O is for Outlaw Page 84

"Can I help you?"

Tim was standing in the shadows to the left of the door.

I shrieked. I flung up my hands and my shoulder bag flew out of my grasp, contents tumbling out as it hit the floor. "Shit!"

Tim laughed. "Sorry. I thought you saw me. What were you doing?" He was casually dressed: leans and a V-neck knit pullover.

"Nothing. I opened that door by mistake," I said. I dropped to my knees, trying to gather up items that seemed to be strewn everywhere. "Scottie said you wanted to see me. I was looking for your office. This door was unlocked. I tried the knob and it was open so I just went on in. I figured you might be upstairs, so I called out a big yoo-hoo."

"Really. I didn't hear you."

He hunkered, setting my handbag upright. He began to toss the contents back in, while I watched in fascination. Fortunately, I wasn't carrying a gun and he didn't seem to register the presence of my key picks. He was saying, "I don't know how you women do this. Look at all this stuff. What's this?"

"Travel toothbrush. I'm a bit of a fanatic."

He smiled. "And this?" He held up a plastic case.


As he picked up my wallet, it flipped open to my driver's license, which he glanced at idly. The photostat of my P.I. license was in the window opposite, but if he noticed he gave no indication. He tossed the wallet into the handbag. Shack had probably already blown my cover anyway.

"Here, let me do that," I said, happy to be in motion lest he see my hands were shaking. Once we'd retrieved everything, I rose to my feet. "Thanks."

"You want to see what's up there? Here, come on. I'll show you."

"No, really. That's fine. I actually peeked at the space a few minutes ago. I was hoping you still had the old jukebox."

"Unfortunately, no. I sold that shortly after we bought the place. Great space up there, isn't it? We're thinking about expanding. We were using it for storage until it occurred to me there were better uses for that much square footage. Now all I have to do is get past fire department regulations, among other things."

"You'd do what, add tables?"

"Second bar and a dance floor. First, we have to argue with the city of Colgate and the county planning commission. Anyway, that's not what I wanted to talk to you about. You want to step into my office? We don't have to stand around out here talking in the dark."

"This is fine. I told Scottie I'd stop by his table and have a drink with his dad."

"We heard about Mickey."

"Word travels fast. "

"Not as fast as you'd think. Shack tells us you were a cop once upon a time...

"So what?"

Tim went right on. "We're assuming you're conducting an investigation of your own."

Thank you, Pete Fucking Shackelford, I thought. I tried to think how to frame my reply.

Meanwhile, Tim was saying, "We have a pal in L.A. who might be of help."

"Really. And who's that?"

"Musician named Wary Beason. Mickey's neighbor in Culver City."

Pointerlike, I could feel my ears prick up. "How do you know him?"

"Through his jazz combo. He's played here a couple times. He's very talented."

"Small world."

"Not really. Mickey told him we booked bands, so Wary got in touch and auditioned. We liked his sound."

"I'm surprised Wary didn't call you and tell you about the shooting."

"Yeah, we were too. We've been trying to reach him, but so far no luck. We thought you'd want to talk to him if you went to L.A."

"Maybe I'll do that. Mind if I ask you about a couple of things while I have you?"

"Sure. No problem."

"What's Plas-Stock?"

Tim smiled. "Plastic cutlery, plates, glassware, that kind of thing. We're doing a big buffet for the Memorial Day weekend. We'll comp you to it if you're interested. Anything else?"

"Did you ever pay Mickey the ten grand you owed him?"

His smile lost its luster. "How'd you hear about that? "

"I came across a reference to it in his papers. According to the note, payment was due in full on January fifteenth."

"That's right, but things were tight right about then so he gave me an extension. I pay him off in July. "

"If he lives," I said. "Is that what he was doing when he came up here, negotiating the agreement?"

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