A is for Alibi Page 32

"Hey, come on. Why don't you talk to me," I said.

"I don't have nothin' to say to you. Why stir up all that shit again?”

"Aren't you interested in who killed Libby?”

He took his time about answering. He picked up a brick, holding it upright while he applied a thick layer of mortar to one end with a trowel, beveling the soft cement as if it were a gritty gray cheese. He laid the brick on the chest-high line of bricks where he'd been working and gave it a few taps with a hammer, bending down then to pick up the next brick.

I cupped my right hand to my ear. "Hello?" I said, as if I might have gone temporarily deaf.

He smirked, cigarette bobbing in his mouth. "You think you're real hot shit, don't you?”

I smiled. "Listen, Lyle. There's no point in this. You don't have to tell me anything and you know what I can do? Spend about an hour and a half this afternoon finding out anything I want to know about you. I can do it in six phone calls from a motel room in West Los Angeles and I've even got someone paying me for my time, so it's nothing to me. It's fun, if you really want to know the truth. I can get your service records, credit rating. I can find out if you've ever been arrested for anything, job history, library books overdue.”

"Go right ahead. I got nothin' to hide.”

"Why put us through all that stuff?" I said. "I mean, I can go check you out but I'll just come back around here tomorrow and if you don't like me now, you ain't gonna like me any better then. I might be in a bad mood. Why don't you just loosen up?”

"Aw, I'm real loose," he said.

"What happened to your plans to go to law school?”

"I dropped out," he said sullenly.

"Maybe the dope smoking got to you," I suggested mildly.

"Maybe you can go get fucked," he snapped. "Do I look like a lawyer to you? I lost interest, okay? That's no fuckin' crime.”

"I'm not accusing you of anything. I just want to figure out what happened to Libby.”

He flipped the ash off the cigarette and dropped it, chunking it into the dirt with the toe of his boot. I sat down on a pile of bricks that had been covered with a tarp. Lyle glanced over at me through lowered lids.

"What makes you think I smoke dope anyway?" he asked abruptly.

I tapped my nose, letting him know I'd smelled it on him. "Also laying brick doesn't seem that interesting," I said. "I figure if you're smart, you gotta do something to keep from going nuts.”

He looked at me, his body relaxing just a little bit. "What makes you think I'm smart?”

I shrugged. "You went with Libby Glass for ten years.”

He thought about that for a while.

"I don't know anything," he said, almost gruffly.

"You know more than I do at this point.”

He was beginning to relent, though his shoulders were still tense. He shook his head, going back to his work. He took the trowel and moved the damp mass of mortar around like cake icing that has gone all granular. "She dumped me after she met that guy from up north. That attorney.”

"Laurence Fife?”

"Yeah, I guess it was. She wouldn't tell me anything about him. At first, it was business—something about some accounts. His law firm had just hooked up with the place she worked and she had to get all this stuff on the computer, you know? Set up to run smoothly from month to month. It was all real complicated, calls goin' back and forth, things like that. He came down a few times and she'd have drinks when they finished up, sometimes dinner. She fell in love. That's all I know.”

He took out a small metal brace at right angles and hammered it into the wooden siding on the house, placing a mortar-laden brick on top.

"What's that do?" I asked out of curiosity.

"What? Oh. That keeps the brick wall from falling away from the rest," he said.

I nodded, halfway tempted to try laying brick myself. "And she broke up with you after that?" I asked, getting back to the point.

"Pretty much. I'd see her now and again, but it was over and I knew it.”

He was beginning to drop the tension in his tone and he sounded more resigned than angry. Lyle buttered another brick with soft mortar and set it in place. The sun felt good on my back and I settled on my elbows, leaning back on the tarp.

"What's your theory?" I asked.

He looked at me slyly. "Maybe she killed herself.”

"Suicide?" The thought hadn't even crossed my mind.

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