H Is For Homicide Page 17


Her look was cautious and her tone was blunt. ’’Who said?’’

’’Gee, I don't remember. A neighbor, I guess. I've been knocking on doors for days, it feels like.’’

’’Why you want to live around here? It's depressing.’’

’’It's close to where I work,’’ I said, praying she wouldn't ask where that was. I'd probably pretend to be a waitress, but I couldn't, for the life of me, remember any restaurants close by.

She stared at me. ’’Actually, I'm hoping to move in a couple of weeks,’’ she said. ’’I got some money coming in that I should hear about pretty soon.’’

’’That's great. Do you mind if I keep in touch?’’

She pulled her mouth down in a shrug. ’’Sure. I'd let you see the place, but it's kind of a mess. It's only one room, but it's fine if you're by yourself. You got furniture?’’

’’Well, some.’’

’’The landlord's pretty good about stuff like that. Most of this I'll leave when I move out. You'd need a bed.’’

’’I got that,’’ I said. ’’You have a pen I could use? I'll make a note of your name and number and maybe give you a call in a couple of weeks.’’

’’Just a minute,’’ she said. She closed the door, returning moments later with a scrap of paper and a pen. I looked at her expectantly.

She tilted her head so she could watch me write. ’’Diaz. Bibianna with two n's.’’

’’Thanks.’’

I left Bibianna and went home, where I finally had a moment to examine the letter I'd stolen from Bibianna's mailbox. I made a note of the name and address of the recipient, a Gina Diaz in Culver City, California. Bibianna's mother or a sister, by my guess. From my desk drawer, I pulled out an aerosol can of some chemical concoction that turns opaque paper translucent for thirty to sixty seconds. Spray it on an envelope and you can read what's inside without going to the trouble of steaming it open. Clearly marked on the can, of course, is a stiffly worded warning, reminding the user that tampering with written communications while in United States Postal Service channels is punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $2,000 fine. God, I should really open up a little savings account in case I get caught doing stuff like this.

I depressed the nozzle and dampened the surface of the envelope with a fine mist, then held it up to the light. The note said: ’’Hi, Ma. I'm fine so far. $$ should come threw any time. Please don't let Raymond know you've heard from me. Love, B.’’

I watched the envelope become opaque again without any visible mark, discoloration, or odor. I took it out to the street and tucked it in my mailbox for tomorrow's pickup. I returned to my apartment and put a quick call through to Mary Bellflower. I caught her just as she was getting ready to close up her desk for the day. ’’Have you heard anything from ICPI?’’

’’Not really. I'm still waiting for a call back.’’

’’Keep me posted,’’ I said.

’’Right.’’

I put on a pot of coffee and went up the spiral stairs to the loft. I changed clothes again, this time pulling on a black tank top, tight ankle-high black pants, short white socks with an edging of lace, and scuffed low-heeled black pumps. I ratted my hair, securing one hunk of it in a rubber band so that it stuck straight up like a little hair spout. I applied (inexpertly, I'll admit) eyeliner, mascara, blushers, and gaudy red lipstick, then clipped on big dangle earrings replete with red stones that no one in their right mind would mistake for rubies. Then I sprayed my entire upper body with cheap scent. I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. I half turned away from the mirror and looked back, pulled one shoulder up, and pursed my lips. What a vamp... what a tramp! I didn't know I had it in me.

I clomped down my spiral stairs to the kitchenette and made myself an olive-pimento cheese sandwich, which I packed in a metal lunch box with an apple, some graham crackers, a Thermos of hot coffee, and a kon*** Francis paperback. I grabbed my black leather jacket, tucked the fake ’’Hannah Moore’’ ID in my pants pocket, and snagged my car keys. I drove back over to Bibianna's neighborhood and parked a few doors away. I got out of the car and hiked down to the minimarket to use the pay phone. The meat counter was locked up and the guy was stocking shelves. I didn't see ’’Mom.’’

I dropped in two dimes and dialed Bibianna's number. When she answered after two rings, I held my nose and asked for Mame. I sounded like a cold sufferer on a TV commercial for an antihistamine.

’’Who?’’

’’Mame?’’

’’You got a wrong number.’’

’’Sorry,’’ I said. I returned to my car and settled in.


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