A is for Alibi Page 42

"I'll be on the road at five in the morning and I thought I'd get my bill squared away tonight, " I said.

I gave her my room number and she sorted through the upright file, coming up with my ledger card. I was feeling restless, anxious, and sick, and I wanted to be out on the road. Instead, I had to force myself, brightly, casually, to deal with this woman who moved in slow motion.

"Where you headed?" she asked idly, toting up the charges on the adding machine. She made a mistake and had to do it all over again.

"Reno," I said, lying automatically.

"Any luck?”


"You win much?”

"Oh yeah, I'm doing pretty good," I said. "I really surprised myself.”

"Better than most folk," she remarked. "You won't be making any long-distance calls before you leave?" She gave me a sharp look.

I shook my head. "I'm going to hit the sack.”

"You look like you could use some sleep," she said. She filled out the credit-card charge slip, which I signed, taking my copy.

"I didn't use the fifty dollars' worth of coupons," I said. "You might as well have those back.”

She put the unused coupons in the drawer without a word.

Within minutes, miraculously, I was out on Highway 93, heading southeast toward Boulder City, where I took 95 south. I got as far as Needles and then I had to have relief. I found a cheap motel and checked in, crawled under the covers again, and slept for ten hours straight. Even that far down in oblivion, I felt an awesome dread of what had been set in motion and a pointless, aching sense of apology to Sharon Napier for whatever part I'd played in her death.


In the morning, I felt whole again. I ate a big breakfast in a little diner across the road from the motel, washing down bacon, scrambled eggs, and rye toast with fresh orange juice and three cups of coffee. I had the car filled up with gas, the oil checked, and then hit the road again. After Las Vegas, the desert drive was a pleasure. The land was spare, the colors subdued: a mild very pale lavender overlaid with fine dust. The sky was a stark, cloudless blue, the mountain ridges like crushed velvet, wrinkled dark gray along the face. There was something appealing about all that country unconquered yet, miles and miles of terrain without neon signs. The population was reduced to races of kangaroo rat and ground squirrel, the rocky canyons inhabited by kit fox and desert lynx. At fifty-five miles an hour, no wildlife was visible but I had heard the cries of tree frogs even in my sleep and I pictured now, from my speeding car, the clay and gravel washes filled with buff colored lizards and millipedes, creatures whose adaption to their environment include the husbanding of moisture and an aversion to hot sun. There are parasol ants in the desert that cut off leaves and carry them as sunshades over their backs, storing them later like beach umbrellas in the subterranean chambers where they live. The idea made me smile, and I kept my mind resolutely from the recollection of Sharon Napier's death.

I found Greg Fife in a little gray humpbacked camper outside Durmid on the eastern shore of the Salton Sea. It had taken me a while to track him down. Gwen had said that he lived on his boat but the boat had been pulled out of the water for paint and repair and Greg was temporarily lodged in an aluminum trailer that looked like a roly-poly bug. The interior was compact with a folding table hooked flat against the wall, a padded bench that became a single bed, a canvas chair that completely blocked passage to the sink, a chemical toilet, and a hot plate. He opened two bottles of beer, which he'd taken from a refrigerator the size of a cardboard box, located under the sink.

He offered me the padded bench, unfolding the small table between us. A single leg flopped down to give it support. I was effectively hemmed in and could only get comfortable by turning sideways. Greg took the canvas chair, tilting back so he could study me while I studied him. He looked a lot like Laurence Fife—lank dark-brown hair, a square-cut smooth face that was clean-shaven, dark eyes, bold dark brows, square chin. He looked younger than twenty-five but his smile had the same touch of arrogance that I remembered from his father. He was darkly tanned, cheekbones tinted with sunburn. His shoulders were wide, his body lean, his feet bare. He wore a red cotton turtleneck and cutoffs that were ragged at the bottom, nearly ruffled with bleached threads. He took a sip of beer.

"You think I look like him?”

"Yes," I said. "Does that suit you?”

Greg shrugged. "Doesn't matter much at this point," he said. "We weren't anything alike.”

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