Pay the Piper

Pay the Piper by Joan Williams Read Free Book Online

Book: Pay the Piper by Joan Williams Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joan Williams
she was astonished there were tall cases full of books. He had manners. He read. She had expected a squat, tough man with a fat black cigar and a thin, profane vocabulary. He said, “Won’t you have a chair?”
    He waited till she was seated. His eyes were quite blue and seemed to stare through her. She had the feeling he had inspected her elsewhere.
    Laurel said, “I told you on the phone, I’m thinking about getting a divorce. I hate to do this, but my husband—”
    â€œI understand.”
    â€œA private detective’s evidence helps?”
    â€œSometimes. Usually in most cases.” She looked at him so closely, he put down his pencil and smiled. “You have children at Elmwood Elementary?”
    â€œMy son went there.”
    Mr. Woodsum reached to the floor and brought up a black hat with a silvery badge.
    â€œI thought I recognized you,” she said. “I saw your picture in the paper recently, too.”
    He was the school guard at that crossing, and a famous one. When cars with children inside drew up, he stepped off the curb and tossed a handful of candies through a window. She drove Rick to school sometimes, and he had said, “What a great guy,” reaching around to pick up scattered peppermints. Which of Mr. Woodsum’s jobs was his real one, and which job was moonlighting?
    She gave him the information he asked for: when she was leaving town and where William worked. His eyebrows rose. “A difficult building to find anybody in,” he said.
    When he asked for a description of William, she closed her eyes; she gave his height and weight, but a distinguishing characteristic he could see? He laughs a lot, she thought. The mole beside his eyebrow was too small. She did not want to think of Mr. Woodsum in a Sherlock Holmes cap, tiptoeing up to William with a reading glass. She shrugged, whispered, “I don’t know.”
    She wanted to lean on Mr. Woodsum and say there were hurts she couldn’t reconcile herself to, and she wanted to ask his advice about things that had happened and see what his opinion of them was. She could tell, however, that Mr. Woodsum was like a doctor. He would do the best for you he could without really wanting to hear everything that had caused your pain.
    â€œYou brought a picture?”
    Laurel had a candid shot in her purse but did not want to open it. “Only an old one.” In her study she had gone through shoeboxes full of snapshots; these were a record of her fifteen years with William and of Rick’s whole life. She had meant many times to paste the pictures in some orderly fashion into an album, and how like her that she never had.
    â€œI believe I’d better see it, Mrs. Perry.”
    When she handed over the picture she saw to her horror that on the back Rick had printed in his childish scrawl of some years ago two words: My Daddy .
    William had been snapped by a friend at the beach without his knowledge, while reading The New York Times . “I’m glad I wasn’t picking my nose, old buddy,” he had said. For him to be viewed the same way a second time seemed unfair. What kind of person was she? As Mr. Woodsum looked at the picture, she longed to be home. She did not mind cooking those two damn dinners every night as much as her mother thought. Mr. Woodsum slipped the picture into a manila folder, and with a hollow feeling she thought, My file; I don’t want one.
    â€œI think I’d better see Mr. Perry in person. This picture’s not too good.”
    â€œSee him how?”
    â€œDoes he go grocery shopping with you, perhaps on Saturday?”
    â€œWilliam? No.” She’d have hated William to be one of those pussy-footed husbands who follow wives around grocery stores as if they had nothing else better to do. “He never goes grocery shopping.”
    â€œMrs. Perry, it’s your money. I can’t assure you of anything with this picture to go

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