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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Back in the ICU waiting room a few minutes later, Joanna found that Jeff Daniels was still involved with friends from Bisbee. Moving away from the group, she settled onto a couch in the corner and called the Pima County Medical Examiner's office. Joanna more than half expected to be told Fran Daly wasn't in, but to her surprise, the woman picked up her own line after only one ring.

"Dont tell me somebody down there has found another body," Fran grumbled when she realized Joanna Brady was on the line. "How long before Doc Winfield comes back?"

"He's due in on Monday."

"Thank God for that," Fran said, "although, at the rate things are going, you people could probably have another three or four cases stacked up for me by then. What do you want?"

"I'm calling about the Clyde Philips case," Joanna said. "Have you had a chance to work on the autopsy yet?"

"Sure," Fran said. "I tossed him in the van when I went hauling ass out to the Triple C. I've been working on it in my spare time. Give me some slack, Sheriff Brady. You know what I've been up against."

"Sorry," Joanna said, "but I just finished talking to Clyde's ex-wife, Belle Philips. She doesn't believe her husband committed suicide. She said that she knew he had been dragging around some in the last few months, but I don't think she had any idea he might actually have been sick, and I don't think the possibility of HIV or AIDS ever crossed her mind. She also doesn't think he ever went to a doctor. According to her, he didn't believe in them."

There was a long silence on the other end of the line. "Are you saying Clyde himself might not have known he had it?"

"It's possible," Joanna allowed. "Belle also told me that Clyde was a pedophile, although that's not the word she used. Wittingly or not, he could have infected any number of other people."

"Including his ex-wife. What a bastard! I was going to put the autopsy off until tomorrow," Dr. Daly said, "but I suppose you want it done right away."

"Actually, yes," Joanna replied. "I really would appreciate it."

"Give me your number," Fran Daly said with a weary sigh. "I'll give you a call as soon as I finish."

After she hung up, Joanna sat for a few minutes. Her initial impression had been that Fran Daly was something of a pill. In two days of working with her, she had discovered that, personality conflicts aside, Dr. Daly was nothing if not a consummate professional. The fact that she was willing to go ahead and work on an autopsy even after spending the whole afternoon in the broiling heat of a crime scene was impressive. It showed a dedication to her work that went above and beyond the call of duty.

For the better part of the next two hours, Joanna stayed at the hospital, visiting with some of Jeff and Marianne's other friends, and with Marianne herself when she showed up at the hospital about a quarter to eight. She looked better than Joanna had expected-the extended nap had done her some good-but she was still a bundle of high-strung nerves.

"I knew you were coming, Joanna," she said. "I meant to be back here sooner so we'd have a chance to visit, but Jeff called the hotel and canceled my wake-up call. He said he thought I needed the rest more than I needed to see you."

"I'd say he was right," Joanna said.

"You've talked to him, then?"

"A little. He's been so busy meeting and greeting that I haven't had much of a chance. How are things really?"

Marianne shook her head. "Everything looks okay at the moment, but there's always the possibility that Esther's body will reject her new heart. That's the big worry right now. That and the risk of her coming down with some kind of secondary infection."

Joanna reached across the space between them, took Marianne Maculyea's hand, and squeezed it. "It's going to be all right," she said. "I know it is."

"Thank you," Marianne said, squeezing back. "I hope so.

Just then Hal Hotchkiss, one of the old-timers from Can-yon United Methodist, broke away from the group gathered around Jeff. He came toward Marianne with his frail, liver-spotted hands extended. "Well, Reverend Maculyea, the missus and I had better head on back home pretty soon. It's a long trip, and I don't much like driving after dark anymore. My night vision just isn't what it used to be."

"Thank you both so much for coming all this way," Marianne said, somehow summoning up the strength to sound like the gracious Reverend Marianne Maculyea of old. "Ill just go over and say good night to Beverly before the two of you take off."

While Marianne wandered away with Hal, Joanna staged where she was, watching the interactions of the Bisbee people who had gathered there. The other two family groups in the waiting room were much smaller and much quieter. Joanna found herself wondering where those other people were from. If they were from Tucson, presumably their friends wouldn't have had nearly so far to come in order to visit the hospital. Maybe, Joanna theorized, the smaller the distance, the fewer the visitors. Or maybe it's just the difference between living in a city and living in a small town.

She was still mulling over that idea when the door from the corridor swung open and in walked Butch Dixon. He saw where Joanna was sitting, but instead of coming directly to her, he stopped off at the group surrounding Jeff and Marianne. He stayed there for several minutes, chatting and being introduced around, before breaking away and approaching Joanna.

