When the women come out.., p.1
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       When the Women Come Out to Dance: Stories, p.1

           Elmore Leonard
 
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When the Women Come Out to Dance: Stories


  For my friend Otto

  CONTENTS

  The Extras

  Sparks

  Hanging Out at the Buena Vista

  Chickasaw Charlie Hoke

  When the Women Come Out to Dance

  Fire in the Hole

  Karen Makes Out

  Hurrah for Capt. Early

  The Tonto Woman

  Tenkiller

  About the Author

  Also by Elmore Leonard

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  SPARKS

  They sat close to each other on the sofa, Canavan aware of Mrs. Harris’ scent and her dark hair, parted to one side, she would hold away from her face to look at the map spread open on the coffee table.

  Canavan was showing her the areas destroyed by fire, explaining how the hot Santa Ana wind swept the flames through these canyons and on down toward the Pacific Coast Highway. Close to four thousand acres destroyed but only nine homes this time, including Mrs. Harris’ Mediterranean villa, here, at the top of Arroyo Verde. Nothing like five years ago when over two hundred homes were lost. He showed her photographs, too, fires raging against the night sky.

  Robin Harris said, “Yeah . . . ?” looking at the photos but not showing any real interest.

  Canavan kept glancing at her, Robin a slim turn-on in a trendy kind of way: pale skin and heavy eyeliner, silver rings, designer-ripped jeans, barefoot, a black sleeveless top that showed the chain, tattooed blue steel, around her upper left arm, the one close to Canavan.

  The profile he had in his case file described her as the former Robin Marino: sang with a rock band that played L.A. clubs, produced one album, gave it up five years ago to marry Sid Harris: the legendary Sid Harris, lawyer to platinum-selling recording artists. Now a widow at thirty-seven, Robin was estimated to be worth around ten million. She had lost Sid to a coronary thrombosis, at home, only three months ago, Sid sixty-three when he died. And had lost the house in the Malibu hills three weeks ago, close to a million dollars’ worth of furniture and contents destroyed. But she had bought the Wilshire apartment, where she was living now, right after Sid’s death. Why? It was on Canavan’s checklist, one of the things he’d ask her about.

  She said, “What’s the point?” Meaning the map and the pictures. “I saw the fire, Joe. I was there.”

  Arriving, he had introduced himself and handed Robin his business card that said Joseph Canavan Associates, Insurance Investigations. She had looked at it and said, “Are you a Joe or a Joseph?” He told her either, but usually Joe. She said, “Well, come in and sit down, Joe, anywhere you like,” picking up on his name in a way that sounded natural and gave him a glimpse of her personality. She looked at his business card again and said, “You’re not with the insurance company, like the ones before.” He told her they called him in when they red-flagged a claim, had questions about it. All it meant, certain conditions existed the company felt should be investigated. Canavan said they wanted to know in their hearts the fire was either accidental or providential before paying the claim. Robin said, “Well, I can tell you the same thing I told the fire department, sheriff’s deputies, the state fire marshal’s office, the California Forestry Department and a guy from Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The fire marshal’s guy brought a dog that sniffed around. He said when the dog was working it ate seventy Kibbles a day. What would you like to know?”

  This was when Canavan first arrived.

  Now he turned from the map to look at Robin sitting back in the sofa. She resembled a girl in the movies he liked a lot, Linda . . . very sexy, had an Italian name. He said, “I wanted to show you the path of the main fire, where it came down west of your place, on the other side of the ridge.”

  “So how did my house catch fire,” Robin said. “Is that the question? How about sparks, Joe? The wind blows sparks over the ridge from the brush fires in Boca Chica and they land by my house. You buy that? Or a rabbit or a coyote caught fire and ran like hell right through my yard. They said on the news, look out for animals that catch fire and spread it around. Otherwise, I have no idea. Joe, I watched my house go up in flames. I might’ve stayed till it burned down, I don’t know, maybe not. A deputy came up the road and made me leave.”

