H Is For Homicide Page 61


I waited until he went into the garage and then I got out myself and ambled over to the Pepsi machine just inside the door. I took my time tucking coins in the slot, extracting a can of Diet Pepsi. I popped the top and downed it, idly taking in my surroundings. There was not another soul in sight and no indication of any work being done. The late afternoon sun slanted onto the cracked concrete floor in tawny yellow strips. The air smelled of oil, old tires, and hot metal. A pyramid of bright blue metal barrels had been laid on their sides and served now as storage bins for a jumble of rusted car parts. I could see Raymond through the open doorway of an area marked off as office space. The flat-roofed building appeared to be converted from a very small stucco house. Additional office space was provided by a single-wide trailer tucked between the fence and the building. The horizontal panes of a pair of dusty louvered windows were slanted open to let in some air. A wooden pallet was leaning up against the trailer. There was an alarm company sign affixed to the side of the trailer, but I didn't take it seriously. This didn't look like an establishment famous for its security.

Raymond finished his business and emerged from the garage with a guy at his side whom he introduced as Chopper. He was an Anglo in his forties, balding and squat. His breathing was labored and his face freckled with sweat.

I said, ’’Great dog,’’ hoping to ingratiate myself with his owner.

’’That's Brutus.’’ Chopper gave a piercing whistle and Brutus awoke obligingly and lumbered to his feet. The poor dog was ancient, so crippled by arthritis that he walked with a rocking motion, approaching by degrees. Up close, I could see his black hair was dusted with white. He paused beside me, his manner humble. I put my hand down near his nose and he licked me. I felt embarrassingly dewy-eyed about the damn beast.

Raymond and Chopper finished their business and we walked on back to the apartment building, leaving the car where it was.

16

BIBIANNA WAS ALREADY home, seated at the kitchen table, applying a coat of bright red polish to her nails. She was wearing red shorts and a halter top in a vivid jungle print, red, black, olive green, and white. Her hair was pulled up in a glossy coil on top. Luis was out somewhere walking the dog. I marveled that Bibianna hadn't escaped while she could. Raymond had forgotten to return the telephone to its hiding place. He didn't seem aware of it, but Bibianna sure was. She ignored the instrument so studiously I had to guess she'd used it. I caught her eye with a visual query, but she kept her expression blank. I wondered who she'd called. Her mother? Jimmy Tate? Could he be out of jail yet?

Raymond glanced at his watch. ’’Hey. It's nearly five. Time to call your insurance agent.’’

My conversation with Mac was brief. Raymond let me handle the transaction without his ear pressed to the phone along with mine. I identified myself as Hannah Moore and Darcy put me through to Mac, who spelled out the particulars of my insurance coverage, making sure the message would sound benign to anybody listening. ’’Mr. Dolan assured me you were covered in case of accident. Do you still have his number?’’

’’Yes, I've got it. Thanks for the information. I appreciate your help.’’

’’Anytime,’’ he said. ’’And keep safe.’’

’’I hope to.’’

Once I'd hung up, I finished jotting down notes: policy number, my deductible, liability, collision, major medical, and death benefits. I was assuming Mac had set up a special policy under the name ’’Hannah Moore,’’ with a flag on the computer so he'd be alerted if a claim came in. I gave Raymond the policy number and the data Mac had relayed.

Shortly thereafter, I heard Perro tapping along the walkway outside, his breathing hoarse and wheezy as he strained against the leash. Luis opened the door and the dog bounded in. Somewhere, in a brain about the size of a BB, this beast had suddenly decided he remembered me. He charged at me joyfully, knocking into Bibianna as he vaulted across her lap. When he reached me he jumped up, propping his paws on my shoulders so we could stare into each other's eyes. I leaned sideways against the kitchen table while he slopped a tongue across my mouth. Bibianna had leapt away from him with a shriek, her fingers held aloft so he wouldn't screw up her nails. Raymond snapped his fingers, but the dog was too intent on true love to obey. Raymond yelled something, which he covered with a cough. I caught a glimpse of his face just as his eyes began to roll back. A tic was tugging at his mouth, his lower lip pulling down grotesquely. His head jerked twice to the left, mouth coming open. His temper seemed to snap and he went for the dog, landing an ill-aimed blow at Perro's meaty shoulder. The dog snarled and lunged. Raymond punched at the dog again, catching him in the nose. Perro yelped and scrambled away from him, cowering submissively. I moved into the path of Raymond's fist, blocking his next punch while Bibianna threw herself against him. Raymond shoved her out of the way. He knocked me aside and would have punched the dog again, but Luis hauled Perro by the choke chain and dragged him toward the door. Raymond stood and panted, eyelids fluttering, white slits visible along the rim. The rage and cruelty in his face were frightening, especially since his outburst was directed at the poor dog. Pit bull or no, Perro had a goofy innocence about him and all of us felt protective.


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