G is for Gumshoe - Page 53/98

Dietz nodded. "No luck. His father claims he hasn't talked to Messinger in years. He's probably lying, but you can't do much about that. Dolan says they delivered a stern lecture about aiding and abetting. The old man swore a Boy Scout oath he'd notify the cops if the guy showed up."

I could feel a knot of dread begin to form in my gut. "Let's talk about something else."

"Let's talk about fighting back."

"Right now, I'm not in the

"Tomorrow," I said. "Right now I'm not in the mood."

"Drink your tea and get cleaned up. I'll see you downstairs."

Henry had put together a meal of comfort foods: succulent meatloaf with mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, homemade rolls, fresh lemon meringue pie, and coffee. He ate with us, saying little, watching me with worried eyes. Dietz must have cautioned him not to chide me for leaving the premises. It was clear Henry wanted to fuss, but he had the presence of mind to keep his mouth shut. I felt guilty anyway, as if the attempt on my life was something I had done. Henry studied the police bulletins, memorizing Mark Messinger's face and the details of his (alleged) crimes. "A nasty piece of work. You mentioned a little boy. How does he figure into this?" he said to Dietz.

"He kidnapped the kid from his common-law wife. Her name is Rochelle. She works in a massage parlor down in Hollywood. I talked to her a little while ago and the woman's a mess. The kid's name is Eric. He's five. He was enrolled in a day-care center in Rochelle's neighborhood. Messinger picked him up about eight months ago and that's the last she's seen of him. I got boys of my own. I'd kill anyone came after them." Dietz ate like he did everything else, with intense concentration. When he finished the last scrap of food, he sat back, patting automatically at the shirt pocket where he'd kept his cigarettes. I saw a quick head shake, as if he were amused at himself.

They moved on to other subjects: sports, the stock market, political events. While they talked, I gathered the empty plates and utensils and took them to the kitchenette. I ran a sinkful of soapy water and slid the dishes in. There's nothing so restful as washing dishes when you need to separate yourself from other folk. It looks dutiful and industrious and it's soothing as a bubble bath. For the moment, I felt safe. I didn't care if I ever left the apartment again. What was wrong with staying right here? I could learn to cook and clean house. I could iron clothes (if I had any). Maybe I could learn to sew and make craft items out of Popsicle sticks. I just didn't want to go out again. I was beginning to feel about the real world as I did about swimming in the ocean. Off the Santa Teresa coast, the waters of the Pacific are murky and cold, filled with USTs (unidentified scary things) that can hurt you real bad: organisms made of jelly and slime, crust-covered creatures with stingers and horny pincers that can rip your throat out. Mark Messinger was like that: vicious, implacable, dead at heart.

Henry left at ten o'clock. Dietz turned the TV on, waiting up for the news while I went back to bed. I stirred twice during the night, glancing at the clock; once at 1:15 a.m., and again at 2:35. The light was still on downstairs and I knew Dietz was awake. He seemed to thrive on very little sleep while I never got quite enough. The light coming over the loft rail was a cheery yellow. Anyone coming after me would be forced to contend with him. Reassured, I drifted off again.

Given my anxiety level, I slept well and woke with some of my old energy, which lasted almost until I got downstairs. Dietz was still in the shower. I made sure the front door was locked. I considered loitering outside the bathroom, listening to him sing, but I was afraid he'd catch me at it and perhaps take offense. I made a pot of coffee, set out the milk, the cereal boxes, and the bowls. I peered out one of the windows, opening the wooden shutter just a crack. All I could see was a slit of the flower bed. I pictured Messinger across the street with a bolt-action sniper rifle with a l0x scope trained so he could blow my head off the minute I stirred. I retreated to the kitchenette and poured some orange juice. I hadn't felt this threatened since my first day in elementary school.

Coming out of the bathroom, Dietz seemed surprised to find me up. He was wearing chinos and a form-fitting white T-shirt. He looked solid and muscular, without an ounce of extra fat. He disarmed the portable alarm system, opened the door, and brought the paper in. I noticed I was careful to hang back out of the line of fire. Some forms of mental illness probably feel just like this. I pulled a stool out and sat down.

He tossed the paper on the counter and then did a brief detour into the living room. He came back with the Davis, which he'd apparently taken from my purse. He placed it on the counter in front of me. He poured himself some coffee and sat down on the stool across from mine.