H Is For Homicide Page 55

’’I thought you hated having your head touched,’’ I said indignantly. Clearly not. I began to rub the silky flap of one ear. The dog panted happily. His body heat quickly enveloped me from chest to knee. I didn't dare complain, even though he did exude a rich cloud of doggie B.O. It was the first time I'd ever had a bed partner who smelled like hot pork. When I woke again, he was gone.

It's amazing how quickly one adjusts to strange surroundings and altered circumstances. By morning, the place seemed familiar in a cockroachy sort of way. Bibianna lent me a clean T-shirt to wear with my red miniskirt. For breakfast, Luis made some bean and cheese burritos, which we washed down with Pepsi-Colas. By then, the fastidious streak in my nature had emerged in earnest. I found a sponge and some Comet and attacked the surfaces in the bathroom, scouring the floor, the sink, the toilet, the tub, and the grubby tile around the shower. I prevailed upon Bibianna to get the bags of garbage removed from the kitchen, and then I scoured the sink, the stove top, and counters. Perro, the pit bull, was back in his position by the door, standing guard. Like a one-night stand, the surly ingrate was acting as if he didn't know me from a lamppost, and he growled ominously every time I made eye contact. It was not like I expected slobbering devotion, but a simple gesture of recognition might have soothed my punctured ego.

At 9:00 A.M., Raymond left the apartment without a word of explanation. Bibianna went back to bed. I wondered if she was going to keep herself zoned out - drugged, or stoned, asleep - anything to avoid dealing with Raymond's se*ual demands.

Luis surprised me by taking over the kitchen. He'd apparently decided it was time to cook. Maybe I'd inspired him by wiping all the sludge from the top of the stove, scraping grunge from between the cracks in the tiles with the blade of a knife. Nobody seemed to have heard of real dishes. I'd tossed tilting piles of flimsy paper plates and twelve place settings of plastic flatware. The remaining cheapware - plastic glasses, kitchen utensils crusted with food barnacles - I'd left to soak in a sink full of water I'd boiled first on the stove. A short time later, Luis set to work. Briefly, I wondered if in private he, too, nearly levitated trying to keep his bare feet off the crud on the bathroom floor. For lack of anything better to do, I leaned against the kitchen counter, watching him.

Hitherto hidden aspects of his nature were made manifest. Every act was small, precise. He peeled an onion. He flattened cloves of garlic with the side of a cleaver, lifting the papery skins away like insect shells. He charred peppers under the broiler, seeded and peeled and chopped them. The smell was acrid, but it awakened hunger. He was completely self-absorbed, involved in the task like a woman applying makeup. I always find myself fascinated by expertise. He opened a large can of chopped tomatoes and dumped them in the pan I'd washed. He added the onions, garlic, and chilies. There was a certain style to the work, a fastidious ordering of events. It was clearly learned behavior, but who had taught him? The air began to smell wonderful.

’’What is that?’’ I asked.

’’Enchilada sauce

’’Smells great.’’ I leaned against the counter, wondering how to frame the next question. ’’What's the story on Chago? Will they have a funeral for him?’’

Luis concentrated on his saucepan to avoid eye contact. ’’Raymond talked to the cops. They won't release the body until the autopsy's done. Might be as early as tomorrow, they won't say.’’

’’Does he have other brothers?’’

’’Juan and Ricardo. They were here yesterday.’’

’’What about parents?’’

’’His father was sent to prison for child abuse. He was killed in prison when they heard what he did to Raymond.’’

’’Which was what?’’

Luis looked up at me. ’’He don't talk about that and I don't ask.’’ He went back to his saucepan, stirring hypnotically. ’’His mother ran off and left when he was seven or eight.’’

’’He's the oldest?’’

’’Of the boys. There's three older sisters hate his ass. They think it's his fault what happened to the parents.’’

’’Another happy childhood,’’ I said. ’’How long have you known him?’’

’’Six, eight months. I met him through a capper of his named Jesus.’’

Bibianna appeared in the doorway, a blanket across her shoulders like an Indian. ’’Raymond back yet?’’

Luis shook his head.

She disappeared again, and a short time later I could hear shower water running. Luis left the sauce to simmer on the stove and prepared to take the dog for a walk. When he picked up the chain, he discovered the chewed leather section of the leash. Under his breath, I heard him murmur a worried ’’Shit.’’ I kept my mouth shut, imagining I might engender a sense of loyalty in the mutt. Luis found another way to attach the leash to Perro's collar, and the two left the apartment.

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