Chapter Twelve


Robin called Thursday morning, while I was lying in bed trying not to be terrified at the magnitude of what I'd just done.

"What are you doing this morning?" he asked. "I called the library and they said you weren't scheduled to work this morning."

"No, I go in this afternoon and work this evening. I'm just lying here trying to make a list of what I need to do. I bought a house last night."

"You what?" He sounded as though he thought he'd misheard me.

I explained.

"Wow. I just called to see how you were feeling after being knocked down in the parking lot. I didn't expect to find out you were changing your life."

"Yet again. Oh, I have a bruise on my face, and my knees are a little sore, but I think I'm going to live," I said, scaling my news to a more expectable level. "Have you heard from the police again?"

"No more sightings," he said. "That's good. That Detective Smith, he can hardly stop asking me questions. Um, I'm not trying to imply anything, but was he formerly some significant male to you?"

"That's a nice way to put it. Yes, he was, briefly. Until he got another detective pregnant and invited me to the wedding."

"Ouch. Painful."

"It was, at the time. I'm over it." Though I was beginning to wonder if Arthur Smith ever would be; his continued emotional absorption with me seemed strange, since I'd been the injured party in our little triangle. Of course, I hadn't known I'd been in a triangle. Oblivious me.

"When do I get to see the new house?"

"Right now, if you want. I need to go make a list, have a look in the daylight."

"Give me the address."

Forty-five minutes later, I was walking up my new sidewalk, carrying two cups of coffee I'd picked up at the drive-through of one of Lawrenceton's fast-food places. I had some cholesterol-packed sausage biscuits in a bag. Luckily, Robin pulled up right behind me, and was able to take the bags while I unlocked the front door. My mother had given me the key, not without a sharp look or two, since she really wasn't supposed to be doing this. The privileges of being a realtor's daughter are few and far between.

Robin looked around curiously while I put our breakfast on the counter.

"How come you're not at the set?" I asked.

"They don't want me," he said casually. "The new actress is having her first morning of shooting, and she's pretty nervous. Actually, they never want me to be there, but they have to put up with me, from time to time."

"Then why did you come to Lawrenceton at all?"

He swung around to face me. His hair was as much of a mess as usual, and his glasses sat on his face crookedly. His cheeks were as smooth as a baby's bottom, and he smelled good.

His silence made me move restlessly. "What?"

"I came because of you."

I didn't know what to say. I didn't know how I felt.

"I wanted to see you again. I wanted to see if I really felt so comfortable with you, or if I was remembering it as better than it was. I had never slept with you; I hadn't seen you in years. You'd been married. What if it had all been something I made up when I couldn't find anything better?"

This was almost too much honesty.

"What do you want?" I asked hesitantly. "From me?"

"I want us to date," he said simply. "I want to go to bed with you sometimes. I want us to have a chance. If it doesn't work out, so be it. I can move back to California, I can get another teaching job, anything. I'm self-supporting, and I can work anywhere. So right now, I want to work here in Lawrenceton."

I couldn't seem to move. After a year of feeling empty, suddenly I felt full. After a year of grief, suddenly I felt a secret sort of joy. And I was terrified. I never could seem to do relationships like anyone else.

"Go look down the hall," I said. I pointed to the cabinet-lined hall leading out of the family room. He obediently strolled in that direction. I followed him. He looked at the cabinets approvingly, and then he opened the door at the end of the hall. The room had windows on three sides, and the morning light dazzled the eyes. The built-in bookcases that took up the remaining wall space were blindingly white with new paint. There were electric plugs in the floor where a desk would logically be placed, for a convenient computer plug-in.

A huge smile lit up Robin's face, and he spun to face me. "Come here," he said, falling to his knees and opening his arms. I crept over to him. He wrapped his arms around my waist, hugging me so tightly it almost hurt. I laughed and laughed. Then he kissed me, and I stopped laughing.

The phone rang about thirty minutes later. I had forgotten my cell phone was in my purse, and the little tune it played jogged me out of a lovely fog. Robin reached one long arm over to hook the shoulder strap of the purse. He dragged it over. I rummaged in it and fished out the phone.

"Yes?" I said.

"Roe, this is Sam," my boss said.

I tried to focus. I put my glasses on; everyone knows you can hear better over the phone if you're wearing your specs. "What can I do for you, Sam?" I asked.

"You sound funny," he said. "Were you asleep?"

