H Is For Homicide Page 64


He was clearly feeling territorial. Whether he was sensitive to what was actually going on or not, Tate was still a male, not only on Raymond's turf, but in close proximity to his woman. Raymond seemed to swell, trying to engage Tate in a shoving match of boasts and braggadocio, a verbal pissing match. I don't know what, among women, would constitute an equivalent. I tuned out the talk because it was all chest-thumping bullshit, fueled by alcohol and testosterone. I couldn't even begin to compute what Tale's response might be when he found out Bibianna was sleeping with Raymond. The whole situation might have amused me if I hadn't been so eaten up with tension.

Luis was watchful. The usual blank mask fell away and I saw, for the first time, a wily intelligence at work. Behind his dead eyes, a lively animal lurked, all the more dangerous for its cunning at concealment. The spark died. He slouched in his seat, flinging an arm across the back of the chair. He lifted his beer bottle by the neck and drank deeply. By the time he looked at me again, the arrogance was back, the superiority of the male lording it over lesser mortals.

I thought the night would never end. The Spanish music was jarring, either loud and frenetic or emotionally oppressive. The air was cloudy with smoke and the smell of beer. The only thing I cared about was staying very close to Tate, whose sun-weathered face was the only refuge I could see. I made him dance with me, in part to keep him away from Raymond, who was no fool. In the stress of the moment, we all drank way too much. I'd be sick in the morning, but I didn't care at this point. Maybe I could carve out a quiet life for myself on the bathroom floor, head hanging over the toilet bowl.

We closed the place down at 2:00 A.M. Outside the bar, we parted company with Tate. I was just relieved to get out of the situation in one piece, with no fisticuffs, no confrontations, no tears. Luis left the three of us out in front of the apartment, peeling off in the Cadillac. I preceded Raymond and Bibianna up the stairs, waiting while Raymond unlocked the door and let us in. The dog lay in the doorway like a sentinel, lifting his heavy bony head to give me a look as I passed. At least he had the good grace not to growl.

I went into my room and slipped into my nightie, then headed for the bathroom. The door to the master bedroom was closed. I knew from the way Raymond had been looking at Bibianna that his desires were at a peak again. In the interest of keeping peace, she was going to have to submit. I felt for her. What could be worse than making love to someone you didn't want to be with, caught up in a situation that dictated intimacy? I washed my face and brushed my teeth, turned the bathroom light out, and padded barefoot into my room. I opened one of the windows and leaned out, gazing briefly along the street, first in one direction, then the other. No one was stirring. In the quiet of the hour, by the pale wash of moonlight, even poverty can look appealing. The shabbiness is cleansed, all the broken parts made whole. The concrete sidewalk seemed to glow with silver, the street a darker tone. A car passed, driven slowly. Jimmy Tate, perhaps? Was he wild with the notion of Bibianna in bed with someone else? I remembered Daniel, my second ex-husband, whose se*ual betrayal had been a source of such anguish once. Later, after love dies, it's hard to remember how it could have ever mattered so much.

From the other room, I heard the muffled thumping as the king-size bed banged into the wall. I lifted my head, suddenly sobered by the realization that this was the perfect time to get some work done if I moved fast enough. I peeled off my nightie and pulled on some jeans. I yanked a T-shirt over my head and slipped my bare feet into Bibianna's tennis shoes, which I tied in haste. I unlocked the sliding glass window and shoved it open, aluminum frame rasping in its track.

The night air was cold and a light breeze whipped across my face. Below, the passageway between buildings looked dark and empty. I could smell smog and briny ocean in a heady mix. I boosted myself up onto the windowsill and scrambled out onto the metal landing between flights of stairs. The alcohol I'd consumed was acting as a sedative for any anxiety I might have felt. My heart was pumping hard and the effect was energizing. I was thrilled to be on the move again, excited to be looking at some action after all the enforced passivity.

17

MY TENNIS SHOES made hardly any sound as I eased past Raymond's darkened window. I held my breath, but the closed bedroom drapes were still being flattened rhythmically as the headboard banged against them. I felt my way down the stairs, my footsteps making soft linking sounds where my rubber soles touched the metal. At the bottom of the steps, I paused to orient myself. I was sheltered in the dark shadow of the apartment complex. It was close to 3:00 A.M., the street deserted, the neighborhood cloaked in silence. Even traffic on the big boulevard half a block away was only intermittent. The moon was full and rode high in the night sky. The Los Angeles city lights projected an ashen reflection across the heavens, blotting out the stars. As my eyes became accustomed to the dark, I began to distinguish the clear, pale light being cast by the moon. I emerged from the gap between Raymond's building and the apartment complex next door. I turned left, clinging to the shadows as I crossed the street, moving toward the auto salvage yard. I touched the fence and felt my way along the perimeter, sometimes traversing the circular glow of streetlights. I chose a spot halfway down the block where a driveway cut through the fence. A cluster of tall weeds and ratty shrubs flanked the gate. By day, the dirt lane was used by the tow trucks bringing in disabled vehicles. At night, when the yard closed, a wide gate was rolled across the opening, looped with a chain, and secured by a padlock. I pushed at the gate, forcing it open as far as the chain would permit. A ten-inch gap appeared. I hunkered, holding to the gatepost with both hands as I slid my right leg through. By pushing back with my hips, I could force the fence post back by another couple of inches. I rotated my shoulders, slipped my head through the gap, and then pivoted on my feet, neatly inserting myself into the yard on the other side.


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