A is for Alibi Page 81

I didn't even address myself to the matter of his relationship to me. He'd played me for a sucker, just as he'd done with Libby Glass, and she, in her innocence, at least had a better excuse for the tumble than I did. It had been too long since I'd cared about anyone, too long since I'd taken that risk and I'd already invested too much. I just had to slam the gate shut emotionally and move on, but it didn't sit well with me.

When I reached Santa Teresa, I went straight to the office, taking with me the sheaf of bills from Sharon Napier's apartment. For the first time, I was beginning to think those might be significant. I went through them with an abstract curiosity that felt ghoulish nevertheless. She was dead and it seemed obscene now to note that she'd bought lingerie that had gone unpaid for, cosmetics, shoes. Her utilities were a month behind, with dunning notices from several small businesses including her tax man, a chiropractor, and a health spa membership renewal. Visa and Mastercard had gotten churlish and American Express wanted its card back in no uncertain terms, but it was her telephone bill that interested me. In the area code that included Santa Teresa, there were three calls in the month of March, not an excessive number but telling. Two of the calls were to Charlie Scorsoni's office, both on the same day, ten minutes apart. The third number she'd called I didn't immediately recognize but the Santa Teresa exchange was the same. I picked up my Cross Reference Directory. The number was for John Powers's house at the beach.

I dialed Ruth, not allowing myself to hesitate. Surely Charlie hadn't told her I'd broken with him. I couldn't picture him confiding his personal affairs to anyone. If he was there, I'd have to think fast and I wasn't sure what I intended to say. The information I needed was from her.

"Scorsoni and Powers," she sang.

"Oh hi, Ruth. This is Kinsey Millhone," I said, heart in my throat. "Is Charlie there?”

"Oh hi, Kinsey. No he's not," she said with a hint of regret in my behalf. "He's in court up in Santa Maria for the next two days.”

Thank God for that, I thought, and took a deep breath. "Well maybe you can help me instead," I said. "I was just going over some bills for a client and it looks like she was in touch with him. Do you happen to remember someone calling him a couple of times maybe six, eight weeks ago? Her name was Sharon Napier. Long-distance.”

"Oh, the one who used to work for him. Yes, I remember that. What did you need to know?”

"Well I can't quite tell from this if she actually got through to him or not. It looks like she called on a Friday, the twenty-first of March. Does that ring a bell?”

"Oh yes. Absolutely," Ruth said efficiently. "She called asking for him and he was out at Mr. Powers's house. She was very insistent that I put her through but I didn't feel I should give out the number without checking with him, so I told her to call me back and then I checked with him out at the beach and he said it was fine. I hope that's all right. I hope she hasn't hired you to pester him or anything.”

I laughed. "Oh heavens, Ruth, would I do that to him? I did see the number for John Powers and I just thought maybe she talked to him instead.”

"Oh no. He was out of town that weekend. He's usually gone around the twenty-first for a couple of days. I have it right here on my calendar. Mr. Scorsoni was taking care of his dogs.”

"Oh well, that would explain it," I said casually. "God, that's been a great help. Now the only other thing I need to check is that trip to Tucson''

"Tucson?" she said. Doubt was beginning to creep into her voice, that protective tone secretaries sometimes take when it suddenly occurs to them that someone wants something they're not supposed to get. "What is this about, Kinsey? Maybe I could be of more help if I understood what this has to do with a client of yours. Mr. Scorsoni's pretty strict about things like that.”

"Oh no, that's something else. And I can check that out myself so don't worry about it. I can always give Charlie a buzz when he gets back and ask him.”

"Well, I can give you his motel number in Santa Maria if you want to call him yourself," she said. She was trying to play it both ways—helpful to me if my questions were legitimate, helpful to Charlie if they weren't—but in any case, dumping the whole matter in his lap. For an old lady, she was adroit.

I jotted the number down dutifully, knowing I'd never call him but glad to get a fix on him anyway. I wanted to tell her not to mention my call but I didn't see how I could do it without tipping my hand. I just had to hope that Charlie wouldn't check in with her anytime soon. If she told him what I'd been asking about, he would know like a shot that I was on his tail and he wouldn't like that a bit.

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