H Is For Homicide Page 54


’’Where's Raymond?’’

’’He and Bibianna went out.’’

’’What are you doing in here?’’

’’Bibianna said I could borrow her hair dryer,’’ I said, praying she really had one. I glanced at the hamper. A length of telephone cord was dangling down the side, coiled in a tiny noose. I shifted my weight, effectively blocking his view. ’’I'll be out in just a second.’’

He stared. His face was an oval with high cheekbones and a little pointed chin. His teeth were in good shape, but he had a thin, mean-looking mouth, accentuated by that pathetic mustache. His dark hair was straight, slicked back in a ponytail, previously concealed by his watch cap. He had to be in his late twenties. ’’What time did they say they'd be back?’’

’’Could we talk about this in a minute? I'd like to do my hair,’’ I said. I moved to close the bathroom door, which forced him to back up a foot. I shut the door emphatically, waited half a second, and then jerked the door open again. He straightened up, embarrassed. He tucked his thumbs in his belt loops and ambled casually toward the living room.

’’You are too considerate,’’ I called after him, and slammed the door shut for emphasis. I found the hair dryer and turned it on, then laid it on the toilet lid and let it run while I wrapped the cord around the phone and placed it carefully down in the hamper where I'd found it. I rearranged the clothes on top. With the lid in place, I turned and checked my hair in the mirror. I picked up the wheezing dryer and bent over at the waist until my head was upside down. I blew a jet of hot air through my mop for about a minute. When I straightened up, it didn't look any better, but it did look different, like a sticker bush without leaves. I flipped the hair dryer off and went out into the living room.

The evening was spent peaceably. Luis didn't seem to be plagued by intellect or curiosity, so there was little conversation. He sat on the nondoggie end of the couch while I sat in the chair. He turned on the television set. He had a limited attention span and very little patience for complexity. Once in a while, he'd do something that indicated a curious awareness of me, nothing overt, but palpable nevertheless. His se*uality was oppressive, like the smell of orange blossoms on a humid summer night. He watched several shows simultaneously, using the remote control to switch from channel to channel. The dog stared at me intently through the car chases and canned laughter, and if I chanced to glance at him, he seemed to squint his little eyes.

At ten-twenty, Raymond and Bibianna came back with a bucket of parts from some Kentucky Fried Chicken rip-off. I was so hungry by then that I devoured five pieces, along with a carton of mashed potatoes with brown sludge, a squat container of coleslaw, three misshapen biscuits, and a fried pie with hardly any filling. Luis ate right along with me and finished up any food that was left. At midnight, Bibianna found me a blanket and a nightie. I trundled off to what I now considered my bedroom. I shut the door, stripped my clothes off, slipped into the nightie, and settled down on the lumpy couch.

I awakened with a start. At first I had no idea where I was or what was happening. It was the dead of night. I strained against the gloom, doing a visual search of the room I was lying in, caught in a moment of sleep-induced amnesia. A pale wash from the streetlight cast a plank of yellow on the ceiling. A thin scent of lard-fried tortillas hung in the air. I remembered Raymond. Had I heard something? Whatever the noise, I must have incorporated it into a murky dream which had evaporated on waking. Only the feeling of the dream remained - heavy, anxious. I could sense a presence in the room. My eyes were becoming accustomed to the dark. I divided my visual field into sections, which I studied one by one. My heart lurched. The door to my room now appeared to be open a crack. Luis? I struggled, trying to see if I could distinguish a silhouette against the paler gray of the corridor. The door swung open, a widening gap filled the shadows. I whispered, ’’What do you want?’’

Silence.

I heard a tapping, the sound of metal being trailed across the floor. Fear flared in me like a match. It was the dog. I remembered him chewing the leather strap that connected his leash with the chain securing him. God only knew how long he'd been free, roaming the apartment. I could see the glint of his dark eyes, his head low. I had no weapon in range, no way to protect myself. He seemed to be sifting the air for human scent. If I could remain absolutely still, he might lose interest and turn away, heading for the room where Raymond and Bibianna slept. I held my breath. The pit bull advanced toward the couch where I was lying rigidly, his toenails tap-tapping on the bare wooden floor. I was on my right side, my face almost level with his. I had my right arm tucked under me, but my left was hanging off the edge of the couch since there was no place else to put it. The dog extended his snout until the leather of his nose touched the fingers of my left hand. I could feel the coarse bristles on his muzzle brush against my wrist. I waited, unmoving. Finally, with infinitesimal care, I began to ease my hand away. I heard him growl low in his throat. I froze, not daring to retract my fingertips. He edged closer until he was resting his chin on the edge of the couch, his mouth level with mine. He made a whining sound. I felt my brain go blank. Within seconds, he had scrambled right up on the couch with me, crowding me against the back cushions, his bony front legs pinning me in position. Tentatively, I placed a hand on his head between his ears. He licked my palm.


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