"Ready?" Butch asked.

"Ready," she said.

"You wouldn't like to wear a bag over your head or something, would you?" he teased. "That way people wouldn't know we're together."

"Don't be ridiculous," she said. But as they walked across the room and out the door, she was aware of any number of inquisitive eyes watching their every move. Maybe that bag wouldn't have been such a bad idea after all.

They rode together in Butch's car, a Subaru Outback. "This smells new," she said.

"It is," he told her. "I just picked it up from the dealer last week."

"I didn't know you were planning to buy a new car."

Butch looked at her and grinned. "I wasn't," he said, "but life is full of surprises."

They drove down Grant to Miracle Mile and then pulled into a place called La Fuente -"the fountain." At almost eighty-thirty on a weekday summer evening, the Mexican-style eatery was hardly crowded. They were shown to a small candlelit table near the bar. "Do you want something to drink?" Butch asked. "A margarita, maybe?"

"Iced tea for me," Joanna said. "I still have to drive all the way back home. It wouldn't do for the Sheriff of Cochise to be driving around in a county-owned vehicle with a hint of Jose Cuervo on her breath."

"Iced tea it is, then. I was hoping for a roving band of mariachis, but unfortunately, they only play on weekends."

Just then a young Hispanic woman, dressed in a peasant blouse and a colorful skirt, showed up at the table pushing what looked like a salad cart. "Guacamole for your chips?" she asked.

"Sure," Butch said. "Why not?"

The young woman made the dip table-side, expertly peeling and pitting avocados. She mashed the peeled fruit in a small stone-like bowl and then added salt and pepper, tomatoes, onions, lime, and chili pepper. When she finished and was leaving the table, Butch slipped her a generous tip.

Joanna dipped a tortilla chip into the light green mixture and tasted it. "Delicious," she announced.

"When the ingredients going into a dish are that fresh," Butch told her, "it would have to be good."

The tea arrived and the waiter took their order-flautas for Joanna and a combination plate with chili relleno, taco and beef tamale for Butch. "So what's up?" Joanna asked, once the waiter had left them alone. "You've been hinting around that you have some kind of big news. Spit it out."

"I sold the Roundhouse," Butch Dixon answered.

"You what?"

"I sold it." Butch grinned. "Two weeks ago, this developer came around wanting to buy the place. He told me he wants to build a new resort hotel complex right there in the middle of downtown Peoria to draw on all the snowbirds that come down to the Phoenix area for spring training. Over time, he and his partners had managed to go around picking up pieces of property.

"From what I can tell, they bought most of them for a song-all except mine, that is," he added. "When the guy first showed up, I wasn't aware of what had gone on, but I found out about it over the next few days. The next time I saw him, I was loaded for bear. And in view of the fact that I was the only person standing in the way of his putting together this multimillion-dollar venture, I was able to strike a pretty good deal-for me and for the folks who used to work for me as well. They all walked away with a very nice severance package. Like I told the developers, none of them asked to be laid off. That was the only way I'd go for it."

Butch was clearly proud of himself. Joanna, on the other hand, was stunned. "So it's gone?" she asked.

"The building's still there, but it's closed," he replied. "The developers must have greased the planning-and-zoning skids pretty good, because the use permits are already posted on the door. It was written into the contract that I had to vacate the premises within three days of closing, and they had the check to me so fast it made my head spin. We had one last party-sort of a drunken variation on a going-out-of-business sale. Then I packed everything else up, put it in storage, and I was out of there, just like that."

So that's why the phone was disconnected when I called, Joanna thought. "But Butch," she objected aloud, "if you don't have the Roundhouse to run anymore, what are you going to do instead?"

"Write," Butch answered. "Mysteries, I think. I was an English Lit major. I always wanted to write. In fact, I've been writing some over the years-scribbling away for my own amusement and pleasure, even though I've never had anything published. But I always said that if I ever had the opportunity, I was going to do it full-time. Now I have all the time I need. I'm retired at age thirty-four, and if I play my cards right, I won't ever need to have a regular job again. So I bought myself a little laptop computer, and I'm in the process of getting started."

"How wonderful," Joanna said. "You'll get to live your dream. But speaking of living, what about that? If you don't have the building anymore, you don't have your upstairs apartment, either. Where are you going to live?"

Butch looked at her and grinned. "Bisbee," he said.

