K is for Killer Page 17

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"And were you?"

His smile was bitter. "I didn't think so at the time."

"Did the rumors bother you?"

"Hell, yes. What she did was dangerous, and I was worried sick. I didn't like what she was doing, and I didn't like people running in here talking about her behind her back. Tattletales. I hate that. I couldn't get them to quit. With her, I tried to keep my mouth shut. It was none of my business, but I kept getting sucked in. I'd be saying, 'Why, babe? What's the point?' And she'd shake her head. 'You don't want to know, Heck. I promise. It's got nothing to do with you.' The truth is, I don't think she knew. It was a compulsion, like a sneeze. It felt good to do it. If she held off, something tickled until it drove her nuts."

"You have any idea who was in her life besides you?"

"I wasn't in her life. I was on the fringe. Way out here. She had a day job, part-time at the water treatment plant. You might talk to them, see if they can fill you in. Most times, I never even saw her before three a.m. She might've had some other kind of life entirely when the sun was up."

"Ah. Well. Food for thought," I said. "Anything else I should know?"

"Not that I can think of offhand. If something occurs to me, I can get in touch. You have a card?"

I fished one out and placed it on the console. He looked at it briefly and left it where it was.

I said, "Thanks for your time."

"I hope I've been of help. I hate the idea someone got away with murder."

"This is a start, at any rate. I may be back at some point." I hesitated, glancing at the dog still lying there between us. The minute she sensed my look, she rose to her feet, which put her head just about level with the stool where I was perched. She kept her eyes straight ahead, gazing intently at the flesh on my hip, possibly with an eye toward a late evening snack.

"Beauty," he murmured with scarcely any change of tone.

She sank to the floor, but I could tell she was still thinking about a jaw full of gluteus maximus.

"Next time I'll bring her a bone," I said. Preferably not mine.

I headed home through the business district, following a trail of stoplights that winked from red to green. The storefronts had been secured, plate-glass windows ablaze with fluorescent lighting. The streets were bleached white with the spill of illumination. I passed a lone man on a bike, dressed in black. It was almost 1:30 a.m., traffic minimal, intersections wide and deserted. Most of the bars in town were still open, and in another half hour or so, all the drunks would emerge, heading for the various downtown parking structures. Many buildings were dark. The homeless, bundled in sleep, blocked the doorways like toppled statues. For them, the night is like a vast hotel where there's always a room available. The only price they pay, sometimes, is their lives.

At 1:45 I finally stripped off my jeans, brushed my teeth, and doused the lights, crawling into bed without bothering to remove my T-shirt, underpants, and socks. These February nights were too cold to sleep naked. As I eased toward unconsciousness, I found myself mentally replaying select portions of Lorna's tape. Ah, the life of the single woman in a world ruled by sexually transmitted diseases. I lay there, trying to think back to when I'd last had sex. I couldn't even remember, which was really worrisome. I fell asleep wondering if there was a cause-and-effect relationship between memory loss and abstinence. Apparently so, as that was the last thing I was aware of for the next four hours.

When the alarm went off at 6:00 a.m., I rolled out of bed before my resistance came up. I pulled on my sweats and my running shoes, then headed into the bathroom, where I brushed my teeth, avoiding the sight of myself in the mirror. One ill-advised glance had revealed a face fat with sleep and hair as stiff and matted as a derelict's. I'd snipped it off six months before with a trusty little pair of nail scissors, but I hadn't done much to it since. Now the sections that weren't sticking straight up were either flat or adrift. I was really going to have to do something about it one of these days.

Given the four hours of sleep, my run was a bit on the perfunctory side. Often I tune in to the look of the beach, letting sea birds and kelp scent carry me along. Jogging becomes a meditation, shifting time into high gear. This was one of those days when exercise simply failed to uplift. In lieu of euphoria, I had to make my peace with three hundred calories' worth of sweat, screaming thighs, and burning lungs. I tacked on an extra half mile to atone for my indifference and then did a fast walk back to my place as a way of cooling down. I showered and slipped into fresh jeans and a black turtleneck, over which I pulled a heavy gray cotton sweater.

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