A is for Alibi Page 73

"Hi, it's Kinsey," I said.

"Well hello," he said softly. The pleasure in his voice was audible and I could picture his face. "God, I was hoping I'd hear from you. Are you free?”

"No, actually I'm not. Uh, listen, Charlie. I'm thinking I shouldn't see you for a while. Until I get this wrapped up.”

The silence was profound.

"All right," he said finally.

"Look, it's nothing personal," I said. "It's just a matter of policy.”

"I'm not arguing," he said. "Do what you want. It's too bad you didn't think about 'policy' before.”

"Charlie, it's not like that," I said desperately. "It may work out fine and it's no big deal, but it's been bothering me. A lot. I don't do this. It's been one of my cardinal rules. I can't keep on seeing you until I understand how this thing ties up.”

"Babe, I understand," he said. "If it doesn't feel right to you, then it's no good anyway. Call me if you ever change your mind.”

"Wait," I said. "God damn it, don't do that to me. I'm not rejecting you.”

"Oh really," he said, his tone flat with disbelief.

"I just wanted you to know.”

"Well. Now I know. I appreciate your honesty," he said.

"I'll be in touch when I can.”

"Have a good life," he said and the phone clicked quietly in my ear.

I sat with a hand on the phone, doubts crowding in, wanting to call him back, wanting to erase everything I'd just said. I'd been looking for relief, looking for a way to escape the discomfort I felt. I think I'd even wanted him to give me a hard time so that I could resist and feel righteous. It was a question of my own integrity. Wasn't it? The injury in his voice had been awful after what we'd been through. And maybe he was right in his assumption that I was rejecting him. Maybe I was just being perverse, pushing him away because I needed space between me and the world. The job does provide such a perfect excuse. I meet most people in the course of my work and if I can't get emotionally involved there, then where else can I go? Private investigation is my whole life. It is why I get up in the morning and what puts me to bed at night. Most of the time I'm alone, but why not? I'm not unhappy and I'm not discontent. I had to free up until I knew what was going on. He would just have to misunderstand and to hell with him until I got this goddamn case nailed down and then maybe we could see where we stood—if it wasn't too late. Even if he was right, even if my breaking with him was an excess of conscience, a cover for something else—so what? There were no declarations between us, no commitments. I'd been to bed with him twice. What did I owe him? I don't know what love is about and I'm not sure I believe in it anyway. "Then why so defensive?" came a little voice in reply, but I ignored it.

I had to push on. There was no other way to get out of this now. I picked up the phone and called Gwen.


"Gwen. This is Kinsey," I said, keeping my voice neutral. "Something's come up and I think we should talk.”

"What is it?”

"I'd rather talk to you in person. Do you know where Rosie's is, down here at the beach?”

"Yes. I think I know the place," she said with uncertainty.

"Can you meet me there in half an hour? It's important.”

"Well sure. Just let me get my shoes on. I'll be there as soon as I can.”

"Thanks," I said.

I checked my watch. It was 7:45. I wanted her on my turf this time.

Rosie's was deserted, the lights dim, the whole place smelling of yesterday's cigarette smoke. I used to go to a movie theater when I was a kid and the ladies' rest room always smelled like that. Rosie was wearing a muumuu in a print fabric that depicted many flamingos standing on one leg. She was seated at the end of the bar, reading a newspaper by the light of a small television set, which she'd placed on the bar, sound off. She looked up as I came in and she set the paper aside.

"It's too late for dinner. The kitchen is closed. I gave myself the night off," she announced from across the room. "You want something to eat, you gotta fix it yourself at home. Ask Henry Pitts. He'll do you something good.”

"I'm meeting someone for a drink," I said. "Big crowd you got.”

She looked around as though maybe she'd missed someone. I went over to the bar. She looked as though she'd just redyed her hair because her scalp was faintly pink. She was using a Maybelline dark brown eyeliner pencil on her brows, which she seemed to draw closer together every time, coquettishly arched. Pretty soon, she could take care of the whole thing with one wavy line.

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