Janelle liked being Miss Tustin. Thought it was kind of funny, but harmless. Enjoyed people. Enjoyed the attention. No pills or booze. Made a run down to Baja with three truckloads of clothes from the church, gave them to people poorer than she ever was. Got her picture taken a lot. Tustin people thought she looked like the old SunBlesst crate label girl so they did up a poster of her with oranges, an old-fashioned kind of picture that made her look really pretty and made it seem like Tustin still had orange groves.
But all that only lasted two or three months. Then she got on the cover of Playboy. Wore almost as much clothing as she did for the SunBlesst girl poster but Tustin city council demanded a new queen. She split Tustin for Laguna and started UCI same month. Didn't talk to any of them after that. Didn't want to see a Tustin face or hear a Tustin name. Felt like that part of her was dead. Said she wouldn't go back to that town if you gave her a million dollars.
But she did, thought Nick. One last time.
It was mostly Karl and Lenny who talked. Casey just sat there on the cooler with his back to Nick. Getting more and more tense the more he heard, Nick could see. Shoulders moving in. Head hunching down a little. Hands in front of him. Moving now. Nick eased his hand under his coat and popped the holster snap. Casey caught the sound. Big dirty head turning Nick's way.
"Just to keep things fun and fast, I'm going to need alibis from you, Lenny, and you, Casey. What were you two princes doing two nights ago. Tuesday."
"We got drunk and watched TV," said Lenny. "Right here. Right bro?"
"What shows?" asked Nick.
"Fuckin' Mod Squad," said Lenny.
"It Takes a Thief" said Casey.
"Fuckin' Twilight Zone," said Lenny.
"Then Alfred Hitchcock and we fell asleep," said Casey. He didn't turn but his hands were still moving in front of him. Like they were doing something small.
"Now get off my property," said Lenny. "You got what you need."
Casey turned. Blank stares from all three of them now, like three empty glasses on a shelf.
"You should probably go, Nick," said Karl. "They were here. I was too. The kitchen faucet was dripping bad and I'm a fair plumber. The Twilight Zone was the one where the world ends and the guy's in the library with all those books and he breaks his glasses."
"That's a good one," said Nick.
"Yes, it is," said Karl Vonn.
Nick heard something click and saw Casey's shoulders move.
He took two steps forward, held one foot over the Hessians emblem on the back of Casey's vest. Pushed hard. The cooler tipped up and Casey went over and rolled onto his back. He lay there for a moment, looking up the barrel of Nick's gun. Sunglasses still on. Roller in one hand with the paper already in it, a bag of tobacco in the other. Yellow-brown flakes and strings spilled onto his stomach.
He aimed the roller at Nick, pulled a trigger.
"Someday," he said.
"Never," said Nick.
"Lunatic pig," said Lenny.
That evening Nick watched part of the autopsy of Janelle Vonn. It was performed by Dr. Warren Gershon at the Meak Brothers Funeral Home in Santa Ana because the Coroner's Department had no autopsy room. Certain county funeral homes allowed the autopsies to be performed on site, no charge. But Nick knew they pressured the next of kin to have the embalming and funeral arrangements done there, too. Wives and husbands crazy with grief. Made some good money that way. Meak Brothers was located downwind of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and Nick went from the smell of deep-fried thighs to formaldehyde as he walked in the embalming room door.
From California Girl by T Jefferson Parker. Copyright T Jefferson Parker 2004. All rights reserved. This excerpt starts half way through Chapter 11.
Blood at the Root
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