O is for Outlaw Page 59


Almost at once, my gaze settled on a guy I would have sworn was him. He was somewhere in his mid-thirties, close to my age, and bore at least a superficial resemblance to Roy Littenberg. He had the same lean face, the distinctive jaw and jutting chin. He wore a dark purple shirt and plain mauve tie under a dark sport coat, jeans, desert boots. I'd caught him in conversation with a waitress, probably a dressing down, since she seemed upset. She had straight black hair, very glossy in the light, cut at an angle, with a line of blunt-cut bangs across the front. She wore black eyeliner and very red lipstick. I pegged her in her thirties, though close up she might have been older. She nodded, her face stony, and moved away, heading in my direction. She gave her order to the bartender, fussing with her order pad to cover her agitation. Hands shaking, she lit a cigarette, took a long drag, and then blew the smoke out in a thin jet. She left the cigarette in an ashtray on the bar.

I swiveled slightly and spoke to her. "Hi. I'm looking for Tim Littenberg. Is he on the premises?"

She looked at me, her gaze dropping to my jacket and then quizzically to my face again. She hiked a thumb in his direction. "Purple shirt," she said.

Tim had turned to greet a fellow in a tweedy sport coat, and I saw him signal the bartender to comp the guy to a drink. The two shook hands and Tim patted his back in a friendly gesture that probably didn't have much depth. Roy Littenberg had been fair-haired. His son's coloring was dark. His mouth was pouty and his eyes were darker than his father's, deep-set, smudged with shadow. His smile, when it showed, never touched his eyes. His attention flicked restlessly from room to room. He must constantly estimate the status of his customers, gauging their ages, their levels of inebriation screening each burst of laughter and every boisterous interchange for the possibility of violence. Every hour the Honky-Tonk was open, the crowd became looser and less inhibited, louder, more aggressive as the alcohol went down.

I watched him approach the bar, coming within a few feet of me. Nearby, the waitress turned abruptly with her tray to avoid contact with him. His gaze touched her and then drifted, caught mine, veered off, and then returned. This time his eyes held.

I smiled. "Hi. Are you Tim?"

"That's right."

I held a hand out. "I'm Kinsey. I knew your father years ago. I was sorry to hear he died."

We shook hands. Tim's smile was brief, maybe pained, though it was impossible to tell. He was lean like his father, but where Lit's countenance was open and sunny, his son's was guarded. "Can I buy you a drink? "

"Thanks, I'm fine for now. The place really Jumps. Is it always like this?"

He said, "Thursdays are good. Revving up for the weekend. This your first time in?" He was managing to conduct our conversation without being fully engaged. His face was slightly averted, his focus elsewhere: polite, but not passionate about the need to socialize.

"I was in years ago. That's how I knew your father. He was a great guy." This didn't seem to elicit any particular response. "Are you the manager?"

"The owner."

"Really. Oh, sorry. No offense," I said. "I could see you keeping a close eye out."

He shrugged.

I said, "You must know Mickey Magruder."

"Yeah, I know Mickey."

"I heard he'd bought a part interest in the place, so I was hoping to run into him. He's another cop from the old days. He and your dad were pals."

Tim seemed distracted. "Three Musketeers, right? I haven't seen him for weeks. Would you excuse me?"

I said, "Sure." I watched him cross the room to the dance floor, where he intervened in an exchange between a woman and her date. The guy was stumbling against her and she was struggling to keep him upright. Other couples on the dance floor were giving them a wide berth. The woman finally gave him a shove, both annoyed and embarrassed by his drunkenness. By the time Tim reached them, one of his bouncers had appeared and he began to walk the fellow toward the door, using the kind of elbow grip employed by street cops and mothers with small children acting up in department stores. The woman detoured to a table and snatched up her jacket and her handbag, prepared to follow. Tim intercepted her. A brief discussion ensued. I hoped he was persuading her to take a taxi home.

Moments later, he reappeared beside me, saying, "Sorry about that."

"I hope he's not getting in a car."

"The bouncer took his keys," he said. "We'll let him chill out in back and then see he gets home in one piece. He tends to hassle people when he's like that. Bad for business."

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