K is for Killer Page 36

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"Listen to her. 'Pimp.' Who taught you to talk that way? Lester Dudley-Mr. Dickhead to you-is my personal manager. He's like my professional representative."

"Did he represent Lorna?"

"Of course not. I already told you, she was smart. She declined his services."

"You think he'd have any information about her?"

"Not a chance. Don't even bother. The guy's a real piece of shit."

I thought for a moment, but I'd covered the questions that came readily to mind. "Well. This should do for now. If you think of anything else, will you get in touch?"

"Sure," she said. "As long as you got the money, I got the mouth… so to speak."

I picked up my handbag and took out my wallet. I gave her a business card, jotting my home address and telephone number on the back. Ordinarily I don't like to give out that information, but I wanted to make it as easy for her as possible. I reviewed my cash supply. I thought maybe she'd be magnanimous and waive her fees, but she held her hand out, watching carefully as I counted bills into her palm. I had to make up the last dollar with the loose change in the bottom of my bag. Of course, I was short.

"Don't worry about it. You can owe me the dime."

"I'll give you an IOU," I said.

She waved the offer aside. "I trust you." She tucked the money in her jacket pocket. "Men are funny, you know? Big male fantasy about hookers? I see this in all these books written by men. Some guy meets a hooker and she's gorgeous: big knockers, refined, and she's got the hots for him. Him and her end up bonking, and when he's done, she won't take his money. He's so wonderful, she doesn't want to charge him money like she does everyone else. Now that's bullshit for sure. I never knew a hooker who'd do a guy for free. Anyway, hooker sex is for shit. If he thinks that's a gift, then the joke's on him."

8

It was close to one-thirty in the morning when I parked my VW in the little parking lot outside the emergency entrance to St. Terry's Hospital. After my conversation with Danielle, Cheney had dropped me back at my place. I moved in through the squeaking gate and around to the back. I heard Cheney give his horn a short toot, and then he took off. The night sky was still clear, bright with stars, but I could see patchy clouds collecting at the western edge as predicted. An airplane moved across my field of vision, a distant dot of red winking among the pinpricks of white, the sound trailing behind it like a banner advertising flight. The final quarter of the moon had narrowed to the curved silver of a shepherd's crook, a cloud like a wisp of cotton caught in its crescent. I could have sworn I still heard the booming music that had shaken Neptune's Palace. In reality, the club was less than a mile from my apartment, and I suppose it was possible the sound might have carried. It was more likely a stereo or a car radio in much closer range. Against the drumming of the high tide at the ocean half a block away, the faint thump of bass was a muted counterpoint, brooding, silky, and indistinct.

I paused, keys in hand, and leaned my head briefly against the door to my place. I was tired, but curiously disinterested in sleep. I've always been a day person, thoroughly addicted to early rising and morning sunshine in a nine-to-five world. I might work late on occasion, but for the most part I'm home by early evening and sound asleep by eleven. Tonight, yet again, I was nudged by restlessness. Some long suppressed aspect of my personality was being activated, and I could feel myself respond. I wanted to talk to Serena Bonney, the nurse who'd discovered Lorna's body. Somewhere in the accumulating verbal portrait of Lorna Kepler was the key to her death. I went back through the gate and closed it quietly behind me.

The emergency room had an air of abandonment. The sliding glass doors opened with a hush, and I moved into the quiet of the blue-and-gray space. There were lights on in the reception area, but the patient registration windows had been closed for hours. To the left, behind a small partition with its wall-mounted pay telephones, the waiting room was empty, the TV a square of blank gray. I peered to the right, toward the examining rooms. Most were dark, with the surrounding curtains pulled back and secured on overhead tracks. I could smell freshly perked coffee wafting from a little kitchenette at the rear of the facility. A young black woman in a white lab coat came out of a doorway marked "Linens." She was small and pretty. She paused when she spotted me, flashing a smile. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know anyone was here. Can I help you?"

"I'm looking for Serena Bonney. Is she working this shift?"

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