A is for Alibi Page 77

I went over the big hill into Thousand Oaks, with traffic picking up; tract housing stretched out on either side of the road, then shopping malls packed end to end. The night air was damp and I kept the windows rolled down. I felt over into the backseat for my briefcase and fumbled with the catch. I tucked my little automatic into my jacket pocket, encountering a wad of papers. I pulled them out and glanced down. Sharon Napier's bills. I'd stuck them in my windbreaker on the way out of her place and I hadn't thought about them since. I'd have to go through them. I tossed them on the passenger seat and looked at my watch by the icy wash of highway light. It was 10:10, forty-five minutes of driving left, maybe more given traffic on the surface roads once I got off the freeway. I thought about Charlie, wondering if I'd blown a perfectly nice relationship. He didn't seem like the type to forgive and forget, but who knew. He was a lot more yielding than I was, that was for sure. My thoughts rambled on disjunctively. Lyle had known I was driving to Vegas. I wasn't sure how Sharon connected, but I'd figure that out. Blackmail still seemed like the best bet. The letter I couldn't figure at all. How had Libby come by that? Or had she? Maybe Lyle and Sharon were in cahoots. Maybe Lyle got the letter from her. Maybe he was planting the letter among Libby's effects, not trying to take it away. It was certainly to his advantage to reinforce the idea of Libby's romantic tie to Laurence Fife. He had known I was stopping back through to pick up her boxes. He could have made it back to Los Angeles well in advance of me since I'd stopped for the night to see Diane. Maybe he had deliberately timed it closely to incite my curiosity about what might have been tucked away there. My mind veered off that and I thought about Lieutenant Dolan with a faint smile. He was so sure Nikki had killed her husband, so satisfied with that. I'd have to put a call through to him when I got back. I thought about Lyle again. I didn't intend to see him that night. He wasn't as smart as Gwen, but he might be dangerous. If it was him. I didn't think I should jump to conclusions again.

I checked into the Hacienda at 11:05, went straight to room #2, and put myself to bed. Arlette's mother was on the desk. She is twice as fat.

In the morning, I showered and got back into the same clothes, staggering out to the car to retrieve the overnight case I kept in the crowded backseat. I went back to my room and brushed my teeth—oh blessed relief—and ran a comb through my hair. I went down to a delicatessen on the comer of Wilshire and Bundy, where I ordered scrambled eggs, sausage links, a toasted bagel with cream cheese, coffee, and fresh orange juice. Whoever invented breakfast really did it good.

I walked back up to the Hacienda to find Arlette waving a massive arm out the office door for me. Her round face was flushed, her little cap of blonde curls in a flyaway state, her eyes squeezed almost to invisibility by the heavy cheeks. I wondered when she'd last seen her own neck. Still, I liked her, irksome as she was at times.

"There's someone on the phone for you and she sounds real upset. I told her you were out but I said I'd flag you down. Thank goodness you're back," she said to me, out of breath and wheezing hard.

I hadn't seen Arlette so excited since she found out that panty hose came in queen-size. I went into the office with

Arlette hard on my heels, breathing heavily. The receiver was on the counter and I picked it up.


"Kinsey, this is Nikki.”

Why the dread in her voice, I thought automatically. "I tried calling you last night," I said. "What's the matter? Are you okay?”

"Gwen's dead.”

"I just talked to her last night," I said blankly. Killed herself. She'd killed herself. Oh shit, I thought.

"It happened this morning. Hit-and-run driver. I just heard it on the news. She was jogging along Cabana Boulevard and someone ran her down and then skipped.”

"I don't believe it. Are you sure?”

"Positive. I tried calling you and the service said you were out of town. What are you doing in L.A.?

"I've got to check out something down here but I should be back tonight," I said, thinking fast. "Look, would you see if you can find out the details?”

"I can try.”

"Call Lieutenant Dolan at Homicide. Tell him I told you to ask.”

"Homicide," she said, startled.

"Nikki, he's a cop. He'll know what's going on. And it may not be an accident anyway, so see what he has to say and I'll call you as soon as I get back.”

"Well, okay," she said dubiously, "I'll see what I can do.”

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