A is for Alibi Page 68

"'Wheels'? Like in the sixties, you refer to your car as 'wheels'?”

"Yeah, I read that in a book," I said dryly.

He rolled his eyes and smiled indulgently, apparently resigned. He got in his car and waited pointedly until I had reached mine. Then he pulled out, driving slowly so that I could follow him without getting lost. Once in a while, I could see him watching me in his rearview mirror.

"You sexy bastard," I said to him under my breath and then I shivered involuntarily. He had that effect.

We proceeded to John Powers's house at the beach, Charlie driving at a leisurely pace. As usual, he was operating at half speed. The road began to wind and finally his car slowed and he turned left down a steep drive, a place not far from Nikki's beach house, if my calculations were correct. I pulled my car in beside his, nose down, hoping my handbrake would hold. Powers's house was tucked up against the hill to the right, with a carport dead ahead and parking space for two cars. The carport itself had a white picket fence across it, the two halves forming a gate, locked shut, with what I guessed to be his car parked inside.

Charlie got out, waiting as I came around the front of my car. As with Nikki's property, this was up on the bluff, probably sixty or seventy feet above the beach. Through the carport, I could see a patchy apron of grass, a crescent of yard. We went along a narrow walkway behind the house and Charlie let us into the kitchen. John Powers's two dogs were of the kind I hate: the jumping, barking, slavering sort with toenails like sharks' teeth. They reeked of bad breath. One was black and the other was the color of moldering whale washed up on the beach for a month. Both were large and insisted on standing up on their hind legs to stare into my face. I kept my head back, lips shut lest wet, sloppy kisses be forthcoming.

"Charlie, could you help me with this?" I ventured through clenched teeth. One licked me right in the mouth as I spoke.

"Tootsie! Moe! Knock it off!" he snapped.

I wiped my lips. "Tootsie and Moe?”

Charlie laughed and dragged them both by neck chains to the utility room, where he shut them in. One began to howl while the other barked.

"Oh Jesus. Let 'em out," I said. He opened the door and both bounded out, tongues flapping like slivers of corned beef. One of the dogs galummoxed into the other room and came trotting back with a leash in its mouth. This was supposed to be cute. Charlie put leashes on both and they pranced, wetting the floor in spots.

"If I walk them, they calm down," Charlie remarked. "Sort of like you.”

I made a face at him but there seemed to be no alternative but to follow him out the front. There were various dog lumps in the grass. A narrow wooden stairway angled down toward the beach, giving way in places to bare ground and rock. It was a hazardous descent, especially with two ninety-five-pound lunkheads doing leaps and pirouettes at every turn.

"John comes home at lunch to give 'em a run," Charlie said back over his shoulder.

"Good for him," I said, picking my way down the cliffside, concentrating on my feet. Fortunately, I was wearing tennis shoes, which provided no traction but at least didn't have heels that would catch in the rotting steps and pitch me headfirst into the Pacific.

The beach below was long and narrow, bounded by precipitous rocks. The dogs loped from one end to the other, the black one pausing to take a big steaming dump, backside hunched, eyes downcast modestly. Jesus, I thought, is that all dogs know how to do? I averted my gaze. Really, it was all so rude. I found a seat on a rock and tried to turn my brain off. I needed a break, a long stretch of time in which I didn't have to worry about anybody but myself. Charlie threw sticks, which the dogs invariably missed.

Finally, the dog romp at an end, we staggered back up the steps together. As soon as we were inside, the dogs flopped happily on a big oval rug in the living room and began to chew it to shreds. Charlie went into the kitchen and I could hear ice trays cracking.

"What do you want to drink?" he called.

I moved over to the kitchen doorway. "Wine if you have it.”

"Great. There's some in the fridge.”

"You do this often?" I asked, indicating the pups.

He shrugged, filling ice trays again. "Every three or four weeks. It depends," he said and then smiled over at me. "See? I'm a nicer guy than you thought.”

I twirled an index finger in the air just to show how impressed I was, but I did, actually, think it was nice of him to sit the dogs. I couldn't imagine Powers finding a kennel to keep them. He'd have to take them to the zoo. Charlie handed me a glass of wine, pouring a bourbon on the rocks for himself. I leaned against the doorframe.

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