"Oh, no," I said, my voice relaxed and slow. "No. Not asleep."

"I need you to do me a favor," Sam said.

"What's the matter?" I asked, finally picking up on the worry in his voice.

"It's Patricia. She didn't come in to work this morning, and she doesn't answer my calls."

"Gosh, that's not like her."

"No, it's not. She hasn't missed a day of work since I hired her. Her son's not in school, either. The school called here, looking for her."

"So what do you want me to do?"

"I want you to go over to her house and make sure everything's all right there."

"So, if there's a dead body, you don't care if I find it!"

"Roe," he protested, obviously offended. "I can't leave. It's work hours."

I sighed, not making any attempt to cover up my exasperation. Robin bent over me, doing something that made me bite my lip to keep in a gasp. "In a few minutes," I said, to get Sam off the phone. "I'll go, Sam, in a few minutes."

"Good," he said, obviously surprised I'd caved so quickly. He gave me the address. "Then let me know."

I hung up without saying good-bye. Sam wouldn't even notice.

Robin went with me, once I'd explained the circumstances to him.

I'd never known where Patricia lived before today. Of course I'd known where the street was. It was on the upper end of the scale for the largely black area of Lawrenceton that ran on the northwest side of town, literally following the old railroad tracks. Patricia's rental was a small, square house with minimal yard and no carport. Patricia's little car was nowhere in sight. There were two newspapers lying by the front steps.

I knocked, of course, but I didn't expect an answer, and I got none. I tried to peer in the windows but, literally, I wasn't up to that. Robin obligingly undertook the task, and he reported that the house looked very clean, but a little disordered - as though the Bledsoes had packed very quickly. The kitchen counter held none of the usual small appliances. A set of keys lay on the counter, along with a sheaf of money.

"Like she left the keys and the next month's rent so the landlord wouldn't feel any need to track her down," Robin said.

"Oh, man" I muttered, trying not to moan. "This isn't going to be pretty," I told Robin as I punched in the library number.

Of course, Sam was distraught when I told him Patricia was gone. He could not believe she would just cut and run with no warning.

"Did you do something to her?" he said accusingly.

I'd had enough. "Sam," I said sharply into the phone, "Patricia may have been the perfect secretary, but I am the one who's worked for you for ten years. I think you should have a little faith in me." We hung up on each other, equally unhappy. I was cudgeling my brain to think of what could have happened to Patricia and Jerome. It was eerie and frightening to admit that she had evidently packed up her clothes and some small goods, and vanished.

"Come to think of it," I said to Robin, "she's been acting funny for days. Ever since she found out that the movie people attracted the media, and Celia came into the library and actually checked out books, Patricia's been asking questions like crazy about where the filming was going to be every day, whether the movie people would be coming to the library, like that."

"Do you think she's running from something? Maybe she knows someone on the crew," Robin said. "Someone she didn't want to recognize her?"

I considered. "Maybe," I said. "Or maybe she was scared she'd be noticed by one of the media people here to watch the filming and do interviews."

"Did you say anything about the film yesterday?"

"Nope," I said. "But she practically fainted when she saw me repairing a book. As a matter of fact, it was right after that that she left the library in a mighty big hurry."

"What was the book?"

"It was one Celia had checked out. You know, when she came to the library after she first got to Lawrenceton. I think she was looking for me, to have a peek at me. But she thrilled Sam by taking out a library card and checking out some books to do research for her next movie."

"The sixties-radical movie," Robin said.

"Right. Bell-bottoms and Bombs, or something like that."

"Can you find the book again?"

"Sure. Let's go to the library."

I tracked down the book in record time. It had been reshelved. I flipped it open, Robin looking over my shoulder. I turned to the picture section and began to really examine the old pictures. Lots of Afros and jeans, dashikis and beads. Peace signs. And photographs of wires and bits of hardware that were used in the making of bombs. What an incongruous blend, the philosophy of world peace, disarmament, and the construction of bombs to blow a hole in the consciousness of middle America.

The next picture was of a group of radicals at some rally. Right to left, read the caption, suspected bomb makers Joanne Cheney, Ralph "Coco" Defarge, his teenage sister Anita, Maxwell Brand, and Barbara "Africa" Palley.

"Anything ring a bell?" Robin asked in my ear, making me twitch.

"No. Yes," I said suddenly. I put my index finger on the picture of the radicals. "Look at the little sister."

