N Is For Noose Page 35

’’I didn't come from that direction. I turned right off of Main.’’

’’Well, you might want to have a look. Ercell leaves it sit out any time it's not in use.’’

’’With keys in the ignition?’’

’’Yes ma'am. It's not like Nota Lake is the auto-theft capital of the world. I think he started doing it maybe five, six years back. We had us a rash of break-ins, bunch of kids busting into cars, smashing windows, taking tape decks, going joyriding. Ercell got tired of replacing the stereo so he 'give up and give in'is how he puts it. Last time his truck was broke into he didn't even bother to file a claim. Said it was driving his rates up and to hell with the whole thing. Now he leaves the truck open, keys in the ignition, and a note on the dash saying, 'Please put back in the drive when you're done.

’’So people take his truck any time they like?’’

’’Doesn't happen that often. Occasionally, somebody borrys it, but they always put it back. It's a point of honor with folks and Ercell's a lot happier.’’

The telephone began to ring and Officer Corbet straightened up. ’’Anyway, if you think the truck was Ercell's, just give us a call and we'll talk to him. It's not something he'd do, but anybody could have hopped in his vehicle and followed you.’’

’’I'll take a look.’’

Out on the street again, I shoved my hands in my jacket pockets and headed for the corner. As soon as I turned onto Lone Star, I saw the black panel truck. I approached it with caution, wondering if there were any way I could link this truck to the one I'd seen. I circled the vehicle, leaning close to the headlights. Impossible in daylight to see if the beams were askew. I moved around to the rear and ran a finger across the license plate, scrutinizing the surface where I could see faint traces of adhesive. I stood up and turned to study the house itself. A man was stationed at the window, looking out at me. He stared, scowling. I reversed my steps and returned to my parking spot.

When I reached the rental car, Macon Newquist was waiting, his black-and-white vehicle parked behind mine at the curb. He glanced up at me, catching my eye with a smile. ’’Hi. How are you? I figured this was your car. How's it going?’’

I smiled. ’’Fine. For a minute, I thought you were giving me a ticket.’’

’’Don't worry about that. In this town we tend to reserve tickets for people passing through.’’ He crossed his arms and leaned a hip against the side of the rental. ’’I hope this doesn't seem out of line, but Phyllis mentioned that business about the gun show. I guess she passed along her opinion about the gal Tom was talking to.

I felt my reaction time slow and I calculated my response. Phyllis must have felt guilty about telling me and blabbed the minute she got home. I thought I better cover so I shrugged it aside. ’’She said something in passing. I really didn't pay that much attention.’’

’’I didn't want you to get the wrong impression.’’

’’No problem.’’

’’Because she attached more to it than was warranted.’’


’’Don't get me wrong. You don't know the ladies in this town. Nothing escapes their notice and when it turns out to be nothing, they make it into something else. The woman Tom was talking to, that was strictly professional.’’

’’Not surprising. Everybody tells me he was good at his job. You know her name?’’

’’I don't. I never heard it myself. She's a sheriff's investigator. I do know that much because I asked him about it later.’’

’’You happen to know what county?’’

He scratched at his chin. ’’Not offhand. Could be Kern, San Benito, I forget what he said. I could see Phyllis put the hairy eye-ball on the two of them and I pled. Last thing Selma needs is t him. All she has is her memories what's she got left?’’

’’I couldn't agree more. Trust me, I'd never be irresponsible about something like that.’’

’’That's good. I'm glad to hear that. People don't like the notion you're using up Tom's money on a wildgoose chase. So what's your timetable on this?’’

’’That remains to be seen. If you have any ideas, I hope you'll let me know.’’

Macon shook his head. ’’I wish I could help, but I realize I'm the wrong one to ask. I know I offered, but this is one of those circumstances where I'm not going to be objective. People admired Tom and I'm not just saying that because I admired him myself. If there was something tacky in his life... well, people aren't going to want to know that about him. You take somebody like Margaret's husband. I believe you talked to him at Tiny's. Hatch was a protege of Tom's, and the other fellow, Wayne, was somebody Tom rescued from a bad foster care situation. See what I mean? You can't run around asking those fellows what Tom was like. They don't take to it that well. They'll be polite, but it's not going to sit right.’’

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