F is for Fugitive Page 57

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I surveyed the menu again. "What's good here?"

"Not much. All the seafood is frozen and the chowder comes out of cans. The steak is passable. I order the same thing every time I come. Filet mignon, medium rare, with a baked potato, tossed salad with bleu cheese, and apple pie for dessert. If you have two martinis up front, you'll think it's the fourth best meal you ever ate. Up from that is any quarter pounder with cheese."

I smiled. He was flirting, a hitherto unsuspected aspect of his personality. "You're joining me, I hope."

"Thanks. I'd like that. I hate to eat alone."

"Me, too."

The waitress appeared and we ordered drinks. I confess I was curing my fatigue with a martini on the rocks, but it was quick and efficient and I enjoyed every minute of it. While we talked, I did a covert assessment of him. It interests me how people's looks change as you get to know them. The first flash is probably the most accurate, but there are occasions when a face undergoes a transformation that seems almost magical. With Dwight Shales, there seemed to be a more youthful persona submerged in a fifty-five-year-old shell. His hidden self was becoming more visible to me as he talked.

I listened with both eyes and one ear, trying to discern what was really going on. Ostensibly, we were discussing how we spent our leisure time. He gravitated toward backpacking, while I tended to amuse myself with the abridged California Penal Code and textbooks on auto theft. While his mouth made noises about an assault of ticks on a recent day hike, his eyes said something else. I disconnected my brain and fine-tuned my receiver, picking up his code. This man was emotionally available. That was the subliminal message.

A chunk of lettuce dropped off my fork and my mouth closed on the bare tines. Ever the sophisticate. I tried to act as though I preferred to eat my salad that way.

Midway through the meal, I changed the tenor of the conversation, curious what would happen if we talked about something personal. "What happened to your wife? I take it she died."

"Multiple sclerosis. She went into remission numerous times, but it always caught up with her.

Twenty years of that shit. Toward the end, she couldn't do anything for herself. She was luckier than most, if you want to look at it that way. Some patients are rapidly incapacitated, but Karen wasn't in a wheelchair until the last sixteen months or so."

"I'm sorry. It sounds grim."

He shrugged. "It was. Sometimes it looked like she had it licked. Long periods symptom-free. The hell of it was she was misdiagnosed early on. She'd been plagued by minor health problems, so she started seeing a local chiropractor for what she thought was gout. Of course, once he got hold of her, he mapped out a whole bullshit program that only postponed her getting real help. Class three subluxation. That's what he said it was. I should have sued his ass off, but what's the point?"

"She wasn't a patient of Dr. Dunne's, by any chance?"

He shook his head. "I finally forced her to see an internist in town and he referred her to UCLA for a workup. I guess it didn't matter in the final analysis. Things probably would have come out the same, either way. She handled it much better than I did, that's for sure."

I couldn't think of a thing to say to him. He talked about her for a while and then went on to something else.

"May I ask you about your relationship with Shana Timberlake?"

He seemed to debate briefly. "Sure, why not? She's become a good friend. Since my wife died,

I've spent a lot of time with her. I'm not having an affair with the woman, but I do enjoy her company. I know tongues in town are wagging, but to hell with it. I'm too old to worry about that sort of thing anymore."

"Have you seen her today? I've been trying to track her down."

"No, I don't think so."

I looked over to see Ann Fowler coming in the door. "Oh, there's Ann," I said.

Dwight turned and caught her eye, motioning to her with pleasure. As she approached, he got up and borrowed a chair from a nearby table and moved it over to ours. The dark mood was still with her. She radiated tension, her mouth looking pinched. If Dwight was aware of it, he gave no sign.

He held her chair. "Would you like a drink?"

"Yes, sherry." She signaled for the waitress before he had a chance. He sat down again. I noticed she was avoiding eye contact with me. And drinking? That seemed odd.

"Have you eaten?" I asked.

"You could have told me you wouldn't be with us for dinner tonight."

I felt my cheeks heat at her tone. "I'm sorry. It didn't even occur to me. I was going to take a nap when it dawned on me I hadn't eaten all day. I took a quick shower and came straight over here. I hope I didn't put you out."

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