N Is For Noose Page 57


’’God forbid,’’ I said. ’’Surely you don't think I'm anyone that low.’’

I could hear him smile. At least he was enjoying himself. He seemed to think about it briefly and them he said, ’’Let's try this. Why don't you give me your number and if anything comes up I'm at liberty to pass along, I'll be in touch.’’

’’You're entirely too kind.’’

Detective Boyd laughed. ’’Have a good day.’’

FOURTEEN

Olga Toth opened the door to her Perdido condominium wearing a bright yellow outfit that consisted of form-fitting tights and a stretchy cotton tunic, ciched at the waist with a wide white bejewled plastic belt. The fabric clung to her body like a bandage that couldn't quite conceal the damage time had inflicted on her sixty-year-old flesh. Her knee-high boots looked to be size elevens, white vinyl alligator with a fancy pattern of stichwork across the instep. She'd had some work done on her face, probably collagen injections given the plumpiness of her lips and the slightly lumpy appearance of her cheeks. Her hair was a dry-looking platinum blond, her brown eyes heavily lined, with a startling set of eyebrows drawn in above. I could smell the vermouth on her breath before she said a word.

I'd driven the thirty miles to Perdido in the midst of a drizzling rain, that sort of fine spray that required the constant flip-flop of windsheild wipers and the fiercest of concentration. The roadway was slick, the blacktop glistening with a deceptive sheen of water that made driving hazardous. Under ordinary circumstances, I might have delayed the trip for another hour or two, but I was worried the cops would somehow manage to warn Alfie's ex-wife of my interest, urging her to keep her mouth shut if I knocked on her door.

The address I'd been given was just off the beach, a ten-unit complex of two-story frame townhouses within view of the Pacific. Olga's was on the second floor with an exterior stairway and a small sheltered entrance lined with potted plants. The woman who answered the door bell was older than I'd expected and her smile revealed a dazzling array of caps.

’’Mrs. Toth?’’

She said, ’’Yes?’’ Her tone conveyed a natural optimism, as though, having sent in all the forms, having held on to the matching numbers that established her eligibility, she might open the door to someone bearing the keys to her new car or, better yet, that oversized check for several million bucks.

I showed her my card. ’’Could I talk to you about your ex-husband?’’

’’Which one?’’

’’Alfie Toth.’’

Her smile faded with disappointment, as though there were better ex-husbands to inquire about among her many. ’’Honey, I'm sorry to be the one to tell you, but he's deceased so if you're here about his unpaid bills, the line forms at the rear.’’

’’This is something else. May I come in?’’

’’You're not here to serve process,’’ she asked, cautiously.

’’Not at all. Honest.’’

’’Because I'm warning you, I put a notice in the paper the day we separated saying I'm not responsible for debts other than my own.’’

’’Your record's clean as far as I'm concerned.’’

She studied me, considering, and then stepped back. ’’No funny business,’’ she warned.

’’I'm never funny,’’ I said.

I followed her through the small foyer, watching as she retrieved a martini glass from a small console table. ’’I was just having a drink in case you're interested.’’

’’I'm fine for now, but thanks.’’

We entered a living room done entirely in white;trampled-looking, white nylon cut-pile carpeting, white nylon sheers, white leatherette couches, and a white vinyl chair. There was only one lamp turned on and the light coming through the curtains had been subdued by the rain. The room felt damp to me. The glass-and-chrome coffee table bore a large arrangement of white lilies, a pitcher of martini's, several issues of Architectural Digest, and a recent issue of Modern Maturity. Her eye fell on the latter about the same time mine did. She leaned forward impatiently. ’’That belongs to a friend. I really hate those things. The minute you turn fifty, the HARP starts hounding you for membership. Not that I'm anywhere close to retirement age,’’ she assured me. She poured herself another drink, adding olives she plucked from a small bowl nearby. She licked her fingertips with enthusiasm. ’’Olives are the best part,’’ she remarked. Her nails, I noticed, were very long and pink, thick enough to suggest acrylics or poorly done silk overlays.

’’What sort of work do you do?’’ I asked.

She motioned me into a seat at one end of the couch while she settled at the other end, her arm stretched out along the back. ’’I'm a cosmetologist and if you don't mind my saying so-’’


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