  Linda Fiorentino.

  That was who Robin looked like, in that movie—he couldn’t remember the name of it—where she goes in a bar called Ray’s, remembering that because of the sign, the Y in RAY’S shaped like a martini glass. Linda goes in and asks for a Manhattan. The bartender ignores her and she asks him who you have to blow to get a drink around here. Those weren’t the exact words, but that was the idea. Robin had that same effortless way about her, confident, with the New York sound like Linda’s, a cool chick, tough. Watch your step with her.

  “So you weren’t living in the house at the time.”

  “I was here. I happen to see it on TV—fire trucks, people loading their cars, coming out of the house with their insurance policies, running around looking for pets. One guy had all their good china in a basket and was lowering it into the swimming pool. I thought, I better get up there, quick.”

  “Load your car,” Canavan said, “with anything of value, uh? But I understand the house was already on fire. I think that’s in the statement you made.”

  “By the time I got there, yeah.” Linda waved her hand in the air. “The back of the house, by a brush thicket. Sid was supposed to have it cut back, but never got around to it. The sky by that time was thick with smoke.”

  “See, what the company wonders about, why your house was the only one on Arroyo that caught fire.”

  “I guess ’cause there aren’t any close by. I’m at the very top of the road. Have you been up there?”

  “I had a look at your place,” Canavan said, “the chimney and some of the walls. What’s hard to tell is where the fire started.”

  “I told you, in the brush thicket.”

  “Maybe, except it looks like the direction of the fire in the thicket was away from the house. I’m told the wind shifted that afternoon and came off the ocean.”

  “I don’t know,” Robin said. “It’s always windy up there.”

  Canavan gathered the map from the coffee table. “You bought this place a few months ago?”

  An easy question, but she paused before telling him, “Not long after Sid died. But I haven’t bought it. I’m leasing it furnished, nine grand a month with an option to buy.”

  Canavan looked around the formal living room, white and cream, touches of color, landscapes framed in gold tint, a garden terrace through the French doors, poppies and ficus trees fifteen stories above Wilshire Boulevard. A nine-thousand-a-month penthouse she might or might not buy. He said, “This place is worth as much as your house?”

  “They’d go for about the same price,” Robin said. “Two and a half million. Sidney said the house was underinsured. That’s why, just before he died, he had the value of the policy increased.”

  “And when that happened,” Canavan said, “and the house burns down soon after, the claim gets a red flag.”

  Looking right at him Robin said, “Well, you know Sid didn’t do it. And I’d have nothing to gain, would I? I’d already made up my mind to sell the house.”

  “That’s why you moved out?”

  “It’s too lonely up there. Just me and the coyotes. Once they ate my cats, both of them, Puddin and Mr. Piper, I bought a shotgun, see if I could even the score, a twenty-gauge Remington. But then a couple of deputies came by to tell me I had to stop shooting. A neighbor had complained. Some woman said I was shooting toward her house. I go, ‘What neighbor? I don’t have any neigh
bors. She might’ve heard shots, but how does she know I’m the one shooting?’ They said she saw me.”

  “Mrs. Montaigne,” Canavan said. “She uses binoculars.”

  It caused Robin to pause and he felt her looking at him with new interest.

  “How do you know that?”

  “I spoke to her. Mrs. Montaigne’s a self-appointed fire warden. Twice a day she drives to a spot up on Piuma Road, near Rambla Pacifico, and looks for smoke. She lost a house in ’93 and had it rebuilt.”

  “She actually saw me shooting coyotes? I’m a good mile below Piuma Road.”

  “Not as the crow flies. I went to see her, talk to her about spotting fires, and she surprised me. Said she saw you the day your house burned down.”

  “Saw me where?”

  “At the house. She spotted the main fire and called the county fire camp. They were already on it. Still, eight houses burned to the ground.”

