H Is For Homicide Page 9

He looked up at me again. ’’Excuse me. I missed that. Can you describe the procedure on this? The file doesn't seem to indicate.’’

’’Usually, I get a call. Or one of the adjusters might bring a case to my attention. I stop in the office two or three times a week.’’ He managed to write at exactly the rate I spoke. I stopped. His pen came to a halt.

’’In addition to meetings?’’ he asked.


’’I'm assuming you attend the regularly scheduled office meetings. Budgets. Sales...’’

’’I've never done that.’’

He checked his notes, flipping back a page or two. A frown formed, but I could have sworn his confusion was pure theatrics. ’’I can't seem to find your 206's.’’

’’Really,’’ I said. ’’That surprises me.’’ I hadn't the faintest idea what a 206 was, but I thought it should be his responsibility since he brought it up.

He passed a form across the desk to me. ’’Just to refresh your memory,’’ he said.

There were lots of slots to be filled in. Dates, times, corporate numbers, odometer readings;clearly a formal report in which I was supposed to detail every burp and hiccup on the job. I passed the form back to him without comment. I wasn't going to play this game. Screw him.

He'd begun to make notes again, head bent. ’’I'll have to ask you to supply the carbons from your files so we can bring our files up to date. Drop them off with Miss Pascoe by noon, if you would. We'll set up an appointment to go over them later.’’

’’What for?’’

’’We'll need documentation of your hours so we can calculate your rate of pay,’’ he said as if it were obvious.

’’I can tell you that. Thirty bucks an hour plus expenses.’’

He managed to convey astonishment without even raising a brow. ’’Less rental monies for the office space, of course,’’ he said.

’’In lieu of rental monies for the office space.’’

Dead silence.

Finally, he said, ’’That can't be the case.’’

’’That's been my arrangement with CF from the first.’’

’’That's absolutely out of the question.’’

’’It's been this way for the past six years and no one's complained of it yet.’’

He lifted his pen from the page. ’’Well. We'll have to see if we can straighten this out.’’

’’Straighten what out? That's the agreement. It suits me. It suits them.’’

’’Miss Millhone, do you have a problem?’’

’’No, not at all. What makes you ask?’’

’’I'm not sure I understand your attitude,’’ he said.

’’My attitude is simple. I don't see why I have to put up with this bureaucratic bullshit. I don't work for you. I'm an independent contractor. You don't like what I do, hire somebody else.’’

’’I see.’’ He replaced the cap on the pen. He began to gather his papers, his movements crisp, his manner abrupt. ’’Perhaps we can meet some other time. When you're calmer.’’

I said, ’’Great. You too. I have a job to do, anyway.’’

He left the cubicle before I did and headed straight for Mac's office. All the CF employees within range were hard at work, their expressions studiously attentive to the job at hand.

I put the entire exchange in a mental box and filed it away. There'd be hell to pay, but at the moment I didn't care.

The address I'd been given for Bibianna Diaz turned out to be a vacant lot. I sat in my car and stared blankly at the parcel of raw dirt, crudely landscaped with weeds, palms, boulders, and broken bottles twinkling in the sunlight. A condom dangled limply from a fallen palm frond, looking like a skin shed by some anemic snake. I double-checked the information listed in the file and then scanned the house numbers on either side. No match. I flipped open the glove compartment and pulled out a city map, which I spread across the steering wheel, squinting at the street names indexed alphabetically on the back. There was no other road, drive, avenue, or lane listed with the same name or one that even came close. I'd dropped the Diaz file off at the CF offices before my meeting with Titus, so all I had with me were a few penciled notes. I figured it was time to check back with Mary Bellflower to see what else she might have in the way of a contact. I started the car and headed toward town, feeling strangely gratified. The nonexistent street address added fuel to the notion that Ms. Diaz was telling fibs, a prospect that excited the latent felon in me. In California jargon, I can ’’resonate’’ with crooks. Investigating honest people isn't half the fun.

I spotted a pay phone on the far side of a gas station. I pulled in and had my tank topped off while I called Mary at the CF offices and told her what was going on. ’’You have any other address for this woman?’’ I asked.

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