O is for Outlaw Page 3


"Why don't I think about it and call you back?"

"Well, that's just it. If we could find time to get together, you could take a look at these items and then come to a decision. How else you going to know if it's worth anything to you? It'd mean a drive down here, but I'm assuming you got wheels."

"I could do that, I suppose."

"Excellent," he said. "So what's your schedule like today?"

"Today?"

"No time like the present is my attitude."

"What's the big hurry?"

"No hurry in particular except I got appointments set up for the rest of the week. I make money turnin' stuff over, and my garage is already packed. You have time today or not?"

"I could probably manage it."

"Good, then let's meet as soon as possible and see if we can work somethin' out. There's a coffee shop down the street from me. I'm on my way over now and I'll be there for about an hour. Let's say nine-thirty. You don't show? I gotta make a run to the dump anyways so it's no skin off my nose."

"What'd you have in mind?"


"Moneywise? Let's say thirty bucks. How's that sound?"

"Exorbitant," I said. I asked him for directions. What a hairball.

I showered and flung on the usual blue jeans and Tshirt, then gassed up my VW and headed south on 101. The drive to Olvidado took twenty-five minutes. Following Ted Rich's instructions, I took the Olvidado Avenue exit and turned right at the bottom of the offramp. Half a block from the freeway, there was a large shopping mall. The surrounding land, originally given over to agricultural use, was gradually being converted to a crop of new and used cars. Lines of snapping plastic flags defined tent shapes above the asphalt lot where rows of vehicles glinted in the mild May sun. I could see a shark-shaped mini-blimp tethered and hovering thirty feet in the air. The significance escaped me, but what do I know about these things?

Across from the mall, the business establishments seemed to be equally divided among fast-food joints, liquor stores, and instant-copy shops that offered passport photos. There was even a facility devoted to walkin legal services; litigate while you wait. BANKRUPTCY $99. DIVORCE $99. DIVORCE W/KIDS $99 + FILING FEE. Se habla espanol. The coffee shop he'd specified appeared to be the only mom-and-pop operation in the area.

I parked my car in the lot and pushed into the place, scanning the few patrons for someone who fit his description. He'd indicated he was six foot two and movie-star handsome, but then he'd snorted with laughter, which led me to believe otherwise. He'd said he'd watch the door for my arrival. I spotted a guy, who raised a hand in greeting and beckoned me to his booth. His face was a big ruddy square, his sunburn extending into the V of his open-collared denim work shirt. He wore his dark hair combed straight back, and I could see the indentation at his temples where he'd removed the baseball cap now sitting on the table next to him. He had a wide nose, drooping upper lids, and bags under his eyes. I could see the scattering of whiskers he'd missed during his morning shave. His shoulders were beefy and his forearms looked thick where he had his sleeves rolled up. He'd removed a dark brown windbreaker, which now lay neatly folded over the back of the booth.

"Mr. Rich? Kinsey Millhone. How are you?" We shook hands across the table, and I could tell he was sizing me up with the same attention to detail I'd just lavished on him.

"Make it Teddy. Not bad. I appreciate your coming." He glanced at his watch as I slid in across from him. "Unfortunately I only got maybe fifteen, twenty minutes before I have to take off. I apologize for the squeeze, but right after we spoke, I hadda call from some guy down in Thousand Oaks needs an estimate on his roof."

"You're a roofer?"

"By trade." He reached in his pants pocket. "Lemme pass you my card in case you need somethin' done." He took out a slim Naugahyde case and removed a stack of business cards. "My speciality is new roofs and repairs."

"What else is there?"

"Hey, I can do anything you need. Hot mops, tearoffs, torch-downs, all types of shake, composition, slate, clay tile, you name it. Corrective and preventative is my area of expertise. I could give you a deal. let's say ten percent off if you call this month. What kind of house you in?"

"Rented."

"So maybe you got a landlord needs some roof work done. Go ahead and keep that. Take as many as you want." He offered me a handful of cards, fanned out face down like he was about to do a magic trick.

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