N Is For Noose Page 67

’’You go to bed with him?’’ I asked, casually.

A blush began to saturate Colleen's cheeks. ’’No, but I would have. Hell, I was so crazy about him I broached the subject myself. I was shameless. I was wanton. I'd have taken him on any basis... just to be with him once.’’ She shook her head. ’’He wouldn't do it, and you know why? He was honorable. Decent. Can you imagine the gall of it in this day and age? Tom was an honorable man. He made a promise to be faithful and he meant it. That's one of the things I admired most about him.’’

’’Maybe it's just as well. He wouldn't have been good at deceit even if he'd been willing to try.’’

’’So I've told myself.’’

’’You miss him,’’ I said.

’’I've cried every day since I heard about his death. I never even had the chance to say goodbye to him.’’

’’It must be tough.’’

’’Awful. It's just awful. I miss him more than I missed my own mother when she died. So maybe if I'd slept with him, I'd have had to kill myself or something. Maybe the loss and the pain would have been impossible to bear.’’

’’You might have had less respect for him if he'd given in.’’

’’That's a risk I'd have taken, given half a chance.’’

’’At any rate, I'm sorry for your pain.’’

’’No sorrier than I am. I'm never going to find another guy like him. So what can you do? You soldier on. At least his wife has the luxury to mourn in public. Is she taking it hard?’’

’’That's why she hired me, trying to find relief.’’

Colleen looked away from me casually, trying to conceal her interest. ’’What's she like?’’

I thought for a moment, trying to be fair. ’’Generous with her time. Terribly insecure. Efficient. She smokes. Sort of hard-looking, platinum blond hair teased out to here. She has slightly gaudy taste and she's crazy about her son, Brant. This was Tom's stepson.’’

’’Do you like her? Is she nice?’’

’’People claim she's neurotic, but I do like the woman. A few don't, but that's true of all of us. There's always someone who thinks we're dogshit.’’

’’Did she love him?’’

’’Very much, I'd say. It was probably a good marriage... maybe not perfect, but it worked. She doesn't like the idea of his dying with unfinished business.’’

’’Back to that,’’ she said.

’’I'd do the same for you if you hired me to find answers.’’

Colleen's gaze came back to mine. ’’You thought it was me. That we were having an affair.’’

’’It crossed my mind.’’

’’If I'd had an affair with him, would you have told his wife the truth?’’

’’No. What purpose would it serve?’’

’’Right.’’ She was silent for a moment.

’’Do you know why Tom was so distressed?’’ I asked.

’’I might.’’

’’Why so protective?’’

’’It's not up to me to ease her mind,’’ she said. ’’Who's easing mine?’’

I held my hands up in surrender. ’’I'm just asking the question. You have to do as you see fit.’’

’’I have to go,’’ she said abruptly, gathering up her coat. ’’I'll call you later with the phone number for Ritter's daughter.’’

I held a finger up. ’’Hang on. I just remembered. I have something for you if you're interested.’’ I reached into the outer zippered compartment of my shoulder bag and pulled out one of the black-and-white photographs of Tom at the April banquet. ’’I had these done up in case I needed 'em. You might like to have something to remember him by.’’

She took the picture without comment, a slight smile playing across her mouth as she studied it.

I said, ’’I never met him myself, but I thought it captured him.’’

She looked up at me with tears rimming her eyes. ’’Thank you.’’


When I returned from my run the next morning, there was a message from Colleen Sellers on my answering machine, giving me the name and Perdido address of a woman named Dolores Ruggles, one of Pinkie Ritter's daughters. As this represented the only lead I had, I gassed up the VW and headed south on 101 as soon as I was showered and dressed.

On my left, I could see fields under cultivation, the newly planted rows secured by layers of plastic sheeting as slick and gray as ice. Steep hills, rough with lowgrowing vegetation, began to crowd up against the highway. On my right, the bleak Pacific Ocean thundered against the shore. Surfers in black wetsuits waited on rocking boards like a scattered flock of sea birds. The rains had moved on, but the sky was still white with a ceiling of sluggish clouds and the air was thick with the mingled scents of brine and recent precipitation. Snow would be falling in the high Sierras near Nota Lake.

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