H Is For Homicide Page 62


Bibianna pushed Raymond into a chair. ’’What's the matter with you!’’

Raymond rubbed at his fist, his self-control returning by degrees. Luis and the dog disappeared. My heart began to pump belatedly. Raymond was breathing hard. I saw his head jerk. He eased his right arm in its socket and did a neck roll to relax. The tension drained from the room.

His gaze focused on Bibianna, who was pinning him to the chair, pressing down on his shoulders to prevent his getting up. She straddled his lap, the long, flawless legs anchoring him into place. It was the same move I'd seen her use with Tate the night before last. Hard to believe that less than forty-eight hours ago, she'd been with him.

Raymond stared up at her. ’’What's the matter? What's happening?’’

’’Nothing. Everything's fine,’’ she said tersely. ’’Luis took the dog for a walk.’’

The moment passed. I was beginning to recognize the shifts in his moods. The spill of rage stirred se*uality. Before he could slide his hands up along her thighs, she removed herself from his lap as if she were getting off a horse. She smoothed her shorts and crossed to the television set, where she scooped up the deck of cards that was sitting on top. ’’Let'splay gin rummy,’’ she said. ’’A nickel a point.’’

Raymond smiled, indulging her, probably thinking he would nail her later.

When Luis came back with the dog, Bibianna lent me some jeans, a T-shirt, and some tennies so we could go out to dinner. The four of us left on foot and headed into the dismal commercial district that bordered the apartment complex. We crossed a vacant lot and went in through the rear entrance of a restaurant called El Polio Norteno, which by my translation meant the North Chicken. The place was noisy, vinyl tile floor, the walls covered in panels of plastic laminate. The room felt close, nearly claustrophobic from the flame grills in the rear. Countless chickens were trussed on a rotating spit, brown and succulent, skins crisp and glistening with sputtering fat. The noise level was battering, mariachi music punctuated by a constant irregular banging of the cleavers whacking whole chickens into quarters and halves. The menu was listed on a board behind the register. We ordered at the counter, picked up four beers, and then canvassed, looking for a booth. The place was crowded, patrons spilling out onto a makeshift wooden deck that was actually an improvement. It was quieter out there and the chill California night air was a distinct relief. Moments later, a waitress appeared with our order on a tray, setting down paper plates and plastic flatware. We tore the chicken with our hands, piling shreds of grilled meat onto soft corn tortillas, spooning pinto beans and fresh salsa on top. It was a three-paper-napkin extravaganza of messy hands and dripping chins. Afterward, we adjourned to a bar two doors away. It was nine by then.

The Aztlan was smoky, cavernous, ill lighted, occupied almost exclusively by Hispanic men whose eyes, at that hour, were turning slippery from all the alcohol they'd consumed. The laughter came in constant, raucous bursts that were sly and assaultive, very worrisome. There was, on the surface, a thin veneer of control. Under it, and unpredictable, was the boiling violence of youth. The Spanish music I was cranked up to a feverish pitch, forcing loud talk in f aggressive tones that even merriment couldn't mask. I took my cue from Bibianna, who seemed watchful, her se*uality under wraps. Here, there was none of the familiar bantering I'd seen in the Meat Locker. Raymond was too easily set off and her intentions were too readily misunderstood. Luis seemed right at home, sauntering to the bar with his macho attitude. In his snowy white undershirt, his bare arms were a moving cartoon, Daffy Duck and Donald Duck in aggressive black and yellow.

While Luis fetched four more beers, we pushed through the crowd toward the back. In a second room about half the size of the first, there were three pool tables, two of them occupied. The felt surfaces looked as green as grassy islands under hot hanging lights. The dark of the ceiling was broken up by the blinking of multicolored Christmas tree lights that were probably strung up year-round. Raymond found an empty booth and Bibianna slid in. I was bringing up the rear, sidetracked by the jostling of the intervening mob. I felt a hand on my arm, impeding my progress. ’’Hey, babe. You play pool?’’ I knew the voice. I turned and it was Tate.

I could feel my heart do a flip-flop, fearing Raymond's reaction. I glanced back at Bibianna automatically. She was squeezed into the booth, facing in my direction. She must have recognized Tate about the time I did because her face seemed to pale.

’’Let's just mosey over to the pool table,’’ Tate said under his breath. ’’Has Raymond figured out yet it was me killed Chago?’’

’’If he did, you'd be a dead man. Dawna got picked up before she could tell him everything. Why don't you get out while you can,’’ I murmured.


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