H Is For Homicide Page 71

Bibianna nodded frantically. ’’I won't. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...’’

He stepped away. The ritual cough and bark began and I could see him jerk his head, rolling his shoulder in its socket. Luis had grabbed a kitchen towel and was pressing it against the cut in Tomas's cheek, issuing orders in Spanish. Blood soaked through instantly. Two of the guys came to Tomas's assistance, helping him out the door. The apartment cleared rapidly. My heart was pounding. Bibianna sank down on the couch, white-faced. She put her head between her knees, close to fainting. I moved over and sat down beside her, patting her and murmuring words of encouragement as much for my own benefit as for hers. Moments later, Luis returned. I gathered that someone was taking Tomas off to the emergency room. In the meantime, Raymond seemed to have regained control. Bibianna composed herself and picked up her cards again with shaking hands. Luis wiped blood off the kitchen floor. All of us understood how important it was to get past the moment. To avoid any further upset, we acted as if nothing had happened, which made us co-conspirators. No reference was made to Tomas or what he'd done to precipitate Raymond's reaction.

Raymond paced the room, snapping his fingers restlessly as he turned to Bibianna. ’’Hey. Get your jacket. We're going out. Hannah, you too.’’

I got my jacket. Hell, I wasn't going to argue with the man.

This time Raymond and I took the Ford, while Luis followed us in the Cadillac, Bibianna in the passenger seat. I turned halfway, looking through the back window at the Caddy, which kept pace with us. Luis and Bibianna were only dark silhouettes. ’’How come she always goes with him on these runs?’’

’’We fight,’’ he said.

I studied him with interest. He seemed relaxed, his manner open and easy. I was beginning to understand that for a short period of time just after an ’’attack,’’ he was really rather benign, as if soothed by the outburst. For a brief interlude, he would be completely approachable, even loving. He was not a bad-looking guy. He could probably find a woman who'd care for him if he wasn't fixated on Bibianna.

He caught my look. ’’What are you lookin'at?’’ His words were belligerent, but the tone was mild.

’’I was just trying to figure out why you're so obsessed with Bibianna. Why insist on marriage when she's clearly not that hot for it?’’ I held my breath, but he didn't seem to take offense.

’’She can't mess with me. No way. People who screw with my head have to learn they can't. She hasn't got the word yet.’’

’’About what? You have her back. What else do you want?’’

’’I have to make sure she stays.’’

’’How can you do that?’’

’’I did already,’’ he said. ’’She just doesn't know it yet.’’


THAT AFTERNOON AT the Southern California College of Auto Fraud, I took a ’’crash’’ course in ’’Swoop and Squat,’’ which Lieutenants Dolan and Santos had summarized so neatly in our little jailhouse chat. We drove up into West L.A., on the border of Bel Air, running Sunset Boulevard from Sepulveda to Beverly Glen. Afternoon traffic was hellish and the drivers familiar with that stretch of road seemed to drive with their eyes shut, shifting lanes without notice, exceeding the speed limit by thirty and forty miles per hour. Once we found a mark, Raymond and I, as the ’’squat’’ car, would position ourselves in front of it while Luis and Bibianna would pull up beside us. Luis would ’’swoop’’ suddenly into our lane. Raymond would slam on the brakes and the hapless mark behind us, caught by surprise, would plow right up our tailpipe. Luis would speed off while Raymond and I, in our car, and the mark in his, would pull over to the curb, all of us dismayed and outraged by the unexpected turn of events. There was no danger of the mark's turning around and calling the cops, because we all knew the LAPD wouldn't respond to the scene of an accident unless there was bodily injury involved. It was strictly up to us to exchange names, addresses, telephone numbers, and the names of our various insurance companies, after which we'd take off, connect up with Luis and Bibianna again, and go looking for the next vie. We ran the scam four times, with Raymond assuring me we'd racked up maybe thirteen thousand dollars'worth of business.

What troubled me, aside from the fact that I was whipping the hell out of my neck, was a worrisome little shift in my attitude. What idiots, I thought. People deserve anything that happens to them. I was beginning to believe it was all the mark's fault for being gullible and stupid, for not recognizing the game in progress, for being foolish enough to take our assurances at face value. I could feel that secret sense of superiority every con artist must have when the bait goes down and the victim snaps it up. Mentally, I had to shake myself off, though I suppose it never hurts to be reminded that none of us are that far away from larceny. Actually, it's the people who make the most righteous moral noises that I worry about the most.

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