H Is For Homicide Page 70

I crossed to the closet, slid the door back, and pulled up a corner of the dark blue shag wall-to-wall carpet. I slipped the pictures under it and pressed the carpet back in place.

I returned to the living room, where Bibianna was studying the run of solitaire she'd laid out. I settled into the chair. I tucked my feet up under me and watched Bibianna play, keeping a discreet eye on the gangbangers, who had formed a rough line near the kitchenette. It must have been payday. Raymond sat at the table, collecting hand-held slips of paper, counting out bills in return. He was all business, conducting transactions in Spanish. Without appearing to pay much attention, I took note of the faces, wondering if I'd be able to identify them later from mug shots, if required. The only two I recognized were Raymond's brother, Juan, and the sulky fellow, Tomas, who'd had so much trouble with his paperwork the day I arrived. Raymond glanced over at me and I dropped my gaze to the solitaire laid out on the table.

I'd watched her set it up so many times by now, I was almost ready to try it myself. This one wasn't the usual red queen on a black king strategy but ran in suits so that if you won, you ended up with only four piles, one for each suit, cards in numerical order from aces up to kings. She went through all the cards in her hand by threes without coming up with a play. She tossed the hand in and pulled the cards together in a pile.

’’You want to do my chart?’’ I asked.

She shook her head. ’’The stuff's at my mother's and Raymond won't let me talk to her. I tried to call her last night, but he caught me with the phone and nearly beat the shit out of me. What an ass...’’ She glanced over at Raymond, who had stopped what he was doing so he could stare at her. Bibianna stirred uneasily and glanced at me. She said, ’’I can read your palm instead. Put your hands on the table.’’

’’Palm down?’’

’’Yeah. Just put 'em down on the tabletop.’’

I eased my feet out from under me and leaned forward so I could rest my palms flat on the table as instructed. Raymond must have realized she was into her palmistry and he went back to work. Bibianna's look became intent. She scrutinized the backs of my hands, then lifted both and turned them over. She took my right hand in hers and examined it with care, saying nothing. Her manner was as professional as a doctor's. I don't believe in palmistry, any more than I believe in numerology, astrology, the Easter bunny, or the tooth fairy, but there was something in her expression that piqued my curiosity. ’’What?’’ I said.

She ran an index finger across my right palm, took up my left palm, and looked at it again. ’’You like action. You know how I know that? When you put your hands down on the table, you left a lot of space between. Insecure people put 'em close together. Short nails indicate you're aggressive. No ridges or spots, which is good. Means you're healthy. Skin type is medium, doesn't say much, but look at this... how wide the space is between your thumb and the fingers on this hand. You think for yourself...’’

Her voice was hypnotic and I found myself listening to her with great seriousness. I'd expected a lot of talk about life lines and love lines, but she didn't have a chance to get to that. The trouble broke out so suddenly, I never knew what started it. I heard a shout, the banging as a chair fell over backward. By the time I looked up, Raymond had Tomas down on the floor. He was clutching the guy by the throat, the switchblade against his cheek. Raymond's face was contorted by rage, his hands shaking as he squeezed his fingers into Tomas's windpipe. Tomas was burbling, his eyes wide as he struggled to free himself. Sweat had beaded his forehead. I saw the blade of the knife slip into his cheek, sinking into the flesh, blood welling up. Raymond seemed almost hypnotized by the process. No one else made a move. It seemed to be one of those moments where retaliatory violence would only jeopardize Tomas's chance of survival.

Bibianna whispered, ’’My God...’’ She crossed the room, kneeling beside Raymond, where she began to murmur in his ear. I could see him struggle for control. He made a sound like a sob, very tight and ancient, almost a squealing at the back of his throat. Bibianna touched his hand, talking to him earnestly. ’’Don't do this, Raymond. I beg you. Let him go. He didn't mean nothing by it. You're hurting him. Please...’’

He lifted the knife. Bibianna extracted it from his hand while his victim rolled away, blood pouring down his face. Raymond seemed to cough and his rage shifted from Tomas to Bibianna. He grabbed her by the arms and hauled her upright, shoving her up against the wall so hard her head banged a piece of plaster loose. He put his face an inch away from hers, the now familiar ripple of tics tugging half the muscles in his face. His eyes rolled up in his head so that he seemed to look at her with the milky, blind slits. His voice was a whisper. ’’I'll kill you, you ever interfere with me again, you got that?’’

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