N Is For Noose Page 60


’’And no one else called or came around looking for him?’’

’’I was off at work most days so I don't really know what Alfie did with himself, except drink, play the ponies, and watch the soaps on TV He liked to shop. He dressed sharp so that's where a lot of his money went. Why the credit card companies kept sending him plastic is beyond my comprehension. He filed bankruptcy twice. Anyway, he might have had friends. He usually did. Like I said, he was a sweet guy. You know, horny, but kind.’’

’’He sounds like a nice man,’’ I murmured, hoping God wouldn't strike me dead.

’’Well, he was. He wasn't quarrelsome or hard to get along with. He never got in bar fights or said a cross word to anyone. He was just a big dumb Joe with a hard-on,’’ she said, voice wavering. ’’Seems like, any more, people don't get killed for a reason. It's just something that happens. Alfie was a bumpkin and he didn't always show good sense. Someone could have killed him for the fun of it.’’

I drove back to Santa Teresa, trying not to think much about the information I'd gleaned. I let thoughts wash over me without trying to put them in order or make any sense of them. I was getting closer to something. I just wasn't sure what it was. One thing seemed certain: Tom Newquist was on the same track and maybe what he'd found caused him untold distress.

I reached my apartment shortly after three o'clock. The rain had passed for the moment, but the sky was darkly overcast and the streets were still wet. I bypassed the puddles, my furled umbrella tucked under my arm, moving through the gate with a sense of relief at being home. I unlocked my door and flipped on the lights. By then, my hand was beginning to ache mildly and I was tired of coping with the splint. I shed my jacket, went into the kitchenette for water, and took some pain medication. I perched on a stool and removed the gauze wrap from my fingers. I tossed the splint but left the tape in place. The gesture was symbolic, but it cheered me up.

I checked the answering machine, which showed one message. I pressed Replay and heard Tom's contact at the sheriff's department, who'd left me one sentence. ’’Colleen Sellers here, home until five if you're still interested.’’

I tried her number. She picked up quickly, almost as though she'd been waiting for the call. Her ’’Hello’’ was careful. No infusion of warmth or friendliness.

’’This is Kinsey Millhone, returning your call,’’ I said. ’’Is this Colleen?’’

’’Yes. Your message said you wanted to get in touch with me regarding Tom Newquist.’’

’’That's right. I appreciate your getting back to me. Actually, this is awkward. I'm assuming you've heard that he passed away.’’ I hate the phrase passed away when what you really mean is died, but I thought I should practise a little delicacy.

’’So I heard.’’

That was as much as she gave me so I was forced to plunge right on. ’’Well, the reason I called... I'm a private investigator here in town...’’

’’I know who you are. I checked it out.’’

’’Well, good. That saves me an explanation. Anyway, for reasons too complicated to go into, I've been hired by his widow to see if I can find out what was going on the last two months of his life.’’

’’Why?’’

’’Why?’’

’’Why is it too complicated to go into?’’

’’Is there any way we can do this in person?’’ I asked.

There was a momentary pause, during which I heard an intake of breath that led me to believe she was smoking. ’’We could meet someplace,’’ she said.

’’That would be good. You live in Perdido? I'd be happy to drive down, if you like, or...’’

’’I live in Santa Teresa, not that far from you.’’

’’That's great. Much better. You just let me know when and where.’’

Again, the pause while she processed. ’’How about the kiddy park across from Emile's in five minutes.’’

’’See you there,’’ I said, but she was gone by then.

I spotted her from a distance, sitting on one of the swings in a yellow slicker with the hood up. She had swiveled the seat sideways, the chains forming a twisted X at chest height. When she lifted her feet, the chains came unwound, swiveling her feet first in one direction and then another. She tipped back, holding herself in position with her toes. She pushed off. I watched her straighten her legs in a pumping motion that boosted her higher and higher. I thought my approach would interrupt her play, but she continued swinging, her expression somber, her gaze fixed on me.

’’Watch this!’’ she said and at the height of her forward arc she let herself fly out of the swing. She sailed briefly and then landed in the sand, feet together, her arms raised above her head as though as the end of a dismount.


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