A is for Alibi Page 54


I didn't know what to make of it. I realized, in a flash, that it wasn't just that I hadn't believed in an affair between Laurence and Elizabeth. I hadn't wanted to believe. I wasn't sure I believed it yet but why the resistance? It was so neat. So convenient. It fit in so nicely with what I knew of the facts and still I stared at the letter, holding it gingerly by one comer as I read it again. I leaned back against the bed. What was the matter with me? I was exhausted and I knew I'd been through too much in the last few days but something nagged at me and I wasn't sure it had so much to do with the letter as it did with myself, with something in my nature, some little niggling piece of self-illumination that I was fighting hard not to recognize. Either the letter was real or it was not, and there were ways to verify that. I pulled myself together wearily. I found a large envelope and slipped the letter inside, being careful not to smudge fingerprints, already thinking ahead to Con Dolan, who would love it since it confirmed all his nastiest suspicions about what had been going on back then. Was this what Sharon Napier had figured out? Was this what she could have corroborated if she'd lived long enough?

I lay on the bed fully dressed, body tense, brain wired. Who could she have hoped to blackmail with this information if she'd known? It had to be what she was up to. It had to be why she'd been killed. Someone had followed me to Las Vegas, knowing that I would see her, knowing that she might confirm what I hadn't wanted to believe. I couldn't prove it, of course, but I wondered if I was getting close enough to the truth to be in danger myself. I wanted to go home. I wanted to retreat to the safety of my small room. I wasn't thinking clearly yet, but I was getting close. For eight years, nothing happened and now it was all beginning again. If Nikki was innocent, then someone had been sitting pretty all this time, someone in danger of exposure now.

I saw, for an instant, the look that had flashed in Nikki's eyes, unreasoning malevolence, a harsh irrational rage. She had set this all in motion. I had to consider the possibility that Sharon Napier was blackmailing her, that Sharon knew something that could link Nikki to Libby's death. If Sharon had dropped out of sight, it was possible that Nikki had hired me to flush her out and that Nikki had then eliminated any threat with one quick shot. She might also have followed me back to Sherman Oaks for a frantic search through Libby's belongings for anything that might have linked Libby to Laurence Fife. There were pieces missing yet but they would fall into place and then maybe the whole of it would make sense. Assuming I lived long enough myself to figure it out ...


I dragged myself out of bed at 6:00 A.M. I hadn't slept at all. My mouth felt stale and I brushed my teeth. I showered and dressed. I longed to run but I felt too vulnerable to jog down the middle of San Vicente at that hour. I packed, closing up my typewriter, shoving the pages of my report into my briefcase. I loaded the boxes into my car again, along with my suitcase. The lights in the office were on and I could see Arlette taking jelly doughnuts out of a bakery box, putting them on a plastic plate with a clear dome lid. Water was already heating for that awful, flat instant coffee. She was licking powdered sugar from her fingers when I went in.

"God, you're up awful early," she said. "You want breakfast?”

I shook my head. Even with my penchant for junk food, I wouldn't eat a jelly doughnut. "No, but thanks, " I said. "I'm checking out.”

"Right now?”

I nodded, almost too tired to talk. She finally seemed to sense that this was the wrong time to chat. She got my bill ready and I signed it, not even bothering to add up the charges. She usually made a mistake but I didn't care.

I got in my car and headed for Sherman Oaks. There was a light on in Grace's kitchen, which I approached from around the side of the building. I tapped on the window and after a moment, she came into the service porch and opened the side door. She looked small and precise this morning in an A-line corduroy skirt and a coffee-colored cotton turtleneck. She kept her voice low.

"Raymond's not awake yet but there's coffee if you like," she said.

"Thanks, but I've got a breakfast meeting at eight," I said, lying without much thought. Whatever I said would be passed on to Lyle and my whereabouts were none of his business—or hers. "I just wanted to drop the boxes off.”

"Did you find anything?" she asked. Her gaze met mine briefly and then she blinked, glancing first at the floor and then off to my left.

"Too late," I said, trying to ignore the flush of relief that tinted her cheeks.

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