A is for Alibi Page 47

"Did you know Nikki was out on parole?" I asked.

"That's what Mom said. Is Colin back?”

"Nikki was just on her way up to get him when I talked to her a couple of days ago," I said. I was struggling to keep my sandwich intact, thick bread breaking with every bite, but I caught the look in her eye. Colin interested her. Nikki did not.

"Did you meet Mom?”

"Yes. I liked her a lot.”

Diane flashed a quick, proud smile. "Daddy was really an asshole to dump her for Nikki if you ask me. I mean, Nikki's okay, but she's kind of cold, don't you think?”

I murmured something noncommittal. Diane didn't seem to be listening anyway. "Your mother said you went into therapy right after your father died," I said.

Diane rolled her eyes, taking a sip of peppermint tea. "I've been in therapy half my life and my head's still not on straight. It's really a drag. The shrink I got now thinks I should go into analysis but nobody does that anymore. He says I need to go into my 'dark' side. He's into this real Freudian horseshit. All those old guys are. You know, they want you to lie there and tell 'em all your dreams and kinky fantasies so they can whack off mentally at your expense. I did Reichian before that but I got sick of buffing and puffing and pulling on towels. That just felt dumb to me.”

I took a big bite of sandwich, nodding as if I knew what she was talking about. "I've never been in therapy," I murmured.

"Not even group?”

I shook my head.

"God, you must really be neurotic," she said respectfully.

"Well I don't bite my nails or wet the bed.”

"You're probably the compulsive type, avoiding commitments and shit like that. Daddy was like that some.”

"Like how?" I said, skipping right over the reference to my character. After all, it was just a wild guess.

"Oh. You know. Fucking around all the time. Greg and I still compare notes on that. My shrink says he was just warding off pain. My granny used to manipulate the shit out of him so he turned around and manipulated everyone else, including Greg and me. And Mom. And Nikki, and I don't even know who else. I don't think he ever loved anybody in his life except Colin maybe. Too threatening.”

She finished her sandwich and spent a few minutes wiping her face and hands. Then she folded the paper napkin carefully.

"Greg told me you missed the trip to Salton Sea," I said.

"What, before Daddy died? Yeah I did. I had the flu, really grisly stuff, so I stayed with Mom. She was great, really poured on the TLC. I never slept so much in my life.”

"How did the dog get out?”

She put her hands in her lap. "What?”

"Bruno. Greg said he got hit by a car. I just wondered who let him out. Was Mrs. Voss staying at the house while the family was gone?”

Diane looked at me with care and then away. "I don't think so. She was on vacation, I think. " Her eyes strayed to the clock on the wall behind me. "I've got a class," she said. Her face was suffused with pink.

"Are you okay?”

"Sure. Fine," she said, casually gathering up her purse and books. She seemed relieved to have something to do. "Oh, I nearly forgot. I've got something for Colin if you're going to see him." She held out a paper bag. "It's an album I put together for him. We had all those pictures in a box. " She was all business now, her manner distracted, her attention disengaged. She gave me a brief smile. "I'm sorry I don't have any more time. How much is my part of the lunch?”

"I'll take care of it," I said. "Can I drop you someplace?”

"I've got a car," she said. All the animation had left her face.

"Diane, what's going on?" I said.

She sat down again abruptly, staring straight ahead. Her voice had dropped about six notes. "I let the dog out myself," she said, "the day they left. Nikki said to let him have a run before Mom picked me up so I did but I just felt like shit. I lay down on the couch in the living room to wait for Mom and when she honked, I just grabbed my stuff and went out the front. I never even thought about the dog. He must have been running around for two days before I remembered. That's why Mom and I drove over there. To fed him and let him in.”

Her eyes finally met mine and she seemed close to tears. "That poor thing," she whispered. The guilt seemed to take possession of her totally. "It was my fault. That's why he got hit. Because I forgot." She put a trembling hand against her mouth, blinking. "I felt awful about it but I never told anyone except Mom and nobody ever asked. You won't tell, will you? They were so upset that he got killed that nobody ever even asked me how he got out and I never said a word. I couldn't. Nikki would have hated me.”

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