A is for Alibi Page 35

"General delivery is fine. I never know where I'll be.”

"You got it. How much?”

"Fifty bucks. A discount. For you. She's strictly unlisted and it wasn't easy.”

"Let me know when I can return the service," I said, knowing full well that he would.

"Oh, and Kinsey," he said, "she's dealing blackjack at the Fremont but she's also hustling some on the side, so I hear. I watched her operate last night. She's very sharp but she's not fooling anyone.”

"Is she stepping on someone's toes?”

"Not quite, but she's comin' close. You know, in this town no one cares what you do as long as you don't cheat. She shouldn't call attention to herself.”

"Thanks for the information," I said.

"For sure," he said and hung up.

I showered and put on a pair of slacks and a shirt, then went across the street and ate fried clams drowned in ketchup with an order of french fries on the side. I got two cups of coffee to go and went back to my room. As soon as the door shut behind me, the phone began to ring. This time it was Charlie Scorsoni.

"How's Denver?" I asked as soon as he identified himself.

"Not bad. How's L.A.?

"Fair. I'm driving up to Las Vegas tonight.”

"Gambling fever?”

"Not a bit. I got a line on Sharon.”

"Terrific. Tell her to pay me back my six hundred bucks.

"Yeah. Right. With interest. I'm trying to find out what she knows about a murder and you want me to hassle her about a bad debt.”

"I'll never have occasion to, that's for sure. When will you be back in Santa Teresa?”

"Maybe Saturday. When I come back through L.A. on Friday, I want to see some boxes that belong to Libby Glass. But I don't think it will take long. What makes you ask?”

"I want to buy you a drink," he said. "I'm leaving Denver day after tomorrow, so I'll be in town before you. Will you call me when you get back?”

I hesitated ever so slightly. "Okay.”

"I mean, don't put yourself out, Millhone," he said wryly.

I laughed. "I'll call. I swear.”

"Great. See you then.”

After I hung up, I could feel a silly smile linger on my face long after it should have. What was it about that man?

Las Vegas is about six hours from L.A. and I decided I might as well hit the road. It was just after 7:00 and not dark yet, so I threw my things in the backseat of my car and told Arlette I'd be gone for a couple of days.

"You want me to refer calls or what?" she said.

"I'll call you when I get there and let you know how I can be reached," I said.

I headed north on the San Diego Freeway, picking up the Ventura, which I followed east until it turned into the Colorado Freeway, one of the few benign roads in the whole of the L.A. freeway system. The Colorado is broad and sparsely traveled, cutting across the northern boundary of metropolitan Los Angeles. It is possible to change lanes on the Colorado without having an anxiety attack and the sturdy concrete divider that separates east and westbound traffic is a comforting assurance that cars will not wantonly drift over and crash into your vehicle head-on. From the Colorado, I doglegged south, picking up the San Bernardino Freeway, taking 15 northeast on a long irregular diagonal toward Las Vegas. With any luck, I could talk to Sharon Napier and then head south to the Salton Sea, where Greg Fife was living. I could complete the circuit with a swing up to Claremont on my way back for a brief chat with his sister, Diane. At this point, I wasn't sure what the journey would net me but I needed to complete the basics of my investigation. And Sharon Napier was bound to prove interesting.

I like driving at night. I'm not a sightseer at heart and in travels across the country, I'm never tempted by detours to scenic wonders. I'm not interested in hundred-foot rocks shaped like crookneck squash. I'm not keen on staring down into gullies formed by rivers now defunct and I do not marvel at great holes in the ground where meteors once fell to earth. Driving anywhere looks much the same to me. I stare at the concrete roadway. I watch the yellow line. I keep track of large trucks and passenger vehicles with little children asleep in the backseat and I keep my foot pressed flat to the floor until I reach my destination.


By the time Las Vegas loomed up, twinkling on the horizon, it was well after midnight and I felt stiff. I was anxious to avoid the Strip. I would have avoided the whole town if I could. I don't gamble, having no instincts for the sport and even less curiosity. Life in Las Vegas exactly suits my notion of some eventual life in cities under the sea. Day and night mean nothing. People ebb and surge aimlessly as though pulled by invisible thermal currents that are swift and disagreeably close. Everything is made of plaster of paris, imitative, larger than life, profoundly impersonal. The whole town smells of $1.89 fried shrimp dinners.

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