O is for Outlaw Page 51


I woke to the smell of coffee. I was still wearing Mickey's jacket, but someone had placed a heavy afghan across my legs. I put a hand above my head, feeling across the pillow, but Dorothy was gone. The door was open a crack. Sunlight made the curtains glow. I looked at my watch and saw that it was close to eight. I put my feet over the side of the bed and ran a hand through my hair, yawning. I was getting too old to horse around at all hours of the night. I went into the bathroom and brushed my teeth, then show 1ered and dressed again. In the end, I looked much as I had when I'd arrived.

Belmira was sitting at the kitchen table, watching a talk show, when I finally made my appearance. She was a tiny thing, quite thin, so short her feet barely touched the floor. Today, she wore a white bib apron over a red-and-white print housedress. She was shelling peas, the colander in her lap, a paper bag sitting next to her with the rim folded back. Dorothy was on the counter licking butter from the butter dish.

Bel smiled at me shyly. "Coffee's over there," she said. "The sheriff's deputy just arrived with the locksmith, so Cordia went upstairs to let them in. Did you sleep well?"

"I didn't get enough of it, but what I had was fine." I crossed to the coffeepot, an old-fashioned percolator sitting on the stove. There was a mug on the counter, along with a carton of milk. I poured a cup of coffee and added milk.

"Would you like to have an egg? We have cereal, too. Cordi made some oatmeal with raisins. That's what we have. Brown sugar's in the canister if you want to help yourself."

"I think I better go on up and see if I can catch Mickey's neighbors before they go off to work. I can always have breakfast once the deputy's gone." At the door, I looked back. "Did she say anything about a motorcycle parked in the alley?"

Belmira shook her head.


I took my coffee mug with me and headed for the stairs. I could see the sheriff's patrol car parked at the curb, not far from my VW, which as far as I could tell was still intact. The day was sunny and cool, the air already fragrant with the morning's accumulation of exhaust fumes. I passed along the second-floor gallery. A few neighbors had gathered to watch the locksmith at work. Maybe, for them, this was a cautionary tale about paying the rent on time. Most seemed dressed for work except for one woman in her robe and slippers, who'd also brought her morning coffee with her. Like rubberneckers passing a highway accident, they looked on, both repelled and attracted by the sight of someone else's misfortune. This was all faintly reminiscent of the fires that burned across the Santa Teresa foothills back in 1964. During the long smoky evenings, people had gathered on the street in clusters, sipping beer and chatting while the flames danced across the distant mountains. The presence of catastrophe seemed to break down the usual social barriers until the atmosphere was nearly festive.

Cordia Hatfield was keeping a careful eye on the situation, standing in the open doorway with a white sweater thrown over her shoulders. Her oversized blueand-white checked housedress was worn ankle-length, and she sported the same pair of slippers with her bunion peeking out. She turned as I approached. "I see you found the coffee. How'd you sleep last night?"

"Dorothy was stingy with the pillow, but aside from that I did great."

"She was never one to share. Even when she came back, she insisted on having her old room. We were going to keep it closed up for guests, but she refused to use the litter box until she got her way."

Mickey's immediate neighbor, who appeared to be 1somewhere in his forties, emerged from his apartment, pulling on a tweed sport coat over a royal-blue Superman T-shirt. His shiny brown hair extended to his waist. He wore large metal-framed glasses with yellow lenses. A mustache and a closely trimmed beard bracketed a full complement of white teeth. His jeans were ripped and faded, and his cowboy boots had three-inch platform soles. Behind him, I could see the broken bedroom window, patched together now with cardboard and a jagged bolt of silver duct tape. He said, "Hey, Ms. Hatfield. How are you today?"

She said, "Morning. just dandy. What happened to your window? That'll have to be repaired."

"Sorry about that. I'll take care of it. I called a glass company on Olympic, and they said they'd be out to take a look. Has Mickey been evicted?"

"I'm afraid so," she said.

The deputy clearly wasn't needed, so he returned to his car and went about his business. The locksmith beckoned to Cordia. She excused herself, and the two of them moved inside to have a consultation. The nextdoor neighbor had paused to watch the proceedings and he now greeted a couple who came out of the third apartment on that side. Both were dressed for work. The woman murmured something to her husband and the two continued toward the stairs. Mickey's neighbor nodded politely in my direction, acknowledging my presence.

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