A is for Alibi Page 46

"I thought the dog got killed. I thought Nikki told me that," I said.

"Yeah, he was. While we were gone as a matter of fact.”

I felt a sudden chill. There was something odd about that, something off. "How'd you find out about it?”

Greg shrugged. "When we got home," he said, apparently not attaching much to the fact. "Mom had taken Diane over to the house to pick something up. Sunday morning I guess. We didn't get back until Monday night. Anyway, they found Bruno lying out on the side of the road. I guess he was pretty badly mangled. Mom wouldn't even let Diane see him up close. She called the animal-shelter people and they came and picked him up. He'd been dead awhile. All of us felt bad about it. He was a great beast.”

"Good watchdog?”

"The best," he said.

"What about Mrs. Voss, the housekeeper? What was she like?”

"Nice enough, I guess. She seemed to get along with everybody," he said. "I wish I knew more but that's about it as far as I can tell.”

I finished my beer and got up, holding out my hand to him. "Thanks, Greg. I may need to talk to you again if that's okay.”

He kissed the back of my hand, pretending to clown but meaning something else, I was almost sure. "Godspeed," he said softly.

I smiled with unexpected pleasure. "Did you ever see Young Bess? Jean Simmons and Stewart Granger? That's what he says to her. He was doomed, I think, or maybe she was—I forget. Ripped my heart out. You ought to watch for it on the late movie some night. It killed me when I was a kid.”

"You're only five or six years older than me," he said.

"Seven," I replied.

"Same smell.”

"I'll let you know what I find out," I said.

"Good luck.”

As I pulled away, I glanced back out of the car window. Greg was standing in the trailer doorway, the screen creating the ghostly illusion of Laurence Fife again.


I reached Claremont at 6:00, driving through Ontario, Montclair, and Pomona; all townships without real towns, a peculiar California phenomenon in which a series of shopping malls, and acres of tract houses acquire a zip code and become realities on the map. Claremont is an oddity in that it resembles a trim little Midwestern hamlet with elms and picket fences. The annual Fourth of July parade is composed of kazoo bands, platoons of children on crepe-paper-decorated bikes, and, a self-satirizing team of husbands dressed in Bermuda shorts, black socks, and business shoes doing close-order drills with power mowers. Except for the smog, Claremont could even be considered "picturesque" with Mount Baldy forming a raw backdrop.

I pulled into a gas station and called the number Gwen had given me for Diane. She was out, but her roommate said she'd be home at 8:00. I headed up Indian Hill Boulevard, turning left onto Baughman. My friends Gideon and Nell live two doors down in a house with two kids, three cats, and a hot tub. Nell I've known since my college days. She's a creature of high intellect and wry humor who's learned never to be too amazed by my appearances on her doorstep. She seemed pleased to see me nevertheless and I sat in her kitchen, watching her make soup while we talked. I called Diane again after supper and she agreed to meet me for lunch. After that, Nell and I stripped down and soaked in the hot tub out on the deck, with icy white wine and a lot more catching up to do. Gideon graciously kept the children at bay. I slept on the couch that night with a cat curled up on my chest, wondering if there was any way I could have such a life for myself.

I met Diane at one of those brown-bread-and-sprout restaurants that all look the same: lots of natural varnished wood and healthy hanging plants, macramé and leaded-glass windows and waiters who don't smoke cigarettes but would probably toke on anything else you've got. Ours was thin with receding hair and a dark mustache, which he stroked incessantly, taking our order with an earnestness that I don't think any sandwich ever deserved. Mine was avocado and bacon. Hers was a 'vegetarian delight' stuffed in pita bread.

"Greg says he really treated you like shit when you first got down there," she said and laughed. Some sort of dressing was leaking out through a crack in her pita bread and she lapped it off.

"When did you talk to him? Last night?”

"Sure." She took another unwieldy mouthful and I watched her lick her fingers and wipe her chin. She had Greg's clean good looks but she carried more weight, wide rump packed into a pair of faded jeans, and an unexpected powdering of freckles on her face. Her dark hair was parted in the center and pulled up on top with a broad leather band, pierced through with a wooden skewer.

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