  “Nine,” Robin said.

  “She saw your car, too, the Mercedes convertible?”

  “Yeah, as soon as it came on the news I got dressed, jumped in the car . . .”

  “But why the convertible?”

  “Why not?”

  “If you were going there to save some more of your stuff, and it might be your only chance . . . Don’t you have a Range Rover?”

  “I was thinking about the house,” Robin said. “I wanted to find out if it was still there. I’d already picked up my jewelry, moved out most of my clothes.”

  “There wasn’t anything else of value?”

  “You have a list, don’t you, on the claim?”

  “In my file. I haven’t really looked at it.”

  “It’s all Asian art, Chinese, some authentic, some copies. But even if I’d brought the Rover there wouldn’t have been room for the big pieces.”

  “So for about three months the house was locked up, nobody there?”

  “I’d spend a weekend.”

  “Alone?”

  She smiled, just a little. “Where’re you going with that, Joe?” And said, “No, I wasn’t always alone.”

  He smiled the same way she did, just barely. He said, “You got up there and the house is on fire.”

  “Yeah, but I didn’t see the flames right away. I told you, the fire started on the other side of the house, away from the road.”

  “You say in that thicket.”

  “Yeah. You have a problem with that?”

  “I might,” Canavan said. “According to Mrs. Montaigne, you were there a good twenty minutes to a half hour before there was smoke or any sign of a fire. And she had a pretty good view of the back side of the property.”

  There was a silence.

  “In fact, she said she saw you go in the house.”

  Robin took her time getting up from the sofa. She said, “Joseph,” walking across the room to a bar with a rose-tinted mirror behind it, “what would you like to drink?”

  “Whatever you’re having,” Canavan said.

  Straight-up martinis. He sipped his watching Robin roll a perfect joint, tips of her fingers working but not looking at it, Robin asking in her Linda Fiorentino voice why he would want to be an insurance company stooge, Jesus, or why anyone would—Canavan letting it happen, giving Robin time to make her play. She said, “No, first let me guess where you’re from. The Midwest, right?” He saw this could take time, so he told her he was from Detroit, born and raised. Came out to sunny California six years ago. She wanted to know what he did in Detroit and Canavan said:

  “I was a police officer.”

  She said, “Jesus, really? What kind?”

  Radio cars and then ten years on the bomb squad. Offered a job out here with an insurance company, investigating claims, before setting up his own company. He said he’d learned to recognize arson from working on the bomb squad. See what Robin thought of that.

  She was cool. Handing him the joint she said, “You left out your wife.”

  “I don’t have one,” Canavan said, hoping this was a variety of weed that inspired wit and not the kind put you to sleep. He took a pretty good hit and passed the joint back to Robin.

  She said, “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but I’ll bet anything you had a wife at one time.”

  He told her yeah, he got married while he was a cop. They came out here, he happened to get involved with a girl at the insurance company and his wife found out about it.

  “She divorced you for that?”

  “You’d have to know her,” Canavan said.

  “So it wasn’t the first time.”

  He told her it was, as a matter of fact, the first and only time he ever fooled around.

  She didn’t believe him. Lying back among little pastel pillows on the white sofa Robin raised her eyebrows. She said, “Really? You look to me, Joe, like the kind of guy, if it’s there you don’t pass it up. You still see her?”

  “Who?”

  “The girlfriend.”

  “That was over before it went anywhere. I see my ex-wife now and then, we go out to dinner. Sometimes she does jobs for me. Chris’s a photographer.” He picked up the raging-fire shots from the coffee table. “She took these. Chris takes long-lens shots of people walking around who claim they can’t walk. A guy shooting hoops in the backyard who’s supposed to be in a wheelchair. Insurance fraud situations, all kinds, including arson,” Canavan said, bringing it back to Robin.

  No reaction. Ducked that one like she didn’t even hear it, saying, “You go to bed with her?”

