F is for Fugitive Page 44


"Linnetta, quit doin' that!" she sang out suddenly, though there didn't seem to be anyone else in the room. I realized belatedly that the twanging sound of a kid jumping up and down on a bed had just ceased. She shifted the baby, setting him on his feet. He swayed, clutching at her jeans, the pacifier wriggling around in his mouth as he started working it with a little humming sound.

"What'd you want?" she said. "The police have been here twice and I already told ' em everything I know."

"I'll try to be brief. It must be hard on you." "Doesn't matter," she shrugged. The stress of Tap's death had made her face break out, her chin splotched and fiery pink.

"Did you know what Tap was getting involved in yesterday?"

"I knew he had some money, but he said he won a bet with this guy who finally paid up." "A bet?"

"Might not have been true," she said, somewhat defensively, "but God knows we needed it and I wasn't about to ask after it too close." "Did you see him leave the house?" "Not really. I'd come in from work and I went straight to bed as soon as him and the kids left. I guess he dropped Ronnie and the girls off and then took Mac to the sitters. He must have drove into San Luis Obispo after that. I mean, he had to, since that's where he ended up."

"But he never said anything about the breakout or who put him up to it?"

"I wouldn't have stood for it if I'd known."

"Do you know how much he was paid?"

Her eyes became wary in the blank of her face. She began to pick idly at her chin. "Nuh-unh."

"No one's going to take it back. I just wondered how much it was."

"Two thousand," she murmured. God, a woman with no guile, married to a man with no sense. Two thousand dollars to risk his life?

"Are you aware that the shotgun shells were loaded with rock salt?"

Again, she gave me that cagy look. "Tap said that way nobody'd get hurt."

"Except him."

Light dawned in that faraway world of the 98 IQ. "Oh."

"Was the shotgun his?"

"Nuh-unh. Tap never had a gun. I wouldn't have one in the house with these kids," she said.

"Do you have any idea at all who he was dealing with?"

"Some woman, I heard."

That got my attention. "Really."

Back went the hand to her chin. Pick, pick. "Somebody saw 'em together at the pool hall night before he died."

It took a split second. "Shit, that was me. I was trying to get a lead on this Bailey Fowler business and I knew they'd been friends."

"Oh. I thought maybe him and some woman…"

"Absolutely not," I said. "In fact, he spent half the time showing me pictures of you and the kids."

She colored faintly, tears welling. "That's sweet. I wish I could help. You seem awful nice."

I took out my card and jotted down the number of the motel on the back. "Here's where I'll be for the next couple of days. If you think of anything, get in touch."

"Are you coming to the funeral? It's tomorrow afternoon at the Baptist church. It should be a good turnout because everybody liked Tap."

I had my doubts about that, but it was clearly something she needed to believe. "We'll see. I may be tied up, but I'll be there if I can." My recollection of Reverend Haws made attendance unlikely, but I couldn't rule it out. I'd been present at a number of funerals over the last several months, and I didn't think I could endure another. Organized religion was ruined for me when I was five years old, subjected to a Sunday-school teacher with hairs sticking out of her nose and bad breath. Trust me to point that out. The Presbyterians had suggested the Vacation Bible School at the Congregational Church down the road. Since I'd already been expelled by the Methodists, my aunt was losing heart. Personally, I was looking forward to another flannel board. You could make Baby Jesus with some fuzzies on his back and stick him right up in the sky like a bird, then make him dive-bomb the manger.

Joleen left the baby sidestepping his way down the length of the couch while she walked me to the door. The bell rang almost simultaneously with her opening it. Dwight Shales stood on the doorstep, looking as surprised as we were. His glance shifted from her face to mine and then back again. He nodded at Joleen. "Thought I'd stop by and see how you were."

"Thanks, Mr. Shales. That's real nice of you. This is, unh…"

I held my hand out. "Kinsey Millhone. We've met." We shook hands.

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