O is for Outlaw Page 39

All Mickey's sliding glass windows were secured. Knowing him, he'd tucked heavy wooden dowels into the inside track so the windows would only slide back a scant six inches. The lock on his front door, however, seemed to be identical to those on the neighboring apartments. The manager must have discouraged swapping out the standard model for something more effective. I studied my surroundings. The alley was deserted and I saw no signs of any other tenant. I slipped on my rubber gloves and went to work with my pick. A friend in Houston had recently sent me a keen toy: a battery-operated pick that, once mastered, worked with gratifying efficiency. It had taken me awhile to get the hang of it, but I'd practiced on Henry's door until I had the technique down pat.

The door yielded to my efforts in less than fifteen seconds, the pick making no more noise than an electric toothbrush. I tucked the pick back in my fanny pack, loosened one end of the yellow tape, and stepped over the doorsill, turning only long enough to resecure the tape through the gap before I closed the door behind me. I checked my watch, allowing myself thirty minutes for the search. I figured if a neighbor had observed me breaking in, it would take the L.A. cops at least that long to respond to the call.

The interior was dim. Mickey's curtains were drawn, and sunlight was further blocked by the six-story building across the alley. Mickey still smoked. Stale fumes hung in the air, having permeated the carpet, the drapes, and all the heavy upholstered furniture. I checked the cigarette butts that had been left in the ashtrays, along with an array of wooden kitchen matches. All were the same Camel filters he'd been smoking for years, and none bore the telltale red rim suggesting female companionship. An Elmore Leonard paperback had been left on the arm of the sofa, open at the midpoint. Mickey had introduced me to Elmore Leonard and Len Deighton. In turn, I'd told him about Dick Francis, though I'd never known if he read the British author with the same pleasure I did. The walls were done in a temporary-looking pine paneling that was nearly sticky with the residue of cigarette tars. The living room and dining room formed an L. The furniture was clumsy-big overstuffed pieces of the sort you'd buy at a flea market or pick off the sidewalk, like an alley fairy, on collection day. There was a shredder against one wall, but the bin had been emptied. In Mickey's view of the world, no scrap of paper, no receipt, and no piece of correspondence should go into the trash without being scissored into tiny pieces. He probably dumped the bin at frequent intervals, using more than one trash can, so that a thief breaking in wouldn't have the means to reassemble vital documents. No doubt about it, the man was nuts.

I moved into the dining area, past four mismatched chairs and a plain wooden table that was littered with mail. I paused, picking through the stack that was piled at one end. I was careful not to sort the envelopes, though my natural inclination was to separate the bills from the junk. I spotted a number of bank statements, but there were no personal letters, no catalogs, and no credit card bills. I had little interest in his utility bills. What did I care how much electricity he used? I longed for a phone bill, but there were none to be found. The cops had lifted those. I picked up the handful of bank statements and slipped them down the front of my jeans into my underpants, where they formed a crackling paper girdle. I'd look at them later when I was home again. None of the other bills seemed useful so I left them where they were. Best to keep the federal mail-tampering convictions to a minimum.

Off the dining area, I entered a galley-style kitchen so small I could reach the far wall in two steps. Stove, apartment-sized refrigerator, sink, microwave oven. The only kitchen window was small and looked out onto the alley. On the counter, he kept a round glass fishbowl into which he tossed his extra packets of matches at the end of the night, a road map of his journey from bar to bar. The upper cabinets revealed a modest collection of Melamine plates and coffee mugs, plus the basic staples: dry cereal, powdered milk, sugar, a few condiments, paper napkins, and two sealed bottles of Early Times bourbon. The cupboards below were packed back to front with canned goods: soups, beans, Spam, tuna packed in oil, tamales, SpaghettiO's, applesauce, evaporated milk. In the storage space under the kitchen sink, I found an empty bourbon bottle in the trash. Tucked in among the pipes, I counted ten five-gallon containers of bottled water. This was Mickey's survival stock in case a war broke out or L.A. was invaded by extraterrestrials. The refrigerator was filled with things that smelled bad. Mickey had tossed in half-eaten items without the proper wrapping, which resulted in dark chunks of hardening Cheddar cheese, a greening potato covered with wartlike sprouts, and half an air-dried tomato drawing in on itself.

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