K is for Killer Page 31


Cheney was saying, "I have a little sports car, too, but I figure there's no point in taking anything like that into the neighborhood we'll be in. Did you talk to Dolan yet?"

"I went over to St. Terry's to see him this evening. He was a doll, I must say. I went straight from the hospital to the station to look at files. He even provided me copies of the crime scene photographs."

"How'd he seem?"

"He was okay, I guess. Not as grouchy as usual. Why? What's your impression?"

"He was depressed when I talked to him, but he might have brought himself up for you."

"He has to be scared."

"I sure would be," Cheney said.

Tonight he was wearing a pair of slick Italian shoes, dark pants, a coffee-brown dress shirt, and a soft, cream suede windbreaker. I have to say he didn't look like any undercover cop I ever saw. He glanced over at me and caught the fact that I was conducting a visual survey. "What."

"Where are you from?" I asked.

"Perdido," he said, naming a little town thirty miles south of us. "What about you?"

"I'm local," I said. "Your name seems familiar."

"You've known me for years."

"Yes, but do I know you from somewhere else? Do you have family in the area?"

He made a noncommittal mouth sound that generally indicated "yes."

I looked at him closely. Being a liar myself, I can recognize other people's evasive maneuvers. "What's your family do?"


"What about banks? They make deposits? They do holdups?"

"They, mmm, you know, own some."

I stared at him, comprehension dawning like a big cartoon sun. "Your father is X. Phillips? As in Bank of X. Phillips?"

He nodded mutely.

"What is it, Xavier?"

"Actually, it's just X."

"What's your other car, a Jag?"

"Hey, just because he has big bucks doesn't mean I do. I have a Mazda. It's not fancy. Well, a little bit fancy, but it's paid for."

I said, "Don't get defensive. How'd you end up a cop?"

Cheney smiled. "When I was a kid, I watched a lot of TV. I was raised in an atmosphere of benign neglect. My mother sold high-end real estate while my father ran his banks. Cop shows made a big impression. More than financial matters, at any rate."

"Is your dad okay with that?"

"He doesn't have any choice. He knows I'm not going to follow in his footsteps. Besides, I'm dyslexic. To me, the printed page looks like gibberish. What about your parents? Are they still alive?"

"Please note. I'm aware that you're changing the subject, but I'm electing to answer the question you asked. They both died a long time ago. As it turns out, I do have family up in Lompoc, but I haven't decided what to do about them yet."

"What's to decide? I didn't know we had a choice about these things."

"Long story. They've ignored my existence now for twenty-nine years, and suddenly they want to make nice. It doesn't sit well with me. That kind of family I can do without."

Cheney smiled. "Look at it this way. I feel the same way about mine, and I've been in touch with them since birth."

I laughed. "Are we cynical or what?"

"The 'or what' part sounds right."

I turned my attention to the area we'd begun to cruise. It was not far from my place. Down along Cabana Boulevard, a left turn across the tracks. The condominiums and small houses began to give way to commercial properties: warehouses, "lite" industry, a wholesale seafood company, a moving-and-storage facility. Many buildings were long, low, and windowless. Tucked in along a side street was one of two "adult" bookstores. The other was located on the lower end of State Street, several blocks away. Here, small barren trees were spaced at long intervals. The streetlights seemed pale respite against the wide stretches of the dark. Looking off toward the mountains, I could see the smoky glow of the town washed up against the sky. The houses along the hillside were linked together in a fairyland of artificial lights. We began to pass small groups of people, five or six leaning against cars, clusters of the young whose sex was difficult to distinguish. Their eyes followed us without fail, conversations halted momentarily in the hopes that we would offer business of one sort or another. Sex or drugs, it probably didn't matter as long as money changed hands. Through the window, I could smell the dope as joints were passed from hand to hand.

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