O is for Outlaw Page 47

I checked my watch. It was 6:05 and I was so cockeyed with weariness my clothes had begun to hurt. I turned the ringer off the phone, went up the spiral stairs, stripped, kicked my shoes off, wrapped myself in a quilt, and slept.

I woke at 9:15 P.M., though it felt like midnight. I sat up in bed, yawning, and tried to get my bearings. I felt weighted with weariness. I pushed the covers aside and went over to the railing. Below, on my desk, I could see the light on my answering machine blinking merrily. Shit. If not for that, I'd have crawled back in bed and slept through till morning.

I pulled a robe on and picked my way down the stairs barefoot. I pressed PLAY and listened to a message from Cordia Hatfield, the manager of Mickey's building. "Kinsey, I wonder if you could give us a call when you come in. There's something we think you should be aware of."

She'd called at 8:45, so I felt it was probably safe to return the call. I dialed the number, and Cordia picked up before I'd even heard the phone ring once. "Hello?"

"Cordia, is that you? This is Kinsey Millhone up in Santa Teresa. The phone didn't even ring."

"Well, it did down here. Listen, dear, the reason I called is that detective stopped by shortly after you left. He spent quite a bit of time up Two-H, and when he finished he came right here. He seemed perturbed, and he asked if anyone had gone in. We played dumb. He was quite insistent, but neither of us breathed a word."

"Ah. Was this the tall dark guy, Detective Aldo?"

"That's the one. We're old. What do we know, with all our brain cells gone? We didn't lie to him exactly, but I'm afraid we did skirt the truth a bit. I told him I was perfectly capable of taking in rent checks and calling the plumber if a toilet backed up, but I don't go skulking around, spying on the tenants. What they do is their business. Then I showed him my foot and told him, 'With this bunion, I'm lucky to get around. I can't be tromping up and down.' He changed the subject after that."

"What set him off?"

"He said something was missing, though he wouldn't say what. He had a boxload of items with 1him and told me he'd removed the crime tape. 'For all the good it did,' is how he put it. He was sour on the subject, I can tell you that." "Thanks for the warning."

"You're entirely welcome. Main reason I called is you're free to enter the apartment, but it won't be long. The owners are pressing to get Mr. Magruder out of there. I guess the detective notified the management company, so they know he's in a coma. They snapped right to it, taking advantage of his condition. Shame on them. Anyway, if you're interested in renting, you should take a look."

"I may do that. I'd like that. When would be good?"

"The sooner the better. You're only two hours away.

"You're talking about tonight?"

"I think you'd be smart. The owners have already served him with a three-day pay or quit, so technically the sheriff could have a new lock on the door by tomorrow morning."

"Can't we do something to prevent that?"

"Not as far as I know."

"What if I pay what he owes, plus the next month's rent? Wouldn't that cancel the action?"

"I doubt it. Once a tenant starts paying late or doesn't pay at all, the owners would just as soon clear the place out and get someone else in."

I thought about the drive, rolling my eyes with dismay. "I wish I'd known this when I was down there earlier."

"If you're coming, you best hurry. It's entirely up to you, of course."

"Cordia, it's already close to nine-thirty. If I come down tonight, I'd still have to pack and get gas, which means I probably won't arrive before midnight." I didn't mention I was close to naked.

"That's not late for us. Bel and I only need four hours' sleep, so we're up till all hours. The advantage in coming now is you'd have all the time you want and not a soul to disturb you."

"Mickey's neighbors won't notice if his lights are on? "

"Nobody pays attention. Most of these folk work so they're usually in bed by ten. And if it gets too late, you can always spend the night with us. We have the only three-bedroom unit in the building. The guest room is really Dort's, but I'm sure she wouldn't mind the company. We had quite a little chat about you after you left."

I let go of my resistance and took a deep breath. "All right. I'll do it. See you in a bit."

I changed into my jeans, turtleneck, and tennis shoes, which were light and silent, good for late-night work. At least I'd been inside Mickey's place and knew what to expect. I still had the key I'd removed from his back door, but I intended to take my pick in case the need arose. Since I had no intention of driving home in the wee hours of the morning, I got out my duffel and threw in the oversized T-shirt I wear as a nightie. I routinely carry a toothbrush, toothpaste, and fresh underwear in the bottom of my shoulder bag. The remainder of the space in the duffel I filled with tools: rubber gloves, my battery-operated pick, drill and drill bits, screwdriver, lightbulbs, pliers, needle-nose pliers, magnifying glass, and dental mirror, along with two flashlights, one standard and one on a long stem that could be angled for viewing those hard-to-reach places Mickey loved so much. I suspected I'd uncovered the majority of his hiding places, but I didn't want to take the chance, especially since this represented my last opportunity to snoop. I also took a second canvas duffel bag, folded and placed inside the first. I now planned to confiscate Mickey's contraband and hold it at my place until he could let me know what he wanted done with it.

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