A is for Alibi Page 18


"Well, I guess that's that. Did you see any of the trial?”

"Just when I testified. I identified the pill bottle as one of ours. It had been pretty recently refilled but Fife himself had done that and we'd chitchatted at the time. He'd been taking HistaDril for so long we hardly needed to talk about that.”

"Do you remember what you did talk about?”

"Oh, the usual thing. I think there was a fire burning across the backside of the city about that time and we talked about that. A lot of people with allergies were bothered by the increase in air pollution.”

"Was it bothering him?”

"It bothered everyone a little bit but I don't remember him being any worse off than anyone else.”

"Well," I said, "I thank you for your time. If you think of anything else, will you give me a buzz? I'm in the book.”

"Sure, if I think of anything," he said.

It was midafternoon and I wasn't meeting Gwen again until 6:00. I felt restless and out of sorts. Bit by bit, I was putting together background information, but nothing was really happening yet, and as far as I knew nothing might ever come of it. As far as the state of California was concerned, justice had been served and only Nikki Fife stood in contradiction of this. Nikki and the nameless, faceless killer of Laurence Fife who had enjoyed eight years of immunity from prosecution, eight years of freedom that I was now being hired to violate. At some point, I was bound to tread on someone's toes and that someone was not going to be happy with me.

I decided to go spy on Marcia Threadgill. At the time she tripped on that crack in the sidewalk, she had just come from the craft shop, having purchased items necessary to make one of those wooden purses covered with assorted shells. I imagined her decoupaging orange crates, making clever hanging ornaments out of egg cartons festooned with plastic sprigs of lily of the valley. Marcia Threadgill was twenty-six years old and she suffered from bad taste. The owner of the craft shop had filled me in on the projects she had done and every bit of it reminded me of my aunt. Marcia Threadgill was cheap at heart. She turned common trash into Christmas gifts. This is the mentality, in my opinion, that leads to cheating insurance companies and other sly ruses. This is the kind of person who would write to the Pepsi-Cola bottling plant claiming to have found a mouse hair in her drink, trying to net herself a free case of soda.

I parked a few doors down from her apartment and got out my binoculars. I slouched, focusing on her patio, and then sat up. "Well I'll be damned," I breathed.

In place of the nasty brown withered fern was a hanging plant of mammoth proportions, which must have weighed twenty pounds. Now how had she lifted that up to attach to a hook high above her head? A neighbor? A boyfriend? Had she done it herself perchance? I could even see the price tag stuck to one side of the pot. She'd bought it at a Gateway supermarket for $29.95, which was quite a price considering that it was probably full of fruit flies.

"Shit," I said. Where was I when she hoisted that mama up? Twenty pounds of glossy plant and moist soil on a chain at shoulder height. Had she stood on a chair? I drove straight over to the nearby Gateway supermarket and headed back to the produce department. There were five or six such plants—Dumbo ears or elephant tongues, whatever the damn things are called. I lifted one. Oh my God. It was worse than I had thought. Awkward and heavy, impossible to manage without help. I picked up some film in the Ten Items or Less, No Checks line and loaded my camera. "Marcia, you little sweetheart," I cooed, "I'm gonna nail your ass.”

I drove back to her apartment and got out my binoculars again. I'd no more than settled down on my spine, glasses trained on her patio, than Ms. Threadgill herself appeared, trailing one of those long plastic hoses, which must have been attached to her faucet inside. She misted and sprayed and watered and carried on, poking a finger down into the dirt, plucking a yellowing leaf from another potted plant on the patio rail. A real obsessive type by the look of it, inspecting the underside of leaves for God knows what pests. I studied her face. She looked like she'd spent about forty-five dollars having a free makeup demonstration in some department store. Mocha and caramel on her eyelids. Raspberry on her cheekbones. Lipstick the color of chocolate. Her fingernails were long and painted the approximate shade of cherry syrup in the sort of boxed candies you wish you hadn't bitten into so eagerly.

An old woman in a nylon jersey dress came out onto the patio above Marcia's and the two had a conversation. I guessed that it was some kind of complaint because neither looked happy and Marcia eventually flounced away. The old lady yelled something after her that looked dirty even in pantomime. I got out of the car and locked it, taking a clipboard and legal pad.

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