O is for Outlaw Page 55

I was checking my calendar for the days ahead when I remembered the phone call made from Mickey's number to mine on March 7. I'd never checked my office schedule to see where I was that day. As with my day planner at home, that Thursday was blank. March 16 and 8 were both blank too, so I couldn't use either as a springboard for recollection.

At five-thirty, I locked up and drove back to my apartment through the Santa Teresa equivalent of rushhour traffic, which meant it took me fifteen minutes to get home instead of the usual ten. The sun had finally burned through a lingering marine layer, and the heat in the vehicle was making me sleepy. I could tell I'd have to atone for my late-night activities. I parked down the street from my apartment and pushed through the gate. My place felt cozy, and I was relieved to be home. The emotional roller coaster of the past few days had generated an odd mood-weariness masquerading as depression. Whatever the source, I was feeling raw. I set my shoulder bag on a bar stool and went around the end of the counter into the kitchenette. I hadn't eaten since breakfast. I opened the refrigerator and stared at the empty shelves. When I thought about Mickey's cupboards, I realized my food supplies didn't look much better than his. Absurd that we'd married when we were simultaneously too much alike and much too different.

Soon after the wedding, I began to realize he was out of control, at least from the perspective of someone with my basically fearful nature. I wasn't comfortable with what I perceived as his dissipation and his self-indulgence. My Aunt Gin had taught me to be moderate, in my personal habits if not in my choice of cusswords. At first, Mickey's hedonism had been appealing. I remembered experiencing a nearly giddy relief at his gluttony, his love of intoxication, his insatiable appetite for sex. What he offered was a tacit permission to explore my lustiness, unawakened until then. I related to his disdain for authority and I was fascinated by his disregard for the system, even while he was employed in a job dedicated to upholding law and order. I, too, had tended to operate outside accepted social boundaries. In grade school and, later, junior and senior high schools, I was often tardy or truant, drawn to the lowlife students, in part because they represented my own defiance and belligerence. Unfortunately, by the age of twenty, when I met Mickey, I was already on my way back from the outer fringes of bad behavior. While Mickey was beginning to embrace his inner demons, I was already in the process of retreating from mine.

Now, fifteen years later, it's impossible to describe how alive I was for that short period.

For dinner, I made myself an olive-pimento-cheese sandwich, using that divine Kraft concoction that comes in a jar. I cut the bread neatly into four fingers with the crusts intact and used a section of paper toweling as both napkin and plate. With this wholesome entree, I sipped a glass of Chardonnay and felt thoroughly comforted. Afterward, I wadded up my dinnerware and tossed it in the trash. Having supped and done the dishes, I placed the two duffels on the counter and unloaded my tools and the booty I'd lifted from Mickey's the night before. I laid the items on the counter, hoping the sight of them would spark a new interpretation.

There was a knock at my door. I grabbed the newspaper and opened it, spreading it over the items as if I'd been reading with interest, catching up on 1events. I crossed to the door and peeked through the porthole to find my landlord standing on the porchlet with a plate of homemade brownies covered in plastic wrap. Henry's a retired commercial baker who now occupies his time catering tea parties for elderly widows in the neighborhood. He also supplies Rosie's restaurant with a steady line of baked goods: sandwich breads, dinner rolls, pies, and cakes. I confess I was not entirely happy to see him. While I adore him, I'm not always candid with him about my nocturnal labors.

I opened the door. We made happy noises at each other while Henry stepped in. I tried to steer him toward the sofa, hoping to divert his attention, but before I could even protest, he leaned over and closed the newspaper to make room for the plate. There sat the four handguns, the packets of phony documents, credit cards, and cash. To all appearances, I'd turned to robbing banks for a living.

He set the plate on the counter. "What's all this?"

I put a hand on his arm. "Don't ask. The less you know, the better. You'll have to trust me on this."

He looked at me quizzically, an expression in his eyes I hadn't seen before: trust and mistrust, curiosity, alarm. "But I want to know."

I had only a split second to decide what to say. "This is Mickey's. I lifted the stuff because a sheriff's deputy was scheduled to change the locks on his doors. "

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