H Is For Homicide Page 23

’’That's great.’’

’’Meantime, I'm flat broke, but what are you going to do?’’

’’What about Bibianna? Does she know you're a cop?’’

’’Does she know you're a P.I.?’’

I shook my head to one side, his smile fading as he saw my expression shift. ’’You're not investigating her?’’

I didn't answer, which was answer enough.

’’What for?’’ he asked.

I figured I might as well level with him. He'd find a way to get it out of me eventually. ’’Insurance fraud,’’ I said, watching for his reaction. If I'd hoped to surprise him, I was out of luck.

’’Who are you working for?’’

’’California Fidelity.’’

’’Can you make a case?’’

’’Probably. By the time I'm done, at any rate,’’ I said.

He looked away from me then, eyes straying toward the jukebox. I followed the line of his gaze, catching sight of Bibianna. A rainbow of lights played across her face. There was something about her - a dusky beauty, a physical perfection, that must have been irresistible, judging by the way he watched her. I saw her throw her head back and laugh, though the sound didn't carry. She was flirting with the drummer, one hand resting lightly on his arm in a gesture both intimate and casual. The drummer was tall and skinny with a face like a collie, his eyes close together and glittering with chemical substances the human body doesn't manufacture naturally. He was staring at her breasts, probably emitting the high-pitched, hopeful whine of a pup hoping for a Milk-Bone. She wasn't looking at us, but every phrase in her body language conveyed her awareness of Jimmy. Tit for tat, as it were. She turned to the jukebox and dropped in some coins, making her selection carelessly. After a moment, the pounding began, some popular song that was all bass and percussion. Bibianna moved out onto the dance floor with the drummer in tow. He was practically wetting himself, he was so excited by her attention.

’’I always hated undercover,’’ Jimmy said, raising his voice to be heard. He was still watching Bibianna, who'd begun to move with the beat, pelvis rolling like she was doing aerobic exercises to develop her glutes.

I took a sip of my beer, making no response. I'd never actually done undercover work myself, but I'd heard plenty, none of it good.

His eyes came back to mine. ’’Tell her what you're up to,’’ he said.

’’And blow this? You're crazy. I'm not going to do that. And you better not tell her, either. This is my turf.’’

’’I understand that.’’

’’Then what's the hesitation, Jimmy? I know that look.’’

’’I'm crazy about this lady and I don't want to see her hurt. I've been telling her for months she's going to get caught. If she knows you're on to her, she'll clean up her act.’’

’’That's not my concern. She filed a fraudulent claim with CF, and God knows how many phony claims she's filed with other carriers. I'm going to turn her ass in.’’

’’She's getting out of the business.’’

’’I'll bet.’’

’’No, she really is. She filed that claim months ago, but I talked her out of it. She's going straight, I swear.’’

’’Dream on, Tate. Why not drop the claim, then, if she wants out?’’

’’She did.’’

’’Bullshit! She's got a request for payment pending right this minute. I saw the damn thing myself. She's sticking it to us, putting the pressure on for a quick settlement. That's why the case was passed to me in the first place.’’

’’I don't believe it.’’

’’Ask her.’’

His smile was pained. ’’I can't very well do that without telling her what's going on.’’

’’Then you better find a way around it before I wrap this thing up.’’

’’There's more here than meets the eye.’’

’’There's always more than meets the eye. It's usually crooked,’’ I replied.

Jimmy's troubled gaze strayed back to Bibianna. He watched her with absorption, rubbing his thumb across his lower lip. He didn't want to believe me. His infatuation with the girl (and that's what she was, a girl) had apparently clouded his perception. After years of dealing with scammers, he'd suddenly decided that this one could change her wicked ways like magic if it suited her. He'd forgotten just how addictive crime can be. Repeat offenders are motivated more by withdrawal symptoms than necessity.

I'd never seen him caught up like this. In the past, his relationships with women had been easy to track, light-hearted forays with no emotional strings attached. A few laughs, some quick se*, a couple of weeks of companionship. I'm not sure how it appeared from their perspective. The women he dated were often smart but self-deluding, announcing up front that all they were looking for was fun and games when in fact they bonded with him at the drop of a hat and quickly shifted into emotional bait and switch. The turnabout became apparent in the way they looked at him, in their determination to be understanding, nonpossessive, compliant, and considerate. I'd watched eight or ten of these women pass through his life in a period of ten months. All were slim, attractive, bright, and competent - professional women with careers in advertising, sales, graphic arts, TV production. Each would become fixated, hooked by his availability, his casual charm, the se*uality that hovered in the air around him. They'd begin to service him, cooking meals, ironing shirts, subtly demonstrating how much better his life could be if they were somewhere on the premises. They'd begin to quiz him about his past relationships, trying to figure out what the last woman did wrong, trying to delete from their own behavior the qualities that had generated their predecessor's demise. This phase was brief because Jimmy's behavior would remain exactly the same throughout. Personal sacrifice netted these women nothing except, perhaps, a case of housemaid's knee. He was irresponsible, as promiscuous as ever, though he tried to be polite. He never flaunted his indiscretions, but he made no secret of them, either, since nonexclusivity was the agreement he and this latest girlfriend had started out with. Their anger would begin to surface because there was no payoff to the subservience. Each woman, in turn, would start to feel victimized, and Jimmy was the obvious target of the discontent. This, of course, provided him with the perfect justification to pull away from them. Within a month, never much more than two, they'd make some demand, perhaps complain, voicing barely controlled expressions of disappointment and rebuke. The minute that happened, Jimmy Tate was out the door without so much as a ’’Thank you, ma'am.’’ I'd never seen him look at one of them the way he looked at Bibianna Diaz.

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