H Is For Homicide Page 79

He said, ’’ 'Ey, Chopper! Bibianna just took off in the Caddy and I need some help... Right. She'll hit the 405 northbound at Avalon. If you miss us at the Harbor, try Crenshaw or Hawthorne.’’

There was obviously a question being posed from the other end.

’’I'll leave that up to you, man,’’ Raymond said. He hung up. He set the phone down and retrieved the gun from the fleshy holster of his thighs, holding it in his right hand while he steered with his left.

We were still on Avalon Boulevard, screaming toward the freeway. By the time we reached Carson, the light was green and we sailed through. Raymond had eased back to sixty miles an hour, squeezing out a lane of his own between parked cars and the moving vehicles crawling toward the on ramp. I braced myself, one hand on the dashboard, one hand clutching the seat back. I could see drivers in cars just ahead spotting us in their rearview mirrors - first the casual glance, then the double take as they calculated our speed, realizing that we would shortly be climbing up their rear bumpers. Some cars would speed up, crowding left to allow us room to pass. Some would take the first avenue of escape they could find, squealing into driveways, up onto the sidewalk - anything to avoid the inevitable rear-end collision. I found myself gritting my teeth in silence, then warbling out a cry of fear and distress as we overtook each car and managed, somehow, to get past.

Raymond's face was totally composed, his concentration intense. I could see now that his pupils had been reduced to pinpoints, but he showed no other signs of heroin intoxication. Maybe he had his doses so carefully calibrated that he could function normally even with his veins full of smack. He sideswiped a parked car and I shrieked involuntarily, my head jerking back as the impact bounced us into the oncoming traffic. He corrected our course. If he was aware of my vocalization, he gave no indication of it. The irony wasn't lost on me, that in this situation of high stress, I was exhibiting all of Raymond's symptoms. Maybe in his neurological makeup, some part of him was forever reacting to high-speed chases and phantom crashes, narrowly averted disasters from which he saved himself with quick action and spontaneous yelps of horror, dismay, and surprise.

We careered to the right, up the on ramp to the 405, northbound. I had no idea how he knew she'd be there, but I spotted Bibianna just ahead of us in the black Caddy the moment we merged with freeway traffic. It was late Saturday evening, so we weren't looking at the usual jam and crawl of the rush hour. I kept my eyes glued to the road, praying mutely for her safety. She probably thought she was free, not realizing he was already there behind her only eight cars back. He tucked the handgun between his thighs again and picked up the car phone, punching in the number with his thumb. He spoke rapidly to Chopper, giving our coordinates. I could hear them calculate the projected point of interception. My heart was still pounding and I watched the Caddy fearfully, scanning the freeway for some sign of the CHP.

We had just passed the on ramp at Rosecrans when I heard the chirp of a car horn next to us. I looked over at the next lane. The car was a Chevy, dark blue. Chopper was driving. Raymond pointed at the Caddy and then sliced his index finger across his throat. Chopper grinned and gave Raymond the thumbs-up. Raymond eased his foot off the accelerator, dropping back to normal speed, while the guy in the Chevy eased into our lane and sped up. The last I saw of Bibianna, the Chevy was just beginning to overtake her.

That's when I caught a glimpse of the vanity license plate. A chill puckered my scalp and rippled down my spine, the cold wedging like a pillow in the small of my back. The plate read PARNELL. Raymond must have had Parnell Perkins's car ever since his death, probably using it to collect phony damage and injury claims.

Raymond spotted a black-and-white in the southbound lane. It was possible somebody'd called the cops to report his erratic driving because the officer gave the Ford a quick startled look as we passed. Raymond cut over two lanes to the right and took the nearest off ramp. Even if the cop circled back, we'd be gone. He found a darkened side street, pulled over to the curb, and parked. He sat back and expelled a breath of air.

I had started to shake, from fear, from relief, from visions of Bibianna's fate and bloody images of Bibianna's mother, whom I'd never even laid eyes on. I thought about Parnell facedown in the parking lot with a bullet in his head. I pressed my hands between my knees, teeth chattering, my breath coming in gasps.

Raymond was looking at me with puzzlement. ’’What's the matter with you?’’

’’Shut up, Raymond. I don't want to talk to you.’’

’’I didn't do nothing. What'd I do?’’

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