Rich came in just before lunchtime. She wouldn't have known if Joe Horse hadn't told her when she stopped in the kitchen to check some figures the old cook had given her. Rich didn't poke his head into the doorway of the office where she was working, and she didn't hear him calling to the children as they went past him on their way to the gym or the bathroom or to another classroom for story time or craft time.
"Are you all right?" she asked when she ran into him in the hall on her way back to her office. Her irritation faded when she saw the strips of tape and the three-inch long strip of gauze on his forehead.
"Hit the steering wheel," Rich muttered, blushing. He reached up like he would rip the tape off, then winced and seemed to think better of it -- and then turned to walk away without the gusher of questions or comments or complaints that seemed to be his standard practice. Maybe, Nikki mused, he didn't say anything because he knew she had figured out his tactic was to avoid going back to work.
"What steering wheel? On your car? Were you in an accident?" Nikki followed him down the hall, abandoning her looming report deadline for a moment.
"Some jerk plowed into me at four a.m. It's a good thing I was nearly half asleep."
"Is your car--"
"Totaled. But it was a rust bucket anyway. Insurance ought to get me a new one." He grinned, but it couldn't take away the paleness of his cheeks or soften the dark smears under his eyes. "I should have wrecked the junker a few years ago and got myself a new one the easy way, huh?"
"That's not..." Nikki sighed and scolded herself not to lecture him. Not when he had been in an accident. Still, this sign of his continuing entitlement attitude irritated her.
Rich waved good-bye and swayed his way down the hall in a modified, slowed version of his usual saunter.
"He wasn't half asleep," Brock said, after Nikki mentioned it that evening when he showed up to work on the Mission's books again.
He had the computer software figured out and had promised to teach Claire how to use it. Nikki wanted to sit in, just to see if it was as tricky as he said. She had mentioned the software to Sophie, who said that company was too new to have a track record. Then she asked Sophie to evaluate it so she could pass the word along to others, so no one would get trapped and messed up like the Mission had been.
"He wasn't?" Claire snorted and shook her head. "Seems like Rich goes through life half asleep most of the time. Why wouldn't he be then?"
"Because he was drunk. He also didn't mention he was going the wrong way down a one-way street. The guy who he claimed plowed into him wasn't even in his car, which was legally parked in front of his own house."
"How do you know?" Nikki asked.
"I work at the Picayune, remember? Curt was grumbling about it when he came back from getting the news for the police blotter. He had a few more stories about good old Rich's driving record, too." Brock snagged another rolling chair by its padded arm and dragged it over in front of the computer. "Are we going to work on this mess, or do you want to gossip all night?" He grinned to take the sting from his words.
"Oh, gossip is such an ugly word," Claire said. "I prefer more theologically correct language. Like 'sharing.' Or 'fellowshipping.' You know, so sweet and religious-sounding."
"You mean 'fellowship' instead of 'pigging out'?" Nikki said with a snort of laughter. "I've heard it all, believe me."
"Either way, the truth's pretty far away from the story Rich told you."