A is for Alibi Page 72


I pinned the photograph of Marcia Threadgill up on my bulletin board and stared at it. I kicked my shoes off and walked around. I'd been thinking all day and it was getting me nowhere, so I took out the crossword puzzle Henry had left on my doorstep. I stretched out on the couch, pencil in hand. I did manage to guess 6 Down—"disloyal," eight letters, which was "twofaced," and I got 14 Across, which was "double-reed instrument," four letters—" oboe." What a whiz. I got stuck on "double helix," three letters, which turned out later to be "DNA " a cheat if you ask me. At 7:05, I had an idea that jumped out of the dim recesses of my brain with a little jolt of electricity.

I looked up Charlotte Mercer's telephone number and dialed the house. The housekeeper answered and I asked for Charlotte.

"The judge and Mrs. Mercer are having dinner," she said disapprovingly.

"Well, would you mind interrupting please? I just have a quick question. I'm sure she won't mind.”

"Who shall I say is calling?" she asked. I gave her my name.

"Just one moment." She put the receiver down.

I corrected her mentally. Whom, sweetheart. Whom shall I say is calling ...

Charlotte answered, sounding drunk. "I don't appreciate this," she hissed.

"I'm sorry," I said. "But I need a piece of information.”

"I told you what I know and I don't want you calling when the judge is here.”

"All right. All right. Just one thing," I said hurriedly before she could hang up. "Do you happen to remember Mrs. Napier's first name.”

Silence. I could practically see her hold the receiver out to look at it.

"Elizabeth," she said and slammed down the phone.

I hung up. The piece I was looking for had just clicked into place. The letter wasn't written to Libby Glass at all. Laurence Fife had written it to Elizabeth Napier years ago. I was willing to bet on that. The real question now was how Libby Glass had gotten hold of it and who had wanted it back.

I took out my note cards and went back to work on my list. I had deliberately deleted Raymond and Grace Glass. I didn't believe either of them would have killed their own child, and if my guess about that letter could be verified, then it was possible that Libby and Laurence had never been romantically involved. Which meant that the reasons for their dying had to be something else. But what? Suppose, I said to myself, just suppose Laurence Fife and Lyle were involved in something. Maybe Libby stumbled on to it and Lyle killed them both to protect himself. Maybe Sharon got wind of it and he'd killed her too. It didn't quite make sense to me from that angle, but after eight years much of the real proof must have been lost or destroyed. Some of the obvious connections must have faded by now. I jotted down a couple of notes and checked the list.

When I came to Charlie Scorsoni's name, I felt the same uneasiness I'd felt before. I'd checked him out two weeks ago, before I'd even met with him and he was clean, but appearances are deceptive. As squeamish as it made me feel, I thought I'd better verify his whereabouts the night Sharon died. I knew he'd been in Denver because I'd called him there myself but I wasn't really sure where he'd gone after that. Arlette said he'd left messages from Tucson and again from Santa Teresa but she only had his word for that. When it came to Laurence Fife he did have opportunity. From the first, this had been a case where motive and alibi were oddly overlapped. Ordinarily, an alibi is an account of a suspect's whereabouts at the time a crime was committed and it's offered up as proof of innocence, but here it didn't matter where anyone was. With a poisoning, it only mattered if someone had reason to want someone else dead—access to the poison, access to the victim, and the intent to kill. That's what I was still sorting through. My impulse was simply to take Charlie off my list but I had to question myself on that. Did I really believe he was innocent or did I simply want to relieve myself of my own uneasiness? I tried to think about something else. I tried to move on, but my mind I kept drifting back to the same point. I didn't think I was being smart. I wasn't sure I was being honest with myself. And suddenly, I didn't like the idea that my thinking might not be clear. The whole setup gave me a sick feeling down in my bones. I looked up his home phone number in the telephone book I hesitated and then I shook myself free and dialed. I had to do it.

The phone rang four times. I thought he might be out at Powers's house at the beach but I didn't have that number. I was rooting for him to be out, gone. He picked up on the fifth ring and I felt my stomach chum. There was no point in putting it off.

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