H Is For Homicide Page 46

I said, ’’You and me both, kid. You think Raymond knows you're involved with him?’’

’’God, I hope not. He's so jealous, he can't see straight.’’

’’How'd you meet Tate?’’

’’He crashed a costume party last Halloween. Dressed as a cop. Everybody thought it was a joke, except me. I can smell a cop a mile off.’’ She took a brush from her handbag and ran it through her hair. ’’It's really different with Jimmy.’’

’’Well, that's obvious,’’ I said. ’’I take it you're in love with him.’’

She smiled fleetingly for the first time since we'd left the jail. ’’I better be. We got married week before last. That's why my place is coming up for rent. I'm moving in with him.’’

The door flew open. I must have jumped a foot. It was Luis with his.45 and his little smirking mustache. ’’All right, ladies. Time to go. Speed it up. Raymond says you been in here long enough.’’

I waved at him dismissively. ’’Oh, come off it, Luis. What is it with you? Running around acting like an idiot. I still have to tee-tee and so does she.’’

He colored faintly. ’’Snap it up.’’

’’Right,’’ I said, moving over to the first stall. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him shove the gun in his waistband and back out of the room.

Ten minutes later we were on the road.

So that's how I came to be speeding down 101 in a low-rider Wednesday morning, October 26. Vera's wedding was coming up on Monday and I was going to miss it, sure as shit. If Raymond killed Bibianna, he was going to have to kill me, too. By Halloween, I'd probably be in the long-term parking lot at LAX, crammed in the trunk of some stranger's vehicle. Even in the hot sun, it can sometimes take days before anybody picks up the scent.

Luis drove while Raymond sat in the front seat fiddling with the radio. At irregular intervals, he would go through his ticcing sequence. If he was talking to Luis, the tics would seem to subside, only to assail him with a vengeance as soon as his mouth was shut. Bibianna had curled up on the backseat in a troubled sleep. At least now she wouldn't have to worry about being quizzed by the Santa Teresa cops. I was feeling wired. In the past couple of hours, I'd passed through fatigue to exhaustion and out to the other side. God knows my work exposes me to an occasional unsavory character, but I really don't like violence or danger or threats to my health. My semiannual visit to the dentist is as masochistic as I care to get. Yet here I was in the company of these vatos, wondering how I could get to the telephone number Dolan had given me. I missed my beloved handbag, my jacket, and my gun. At the same time, I confess, I felt extraordinarily alive. Perhaps I was merely experiencing one of life's peak moments before the bottom dropped out.

At Oxnard, we left the freeway and continued south on Highway 1, winding our way through the southeastern section of town. We passed the Naval Construction Battalion Center at Port Hueneme (pronounced ’’Y-knee-me’’). The road began to parallel the deep blue green of the ocean, which was far off to our right. The beaches were deserted except for an occasional fisherman casting his line out into the water. The sand had been packed down and darkened by the rain, but the sky was now cloudless, a clear azure blue. The morning sun had burned the fog away, and I could see straight out to the horizon. On the landward side, loose sand swept down to the highway from rosy beige cliffs creased into folds by erosion, hills flattening out to pale gray scrub, freckled with vegetation.

After we passed Point Dume, houses began to appear, rilling the widening strip of land between the road and the ocean, properties piling up rapidly as the miles accrued. In the parking lane, RVs and pickups were lined end to end. Guys in shorts and wet suits unloaded surfboards and wind-sails. By the time we reached Malibu, apartments and condos and single-family dwellings were crowded cheek by jowl, the architectural mix ranging all the way from chateaus to beach shacks, Italian villas, Tudor mansions, Cape Cod, and concrete. The rich folk with taste had apparently been elsewhere the day the planning commission took a vote. (What planning commission?) As a consequence, the road was densely lined now with retail businesses, signs advertising Texaco, Malibu Lumber, Crown Books, Shoes, Fast Frame, Jack-in-the-Box, Motel, Malibu Inn, Liquor, Jimmy's Ribs at the Beach, Budget Cars, Palm and Card Reading, Shell Gas, Realty, Arco AM/PM, Malibu Travel, Motel, Liquor, Pizza, Real Estate, Locksmith, Shoe Repair, Malibu Fish Market... a vulgar hodgepodge of neon, billboards, and blinking lights. Traffic was piled up in a perpetual gridlock of Mercedeses, BMWs, and Jaguars.

We hit the light where Sunset Boulevard dead-ends at Pacific Coast Highway. The woman in the little sports car idling next to us turned an uneasy eye on Luis with his watch cap and his Walt Disney arms. He had a truly vile suggestion he was kind enough to share with her. Raymond gave his head a censoring thump. Maybe that's why he wore the watch cap, to keep the brain damage to a minimum.

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