O is for Outlaw Page 30


I hesitated on the walkway, my house keys in hand. Surely, the cops had more pressing cases to pursue these days. Why would they even bother with a crime scene tech? The notion was absurd. These fellows might not be cops at all. Maybe Teddy figured out what I'd done and had sent these two goons to crush my elbows, my knees, and other relevant joints. Somewhat chirpily, I said, "Hi. Are you looking for me?"

The two of them seemed to be approximately the same age: late thirties, trim, fit, one dark, the other fair. The blond carried a briefcase in his left hand like he was doing door-to-door sales. He spoke first. "Miss Millhone?" He wore a red plaid shirt under a tweed sport coat, his Adam's apple compressed by the knot in his solid red tie. His slacks were dark cotton, wrinkled across the crotch from sitting in the car too long.

"That's right."

He held out his right hand. "My name's Felix Claas. This is my partner, John Aldo. We're detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department. Could we talk to you? "

Aldo held out two business cards and a wallet he flipped open to expose his badge. Detective Aldo was a big guy with a muscular body, probably six-three, 240 pounds. He wore his dark hair slightly shaggy, and his dark eyes receded under wide dark eyebrows that came together at the bridge of his nose. His slacks were polyester, and he had a sport coat neatly folded and laid across one arm. His short-sleeved cotton shirt exposed a matting of silky hair on his forearms. He looked like a man who preferred wearing sweats. I'd heard his first name as "John," but I noticed on his business card the spelling was the Italian, Gian, and I made the mental correction. In the flush of apprehension, I'd already forgotten the first detective's name. I glanced down at the cards again. Felix Claas was the blond, Glan Aldo, the darker one.

Claas spoke up again, smiling pleasantly. His blond hair looked wet, parted on the side and combed straight back behind his ears. His eyebrows and lashes were an almost invisible pale gold, so that his blue eyes seemed stark. His lips were full and unusually pink. He had a cleft in his chin. "Great town you have here. The minute we crossed the county line, I could feel my blood pressure drop about fifteen points."

"Thanks. We're lucky. It's like this all year long. We get a marine layer sometimes in the summer months, but it burns off by noon so it's hard to complain." Maybe this pertained to an old case of mine.

Detective Aldo eased into the conversation. "We had a chat with Lieutenant Robb. I hope we haven't caught you at a bad time."

"Not at all. This is fine. You're friends of his?"

"Well, no, ma'am, we aren't. We've talked to him by phone, but we only met today. Seems like a nice guy.

"He's great. I've known Jonah for years," I said. "What's this about?"

"A case we've been working on. We'd like to talk to you inside, if you don't object."

Detective Claas chimed in, "This shouldn't take long. Fifteen-twenty minutes. We'll be as quick as we can. "

"Sure. Come on in." I turned and unlocked the front door, talking over my shoulder. "When'd you get up here ? "

"About an hour ago. We tried calling your office, but they told us you'd left. We must have just missed you. "

1"I had some errands to run," I said, wondering why I felt I owed them an explanation. I stepped across the threshold and they followed me in. In the past few years, a number of investigations had taken me to Los Angeles. One of the cases I'd handled for California Fidelity had exposed me to a bunch of badasses. This was probably related. The criminal element form a special subset, the same names surfacing over and over again. It's always interesting to find out what the cruds are up to.

I took a mental photograph of my apartment, idly aware of how it must appear to strangers. Small, immaculate, as compact as a ship's interior complete with cubbyholes and built-ins. Kitchenette to the right; desk and seating arrangement to the left. Royal-blue shag carpet, a small spiral staircase leading to a loft above. I set my shoulder bag on one of the stools at the kitchen counter and moved the six steps into the living room.

The two detectives waited in the doorway deferentially.

"Have a seat," I said.

Aldo said, "Thanks. Nice place. You live alone?"

"As a matter of fact, I do."

"Lucky you. My girlfriend's a slob. There's no way I can keep my place looking this clean."

Claas sat down on the small sofa tucked into the bay window, setting his briefcase on the floor beside him. While Claas and Aldo seemed equally chatty, Claas was more reserved, nearly prim in his verbal manner, while Aldo seemed relaxed. Detective Aldo took one of the two matching director's chairs, which left me with the other. I sat down, feeling subtly maneuvered, though I wasn't sure why. Aldo slouched in the chair with his legs spread, his hands hanging between his knees. The canvas on the director's chair sagged and creaked beneath his shifting weight. His thighs were enormous, and his posture seemed both indolent and intimidating. Claas flicked him a look and he altered his posture, sitting up straight.

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