Death on the High Lonesome (20 page)

BOOK: Death on the High Lonesome
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Chet leaned over and gave Karen a hug. “It's the singing,” he said.

Karen gave him a quick kiss.

“So I guess they're starting to pull in the sidewalks,” Chet said.

“Yeah, about that time,” Virgil said. “Nice meeting you, Simon. Where are you off to after your visit here?”

“One place or another. Someplace I haven't been. Maybe a place where I can pick up the pieces, start all over.”

“What about home?” Virgil asked.

“Well, home is New York. Lower Hudson River Valley. Right now, with this . . .”—he held up his prosthesis—“the competition is pretty tight for my work skills.”

“What are they?”

“Well, my original goal was law enforcement. I was an MP and sniper at different times in my career, but don't think there's much of a market for those skills, considering this.” He raised his artificial hand again.

“Can you fire a gun?”

“Rifle, shotgun—no problem. Revolver, I'd need to work on. Other than that, physically I'm probably in the best shape I've ever been in, courtesy of the rehab at the VA.” Virgil sat back in his chair, not saying anything while Simon finished the last of his beer. Simon then turned to ask Chet something. Virgil stood up from the table to join Marian.

“I really enjoyed meeting you all,” she said.

“So, Chet, did I pass the test?”

“Flying colors, Virgil. Just like a regular person.”

Simon, standing next to Chet, was obviously puzzled.

“Simon, nice meeting you. By the way, if you aren't in a rush to put Hayward in your rearview mirror, I'd kind of like to talk to you.”

Simon had reached out to shake hands. Virgil took note of the taut muscles that drew his shirt tight across his chest.

“I'm not sure. Staying with Chet, but you know what they say about fish and visitors after three days. What did you want to talk about?”

“That different kind of war I mentioned. Simon, I'm the sheriff of Hayward County.”

“Oh, I didn't know. Chet never said.”

Chet, who had been listening to their exchange, joined them and spoke up. “See, Simon, like I always said, I'd keep an eye out for you.”

They both turned and looked at Chet.

“That just might be the lamest joke I've heard all night,” Virgil said.

27

T
hey could see their breath as they walked to Marian's car.

“Hope the weather holds for the next few days,” she said. “At least until after Mom's—”

“I think it will,” Virgil interrupted. “Sky is clear and the night has a thousand eyes.”

“That's nice. A thousand eyes.”

“Not original with me. A line from an old Edward G. Robinson movie. Liked the image. It just stuck with me.”

“So what were you talking to Chet's friend about when we were getting ready to leave?”

“Nothing too specific. He seemed like someone I might find some common ground with that could have the possibility of benefiting each of us. Just a gut feeling.” They had reached Marian's car.

“Funny how that is, about gut feelings. I've had a couple of them lately, kind of disturbing,” Marian said.

Virgil wasn't sure in the dim light by her car, but he thought for an instant he saw a look of sadness come into her eyes.

“Thanks for talking me into this night, Virgil. It was good medicine.”

“For me, too.”

“You going home?”

Virgil looked again at the sky. Then pulled the collar of his denim jacket up. “No, don't think so. Heard the click.”

“Heard the click?”

“I think it was after the third beer. Knew if I went beyond that, I wouldn't be driving home tonight. Made my choice, 'cause I was having a good time. Wouldn't look good in the community if the headline read DWI for Sheriff Dalton after he runs into a tree.”

“You don't look to me like you would have any trouble driving.”

“Looks can be deceiving. Guess I hold my liquor fairly well. I might be able to get away with it, but I know if I was to blow into a Breathalyzer, the numbers wouldn't lie. I'll stay in town tonight.”

He opened the car door for Marian.

“It was a good night, wasn't it? We'll have to do it again.”

“I won't refuse the invitation,” she said as she got behind the wheel.

Virgil watched as Marian drove away. Then he walked the couple of blocks over to the office. He could hear Dif snoring through the closed door, but as soon as he pushed it open the snoring stopped.

“What are you doing here, Virgil?”

“Trying to catch one of my deputies sleeping on the job.”

Dif pointed to the clock. “Yeah, well, I'm on unpaid overtime. Jimmy's late. Should have been in my own bed over an hour ago.”

“Have you heard from him?”

“Yeah. He'll be along soon. Got a flat when he was on his way back, over on the River Road. Called in. I said I'd wait.”

“Thank you, Dif. You're a good man. Any calls?”

“Nope, quiet as a tomb. But you haven't told me what you are doing here.”

“Closed the Lazy Dog tonight, got a snoot full. Thought maybe I shouldn't drive.”

“Good for you, Virgil. Got to do that once in a while. Let a little steam out of the pressure cooker.”

Dif got up, then poured a couple of cups of coffee. He placed one in front of Virgil. “Let's sit awhile. Drink up.”

Virgil eyed Dif, then did as he was told. After a second cup, Virgil said, “Dif, you can take off now. I'll cover any calls. Wait until Jimmy shows up.”

“Okay, Virgil, see you tomorrow. Won't put in for the overtime.”

“Don't know that it would make much difference if you did.”

After Dif left, Virgil went to the cell block. The symphony of snores coming from the occupants suggested an uneventful night. He counted seven—one unoccupied cell. He recognized everyone, which wasn't much of a surprise. Most of the time his was a repeat business. The rollaway was just inside the door, so on his return from inspection, he pushed it into the office, then over to the corner between where the coffee urn was set up and the far wall. He had just opened it up when Jimmy came into the office.

“Hey, Jimmy.”

Virgil could tell immediately that he was an unpleasant surprise.

“Sheriff, where's Dif?”

“I sent him home before Edna came looking for him. Don't
want her to get the notion that he's tomcatting. Can't afford to lose a trusted employee like Dif. Heard you had a little car trouble.”

