A is for Alibi Page 16

"I haven't as yet, but I may. I have someone come in every two weeks to clean and of course there's a gardener on the premises all the time. I've been staying at the beach.”

"You have another house out there?”

"Yes. Laurence's mother left it to me.”

"Why you and not him?”

She smiled slightly "Laurence and his mother didn't get along. Would you like some tea?”

"I thought you had to hit the road.”

"I have time.”

I followed her out to the kitchen. There was a cooking island in the center of the room with a big copper hood above the burners, a wide expanse of chopping block counter, and all manner of pans, baskets, and kitchen implements hanging on a circular metal rack that extended from the ceiling. All of the other counters were white ceramic tile; a double stainless-steel sink was sunk into one. There was a regular oven, a convection oven, a microwave, a refrigerator, two freezers, and impressive storage space.

Nikki put some water on to boil and perched herself on a wooden stool. I took up a stool across from her, the two of us sitting in the center of the room, which looked as much like a chem lab as a cook's dream.

"Who have you talked to so far?" she asked.

I told her about my conversation with Charlie Scorsoni.

"They seem like an odd pair of friends to me," I said. "My recollection of Laurence is a little hazy, but he always struck me as very elegant and cerebral. Scorsoni's very physical. He reminds me of a guy in an ad for chain saws.”

"Oh, Charlie's a real scrapper. From what I hear, he came up the hard way, bulldozing his way past all obstacles. Kind of like the blurb on a paperback: 'stepping over the bodies of those he loved ...' Maybe Laurence liked that. He always talked about Charlie with grudging respect. Laurence had everything handed to him. Of course Charlie thought Laurence could do no wrong.”

"That seemed clear enough," I said. "I don't suppose he had any motive for murder. Did you ever think he might have had a hand in it?”

Nikki smiled, getting up to take out cups, saucers, and tea bags. "At one time or another, I've considered everyone, but Charlie seems unlikely to me. He certainly didn't benefit financially or professionally She poured boiling water into both cups.

"As far as the eye can see," I said, dunking my tea bag.

"Well yes, that's true. I suppose there might have been some kind of hidden dividend, but surely that would have come to light at some point in the last eight years.”

"One would think." I went on to tell her about my interview with Gwen. Nikki's cheeks went ever so faintly pink.

"I feel bad about her," she said. "By the time they divorced, Laurence really hated her and I tended to fan the flames a bit. He never could take any responsibility for the failure of that marriage and as a result, he had to blame her and punish her. I didn't help. At first I really believed what he was saying about her. I mean, I personally thought she seemed like a capable person and I knew Laurence had been very dependent on her but it was safer to wean him away by feeding his bad feelings. You know what I mean? In some ways, his hating her so strongly was no different from his loving her, but it made me feel more secure to widen the breach. I'm ashamed of that now. When I fell out of love with him myself and he began to turn on me, I suddenly recognized the process.”

"But I thought you were the downfall of that relationship," I said, looking at her carefully through the steam rising from my teacup.

Nikki ran both hands into her hair, lifting it away from her head and letting it fall again, giving her head a slight toss. "Oh no," she said, "I was his revenge. Never mind the fact that he'd been screwing around on her for years. He found out she was having an affair so he had me. Nice, huh? I didn't realize all this until much later, but that's how it was.”

"Wait a minute. Let me see if I got this straight," I said. "He found out she was involved with someone, so he gets involved with you and then divorces her. From what I understand she got reamed.”

"Oh yes. That's exactly what he did. The affair with me was his way of proving he didn't care. Taking the kids and the money was her punishment. He was very vindictive. It was one reason he made such a good attorney. He identified passionately with anyone who'd been wronged. He'd whip himself into a frenzy over the least little thing and then he'd use that as a driving force until he'd ground the opposition down. He was merciless. Absolutely merciless.

"Who did Gwen have the affair with?”

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