F is for Fugitive Page 39

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She finally drifted off to sleep, but it was midnight before Ann got back. Royce had been admitted and she'd stayed until he was settled. A number of tests had been scheduled for first thing in the morning. The doctor was guessing that the cancer had invaded his lungs. Until the chest X rays came back, he couldn't be sure, but things weren't looking good.

Ori stirred. We'd been speaking in whispers, but it was clear we were disturbing her. We moved out through the kitchen and sat together on the back steps. It was dark out there, the building shielding us from the smudged yellow of the streetlights. Ann pulled her knees up and rested her head wearily on her arms. "God. How am I going to get through the next few months?"

"It'll help if we can get Bailey cleared." "Bailey," she said. "That's all I hear about." She smiled bitterly. "So what else is new?" "You were what, five when he was born?" She nodded. "Mom and Pop were so thrilled. I'd been sickly as an infant. Apparently, I didn't sleep more than thirty minutes at a stretch." "Colic?"

"That's what they thought. Later, it turned out to be some kind of allergy to wheat. I was sick as a dog… diarrhea, ferocious stomachaches. I was thin as a stick. It seemed to straighten out for a while. Then Bailey came along and it started all over again. I was in kindergarten by then and the teacher decided I was just acting up because of him."

"Were you jealous?" I asked.

"Absolutely. I was horribly jealous. I couldn't help myself. They doted on him. He was everything. And of course he was good… slept like an angel, blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, I was half-dead. Some doctor caught on. I don't even know now who it was, but he insisted on a bowel biopsy and that's when they diagnosed the celiac disease. Once they took me off wheat, I was fine, though I think Pop was always half-convinced I'd done it out of spite. Ha. The story of my life." She glanced at her watch. "Oh hell, it's almost one. I better let you go."

We said our good-nights and then I went upstairs. It wasn't until I was ready for bed that I realized someone had been in my room.

13

What I spotted was the partial crescent of a heel print on the carpet just inside the sliding door. I don't even know now what made me glance down. I had gone into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of wine. I popped the cork back in the bottle and tucked it in the refrigerator door. I crossed to the sliding glass door and opened the drapes, then flipped the lock and slid the door open about a foot, letting in a dense shaft of ocean breeze. I stood for a moment, just breathing it all in. I loved the smell. I loved the sound the ocean made and the line of frothy silver curling up onto the sand whenever a wave broke. The fog was in and I could hear the plaintive moo of the foghorn against the chill night air.

My attention strayed to a small kink in the hem of the drape. There was a trace of wet sand adjacent to the metal track in which the door rode. I peered at it, uncomprehending. I set my wineglass aside and went down on my hands and knees to inspect the spot. The minute I saw what it was, I got up and backed away from the door, whipping my head around so I could scan the room. There was no place anyone could hide. The closet consisted of an alcove without a door. The bed was bolted to the wall and quite low, framed in at the bottom with wood strips mounted flush with the carpeting. I'd just come out of the bathroom, but I checked it again, moving automatically. The frosted-glass shower door was open, the stall empty. I knew I was alone, but the sense of that other presence was so vivid that it made my hair stand on my arms. I was seized by an involuntary tremor of fear so acute that it generated a low sound in my throat, like a growl reflex.

I surveyed my personal belongings. My duffel seemed untouched, though it was perfectly possible that someone had eased a sly hand among the contents. I went back to the kitchen table and checked my papers. My portable Smith-Corona was sitting open as it had been, my notes in a folder to the left. Nothing was missing as far as I could tell. I couldn't tell if the papers had been disturbed because I hadn't paid any particular attention to them when I tucked them away. That had been before supper, six hours ago.

I checked the lock on the sliding glass door. Now that I knew what I was looking for, the tool marks were unmistakable and I could see where the aluminum frame had been forced out around the bolt. The lock was a simple device in any event, and hardly designed to withstand brute force. The thumb bolt still turned, but the mechanism had been damaged. Now the latch lever didn't fully meet the strike plate, so that any locking capacity was strictly illusory. The intruder must have left the bolt in its locked position and used the corridor door for egress. I got the penlight out of my handbag and checked the balcony with care. There were additional traces of sand near the railing. I peered the one floor down, trying to figure out how someone could have gotten up here- possibly through one of the rooms on the same floor, climbing from balcony to balcony. The motel driveway ran right under my room and led to covered parking along the perimeter of the courtyard formed by the four sides of the building. Someone could have parked in the driveway, then climbed up on the car roof, and from there swung up onto the balcony. It wouldn't have taken long. The driveway might have been blocked temporarily, but at this hour there was little or no traffic. The town was shut down and the tenants of the motel were probably in for the night.

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