H Is For Homicide Page 7


It was ten when I finally turned the lights out and went up to bed. I opened one of the windows and leaned my head against the frame, letting the cold air wash across my face. The moon was up. The night sky was clear and the stars were as piercing as pinpricks. A weak storm front was moving in, and a chance of showers was being predicted sometime in the next couple of days. So far, there was no sign of rain. I could hear the muffled tumble of the surf a block away. I crawled under the covers and flipped on the clock radio, staring up at the skylight. A country song began to play, Willie Nelson in a wistful account of pain and suffering. Where is Robert Dietz tonight? I asked myself. I'd hired myself a private investigator the previous May when my name showed up as one of the four finalists on somebody's hit list. I'd needed a bodyguard and Dietz turned out to be it. Once the situation was defused, he'd stayed on for three months. He'd been gone now for two. We were neither of us letter writers and too cheap to call each other very often since he'd left for Germany. His departure was wrenching, the banal and the bittersweet mingling in about equal parts.

’’I'm not good at good-byes,’’ I'd said the night before he left.

’’I'm not good at anything else,’’ he'd replied with that crooked smile of his. I didn't think his pain was any match for mine. I might have been wrong, of course. Dietz was not the sort of man given to unrestrained expressions of anguish or distress, which is not to say such feelings didn't exist for him.

The hard part about love is the hole it leaves when it's gone... which is the substance of every country-and-westem song you ever heard...

The next thing I knew, it was 6:00 A.M. and my alarm was peeping like a little bird. I rolled out of bed and grabbed my running clothes, pulling on sweat pants, sweat shirt, crew socks, and Adidas. I paused to brush my teeth and then headed down the spiral stairs to my front door. The sun hadn't risen yet, but the darkness had eased up to a charcoal haze. The morning air was damp and smelled of eucalyptus. I clung to the front gate and did a couple of stretches - more form than content - using the walk over to Cabana Boulevard as a way of warming up to some extent. Sometimes I wonder why I continue to exercise with such diligence. Paranoia, perhaps... the recollection of the times when I've had to run for my life.

When I reached the bike path I broke into an awkward trot. My legs felt like wood and my breathing was choppy. The first mile always hurts;anything after that is a snap by comparison. I shut my mind off and tuned in to my surroundings. To the right of me, the ocean was pounding at the beach, a muted thunder as restful as the sound of rain. Sea gulls were screeching as they wheeled above the surf. The Pacific was the color of liquid steel, the waves a foamy mass of aluminum and chrome. The sand became a mirror where the water receded, reflecting the softness of the morning sky. The horizon turned a salmon pink as the sun crept into view. Long arms of coral light stretched out along the horizon, where clouds were beginning to mass from the promised storm front. The air was cold and richly scented with salt spray and seaweed. Within minutes, my stride began to lengthen and I could feel a mindless rhythm orchestrate all the moving parts. As it turned out, this was the last time I'd have a chance to jog for weeks. Had-I-but-known, I might have enjoyed it a lot more than I did.

3

SOMEHOW I SENSED, long before I actually laid eyes on the man, that my relationship with Gordon Titus was not going to be a source of joy and comfort to either one of us. Since he'd proposed the meeting, I figured my choices were obvious. I could avoid the office, thus postponing our first encounter, or I could comply with his request and get it over with. Of the two, the latter seemed the wiser on the face of it. After all, it was possible the meeting was a mere formality. I didn't want my lack of enthusiasm to be misinterpreted. Better, I thought, to appear to be cooperative. As my aunt used to say: ’’Always keep yourself on the side of the angels.’’ It was only after she died that I began to wonder what that meant.

When I got to the office at nine, I put a call through to Darcy Pascoe, the receptionist in the California Fidelity offices next door to mine. ’’Hi, Darcy. This is Kinsey. I hear Gordon Titus wants to meet with me. From what Vera says, the guy's a real prick.’’

’’Good morning, Miss Millhone. Nice to hear from you,’’ she said in a pleasant singsong voice.

’’Why are you talking like that? Is he standing right there?’’

’’That's correct.’’

’’Oh. Well, would you ask him what time he wants me over there? I've got a few minutes now if it works for him.’’

’’Just one moment, please.’’


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