A is for Alibi Page 7

"But what would he say when you confronted him?”

"He'd admit it sometimes. Why not? I didn't have any proof and adultery isn't grounds for divorce in this state anyway.”

Rosie arrived with the wine and two paper napkins wrapped around some silverware. Nikki and I were both silent until she'd departed again.

"Why did you stay married to him if he was such a jerk?”

"Cowardice I guess," she said. "I would have divorced him eventually, but I had a lot at stake.”

"Your son?”

"Yes." Her chin came up slightly, whether from pride of defensiveness I wasn't sure. "His name is Colin," she said. "He's twelve. I have him in a boarding school up near Monterey.”

"You also had Laurence's kids living with you at the time, didn't you?”

"Yes, that's right. A boy and a girl, both in school.”

"Where are they now?”

"I have no idea. His ex-wife is here in town. You might check with her if you're curious. I don't hear from them.”

"Did they blame you for his death?”

She leaned forward, her manner intense. "Everyone blamed me. Everyone believed I was guilty. And now I take it Con Dolan thinks I killed Libby Glass too. Isn't that what you were getting at?”

"Who cares what Dolan thinks? I don't think you did it and I'm the one going to work on this thing. Which reminds me. We ought to get the financial end of it clarified. I charge thirty bucks an hour plus mileage. I'd like to have at least a grand up front. I'll send you an itemized accounting from week to week indicating what time I've put in doing what. Also, you have to understand that my services are not exclusive. I sometimes handle more than one case at a time.”

Nikki was already reaching into her purse. She took out a checkbook and a pen. Even looking at it upside down, I could see that the check was for five thousand dollars. I admired the carelessness with which she dashed it off. She didn't even have to check her bank balance first. She pushed it across the table to me and I tucked it into my purse as though I disposed of such matters as casually as she.

Rosie appeared again, this time with our dinner. She put a plate down in front of each of us and then stood there until we began to eat. "Mmm, Rosie, it's wonderful," I said.

She wiggled slightly in place, not yielding her ground.

"Maybe it don't suit your friend," she said, looking at me instead of Nikki.

"Marvelous," Nikki murmured. "Really it is.”

"She loves it," I said. Rosie's gaze slid across to Nikki's face and she finally seemed satisfied that Nikki's appreciation of the dish was equaled only by my own.

I let the conversation wander while we ate. Between the good food and the wine, Nikki seemed to be letting down her guard. Under that cool, unruffled surface, signs of life were beginning to show, as though she were just wakening from a curse that had rendered her immobile for years.

"Where do you think I should start?" I asked.

"Well I don't know. I've always been curious about his secretary back then. Her name was Sharon Napier. She was already working for him when he and I met, but there was something not right about her, something in her attitude.”

"Was she involved with him?”

"I don't think so. I really don't know what it was. I could just about guarantee they didn't have any sexual ties, but something had gone on. She was sometimes sarcastic with him, which Laurence never tolerated from anyone. The first time I heard her do it, I thought he'd cut her down, but he never batted an eye. She never took any guff from him at all, wouldn't stay late, wouldn't come in on weekends when he had a big case coming up. He never complained about her either, just went out and hired temporary help when he needed it. It wasn't like him, but when I asked him about it, he acted as if I were crazy, reading significance into the situation when there wasn't any. She was gorgeous, too, hardly the run-of-the-mill office type.”

"Do you have any idea where she is now?”

Nikki shook her head. "She used to live up on Rivera but she's not there now. At least, she's not listed in the telephone book.”

I made a note of her last-known address. "I take it you never knew her well.”

Nikki shrugged. "We had the customary exchanges when I called the office but it was just routine stuff.”

"What about friends of hers or places she might hang out?”

"I don't know. My guess is she lived way beyond her means. She traveled every chance she could and she dressed a lot better than I did back then.”

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