A is for Alibi Page 67

Nikki's expression underwent, a change. "I just remembered something," she said. She blinked rapidly, color mounting in her face. "Laurence did come out here. He told me he brought Colin out the weekend I was back east. Greg and Diane stayed at the house with Mrs. Voss. Both had social plans or something, but Laurence said the two of them, he and Colin, came out to the beach to get away for a bit.”

"Nice," I said with irony. "At three and a half, none of it would have made sense to him anyway. Let's just assume it's true. Let's assume she was out here—”

"I really don't care to go on with this.”

"Just one more," I said. "Just ask him why he called her 'Daddy's mother.' Ask him why the 'Daddy's mother' bit.”

She relayed the question to Colin reluctantly but his face brightened with relief. He signed back at once, grabbing his head.

"She had gray hair," she reported to me. "She looked like a grandmother to him when she was here.”

I caught a glint of temper in her voice but she recovered herself, apparently for his sake. She tousled his hair affectionately.

"I love you," she said. "It's fine. It's okay.”

Colin seemed to relax but the tension had darkened Nikki's eyes to a charcoal gray.

"Laurence hated her," she said. "He couldn't have—”

"I'm just making an educated guess," I said. "It might have been completely innocent. Maybe they met for drinks and talked about the kids' schoolwork. We really don't know anything for sure.”

"My ass," she murmured. Her mood was sour.

"Don't get mad at me," I said. "I'm just trying to put this thing together so it makes some sense.”

"Well I don't believe a word of it," she said tersely.

"You want to tell me he was too nice a man to do such a thing?”

She put the paintbrush on the paper and wiped her hands on a rag.

"Maybe I'd like to have a few illusions left.”

"I don't blame you a bit," I said. "But I don't understand why it bothers you. Charlotte Mercer was the one who put it into my head. She said he was like a tomcat, always sniffing around the same back porch.”

"All right, Kinsey. You've made your point.”

"No, I don't think I have. You paid me five grand to find out what happened. You don't like the answers, I can give you your money back.”

"No, never mind. Just skip it. You're right," she said.

"You want me to pursue it or not?”

"Yes, " she said flatly, but she didn't really look at me again. I made my excuses and left soon after that, feeling almost depressed. She still cared about the man and I didn't a know what to make of that. Except that nothing's ever cut-and-dried-especially where men and women are concerned. So why did I feel guilty of doing my job?

I went into Charlie's office building. He was waiting at the top of the stairs, coat over one shoulder, tie loose.

"What happened to you," he said when he saw my face.

"Don't ask," I said. "I'm going to try to get a scholarship to secretarial school. Something simple and nice. Something nine-to-five.”

I came up level with him, tilting my face slightly to look at him. It was as though I had suddenly entered a magnetic field like those two little dog-magnets when I was a kid—one black, one white. At the positive poles, if you held them half an inch apart, they would suck together with a little click. His face was solemn, so close, eyes resting on my mouth as though he might will me forward. For a full ten seconds we seemed caught and then I pulled back slightly, unprepared for the intensity.

"Jesus," he said, almost with surprise, and then he chuckled, a sound I knew well.

"I need a drink," I said.

"That's not all you need," he said mildly.

I smiled, ignoring him. "I hope you know how to cook because I don't.”

"Hey listen, there is one slight kink," he said. "I'm house-sitting for my partner. He's out of town and I've got his dogs to feed. We can grab a bite to eat out there.

"Fine with me," I said.

He locked the office then and we went down the back stairs to the small parking lot adjacent to his office building. He opened his car door but I was already moving toward mine, which was parked out on the street.

"Don't you trust me to drive?”

"I'm courting a ticket if I stay parked out here. I'll follow you. I don't like to be stuck without my own wheels.”

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