H Is For Homicide Page 26

The restaurant kitchen was hidden around one corner where a wall angled out. The scent of shrimp touffee and blackened red fish hovered in the air as if you'd caught a whiff of someone else's Sunday dinner. There were seventeen tables in all, most of them empty, each covered with white butcher's paper. Hurricane lamps provided illumination that flattered the patrons, at the same time dispensing light sufficient to eat by.

Jimmy ordered Cajun popcorn - crawfish parts fried crisp with a spicy sauce - and then a pot of jambalaya for the three of us. Bibianna wanted oysters on the half shell first. I watched them negotiate the meal, feeling strangely passive myself. They argued the issue of wine versus beer and finally ordered both. They'd become nearly playful, while I felt myself disconnect. I picked at a combread muffin, trying to figure out what time it was in Dietz's life. Germany was what, eight hours ahead of us? I entertained a few wicked fantasies about Dietz, while observing Bibianna and Jimmy idly as if through a two-way mirror. It seemed clear to me that there was more going on here than a quick fling. Jimmy Tate was a good-looking guy with all the sunny charm of a California surfer, wire-rimmed glasses adding interest to a face that might otherwise have been too handsome to warrant serious consideration. Handsome men have never held a fascination for me, but he was an exception, probably because of our shared history. He'd played hard in his life - booze and drugs, late nights, bar fights - and at thirty-four was just beginning to show evidence of self-abuse. I could see fine lines near his eyes, deeper lines around his mouth. Bibianna's youth and her dark Latino beauty were a perfect counterpoint to his blond, blue-eyed attractiveness. They seemed suited for one another, a crooked cop and a con artist... both willing to cut corners, both manipulating the system, looking for a fast buck. Neither was malicious but they must have recognized the lawlessness in each other's natures. I wondered what had drawn them together in the first place, whether they had sensed the shared bonds of mutiny and trespass. The similarities certainly weren't apparent on the surface, but I suspect lovers have some unerring instinct for the qualities that both attract and condemn them in relationships.

When the food arrived, they fell on it with the same lusty appetites they exhibited for one another, killing a bottle of red wine between them. I wasn't interested in anything more to drink. I concentrated on the meal in front of me with the kind of gusto that can only be thought of as se*ual sublimation. After the beers I'd had, it was nice to have the opportunity to clear my head for the drive home. The place was beginning to fill up with the late night crowd. The noise was on the rise, but it couldn't begin to compete with the bar we'd just left. Dimly, I was aware of the front door behind me, opening at intervals as the midnight rush began - people looking for hot coffee, a wedge of sweet potato pie. Nature called again in response to all the beers I'd drunk. ’’Where are the restrooms?’’

Bibianna pointed toward the rear. She and Tate were both bombed and I began to wonder if I'd have to ferry them both back to her place in the interests of safety. ’’Be right back,’’ I said.

I wound my way through the tables, spotting the posted sign that indicated the location of the restrooms and the public telephones. I pushed through hurricane shutters and found myself in a short corridor, lighted by the same flickering bulbs. At the end of the hallway, there were two pay phones flanking an exit with a sign above it reading THIS DOOR MUST BE KEPT UNLOCKED DURING BUSINESS HOURS.

To my right were two doors marked M and W. I pushed into the W. The light was better. There was a two-sink counter to my left with a mirror running above it, a paper towel rack above a metal trash bin, and two stalls, one of which was in use. I entered the other. Under the raised partition between the stalls, I could see the feet of the other's occupant, whose copious urination sounded like a quart of lemonade being poured from a great height. I glanced idly at her shoes: patterned stockings, sling-back pumps with spike heels. I squinted, bending for a closer look. I'd seen the same shoes or a pair just like them on the blonde at the CF offices earlier. I heard the toilet flush. I reassembled myself in haste while she washed her hands and snatched a towel from the dispenser. I heard the rustle of paper as she dried her hands. I flushed the toilet in my cubicle, stalling for time. I didn't dare leave the cubicle until I knew she was gone because she might well recognize my face. I heard the tip-tap of her heels crossing the tile floor. As soon as the door closed behind her, I emerged and moved swiftly to the door. I poked my head out into the corridor. I caught sight of her at one of the pay phones, inserting numerous coins into the slot. She turned away slightly as if to insure privacy. It was the woman who called herself Karen Hedgepath: spiky, punk blond hair, severely cut business suit. She kept herself in profile with her right hand pressed to her ear to block out noises from the restaurant. From the shift in her posture, I guessed that her call had been picked up. She began to speak rapidly, making gestures with her free hand. I did an about-face and returned to the main part of the restaurant while she was still occupied. A quick check revealed the presence of the big guy with the plaid sport coat. He was seated with his back to me at a two-top on the side wall, but I recognized his jacket and the set of his shoulders. He was smoking a cigarette, a bottle of red wine visible on the table in front of him.

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