He drove by the elementary school about
noon, knowing he wouldn't be noticed in the slow-moving traffic of Citrus
In front of the school, a line of
wiggling young bodies clattered toward the playground behind their
teacher. A little girl with fuzzy gold hair turned and saw him and for one
moment their eyes met, and then another little girl grabbed her hand and
the contact broke.
The car drifted past. He could make
almost no noise at all when he wanted to. He passed the library and pulled
up alongside the high school, halting in the shade of a pepper tree.
They were sitting on the grass
beneath a palm tree about a hundred feet away, eating lunch out of white
paper bags from the McDonald's across the street. The two boys had their
backs to him, but between their heads he could see her, framed, as in a
Today the shoulder-length blonde hair
was pulled back with two clips, or maybe they were combs, and spilled down
over the shoulders of the delicate white blouse. Her mouth glistened from
whatever she was drinking out of that paper cup, not bothering with a
One of the boys shifted, leaving a clear
view of her breasts pressing outward through the thin blouse. You'd think
they'd leave a permanent mark.
She wore a gold chain around her slim
Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?" His mother laughed
tipsily, her hand stroking lightly down his pajamas as he lay in bed.
"Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh." Louder laughter,
ringing against the scarred walls. He shifted pleasurably against her hand
and she drew it away, slapping it with stinging suddenness against his
cheek. "Bad boy!" The pain brought tears to his eyes.
Today was going to be perfect. It
had to be today. The need ached and swelled in him. His palms grew moist
on the steering wheel. He could already see the puzzled look in her
eyes, the way she would half-smile as if trying to figure out the joke. He
could already feel the pulse of her throat.
Slowly he took his foot off the brake
and idled forward until he reached the entrance to the high school parking
you noticed recently that your shoes don’t match?" Barry Wheatley
tried to keep a straight face as he waited for Diane's reaction.
mates hurt my feet," she said calmly. Her right shoe was black with
an open toe and the left one was gray with a black stripe, but the heels
looked as if they were almost the same height, and they were probably both
real leather—Diane liked quality, when she could afford it. "I
won't go out of the building this way; trust me. And don't change the subject."
standing in the doorway of his office, the newsroom clickety-clacking
behind her. Something in the way she braced herself, blocking the door as
if ready to fight for what she believed in, made him want to give her
anything she asked. A damn fool, that was what he was.
you ought to investigate the shoe industry," Barry said. "That's
more along the lines of a consumer reporter, don't you think?"
shook her head impatiently, silver earrings glinting at the movement. She
had exquisite earlobes. Barry could almost feel the velvet of them. But
he knew that if he tried, she'd leap away like a startled fawn.
the door," he said.
Diane glanced at her watch. "I'm
going to be late picking up Lara at the high school."
"You want an audience? Guy wouldn't
like you moving in on his territory."
She glanced over her shoulder. Nguyen
"Guy" Chang, the Daily Record's police reporter, was sitting a dozen
feet away staring fixedly at his computer screen. Not writing anything.
Probably listening. Chang made everything that went on in Citrus Beach his
business, especially everything that went on in the managing editor's
Diane closed the door and sat down on
top of the late edition of the paper, which occupied the chair closest
to her. Through the glass front of the office, Chang could still see them,
but at least he couldn't hear them. "Just because I want to
investigate a phony psychic doesn't mean I'm gunning for a news job."
"Aren't you?" Barry thought
about lighting a cigarette. He thought about losing the twenty-five
dollars he'd dropped into the office pot two weeks ago. He thought about
not smoking for the remaining two weeks and decided he'd give it a try.
"Barry, I got a complaint about
this psychic, and I think it's justified. Have you ever listened to his
radio show on Wednesday nights? The man's a con artist." When she was
excited about something, Diane's hands started to wave like a conductor's.
"Who was the complaint from?"
"She wouldn't give me her
name—she said she was embarrassed. She 'donated' a hundred dollars to
find her daughter and he said the girl had run away to Los Angeles. Big
shrugged. "Anybody who believes in a guy called Eduardo Ranier
deserves what she gets. Diane, your job is to write a consumer column
about incredible shrinking sweaters and people who sell solar-powered
toothbrushes door-to-door. Fake psychics are out of your territory."
"I want to do it." Her mouth
tightened. "You know how I feel about people like that, people who
take advantage of worried parents ..."
There was a slight tremor to her voice.
He was going to fold; how could he help
it? He knew, even if only at second hand, the memories that lay behind
that tremor. "Well, the column comes first. Go after the man in your
spare time, if you insist." She gave him a smile, but her eyes stayed
sad. "Speaking of which, what are you doing for lunch tomorrow?"
"Buying a new pair of shoes."
She stood up, pausing with her hand on the doorknob. "Look, Barry,
after Saturday . . ."
"I'm not going to make a pass in
She considered. "That was the only
silk blouse I had where all the buttons matched."
"I'll look in my carpet again, I
promise," he said. "Don't tell me. I know. They're real
She sighed. "All right. One-thirty
As she opened the door, the noises
filtered back—the click of terminal keys, the endless ringing of
phones—and Barry picked up a thick whiff of smoke, which filled the
newsroom despite the handful of smoke-eater ashtrays he'd scattered
around. Breathing it was almost as good as smoking his own cigarette.
The general effect in the newsroom was
of barely controlled chaos, which was normal. The desks, he noted idly,
were covered by three layers, like an archaeological bisection of an
ancient city. On the bottom were scattered newspapers and files; atop
these, telephone books, dictionaries, and AP stylebooks spilled over onto
vacant chairs and the scarred linoleum floor; and, on the very top,
half-empty coffee cups tilted precariously beside carelessly discarded
wire photos and crumpled slips of paper scribbled with phone numbers.
Mottos and favorite photos had been stuck to sides of desks and every
other available vertical space. One sign taped to the back of a reporter's
chair said, If you don't want it printed, don't let it happen.
Barry refrained from staring as Diane
strode somewhat lopsidedly to her desk and replaced one of the mismatched
shoes. He knew Guy Chang was watching him.
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