A is for Alibi Page 34

"Mr. McNiece isn't in but the man you probably want to talk to is Garry Steinberg with two r's.”


"No, G-a-r-r-y.”

"Oh, I see. Excuse me.”

"That's okay," she said. "Everybody makes that mistake.”

"Would it be possible to see Mr. Steinberg? Just briefly”

"He's in New York this week," she said.

"What about Mr. Haycraft?”

"He's dead. I mean, you know, he's been dead for years," she said. "So actually now it's McNiece and McNiece but nobody wants to have all the stationery changed. The other McNiece is in a meeting.”

"Is there anybody else who might remember her?”

"I don't think so. I'm sorry.”

She handed me my card. I turned it over and jotted down my motel number and my answering service up in Santa Teresa.

"Could you give this to Garry Steinberg when he gets back? I'd really appreciate a call. He can make it collect if I'm not at the motel here.”

"Sure," she said. She sat down and I could have sworn she eased the card straight into the trash. I watched her for a moment and she smiled at me sheepishly.

"Maybe you could just leave that on his desk with a note," I suggested.

She leaned over slightly and came up again, card in hand. She speared it on a vicious-looking metal spike near the phone.

I looked at her some more. She took the card off the spike and got up.

"I'll just put this on his desk," she said and clopped off again.

"Good plan," I said.

I went back to the motel and made some phone calls. Ruth, in Charlie Scorsoni's office, said that he was still out of town but she gave me the number of his hotel in Denver. I called but he wasn't in, so I left my number at the message desk. I called Nikki and brought her up to date and then I checked with my answering service. There were no messages. I put on my jogging clothes and drove down to the beach to run. Things did not seem to be falling into place very fast. So far, I felt like I had a lapful of confetti and the notion of piecing it all together to make a picture seemed very remote indeed. Time had shredded the facts like a big machine, leaving only slender paper threads with which to reconstruct reality. I felt clumsy and irritable and I needed to blow off steam.

I parked near the Santa Monica pier and jogged south along the promenade, a stretch of asphalt walk that parallels the beach. I trotted past the old men bent over their chess games, past thin black boys roller-skating with incredible grace, boogeying to the secret music of their padded headphones, past guitar players, dopers, and loiterers whose eyes followed me with scorn. This stretch of pavement is the last remnant of the sixties' drug culture—the barefoot, sag-eyed, and scruffy young, some looking thirty-seven now instead of seventeen, still mystical and remote. A dog took up company with me, running along beside me, his tongue hanging out, eyes rolling up at me now and then happily. His coat was thick and bristly, the color of caramel corn, and his tail curled up like a party favor. He was one of those mutant breeds with a large head, short body, and little bitty short legs, but he seemed quite self-possessed. Together, we trotted beyond the promenade, past Ozone, Dudley, Paloma, Sunset, Thornton, and Park; by the time we reached Wave Crest, he'd lost interest, veering off to participate in a game of Frisbee out on the beach. The last I saw of him, he had made an incredible leap, catching a Frisbee midflight, mouth turned up in a grin. I smiled back. He was one of the few dogs I'd met in years that I really liked.

At Venice Boulevard I turned back, running most of the way and then slowing to a walk as I reached the pier again. The ocean breeze served as a damper to my body heat. I found myself winded but not sweating much. My mouth felt dry and my cheeks were aflame. It hadn't been a long run but I'd pushed myself a little harder than I normally did and my lungs were burning: liquid combustion in my chest. I run for the same reasons I learned to drive a car with a stick shift and drink my coffee black, imagining that a day might come when some amazing emergency would require such a test. This run was for "good measure," too, since I'd already decided to take a day off for good behavior. Too much virtue has a corrupting effect. I got back in my car when I'd cooled down and I drove east on Wilshire, back to my motel.

As I unlocked the door to my room, the phone began to ring. It was my Las Vegas buddy with Sharon Napier's address.

"Fantastic," I said. "I really appreciate this. Let me know how to get in touch when I get down there and I'll pay you for your time.”

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