H Is For Homicide Page 51

The telephone, a touch tone, had been sitting on the coffee table. Now there was no sign of it. I scanned the room without result. Apparently, Raymond had unplugged the instrument at the jack and had taken it into the bedroom with him. That wasn't very trusting. I backed up, turning left into a short hallway. The other bedroom contained a dilapidated brown couch and a bare mattress with a couple of pillows minus the cases.

I went to the window overlooking the street. I flipped open the locking mechanism and pushed at the aluminum-framed sliding window, which I managed to hump back in its track with a minimum of squeaks. It's not that I was looking for an immediate avenue of escape. I just like to know where I am and what's possible in the event of an emergency. I leaned close and angled my head so I could see in all directions.

To my right, the face of the building was shabby and plain, a sheer drop of some twenty-plus feet to bare sidewalk. No balconies, no wood trim, and no trees within range. From what I could see, this was a neighborhood of tacquertas and strip joints, auto body shops and pool halls, all of it as torn and deserted as a war zone. I checked to my left and was heartened to see a zigzagging metal stairway. At least in a pinch, I'd have access to the world at large.

I surveyed the room behind me, so exhausted I could hardly stand. I opted for the lumpy couch, which was slightly too short to stretch out on fully. The cushions smelled of dust and stale cigarette smoke. I pulled my knees up and crossed my arms, hugging them in against me for solace. I didn't care what was happening, I had to get some sleep.

When I woke, I could tell from the slant of light in the room that it was close to four o'clock. The days had already begun to seem truncated, the premature darkness signaling the sudden onset of winter. At this point, annually, all the furnaces are turned on. The new cord of oak is delivered and stacked. This is the season when Californians, by agreement, begin to bring out their woolens, complaining loudly of the cold when it's only fifty degrees out - as close to freezing temperatures as we're likely to get.

The apartment was still quiet. I got up and tiptoed out to the living room. Perro was snoring, but I figured it was just a ruse. He was hoping I'd try to sneak past him so he could leap up and tear my ass off. I edged to my left, into the dining area, which formed a straight line with the galley-style kitchenette. I'd popped in there briefly when I helped myself to a beer, but I hadn't been able to check for exits. I was hoping for a back door, but the kitchen was a dead end and there didn't appear to be any other way out.

I glanced over at the kitchen table, which was still covered with stacks of papers. I picked up a sheaf and sorted through. What ho! Well, at least now I knew what had made the guy so cross. These vicious-looking batos locos had been licking their pencil points, trying to fill out insurance forms for a series of bogus injuries they couldn't even spell right. ’’Wiplash’’ and ’’bruces’’ and ’’panes in my looer and uper bake.’’ One had written: ’’Were drivin north wen this car hit us from behine and nockt us into a telepone phole. I bump my hed on the winsheld, suffrin bruces. Ever sins the acident, I hadve wiplash and panes in my nek. Also, bad hedakes, dobull vishun and shootin panes in my bake.’’

The attending physician on most forms was a Dr. A. Vasquez, with a chiropractor named Fredrick Howard running a close second in popularity. Now that I looked closely, I realized that all the ’’victims’’ had given identical accounts of their ’’accidents.’’ What Tomas had been doing was copying out the same information on form after form. Properly briefed or not, my investigative instincts began to stir and I could feel my excitement mount. This was part of what Dolan and Santos were looking for, grand theft in progress with the names of the players spelled out nice and neat. There was no sign of a file cabinet, from what I'd seen so far, but Raymond had to keep all the paperwork somewhere. I chose a completed claim form at random, folded it quickly, and shoved it down my blouse front, patting it into place. I left the remaining papers as I'd found them and returned to the spare room, crackling faintly as I walked. When I reached the doorway, I spotted Raymond standing near the window, going through the pouch of personal possessions I'd brought with me from the jail.

’’Help yourself. All I got on me is ten bucks,’’ I said from the doorway.

If he was embarrassed to be caught, he gave no indication of it. There was a brief pause while he went through a series of tics we both ignored. ’’Who's Hannah Moore?’’

’’Excuse me?’’

’’Hannah Moore's not your real name.’’

’’It isn't? Well, that's news to me.’’ I tried for a tone somewhere between facetious and perplexed.

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