F is for Fugitive Page 58

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She didn't bother to reply to that. I could see that unconsciously she'd adopted her mother's strategy, hanging on to her martyrdom and milking it. I'm not crazy about this as a mode of interaction.

The waitress arrived and asked Ann what she wanted. Before she disappeared, Dwight snagged the woman's attention. "Hi, Dorothy. Has Shana Timberlake been in today?"

"Nope. Not that I've seen. She's usually here for lunch, but she may have gone in to San Luis. Thursday's her day to shop."

"Well, if you see her, tell her to give me a buzz if you would."

"Will do." Dorothy moved away from the table, and he turned back to us.

"How are you, Dwight?" Ann said, with forced pleasantness. It was clear she was cutting me right out of the loop.

I was too tired to play games. I finished my coffee, tossed a twenty on the table, and excused myself.

"You're leaving us?" Dwight said, with a quick look at his watch. "It's not even nine-thirty."

"It's been a long day and I'm beat."

We went through our good-night maneuvers, Ann being only minimally more polite than she had been. Her sherry arrived as I left the table and headed for the door. I thought Dwight seemed slightly disappointed at my departure, but I might have been kidding myself. Martinis bring out the latent romantic in me. Also headaches, if anybody's interested.

19

The night was clear. The moon was a pale gold, with gray patches forming patterns across the face of it like bruises on a peach. The door to Pearl's Pool Hall was standing open as I passed, but there were no pool players in evidence and just a handful of people at the bar. The jukebox was playing a country-western tune of some haunting melodic sort. There was one couple on the dance floor, the woman stony-faced as she looked over the man's shoulder. He was doing a hip-swaying two-step, moving her in a circle while she pivoted in place. I slowed, recognizing them from the arraignment. Pearl's son and daughter-in-law. On an impulse, I went in.

I perched on a barstool and turned so I could watch them. He seemed self-absorbed. She was bored. They reminded me of one of those middle-aged couples I see in restaurants whose interest in one another has long ago expired. He was wearing a tight, white T-shirt that bowed slightly at the waist where his love handles bulged out. His jeans were low-slung, too short for the heel on his cowboy boots. His hair was a curly blond, damp from all the styling mousse, which I had to guess was going to smell as pungent as buffalo musk. His face was smooth and full, with a pug nose, a sulky mouth, and an expression that suggested he was very smitten with himself. This guy spent a lot of time in front of bathroom mirrors, combing his hair while he decided which side of his mouth to hang his cigarette from. Daisy approached, her gaze following mine.

"That's Pearl's son and daughter-in-law?" "Yep. Rick and Cherie." "Happy-looking pair. What's he do?" "A welder at a company makes storage tanks. He's an old friend of Tap's. She works for the telephone company, or at least she did. She quit a couple weeks back and they been squabbling ever since. Want a beer?" "Sure, why not?"

Pearl was on the far end of the room in a conversation with a couple of guys in bowling shirts. He nodded when he saw me, and I gave him a wave. Daisy brought my beer in a frosty Mason jar.

The dance number ended. Cherie left the dance floor, with Rick close behind. I put a couple of bucks on the bar and crossed to their table just as they sat down. Close up, her features were delicate, her blue eyes set off by dark lashes and brows. She might have been pretty if she'd had the resources. As it was, she was thin in a way that spoke of poor nutrition: bony shoulders, bad coloring, lifeless hair pulled back with a couple of plastic barrettes. Her fingernails were bitten right down to the quick. The wrinkles in her sweater suggested that she'd snatched it, in passing, from a pile on the bedroom floor. Both Rick and Cherie smoked.

I introduced myself. "I'd like to talk to you, if you don't mind."

Rick lounged in his seat, hooking his arm over the back of his chair while he checked me out. His legs were now extended insolently into my path. The pose was probably meant to look macho, but I suspected his waistband had jammed his stomach right up against his spleen and he was affording himself some relief. "I heard about you. You're that private detective old man Fowler hired." His tone was knowing. Nobody was going to put one over on him.

"Could I sit down?"

Rick motioned me to a chair, which he kicked out with his foot-his notion of etiquette. I sat down. Cherie didn't seem thrilled with my company, but at least it saved her being alone with him. "So what's the deal?" he said.

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