Jimmy looked down at his hands, which were dirt covered and grease stained.

“Got a flat out on River Road. Had a hard time loosening some of the lug nuts. It was dark even with my spot.”

“Guess that wasn't fun.”

“No, sir. No, it wasn't.”

“Well, get yourself cleaned up, then you can go home. I'm staying over tonight, but before you take off, I think we need to clear the air.”

Jimmy didn't say anything, but turned and went into the bathroom. He came out about ten minutes later. Virgil was still sitting at his desk looking over some incident reports concerning his cellmates on the other side of the door. The most serious infraction appeared to be the damage done to a car belonging to the new boyfriend of a girl by her previous boyfriend.

“Have a seat, Jimmy. Be with you in a second.”

Jimmy sat down while Virgil finished the last report. “Some people have a hard time with rejection.”

He placed the report on the stack on the side of his desk. Then he pushed his chair back.

“You want to tell me what the problem is?” Virgil said. “My take is you've got a burr under your saddle about something. Let's have it.”

At first Jimmy didn't say anything. It was obvious he was a little uncomfortable in the hot seat. Virgil was getting ready to prod him again when he blurted out one word.

“Virginia.”

“I don't understand. What has Virginia got to do with this?”

“Is she your daughter?” Jimmy asked.

Virgil sat up in his chair, then stood up and walked around the room.

“So that's it.” He stopped and looked at his young deputy. “I'm sorry, Jimmy. I should have told you but, well, I guess you'd have to say I didn't become a father in the traditional way.”

He walked over to his desk, pulled his chair around until it was next to Jimmy's, then sat down. For the next ten minutes he explained the circumstances surrounding the revelation of his fatherhood.

“There it is. I guess it's time for it to become public knowledge. Secrets are rarely kept. In this case obviously it has already caused a problem. I didn't mean to leave you in the dark. Guess it just took time for me to grasp all the nuance.”

Virgil stood up, pushed his chair back to its place behind the desk. “Go home, Jimmy. I need to get some sleep. Tomorrow is probably going to be another long day.”

He walked over to the rollaway, sat down, and untied his shoes.

“Okay, Virgil. Glad we had this talk. I feel a lot better.”

“Me, too,” Virgil replied as Jimmy stood at the door.

“Oh, Virgil. There's just one more thing.”

Virgil looked up from the edge of his bed. “Do you have any objection to me asking your daughter for a date?”

Virgil just stared at Jimmy, standing in the open doorway.

“Is this what being a father is all about?” he said.

Jimmy smiled and walked out the door, leaving Virgil sitting there in his new role.

*   *   *

Sunlight came streaming through the office window much too soon for Virgil.

“Paying the price for your night on the town, aren't you?”
Rosie was standing over him with a cup of orange juice in her hand. “Drink this—it'll help.”

Virgil sat up, swung his legs over the side, resting his bare feet on the floor as he reached out and took the cup. He drained it in one gulp. “Dry mouth always follows a night of drinking.”

“I'm not even going to ask how you know,” Virgil said as he stood up. “I make no apologies. It was fun.”

“Okay, sport. Get cleaned up and I'll get an extra breakfast for you and the other inmates.”

When Virgil emerged from the bathroom twenty minutes later, a plate of sausage, eggs, and toast was on his desk alongside a cup of hot, black coffee.

“That was good, just what I needed to kick-start my day. By the way, you might like to know it wasn't just about fun last night. I might have a prospect for that vacancy you want me to fill.”

Virgil went on to tell Rosie about Simon Levine. “Well, what about that?”

“You did good, Virgil. If he walks through that door and is fool enough to want to stay, I'm not letting him out till he's in uniform and his name is on the contract. Sounds like what we need. A Jewish boy from New York. He'll blend right in with a Baptist, a Catholic, and what are you again? . . . an agnostic. Now, if he fits, all you got to do is sell it to them born-again Christians on the town council. He ain't by any chance gay, is he?”

“Never thought to ask the question, but we can live in hope. After all, we're striving for diversity, right?”

Virgil spent the next few hours taking care of some paperwork, his least favorite part of the job. About ten minutes after eleven, Simon Levine came into the office, much to Virgil's surprise.

“Simon, good to see you.”

“Chet dropped me off. Think he wants to get me out of the house.”

“That could be a good thing. Have a seat.”

Simon reached for a nearby chair.

“Let me ask you a quick question,” Virgil said. “If everything were to fall into place, could you see yourself working as a deputy in Hayward County? I'm about ready to hit them with a request for a new deputy and I'm not going to give them much wiggle room.”

Simon looked like someone had just thrown a bucket of water on him.

“You don't waste much time, do you?”

“Only when I absolutely have to, but you haven't answered my question.”

An hour later, after Simon had left, with the prospect of a new deputy looking a lot more favorable, Virgil got up from his desk, ready to leave the office. “What did you think of Simon?”

“I liked him,” Rosie said. “He looks you straight in the eye when he talks to you. Easy to look at and he isn't afraid to speak up. I think he's a keeper. I got a good vibe.”

Virgil picked up his hat. “Me, too.” Then he started for the door.

“Where are you heading, Virgil?”

“Going down to Sky High to see a man about a helicopter ride.”

“This about Velma and Charlie?”

“We'll see.”

“Say hello to Margaret and Eustace for me.”

“Will do.”

“Any closer, Virgil?”

“Well, I'm thinking if I can find out the why, then there's a chance I can find out the who. Maybe this pilot can give me something in that direction, because I'm afraid if the who is desperate enough, he or they might not just stop with Velma and Charlie.”

BOOK: Death on the High Lonesome
3.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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