A is for Alibi Page 22

"Probably not, but that's too bad. Old business. I'd much rather see them let that go. She was very good to them." She reached back then and pulled the scarf out of her hair, shaking her hair slightly so that it would fall loose. It was shoulder length, an interesting shade of gray that I didn't imagine had been tampered with. The contrast was nice ... gray hair, brown eyes. She had strong cheekbones, nice lines around her mouth, good teeth, a tan that suggested health without vanity.

"What did you think of Nikki?" I asked, now that the subject had been broached.

"I'm not really sure. I mean, I resented the hell out of her back then but I'd like to talk to her sometime. I feel like we might understand each other a lot better. You want to know why I married him?”

"I'd be interested in that.”

"He had a big cock," she said impishly and then laughed. "Sorry. I couldn't resist that. Actually he was awful in the sack. A regular screwing machine. Terrific if you like your sex depersonalized.”

"I'm not crazy about that kind myself," I said dryly.

"Neither was I when I figured it out. I was a virgin when I married him.”

"Jesus," I said. "That's a bore.”

"It was an even bigger bore back then but it was all part of the message I was raised on. I always thought the failure was mine in terms of our sex life." She trailed off and the faintest tint came to her cheeks.

"Until what," I ventured.

"Maybe I should have wine too," she said and signaled to the waitress. I ordered a second glass. Gwen turned to me.

"I had an affair when I turned thirty.”

"Shows you had some sense.”

"Well yes and no. It only lasted about six weeks but it was the best six weeks of my life. In a way, I was glad to see it end. It was powerful stuff and it would have turned my life around. I wasn't ready for that." She paused and I could see her reviewing the information in her head. "Laurence was always very critical of me and I believed I deserved it. Then I ran into a man who thought I could do no wrong. At first I resisted. I knew what I was feeling for this man but it went against the grain. Finally I just gave in. For a while I told myself it was good for my relationship with Laurence. I was suddenly getting something I'd needed for a long time and it made me feel very giving with him. And then the double life began to take its toll. I deceived Laurence for as long as I could but he began to suspect something was going on. I got so I couldn't tolerate his touch—too much tension, too much deceit. Too much good stuff somewhere else. He must have felt the change come over me because he began to probe and question, wanted to know where I was every minute of the day. Called at odd hours in the afternoon and of course I was out. Even when I was with Laurence, I was somewhere else. He threatened me with divorce and I got scared so I confessed up. That was the biggest mistake of my life because he divorced me anyway.”

"As punishment.”

"As only Laurence Fife knew how. In spades.”

"Where is he now?”

"My lover? Why do you ask?”

Her tone was instantly guarded, her expression wary.

"Laurence must have known who he was. If he was punishing you, why not punish the other guy too?”

"I don't want to cast suspicion on him," she said. "That would be a lousy thing to do. He had nothing to do with Laurence's death. I'll give you a written guarantee.”

"What makes you so sure? A lot of people were mistaken about a lot of things back then and Nikki paid a price for it.”

"Hey," she said sharply, "Nikki was represented by the best lawyer in the state. Maybe she got a few bad breaks and maybe not, but there's no point in trying to lay the blame on someone who had nothing to do with it.”

"I'm not trying to blame anyone. I'm just trying to come up with a direction on this thing. I can't force you to tell me who he is.”

"That's right and I think you'd have a hell of a time finding out from anyone else.”

"Look, I'm not here to pick a fight. I'm sorry. Skip that for now.”

Two patches of red appeared on her neck. She was fighting back anger, trying to get control of herself again. I thought, for a moment, she would bolt.

"I'm not going to press the point," I said. "That's a whole separate issue and I came here to talk to you. You don't want to talk about that then it's fine with me.”

She still seemed poised for flight so I shut my mouth and let her work it out for herself. Finally I could see her relax a little and I realized then that I was as tense as she. This was too valuable a contact for me to blow.

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