A is for Alibi Page 50

"My God," I said and looked at the picture again. Actually I could see now that in the old days he had looked a bit like Arlette might if she decided to cross-dress. I'm crazy about "before-and-after" shots, an avid fan of all those magazine ads showing women pumped up like tires and then magically thin, one foot arranged in front of the other, as though weight loss also involved the upsurge of charm and modeling skills. I wondered if there was anyone left in California not obsessed with self-image.

"How'd you do it?" I asked, handing the snapshot back.

"Scarsdale," he said. "It was a real honest-to-God bitch but I did it. I only cheated once—well, twice. Once was when I turned thirty-five. I figured I was entitled to a bagel and cream cheese with a birthday candle. And one night I binged because my girl friend got mad at me and kicked me out. I mean, look it, when I was three-ten I never even had a girl. Now I'm having fits when she throws me out. We made up again though, so that turned out all right. I've got twenty-five pounds to lose yet but I'm giving myself a break. Strictly maintenance. Have you ever done Scarsdale?”

I shook my head apologetically. I was beginning to feel I'd never done anything. No Scarsdale, no therapy.

"No alcohol," he said. "That's the hard part. On the maintenance diet, you can have like a small glass of white wine now and then, but that's it. I figure the first fifty pounds I lost was from that. Giving up booze. You'd be surprised how much weight that adds.”

"Sounds a lot better for you," I said.

"I feel good about myself," he said. "That's the important thing. So. Enough of that. What do you want to know about Libby Glass? The receptionist says you came about her.”

I explained what I was up to and how I came to be involved in the matter of her death. He took it all in, asking occasional questions. "What can I tell you?" he said, finally.

"How long had she handled Laurence Fife's account?”

"I'm glad you asked me that because that's one thing I looked up when I knew you were coming over. We handled his personal finances first for about a year. The law firm of Fife and Scorsoni had only been with us six months. Actually a little less. We were just putting in our own computer system and Libby was trying to get all the records straightened out for the changeover. She was a very good accountant by the way. Real conscientious and real smart.”

"Were you a good friend of hers?”

"Pretty good. I was El Blimpo back then but I had a crush on her and we kind of had this brother-sister relationship, platonic. We didn't date. Just had lunch together once a week, something like that. Sometimes a drink after work.”

"How many accounts did she handle?”

"All together? I'd say twenty-five, maybe thirty. She was a very ambitious girl and she really knocked herself out ... for all the good it did.”

"Meaning what?”

He got up and closed the door to his office, pointing significantly to the wall of the office next door.

"Listen, old man Haycraft was a petty tyrant, the original male chauvinist pig. Libby thought if she worked hard, she'd get a promotion and a raise, but no such thing. And these guys aren't much better. You want to know how I get a raise? I threaten to quit. Libby didn't even do that.”

"How much was she paid?”

"I don't know. I could maybe look that up. Not enough to suit her, I can tell you that. Fife and Scorsoni was a big account not the biggest, but big. She didn't feel it was fair.”

"She did more work for Fife than Scorsoni, I assume.”

"At first. After that, it was half and half. A lot of the purpose of our taking over their business management was to keep track of all the estate work. That was a big part of their ongoing business from what she said. The dead guy, Fife, did a lot of messy divorce work, which paid big fees but didn't require that much in the way of bookkeeping. Also, we did accounts receivable for them, paid their office bills, kept track of profits from the firm, and made suggestions about investments. Well, at that point, we weren't doing much in the way of investment counseling because they hadn't been with us that long but that was the object of the exercise eventually. We like to hold off some until we see where our clients stand. Anyway, I can't go into details on that but I can probably answer any other general questions you might have.”

"Do you know anything about where the money from the Fife's estate went?”

"The kids. It was divided equally among them. I never saw the will but I helped settle the estate in terms of disbursements after probate.”

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