O is for Outlaw Page 70


I pushed my way through the crowd, praying he'd lose interest during the time I was gone. The first flat surface I saw, I put the beer glass down and walked on.

The rest room was undergoing one of those temporary lulls where I was the only person present. I crossed to the window and opened it a crack. A wedge of cold air slanted in, and I could see the smoke drift out. The quiet was like a tonic. I could feel myself resist the notion of ever leaving the room. If the window had been lower, I'd have crawled on out. I went into a stall and peed just for something to do.

I was standing at the sink, soaping my hands, when the door opened behind me and Thea walked in. She crossed to the adjacent sink and began washing her hands, her manner businesslike. I didn't think her arrival was an accident, especially when she could have used the employees' lounge around the corner. She caught my reflection in the mirror and gave me a pallid smile as if she'd just that moment noticed I was standing there. She said "Hi" and I responded in kind, letting her define the communication since she'd initiated it.

I pulled out a sheet of paper towel and dried my hands. She followed suit. A silence ensued and then she spoke up again. "I hear you're looking for Mickey."

I focused my attention, hoping she couldn't guess how very curious I was. "I'd like to talk to him. Have you seen him tonight?"

"I haven't seen him for weeks."

"Really? That seems odd. Somebody told me he was usually here on Fridays."

"Uh-uh. Not lately. No telling where he's at. He could be out of town."

I doubt it. Not that he told me."

She took a lipstick from her pocket and twisted the color into view, sliding it across her lips. I read an article once in some glamour magazine, probably waiting for the dentist and hoping to distract myself in which the author analyzed the ways women wear down a tube of lipstick. A flat surface meant one thing, slanted meant something else. I couldn't recall the theory, but I noticed hers was flat, the lipstick itself coming perilously close to the metal.

She screwed the lipstick down and popped the top back on while she rubbed her lips together to even out the color. She corrected a slight mishap at the corner of her mouth, then studied her reflection. She tucked her coal-black hair behind her ears. Idly, she pursued the subject without any help on my part. "So what's your interest?" She used her tongue to remove a smudge of lipstick from her two front teeth.

"He's a friend."

She studied me with interest. "Is that why you have his jacket?"

"He's a good friend," I said, and then glanced down at myself. "You recognize this?"

"It sure looks like his. I spotted it when you were in here the other night."

"Last night," I said, as if she didn't know.

"Really. Did he give you that?"

"It's on loan. That's why I'm looking for him, to give it back," I said. "I tried calling, but his phone's been disconnected."

She'd taken out a mascara wand, leaning close to the mirror while she brushed through her lashes, leaving little dots of black. As long as she was wangling for information, I thought I'd wangle some myself.

I said, "What about you? Are you a friend of his?"

She shrugged. "I wait on him when he's in and we shoot the breeze."

"So nothing personal."

"I have a boyfriend."

"Was that him?"

"Who?"

"The guy in the watch cap, sitting at the booth out there?"

She stopped what she was doing. "As a matter of fact, yes. What makes you ask?"

"I was thinking to cop a joint when I saw you sit down. Is he local?"

She shook her head. "L.A." There was a pause and then she said, "How long have you dated Mickey?"

"It's kind of hard to keep track."

"Then this is recent," she said, turning the question into a statement to offset the inquisition.

I started fluffing at my hair the way she'd been fluffing hers. I leaned close to the mirror and checked some imaginary eye makeup, running the flat of one knuckle along the lower edge of one eye. She was still waiting for an answer. I looked at her blankly. "Sorry. Did you ask me something?"She took a pack of unfiltered Camels from her jeans and extracted a cigarette. She applied a flame to the tip, using a wooden match she had scratched on the bottom of her shoe. "I didn't know he was dating."

"Who, Mickey? Oh, please. He's always on the make. That's half his charm." I could picture the ashtray in his apartment, the numerous unfiltered Camel cigarette butts, along with the array of kitchen matches that looked just like hers. "He's so secretive. Jeez. You never know what he's up to or who he's doing these days. "

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