A is for Alibi Page 17

"You'd have to ask her that. I'm not sure I ever knew. It was certainly something he never talked about.”

I asked her about the night Laurence died and she filled me in on those details.

"What was he allergic to?”

"Animal hair. Mostly dogs but cat dander too. For a long time he wouldn't tolerate pets in the house but then when Colin was two, someone suggested that we get him a dog.

"I understand Colin's deaf.”

"He was born deaf. They test newborns' hearing so we knew right away, but nothing could be done for him. Apparently I had a mild case of German measles before I even realized I was pregnant. Fortunately that was the only damage he seemed to suffer. We were lucky to that extent.”

"And the dog was for him? Like a guard dog or something?”

"Something like that. You can't watch a kid night and day. That's why we had the pool filled in. Bruno was a big help too.”

"A German shepherd.

"Yes," Nikki said and then hesitated slightly. "He's dead now. He got hit by a car right out there on the road, but he was a great dog. Very smart, very loving, very protective of Colin. Anyway, Laurence could see what it did for him, having a dog like Bruno, so he went back on the allergy medication. He really did love Colin. Whatever his faults, and he had lots of them, believe me, he did love that little boy.”

Her smile faded and her face went through an odd alteration. She was suddenly gone, disengaged. Her eyes were blank and the look she gave me was empty of emotion.

"I'm sorry, Nikki. I wish we didn't have to go into all of this.”

We finished our tea and then got up. She removed the cups and saucers, tucking them into the dishwasher. When she looked back at me, her eyes were that flat gun-metal gray again. "I hope you find out who killed him. I'll never be happy until I know.”

The tone of her voice made my hands numb. There was a flash in her eyes like the one I'd seen in the eyes of the geese: malevolent, unreasoning. It was just a flicker and it quickly disappeared.

"You wouldn't try to get even, would you?" I asked.

She glanced away from me. "No. I used to think about that in prison a lot but now that I'm out, it doesn't seem that important to me. Right now, all I want is to have my son back. And I want to lie on the beach and drink Perrier and wear my own clothes. And eat in restaurants and when I'm not doing that, I want to cook. And sleep late and take bubble baths ... " She stopped and laughed at herself and then took a deep breath. "So. No, I don't want to risk my freedom.”

Her eyes met mine and I smiled in response. "You better hit the road," I said.


I stopped off at the Montebello Pharmacy while I was in the neighborhood. The pharmacist, whose name tag said "Carroll Sims," was in his fifties, medium height, with mild brown eyes behind mild tortoiseshell frames. He was in the midst of explaining to quite an old woman exactly what her medication was and how it should be taken. She was both puzzled and exasperated by the explanation but Sims was tactful, answering her flustered inquiries with a benign goodwill. I could imagine people showing him their warts and cat bites, describing chest pains and urinary symptoms across the counter. When it was my turn, I wished I had some little ill I could tell him about. Instead, I showed him my I.D.

"What can I do for you?”

"Did you happen to work here eight years ago when Laurence Fife was murdered?”

"Well I sure did. I own the place. Are you a friend of his?”

"No," I said, "I've been hired to look into the whole case again. I thought this was a logical place to start.”

"I don't think I can be much help. I can tell you the medication he was taking, dosage, number of refills, the doctor who prescribed it, but I can't tell you how the switch was made. Well, I can tell you that. I just can't tell you who did it.”

Most of the information Sims gave me I already knew. Laurence was taking an antihistamine called HistaDril, which he'd been on for years. He consulted an allergist about once a year and the rest of the time the refill on the medication was, automatically okayed. The only thing Sims told me that I hadn't known was that HistaDril had recently been taken off the market because of possible carcinogenic side-effects.

"In other words, if Fife had just taken the medication for a few more years, he might have gotten cancer and died anyway.”

"Maybe," the pharmacist said. We stared at one another for a moment.

"I don't suppose you have any idea who killed him," I said.

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