O is for Outlaw Page 15

I read the note twice, my mind blank except for a clinical and bemused response to all the misspellings and run-on sentences. I'm a snob about grammar and I have trouble taking anyone seriously who gets "there" possessives confused with "there" demonstratives. I didn't "rune" Mickey's life. It hadn't been up to me to save him from anything. He'd asked me to lie for him and I'd flatly refused. Failing that, he'd probably concocted this cover story with "D" whoever she was. From the sound of it, she knew me, but I couldn't for the life of me remember her. D. That could be Dee. Dee Dee. Donna. Dawn. Diane. Doreen....

Oh, shit. Of course.

There was a bartender named Dixie who worked in a place out in Colgate where Mickey and some of his cop buddies hung out after work. It wasn't uncommon for the guys to band together to do their after-hours drinking. In the early seventies, there were frequent watch parties at the end of a shift, revelries that sometimes went on until the wee hours of the morning. Both public and private drunkenness are considered violations of police discipline, as are extra-marital affairs, failure to pay debts, and other scurrilous behavior. Such violations are punishable by the department, because a police officer is considered "on duty" at all times as a matter of public image and because tolerating such conduct might lead to similar infractions while the officer is formally at work. When complaints came in about the shift parties, the officers moved the drink fests from the city to the county, effectively removing them from departmental scrutiny. The Honky-Tonk, where Dixie worked, became their favorite haunt.

At the time I met Dixie, she must have been in her mid-twenties, older than I was by four or five years. Mickey and I had been married for six weeks. I was still a rookie, working traffic, while he'd been promoted to detective, assigned first to vice and then to burglary and theft under Lieutenant Dolan, who later moved on to homicide. Dixie was the one who organized the celebration for any transfer or promotion, and we all understood it was just one more excuse to party. I remembered sitting at the bar chatting with her while Mickey sucked back draft beers, playing pool with his cronies or trading war stories with the veterans coming back from Vietnam. At eighteen, he'd served a fourteen-month combat tour in Korea, and he was always interested in the contrast between the Korean War and the action in Vietnam.

Dixie's husband, Eric Hightower, had been wounded in Laos in April 1971, returning to the world with both legs missing. In his absence, she'd put herself through bartending school and she'd worked at the Tonk since the day Eric shipped out. After he came home, he'd sit there in his wheelchair, his behavior moody or manic, depending on his medications and his alcohol levels. Dixie kept him sedated on a steady regimen of Bloody Marys, which seemed to pacify his rage. To me, she seemed like a busy mother, forced to bring her kid to work with her. The rest of us were polite, but Eric certainly didn't do much to endear himself. At twenty-six, he was a bitter old man.

I used to watch in fascination while she assembled Mai Tais, gin and tonics, Manhattans, martinis, and revolting concoctions like pink squirrels and creme de menthe frappes. She talked incessantly, hardly looking at what she did, eyeballing the pour, spritzing soda or water from the bar hose. Sometimes she constructed four and five drinks at the same time without missing a beat. Her laugh was husky and low-pitched. She exchanged endless ribald comments with the guys, all of whom she knew by name and circumstance. I was impressed with her bawdy self-assurance. I also pitied her her husband, with his sour disposition and his obvious limitations, which I assumed extended into sex. Even so, it never occurred to me that she would screw around on him, especially with my husband. I must have been brain-dead not to notice, unless, of course, she was inventing this stuff to provide Mickey with the alibi that I'd declined to supply.

Dixie was my height, rail thin, with a long narrow face and an untidy tangle of auburn hair halfway down her back. Her brows were plucked, a wispy pair of arches that fanned out like wings from the bridge of her nose. Her eyes were darkly charcoaled, and she wore a fringe of fake lashes that made her eyes jump from her face. She was usually braless under her T-shirt, and she wore miniskirts so short she could hardly sit down. Sometimes she veered off in the opposite direction, donning long granny dresses or India-print tunics over wide-legged panders.

I read her note again, but sure enough, the content was the same. She and Mickey had been having an affair. That seemed to be the subtext of her communication, though I found it hard to believe. He'd never given any indication he was even interested in her, or maybe he had and I'd been too dumb to pick up on it. How could she have stood there and chatted with me if the two of them were making it behind my back? On the other hand, the idea was not entirely inconsistent with Mickey's history.

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