H Is For Homicide Page 67


’’An ex-cop. From grade school. We were kids together in Santa Teresa a long time ago.’’

’’He's a snitch.’’

’’That's bullshit. L.A. County Sheriff's Department just fired the guy and he turned around and sued. They're not going to hire him to do anything!’’

Luis turned, pointing at me with the knife. ’’Let me tell you something. Tale's got no business with us. He shows up and I smell a snitch. Don't tell me bullshit. I know what I'm talking about.’’

I could feel myself hesitate, backing up a step. The idea of Tate undercover had crossed my mind, too. In the interview with Dolan and Santos, I'd asked twice if they had a man in and both times they'd been nonresponsive. Tate's suit against the department and his Tuesday night arrest might be part of his cover. If Luis was suspicious, then Raymond would be, too, and every move Tate made would be subject to scrutiny. ’’What's Raymond say?’’

’’He's checking out a source.’’

’’Well, that's good,’’ I said. ’’Then he can find out for sure, right?’’ My heart did a rat-a-tat-tat from fear. The possibility of a department leak was already a source of concern. If word trickled out about me, I was dead.

Luis retreated again. He sliced into the skin of a Mexican sausage and squeezed out the meat in a gesture surprisingly ominous. Soon I could smell the chorizo sizzling away with the onions and peppers. Luis broke eight eggs into a bowl with one hand, then whipped them into a froth with a fork.

I didn't want to defend Jimmy Tate too vigorously because it might backfire. Somebody might begin to wonder what made me such an expert. Best not to protest too much when you're tampering with the truth. Besides, Tate's cover had to be deep - if, indeed, that's what was happening. Dolan and Santos were both aware of the need for secrecy. I let the subject drop. I had thought to probe for information about the fraud ring. Now, I decided to bypass the quiz. All I needed was Luis turning his steely gaze on me.

We ate the omelet in silence. I'm forced to report it was one of the best I've ever eaten. The few bites I couldn't finish, I put down for the dog. Perro snapped the eggs up in one bite with a jerk of his head that propelled food down his throat. After breakfast, Luis scrubbed the skillet. My job was to fold the plates and throw them in the trash.

’’What's the program for the day?’’

’’I take you to the chiropractor as soon as Raymond gets back.’’

’’How come we have to wait? Can't we do anything on our own?’’

Luis said nothing. I decided it wasn't wise to press. Raymond didn't seem to trust him much more than he trusted me.

At noon Raymond and Bibianna returned to the apartment. Her face was haggard, the look she turned on me full of dread. She was signaling something, but I wasn't sure what. In contrast, Raymond's mood seemed expansive, though I noticed the twinkle of a tic in his blinking. Bibianna took her jacket off and tossed it on the couch. There was a Band-Aid across the crook of her right arm. Raymond grabbed her from behind in a bear hug, an odd hostility disguised as affection.

He caught my look, which had touched on the Band-Aid and glanced off. ’’She had a blood test. We're getting married as soon as the license comes through. Three days max.’’

’’Congratulations,’’ I said weakly. ’’Really, that's great.’’

Luis extended his hand. He and Raymond went through some complicated series of palm slaps and grips, signifying great gang joy at the nuptials of another. Bibianna's happiness was so overwhelming that she had to leave the room, a reaction not lost on the ever-vigilant Raymond. I could see the tic pick up, his mouth coming open, his neck jerking back. Luis broke out a couple of beers, ostensibly to celebrate. My guess was he hoped to head off one of Raymond's attacks. ’’Get her out here. Luis is going to get us some champagne. We'll drink a toast.’’

’’I'll be right back,’’ I murmured, and went into the bedroom. Bibianna was sitting on the edge of the bed, her head in her hands.

I sat down on the bed beside her, watching her without a word. What could I say? She was married to Jimmy Tate. There was no way she was going to end up married to Raymond, too. Finally, I said, ’’What are you going to do?’’

She looked at me bleakly. ’’Kill myself or kill him.’’ She reached out and took my hand, giving it a squeeze.

’’I'll hang in,’’ I said.

’’I know that,’’ she replied.

18

Luis PARKED THE Ford in a small weedy lot adjacent to a strip mall that had probably been built in the early fifties judging by the architectural style, which was of the cinder block and glass brick variety. The chiropractor's office was located in a storefront, wedged between a barbecue joint and a barbershop. Dusty beige drapes covered the plate-glass windows, protecting the interior from the curious stares of those passing on the street. Not that there was much to see inside. The walls were flat blue, lined with metal folding chairs. A television set in the corner ran a Spanish-language tape extolling the virtues of the chiropractic arts. A tattered illustration on the wall labeled ’’Chart of the Eye’’ showed the split circles with radial divisions essential to iridiagnosis, by which one could accurately identify diabetes mellitus, typhoid, aortic regurgitation, and other alarming conditions. The floor was covered in marbled beige vinyl tiles, through which a damp mop had been trailed recently, leaving tracks of yesterday's dirt. A counter separated the reception area from the examining rooms in the rear. There were sixteen people waiting to see Dr. Howard and no magazines. One of the other patients was a fellow I thought I'd seen in Raymond's apartment the day I arrived. I filled out a rudimentary medical history, automatically printing the first three letters of ’’Millhone’’ before I caught myself, converting the i and l to the double oo's of my current alias, ’’Moore.’’ The form itself took two minutes to complete, after which we all sat and looked at one another while two babies cried and eleven people smoked thirty-four cigarettes between them. The inhalation of passive smoke in conjunction with my boredom was enough to make me want to flee the premises. I checked my watch. I'd been sitting for an hour and a half. I didn't feel I could complain since I was only there to cheat the insurance company. I imagined all the other people, blacks, Hispanics, the elderly, the weekend athletes, being variously cracked, pummeled, pounded, and popped into alignment in the back room while I awaited my turn. People coming out to pay for treatment did appear to be relieved. Their backs seemed straighter, shoulders squared. They moved with more energy, taking with them enormous jars of pills which I assumed were expensive vitamins or calcium supplements. Many soft and crumpled dollar bills were passed over to the bilingual receptionist, a woman in her forties, quite possibly the doctor's wife.


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