F is for Fugitive Page 60

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"Looks like it," I said. "I keep hoping I'll pick up a lead."

"It'd be nothin' more than damn luck after all this time."

"Sometimes I can make luck," I said.

Pearl leaned forward, thrusting his double chins at me. "I'll tell you something. You're never going to get anywhere with this. It's no point. Bailey's confessed and, by God, it's gonna stick. Royce don't want to believe he's guilty and I can understand that. He's near dead and he doesn't want to go to his grave with a cloud hanging over him. I feel sorry for the old fool, but that doesn't change the facts."

"How do we even know what the facts are at this point?" I said. "She died seventeen years ago. Bailey disappeared the year after that."

"My point exactly," Pearl said. "This is old news. A dead horse. Bailey admitted he was guilty. He could've been out by now instead of starting all over. Look at him. He's taken off again. Who knows where, doing who knows what. We might any of us be in danger. We don't know what's going through his head."

"Pearl, I don't want to argue with you, but I won't give up."

"Then you're a bigger fool than he is."

I'd just about had my fill of argumentative old men. Who asked him? "I appreciate your assessment. I'll keep that in mind." I glanced at my watch. "I better get back."

Neither Rick nor Pearl seemed sorry to see me go. I could feel their eyes on me as I left the place, giving me the kind of look that makes you want to step up your pace a bit.

I walked the two blocks to the motel. It was just after ten, and two black-and-whites were parked side by side across the street. Two young cops were leaning on the fenders, coffee cups in hand while their radio kept up a running account of what was going on in town. I kept thinking about Rick. I knew he was lying, but I had no idea why. Unless he killed her himself. Maybe he'd made sexual advances and she'd laughed him off. Or maybe he'd just been trying to look important at the time, the last man who'd seen Jean Timberlake alive. It was bound to lend him status in a community the size of Floral Beach.

I took my keys out as I went up the outside stairs. It was dark on the second-floor landing, but I caught a whisper of cigarette smoke. I stopped.

There was someone standing in the shadow of the vending machine across from my room. I reached for the penlight in my handbag and flicked it on.

Cherie.

"What are you doing here?" She stepped out of the dark, the dim glow of the flashlight washing her face with white. "I'm sick of Rick's b.s."

I moved to my door and unlocked it, glancing back at her. "You want to come in and talk?"

"I better not. If he gets home and I'm out, he'll want to know where I've been."

"He's been lying, hasn't he?"

"It wasn't midnight when he saw them. It was closer to ten. He was on his way to see me. He knew if his Daddy found out he'd left his granny by herself, he'd get the crap beat outta him."

"So what happened then, he left and went back?"

"Right. He got back by the time the visiting nurse showed up for her shift. Later, when it turned out Jean Timberlake had been murdered, he said he saw her and Bailey. He just blurted it out before he realized how much trouble he'd be in. So then he had to make the time different so he wouldn't get his ass whipped."

"And Pearl still doesn't know?"

"I'm not sure about that. He's real protective of Rick, so maybe he suspects. It didn't seem like it mattered, once Bailey pleaded guilty. He said he killed her, so nobody really cared what time it was."

"Did Rick tell you what really happened?"

"Well, he did see 'em get out of the truck and go down to the beach. He told me that at the time, but Bailey really could have gone back to his room and passed out like he claimed."

"Why are you telling me?"

"It's no skin off my butt. I'm leaving him anyway, first chance I get."

"You never told anyone else?"

"With Bailey gone all those years, who was I going to tell? Rick made me swear I'd keep my mouth shut and I've done it, but I can't stand listening to any more bull. I want my conscience clear and then I'm heading out."

"Where will you go if you leave Floral Beach?"

She shrugged. "Los Angeles. San Francisco. I got a hundred bucks for the bus and I'll just see how far it goes."

"Is there any chance Rick could have been involved with her?"

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