H Is For Homicide Page 66

I heard a sound like the equivalent of a canine rebuke. When I looked over I saw that Brutus had his head stuck in the gap between the gate and the fence post. He was yanking backward, his bony head and the thick muscular neck pinched in a vise of fencing. Car doors slammed and one uniformed cop headed toward the front entrance while the second one walked in my direction.

’’Oh, God,’’ I said. I jerked the gate forward and pushed the dog's head to free him. Then I plunged into the bushes and crouched down. I was shielded temporarily by a tangle of shrubbery, but the oncoming cop was scanning every inch of the fence with a heavy-duty flashlight. Meanwhile, inside the fence, Brutus had discovered what I was doing. He put his nose against the chain link and made a worried sound, half growl, half celebration of our newly cemented friendship.

The cop down the block near the office gave a whistle and the officer closer to me turned and headed back the way he'd come. I pulled myself to my feet and extracted myself from the bushes, inching away from the squad car as inconspicuously as I could. Brutus began to bark, unwilling to be abandoned just when the game was getting good. There was a line of parked cars at the curb. I reached the first and ducked behind it, using the cars as concealment until I reached the comer. I crossed the street at an angle and doubled back toward Raymond's, cutting into the heavy shadows between apartment buildings. Above me, the window in his bedroom blazed with light. I took the metal stairs three at a time, pulling myself up by the railing. Out of breath, I eased past the bedroom, found my open window, and plunged into the bedroom again. I whipped my shoes off, pulled my jeans down, and stuck my head out the door, squinting at the lights that were now flipped on in the hall. Bibianna, in a silk robe, was just emerging from the bedroom. I could hear Raymond in the living room on the phone with someone.

’’What's happening?’’ I asked.

Bibianna rolled her eyes. ’’It's the body shop. False alarm. Sometimes the damn thing goes off. Chopper's on his way over, but the cops say it's nothing. Go back to bed.’’

I closed the door. Sleep was a long time coming.

I woke at nine-thirty to the smell of coffee. I showered and dressed. The door to the master bedroom was open and I caught a glimpse of the broad king-size bed, neatly made. No sign of Raymond or Bibianna. I wandered into the living room to find that Luis was the only one on the premises, except the dog, of course. Luis paid no particular attention to me. He placed a clean mug on the counter and I poured myself some coffee.

’’Thanks,’’ I murmured. I sat down at the kitchen table, doing a quick inspection first to make sure it had been wiped clean. ’’Where's Bibianna?’’

’’They went off someplace.’’

’’What are you, the baby-sitter?’’

He made no reply. A carton of eggs sat open on the counter. In the day since I'd cleaned the kitchen, it had fallen into disarray again. Trash bags were lined up against the cabinets, bulging with beer bottles and discarded paper plates. The sink was piled high with dirty pots and pans, ashtrays spilling butts. Who smoked? I never saw anyone with a cigarette. Luis had pulled out the only clean skillet.

He set it on a burner. He began to remove items from the refrigerator: peppers, onions, chorizo. ’’You want breakfast?’’

’’Sure, I'd love it. You need any help?’’

He shook his head.

It seemed like the perfect opportunity to pump him for information, but I didn't want to start with the fraud ring itself lest I seem too inquisitive. ’’I hope this doesn't seem too personal,’’ I said. ’’I thought Raymond would be upset about Chago's death, but he hasn't said a word about it. Weren't they close?’’

Luis sliced the peppers into rings and then chopped onions, making no reference to the chemically induced tears rolling down his cheeks. His gaze came up to meet mine. ’’Chago was all he had. Raymond's sisters kicked him out when he was fourteen on account of his temper. He was on his own after that and he's done okay, considering. Kids in school used to mock him, making fun of his disease.’’

’’You knew him then?’’

’’Juan told me about it. I kind of wish he'd go to the doctor, get some help for himself, but he won't do it. He thinks Bibianna's all the help he needs.’’

I watched him, expecting more, but apparently he felt what he'd said should suffice. He used the knife to mound the onions, then walked the blade through the pile, mincing them. He crossed to the stove. I waited as he tilted the skillet, watching a hunk of melting butter circle lazily. He tossed in the onions and peppers. Finally, he spoke up again. ’’How you know Jimmy Tate? I saw his picture in the papers. He's a cop,’’ he said, rendering the word with venom.

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