H Is For Homicide Page 25

’’Who hasn't? I was told the only case he ever lost was up here. Nikki Fife, remember her? I guess the Santa Teresa courts weren't that impressed with his expertise.’’

’’That's the price you pay for living in the provinces. The man's a whiz. First rate. They call him 'Bent Willy'because he's got a finger crooked like that from some kind of accident.’’

’’What about Renkes? Aren't you bitter about him?’’

’’I don't hold it against him. I mean, I understand why the man did it. I wouldn't have done it myself, but then I wasn't caught first like he was. I didn't have the DA breathin'down my neck, cuttin'deals.’’


’’Shit, yes. They got him on another rap. You knew that, didn't you?’’

I shook my head. ’’I only caught the story in fragments.’’

’’Oh, yeah. They had that dude cold. Thing about Renkes is he sold out cheap. He got burnt. He should have taken it on the chin instead of blowin'the whistle on the rest of us. But that's life, right?’’

The music ended. We moved toward the table, passing Bibianna. Jimmy uttered a low growl and gripped her by the back of the neck, claiming her with his touch. She turned with a smile and he pulled her in against him in a hip-grinding embrace, probably meant to reassert his proprietary rights. Bibianna pushed him away, but she was laughing as she did it and the gesture had no force. He slung an arm across her shoulder in an affectionate hammerlock. They kissed again. I could feel my eyes roll heavenward. We sat down and ordered yet another round of beers.

The noise level was rising, alcohol unleashing a manic babble of laughter and loud talk, with quarrelsome undertones. The air was gray with cigarette smoke, the sharp report of slammers coming down one after another in steady succession, like a trio of carpenters with hammers. The music started up again, this time with lighting effects added, guaranteed to send you into seizures. Out on the dance floor, a drunk toppled backward, crashing into a table. A shriek went up, a chair broke, glasses flew in a spray of glass shards and tequila. Jimmy and Bibianna didn't seem to notice. They were doing a sit-down version of the dirty-boogey, imitating all those terrible movie scenes where coupies tongue each other on the screen and chew each other's lips. Being with lovers can be such a trial to those of us who are celibate. The very air was charged, sparks leaped between them in a nearly imperceptible arc. Every time their eyes locked, I could sense their underwear getting damp.

I glanced at my watch: eleven-fifteen. Enough of this. I scraped my chair back. ’’That's it for me,’’ I said. ’’Time to go. Good night. It's been great.’’ It took a while to get their attention. Jimmy managed to pull out of a nosedive of a kiss. He looked up at me with heavy-lidded surprise, still breathing hard.

’’Hope I didn't interrupt anything,’’ I said.

Lust had slowed his responses and I could see him grope for his speaking voice. ’’Don't go,’’ he croaked. ’’Stick around. We need to talk.’’

’’About what?’’

Bibianna had to lean forward in order to be heard, but she seemed pretty cool by comparison. ’’Too noisy here. We're going next door to grab a bite to eat. Why don't you come with us?’’

I was torn, I confess. I'd spent much of the day setting up the contact and I knew I'd be smart to cement the relationship. There was a possibility, of course, that Jimmy Tate might reveal the truth about my identity, but I thought I could trust him to keep his mouth shut. At the moment, he seemed more concerned about getting laid. They were teasing themselves, postponing the inevitable, while I was only marking time. Oh, hell, I thought, I'm going to end up alone in my bed anyway, so why rush? I zipped up my leather jacket while I waited for them to disentangle all the various body parts. As we moved through the crowd toward the front door, I got a couple of offers, but I didn't take them seriously. Both were addressed to ’’Hey, you... yeah, you...’’ accompanied by much display and posturing. One kid looked like he was sixteen. The other had a big gold tooth sticking out in front.

The three of us left the bar, stepping into a light rain. Jimmy grabbed Bibianna's hand and they began to run. I trotted behind them, catching up when they reached the little restaurant three doors down. After the high-decibel racket in the bar, the cafe we entered was as quiet as a deprivation tank. Bourbon Street was small, essentially one long, narrow room that resembled a mock New Orleans alleyway. The walls were brick, broken up by a series of false windows and doorways, backlighted to create the illusion of warm interiors. A series of balconies jutted out at the level of the second floor, suggesting a gallery of apartments surrounded by wrought-iron railings, the pseudo-French Quarter setting complete with wall-mounted lamps in which tapered light bulbs flickered like windblown candles. Fake green ivy snaked its way up the wall, looking so real I could have sworn I smelled the breeze that seemed to rattle through the leaves.

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