N Is For Noose Page 68

I took the Leeward off-ramp and made two left turns, crossing over the freeway again in search of the street where Dolores Ruggles lived. The neighborhood was a warren of low stucco structures, narrow streets intersecting one another repeatedly. The house was a plain box, sitting in a plain treeless yard with scarcely a bush or a tuft of grass to break up the monotonous flat look of the place. The porch consisted of a slab of concrete with one step leading up to the front door and a small cap of roofing to protect you as you rang the bell, which I did. The door was veneer with long sharp splinters of wood missing from the bottom edge. It looked like a dog had been chewing on the threshold.

The man who opened the door was drying his hands on a towel tucked into the waist of his trousers. He was easily in his sixties, maybe five-foot-eight, with a coarsely lined face and a thinning head of gray-white hair the color of wood ash. His eyes were hazel, his brows a tangle of wiry black and gray. ’’Keep your shirt on,’’ he said, irritably.

’’Sorry. I thought the bell was broken. I wasn't even sure anyone was home. I'm looking for Dolores Ruggles.’’

’’Who the hell are you?’’

I handed him my card, watching his lips move while he read my name. ’’I'm a private investigator,’’ I said.

’’I can see that. It says right here. Now we got that established, what do you want with Dolores? She's busy at the moment and doesn't want to be disturbed.’’

’’I need some information. Maybe you can help me and we can spare her the imposition. I'm here about her father.’’

’’The little shithead was murdered.’’

’’I'm aware of that.’’

’’Then what's it to you?’’

’’I'm trying to find out what happened.’’

’’What difference does it make? The man is D-E-A-D dead and not soon enough to suit my taste. I've spent years coping with all the damage he did.’’

’’Could I come in?’’

He stared at me. ’’Help yourself,’’ he said abruptly and turned on his heel, leaving me to follow. I scurried after him, taking a quick mental photograph as we passed through the living room. Not to sound se*ist, but the room looked as if it had been designed by a man. The floors were bare hardwood, stained dark. I noted a tired couch and a sagging upholstered chair, both shrouded by heavy woven Indian-print rugs. I thought the coffee table was antiqued, but I could see as I passed the only patina was dust. The walls were lined with books: upright, sideways, slanting, stacked, packed two deep on some shelves, three deep on others. The accumulation of magazines, newspapers, junk mail, and catalogs suggested a suffocating indifference to tidiness.

’’I'm doing dishes out here,’’ he said, as he moved into the kitchen. ’’Grab a towel and you can pitch in. You might as well be useful as long as you're picking my brain. By the way, I'm Homer, Dolores's husband. Mr. Ruggles to you.’’

His tone had shifted from outright rudeness to something gruff, but not unpleasant. I could see he'd been rather good-looking in his day;not wildly handsome, but something better-a man with a certain amount of character and an appealing air. His skin was darkly tanned and heavily speckled with sun damage, as if he'd spent all his life toiling in the fields. His shirt was an earth brown with an elaborately embroidered yoke done in threads of gold and black. He wore cowboy boots that I suspected were intended to add a couple of inches to his height.

By the time I reached the kitchen, he'd turned on the water again and he was already back at work, washing plates and glassware. ’’Towel's in there,’’ he said, nodding at the drawer to his immediate left. I took out a clean dish towel and reached for a plate still hot from the rinse water. ’’You can stack those on the kitchen table. I'll put 'em up when we're done.’’

I glanced at the table. ’’Uhm, Mr. Ruggles, the table needs to be wiped. Do you have a sponge?’’

Homer turned and gave me a look. ’’This is a telling trait of yours, isn't it?’’

’’Oh, sure,’’ I said.

’’Skip the Mr. Ruggles bit. It sounds absurd.’’

’’Yes, Sir.’’

That netted me half a smile. He wrung out the cloth and tossed it in my direction with a shake of his head. I wiped off the table top, setting several items aside: newspaper;salt-and-pepper shakers shaped like the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood;a clutch of pill bottles with Dolores's name plastered on them, along with various warning labels. Whatever she was taking, she was supposed to avoid alcohol, excessive exposure to sunlight, and the operation of heavy machinery. I wondered if this referred to cars, tractors, or Amtrak locomotives. When I'd finished, I handed him the rag and then picked up the dish towel and resumed wiping the plate.

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