A is for Alibi Page 48

"Nikki's not going to hate you because the dog got killed, Diane," I said. "That was years ago. What difference does it make now?”

Her eyes took on a haunted look and I had to lean forward to hear what she was saying. "Because someone got in. While the dog was out. Someone got into the house and switched the medication. And that's why Daddy died, " she said. She fumbled in her purse for a Kleenex, her sobs sounding like a series of gasps, involuntary, quick, her shoulders hunching helplessly.

Two guys from the next table looked over at her with curiosity.

"Oh God, oh God," she whispered, her voice hoarse with grief.

"Let's get out of here," I said, grabbing up her belongings. I left too much money on the table for the check. I took her by the arm, propelling her toward the door.

By the time we got out to the parking lot, she was almost in control of herself. "God, I'm sorry. I can't believe I did that," she said. "I never fall apart that way.”

"That's okay," I said. "I had no idea I'd set you off like that. It was just something that stuck in my mind after Greg mentioned it. I didn't mean to accuse you of anything.”

"I couldn't believe you said it," she said, tears rising again. She looked at me earnestly. "I thought you knew. I thought you must have found out. I never would have admitted it otherwise. I've felt so awful about that for so long.”

"How can you blame yourself? If someone wanted to get into the house, he would have let the dog loose anyway. Or killed it and made it look like an accident. I mean, who's going to get upstairs with a goddamn German shepherd barking and snarling?" I said.

"I don't know. Maybe so. It could be, I guess. I mean, he was a good watchdog. If he'd been in, nobody could have done anything.”

She let out a deep breath, blowing her nose again on the damp twisted Kleenex. "I was so irresponsible in those days. They were always on my case, which just made things worse. I couldn't tell 'em. And nobody seemed to make the connection when Daddy died except me and I couldn't admit it then.”

"Hey it's over," I said, "it's done. You can't beat yourself to death with it. It's not as if you did it deliberately.”

"I know, I know. But the result was the same, you know?" Her voice lifted up and her eyes squeezed shut again, tears running down her cheeks. "He was such a shit and I loved him so much. I know Greg hated his guts, but I just thought he was great. I didn't care if he screwed around. That wasn't his fault. He was just so messed up all his life. He really was.”

She wiped her eyes with the wad of Kleenex and then took another deep breath. She reached in her purse for a compact.

"Why don't you skip your class and go home?" I said.

"Maybe I will," she said. She looked at herself in the mirror. "God, I'm a wreck. I can't go anywhere looking like this.”

"I'm sorry I triggered this. I think I feel worse than you," I said sheepishly.

"No, that's all fight. It's not your fault. It's mine. I guess I'll even have to tell my shrink now. He'll think it's cathartic. He loves that shit. I guess everyone will know now. God, that's all I need.”

"Hey, I may or may not have to mention it. I really don't know yet, but I don't think it matters now. If someone was determined to kill your father, it would have been done one way or the other. That's just a fact.”

"I guess so. Anyway, it's nice of you to say that. I feel better. Really. I didn't even know it was still weighing on me" but it must have been.”

"You're sure you're okay now?”

She nodded, giving me a little smile.

We said our good-byes, which took a few minutes more, and then she walked to her car. I watched while she drove off and then I tossed the album for Colin in the backseat of my car and pulled out. Actually, though I hated to admit it, she was probably right. If the dog had been in the house, no one could have messed with anything. With the dog in or out, dead or alive, it certainly wouldn't have protected Libby Glass. And at least one piece of the puzzle now fit. It didn't seem to mean much, but it did seem to establish the approximate date of entry to the house, if that's how the killer had effected the switch. It felt like the first blank I'd really filled in. Small progress but it made me feel good. I drove back to the San Bernardino Freeway and headed for L.A.


When I got back to the Hacienda, I went into the office to check for telephone messages. Arlette had four, but three of them turned out to be from Charlie Scorsoni. She leaned an elbow on the counter, munching on something sticky and dark brown enclosed in cookie dough.

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