A is for Alibi Page 29

"I'm sure she was," Grace said. "She spoke of going to law school at one point. She enjoyed business management and finance. She liked working with figures and I know she was impressed because that company represented very wealthy people. She said you could learn a lot about someone's character by the way they spent money, what they bought and where—whether they lived within their means, that kind of thing. She said it was a study of human nature." Grace's voice. was tinged with pride. It was hard for me to reconcile the idea of this prim-sounding CPA with the girl in the photographs who looked pretty, animated, bashful, and rather sweet, hardly a woman with a hard-driving purpose in life.

"What about her old boyfriend? Do you have any idea where he is now?”

"Who, Lyle? Oh, he'll be around in a bit.”


"Oh my, yes. He stops by every day at noon to help me with Raymond. He's a lovely boy but of course you probably knew she broke off her engagement with him a few months before ... she passed on. She went with Lyle all through high school and they both attended Santa Monica City College together until he dropped out.”

"Is that when he went to work for Wonder Bread?”

"Oh no, Lyle's had many jobs. At the time Lyle left school, Elizabeth was in her own apartment and she didn't confide much in me but I feel she was disappointed in him. He was going to be a lawyer and then he simply changed his mind. He said law was too dull and he didn't like details.

"Did they live together?”

Grace's cheeks tinted slightly. "No, they didn't. It may sound odd and Raymond thought it was very wrong of me, but I encouraged them to move in together. I sensed that they were drifting apart and I thought it would help. Raymond was like Elizabeth, disenchanted with Lyle for quitting school. He told her she could do much better for herself. But Lyle adored her. I thought that should count for something. He would have found himself. He had a restless nature, like many boys that age. He would have come to his senses and I told her so. He needed responsibility. She could have been a very good influence because she was so responsible herself. But Elizabeth said she didn't want to live with him and that was that. She was strong willed when she wanted to be. And I don't mean that as criticism. She was as nearly perfect as a daughter could be. Naturally I wanted whatever she wanted but I couldn't bear to see Lyle hurt. He's very dear. You'll see when you meet him.”

"And you have no idea what actually caused the breakup between them? I mean, could she possibly have been involved with someone else?”

"You're talking about that attorney up in Santa Teresa," she said.

"It's his death I'm looking into," I said. "Did she ever talk to you about him?”

"I never knew anything about him until the police came down from Santa Teresa to talk to us. Elizabeth didn't like to confide her personal affairs, but I don't believe Elizabeth would fall in love with a married man," Grace said. She began to fuss with the silk, her manner agitated. She closed her eyes and then pressed a hand to her forehead as though checking to see if she'd contracted a sudden fever. "I'm sorry. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I pretend she got sick. The other makes me cringe, that someone might have done that to her, that someone could have hated her that much. The police here don't do anything. It isn't solved but no one cares anymore so I just ... I simply tell myself she got sick and was taken. How could someone have done that to her?" Her eyes welled with tears. Her grief rolled across the space between us like a wash of salt water and I could feel tears form in my own eyes in response. I reached out and took her hand. For a moment, she clutched my fingers hard and then she seemed to catch herself, pulling back.

"It's been like a weight pressing on my heart. I will never recover from it. Never.”

I phrased my next question with care. "Could it have been an accident?" I said. "The other man—Laurence Fife—died from oleander, which someone put in an allergy capsule. Suppose they'd been doing business together, going over accounts or something. Maybe she was sneezing or complaining about a stuffy nose and he just volunteered his own medication. People do that all the time.”

She considered that for a moment uneasily. "I thought the police said the attorney died before she did. Days before.”

"Maybe she didn't take the pill right away," I said, shrugging. "With something like that, you never know when someone will take a doctored capsule. Maybe she put it in her purse and swallowed it later without even realizing there was any jeopardy. Did she have allergies? Could she have been coming down with a cold?”

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