F is for Fugitive Page 78


He considered the possibility, searching his memory. "No, I don't believe so. Is it that important?"

"Well, it could be. If somebody saw Jean, they might have also seen the guy she was having the affair with."

"Come to think of it, I did see cars up here at night on occasion. I guess it never occurred to me it might be somebody waiting to pick her up."

I love bad liars. They work so hard at it and the effort is so transparent. I happen to lie well myself, but only after years of practice. Even then, I can't pull it off every time. This guy didn't even come close. I sat and looked at him, giving him time to reconsider his position.

He frowned with concern. "By the way, what's the story on Ann's mother? Mrs. Emma called about an hour ago and told me Bailey switched the medication. I couldn't believe it…"

"Excuse me, could we get back to Jean Timberlake first?"

"Oh, sorry. I thought we were done, and I've been awfully worried about Ann. It's unbelievable what she's been through. Anyway, go ahead."

"Were you fucking Jean Timberlake yourself?"

The word was just right, crude and to the point. He let out a little laugh of disbelief, like he must not have heard me right. "What?"

"Come on. 'Fess up. Just tell me the truth. I'd really like to know."

He laughed again, shaking his head as though to clear it. "My God, Kinsey. I'm a high school principal."

"I know what you are, Dwight. I'm asking you what you did."

He stared at me, apparently annoyed that I'd persist. "This is ridiculous. The girl was seventeen."

I said nothing. I returned a look of such skepticism that his smile began to fade. He got up and poured himself another drink. He held the brandy bottle toward me, mutely asking me if I wanted more. I shook my head.

He sat down again. "I think we should move on to something more productive. I'm willing to help, but I'm not going to play any games with you." He was all business now. The meeting was called to order and we were going to get serious. No more silly bullshit. "I'd have to be crazy to get involved with a student," he went on. "Jesus. What an idea." He rolled his shoulders. I could hear the joint pop. I knew he wanted to convince me, but the words carried no conviction.

I dropped my gaze to the tabletop, pushing my empty snifter an inch. "We're all capable of astonishing ourselves when it comes to sex."

He was silent.

I focused on him intently.

He recrossed his legs. Now it was him, not looking at me.

"Dwight?"

He said, "I thought I was in love with her."

Careful, I thought. Take care. The moment is fragile and his trust is tenuous. "It must have been a tough time. Karen was diagnosed with MS right about then, wasn't she?"

He set the glass down again and his gaze met mine. "You have a good memory." I kept silent.

He finally took up the narrative thread. "She was actually in the process of being evaluated, but I think we knew. It's staggering how something like that affects you. She was bitter at first. Withdrawn. In the end, she was better about it than I was. God, I couldn't believe it was happening, and then I turned around and Jean was there. Young, lusty, outrageous."

He was quiet for a moment. I said nothing, letting him tell it his way. He didn't need any prompting from me. This was a story he knew by heart.

"I didn't think Karen would survive anyway because the first round was acute. She seemed to go downhill overnight. Hell, I didn't think she'd live till spring. In a situation like that, your mind leaps ahead. You get into survival mode. I remember thinking, 'Hey, I can make it. The marriage isn't that great, anyway.' I was only what, thirty-nine? Forty? I had a lot of years ahead of me. I figured I'd marry again. Why not? We weren't perfect, the two of us. I'm not sure we were even very well suited to each other. The MS changed all that. When she died, I was more in love with her than I'd ever been." "And Jean?"

"Ah, but Jean. Early on" -he paused to shake his head- "I was crazy. I must have been. If that relationship had ever become public knowledge… well, it would have ruined my lite. Karens, too… what was left of it."

"Was the baby yours?"

"I don't know. Probably. I wish I could say no, but what could I do? I only found out about it after Jean died. I can't imagine what the consequences would have been… you know… if the pregnancy had come to light."

"Yeah, unlawful sexual intercourse being what it is."

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