F is for Fugitive Page 80

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I started to interrupt, but she'd just put a palm across the mouthpiece, talking to someone in the background. The deputy? Oh hell, was she telling him where I was?

I replaced the receiver in the cradle.

Dwight was looking at me with perplexity. "You okay? What was that about?"

"I have to go to San Luis Obispo," I said carefully. It was a lie, of course, but it was the first thing that occurred to me. Ann had told them where I was. Within minutes this whole cul-de-sac would be blocked off, the neighborhood swarming with deputies. I had to get out of there, and I didn't think it was wise to let him know where I was headed.

"San Luis?" he said. "What for?"

I moved toward the front door. "Don't worry about it. I'll be back in a bit."

"Don't you need a car?"

"I'll get one."

I closed the door behind me, leaped off the porch, and ran.

25

The Ocean Street Motel was only four blocks away. It wasn't going to take the cops long. I kept to the pavement until I caught the sound of a vehicle accelerating up the hill. I took a dive into the bushes as a black-and-white sped into view, heading straight for Dwight's place. Lights flashing, no siren. A second black-and-white gunned up the hill after the first. Hotdoggers. The deputy in the second car was probably twenty-two. Big career ahead of him, careening through Floral Beach legally. He must have been having the time of his life.

The solution to so many problems seems obvious once you know where to look. My conversation with Dwight had generated a shift in my mind-set and the questions that had troubled me before now seemed to have answers that made perfect sense. Some of them, at any rate. I needed confirmation, but at least now I had a working premise. Jean Timberlake had been murdered to protect Dwight Shales. Ori Fowler had died because she was meant to die… to get her out of the way. And Shana? I thought I understood why she had died, too. Bailey was supposed to take the rap for all of it, and he'd fallen for it like a chump. If he'd had sense enough not to run-if he'd just stayed put-he couldn't have been blamed for everything that'd happened since.

I approached the motel from the rear, through a vacant lot filled with weeds and broken glass. Many of the motel windows were ablaze with lights. I could imagine all the uproar caused by the presence of sheriffs' cars. I suspected there was still a deputy posted somewhere close, probably just outside my room. I reached the Fowlers' back door. The kitchen light was on, and I could see the shadow of someone moving around in the back part of the apartment. A little black-and-white television now sat on the counter, a taped newscast flickering across the empty room. Quintana was making mouth noises on the courthouse steps. Must have been this afternoon. A picture of Bailey Fowler followed. He was being led, in handcuffs, to a waiting vehicle. On came the announcer, turning to the weather map. I tried the kitchen door. Locked. I didn't want to stand out there trying to pick the lock.

I circled the building, hugging the outside wall, checking darkened windows for one left ajar. What I found instead was a side door that was located just across from the stairway inside the back hall. The knob turned in my hand and I pushed the door open cautiously. I peered in. Royce, in a ratty bathrobe, was shuffling down the hall toward me, slump-shouldered, eyes on his slippers. I could hear the hum of his weeping, broken by intermittent sighs. He was walking his grief like a baby, back and forth. He reached the door to his room and turned, shuffling back toward the kitchen. Now and then he murmured Ori's name, voice breaking off. Lucky is the spouse who dies first, who never has to know what survivors endure. Royce must have signed himself out of the hospital after Reverend Haws paid his call. Ori's death had pushed him past struggling. What did he care if he sped death along?

The lights from the living room gave the uncomfortable sense of other people very near. I could hear two women in the dining room, talking in low tones. Was Mrs. Emma still with Ann? Royce was reaching the kitchen, where I knew he'd turn again, coming back.

I closed the door behind me, crossed to the stairs, and took them two at a time, moving silently. I should have put two and two together when I saw that the maid's master key wouldn't open room 20. That room had probably been sealed off, part of the Fowlers' apartment upstairs.

The second floor was dark, except for a window on the landing through which a soft yellow light now spilled. I was disoriented. Somehow this didn't look the way I'd expected it to. There was a short corridor to my left, ending in a door. I crossed to it, stopped, and listened carefully. Silence. I tried the knob and pushed the door open a crack. Cold air wafted in. I was facing the exterior corridor that ran right by my room. I could see the vending machine and the outside stairs. To my immediate left was room 20, next to that room 22, where I'd spent my first night. There was no sign of a deputy on duty. Did I dare simply mosey down, use my key, and go in? What if the deputy was waiting inside?

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