H Is For Homicide Page 73

We drove back to the apartment through rush-hour traffic: six lanes of the Indy 500, featuring business execs and other control freaks. I was tense, but Raymond didn't seem affected. External stresses didn't seem to disturb him the same way emotional matters did. He flipped the radio on to a classical station and turned the volume up, treating the cars on either side of us to a sonata that sounded like it was made up almost entirely of mistakes. This stretch of the 405 was flat, a sprawling expanse of concrete, riddled with factories, dotted with oil derricks, power lines, and industrial structures designed for no known purpose. In the distance, an irregular fence of chimneys was silhouetted against the skyline, which had browned down to an eerie sunset of green-and-orange light.

It was after seven o'clock and fully dark by the time we pulled into a parking space out in front of the apartment building. Walking up to the second floor, I was struck by the sounds of apartment life. As usual, many front doors stood open, televisions blaring. Children were running along the balconies, engrossed in a game of their own devising. A mother leaned over the railing and yelled at a kid named ’’Eduardo,’’ who looked to be about three years old. He was protesting in Spanish, probably complaining about the indignity of an early bedtime.

Luis took the dog and went home soon after we got to the apartment. He'd been baby-sitting Bibianna, making sure she didn't bolt the minute Raymond's back was turned. The television set was on, tuned to a cable rerun of ’’Leave It to Beaver,’’ which Bibianna watched halfheartedly while she laid out another hand of solitaire. Nobody seemed to feel like fixing dinner since we'd all spent a hard day smashing up cars and cheating California motorists. Bibianna's depression was exacerbated by cramps, and she went off to bed with a hot-water bottle. Raymond conjured up the telephone from its latest hiding place and sent out for Chinese. His tics were back, though they'd ceased to bother me. The guy's personal problems were much larger than the Tourette's, which I suspect other people probably learn to cope with pretty well. His sociopathology was a different matter altogether.

While the two of us sat at the kitchen table, waiting for the guy to deliver the order, Raymond rolled and smoked a joint. I picked up a couple of the half-completed insurance forms I'd seen earlier. Time to make myself useful, I thought. I looked from the first form to the second. ’’What's this?’’ I said, a laugh bubbling up again. I can't help it - some spelling errors tickle me. ’’Suffering from a bad case of 'bruces'?’’ As I reached for a third form, Raymond snatched the papers away from me.

’’Raymond, come on. What's the matter with you? You can't send that to an insurance company. Both of those claims say exactly the same thing.’’ I went ahead and pulled a third claim form from the pile. ’’Here's another one. Same date, same time. Don't you think they check this stuff? They're going to pick up on that. Here, look. If you want to have those guys fill out the forms, at least use a little imagination. Set up a few different stories...’’

’’I was going to do that,’’ he said with irritation.

’’Let me have a turn. It'd be fun,’’ I said.

At first, I didn't think he'd do it, but his gaze had settled on my face and I could see I'd piqued his interest. Reluctantly, he relinquished the form we'd been wrestling over. I picked up a pencil stub and began to print out the narrative for an auto accident.

’’Don't make it sound too smart,’’ Raymond said.

’’Trust me.’’

I proceeded to invent, off the top of my head, several variations of the accidents I'd participated in that afternoon. I had to pat myself on the back. I was really good at this. I'd make a fortune if I ever turned my hand to crime in earnest. Raymond apparently thought so, too. ’’How you know all this stuff?’’

’’I'm a person of many talents,’’ I said, licking my pencil point. ’’Quit peeking. You make me nervous.’’

Raymond got us both a cold beer and we chatted while I wrote up fictional fender-benders and minor wrecks. Raymond hadn't managed to graduate from high school, whereas I attended three whole semesters of junior college before I lost heart.

’’Why'd you quit, though? You're smart.’’

’’I never liked school,’’ I said. ’’High school, I was smokin'too much dope to do well. College just seemed to be made up of all this stuff I didn't like. I was too rebellious back then. And it's not like I had a 'career'goal in mind. I couldn't see the point in learning things I didn't want to know. Poly sci and biology. Who needs it? I don't give a damn about xylem and phloem.’’

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