O is for Outlaw Page 23

As soon as we sat down, the man reappeared with drinks on his tray. He gave us each a tiny cloth napkin in case we urped something up. Dixie's beverage of choice was a martini straight up in a forties-style glass. Four green olives were lined up on a toothpick like beads on an abacus. We each took a sip of our respective libations. My Chardonnay was delicate, with a long, slow, vanilla finish, probably nothing from a screw-top bottle at the neighborhood Stop 'n' Shop. I watched her hold the gin on her tongue like a communion ritual. She set the glass down with a faint tap and reached into her blazer pocket to extract a pack of cigarettes and a small gold lighter. She lit the cigarette, inhaling with a reverence that suggested smoking was another sacrament. When she caught me observing her, smoke she opened her mouth to emit a thick tongue of smoke that she then sucked up her nose. "You don't smoke these days?"

I shook my head. "I quit."

"Good for you. I'll never give it up myself. All this talk about health is fairly tedious. You probably exercise, too." She cocked her head in reflection, striking a bemused pose. "Let's see. What's in fashion at the moment? You lift weights," she said, and pointed a finger in my direction.

"I jog five days a week, too. Don't forget that," I said, and pointed back at her.

She took another sip of her drink. "Stephie tells me you're looking for Mickey. Has he disappeared?"

"Not as far as I know, but I'd like to get in touch with him. The only number I have turns out to be a disconnect. Have you heard from him lately?"

"Not for years," she said. A smile formed on her lips, and she checked her fingernails. "That's a curious question. I can't believe you'd ask me. I'm sure there are other folks much more likely to know."

"Such as?"

"Shack, for one. And who's the other cop? Lit something. They were always thick as thieves."

"I just talked to Shack, which is how I got to you. Roy Littenberg died. I didn't realize you and Eric were still in town."

She studied me for a moment through her cigarette smoke. Miss Dixie wasn't dumb, and I could see her analyze the situation. "Where's all this coming from?"

"All what?" "You have something else in mind."

I reached down for my shoulder bag and removed the letter from the outside pocket. "Got your letter," I said.

"My letter," she repeated blankly, her gaze fixed on the envelope.

"The one you sent me in 1974," I said. "Mickey tossed it in a box with some other mail that must have come the same day. He failed to deliver it, so I never read the letter until today." For once, I seemed to have captured her full attention.

"You're not serious."

"I am." I held up the letter like a paddle in a silent auction: My bid. "I had no idea you were balling my beloved husband. You want to talk about that?"

She laughed and then caught herself. Her teeth were now as perfect as white horseshoes hinged together at the rear of her mouth. "Sorry. I'm sorry. I hope you won't take offense, but you're such a boob when it comes to men."

"Thanks. You know how I value your opinion."

"Nothing to be ashamed of. Most women don't have the first clue about men."

"And you do?"

"Of course." Dixie studied me over the ribbon of cigarette smoke, taking my measure with her eyes. She paused and leaned forward to tap off a cylinder of ash into a cut-glass dish on the coffee table in front of her.

"What's your theory, Miss Dixie, if I may be so bold as to inquire?" I said, affecting a Southern accent.

"Take advantage of them before they take advantage of you," she said, her smile as thin as glass.

"Nice. Romantic. I better write that down." I pretended to make a note on the palm of my hand.

"Well, it's not nice but it's practical. In case you haven't noticed, most men don't give a shit about romance. They want to get in your panties and let it go at that. What else can I say?"

"That about covers it," I said. "May I ask, why him? There were dozens of cops at the Honky-Tonk back then." She hesitated, apparently considering what posture to affect. "He was very good," she said, with a trace of a smile.

"I didn't ask for an evaluation. I'd like to know what went on."

"Why the attitude? You seem so, belligerent. In the end, you'd have left him anyway, so what do you care?"

"Indulge me," I said. "For the sake of argument."

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