H Is For Homicide Page 84

’’Oh, no,’’ I said.

’’What is it with you? You gonna make that my fault, too? Bibianna steals my car and totals the f*kin'thing and I'm to blame?’’

’’Oh, for God's sake, Raymond. Take responsibility. This is all your doing and you know it.’’

’’Don't push your luck, bitch. I didn't do nothin'!’’ Raymond's face darkened and he drove in stony silence. I could feel anxiety seeping into my chest wall, squeezing my digestive system.

We got off the 405 at the Santa Monica Freeway, heading west as far as the Cloverfield exit, which we took and then turned right. I'd been to St. John's some years ago, and by my recollection, it was not far away, somewhere around 21st or 22nd Street, between Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire. It was ten-thirty by now. Hospitals are rigorous about visits to ICU, but Raymond would no doubt bull his way in.

We parked in one of the visitors'lots and crossed to the main entrance, passing under an arch. A fountain lined with blue-green tile splashed noisily in the center of a brick-paved court. Beyond the fountain was a bronze bust of Irene Dunne, the first lady of St. John's. The place was massive, cream-colored blocks that had probably once been a fairly straightforward chunk of concrete. Now a portico jutted out in front, two wings flanked the building on either side, with a multistory addition looming up in the rear. It looked like most of the available land had been devoured by new construction, surrounding properties annexed as the space needs of the hospital grew. The rest of the neighborhood was a modest assortment of single-family dwellings, 1950s style. An ambulance passed us, emitting an occasional short howl. Its yellow lights were flashing, sirens off, as it headed for the emergency entrance.

Wheelchair ramps swept up to the front on either side of the main entrance with a central staircase. We moved up the center steps and into the lobby with its muted maroon carpet and the spicy scent of carnations. To the left, an entire wall was devoted to listing the names of those who'd made significant financial contributions to St. John's, the range extending from benefactors, to patrons, to fellows, to donors too miserly for categorization. On the far side of the wall, Admitting was dominated by a large oil painting of a curly-haired person looking heavenward in torment.

Raymond inquired at the Patient Information desk for the whereabouts of ICU. I comforted myself that she must have been conscious when they brought her in or the cops never would have found out who she was. As far as I could tell, she'd had no identification with her.

Behind me, I overheard a fragment of conversation. A woman said, ’’... so I says to this chick at the sheriff's department, 'What business-is it of yours? If he ain't been charged with nothing, how come you're talkin'to his probation officer about it?'That's like a violation of his civil rights or something, isn't it?...’’

Two wires connected in my brain, completing a circuit. I made the kind of ’’oh’’ sound that escapes your lips when you spill ice water down your front. I knew who Dr. Howard's daughter was, the bride in the photograph. She was the civilian clerk who'd given me such a hard time at the S.T. County Sheriff's Department when I was trying to get Bibianna's address. Oh, hell, I had to get to a telephone. No wonder Dolan thought he had a leak!

Raymond marched us to the elevator, which we took up to the second floor. When the doors opened, we turned right, passing the maternity ward, where a recently delivered mother, in robe and slippers, proceeded at half speed, touching the wall gingerly as she walked. Raymond was on his best behavior, moving quickly, his gaze front and center. I could see Luis's eyes flick into an occasional empty room. I did likewise, unable to resist, though there wasn't that much to see. The air already smelled of lunch.

The wing designated 2-South housed Intensive Care, Coronary Care, the Cardiac Surgery Unit, and Intermediate Care behind closed double doors. A sign said AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY, with a wall-mounted telephone nearby. Apparently, you had to call in and get permission to enter the department itself. Four women sat in the adjacent waiting room, variously conversing and reading magazines. I could see a public pay phone, a magazine rack, a color television set. In the hallway, there were a water fountain and, in a niche, a statue of a male saint supporting baby Jesus by his bare bottom. The floor was made up of polished marble chips in squares with thin metal seams between.

Luis took a seat on a beige leather bench, his knee jumping. A lab tech walked by with a fat tube of dark red blood. Luis got up and moved to the wall, where he studied three lines about the visiting hours. It was the first time I'd seen the two of them in a situation they couldn't handle with machismo.

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