A is for Alibi Page 65

"She didn't mention your relationship herself?”

"Oh no. She was much too cool for that, but she did know exactly who I was. Anyway, I'm sorry I didn't tell you to begin with.”

"No harm done," I said.

"How's it going otherwise?" she asked.

I felt myself hesitate. "Bits and pieces. Nothing concrete.”

"Do you really expect to turn up anything after all this time?”

I smiled. "You never know. People get careless when they're feeling safe.”

"I guess that's true.”

We talked briefly about Greg and Diane and my visits with them, which I edited heavily. At 2:50 Gwen glanced at her watch.

"I've got to get back," she said, fishing in her purse for her billfold. She took out a five-dollar bill. "Will you keep in touch?”

"Sure," I said. I took a sip of wine, watching her get up. "When did you last see Colin?”

She focused abruptly on my face. "Colin?”

"I just met him Saturday," I said as though that explained it. "I thought maybe Diane might like to know he's back. She's fond of him.”

"Yes, she is," Gwen said. "I don't know when I saw him last myself. Diane's graduation, I guess. Her junior-high-school graduation. What makes you ask?”

I shrugged. "Just curious," I said. I gave her what I hoped was my blandest look. A mild pink patch had appeared on her neck and I wondered if that could be introduced in court as a lie-detecting device. "I'll take care of the tip," I said.

"Let me know how it goes," she said, all casual again. She tucked the money under her plate and moved off at the same efficient pace that had brought her in. I watched her departure, thinking that something vital had gone unsaid. She could have told me about David Ray on the phone. And I wasn't entirely convinced she hadn't known about his death to begin with. Colin popped into my head.

I walked the two blocks to Charlie's office. Ruth was typing from a Dictaphone, fingers moving lightly across the keyboard. She was very fast.

"Is he in?”

She smiled and nodded me on back, not missing a word, gaze turned inward as she translated sound to paper with no lag time in between.

I stuck my head into his office. He was sitting at his desk, coat off, a law book open in front of him. Beige shirt, dark brown vest. When he saw me, a slow smile formed and he leaned back, tucking an arm up over the back of his swivel chair. He tossed the pencil on his desk.

"Are you free for dinner?" I said.

"What's up?”

"Nothing's up. It's a proposition," I said.


"I'll be back," I said and closed his office door again, still thinking about that pale shirt and the dark brown vest. Now that was sexy. A man in a nylon bikini, with that little knot sticking out in front, isn't half as interesting as a man in a good looking business suit. Charlie's outfit reminded me of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup with a bite taken out and I wanted the rest.

I drove out to Nikki's beach house.


Nikki answered the door in an old gray sweatshirt and a pair of faded jeans. She was barefoot, hair loose, a paintbrush in one hand, her fingers stained the color of pecan shells.

"Oh hi, Kinsey. Come on in," she said. She was already moving back toward the deck and I followed her through the house. On the other side of the sliding glass doors, I could see Colin, shirtless, in a pair of bib overalls sitting cross-legged in front of a chest of drawers, which the two were apparently refinishing. The drawers were out, leaning upright along the balcony, hardware removed. The air smelled of stripper and turpentine, which mingled not incompatibly with the smell of eucalyptus bark. Several sheets of fine sandpaper were folded and tossed aside, creases worn white with wood dust, looking soft from hard use. The sun was hot on the railings and newspapers were spread out under the chest to protect the deck.

Colin glanced up at me and smiled as I came out. His nose and cheeks were faintly pink with sunburn, his eyes green as sea water, bare arms rosy, there wasn't even a whisper of facial hair yet. He went back to his work.

"I want to ask Colin something but I thought I'd try it out on you first," I said to Nikki.

"Sure, fire away," she replied. I leaned against the railing while she dipped the tip of her brush back into a small can of stain, easing the excess off along the edge. Colin seemed more interested in the painting than he was in our exchange. I imagined that it was a bit of a strain to try to follow a conversation even if his lip-reading skills were good or maybe he thought adults were a bore.

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