O is for Outlaw Page 92


I went back to Mickey's financial statements. I studied his savings passbook, beginning to understand the regular withdrawals of $600 on dates that corresponded with his trips to the Tonk. I thought about Tim and the conversation we'd had about the second floor, where he was claiming he might add tables. In retrospect, I marveled at how carefully I'd been duped. He'd offered me the bait, the unlocked door, and the subsequent glimpse of what had appeared to be undeveloped floor space. I'd seen the bouncer scan the drivers' licenses of those granted admission to the bar. Since the bar retained a copy of each credit card transaction, the numbers would have been easy enough to match to the drivers' license data. I couldn't guess at the whole of it, but there were people who'd know.

I looked at my watch again. It was 1:55. I said, "Oh, shit." I'd told Thea I'd meet her as soon as she got off work at two. I leapt up, shoved all the cards in my desk drawer and locked it, put Mickey's phony IDS back in their hiding place. I grabbed my jacket and car keys. Within minutes, I was on 101, driving north again toward Colgate, restraining the temptation to put the gas pedal to the floor. Traffic was light, the freeway virtually deserted, but I knew this was the hour when the CHP would be out. I didn't need a traffic stop or a speeding ticket. I found myself talking out loud, encouraging the VW's performance, praying Thea would wait for me at the coffee shop until I arrived. The restaurant shared a parking lot with the bowling alley next door. Every slot was filled and I groaned as I circled, looking for a place. Finally, I left my car in a moderately legal spot. I cut the lights and the engine as I opened the car door and emerged. It was:13. I locked the car and then did a run/walk to the restaurant, pausing for breath as I hauled the door open and started looking for her.

Thea sat at a back booth, smoking a cigarette. The harsh fluorescent lighting washed all the lines from her face, leaving her expression as blank as kabuki makeup.

I slid into the seat across the table from her. "Thanks for waiting," I said. "I was caught up in paperwork and lost track of the time."

"Doesn't matter," she said. "My life's rapidly turning to shit anyway. What's one more thing?"

She seemed curiously withdrawn. My guess was she'd had too much time to reconsider. At the Honky-Tonk earlier, I could have sworn she'd confide. People with problems are generally relieved at the chance to unburden themselves. Catch them at the right moment and they'll tell you anything you ask. I was kicking myself I hadn't had the opportunity to take her aside then.

I said, "Look, I know you're pissed off because I didn't own up to who I was, "

"Among other things," she said acidly. "I mean, give me a break. You're a private detective, plus you're Mickey's ex-wife?"

"But Thea, get serious. If I'd said that up front, would I have learned anything?"

"Probably not," she conceded. "But you didn't have to lie."

"Of course I did. That was the only means I had of getting at the truth."

"What's wrong with being straight? Or is that beyond you?"

"Me, straight! What about you? You're the one screwing Mickey behind Scott's back."

"You were screwing him too!"


"Nope. Sorry. Wasn't me."

She looked at me blankly. "But you said "Uh-uh. You might have leapt to that conclusion, but I never said as much."

You didn't?"

I shook my head.

She started blinking, nonplused. "Then whose diaphragm was it?"

"Good question. I just got the answer to that myself. It looks like dear Mickey was screwing someone else."

"Who?

"I think I'd better keep mum, at this point."

"I don't believe you."

"Which part? You know he was seeing someone. You saw the evidence yourself. Of course, if you weren't systematically betraying Scottie, you wouldn't have to worry about these things."

Her gaze hung on mine.

I said, "You don't have to look quite so glum. He did the same thing to me. That's just how he is."

"It's not that. I just realized I didn't mind so much when I thought it was you. At least you'd been married to him, so it didn't feel so bad. Is he in love with this other woman?"

"If he is, it didn't stop him from picking up on you."

"Actually, I pursued him."

"Oh, boy. I hate to say this, but are you nuts? The man's a barfly. He's unemployed, and he's older by what, fifteen years?"

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