A is for Alibi Page 12

"I understand you used to be married to Laurence Fife," I ventured.

"Yes, that's right. Is this about him? He's been dead for years.”

"I know. His case is being opened up again.”

"Oh, that's interesting. By whom?”

"Nikki. Who else?" I said. "The Homicide Department knows I'm looking into it and I have their cooperation, if that helps you any. Could you answer some questions for me?”

"All right," she said. Her tone was cautious but there was also a note of interest, as though she considered it a curious inquiry but not necessarily bad.

"You don't sound that surprised," I said.

"Actually I am. I thought that was finished business.”

"Well, I'm just starting to look into it and I may come up with a blank. We don't have to talk here if it's inconvenient. I don't like to interrupt your work.

"This is fine with me, as long as you don't mind watching me clip a few dogs. I really can't afford a time-out right now. We're loaded today. Hold on," she said. "Kathy, could you hand me that flea spray? I think we missed a few here.

The dark-haired groomer left the poodle long enough to reach up for the flea spray, which was passed over to Gwen.

"That's Kathy, as you might have gathered," Gwen said. "The one up to her elbows in soapsuds is Jan.”

Gwen began to spray Wuffles, turning her face away to avoid the fumes. "Sorry. Go ahead.”

"How long were you married to Fife?”

"Thirteen years. We met in college, his third year, my first. I'd known him about six months I guess.”

"Good years? Bad years?”

"Well I'm mellowing some on that," she said. "I used to think it was all a big waste but now I don't know. Did you know Laurence yourself?"“

"I met him a couple of times," I said, "just superficially.”

Gwen's look was wry. "He could be very charming if he wanted to, but at heart he was a real son of a bitch.”

Kathy glanced over at Gwen and smiled. Gwen laughed. "These two have heard my version about a hundred times," she said by way of explanation. "Neither has ever been married so I tend to play devil's advocate. Anyway, in those days I was the dutiful wife, and I mean I played the part with a dedication few could match. I cooked elegant meals. I made lists. I cleaned the house. I raised the kids. I'm not saying I'm anything unique for that, except that I took it awfully to heart. I wore my hair up in this French roll, not a pin out of place, and I had these outfits to put on and take off, kind of like a Barbie doll." She stopped and laughed at the image of herself, pretending to pull a string from her neck. "Hello, I'm Gwen. I'm a good wife," she burbled in a kind of nasal parrot tone. Her manner was rather affectionate as though she, instead of Laurence, had died but was remembered fondly by dear friends. Part of the time she was looking at me, and part of the time she combed and clipped the dog on the table in front of her, but in any event her manner was friendly, hardly the bitter, withdrawn account I'd expected.

"When it was over, I was pretty angry—not so much at him as at myself—for buying into the whole gig. I mean, don't get me wrong. I liked it at the time and it suited me fine, but there was also a form of sensory deprivation going on so that when the marriage blew up, I was totally unequipped to deal with the real world. He managed the money. He pulled the strings. He made the major decisions, especially where the kids were concerned. I bathed and dressed and fed them and he shaped their lives. I didn't realize it at the time because I was just running around anxious to please him, which was no easy task, but now that I look back on it, it was really fucked.”

She glanced up at me to see if I'd react to the language, but I just smiled back.

"So now I sound like all the other women who came out of marriages in that era. You know, we're all faintly grumpy about it because we think we've been had.”

"You said you'd mellowed some," I said. "How did that come about?”

"Six thousand dollars' worth of therapy," she said flatly.

I smiled. "What made the marriage blow?”

Her cheeks tinted slightly at that but her gaze remained just as frank. "I'd rather save that for later if you're really interested.”

"Sure, fine," I said. "I didn't mean to interrupt anyway.”

"Well. It wasn't all his fault," she said. "But it wasn't all mine either and he hosed me with that divorce. I'm telling you, I got beat up.”

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