Montana by Gwen Florio

Book: Montana by Gwen Florio Read Free Book Online
Authors: Gwen Florio
Tags: Fiction, Literary
got nothing to fear.” A man in a plaid snap-front shirt stood before Lola. Glasses thick to the point of opaque. She’d seen him at the funeral, sitting with Joshua and Frank.
    “I’m Wilson Bird. I believe you’ve met my nephew. And now you’ve come to meet me.”
    She extended a hand. He touched his fingertips to hers.
    “Come on back.” He led her into a conference room of sorts, a couple of plastic tables placed end to end, islanded with a half-dozen cribbage sets made of wood, horn, stone, their polished surfaces reflecting her own wavering image.
    Lola touched one, letting her fingers linger. “You’re that Wilson Bird. I remember now. The sheriff has one of these.”
    “Pretty much everyone in the county has one of these.” Words dismissive, tone pleased.
    “They’re beautiful. And I don’t even play cribbage.” The game, from what little she knew about it, involved cards. And patience. She was no good at one and entirely lacking in the other.
    “If you’re going to spend any amount of time here, you might want to learn.”
    “That’s why I came to see you. Because I don’t want to spend a minute more here than I need to. And because your nephew said I should talk with you about Mary Alice.”
    He pulled out a chair for her. Waited until she had settled herself and then sat across from her. “That’s the thing about whitepeople. They’re always in a hurry.”
    Lola bit back a response. He wanted her to wait, she’d wait. She sat back and let her gaze drift across walls of madhouse green. The single window might well have framed a painting, so devoid of activity was the street outside. A display case against a wall held a beaded dress. A map showed a ragged-edged territory checkerboarded in green with a single straight line cutting across its upper quadrant. The wind groaned outside.
    “You know,” he said. “Mary Alice wasn’t.”
    “Wasn’t what?”
    “In a hurry.”
    “It sounds like you spent a fair amount of time with her,” Lola parried. “There has to be a reason Joshua wanted me to talk to you.”
    He shrugged one shoulder.
    “Maybe because of Johnny,” she pushed again. “Or Frank.”
    He jerked in his chair. “Frank? Frank had nothing to do with what happened to Mary Alice.”
    Johnny had earned no such denial, Lola noticed. But since Wilson had mentioned Frank first, she decided to go with it. “Funny thing. That’s what the sheriff said, too. Why not? Because he’s brain-damaged? Or because he drinks?”
    Wilson took off his glasses, pulled out his shirttail and polished the lenses. There was no discernible improvement. His eyes were a blur behind them, but his square unlined face hardened as he replied. “He doesn’t drink.”
    “But I thought . . .” Lola stopped. She remembered Frank reclining on the sidewalk outside Jolee’s store, hitting her up for booze money. Or maybe she’d just assumed that’s what he wanted. She heard a voice in her ear, that of every editor for whom she’d ever worked: “Assume makes an ass out of u and me.”
    “A lot of people think that.” Wilson’s sigh was deep and lasting. “The staggering, the slurring. That’s the brain damage. You should have known him before. He could shoot a bird out of the air before anybody else even realized it was up there. Came back from the war with so many medals he looked like a pincushion. Yeah, they handed out those medals like candy. Shame they couldn’t hand him a new brain. Then he could have gotten a real job when he came back instead of the trouble he got caught up in.”
    Lola wondered what kind of trouble people got into around Magpie. She thought of the billboards, of Joshua’s sister retching into the jail’s lidless steel toilet. “Meth?”
    “But you just said he didn’t drink.”
    Somewhere in the building, a phone rang and rang. A child’s high voice floated along the corridor outside the conference room. “He doesn’t drink the stuff,” Wilson said.

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