G is for Gumshoe - Page 30/98

"Good point, amigo. Let me see what I can do," he said. He tucked his pen away.

Within minutes, the admissions office had sent a young female clerk over with a wheelchair, a clipboard full of forms to be completed, and a patient identification strip in a cloudy plastic band, which she affixed to my wrist with a device that looked like a hole punch.

Carl LaRue and his wife had been sitting patiently in the corridor all this time. They were finally ushered in to see me while last-minute arrangements were being made for a bed. The deputy had apparently cautioned the old couple about the situation.

"Your whereabouts is safe with us," Carl said. "We won't say a word."

His wife patted my hand. "We don't want you to worry now. You just get some rest."

"I appreciate everything you've done," I said. "Really. I can't thank you enough. I'd probably be dead if you hadn't come along."

Carl shifted uncomfortably. "Well, now. I don't know about that. I'm happy to be of help. We got kids of our own and we'd want somebody helping them under similar circumstances."

His wife tucked her arm in his. "We best get a move on. They'll want to put you to bed."

As soon as they departed, I was whisked up to the second floor by freight elevator to a private room, probably on the contagious-disease ward where no visitors were allowed. It was only three in the afternoon and the day looked like it'd be a long one. I didn't get zip for painkillers because of the head injury, and I wasn't allowed to sleep lest I slip into some coma from which I might never wake. My vital signs were checked every hour. The meal carts were long gone, but a kindly nurse's aide found me a cup of muscular cherry Jell-O and a packet of saltines. I pictured the ward clerk filling out a charge slip for twenty-six dollars. I could probably hold my hospital bill down to seven or eight hundred bucks, but only if I didn't need a Band-Aid or a safety pin. I had insurance, of course, but it offended me to be charged the equivalent of the down payment on a car.

My eye lighted on the telephone. There was a telephone book in the bottom of the nightstand. I looked up the area code for Carson City, Nevada (702 all locations, in case you really want to know), dialed Information, and got the listing for Decker/Dietz Investigations, which I dialed in turn. The phone rang five times. I half-expected a service to pick up or a machine to kick in, but someone picked up abruptly on the sixth ring, sounding brusque and out of sorts. "Yes?"

"May I speak to Robert Dietz?"

"I'm Dietz. What can I do for you?"

"I'm not sure if you remember me," I said. "My name is Kinsey Millhone. I'm a friend of Lee Galishoff's and he suggested I get in touch. I called you about a year ago from Santa Teresa. You helped me locate a woman named Sharon Napier…"

"Right, right. I remember now. Lee said you might call."

"Yeah, well it looks like I'm going to need some help. I'm in Brawley, California, at the moment in a hospital bed. Some guy ran me off the road-"

He cut in. "How bad are you hurt?"

"I'm okay, I guess. Cuts and bruises, but no broken bones. They're just keeping me for observation. The car was totaled, but a passing motorist came along before the guy could finish me off-"

Dietz broke in again. "Where's Brawley? Refresh my memory."

"South of the Salton Sea, about ninety minutes east of San Diego."

"I'll come down."

I squinted, unable to repress a note of surprise. "You will?"

"Just tell me how to find you. I have a friend with a plane. He can fly me into San Diego. I'll rent a car at the airport and be there by midnight."

"Well, God, that's great. I mean, I appreciate your efficiency, but tomorrow morning's fine. They're probably not going to let me out before nine a.m."

"You haven't heard about the judge," he said flatly.

"The judge?"

"Jarvison. They got him. First name on the list. He was gunned down this morning in the driveway of his house."

"I thought he had police protection."

"He did. From what I understand, he was supposed to be sequestered with the other two but he wanted to be at home. His wife just had a baby and he didn't want her left alone."

"Where was this, in Carson City?"

"Tahoe, fourteen miles away."

Jesus, I thought, it must have happened just about the same time the guy here was after me. "How many people did Tyrone Patty hire?"