you made more, I bet."

"That's all I ever saw," he said.

"That's all they caught you for," I said, correcting him.

"That's all I put in my pocket. And that's the honest truth."

"But how much else? How much altogether?"

Tap studied up on that one, extending his chin, pulling at his lip in a parody of deep thought. "In the neighborhood, I would say, of… would you believe, forty-two thousand six hundred and six."

"Who got that? Bailey got that?" "Oh, it's gone now. He never did see a dime of it neither, as far as I know." "Where'd it come from?" "Couple little jobs we pulled they never found out about."

I laughed with delight. "Well, you old devil, you," I said, and gave his arm another push. "Where'd it go?"

"Beats me."

I laughed again and he got tickled, too. Somehow, it seemed like the funniest thing either of us ever heard. After half a minute, the laughter trickled out and Tap shook his head.

"Whoo, that's good," he said. "I haven't laughed like that since I don't know when."

"You think Bailey killed that little girl?"

"Don't know," he said, "but I will tell you this. When we went off to jail? We give the money to Jean Timberlake to hold. He got out and next thing I know, she's dead and he says he don't know where the money's at. It was long gone."

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