Sheriff Wilton escorted me into his interview room, a cozy, toasty den with a pair of overstuffed chairs offset from each other at a ninety-degree angle. He offered me some Chivas on ice. Now this was the proper way to interrogate.
It was my third visit, my story becoming progressively more convoluted. Even though I was juggling fictions and half-truths, I thought my clarifications had made sense. I had shot an armed robber, making the mistake of being a hero: something I shouldn’t have done being on the run. The sheriff said that he believed my story of who I was and how I’d come to be at the bank. And I thought he did believe me. Or, so it seemed—except for the fact that he kept starting over, each time beginning by asking me my name.
This time I threw in a middle name. “Phillip Leroy Prince.”
“Leroy? You don’t look like a Leroy.” Which was his way of insinuating that I’d given him a phony name. Which I had.
“It’s French for ‘the king.’ “
“I’ve known a few Leroys, none of them were royal material.”
He snarled as he gave a canine scratch behind his ear. After this and a couple of bone-shuffling flops to his neck, he said, “You told the guard at the bank that you’re a paramedic. Trouble being, I can’t dig up the record of any paramedic named Phillip Prince.”
“I let my certification lapse.”
“Mm-hmm. Could be.” He leaned his head back.
My problem was this. I ran away from some trouble in SoCal, lodging up here in the mountains on the northern end of the state in hopes that I could hide out for a time. The setup was perfect: I played the nobody, keeping my friend’s house warm while he was off on vacation. Then I stupidly played the hero: I stopped a bank robbery in progress.
“You gunned down Buddy Dale, High Noon, a crowd of eyeballs agreed it was either you or him,” the sheriff said. “Then his partner drops in your lap. The scope of what you are concealing is both deep and panoramic. I’ve a notion you’ve been story-booking me this whole time.”
“I did the right thing,” I said. “Can we leave it at that?”
“Now I don’t mind folks holding on to secrets. I think we should all be permitted our private stock. The sticking point comes when you claim a reward for said bank robber, in this instance a hefty payday, some eighteen grand, then’s when you’re bound to get a spotlight beamed on your past. Is that light going to cast any shadows?”
“In a spotlight, everyone casts a shadow.” I rattled the ice in my glass. “You’re saying I should drop my claim?”
“Nope. I’m politely suggesting Phillip Prince pony up his paramedic license.”
Adios, payday. The Chivas tasted a lot worse realizing it had cost me eighteen grand.
He said, “Still the guard claimed you seemed in the smarts when you tried reviving the man you shot. Did you bail out on a medical career gone sour? I’m one for believing, in a better world, everyone would have the right to start again.” He set down his drink. “Trouble is, this is not a better world.” Ruddy cheeks, short curly beard, crinkles around his eyes, he charmed as he warbled his “sorry-you’re-screwed” rhapsody.
“The shame of it is,” he said, “I also fetched you here hoping you truly did possess some familiarity with medicine.”
“I’m quite familiar.” Once upon a time, I was halfway to a medical degree before I bombed out of med school. I was over trained by the time I became a paramedic and now I was overqualified in my role as a house-sitting bum.
He said, “Maybe then you can clear up something that’s been itching me.”
I half-expected him to tug up the fringe of his shirt to reveal a freaky rash. Instead, he exited the room. I refilled my tumbler. The more $18,000 whiskey I drank, the more I would recoup my losses.
He returned with a manila envelope. “This case has me fuddled. Alvis Lloyd. His death’s been ruled an OD but it doesn’t pass the sniff test. I pursued the matter with the county coroner, even brought in a consulting MD, but both of them cared less than nothing for the passing of a meth head.”