Joanna could barely believe her ears. "Bisbee?" she echoed hoarsely. "No!"

"Bisbee, yes," he returned smoothly. "There are seventy thousand people in Peoria these days. That's about sixty thousand people too many for me. So I've bought a house out in Saginaw, Bisbee's neighborhood. One of those old-fashioned Victorian places with a tin roof, a wraparound front porch, and a stamped tin ceiling. This fall when school starts, if you're busy and Jenny needs somewhere to go after school, she can just walk up the block and come visit me. I promise to have plenty of milk and cookies on hand with very limited amounts of television viewing."

"You've already bought a house?" Joanna demanded. "How could you?"

"To quote an old friend of mine named Mike Hammer," Butch told her, " 'it was easy.' I called up a lady at Copper Queen Real Estate and told her what I wanted. By the time I showed up in town day before yesterday, she had narrowed the held down to three possibilities. The one in Saginaw is the one I chose. It's vacant. Since I'm paying cash and there won't be a mortgage involved, the closing should "be pretty fast. But still, I won't be able to move in for several weeks. There's some work I want to do on it first-plumbing, painting, cabinetry. That kind of thing is always easier to do if the house is empty. So I plan to stay in the hotel until it's all finished."

Listening to him, Joanna was so astonished that she could barely comprehend the words. "You're moving to Bisbee?"

"I have moved to Bisbee," he said.

Joanna was thunderstruck. "But why didn't you tell me in advance? Why didn't you let me know?"

"Because then I would have been asking you for permission and you might have said no. I decided to present it as a fait accompli." His face darkened, "From the looks of things, it's probably a good thing I did."

"Your dinner, senorita," the waiter said, appearing at Joanna's elbow. Then he set another plate in front of Butch. "The plate is very hot, senor. Now, will there be anything else?"

Joanna shook her head wordlessly.

"I don't think so," Butch told him. "This will be fine."

The waiter walked away and Butch turned back to Joanna. "You're looking at me like I'm an invader from outer space."

"Why did you do it?" she asked. "Why did you go be-hind my back like that?"

"Because I care about you," he said simply. "I know what my feelings are for you and I hope, given time, you might feel the same way about me."

Joanna opened her mouth to speak, but he stifled her with a wave of his hand. "I'm not asking for any kind of promises from you," he added. "I know you need time, but I also don't think that with me in Peoria and you in Bisbee, you're going to know me well enough to make a wise decision one way or the other. My mother told me years ago, 'Distance is to love as wind is to fire. It blows out the little ones and fans the big ones.' That sounded good to me at the time when the young woman I thought was the love of my life had taken off with somebody else. I thought she'd come to her senses and come back to me. She didn't. And now that I'm older, it doesn't sound smart."

He paused, then sighed. Again Joanna started to speak, but he waved her off and continued. "You're so busy down here, Joanna. There's your work and your friends and there's Jenny to take care of. I was afraid I'd get lost in the shuffle. That if I was always two hundred miles away, you'd put me out of your mind and never give me a second thought. Now that I think about it, after living through the last two days, it may not be all that easy catching up with you with both of us living in the same town.

"But I want to give it a chance, Joanna," he murmured. His eyes darkened in the soft glow of the candle on the table. "I'm a two-time loser in the love-and-war department. I want to get it right this time. I promise not to rush you, not to push you, but please, let me be here. We'll be friends to begin with. We'll have an opportunity to get to know one another. I've already met some of the people in your life, but this will give me a chance to get to know them better. Like Jeff Daniels and Marianne Maculyea, for instance. They both seem like very nice people, and today is the first time I've ever been able to talk to Jeff one-on-one. That's what we need to do, Joanna. We'll let some time pass, and then we'll see where things go from there. Fair enough?"

When Butch stopped talking, a sudden wave of silence washed across their table and swallowed it whole. He was right, of course, and Joanna knew it. Had he broached his plan to her in advance, she never would have agreed to it. She had liked the status quo and wouldn't have minded if things had gone on that way indefinitely. She had enjoyed the idea of having a boyfriend, but she had wanted to dodge the complications that would have arisen from having him too close by. She could talk to Butch-she loved talking to him about anything and everything-but because he had been safely out of sight most of the time, she hadn't had to examine her own heart and feelings too closely. She had felt she could be friends with Butch Dixon without being disloyal to Andy-to Andy's memory.

"Well," Butch said finally, "can't you say something?"

"I don't know what to say."

