O is for Outlaw Page 63

I started with leg extensions and leg curls, muscles burning as I worked. Abs, lower back, on to the pec deck and chest press, then on to shoulders and arms. Early in a workout, the sheer number of body parts multiplied by sets times the number of repetitions is daunting, but the process is curiously engrossing, pain being what it is. Suddenly I found myself laboring at the last two machines, alternating biceps and triceps. Then I was out the door again, sweaty and exhilarated. Sometimes I nearly wrench my arm from its socket patting myself on the back.

Home again, I turned on the automatic coffeepot, made the bed, showered, dressed, and ate a bowl of cereal with skim milk. Then I sat with my coffee and read the local paper. Usually, as the day wears on, my flirtation with good health is overrun by my tendency to self-abuse, especially when it comes to junk food. Fat grams are my downfall, anything with salt, additives, cholesterol, nitrates. Breaded and deep-fried or sauteed in butter, smothered in cheese, slathered with mayonnaise, dripping with meat juices-what foodstuff couldn't be improved by proper preparation? By the time I finished reading the paper, I was nearly dizzy with hunger and had to suck down more coffee to dampen my appetite. After that, all it took was a big gob of crunchy peanut butter I licked from the spoon while I settled at my desk. I'd decided to skip the office as I'd dutifully caught up with paperwork the day before.

I placed Detective Aldo's business card on the desk in front of me and put a call through to Mark Bethel. I'd actually given up hope of ever speaking to him in person. Sure enough, he'd popped down to Los Angeles for a campaign appearance. I told Judy about Mickey and she went through the usual litany, expressing concern, shock, and dismay at life's uncertainties.

"Can Mark do anything to help?" she asked.

"That's why I called. Would you ask him if he'd talk to Detective Aldo and find out what's going on? They're not going to tell me, but they might talk to him since he's Mickey's attorney, or at least he was."

"I'm sure he'd do that. Do you have a number?"

I recited the number and gave her Detective Felix Claas's name as well. I also gave her Mickey's address in Culver City.

She said, "I'm making a note. He should be calling when he's finished. Maybe he can touch base with Detective Aldo while he's still in Los Angeles."

"Thanks. That'd be great."

"Is that it?"

"Just one more thing. Can you ask Mark what's going to happen to Mickey's bills? I'm sure they're piling up, and I hate to see his credit get any worse than it is."

"Got it. I'll ask. He'll think of something, I'm sure. I'll have him call you when he gets in."

"No need for that unless he has a question. just let him know what we talked about and he can take it from there."

I sat at my desk, wondering what to do next. Once more, I hauled out the assorted items I'd lifted from Mickey's and studied them one by one. Phone bill, the Delta Airlines ticket envelope, receipts from the Honky-Tonk, savings passbooks, phony documents. Emmett Vanover, Delbert Amburgey, Clyde Byler, all with trumped-up personal data and a photo of Mickey's face plastered in the relevant spots. I went back to the plane ticket, which was issued in the name Magruder. The flight coupons were missing, I assumed, used for the trip, but the passenger receipt and itinerary were still in the ticket envelope. This was an expensive round trip for a guy with no job. What was the relevance, if any? The trip to Louisville might have been personal. Hard to know about that, since we hadn't talked in years. I laid the ticket on the desk beside the other items, lining them up in various configurations as though a story could be fabricated from the proper sequence of events.

When I was a kid, my Aunt Gin kept me supplied with activity books. The paper was always cheap, the games and puzzles designed to shut me up temporarily so she could read for an hour without my interrupting. I'd lie on the trailer floor with my big pencil and a box of crayons. Sometimes the instructions would entail the finding and circling of particular words in a gridwork of letters, sometimes a search for specific objects in a convoluted jungle picture. My favorite was dot-to-dot, in which you constructed a picture by connecting consecutively numbered points on the page. Tongue peeking out of the corner of my mouth, I'd laboriously trace the line from number to number until a picture emerged. I got so good at it, I could stare at the spaces between numbers and see the picture without ever setting pencil to paper. This didn't require much in the way of brains as the outline was usually simple: a teddy bear or a wagon or a baby duck, all dumb. Nonetheless, I can still remember the rush of joy when recognition dawned. Little did I know that at the age of five I was already in training for my later professional life.

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