  “What’s between Chris and me,” Canavan said, “stays between us. Okay?”

  “That means you do,” Robin said. “You keep Chris for backup, right? Call her when you haven’t scored in a while.” Robin pushed up from the sofa with her empty glass. You ready? One more—I have to go out tonight.”

  Her husband dies and three months later fire destroys the house. Canavan wondered if there was a connection. He had no reason to believe there was; still, he didn’t rule it out. He watched Robin sipping her martini. The only apparent effect the gin had on her, she spoke in a quieter voice and stared at him. Canavan could feel a buzz; combined with the weed it allowed him to stare back at Robin, time suspended, and ask her whatever he felt like asking.

  “When you got married, did you have to sign a prenuptial agreement?”

  She said, “Don’t worry about it.”

  So he tried another tack. “How’d you and Sid meet?”

  “He saw me perform and we talked after. He asked me out. He knew who I was. But basically, Joe, we got together the way people usually do, and fell in love.”

  “He was a lot older than you.”

  “What you’re asking now, did I marry him for his money. Sure, that had a lot to do with it, but I liked him. Sid was full of energy, played tennis—he’d sit down and cross his legs you’d see his foot going a mile a minute. You want to know how he was in bed? Not bad, though we had to get almost perpendicular—you know what I mean?—to do it.”

  “Wasn’t he kind of heavy?”

  “That’s what I’m talking about. But then toward the end he lost a lot of weight, like thirty pounds. No, Sid was tender, very gentle, till Viagra came along and he turned into Attila the fucking Hun. If you can picture that.”

  “I thought he had a heart condition.”

  “It wasn’t serious. He took something for it. His blood pressure was a little high.”

  “And his doctor let him have Viagra?”

  “Sid got it over the Internet.”

  “But he must’ve known the combination was dangerous, Viagra and heart medication?”

  She said, “Joe, Sid was a shooter. He didn’t get where he was being cautious. It helped he was a genius.”

  “You were happily married.”

  “Yeah, very.”

  “But you fooled around a little.”

  “Once in a while I’d find myself in a situation. You know, but it was never serious. Like you and the chick from the insura
nce company.” She sipped her drink and then finished it. “I’ll tell you the truth, Joe, I miss him. Sid was good to me.” She got up with her empty glass saying, “You’re ready, aren’t you?”

  “I thought you were going out.”

  “I changed my mind.”

  Watching her cross to the bar he said, “Tell me something,” and watched her looking in the mirror, staring at her image, her pale skin tan in the tinted glass.

  “What do you want to know?”

  “Why you burned your house down.”

  Robin didn’t answer until she was coming back with the martinis, her raccoon eyes in the dark liner holding on Canavan.

  “Why would I?”

  “That’s what I’d like to know.”

  She gave him his drink and placed a hand on his shoulder as she edged past the coffee table and sat down again.

  “You tell me,” Canavan said, “you’d have nothing to gain, you were gonna sell the house. Now you don’t have it to sell, but you get two and a half million when they pay the claim, plus the value of the contents.”

  “I could’ve sold the house for more, easy.” Robin sipped her drink and said, “But what if . . . This is hypothetical, okay? What if a person does actually burn down her house? She owns the property, she can rebuild if she wants. She might even tell the insurance company to forget the claim.”

  “They’d want to know why.”

  “Because they piss her off acting so suspicious, dragging their feet, sending out adjusters and investigators instead of paying the claim. She’s above dealing with people with small minds.”

  This was one Canavan hadn’t heard before. He said, “Tell me how she starts the fire.”

  “She rolls up the Wall Street Journal and lights it with a match. The point I’m making, Joe . . .”

  “She starts the fire inside the house or outside?”

  “Inside. The point I’m making, they can pay the claim or not. If they choose to, fine. If they don’t, who’s out anything?”

  “She’s already out the Mediterranean villa.”

  “And doesn’t care.”

 
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