H Is For Homicide Page 63

Tate took my arm, moving me toward the pool table. ’’Aren't you happy to see me?’’

I closed my eyes briefly. ’’Jesus, Tate. Get away from me. What are you doing here?’’

He took my hand. I was forced to follow as we crossed to the rack of pool cues, where I watched Tate select one. ’’I had to see Bibianna. She tell you about us?’’

’’Of course. You could have told me yourself if you'd trusted me.’’

’’Who had time? I've busy shooting bad guys.’’ He raised the cue to shoulder height and sighted down the length of it like a rifle. ’’Boom.’’

’’How'd you know where we'd be?’’

’’Pick a cue stick,’’ he said.

I chose one at random, too distracted to be particular, not that I have a clue about the qualities of a good cue.

’’Not that one.’’ He handed me another cue stick and then continued casually. ’’This is Raymond's hangout. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out where he'll be. By the way, if Raymond comes over and wants to know what's going on, tell him the truth - we went to grade school together.’’

’’How'd you get out of the slammer? I thought you were broke. What's bail on a murder charge, two hundred thousand bucks?’’

’’Two fifty. I got a friend in Montebello who put up his house. My attorney got bail knocked down to a hundred grand. I'm out on OR plus bail...’’

’’And they let you leave the county?’’

’’Quit worryin. It's legitimate. I talked my probation officer into an eight-hour turnaround. My wife's sick, I said. I'm due back in Santa Teresa by six A.M. or they'll throw me in the can again.’’ Tate arranged the balls in the rack and broke. Balls scattered everywhere with a satisfying crack.

’’What are we doing? I haven't played pool for years.’’

’’Eight-ball. It's your shot.’’

’’You're very cute,’’ I said without much conviction. ’’Just tell me what to hit and let's get on with it.’’

’’You think I can have time alone with her?’’


’’Would you give her a message? Would you tell her I'm doing everything I can to get her out of here?’’


We played pool. Jimmy Tate pretended to tutor me and I took instruction, all in the interest of conducting a tense conversation overlaid with bright smiles. From a distance, I hoped we'd look like potential bedmates to someone who would kill us if he figured out what was actually happening. Tate loved it, of course. This was just the sort of situation he thrived on - out there on the front line, taking flak, taking risks in the name of I don't even know what. I was feeling that same sick sensation that prefaces a tetanus shot. Something bad was going to happen and I couldn't figure out how to escape it.

Tate said, ’’You taking good care of her for me?’’

’’I'm a real champ,’’ I said. ’’This is the last time I'm ever doing shit like this for anyone.’’

He smiled. ’’That's because you'd rather kick butt.’’

’’You got that right.’’

Tate cleaned up the table and we joined the other three, who were bunched into the booth. Luis got up and I slid in beside Tate, who remained carefully attentive to me in the process. Luis found an empty chair and pulled it over to the table. I think it was the first time I ever served as a ’’beard’’ in a dangerous liaison. Liar that I am under ordinary circumstances, I found it a tricky business to fake a flirtation. I felt awkward and false, reactions not lost on Raymond, whose radar was telling him enemy aircraft were somewhere in the area. I felt his eyes scan my face with a half-formed question. Maybe he'd write me off as a hopeless social oaf. Certainly the woodenness of my response to Tate was obvious.

Tate proceeded to tease me outrageously under Bibianna's watchful gaze. She was feigning indifference, but her interest was obvious. Aside from the fact the situation scared me silly, I was glad to have Tate on the scene. I hadn't realized, before he showed up, how isolated I was feeling. I was still vulnerable, of course - more so with him there - but at least I had a friend, and I knew, from my long experience, he'd lay down his life for me if it came to that.

Bibianna, in range of Jimmy Tate again, began to do the ritual dance. There was nothing overt in her behavior. She went out of her way to cater to Raymond, tucking her arm in his, leaning against him so that her breast brushed his arm enticingly. She and Tate avoided eye contact, ignoring one another so pointedly I'd have thought them rude if I hadn't known their true relationship. As it was, the game they played was far riskier. The color crept up in her cheeks unbidden. I watched the se*uality emerge, some ancient, unspeakable response to her mate. I couldn't believe Raymond didn't pick up on it. The only clue I had about his inner state was the eruption of the tics, which were running once a minute.

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