G is for Gumshoe - Page 50/98

"Let's hope. Thanks, anyway."

His gaze strayed back to Irene still sitting on the bottom step. "How about a glass of water for your friend?"

"She'll be okay, but thanks," I said. I closed the conversation with my usual request for assistance. "Here. Let me leave you my card. If you see the woman or talk to anyone who might have noticed her, could you let me know? If I'm not available, you can always call the nursing home."

He took my card. "Certainly," he said. Someone spoke to him from inside, a feeble voice, faintly petulant. He excused himself and went in.

I helped Irene up. We made our way down the walk and out the gate. She was shaky on her feet, her face drawn and tense.

"I really think I ought to take you back," I said.

She shook her head emphatically. "Not yet. I'm feeling better." She straightened her back as if to illustrate the point.

I could see a fine mist of sweat beading on her forehead, but she seemed determined to go on. I had my doubts, but there wasn't much I could do. "One more, then," I said, "and then we'll check back with Clyde."

The house next door was a blocky bungalow with a low-pitched roof, a story and a half sheathed in fawn-brown clapboard. The porch was open and wide, the overhang supported on squat brick stanchions with wooden railings between. We were heading up the walk when I saw one of the wooden porch rails split, raw wood opening up like a flower blossoming. I heard a popping sound and glass broke. I jumped, thinking that some shift in the earth was causing the structure to snap apart. I heard Dietz's Porsche roar around the corner to our left. I turned to look for him and registered peripherally the UPS delivery truck still idling at the curb. The UPS man was coming up the walk behind us. He was smiling at me and I felt myself smile automatically in response. He was a big man, muscular, clean-shaven, with blond curly hair, stark blue eyes in a tan face, full mouth curving into dimpled cheeks. I thought I must know him because he seemed glad to see me, his eyes soft, the look on his face both sensual and warm. He moved nearer, bending toward me, almost as if he meant to kiss me. He was so close I registered the heady bouquet of his personal scent: gunpowder, Aqua Velva after-shave, and a whiff of Juicy Fruit chewing gum. I felt myself drawing back, perplexed. Behind me, wood snapped like a tree being cracked by lightning. I could see his face suffuse with heat, like a lover at the moment of his climax. He said something. I glanced down at his hands. He seemed to be holding the nozzle of a hose, but why would a UPS man wear gardening gloves? Light spurted from the hose. I blinked uncomprehendingly and then I understood. I grabbed Irene by the arm, nearly lifting her off her feet. I hauled her up the two low stairs and toward the front door. The occupant of the house, a middle-aged man, was opening the front screen, puzzled by the noise. I could tell from his expression he wasn't expecting company. I snagged him by his shirtfront and shoved him aside, pushing him out of the line of fire as I shouldered us through the door. A front window shattered, spraying glass across the floor. Irene and I went down in a heap. She was too surprised to shriek, but I could hear the wind being knocked out of her as she hit the bare hardwood floor. The door banged back on its hinges, exposing the hallway and the stairs. The owner of the house had taken refuge in the living room, crouched beside the sofa, his arms folded across his head. He reminded me of a little kid who believes he's invisible just because his eyes are squeezed shut. A bullet ripped a hole through the back wall. Plaster dust blew inward like a bomb going off, with a find cloud rising in its wake.

There was silence. I heard someone running, pounding steps receding in the grass, and I knew instinctively that Dietz would give chase. Crouching, I duck-waddled my way into the dining room and peered cautiously out the side window, eyes barely above the sill. I saw Dietz round the corner of the house and disappear. Behind me, Irene was beginning to wail, from fear, from injury, from shock and bewilderment. Belatedly, I felt a rush of adrenaline that made my heart thunder in my throat. My mouth went dry. I clung to the windowsill and laid my cheek against the cold wall, which was papered in cabbage roses, maroon and pink on a field of gray. I closed my eyes. In my mind, the moment was being played out all over again. First the man… that warm light in his eyes, mouth curving up in a familiar smile. The sense that he meant to kiss me, husky voice saying something, then the muzzle flash. From the sound, I knew he'd had a suppressor on the gun, but I'd seen light spurt out. Didn't seem likely in daylight unless my mind had somehow supplied the image out of past experience. How many shots had he fired? Five? Six?