O is for Outlaw Page 7


I returned to the car, fished an Olvidado city map from the glove compartment, and found the street listed on the ledger. By tracing the number and the letter coordinates, I pinpointed the location, not far from where I sat. Oh, happiness. I turned the key in the ignition, put the car in reverse, and in less than five minutes I was idling in front of Teddy's house, whence he operated his roofing business.

I found a parking spot six doors down and then sat in the car while my good angel and my bad angel jousted for possession of my soul. My good angel reminded me I'd vowed to reform. She recited the occasions when my usual vile behavior had brought me naught but grief and pain, as she put it. Which was all well and good, but as my bad angel asserted, this was really the only chance I was going to have to get the information I wanted. If Rich had "shared" the name of the storage company, I wouldn't have to do this, so it was really all his fault. He was currently on his way to Thousand Oaks to give an estimate on some guy's roof. The round-trip drive would take approximately thirty minutes, with another thirty minutes thrown in for schmoozing, which is how men do business. The two of us had parted company at ten. It was now tenfifteen, so (with luck) he wouldn't be back for another forty-five minutes.

I removed my key picks from my shoulder bag, which I'd left on the backseat under the pile of assorted clothes I keep there. Often in the course of surveillance work, I use camouflage garments, like a quick-change artist, to vary my appearance. Now I pulled out a pair of navy coveralls that looked suitably professional. The patch on the sleeve, which I'd had stitched to my specifications, read SANTA TERESA CITY SERVICES and suggested I was employed by the public works department. I figured from a distance the Olvidado citizens would never know the difference. Wriggling around in the driver's seat, I pulled the coveralls over my usual jeans and T-shirt. I tugged up the front zipper and tucked my key picks in one pocket. I reached for the matching clipboard with its stack of generic paperwork, then locked the car behind me and walked as far as Ted Rich's gravel drive. There were no vehicles parked anywhere near the house.

I climbed the front steps and rang the doorbell. I waited, leafing through the papers on the clipboard, making an official-looking note with the pen attached by a chain. I rang again, but there was no reply. Quelle surprise. I moved to the front window, shading my eyes as I peered through the glass. Aside from the fact that there was no sign of the occupant, the place had the look of a man accustomed to living by himself, an aura epitomized by the presence of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle in the middle of the dining room.

Casually, I glanced around. There was no one on the sidewalk and no hint of neighbors watching from across the way. Nonetheless, I frowned, making a big display of my puzzlement. I checked my watch to show that I, at least, was on time for our imaginary appointment. I trotted down the front steps and headed back along the driveway to the rear of the house. The backyard was fenced, and the shrubbery had grown up tall enough to touch the utility wires strung along the property line. The yard was deserted. Both sectional doors of the two-car garage were closed and showed hefty padlocks.

I climbed the back porch steps and then checked to see if any neighbors were busy dialing 9-1-1. Once assured of my privacy, I peeped in the kitchen window. The lights were off in the rooms within view. I tried the door handle. Locked. I stared at the Schlage, wondering how long it would take before it yielded to my key picks. Glancing down at knee height, I noticed that the bottom half of the door panel boasted a sizable homemade pet entrance. Well, what have we here? I reached down, gave the flap a push, and found myself staring at a section of kitchen linoleum. I thought back to Ted Rich's reference to his divorce and the death of his beloved pooch. The opening to the doggie door appeared to be large enough to accommodate me.

I set the clipboard on the porch rail and got down on my hands and knees. At 5 feet 6 inches and 118 pounds, I had only minor difficulties in my quest for admittance. Arms above my head, my body tilted to the diagonal, I began to ease myself through the opening. Once I'd succeeded in squeezing my head and shoulders through the door, I paused for a quick appraisal to assure myself there was no one else in residence. My one-sided view was restricted to the chrome-and-Formica dinette set, littered with dirty dishes, and the big plastic clock on the wall above. I inched forward, rotating my body so I could see the rest of the room. Now that I was halfway through the doggie door, it dawned on me that maybe I should have asked Rich if he'd acquired a new mutt. To my left, at eye level, I could see a two-quart water bowl and a large plastic dish filled with dry dog food. Nearby, a rawhide bone sported teeth marks that appeared to have been inflicted by a creature with a surly disposition.

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