H Is For Homicide Page 19


We traveled sedately on surface streets, heading toward Cabana Boulevard, the wide avenue that parallels the beach. This was my turf and I had to imagine she was heading toward the big restaurant/bar out on the wharf, or perhaps to one of the bawdy bars at the lower end of State Street. It turned out to be the latter. The cab slowed in front of a lowlife bar called the Meat Locker. The ABC had shut the place down twice in the past for serving alcohol to minors, and the previous owner had consequently lost his liquor license. The bar had been sold and was open now under new management. I drove on past. Through my rearview mirror, I watched as Bibianna emerged from the cab, paid the driver, and headed toward the entrance. I hung a left, drove around the block, and returned to the parking lot, where I squeezed the VW into a quasi-legal parking spot against the wall. As I locked the car, ducking my head against the sprinkle of rain, I could feel the pavement vibrate with the music from the bar. I took my last breath of fresh air and walked into the place.

Just inside the door, I paid the five-dollar cover charge and had the back of my hand stamped in purple with a USD A designation of ’’choice.’’ The Meat Locker looked like it had been designed originally for industrial purposes and converted to commercial use without much concession to aesthetics. The room was cavernous and drab, with a concrete floor and metal beams showing high up in the shadowy reaches of the ceiling. A nineteen-foot bar ran along the wall to the right, packed three deep with guys whose faces looked like they belonged on the post office wall. The place smelled of beer and cigarette smoke, corn tortillas fried in lard, with an occasional whiff of dope wafting through the side door from the alleyway. All the house-lights were blue. There was a live band, five guys who looked like junior high school thugs and sounded like they should still be practicing in someone's garage. The music was a raunchy blend of thumping bass, pulsing synthesizers, relentlessly repeated chords, and lyrics that were vile if you managed to discern the words above the piercing electronic howls. The dance floor was a portable wooden pallet, maybe twenty feet on a side, jammed with bouncing bodies, faces lathered in sweat. This was where the C - singles came to hunt. There were no yuppies, no preppies, no slumming execs, no middle-class, white-bread college types. This was a hard-core pickup place for bikers and hamburger hookers, who'd screw anyone for a meal. Bar fights and knifings were taken as a matter of course, uniformed beat cops strolling through so often they were assumed to be customers. The noise level was intolerable, punctuated by an intermittent bam! and bursts of raucous laughter. The bar was famous for a drink called a ’’slammer’’: tequila and 7-Up in an old-fashioned glass. When the drink was served, a cloth napkin was placed across the mouth of the glass, which was then slammed down on a wooden board the waitress carried. The blow forced the tequila and 7-Up together in a high-test infusion, which the patron was expected to toss down in one gulp. Usually the limit was two slammers per customer. After two, most women had to be helped, toes dragging, to the car. After three, men had the urge to break wooden chairs or bash a hand through glass.

As I inched my way across the bar, I murmured, ’’Pardon me,’’, ’’Excuse me,’’ and ’’Oops, sorry,’’ as I progressed, sensing an occasional anonymous hand on my ass. I found an unoccupied spot and claimed temporary ownership, leaning against the wall like everybody else. I ordered a beer from a passing barmaid who was decked out in an orange Day-Glo leotard that was cut straight up her crack in the rear. Her buns were hanging out like water-filled balloons. There was no place to sit, so I stood where I was, wedged in against a beam, while I surveyed the crowd.

I spotted Bibianna on the dance floor, undulating with remarkable energy and grace to some grinding se* tune. Men's eyes seemed to follow every shimmy, every bump. The blue lights reacted with the olive tones of her skin to create an unearthly radiance that emphasized the smooth oval of her face above the bulging breasts in the low-cut chemise. The dress seemed to glow more purple than red, pulled taut across the flat belly, slim hips, and trim thighs. When the music ended, she gave her dark hair a toss and moved away from the dance floor without a backward glance. Her partner, visibly winded, looked after her with admiration.

She began to make the rounds. She was apparently well known, pausing to exchange laughing comments with a number of guys. I made myself conspicuous, pretending to be oblivious when, by my calculations, her path would soon be intersecting mine. Foiled. Before she reached me, she changed directions, and I could see her inching toward the short corridor where the restrooms were located. I headed in that direction, risking rude remarks as I pushed my way through.


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