N Is For Noose Page 69

’’So what's the deal?’’ he said belatedly. ’’What's your interest in Pinkie Ritter? Nice girl like you should be ashamed.’’

’’I didn't know anything about him until yesterday. I've been tracking down a friend of his, who may have been... Could we just skip this part? It's almost too tricky to explain.’’

’’You're talking Alfie Toth.’’

’’Thank you. That's right. Everybody seems to know about him.’’

’’Yeah, well, Alfie was a birdbrain. Women thought he was attractive, but I couldn't see it myself. How can you think some guy's handsome when you know he's dim? To my way of thinking, it spoils the whole effect. I think he hung out with my father-in-law for protection, which just goes to show you how dumb he was.’’

’’You knew Alfie was dead?’’

’’You bet. The police told us about it when his body turned up. They came around asking the same question you probably want answered, which is what's the connection and who did what to whom? I'll give you the same answer I gave them. I don't know.’’

’’What's the story on Pinkie? I take it you didn't think much of him.’’

’’That's a gross understatement. I really hated his guts. Whoever killed Pinkie saved me life in prison. Pinkie had six kids-three sons and three daughters and mistreated every one of them from the day they were born 'til they got big enough to fight back. Nowadays there's all this talk of abuse, but Pinkie did the real thing. He punched them, burned them, made 'em drink vinegar and hot sauce for talking back to him. He locked them in closets, set them out in the cold. He screwed 'em, starved 'em, threatened them. He hit 'em with belts, boards, metal pipes, sticks, hairbrushes, fists. Pinkie was the meanest son of a bitch I ever met and that's goin'some.’’

’’Didn't anybody intervene?’’

’’People tried. Lot of people blew the whistle on him. Trick was trying to prove it. Teachers, guidance counselors, next-door neighbors. Sometimes Children's Services managed to take the kids away from him and foster them out. Judge always gave 'em back.’’ He shook his head. ’’Pinkie knew how the game was played. He kept a clean house-the kids saw to that-and he did like to cook-that was his specialty. It's what he did for a living when he wasn't breaking their heads or breaking the law. Social workers came around and everything looked fine. Kids knew better than to open their mouths. Dolores says she can remember the six of them lined up in the living room, answering questions just as nice as you please. Pinkie wouldn't be in the room, but he was always somewhere close. Kids knew better than to rat on him or they'd be dead by dark. They'd stand there and lie. Said social workers knew, but couldn't get anything on him without their assistance. Only thing saved 'em was his getting thrown in jail.’’

’’What about his wife? Where was she all this time?’’

’’Dolores thinks he killed her though it couldn't be proved. He claims she ran off with some barfly and was never heard from again. Dolores says she remembers as a kid waking up in the dead of night. Pinkie was out in the woods behind the house with a power saw. Lantern on the ground throwing these big shadows up against the trees. Moths fluttering around the light. She still has nightmares about that. She was the baby in the family, six years old at the time. I think the oldest was fifteen. She went out there next day. The ground was all turned, probably to hide the blood. She still remembers the smell-like a package of chicken when it's gone funny and has to be thrown out. Mom was never seen nor heard from again.’’

’’Pinkie sounds like a very nasty piece of work.’’

’’The worst.’’

’’So anybody could have killed him, including one of his kids. Is that what you're saying?’’

’’That would cover it,’’ he said. ’’Of course, by the time he died, they were out from under his control. The rest of the kids had scattered to hell and gone. Couple of 'em still in California, though we don't see 'em all that much.’’ Homer finished the last dish and turned the water off. I continued drying silverware while he put away the clean plates.

’’When did you see him last?’’

’’Five years ago in March. The minute he got out of Chino, he headed straight up here, arrived on the Twenty-fifth and stayed a week.’’

’’Good memory,’’ I remarked.

’’The cops asked me about that so I looked it up. How I pinpointed the date is I withdrew five hundred bucks from a bank account the day Pinkie left. I counted backward from that and the date stuck in my mind. Anything else you want to quiz me about?’’

’’I didn't mean to interrupt. Go on.’’

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