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Whispers

Whispers

Page 19


In fact, the manager of the apartment complex did not appear to understand how the patterns of transition had brought her to her current circumstances. Her name was Lana Haverby. She was in her forties, a well-tanned blonde in shorts and halter. She had a good opinion of her sexual attractiveness. She walked and stood and sat as if she were posing. Her legs were okay, but the rest of her was far from prime. She was thicker in the middle than she seemed to realize, too big in h*ps and butt for her skimpy costume. Her br**sts were so huge that they were not attractive but freakish. The thin halter top exposed canyonesque cl**vage and accentuated the large turgid nipples, but it could not give her br**sts the shape and uplift they so desperately needed. When she wasn't changing her pose or adjusting it, when she wasn't trying to gauge what effect her body had on Frank and Tony, she seemed confused, distracted. Her eyes didn't always appear to be focused. She tended to leave sentences unfinished. And several times she looked around in wonder at her small dark living room and at the threadbare furniture, as if she had absolutely no idea how she had come to this place or how long she'd been here. She cocked her head as if she heard whispering voices, just out of range, that were trying to explain it all to her.


Lana Haverby sat in a chair, and they sat on the sofa, and she looked at the mug shots of Bobby Valdez.


"Yeah," she said. "He was a sweetie."


"Does he live here?" Frank asked.


"He lived ... yeah. Apartment nine ... was it? But not any more."


"He moved out?"


"Yeah."


"When was that?"


"This summer sometime. I think it was...."


"Was what?" Tony asked.


"First of August," she said.


She recrossed her bare legs, put her shoulders back a bit farther to elevate her br**sts as much as possible.


"How long did he live here?" Frank asked.


"I guess it was three months," she said.


"He live alone?"


"You mean was there a chick?"


"A girl, a guy, anybody," Frank said.


"Just him," Lana said. "He was a sweetie, you know."


"Did he leave a forwarding address?"


"No. But I wish he would have."


"Why? Did he skip out on the rent?"


"No. Nothing like that. I'd just like to know where I could...."


She cocked her head, listening to the whispers again.


"Where you could what?" Tony asked.


She blinked. "Oh ... I'd sure like to know where I could visit him. I was kind of working on him.


He turned me on, you know. Got my juices running. I was trying to get him into bed, but he was, you know, sort of shy."


She had not asked why they wanted Bobby Valdez, alias Juan Mazquezza. Tony wondered what she would say if she knew her shy little sweetie was an aggressive, violent rapist.


"Did he have any regular visitors?"


"Juan? Not that I noticed."


She uncrossed her legs, sat with her thighs spread, and watched Tony for his reaction.


"Did he say where he worked?" Frank asked.


"When he first moved in, he worked at some laundry. Later, he got something else."


"Did he say what it was?"


"No. But he was, you know, making good money."


"He have a car?" Frank asked.


"Not at first," she said. "But later. A Jaguar two-plus-two. That was beautiful, man."


"And expensive," Frank said.


"Yeah," she said. "He paid a bundle for it and all in cold hard cash."


"Where would he get that kind of money?"


"I told you. He was making good bread at his new job."


"Are you sure you don't know where he was working?"


"Positive. He wouldn't talk about it. But, you know, as soon as I saw that Jaguar, I knew ... he wasn't long for this place," she said wistfully. "He was moving up fast."


They spent another five minutes asking questions, but Lana Haverby had nothing more of consequence to tell them. She was not a very observant person, and her recollection of Juan Mazquezza seemed to have tiny holes in it, as if moths had been nibbling at her store of memories.


When Tony and Frank got up to leave, she hurried to the door ahead of them. Her gelatinous br**sts jiggled and swayed alarmingly, in what she evidently thought was a wildly provocative display. She affected that ass-swinging, tippy-toe-walk that didn't look good on any coquette over twenty-one; she was forty, a grown woman, unable to discover and explore the dignity and special beauty of her own age, trying to pass for a teenager, and she was pathetic. She stood in the doorway, leaning back slightly against the open door, one long leg bent at the knee, copying a pose she'd seen in a men's magazine or on a cheesecake calendar, virtually begging for a compliment.


