H Is For Homicide Page 77


A cluster of three mourners approached Bibianna, Chicanas in their twenties, one with a baby on her hip. I got up and eased toward the door, wondering if there was any way I could get to a telephone. Before I reached the doorway, Luis appeared at my side and took my arm. I leaned close. ’’Do you think there's a ladies'room upstairs?’’

’’You're not going anywhere.’’

’’Oh. Well, I guess it doesn't matter then if there's one upstairs or not.’’

I sat back in my chair and glanced at my watch. It was ten after eight. I was hungry. I was bored. I was restless. I was scared. I'd been living for too long with high doses of fight-or-flight anxiety and it was making my head pound and my stomach churn. Luis stuck to me like a burr. For the next fifty minutes, I squirmed on my folding chair, crossing and uncrossing my legs, fiddling with my hair. To amuse myself, I memorized faces, just in case later I'd have to identify someone on the witness stand. Finally, at nine-twenty the dark-suited staff person assigned to our viewing room made an appearance and glanced pointedly at his watch. Raymond got the message and began to circle the room, saying good night to the last of the visitors.

On the way home, we dropped Luis off at his place. As soon as we reached the apartment, Raymond disappeared into the bedroom while Bibianna and I began to tidy up the place. It's not like either of us cared much, but it was something to do. In the background, without being fully conscious of it, we could hear the rattle of change on the wooden chest of drawers as Raymond emptied his pockets. We tossed empty beer cans in a plastic garbage bag, dumped out laden ashtrays. Raymond emerged from the bedroom and moved into the bathroom usually designated for my use. Moments later, I heard the squeak of the faucets. Pipes began to thunder and water splashed against the shower tiles like a sudden autumn rain.

I glanced over at Bibianna. ’’How come he's showering in my bathroom?’’

’’It'll give him a chance to...’’ She made a gesture toward the crook of her left arm.

’’He's shooting up?’’

It dawned on me first, the significance of the rattle of metal in the bedroom. I felt my head come up. Luis wasn't here. There was no dog at the threshold. She caught my sharp intake of breath and looked over at me.

I said, ’’Jesus, what's wrong with us?’’ I moved swiftly into the bedroom and grabbed the car keys off the top of the dresser where he'd dumped them. I hesitated and then jerked open the drawer with the handguns in it. The box was where I remembered it, miscellaneous ID's under it. I lifted the lid. The SIG-Sauer was still there, along with the Mauser and the cartridges. I tucked the SIG-Sauer in my waistband. To hell with being unarmed. I'd just as soon walk naked through an airport terminal. I was back seconds later with the keys, which I tossed to her. The shower had been turned off. Deftly, I transferred the gun to my handbag. We heard the bathroom door open. ’’Bibianna?’’

She was struggling to separate out the keys to the Caddy, attached to the ring on a circle of wire. Her hands were shaking badly, keys jingling between her fingers like castanets.

’’Take the whole friggin'thing!’’ I hissed. ’’Go!’’

The telephone rang and we both jumped, in part because the sound was so unexpected. The instrument sat on the floor under the kitchen table, plugged into the wall jack. I gave her a push toward the door and snatched up the receiver. ’’Hello?’’

On the other end of the line, a woman with a tremulous voice said, ’’Bibianna, thank God. Lupe told me you were back. I tried to reach you up in Santa Teresa. I've been at the hospital... I've been - ’’ She broke down.

’’Excuse me. I'm sorry. I'm Hannah, Bibianna's friend. Hold on a sec. She's right here.’’ There was something in the woman's tone that went beyond distress.

Bibianna had stopped midway across the room and was staring at me. I held out the receiver.

She approached like a sleepwalker. I wanted to hurry her, anxiously aware that Raymond must have heard the phone ring, too. She took the phone from me. ’’Hello?’’

I stared at her, mesmerized.

She said, ’’Mom? Yes...’’

Raymond appeared in the doorway, his hair still tousled where he'd toweled it in haste. ’’Bibianna?’’ He'd pulled on a pair of chinos, hands still busy with his belt buckle. I found myself checking his bare arms for the injection site. He said, ’’What's going on? Who's on the phone?’’

Bibianna turned away and pressed a hand to her ear so she could hear over Raymond's questions. A frown formed and she said, ’’What?’’ with disbelief.

The remainder of her mother's message to her was played out on Bibianna's face. Her eyes strayed to the wall of broken mirror tiles, plaster showing through in irregular patches where the glass had been shattered. Her lips parted and a sound escaped. She put a hand up to her cheek. Something in her expression made my stomach churn with dread.


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