"I never met Patricia Bledsoe," Robin reminded me.

"This is her," I said breathlessly. "Oh my God. Patricia the perfect helped her big brother make bombs in the sixties." I had to put my hands over my mouth to stifle a totally inappropriate laugh. Patricia, the rigorously traditional woman whose middle name was conservative! Patricia, who wouldn't even let her son wear Nike! "This is just going to kill Sam derrick," I said, suppressing a snort with great difficulty.

"This is funny, how?" Robin asked.

I tried to explain.

"Are you going to tell someone?" he asked.

"I have to, don't I?" I asked. "Don't I have to tell someone? She obviously picked up and ran because she thought I'd smoked her out. It couldn't have been further from the truth. If she'd just stayed put, I'd never have known."

"All the way back in the sixties," Robin said gently.

"Yeah, I know," I said, reluctant to debate my duty. "I have a lot of sympathy for her, even if she was the biggest pain in the patootie I've ever encountered. Except maybe Sam himself. But you know - if she did help build that bomb - I'm not trying to be Rhonda Righteous, but a security guard got killed, Robin. Besides, obviously Patricia was panicked by the idea of Celia seeing this picture and noticing the likeness, just like we did. What if Patricia somehow made her way onto the set and killed Celia, thinking Celia had spotted her and was going to tell?"

"Can't take that lightly," he agreed. "Will you tell Sam?"

"Oh, you bet," I said instantly. Then I reconsidered. "At least about our suspecting she's Anita Defarge."

"Not about her connection with Celia?"

"I know the papers this morning said it would have been easy for someone to have sneaked up to her trailer and killed her because there were a lot of people around. I just don't see it happening," I said. "Do you agree? There were a lot of people, but none of them looked or dressed like Patricia. And Celia had never talked to her, that I know of. They'd just glimpsed each other when Sam gave Celia a tour of the library. Wouldn't Celia have raised a fuss if someone she didn't know entered her trailer? She wouldn't have just sat there and waited for something bad to happen."

"I agree, for the most part," Robin said. "Just mention the fact you're most sure of; that the picture looks like his secretary."

"That's what I'll do," I said resolutely. I folded immediately. "In fact, maybe I'll leave calling the police up to him."

Robin waited out in the employee break room while I went in to Sam's office and broke the news. The fluorescent lights glinted off Sam's thick glasses as he looked hopelessly down at the black-and-white picture. "She was so great," he all but whimpered. "She took all my calls. I never had to talk to anybody. She understood the paperwork. She was never late. She was never sick. Her son was respectful and quiet."

"I'm sorry, Sam," I said as gently as I could. "I'll just leave it up to you what to do."

"Oh, there's no doubt about what to do," he said gloomily. "She may have been on the run all these years, always looking over her shoulder. And with the boy, too - I wonder what she told him. But I have to call the FBI. That's the law, and I have to uphold the law."

I felt like a second-class moral citizen compared to Sam's straightforward conviction. It must be wonderful to always know what was right to do.

At the back of my mind, I kept hoping that Patricia would walk in with some explanation of where she'd been and what she'd been doing. It wouldn't take much to satisfy Sam. If she just said, "What coincidence, that girl looks like a young me," that would probably do it. But the combined evidence of the flight and the picture - well, at least that should be investigated.

With a grim face, Sam picked up his phone to call the local police. He said, "I guess they can give me the right number to call." Then he put the phone back on its cradle. "But you know... maybe I don't have to call right now. After all, she still might show up. Maybe there's a sick relative she had to visit."

Maybe there was an elephant in my locker. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Excuse me, Sam," I said. "I'll leave. You do what you think is right."

"Aren't you supposed to come in for the afternoon?"

"Yes."

"Then I'll see you later."

No "thank you," no "I appreciate it." Well, that was Sam. No people skills.

Robin was still waiting for me. He opened his mouth to ask a question, but I lifted a finger to my lips. When we were safely out in the parking lot, I told him what had transpired. He shook his head doubtfully, but agreed that Sam should be the one to make the phone call that would set law enforcement on Patricia's - Anita's - trail.

I had two hours before I was due back at the library, and we trailed over to Mother's office to sign some paperwork.

Mother greeted Robin quite matter-of-factly, but she was not overwhelmingly friendly, even when he asked her to find him a modest rental. She looked relieved, but not enthralled. She'd have to have warm-up time, I guessed. I wasn't going to push it.

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