"The guard says he'll give me six months, unless I've got the money for the fine. That seems to be automatic for a first offense. If I volunteer to go to the work camp he'll cut my time in half."
"What are you talking about, a chain gang?"
"They don't call it that and they don't chain you together. I get the feeling it's not official and maybe that's why we get to choose. The word comes back to the prisoners through the guards if you work, they'll cut your time; if you don't, you go to jail and serve it all."
"Man, that stinks. Goddamn judge is probably getting paid off."
"Maybe so, but I'm going to take it. I'll use it in a book."
Kendall didn't say anything but again Dulaney felt a strain in the room between them. He couldn't put his finger on it, what it was about Kendall that had bothered him from the start. He thought there was a lie somewhere, that some part of Kendall's old life had been omitted or fabricated, and Kendall couldn't lie without turning away. Kendall had been an accomplished radio actor who could live a dozen lies a week on the air, but in real life he was like Dulaney: he couldn't lie to a friend.
"What's the matter with you, Marty? Something's been eating you since the day we met."
The deputy's voice cut across the room. "You boys about done?"
"Give us one more minute," Dulaney said.
He leaned over, and softly, so the guard wouldn't hear, said, "Are you in trouble with the law?"
"Hell no. I've never even been inside a jail before today. Christ, why would you even think of something like that?"
"I've been around enough men on the lam to know another one when I see him. Something's been on your mind, right from the start."
Kendall shook his head, a slight movement, barely perceptible. "That doesn't make any sense. How could I be running from the law and still trying to get back into radio?"
Dulaney waited but Kendall did not enlighten him. The guard made a time's-up motion with his hands. Dulaney said, "Look, I'd appreciate it if you'd check me out of that hotel. Pick up my papers and my notes. There's a half-finished story I'm working on: make sure you get that. Put it in a box and stash it in the trunk of the car."
"Consider it done."
"You've been a good friend, Marty. Even if I'm not always sure I know you."
"Let's go, boys," the deputy said.
But then at the last moment Kendall said, "Just one more thing. Do you know a woman named Holly Carnahan?"
Dulaney tensed. "Yes, I know Holly."
"There's a letter for you at the hotel. It just came today. It's three months old."
"Go back to the hotel right now," Dulaney said. "Open it and read it, then come here tomorrow and tell me what it says."
Copyright © 2001 by John Dunning
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