A is for Alibi Page 31

I could feel the muscles in my face setting with distaste.

During lunch, Lyle ate quickly, saying nothing to me and very little to Grace.

"What sort of work do you do, Lyle?" I said.

"Lay brick.”

I looked at his hands. His fingers were long and dusted with mortar gray that had seeped down into the crevices of his skin. At this range, I could smell sweat, overlaid with the delicate scent of dope. I wondered if Grace noticed at all or if, perhaps, she thought it might be some exotic aftershave.

"I've got to make a run up to Vegas," I said to Grace, "but I'd like to stop back on my way up to Santa Teresa. Do you have any of Libby's belongings?" I was relatively certain she did.

Grace consulted Lyle with a quick look but his eyes were lowered to his plate. "I believe so. There are some boxes in the basement, aren't there, Lyle? Elizabeth's books and papers?”

The old man made a sound at the mention of her name and Lyle wiped his mouth, tossing the napkin down as he got up. He wheeled Raymond down the hallway.

"I'm sorry I shouldn't have mentioned Libby," I said.

"Well that's all right," she said. "If you'll call or come by when you get back to Los Angeles, I'm sure it'd be all right if you looked at Elizabeth's belongings. There isn't much.”

"Lyle doesn't seem to be in a very good mood," I remarked. "I hope he doesn't think I'm intruding.”

"Oh no. He's quiet around people he doesn't know," she said. "I don't know what I'd do without him. Raymond is too heavy for me to lift. I have a neighbor who stops by twice a day to help me get him in and out of his chair. His spine was crushed in the accident.”

Her conversational tone gave me the willies. "Do you mind if I use the bathroom?" I said.

"It's down the hall. The second door on the right.”

As I passed the bedroom, I could see that Lyle had already lifted Raymond into bed. There were two straight-backed wooden chairs pushed up against the side of the double bed to keep him from falling out. Lyle was standing between the two chairs, cleaning Raymond's bare ass. I went into the bathroom and closed the door.

I helped Grace clear the table and then I left, waiting in my car across the street. I made no attempt to conceal myself and no pretense at driving away. I could see Lyle's pickup truck still parked in the driveway. I checked my watch. It was ten minutes to one and I figured he must be on a limited lunch hour. Sure enough, the side door opened and Lyle stepped out onto the narrow porch, pausing to lace his boots. He glanced over at the street, spotting my car, and seemed to smile to himself. Ass, I thought. He got into his truck and backed out of the driveway rapidly. I wondered for a moment if he intended to back straight across the street and into the side of my car, crushing me. He wheeled at the last minute, though, and flung the truck into gear, taking off with a chirp of rubber. I thought maybe we were going to have a little impromptu car chase but it turned out he didn't have that far to go. He drove eight blocks and then pulled into the driveway of a modest-sized Sherman Oaks house that was being refaced with red brick. I guessed it was a status symbol of some sort because brick is very expensive on the West Coast. There probably aren't six brick houses in the whole city of L.A.

He got out of his truck and ambled around to the back, tucking in his shirt, his manner insolent. I parked on the street and locked my car, following him. I wondered idly if he intended to smash my head in with a brick and then mortar me into a wall. He was not pleased with my arrival on the scene and he made no bones about that. As I rounded the comer, I could see that the owner of the house was disguising his little cottage with a whole new facade. Instead of looking like a modest California bungalow, it would look like certain pet hospitals in the Midwest, real high-rent stuff. Lyle was already mixing up mortar in a wheelbarrow in the back. I picked my way across some two-by-fours with crooked rusty nails protruding. A little kid would have to have a lot of tetanus shots after falling on those.

"Why don't we start all over again, Lyle," I said conversationally.

He snorted, taking out a cigarette, which he tucked into the comer of his mouth. He lit it, cupping crusty hands around the match, and then blew out the first mouthful of smoke. His eyes were small and one of them squinted now as the smoke curled up across his face. He reminded me of early photographs of James Dean—that defensive hunched stance, the crooked smile, the pointed chin. I wondered if he was a secret admirer of East of Eden reruns, staying up late at night to watch on obscure channels piped in from Bakersfield.

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