F is for Fugitive Page 83

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I saw her eyes flick toward the door. "I'll be down in a minute, Pop. We can look at them then."

Too late. He had pushed the door open, peering in. He had a photograph album in his arms, and his face held such innocence. His eyes seemed very blue. His lashes were sparse, still wet from his tears, his nose red. Gone was the gruffness, the arrogance, the dominance. His illness had made him frail, and Ori's death had knocked him to his knees, but here he came again, an old man full of hope. "Mrs. Maude and Mrs. Emma are looking for you to say good night."

"I'm busy right now. Will you take care of it?"

He caught sight of me. He must have wondered what I was doing with my hands in the air. His attention strayed to the shotgun Ann held at shoulder height. I thought he was going to turn and shuffle out again. He hesitated, uncertain what to do next.

I said, "Hello, Royce. Guess who killed Jean Timberlake?"

He glanced at me and then looked away. "Well." His gaze slid over to Ann as if she might deny the accusation. She got up from the bed and reached behind him for the door.

"Go on downstairs, Pop. I have something to do and then I'll be down."

He seemed confused. "You're not going to hurt her."

"No, of course not," she said.

"She's going to shoot my ass!" I said.

His gaze strayed back to hers, looking for reassurance.

"What do you think she's doing with that shotgun? She's going to kill me dead and then claim trespass. She told me so."

"Pop, I caught her going through my closet. The cops are after her. She's in cahoots with Bailey, trying to help him get away."

"Oh, don't be a silly. Why would I do that?"

"Bailey?" Royce said. It was the first time tonight I'd seen comprehension in his eyes.

"Royce, I've got proof he's innocent. Ann's the one who killed Jean-"

"You liar! Ann cut in. "The two of you are trying to take Pop for everything he's worth."

God, I couldn't believe this. Ann and I were squabbling like little kids, each of us trying to persuade Royce to be on our side. "Did too." "Did not." "Did too."

Royce put a trembling finger to his lips. "If she's got proof, maybe we should hear what it is," he said, talking almost to himself. "Don't you think so, Annie? If she can prove Bailey's innocent?"

I could see the rage begin to stir at the mention of his name. I was worried she would shoot and argue with her daddy afterward. The same thought apparently occurred to him. He reached for the shotgun. "Put it down, baby."

Abruptly, she backed away. "DON'T TOUCH ME!"

I could feel my heart start to thud, afraid he'd yield. Instead, he seemed to focus, gathering his strength.

"What are you doing, Ann? You can't do that."

"Go on. Get out of here."

"I want to hear what Kinsey has to say." "Just do what I tell you and get the hell out!"

He clamped a hand on the barrel. "Give me that before you hurt someone."

"No!" Ann snatched it out of his reach. Royce lunged, grabbing it. The two of them struggled for possession of the shotgun. I was immobilized, my attention fixed on the big black 8 of the two barrels that pointed first at me, then the floor, ceiling, weaving through the air. Royce should have been the stronger, but illness had sapped him and Ann's rage gave her the edge. Royce jerked the gun by the stock.

Fire spurted from the barrel, and the blast filled the room with powder smell. The shotgun thumped to the floor as Ann screamed.

She was looking down in disbelief. Most of her right foot had been blown away. All that was left was a torn stump of raw meat. I could feel heat rip through me as though the sensation were mine. I turned away, repelled.

The pain must have bee; excruciating, blood pumping out. What color she had left drained from her face. She sank to the floor, speechless, her body rocking as she clutched herself. Her cries dropped to a low, relentless pitch.

Royce backed away from her, his voice feeble with regret. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that. I tried to help."

I could hear people pounding up the stairs: Bert, Mrs. Maude, a young deputy I'd never seen. Another kid. Wait until he got a load of this.

"Get an ambulance!" I yelled. I was pulling a pillowcase off the bed, wadding it against her mangled foot, trying to stanch the blood spewing everywhere. The deputy fumbled with his walkie-talkie while Mrs. Maude babbled, wringing her hands. Mrs. Emma had pushed into the room behind her, and she began to shriek when she saw what was going on. Maxine and Bert were both white-faced, holding on to each other. Belatedly, the deputy herded all of them into the corridor and closed the door again. Even through the wall I could hear Mrs. Emma's shrill cries.

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