"Try," he said. The eyes he turned on her were bleak and almost devoid of hope. He had the forlorn look of a convicted felon waiting for the judge to issue an order of execution.

"It's just that well I'm surprised, is all."

"But you don't hate me for doing it?"

"No, of course I don't hate you. I'm glad for you."

He settled back in his chair with a sigh of relief. "That's all I need to know for right now," he said. "Don't say another word. Give yourself some time to get used to the idea. In the meantime, let's eat some of this food before it gets cold. It's been a long time since Daisy's."

Joanna picked up her fork, but she didn't touch her food. "Speaking of Daisy's, there are people around, like Marliss Shackleford, for example, who are going to make a huge deal of this. You just don't know what it's like to live in a small town"

"That's all right. I have a pretty thick skin, and I suspect Sheriff Joanna Brady does, too."

Maybe, she said. "I hope so." The waiter walked by. Joanna raised her hand enough to catch his eye. "I've changed my mind. I think I'm going to have a margarita after all. Blended," she added. "No salt."

"1 believe I'll have one, too," Butch Dixon told the waiter. "Make mine the same way."

Despite a somewhat rocky start, Joanna and Butch went, on to have a good dinner. Maybe that one margarita did make a difference. They talked about Jenny and her visit to her creepy cousins in Oklahoma. They talked about Eleanor and George Winfield and postcards Joanna had received from the pair of honeymoon cruisers. They talked, too, about Joanna's late-afternoon run-in with Marliss Shackleford.

They followed dinner and that one margarita apiece with several cups of coffee. By eleven o'clock, they were on their way back to University Medical Center when Joanna's cell phone rang.

"I have some bad news and I have some worse news, Dr. Fran Daly said. "Which do you want first?"

"Start with the bad," Joanna said.

"I was right about Clyde Philips having AIDS," she said. "He had a full-blown case of it, but there's no sign his blood work that he was undergoing any kind of treatment. So you were right, too. He probably hadn't been to a doctor. Let's hope his ex-wife"

"Belle," Joanna supplied.

"Let's hope she hasn't been to bed with him in the too recent past."

"Let's hope," Joanna agreed. "You'll probably be hearing from her before I do. She's supposed to call you about releasing the body and making funeral arrangements.

"Do you want me to tell her?" Fran asked, "Or do you want to do it? You've obviously met the woman. I havent.

"Maybe not," Joanna said, "but in this instance, I dont think your being a stranger is as important as the fact that you're a doctor. I think it'll be better if that information comes from a physician. If nothing else, you can at least advise her to have herself checked out."

"I suppose you're right," Fran said. "I'll see what I can do."

"If that's the bad news, what's worse?" Joanna asked.

"I was wrong about his committing suicide," Fran answered. "I found blunt-instrument trauma to the back of his head."

"Couldn't he have fallen and injured himself that way?"

"Not six or seven times. None of those blows looked like enough to kill him, but they probably rendered him unconscious. The bag and the belt were probably added later to finish the job. I'd say you'd better check both of them for prints."

"We will," Joanna said. "I'll have my evidence techs go to work on them first thing tomorrow morning. What about time of death?"

"Sunday night or Monday morning. The room was cool enough that it slowed decomposition."

The call ended a few seconds later, and she switched off the phone.

"Bad news, huh?" Butch asked.

Joanna nodded. "Very bad news," she replied. "For several people," she added. "One of our recent murder victims turns out to have had AIDS, and there's a good chance he didn't know it. That means that most likely none of the people who've been hanging around with him knew it, either."

"Too bad for them," Butch observed.

After that, Butch and Joanna drove for several blocks in silence.

"Life used to be much simpler, didn't it?" Butch Dixon said at last. "Back in the old days, I mean."

"Yes," Joanna agreed. "Much simpler."

They reached the hospital parking garage a few minutes later. "Just let me out here," she said.

Are you going back up?"

Joanna thought about it. "No," she said finally. "I think I'll just get in my car and go home."

"Drive carefully," Butch said.

"You, too."

"See you tomorrow, then," he added. "Maybe we can get together after work and I can show you the house." "Okay," she said. "I'd like that."

Sitting there with her fingers on the door handle, Joanna was wondering what to say next when Butch leaned over and kissed her. It was a gentle kiss, but one that was spiced with a combination of tequila, salt, and cilantro and more than a trace of salsa. It was a soul-warming kiss that drew her into it, and before Joanna thought about it, she was kissing him back.


CHAPTER FIFTEEN | Rattlesnake Crossing | CHAPTER SEVENTEEN







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