H Is For Homicide Page 50


Bibianna rolled her eyes and motioned me into the bedroom with her.

The room had been furnished with more of Raymond's roadside taste. The bed was king-size with red satin sheets and a big puffy comforter. The bed tables and chest of drawers looked like wood veneer over particleboard, in a ’’Spanish style,’’ which is to say lots of black wrought-iron hinges and pulls. Bibianna slid the closet door open. ’’He moved all of my clothes from my other place. He didn't even ask me,’’ she said. ’’Look at this. He thinks he can buy me, like I'm up for sale.’’

The wooden rod was crammed with hanging clothes, the long shelf above stacked with sweaters, handbags, and shoes. She crossed to the bureau and started opening drawers full of underwear, most of it new. She found me a pair of red lace underpants with the store tags still attached. She offered me a bra, which I declined. No point in putting apples in a sack meant for cantaloupes. In addition to the underwear, she rounded up some sandals, a red miniskirt with a matching red leather belt, and a white cotton peasant blouse with puff sleeves and a drawstring at the neck.

As she handed me the garments, she murmured, ’’Get out if you have the chance.’’

’’What about Raymond?’’

’’Don't worry about it. I can handle him.’’

’’Everything okay?’’

Raymond was standing in the doorway. He'd taken off his sport coat and his shoulders looked narrow without its bulk.

She turned on him in a flash. ’’Do you f*kin'mind? We're having a private conversation here if it's any of your business.’’

He flicked a look at me, embarrassed.

’’I think I'll take a shower,’’ I murmured.

He held out a package. ’’Here's your toothbrush.’’

’’Thanks.’’

I took the bag and moved past him, eager to escape. There's nothing worse than being present when a couple gears up for battle. Both were making covert attempts to enlist my sympathy, and the nonverbal recruitment process was making my stomach churn.

I went into the guest bathroom and locked the door behind me. I hung my tank top over the doorknob to discourage anyone from peeping through the keyhole. My toes started curling at the state of the bathroom, which had all the charm one might picture in a military latrine. I've never been good at walking around barefoot in public locker rooms, where the floors always seem to be littered with hair, rusted bobby pins, and disintegrating clumps of spongy wet Kleenex. I won't describe the sink. The glass shower door had been cracked and mended with plumber's tape, and the metal track in which the door slid was crusty with soap scum. A long pointed stain extended from the shower head to the top of the tub itself. There was a plastic bottle of generic shampoo in the corner and I picked it up gingerly, my lips pursing with distaste.

I put paper on the rim of the toilet and availed myself of the facilities. While I was sitting there, I extracted Dolan's telephone number from my right sock. I committed it to memory, tore the slip of paper in tiny pieces, and tossed them in the bowl, flushing it afterward. The water wouldn't go down. The tiny pieces of paper, like confetti, whirled around and around with an agonizing laziness while the water level rose dangerously close to the rim. Oh, great. The toilet was going to overflow. I began to wave my hands, whispering, ’’Get back... get back.’’ Finally, the water subsided, but I didn't care to try to flush again until the tank refilled. I cupped a hand to my ear without picking up any indication that this was happening. If Raymond burst in, would he fish out the pieces of the note and try to paste them all together? Surely not.

I opened the toilet tank. There were plastic packets taped along the sides of the tank... probably heroin or cocaine. Now there's a concept. If the cops ever raided the place, they'd sure be fooled by that. One of the pouches was jammed up against the ball cock machine. I pushed it aside and rattled the lever. The tank began to fill. Finally, the toilet flushed with gallumphing sounds - a triumph of personal ingenuity and low-grade plumbing skills. My kon*** Tracy secret code was safely washed out to sea.

The shower water was tepid to begin with, but I managed to lather myself with a tiny bar of soap that said ’’Ramada Inn.’’ I shampooed my hair and was just rinsing it when the hot water ran out. I finished in haste. The only towel in the bathroom was thin, stiff, and dingy from use. I patted myself dry with my tank top and got dressed.

When I emerged from the bathroom, dirty clothes in hand, the apartment was quiet. I peered into the living room. Luis had apparently gone home. Raymond and Bibianna were nowhere in sight. The door to the master bedroom was closed, and I could hear voices raised heatedly in Spanish. I leaned my head close, but I really couldn't understand a word of it. I returned to the living room. Perro had been secured to the couch again, and he was chewing happily on the leather portion of the chain leash mat restrained him. The minute he saw me, he rose to his feet, the hair standing up along his back in a ridge. He lowered his head and began to hum down in his chest. To reach the front door, I'd have to pass within inches of him. Skip that, I thought.


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