A is for Alibi Page 21

"That's interesting. I'm going down there anyway. Maybe I can check that out.”

He glanced at his watch. "I better let you go," he said, getting up. I got up and ambled to the door with him, oddly reluctant to see him go.

"How'd you lose the weight?" I said.

"What, this?" he asked, slapping his midsection. He leaned toward me slightly as though he meant to confide some incredible regimen of denial and self-abuse.

"I gave up candy bars. I used to keep 'em in my desk drawer," he murmured conspiratorially. "Snickers and Three Musketeers, Hershey's Kisses, with the silver wrappers and the little paper wick at the top? A hundred a day.”

I could feel a laugh bubble up because his tone was caressing and he sounded like he was confessing to a secret addiction to wearing panty hose. Also because I knew if I turned my face, I'd be closer to him than I thought I could cope with at that point.

"Mars Bars? Baby Ruths?" I said.

"All the time," he said. I could almost feel the heat of his face and I slid a look up at him sideways. He laughed at himself then, breaking the spell, and his eyes held mine only a little longer than they should. "I'll see you," he said.

We shook hands as he left. I didn't know why—maybe just an excuse to touch. Even a contact that casual made the hairs stand up along my arm. My early-warning system was clanging away like crazy and I wasn't sure how to interpret it. It's the same sensation I have sometimes on the twenty-first floor when I open a window—a terrible attraction to the notion of tumbling out. I go a long time between men and maybe it was time again. Not good, I thought, not good.


When I pulled up in front of K-9 Korners at 6:00, Gwen was just locking up. I rolled down my car window and leaned across the seat. "You want to go in my car?”

"I better follow you," she said. "Do you know where the Palm Garden is? Is that all right with you?”

"Sure, that's fine.”

She moved off toward the parking lot and a minute later she pulled out of the driveway in a bright yellow Saab. The restaurant was only a few blocks away and we pulled into the parking lot side by side. She had stripped off her smock and was brushing haphazardly at the lap of her skirt.

"Pardon the dog hair," she said. "Usually I head straight for a bath.”

The Palm Garden is located in the heart of Santa Teresa, tucked back into a shopping complex, with tables outside and the requisite palms in big wooden tubs. We found a small table off to one side and I ordered white wine while she ordered Perrier.

"You don't drink?”

"Not much. I gave that up when I got divorced. Before that I was knocking back a lot of Scotch. How's your case?”

"It's hard to tell at this point," I said. "How long have you been in the dog-grooming business?”

"Longer than I'd like," she said and laughed.

We talked for a while about nothing in particular. I wanted time to study her, hoping to figure out what she and Nikki Fife had in common that both of them had ended up married to him. It was she who brought the conversation back around to the subject at hand. "So fire away," she said.

I curtsied mentally. She was very deft, making my job much easier than I'd thought she would. "I didn't think you'd be so cooperative.

"You've been talking to Charlie Scorsoni," she said.

"It seemed like a logical place to start," I said with a shrug. "Is he on your list?”

"Of people who might have killed Laurence? No. I don't think so. Am I on his?”

I shook my head.

"That's odd," she said.

"How so?”

She tilted her head, her expression composed. "He thinks I'm bitter. I've heard it from a lot of different sources. Small town. If you wait long enough, anyone's opinion about you will be reported back.”

"It sounds like you'd be entitled to a little bitterness.”

"I worked that through a long time ago. By the way, this is where you can reach Greg and Diane if you're interested." She pulled an index card out of her purse with the two names, addresses, and telephone numbers.

"Thanks. I appreciate that. Any advice about how they should be approached? I was serious when I said I didn't want to upset them.”

"No, no. They're straight shooters, both of them. If anything, you might find them a little too up front.”

"I understand they haven't kept in touch with Nikkie.”

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