F is for Fugitive Page 63


I tried the Ocean Street Cafe for breakfast, downing cups of black coffee with the local paper propped up in front of me so I could eavesdrop on the regulars. Faces were beginning to look familiar. The woman who ran the Laundromat was sitting at the counter, next to Ace, who was getting ragged again about his ex-wife, Betty, seated on his other side. There were two other men I recognized from Pearl's.

I was in a booth near the front, facing the plate-glass windows, with a view of the beach. Joggers were trotting along the wet-packed sand. I was too tired to do a run myself, though it might have perked me up. Behind me, the customers were chatting together as they probably had every day for years.

"Where you think he's at?"

"Lord only knows. I hope he's left the state. He's dangerous."

"They better catch him quick is all I can say. I'll shoot his ass if I see him anywheres around here."

"I bet he's got you peekin' under your bed at night."

"I peek every night. 'At's the only thrill I get. I keep hopin' to find somebody peekin' back at me." The laughter was shrill, underscored with anxiety.

"I'll come over there and help you out."

"Big help you'd be."

"I would. I got me a pistol," Ace said.

" 'At's not what Betty says."

"Yeah, he's loaded half the time, but that don't mean his pistol works."

"Bailey Fowler shows his face, you'll see different," Ace said.

"Not if I get him first," one of the other men said.

The front page of the local newspaper was a rehash of the case to date, but the tone of the coverage was picking up heat. Photographs of Bailey. Photographs of Jean. An old news photo of the crime scene, townspeople standing in the background. The faces in the crowd were blurred and indistinct, seventeen years younger than they looked today. Jean's body, barely visible, was covered with a blanket. Trampled sand. Concrete steps going up on the right. There was a quote from

Quintana, who sounded pompous even then. Probably bucking for sheriff since he joined the department. He seemed like the type.

I wolfed down my breakfast and went back to the motel.

As I went up the outside stairs, I saw one of the maids knocking on the door of room 20. Her cart was parked nearby, loaded with fresh linens, vacuum cleaner mounted on the back.

"Maid service," she called. No answer.

She was short, heavyset, a gold-capped tooth showing when she smiled. Her passkey didn't turn in the lock so she moved on to the room I'd been in before Bert had so graciously consented to the change. I let myself into room 24 and closed the door.

My bed was a tumble of covers that beckoned invitingly. I was buzzing from coffee, but under the silver shimmer of caffeine my body was leaden from weariness. The maid knocked at my door. I abandoned all hope of sleep and let her in. She moved into the bathroom, a plastic bucket in hand, filled with rags and supplies. Nothing feels so useless as hanging around while someone else cleans. I went down to the office.

Ori was behind the counter, clinging shakily to her walker while she sorted through the bills Bert had left in the box for outgoing mail. She was wearing a cotton duster over her hospital gown.

Ann called from the other room. "Mother! Where are you? God…"

"I'm right here!"

Ann appeared in the doorway. "What are you doing? I told you I want to do your blood test before I go up to see Pop." She caught sight of me and smiled, her dark mood gone. "Good morning."

"Good morning, Ann."

Ori was leaning heavily on Ann's supporting arm as she began to shuffle into the living room.

"You need some help?" I asked.

"Would you please?"

I slipped under the counter, supporting Ori on the other side. Ann moved the walker out of her mother's path and together we walked her back to the bed.

"Do you have to go to the bathroom while you're up?"

"I guess I best," she said.

We did a slow walk to the bathroom. Ann got her settled on the commode and then stepped into the hall, closing the door.

I glanced at Ann. "Could I ask you a couple of questions about Jean while I've got you here?"

"All right," she said.

"I took a look at her school records yesterday and I noticed that you were one of the counselors who worked with her. Can you tell me what those sessions were about?"

"Her attendance, primarily. The four of us did academic counseling-college prep requirements, dropping or adding classes. If a kid didn't get along with a teacher or wasn't performing up to snuff, we'd step in and test sometimes, or settle disputes, but that was the extent of it. Jean was obviously in trouble scholastically and we talked about the fact that it was probably connected to her home life, but I don't think any of us actually felt qualified to play shrink. We might have recommended she see a psychologist, but I know I didn't try to function with her in that capacity."

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