A is for Alibi Page 57

"What about Charlotte Mercer?”

"She's a bitch. She's an alcoholic. She called me once. I hated her. And she hated him. You should have heard what she said.”

I folded the letter carefully. "I didn't get it. From Charlotte Mercer to Libby Glass. That's quite a leap. I assumed he was a man of taste.”

Nikki shrugged. "He was easily seduced. It was his own vanity. Charlotte is beautiful ... in her own way.”

"Was she in the process of divorcing? Is that how they met?”

Nikki shook her head. "We socialized with them. Judge Mercer was a sort of mentor of Laurence's at one point. I don't imagine he ever found out about the affair, it would have killed him, I think. He's the only decent judge we've got anyway. You know what the rest are like.”

"I only talked to her a short time," I said, "but I can't see how she could be involved. It had to be somebody who knew where I was and how could she have come by that kind of information? Somebody had to have followed me up to Las Vegas. Sharon's murder was too closely timed to have been coincidence.”

Colin appeared at Nikki's side, placing the open photograph album up on the railing. He pointed to one of the snapshots, saying something I couldn't understand at all, an indistinct blur of vowels. It was the first time I'd heard him speak. His voice was deeper than I would have imagined for a twelve-year-old.

"That's Diane's junior-high-school graduation," Nikki said to him. Colin looked at her for a moment and then pointed again more emphatically. He put his index finger in front of his mouth and moved it up and down rapidly. Nikki frowned.

"'Who's what, honey?”

Colin placed his finger on the picture of a group of people.

"That's Diane and Greg and Diane's friend, Terri, and Diane's mother," she said to him enunciating carefully and signing at the same time.

A puzzled smile formed on Colin's face. Colin spread his hands out, putting his thumb against his forehead and then his chin.

Nikki laughed this time, her expression as puzzled as his.

"No, that's Nana," she said, pointing to a snapshot one page back. "This is Diane's mother, not Daddy's. The mother of Greg and Diane. Don't you remember Nana? Oh God, how could he," she flashed at me. "She died when he was a year old." She looked back at him.

Colin made some guttural sounds, something negative and frustrated. I wondered what would happen to his temper when puberty really caught up with him. Again the thumb against the forehead, then the chin. Nikki shot me another look. "He keeps saying 'Daddy's mother' for Gwen. How do you explain 'ex-wife'?" She signed again patiently.

Colin shook his head slightly, suddenly unsure of himself. He watched her for a moment more as though some other explanation might be forthcoming. He took the album and backed away, eyes still fixed on Nikki's face. He signed once more, flushing uncomfortably. Apparently, he didn't want to look foolish in front of me.

"We'll go through those together in a minute," she signed to him, translating for me.

Colin moved slowly back through the sliding glass doors, pushing the screen door shut.

"Sorry for the interruption," she said briefly.

"That's all right, I've got to go anyway," I said.

"You can stay for supper if you like. I've made a big pot of beef bourguignon. It's great with Colin's bread.”

"Thanks but I've got all kinds of things to do," I said.

Nikki walked me to the door, signing our final chitchat without even being aware of it.

I got in my car and sat for a moment, puzzled by Colin's puzzlement over Gwen. That was odd. Very odd.


When I got back to my apartment, Charlie Scorsoni was sitting on my doorstep. I felt grubby and unprepared and I realized with embarrassment that I'd been entertaining a fantasy of how we'd meet again and it wasn't like this.

"God, don't get all excited, Millhone," he said when he saw the expression on my face.

I got out my key. "I'm sorry," I said, "but you catch me at the worst possible times.”

"You have a date," he said.

"No, I don't have a date. I look like shit." I unlocked the door and flipped on the desk lamp, letting him follow me in.

"At least I caught you in a good mood," he said, making himself at home. He sauntered out to the kitchen and got out the last beer. The familiarity in his manner made me cross.

"Look, I've got laundry to do. I haven't been to the grocery store for a week. My mail is piled up, the whole place is covered with dust. I haven't even shaved my legs since I saw you last.”

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