A is for Alibi Page 66

"Can you remember offhand if you were out of town for any length of time in the four to six months before Laurence died?”

Nikki looked at me with surprise and blinked, apparently not expecting that. "I was gone once for a week. My father had a heart attack that June and I flew back to Connecticut," she said. She paused then and shook her head. "That was the only time, I think. What are you getting at?”

"I'm not sure. I mean, this is going to seem farfetched, but I've been bothered by Colin's calling Gwen 'Daddy's mother.' Has he mentioned that since?”

"Nope. Not a word.”

"Well, I'm wondering if he didn't have occasion to see Gwen at some point while you were gone. He's too smart to get her mixed up with his own grandmother unless somebody identified her to him that way.”

Nikki gave me a skeptical look. "Boy, that is a stretch. He couldn't have been more than three and a half years old.”

"Yeah, I know, but a little while ago I asked Gwen when she saw him last and she claims it was at Diane's junior-high school graduation.”

"That's probably true," Nikki said.

"Nikki, Colin must have been fourteen months old at the time. I saw those snapshots myself. He was still a babe in arms.”


"So why did he remember her at all?”

Nikki applied a band of stain, giving that some thought. "Maybe she saw him in a supermarket or ran into him with Diane. She could have seen him or he could easily have seem her without any particular significance attached to it.”

"Maybe. But I think Gwen lied to me about it when I asked. If it was no big deal, why not just say so. Why cover up?”

Nikki gave me a long look. "Maybe she just forgot.”

"Mind if I ask him?”

"No, go ahead.”

"Where's the album?”

She gestured over her shoulder and I went back into the living room. The photograph album was sitting on the coffee table and I flipped through until I found the snapshot of Gwen. I slipped it out of the four little comers holding it down and went back out to the deck. I held it out to him.

"Ask him if he can remember what was happening when he saw her last," I said.

Nikki reached over and gave him a tap. He looked at her and then at the snapshot, eyes meeting mine inquisitively Nikki signed the question to him. His face closed up like a day lily when the sun goes down.


He started to paint again, his face averted.

"The little shit," she said good-naturedly. She gave him a nudge and asked him again.

Colin shrugged her off. I studied his reaction with care.

"Ask him if she was here.”

"Who, Gwen? Why would she be here?”

"I don't know. That's why we're asking him.”

The look she gave me was half doubt, half disbelief. Reluctantly, she looked back at him. She signed to him, translating for my benefit. She didn't seem to like it much.

"Was Gwen ever here or at the other house?”

Colin watched her face, his own face a remarkable mirror of uncertainty and something else—uneasiness, secrecy, dismay. "I don't know," he said aloud. The consonants bluffed together, like ink on a wet page, his tone conveying a sort of stubborn distrust.

His eyes slid over to me. I thought suddenly of the time in the sixth grade when I first heard the word fuck. One of my classmates told me I should go ask my aunt what it meant. I could sense the trap though I had no idea what it consisted of.

"Tell him it's okay," I said to her. "Tell him it doesn't matter to you.”

"Well it certainly does," she snapped.

"Oh come on, Nikki. It's important and what difference does it make after all this time.”

She got into a short discussion with him then, just the two of them, signing away like mad—a digital argument. "He doesn't want to talk about it," she said guardedly. "He made a mistake.”

I didn't think so and I could feel excitement stir. He was watching us now, trying to get an emotional reading from our interchange.

"I know this sounds weird," I said to her tentatively, "but I wonder if Laurence told him that … that she was his mother.”

"Why would he do that?”

I looked at her. "Maybe Colin caught them embracing or something like that.”

Nikki's expression was blank for a moment and then she frowned. Colin waited uncertainly, looking from her to me. Nikki signed to him again. He seemed embarrassed now, head bent. She signed again more earnestly. Colin shook his head but the gesture seemed to come out of caution, not ignorance.

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