O is for Outlaw Page 61

Once I gained the street, I had to wipe some doggie doo off my shoe heel, lest the odor alone make a target of me. I fumbled in the bottom of my bag until I found my penlight. I shielded the narrow beam with the palm of my hand and swept the Jaguar. All four doors were locked. I half expected the vanity plate to read HITZ R US. Instead, it said DIXIE. Well, that was interesting. I approached the backyard this time from the neighbor's property to the left of Henry's, first navigating up their driveway, then making a wide circle across Henry's yard along the rear flower beds. From this vantage point, I could see the silhouette of her tangled hair. She must have been dying to smoke. As I watched, her desire for a cigarette overrode her caution. I heard the flick of a lighter. She cupped a hand to her face and applied the flame to the end of a cigarette and inhaled with a nearly audible sigh of relief. No weapon, at any rate, unless she could wield one with her feet.

By then, I was close to the back of the Adirondack. "Gee, Dixie. Never light up. Now all the snipers in the neighborhood can get a bead on you."

She gasped, nearly levitating from her seat as she whipped her head around. She grabbed the arm of her chair and her handbag tumbled from her lap. I saw the cigarette fly off in the dark, the ember making a most satisfactory arc before it was snuffed in the wet grass. She was lucky she hadn't sucked it down her throat and choked to death. "Shit. Oh, shit! You scared the crap out of me," she hissed.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

She had a hand to her chest, trying to still her wildly banging heart. She bent at the waist, hyperventilating. I was singularly unimpressed with the possibility of heart failure. If her heart seized, she died. I was not going to do CPR on her. She was wearing what looked like a flight suit, a one-piece design with a zipper up the front. The oversized, baggy look was offset by the fact that she had the sleeves rolled midway up her arm, thus demonstrating how petite she was. She stooped to pick up her shoulder bag, which was battered leather, shaped like a mail carrier's pouch.

She tucked it under one arm. She put a hand to her forehead and then to her cheek. "I need to talk to you," she said, still sounding shaken.

"Had you thought about calling first?"

"I didn't think you'd agree to see me."

"So you wait in the dark? Are you nuts?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. The old gentleman in the house was up when I arrived an hour ago. I could see him in the kitchen when I came around the corner, so I unscrewed the porch bulb. I didn't want him to notice and wonder what I was doing."

"What are you doing? I'm still not entirely clear."

"Could we go inside? I promise I won't stay long. I didn't bring a jacket and I'm freezing."

I felt a flash of annoyance. "Oh, come on," I said.

I set off across the yard. When I reached the porch, I gave the bulb a twist and saw the light come on. She followed me meekly. I took out my house keys and unlocked the door.

I took a moment to slip my shoes off. "Wipe your feet," I said crossly before I entered the living room.

"Sorry. Of course."

I pulled out a kitchen stool for her and then went around the kitchen counter and retrieved a brandy bottle from the liquor cabinet. I took out two jelly glasses and twisted the cork, pouring us both two fingers. I tipped my head back and flung the brandy to the back of my throat. I swallowed liquid fire, my mouth coming open, invisible flames shooting out. Damn, that was nasty, but it brought relief. I shuddered involuntarily the way I do when swilling NyQuil. I was calmer by the time I looked up at her. She'd chugalugged as I had, but she seemed better able to take the brandy in stride.

"Thanks. That's great. I hope you don't mind if I have a cigarette," she said, reaching into her bag as if with my consent.

"You can smoke outside. I don't want you smoking in here."

"Oh. Sorry," she said, and put the pack away.

"And quit apologizing," I said. She'd come here for something. Time to get on with it. I said, "Speak," like she was a dog about to demonstrate a trick.

Dixie closed her eyes. "What Mickey and I did was inexcusable. You have every right to be angry. I was obnoxious on Monday when you came to the house. I apologize for that, but I was disconcerted. I always assumed you'd received my letter and elected to do nothing. I guess I enjoyed blaming you for being disloyal. It was hard to give that up." She opened her eyes then and looked at me.

"Go on."

"That's it."

"No, it's not. What else? If that's all you wanted, you could have written me a note."

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