A is for Alibi Page 79

"And you took the tranquilizers with you when you left?”

He nodded, pressing his fingers into his eye sockets as though he could force the tears back. "I flushed 'em down the toilet when I got home. I smashed up the bottle and threw it away.”

"How'd you know that's what it was?”

"I don't know. I just knew. I remembered that guy, the one up north and I knew he'd died that way. She might not have taken the goddamn thing if it weren't for me, but we had that screaming fight and she was so mad, she shook. I didn't even know she had any tranqs till she asked for one and I didn't see anything wrong with that. I went back to apologize." The worst of it seemed to be over with and he sighed deeply, his voice almost normal again.

"What else?”

"I don't know. The phone was unplugged. I plugged it back in and wiped that down too." he said woodenly. "I didn't mean any harm. I just had to protect myself. I wouldn't poison her. I wouldn't have done that to her, I swear to God. I didn't have anything to do with that or anything else except I cleaned the place. In case there were fingerprints. I didn't want anything pointing to me. And I took the bottle the pills were in. I did that.”

"But you didn't break into the storage bin," I said.

He shook his head.

I lowered the gun. I'd half known but I had to be sure. "Are you going to turn me in?”

"No. Not you.”

I went back to the car and sat blankly, wondering in some vague irrational way if I really would have used the gun. I didn't think so. Tough. I'm tough, scaring the shit out of some dumb kid. I shook my head, feeling tears of my own. I started the car and put it into gear, heading back over the hill toward West L.A. I had one more stop and then I could drive back to Santa Teresa and clean it up. I thought I knew now who it was.


I caught sight of my reflection in one of the mirrored walls across from the entrance to Haycraft and McNiece. I looked like I was ready for the last round-up: seedy, disheveled, mouth grim. Even Allison, in her buckskin shirt with the fringes on the sleeves, seemed alarmed by the sight of me, and her pre-rehearsed receptionist's smile dropped from sixty watts to twenty-five.

"I have to talk to Garry Steinberg," I said, my tone apparently indicating that I wouldn't take much shit.

"He's back in his office," she said timidly. "Do you know which one it is?”

I nodded and pushed through the swinging doors. I caught sight of Garry walking down the narrow interior corridor toward his office, slapping a batch of unopened mail against his thigh.


He turned, his face lighting up at the sight of me and then turning hesitant. "Where'd you come from? You look exhausted.”

"I drove down last night. Can we talk?”

"Sure. Come on in.”

He turned left into his office, gathering up a stack of files on the chair in front of his desk. "You want some coffee? Can I get you anything?" He tossed the mail on the file cabinet.

"No I'm fine but I need to check out a hunch.”

"Fire away," he said, sitting down.

"Didn't you tell me once upon a time—”

"Last week," he inserted.

"Yeah, I guess it was. You mentioned that Fife's accounts were being put on computer.”

"Sure, we were converting everything. Makes it a hell of a lot easier on us and it's better for the client too. Especially at tax time.”

"Well what if the books had been fiddled with?”

"You mean embezzlement?”

"In a word," I said with irony. "Wouldn't that have shown up pretty quickly?”

"Absolutely. You think Fife was milking his own accounts?”

"No," I said slowly, "I think Charlie Scorsoni was. That's part of what I need to ask you about. Could he have skimmed money out of the estates he was representing back then?”

"Sure. It can be done and it's not that hard," Garry said appreciatively, "but it might be a bitch to track. It really depends on how he did it. " He thought for a moment, apparently warming to the idea. He shrugged. "For instance, he could have set up some kind of special account or an escrow account for all his estates—maybe two or three phony accounts within this overall account. A large dividend check comes in, he diverts a percentage of the check from the estate it's supposed to be credited to, and he credits it to a phony account instead.”

"Could Libby have realized something was wrong?”

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