H Is For Homicide Page 27

At our table, the seats were arranged so that I was facing the restrooms, my back to the front door, with Bibianna on my right and Jimmy Tate across from me. I kept my voice down, one eye cocked in case the blonde returned unexpectedly. Bibianna looked at me with curiosity, sensing my alarm. I handed her the menu and said, ’’I would like for you, very discreetly, to check that doorway leading to the restrooms. A blonde is going to make an appearance in a moment. See if you know her, but don't let her know you're looking. You got that?’’

’’Why? What's going on?’’ Bibianna said to me.

’’I heard her on the pay phone outside the John and she was talking about you.’’

’’About me?’’

Jimmy leaned forward. ’’What is this?’’ The blonde appeared, coming through the shutters from the corridor. Her gaze settled lightly on our table and moved on. ’’Do not crank your head around,’’ I sang under my breath.

Bibianna's eyes flicked to the woman. The reaction was subtle, but I could see the animation fade from her face. ’’Oh, hell. I gotta get out of here,’’ she said.

I handed her an open menu, pointing to the first item in the dessert list, which was the key lime pie. Conversationally, I said, ’’Take your handbag and go to the ladies'room. Go out through the door at the end of that hall and wait at the mouth of the alley. One of us will pick you up. Leave your jacket draped across the chair. We don't want it to look like you're really going anywhere, okay?’’

Jimmy's gaze shifted from my face to Bibianna's. ’’What's going on?’’

Bibianna got to her feet, groping blindly for her handbag. Too late. The couple converged on us. The blond woman placed a firm hand on my shoulder, effectively nailing me to the chair. The guy pressed a Browning.45 against Bibianna's spine as if he might be an orthopedist probing for a hemiated disk. I saw Jimmy reach for his.38, but the guy shook his head. ’’I got the option to smoke her if there's any problem whatsoever. Your choice.’’ Jimmy put both hands flat on the table. Bibianna picked up her jacket and her handbag. Jimmy and I watched helplessly as the three of them moved toward the back door. Jimmy had better instincts about these things than I did. The minute they were out of sight, he bolted for the front, attracting startled looks from all the patrons he bumped in passing. He didn't bother to be polite. The front door banged open and he was gone. I threw some money on the table and headed after him.

By the time I hit the street, he was already pounding toward the corner, elbows pumping, gun drawn. The streets were damp, the air filled with a fine mist. I ran after him, plowing straight through a puddle on the walk. In the distance, I could hear tires squeal in the alleyway where the couple must have had a car parked. I reached the intersection moments after Jimmy did. A Ford sedan shot out of the mouth of the alley three doors down. Jimmy, as if moving in slow motion, took a stance and fired. The back window shattered. He fired again. The right rear tire blew and the Ford took a sudden fishtailing detour into a van parked at the curb. There was the gut-wrenching wham! of metal objects colliding. The Ford's front bumper clattered to the pavement, and glass fragments showered down with a delicate tinkling. The few pedestrians within range were running for cover, and I could hear a woman's protracted scream. The front doors of the Ford seemed to open simultaneously. The blond woman emerged from the passenger side, the big guy from the driver's side, taking cover behind the yawning car door as he turned and took aim. I hit the pavement and flattened myself in the shelter of a line of trash cans. The ensuing shots sounded like kernels of popcorn in a lidded saucepan. I hunched my shoulders, tasting grit, sucking up the mixed smell of garbage and rain-wet cement. I heard three more shots fired in succession, one of them plowing into the pavement near my head. I feared for Jimmy, felt a sick sense of dread for Bibianna, too. Someone was running. At least somebody was still alive - I just wasn't sure who. I heard the footsteps fade, then silence. I pulled myself up onto my hands and knees and scrambled toward a parked car, peering over the hood. Jimmy was standing across the street. Abruptly, he sank down on the curb and put his head on his knees. There was no sign of the blonde. Bibianna, apparently unhurt, clung to the Ford's rear fender and wept hysterically. I rose to my feet, puzzled by the sudden quiet. I approached her with care, wondering where the guy in the plaid sport coat had gone. I could hear panting, a labored moan that suggested both anguish and extreme effort. On the far side of the Ford, I caught sight of him, dragging himself along the sidewalk. There was a wet patch of bright blood between his shoulder blades. There was blood streaming down the left side of his face from a head wound. He seemed completely focused on the journey, determined to escape, moving with the same haphazard coordination of a crawling baby, limbs occasionally working at cross-purposes. He began to weep with frustration at the clumsiness of his progress. He must have been a man who'd always counted on his physical strength to carry him through, who'd enjoyed a certain unquestioned supremacy by reason of his size. Now the sheer bulk of his body was an impediment, a burden he couldn't quite manage. He laid his head down, resting for a moment before he inched forward again. A crowd had collected, like the spectators at the finish line of a marathon. No one cheered. The faces were respectful, uncertain, perplexed. A woman moved toward the injured man and dropped beside him, reaching out tentatively. At her touch, a deep howl seemed to rise from him, guttural and pain-filled. There is no sound so terrible as a man's sorrow for his own death. The woman looked up, dazed, at the people standing nearby.

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