H Is For Homicide Page 11

I left my car parked out front and walked the half block to the courthouse, where I tried the superior court clerk's office, scanning the dockets for some sign of Ms. Diaz. Not there. Too bad. It would have cheered me up enormously to learn she had a felony conviction lurking in her background. By now, without ever having laid eyes on the woman, I was operating on the assumption that she was up to no good. I wanted her address and I couldn't believe there wasn't a paper trail somewhere. I pulled up negative results from municipal court records, nothing from voter registration. I checked with the DA's office, where a pal of mine assured me Bibianna wasn't passing bad paper or late with any child support payments. Well, shoot. I'd just about exhausted the sources I could think of.

I picked up my car and hit the freeway, heading for the county sheriff's department. I parked in the small lot out front and pushed through the glass doors into a small reception area, where I signed my name in the logbook. I walked down the hall a short distance to a cubbyhole marked ’’Records and Warrants.’’ The civilian clerk on duty didn't seem like a promising source of confidential information. I judged her to be in her early thirties, roughly my age, with a frizzy pyramid of tightly kinked blond hair and way too much gum for the size of her teeth. She caught me surveying her dental misfortunes and pulled her lips together selfconsciously. I checked for a name tag, but she wasn't wearing one.

’’Can you run a computer check and see if this woman has ever been arrested in Santa Teresa?’’ I reached for the pad of scratch paper on the counter and jotted down Bibianna's name and her date of birth. I took out my wallet, laid the photostat of my P.I. license next to the note.

Her pale eyes came to rest on mine with the first real sign of recognition. ’’We're not allowed to divulge that information. The Department of Justice has very strict guidelines.’’

’’Well, good for them,’’ I said. ’’Why don't I tell you my situation and see if it helps. I'm investigating Bibianna Diaz for possible insurance fraud, and the company I work for, California Fidelity, needs to know if she's got a record.’’

She processed what I'd said and I watched her formulate a reply with care. She was not quick, this one. She operated with the sort of bureaucratic caution guaranteed to infuriate the honest citizen (also people like me). ’’If she's been tried and convicted, you can get that information from the court clerk's office. It's a matter of public record.’’

’’I'm aware of that. I've already checked their files. What I'm wondering is whether she's ever been arrested or booked without being formally charged.’’

’’If she was never charged or convicted, then the fact that she was arrested would be immaterial. It's a matter of the individual's right to privacy.’’

’’I appreciate that. I understand,’’ I said. ’’But suppose she's been picked up for burglary or theft and the DA's decided he can't make a case... ’’

’’Then it's none of your business. If she was never formally charged with a crime - ’’

’’I get the drift,’’ I said. It never pays to deal with the flyweights of the world. They take far too much pleasure in thwarting you at every turn. I was silent for a moment, trying to compose myself. Situations like this bring up an ancient and fundamental desire to bite. I could envision a half-moon of my teeth marks on the flesh on her forearm, which would swell and turn all colors of the rainbow. She'd have to have tetanus and rabies shots. Maybe her owner would elect to put her to sleep. I smiled politely. ’’Look. Why don't we simplify life to some extent. All I really need is a current address. Could you check that for me?’’


’’Why not?’’

’’Because we can't give out that information.’’

’’What about the Freedom of Information Act?’’ I said.

’’What about it?’’

’’Is there anyone else here I could talk to?’’

She didn't like my persistence. She didn't like my tone. She didn't like anything else about me, either, and the feeling was mutual. Her and Gordon Titus. God. Some days it doesn't pay to get out of bed. She left the desk without another word and returned moments later with a female deputy who was pleasant but unyielding. I went through the same tiresome routine again and got nowhere.

’’Well, thanks anyway. This has really been fun,’’ I said.

I sat in my car out in the parking lot, trying to decide what to do next. This is what happens when I tell the truth, I thought righteously. No wonder I'm forced to lie, cheat, and steal. Honesty will get you nowhere, especially with these law-and-order types. I glanced down at the police report sitting on the passenger seat beside me. I waited for my flush of frustration to subside and then I picked it up.

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