O is for Outlaw Page 111


Aldo moved to the phone, holding the receiver out. "Give him a call."

"Now? "

"Why not? Tell him you have some stuff you want to talk to him about."

"Yeah," I said cautiously. "And then what?"

"We haven't made that part up yet."

TWENTY-SIX.

The Bethels' estate was on the outer edges of Montebello, perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I'd spoken to Laddie on the phone and she'd given me directions to the house on Savanna Lane. Mark was out, but she said he'd be returning shortly. It worried me she hadn't voiced greater surprise or curiosity about the reason for my call. I'd mentioned the trip to Louisville, that I had something to discuss, preferably with the two of them, though I'd certainly value the opportunity to talk to her alone first. If she was alarmed about such a conversation, she gave no indication.

At seven on the dot, I pulled in at the gate. Detectives Claas and Aldo had followed me in their car, and they were parked in a grove of eucalyptus trees about a hundred yards off. I had the tape recorder in my bag, but I wasn't wired for sound so there was no way they could monitor the conversation once I was inside the house. No one (meaning them) seemed to think this would present a problem since I'd be in the Bethels' home with other people (meaning servants) on the premises. Our plan, if that's what you want to call it, was for them to hover on the sidelines, failing in behind me when I left the estate. Then we'd go back to my place, listen to the tape, and see if what we'd picked up constituted probable cause. If so, we'd find a judge who could sign a warrant for Mark's arrest on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder in the shooting of Mickey Magruder. If not, we'd move to Plan B, on which we'd never quite agreed. On reflection, even Plan' A seemed a bit half-assed, but I was there at the gate and I'd already pressed the button.

I expected to hear someone on the intercom asking for my name. Instead, there was silence. The gates simply swung open, allowing me entrance. I waved to the "boys" and put the car in gear. The driveway was long, curving off to the left. The land on either side was barren except for the grasses bending under the offshore winds. Occasionally, a tree broke the line of the horizon, a stark silhouette against the milder dark of the sky. I could see the lighted windows of the house, dazzling yellow and white, set in a bulky block of dark stone. I parked out in front on an enormous apron of gravel. I shut off the engine and sat taking in the sight of the house through the driver's side window.

The structure was curiously reminiscent of Duncan Oaks's house in Louisville. Despite the appearance of age, I knew construction had been completed only five years before, which might explain the absence of mature trees. The exterior was stone and stucco. Landscape lights washed the facade with its glaze of dusky pink underlaid with brown. In theory, the style was Mediterranean or Italianate, one of those bastard forms that Californians favor, but the arches above the windows seemed remarkably similar to their Kentucky counterpart. The front door was recessed, sheltered in a portico flanked by fluted columns. Even the balustrade was kindred in design. Was Laddie conscious of what she'd done or had she mimicked Duncan's house inadvertently? What is it that prompts us to reenact our unresolved issues? We revisit our wounds, constructing the past in hopes that this time we can make the ending turn out right.

The carriage lights on either side of the door came on. Reluctantly, I reached for my bag. I'd left the zippered compartment open, the tape recorder in easy range of my hand. I emerged from the car, crunched my way across the parking pad, and climbed the low front steps. Laddie opened the door before I had time to ring the bell. "Hello, Kinsey. How nice of you to drive all the way out here. I take it you had no trouble finding the place."

"Not at all. It's beautiful."

"We like it," she said mildly. "Can I take your jacket?"

"This is fine for now. It's cold."

She closed the door behind me. "Come on into the living room. I've got a nice fire burning. Will you have a drink? I'm having wine," she said. She was already walking toward the living room, her heels clicking smartly against the highly polished marble floors.

I followed her, saying, "I better not, but thanks. I had wine with dinner and that's my limit."

We stepped down into the living room, with its twelve-foot coffered ceiling. One entire wall of Frenchdoors looked on to a patio. The room was surprisingly light, done in shades of cream: the twenty, by twenty four-foot rug, the walls, the three plump matching love seats arranged in a U in front of the fireplace. There were touches of black in the throw pillows and lampshades, Boston ferns providing spots of green here and there. Maybe I could snitch some ideas for my spacious abode. The coffee table was a square of three-quarterinch glass resting on three enormous polished brass spheres. A second wineglass sat near a bottle of Chardonnay in an insulated cooler. Laddie'd made quite a dent for someone drinking alone. I flicked on the tape recorder during the momentary lull as she picked up her wineglass and settled on one of the sofas that flanked the fireplace. The hearth was a glossy black granite that reflected the blaze. Really, I was taking notes, I had to have one of those.

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