N Is For Noose Page 14


’’What about him?’’

’’Has Selma said anything about why I'm here in Nota Lake?’’

’’Said she hired you is all. I don't even know what you do for a living.’’

’’Ah. Well, actually, I'm a field investigator with California Fidelity Insurance. Selma 's concerned about the liability in Tom's death.’’

’’Liability for what?’’

’’Good question. Of course, I'm not at liberty to discuss this in any detail. You know, officially he wasn't working, but she thinks he might have been pursuing departmental business the night he died. If so, it's always possible she can file a claim.’’ I didn't mention that Tom Newquist wasn't represented by CFI or that the company had fired me approximately eighteen months before. I was prepared to flash the laminated picture ID I still had in my possession. The CH logo was emblazoned on the front, along with a photograph of me that looked like something the border patrol might keep posted for ready reference.

She stared at me blankly and for one heart-stopping moment I wondered if she was recently retired from some obscure branch of county government. She appeared to be mulling over all the rules and regulations, trying to decide which were in effect on the night in question. I was tempted to embellish, but decided I might be getting in too deep. With lies, it's best to skip across the surface like a dragonfly. The more said at the outset, the more there is to retract later if it turns out you really put your foot in it. She held the door open to admit me. ’’You better come on in. I don't mind telling you the subject's painful.’’

’’I can imagine it is and I'm sorry to intrude. I met Macon earlier.’’

’’He's useless,’’ she remarked. ’’No love lost between us. Of course, I never thought of Selma as family either and I'm sure it's ditto from her perspective.’’

Cecilia Boden's apartment was on a par with my cabin, which is to say, drab, poorly lighted, and faintly shabby. The prime difference was that my place was icy cold where she seemed to keep her room temperature somewhere around ’’pre-heat.’’ The floor cover was linoleum made to look like wood parquet. She had pine-paneled walls, overstuffed furniture covered with violent-colored crocheted throws. A large television set, dominated one corner, with all the furniture oriented in that direction. Cecilia's reading glasses were perched on the arm of the sofa nearest the set. I could see that she was in the process of filling out the crossword puzzle in the local paper. She did this in ballpoint pen without any visible corrections. I revised my estimate of her upwards. I couldn't perform such a feat with a gun to my head.

We took a few minutes to get settled in the living room. While my story sounded plausible, it didn't give me much room to inquire into Tom's character. In any event, why would I imagine Cecilia would have information about what he was doing the night he died? As it turned out, she didn't question my purpose and the longer we chatted, the clearer it became that she was perfectly comfortable discussing Tom and his wife, their marriage, and anything else I cared to ask about.

’’ Selma says Tom was preoccupied with something in the past few weeks. Do you have any idea what it might have been?’’

Cecilia narrowed her eyes at the section of floor she was studying.

’’What makes her think there was anything wrong with him?’’

’’Well, I'm not sure. She said he seemed tense, smoking more than usual, and she thought he was losing weight. She said he slept poorly and disappeared without explanation. I take it this wasn't typical. Did he say anything to you?’’

’’He didn't confide anything specific,’’ she said, cautiously. ’’You'll have to talk to Macon about that. They were a lot closer to each other than either one of them was to me.’’

’’But what was your impression? Did you feel he was under some kind of strain?’’

’’Possibly.’’

Too bad I wasn't taking notes, what with the wealth of data pouring out. ’’Did you ever ask him about it?’’

’’I didn't feel it was my place. That wasn't the nature of our relationship. He went about his business and I went about mine.

’’Any hunches about what was going on?’’

She hesitated for a moment. ’’I think Tom was unhappy. He never said as much to me, but that's my belief.’’

I made a sort of mmm sound, verbal filler accompanied by what I hoped was a sympathetic look.

She took this for encouragement and launched into her analysis. ’’Far be it from me to criticize Selma. He married her. I didn't. It's possible there was more to her than meets the eye. We'd certainly have to hope so. If you want my opinion, my brother could have done a lot better for himself. Selma 's a snob, if you want to know the truth.’’


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