N Is For Noose Page 12

’’All right. I might like to have one myself. That's nice of him.’’

’’He didn't smile much?’’

’’Not often. Especially in social situations. Around his buddies, he relaxed... the other deputies. How's it coming.

I shrugged. ’’So far there's nothing but junk.’’ I went back to the masses of paper in front of me. ’’Too bad you weren't in charge of the bills,’’ I remarked.

’’I'm not good with numbers. I hated high school math,’’ she said. And then after a moment, ’’I'm beginning to feel guilty having you snoop through his things.’’

’’Don't worry about it. I do this for a living. I'm a diagnostician, like a gynecologist when you have your feet in the stirrups and your fanny in the air. My interest isn't personal. I simply look to see what's there.’’

’’He was a good man. I know that.’’

’’I'm sure he was,’’ I said. ’’This may net us nothing and if so, you'll feel better. You're entitled to peace.’’

’’Do you need help?’’

’’Not really. At this point, I'm still picking my way through. Anyway, I'm about to wrap it up for this afternoon. I'll come back tomorrow and take another run at it.’’ I jammed a fistful of catalogs and advertising fliers in the trash bag. I glanced up again, aware that she was still standing in the door.

’’Could you join me for supper? Brant's going to be working so it would just be the two of us.’’

’’I better not, but thanks. Maybe tomorrow. I have some phone calls to make and then I thought I'd grab a quick bite and make an early night of it. I should finish this in the morning. At some point, we'll have telephone records to go through. That's a big undertaking and I'm saving it for last. We'll sit side by side and see how many phone numbers you can recognize.’’

’’Well,’’ she said, reluctantly, ’’I'll let you get back to work.’’

When I had finished for the day, Selma gave me a house key, though she assured me she generally left the doors unlocked. She told me she was often gone, but she wanted me to have the run of the place in her absence. I told her I'd want to look through Tom's personal effects and she had no objections. I didn't want her walking in one day to find me poking through his clothes.

It was fully dark when I left and the streetlights did little to dispel the sense of isolation. The traffic through town was lively. People were going home to dinner, businesses were shutting down. Restaurants were getting busy, the bar doors standing open to release the excess noise and cigarette smoke. A few hardy joggers had hit the sidewalks along with assorted dog owners whose charges were seeking relief against the shrubs.

Once I was out on the highway, I became aware of the vast tracts of land that bore no evidence of human habitation. By day, the fences and the odd outbuildings created the impression the countryside had been civilized. At night, the mountain ranges were as black as jet and the pate slice of moon scarcely brushed the snowy peaks with silver. The temperature had dropped and I could smell the inky damp of the lake. I felt a flicker of longing to see Santa Teresa with its red-tile roofs, palm trees, and the thundering Pacific.

I slowed when I saw the sign for Nota Lake Cabins. Maybe a crackling fire and a hot shower would cheer me up. I parked my car in the small lot near the motel office. Cecilia Boden had provided a few low-voltage lights along the path to the cabins, small mushroom shapes that cast a circle of dim yellow on the cedar chips. There was a small lighted lamp mounted by the cabin door. I hadn't left any lights on for myself, sensing (perhaps) that the management would frown on such extravagance. I unlocked the door and let myself in, feeling for the light switch. The overhead bulb came on with its flat forty-watt wash of light. I crossed to the bed and clicked on the table lamp, which offered forty watts more. The digital alarm was flashing 12:00 repeatedly, which suggested a minor power outage earlier. I checked my watch and corrected the time to its current state: 6:22.

The room felt drab and chilly. There was a strong smell of old wood fires and moisture seeping through the floorboards from underneath the cabin. I checked the wood in the grate. There was a stack of newspapers close by meant for kindling. Of course, there was no gas starter and I suspected the fire would take more time to light than I had time to enjoy. I went around the:, room, closing cotton curtains across the windowpanes. Then I peeled off my clothes and stepped into the. shower. I'm not one to waste water, but even so, the hot began to diminish before my four minutes were up. I rinsed the last of the shampoo from my hair a split second before the cold water descended full force. This was beginning to feel like a wilderness experience.

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