F is for Fugitive Page 45


"I remember," he said. "I just stopped by the motel, as a matter of fact. If you can hold on a minute, we can have a chat,"

"Sure," I said. I stood there while he and Joleen talked briefly. From their conversation, I gathered that she'd been at the high school not that many years before.

"I just lost my wife, and I know how it feels," he was saying. The authoritarian air I remembered was gone. His pain seemed so close to the surface, it made tears well up in Joleen's eyes again.

"I appreciate that, Mr. Shales. I do. Mrs. Shales was a nice woman and I know she suffered something fierce. You want to come in? I can fix you some tea."

He glanced at his watch. "I can't right this minute. I'm late as it is, but I'll stop by again. I wanted you to know we're all thinking of you over at the high school. Can I help you with anything? You have enough money?"

Joleen seemed completely overwhelmed, nose turning rosy, her voice cracking when she spoke. "I'm all right. Mom and Daddy are coming up from Los Angeles tonight. I'll be fine as soon as they get here."

"Well, you let us know if there's anything we can do. I can have one of the senior girls look after the kids tomorrow afternoon. Bob Haws said the services are scheduled for two."

"I'd appreciate the help. I hadn't even thought about who'd be keeping the kids. Will you be at the funeral? Tap'd be awful glad."

"Of course, I'll be there. He was a fine man and we were all proud of him."

I followed him out to the street, where his car was parked. "I pulled school records on Jean Timberlake," he said. "If you want to stop by the office, you can see what we've got. You have a car? I can give you a lift."

"I better take mine. It's back at the motel." "Hop in. I'll drop you off." "Are you sure? I don't want to hold you up." "Won't take a minute. I'm headed back in that direction anyway."

He held the door for me and I got in, the two of us chatting inconsequentially during the brief ride back to the Ocean Street. I could have walked, but I was trying to ingratiate myself with the man in the hope that he might have personal recollections of his own to add to whatever data I found in Jean's file.

Ann had returned from the hospital and I saw her peer out of the office window as we pulled up. She and Shales exchanged a smile and a wave and she disappeared.

I stepped out of the car, leaning back toward the open window. "I have another errand to run and then I'll pop by."

"Good. Meanwhile, I'll check and see if any of the staff have information to contribute."

"Thanks," I said.

As he took off, I turned to find Ann right behind me. She seemed surprised to see him pull away. "He's not coming in?"

"I think he had to get back to the school. I just ran into him over at Joleen Granger's. How's your father?"

Reluctantly, Ann's gaze flicked back to my face. "About what you'd expect. Cancer's spread to his lungs, liver, and spleen. They're saying now he probably has less than a month."

"How's he taking it?"

"Poorly. I thought he'd made his peace, but he seemed real upset. He wants to talk to you."

My heart sank. It was the last thing I needed, a conversation with the doomed. "I'll try to get up there sometime this afternoon."

15

I sat in the vestibule outside Dwight Shales's office, variously picking my way through the papers in Jean Timberlake's school file and eavesdropping on an outraged senior girl who'd been caught in the restroom shampooing her hair. Apparently the drill in disciplinary matters was for the culprit to use the pay phone in the school office to notify the appropriate parent about the nature of the offense.

"… Well, guy, Mom. How was I to know? I mean, big fuckin' deal," she said. "… Because I didn't have time! Guuuyyy… Well, nobody ever told me… It's a fuckin' free country. All I did was wash my hair!… I did noooot… I'm not smarting off! Yeah, well, you have a big mouth, too." Her tone shifted here from exasperation to extreme martyrdom, voice sliding up and down the scale. "Okaaay! I said, okay. Oh, right, Mom. God… Why'n't you ground me for life. Right. Oh, rilly, I'm sure. Fuck you, okay? You are such an asshole! I just hate you!!" She slammed the phone down resoundingly and burst noisily into tears.

I suppressed a temptation to peer around the corner at her. I could hear the low murmur of a fellow conspirator.

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