H Is For Homicide Page 18

From my position, I could see the mouth of the driveway, much of the big brown house, and a portion of the yard, but nothing of Bibianna's cottage, which was located in the rear. My assumption was that if she left the premises, she'd surface somewhere in front and I could follow by car or on foot, whichever seemed more appropriate. I had no idea if she intended to go out or where she might go if she did, but she struck me as the restless type, and I was hoping she'd find some reason to stir, even if her purpose was no more important than a run to the corner market for a six-pack. I turned on the car radio just in time for the five-thirty news. The talk of rain was beginning to sound like something more than mere rumor. I stuck my head out the car window and stared upward. A ceiling of darkening clouds was creating the illusion of sudden twilight. The wind was picking up, blowing a dried palm frond along the street. Secretly I wished I could go back to my place and lock myself in for the night instead of spying on Bibianna Diaz. I switched from station to station, listening to a rotating selection of popular songs that all seemed to sound the same. I kept one eye on the driveway and one on my book, but the dark came so quickly I wasn't able to read much. The streetlights popped on and I could see that the tree leaves had taken on a patent-leather sheen, a deep, glossy green that seemed to shimmer in the darkness. At suppertime, the neighborhood began to stir with life, people coming home from work, houselights coming on.

A single-car surveillance is usually considered the least productive technique in any private investigator's little bag of tricks. In order to be discreet, you have to keep so much distance between yourself and the subject that visual contact is tough to maintain without being ’’made.’’ Then, too, if Bibianna was picked up by car, I had a fifty-fifty chance of being headed in the right direction. If I'd guessed wrong, I was sunk. A sudden U-turn in a residential neighborhood is a conspicuous move and one almost guaranteed to alert the driver of the car you're following. With a two-car surveillance you can at least trade off positions and the subject is less likely to become suspicious. Unfortunately, I hadn't been authorized to hire outside help on this. For all I knew, Gordon Titus had fired me in absentia. It certainly seemed like the wrong time to ask for a cash advance. I was operating on the cheap, trying to establish a relationship with the woman so I could find out what she was up to. A well-documented claim file is fundamental to successful prosecution under ’’theft by deception’’ statutes. Before handing over the files to the Insurance Crime Prevention Institute, CF would want to provide proof of a material false representation, proof of intent to defraud, evidence that the claims adjuster relied upon representations by the claimant in paying the claim, and evidence of payment. If Bibianna was scamming Aetna and Allstate along with California Fidelity, it would probably mean hiring a handwriting expert to establish the links, though there might well be matching fingerprints on all the claim forms she'd sent. With fraud, as with most crimes, the perpetrator's job was a lot easier than ours.

At seven twenty-five, to relieve the boredom, I ate my sandwich and two graham crackers. It was now fully dark, and a pale mist filled the air, a rain so fine that it scarcely dampened the pavement. I turned the engine on twice, letting it ran for brief periods until the car warmed up. A pizza was delivered to a nearby apartment complex. The passing scent of pepperoni and melted mozzarella nearly brought tears to my eyes. An old lady walked by in a robe and a shawl with her cocker spaniel on a leash. Cars passed, moving in both directions, but none slowed down and there was no sign of Bibianna. By nine, I found myself slouched down on my spine, knees propped up against the steering wheel, trying to keep from nodding off. The couple from the CF offices had never made an appearance and I was about to write them off. Either they had no idea where Bibianna Diaz now lived or they had no compelling interest in her in the first place. I couldn't imagine why they'd gone to the trouble of tracking her down if they didn't mean to pursue the point. Maybe something had scared them off. Idly, I wondered if they were in a parked car nearby, waiting for her themselves.

At nine forty-five, quite suddenly, Bibianna appeared in the driveway. She was wearing red again, a body-hugging chemise that hit her midthigh. Dark hose and red spike heels. For someone so petite, her legs looked incredibly long and shapely, giving an impression of height when she was probably barely five feet one. She had one hand tucked in the pocket of a cracked brown leather bomber jacket that she'd left unzipped. With the other hand, she held a section of newspaper above her head, shielding her hair from the drizzle. She had her face turned in my direction, scanning the street, but she didn't seem to register the fact that she was being observed. Five minutes later, a Yellow Cab passed and came to a stop in front of her. She got in. I started my VW while she slammed the taxi door and settled herself in the backseat. I eased out into the street, flipping my headlights on as the taxi pulled away, hoping my appearance behind it would seem part of the natural flow of traffic in the area.

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