O is for Outlaw Page 27

"Maybe," I said. "I'm trying to get in touch with my ex-husband. Mickey Magruder was a client of his."

"Oh, I know Mickey," she said, and right away I wondered if she knew him in the biblical sense.

"Do you know if Mark has a current address and phone number?"

"Hold on and I'll check. I know we have something, because he called here a couple months ago and I spoke to him myself." I could hear pages rattling as she leafed through her book.

"Ah, here we go." She recited an address on Sepulveda, but the house number differed from the one I had. The digits were the same but the order was changed, which was typical of Mickey. In his semi-paranoid state, he'd give the correct information but with the numbers transposed so you couldn't pin him down. He thought your address was your own damn business and phones were meant for your convenience, not anyone else's. If other people couldn't call him, what did he care? I don't know how he managed to receive his mail or have pizza delivered. Those were not issues he found interesting when his privacy was at stake. Judy chimed back in, and the phone number she recited was a match for the one I had in my book.

I said, "You can scratch that one out. I tried it a while ago, and it's a disconnect. I thought maybe Mickey moved or had the number changed."

I could hear her hesitate. "I probably shouldn't say this. Mark hates when I discuss a client, so please don't tell him I said this "Of course not."

"When Mickey called, this would have been mid-March, he did ask to borrow money. I mean, he didn't ask me. This is just what I heard later, after Mark talked to him. Mark said Mickey'd had to sell his car because he couldn't afford the upkeep and insurance, let alone the gas. He's got financial problems even Mark couldn't bail him out of."

"That doesn't sound good. Did Mark lend him any money?"

"I'm not really sure. He might have. Mickey was always one of Mark's favorites."

"Could you check your message carbons and see if Mickey left a number where Mark could reach him?"

"I'll check if you like, but I remember asking at the time, and he said Mark would know."

"So Mark might have another number?"

"It's possible, I guess. I can ask and have him call you."

"I'd appreciate that. He can buzz me tomorrow and we'll take it from there." I left her my number and we clicked off.

My evening was unremarkable, dinner with Henry at Rosie's Tavern half a block away, after which I curled up with a book and read until I fell asleep, probably ten whole minutes later.

I turned off the alarm moments before it was set to ring. I brushed my teeth, pulled on my sweats, and went out for a three-mile jog. The bike path along the beach was cloaked in the usual spring fog, the sky a uniform gray, the ocean blended at the horizon as though a scrim of translucent plastic had been stretched taut between the two. The air temperature was perfect, faintly chill, faintly damp. I was feeling light and strong, and I ran with a rare sense of happiness.

Home again, I showered, dressed, and ate breakfast, then hopped in my car and hit the road for San Felipe with the receipt from the storage company tucked in my pocket. I'd dressed up to some extent, which in my case doesn't amount to much. I only own one dress: black, collarless, with long sleeves and a tucked bodice (which is a fancy word for front). This entirely synthetic garment, guaranteed wrinkle-free (but probably flammable), is as versatile as anything I've owned. In it, I can accept invitations to all but the snootiest of cocktail parties, pose as a mourner at any funeral, make court appearances, conduct surveillance, hustle clients, interview hostile witnesses, traffic with known felons, or pass myself off as a gainfully employed person instead of a freelance busybody accustomed to blue jeans, turtlenecks, and tennis shoes.

Before I departed, I'd taken a few minutes to complete a generic claim form that I'd dummied up from my days of working at California Fidelity Insurance. As I headed south on 101, I practiced the prissy, bureaucratic attitude I affect when I'm masquerading as someone else. Being a private investigator is made up of equal parts ingenuity, determination, and persistence, with a sizable dose of acting skills thrown in.

The drive to San Felipe took forty-five minutes. The scenery en route consisted largely of citrus and avocado groves, stretches of farmland, and occasional roadside markets selling, what else.?, oranges, lemons, and avocados. I spotted the storage company from half a mile away. It was just off the main road, countless rows of two-story buildings, occupying two square blocks. The architectural style suggested a newly constructed California prison, complete with floodlights and tall chain-link fences.

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