Frank turned sideways as he went through the door, barely able to avoid brushing against her breasts. He strode quickly down the walk toward the car, not looking back.


Tony smiled and said, "Thanks for your cooperation, Miss Haverby."


She looked up at him, and her eyes focused on his eyes more clearly than they had focused on anything during the past fifteen minutes. She held his gaze, and a spark of something vital glimmered in her eyes--intelligence, genuine pride, maybe a shred of self-respect--something better and cleaner than had been there before. "I'm going to move up and out of here, too, you know, like Juan did. I wasn't always just a manager at Las Palmeras. I moved in some, you know, pretty rich circles."


Tony didn't want to hear what she had to tell him, but he felt trapped and then mesmerized, like the man who was stopped in the street by the Ancient Mariner.


"Like when I was twenty-three," she said. "I was working as a waitress, but I got up and out of that. That was when the Beatles, you know, were just getting started, like seventeen years ago, and the whole rock thing was really exploding then. You know? A good-looking girl back then, she could connect with the stars, make those important connections, you know, and go just about everywhere with the big groups, travel all over the country with them. Oh, wow, man, those were some fantastic times! Like there wasn't anything you couldn't have or do. They had it all, those groups, and they spread it around, you know. And I was with them. I sure was. I slept with some very famous people, you know. Household names. I was very popular, too. They liked me."


She began to list bestselling rock groups from the sixties. Tony didn't know how many of them she'd actually been with and how many she only imagined she'd been with, but he noticed that she never mentioned individuals; she had been to bed with groups, not people.


He had never wondered what became of groupies, those bouncy child-women who wasted some of their best years as hangers-on in the rock music world. But now he knew at least one way they could end up. They trailed after the current idols, offering inarticulate praise, sharing drugs, providing convenient receptacles for the sperm of the rich and famous, giving no thought to time and the changes it would bring. Then one day, after a girl like that had been burnt out by too much booze and too much pot and too much coc**ne and maybe a little heroin, when the first hard wrinkles came at the corners of the eyes, when the laugh lines grew a shade too deep, when the pneumatic br**sts began to show the first signs of sagging, she was eased out of one group's bed--and discovered that, this time, there was no other group willing to take her in. If she wasn't averse to turning tricks, she could still make a living that way, for a few years. But to some of them that was a turn-off; they didn't think of themselves as hookers but as "girlfriends." For a lot of them, marriage was out, for they'd seen too much and done too much to willingly settle for a tame domestic life. One of them, Lana Haverby, had taken a job at Las Palmeras, a position she thought of as temporary, just a way to swing free rent until she could reconnect with the beautiful people.


"So I won't be here much longer," she said. "I'll be moving on soon. Any time now, you know. I feel lots of good things coming. Like really good vibrations, you know?"


Her situation was ineffably sad, and Tony could think of nothing to say that would make a difference to her. "Uh ... well ... I sure wish you all the luck in the world," he said stupidly.


He edged past her, through the door.


The gleam of vitality vanished from her eyes, and she was suddenly desperately posing again, shoulders back, chest out. But her face was still weary and drawn. Her belly was still straining at the waistband of her shorts. And her h*ps were still too big for girlish games. "Hey," she said, "if you're ever in the mood for some wine and, you know, a little conversation...."


"Thank you," he said.


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"I mean, feel free to stop by when you're not, you know, on duty."


"I might do that," he lied. Then, because he felt he had sounded insincere and didn't want to leave her without anything, he said, "You've got pretty legs."


That was true, but she didn't know how to accept a compliment, gracefully. She grinned and put her hands on her br**sts and said, "It's usually my boobs that get all the attention."


"Well... I'll be seeing you," he said, turning away from her and heading toward the car.


After a few steps, he glanced back and saw that she was standing in the open door, head cocked to one side, far away from him and Las Palmeras Apartments, listening to those faint whispering voices that were trying to explain the meaning of her life.


As Tony got into the car, Frank said, "I thought she got her claws into you. I was about ready to call up a SWAT team to rescue you."


Tony didn't laugh. "It's sad."


"What?"


"Lana Haverby."


"You kidding me?"


"The whole situation."


"She's just a dumb broad," Frank said. "But what did you think about Bobby buying the Jag?"


"If he hasn't been robbing banks, there's only one way he could get hold of that kind of cash."


"Dope," Frank said.


"Cocaine, grass, maybe PCP."


"It gives us a whole new place to start looking for the little bastard," Frank said. "We can go out on the street and start putting some muscle on the known dealers, guys who've taken falls for selling junk. Make it hot for them, and if they've got a lot to lose and they know where Bobby is, they'll give him to us on a silver platter."


"Meanwhile," Tony said, "I'd better call in."


He wanted a DMV check on a black Jaguar registered to Juan Masquezza. If they could get a license number for the hot sheet, then looking for Bobby's wheels would be part of every uniformed officer's daily duties.


That didn't mean they would find him right away. In any other city, if a man was wanted as badly as Bobby was wanted, he would not be able to live in the open for a long time. He would be spotted or tracked down in a few weeks at most. But Los Angeles was not like other cities; at least in terms of land area, it was bigger than any other urban center in the nation. L.A. was spread over nearly five hundred square miles. It covered half again as much land as all the boroughs of New York City, ten times more than all of Boston, and almost half as much as the state of Rhode Island. Counting the illegal aliens, which the Census Bureau did not do, the population of the entire metropolitan area was approaching nine million. In this vast maze of streets, alleyways, freeways, hills, and canyons, a clever fugitive could live in the open for many months, going about his business as boldly and unconcernedly as any ordinary citizen.


Tony switched on the radio, which they had left off all morning, called Communications, and asked for the DMV check on Juan Mazquezza and his Jaguar.


The woman handling their frequency had a soft appealing voice. After she took Tony's requests, she informed him that a call had been out for him and Frank the past two hours. It was now 11:45. The Hilary Thomas case was open again, and they were needed at her Westwood house, where other officers had answered a call at 9:30.


Racking the microphone, Tony looked at Frank and said, "I knew it! Dammit, I knew she wasn't lying about the whole thing."


"Don't preen your feathers yet," Frank said disagreeably. "Whatever this new development is, she's probably making it up like she made up all the rest of it."


"You never give up, do you?"


"Not when I know I'm right."


A few minutes later, they pulled up in front of the Thomas house. The circular driveway was filled with two press cars, a station wagon for the police laboratory, and a black-and-white.


As they got out of their car and started across the lawn, a uniformed officer came out of the house and walked toward them. Tony knew him; his name was Warren Prewitt. They met him halfway to the front door.


"You guys answered this call last night?" Prewitt asked.


"That's right," Frank said.


"What is it, do you work twenty-four hours a day?"


"Twenty-six," Frank said.


Tony said, "How's the woman?"


"Shaken up," Prewitt said.


"Not hurt?"


"Some bruises on her throat."


"Serious?"


"No."


"What happened?" Frank said.


Prewitt capsulized the story that Hilary Thomas had told him earlier.


"Any proof that she's telling the truth?" Frank asked.


"I heard how you feel about this case," Prewitt said. "But there is proof."


"Like what?" Frank asked.


"He got into the house last night through a study window. A very smart job it was, too. He taped up the glass so she wouldn't hear it breaking."


"She could have done that herself," Frank said.


"Broken her own window'?" Prewitt asked.


"Yeah. Why not?" Frank said.


"Well," Prewitt said, "she wasn't the one who bled all the hell over the place."


"How much blood?" Tony asked.


"Not a whole lot, but not a whole little," Prewitt said. "There's some on the hall floor, a big bloody handprint on the wall up there, drops of blood on the stairs, another smeared print on the downstairs foyer wall, and traces of blood on the doorknob."


"Human blood?" Frank asked.


Prewitt blinked at him. "Huh?"


"I'm wondering if it's a fake, a hoax."


"Oh, for Christ's sake!" Tony said.


"The boys from the lab didn't get here till about forty-five minutes ago," Prewitt said. "They haven't said anything yet. But I'm sure it's human blood. Besides, three of the neighbors saw the man running away."

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