Authors: Elmore Leonard
|When the Women Come out to Dance (2002)|
|Unknown publisher (2011)|
Women Come Out To Dance (2002) ELMORE
The Extras Spark
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
The Extras 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 destroye
d by fire, explaining how the hot Santa Ana win d swept the flames through these canyons and o n down toward the Pacific Coast Highway. Close t o four thousand acres destroyed but only nin e homes this time, including Mrs. Harris' Mediterranean villa, here, at the top of Arroyo Verde.
Nothing like five years ago when over tw
o hundred homes were lost. He showed her photographs, too, fires raging against the night sky.
Robin Harris said, "Yeah . . . ?" looking at th
e photos but not showing any real interest.
Canavan kept glancing at her, Robin a sli
m turn-on in a trendy kind of way: pale skin an d heavy eyeliner, silver rings, designer-ripped jeans , barefoot, a black sleeveless top that showed th e 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 .
c lubs, produced one album, gave it up five years ago to marr y Sid Harris: the legendary Sid Harris, lawyer to platinumselling recording artists. Now a widow at thirty-seven, Robin was estimated to be worth around ten million. She had los t Sid to a coronary thrombosis, at home, only three months ago , Sid sixty-three when he died. And had lost the house in th e Malibu hills three weeks ago, close to a million dollars' wort h of furniture and contents destroyed. But she had bought th e Wilshire apartment, where she was living now, right afte r Sid's death. Why? It was on Canavan's checklist, one of th e things he'd ask her about.
She said, "What's the point?" Meaning the map and th
e pictures. "I saw the fire, Joe. I was there."
Arriving, he had introduced himself and handed Robin hi
s 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 o n his name in a way that sounded natural and gave him a glimpse of her personality. She looked at his business car d again and said, "You're not with the insurance company, lik e the ones before." He told her they called him in when the y 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 th e claim. Robin said, "Well, I can tell you the same thing I tol d 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 i t 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 bac
k in the sofa. She resembled a girl in the movies he liked a lot , Linda . . . very sexy, had an Italian name. He said, "I wante d to show you the path of the main fire, where it came dow n west of your place, on the other side of the ridge."
"So how did my house catch fire," Robin said. "Is that th
e question? How about sparks, Joe? The wind blows sparks ove r the ridge from the brush fires in Boca Chica and they land b y my house. You buy that? Or a rabbit or a coyote caught fir e and ran like hell right through my yard. They said on th e news, look out for animals that catch fire and spread i t around. Otherwise, I have no idea. Joe, I watched my hous e 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 m e leave."
That was who Robin looked like, in that movie--h
e couldn't remember the name of it--where she goes in a ba r called Ray's, remembering that because of the sign, the Y i n RAY'S shaped like a martini glass. Linda goes in and asks for a Manhattan. The bartender ignores her and she asks him wh o you have to blow to get a drink around here. Those weren'
t the exact words, but that was the idea. Robin had that sam e 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, peopl
e 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 th e 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 thin k that's in the statement you made."
"By the time I got there, yeah." Linda waved her hand i
n the air. "The back of the house, by a brush thicket. Sid wa s supposed to have it cut back, but never got around to it. Th e sky by that time was thick with smoke."
"See, what the company wonders about, why your hous
e was the only one on Arroyo that caught fire."
"I guess 'cause there aren't any close by. I'm at the very to
p of the road. Have you been up there?"
"I had a look at your place," Canavan said, "the chimne
y and some of the walls. What's hard to tell is where the fir e started."
"I told you, in the brush thicket."
"Maybe, except it looks like the direction of the fire in th
e thicket was away from the house. I'm told the wind shifte d 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. "Yo
u bought this place a few months ago?"
An easy question, but she paused before telling him, "No
t 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 an
d 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-amonth 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. "Tw
o and a half million. Sidney said the house was underinsured.
That's why, just before he died, he had the value of the polic
"And when that happened," Canavan said, "and the hous
e burns down soon after, the claim gets a red flag."
Looking right at him Robin said, "Well, you know Si
d 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. Onc
e they ate my cats, both of them, Puddin and Mr. Piper, I b ought a shotgun, see if I could even the score, a twentygauge 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 neighbors. She might'v e 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 hi
m 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
a nd had it rebuilt."
"She actually saw me shooting coyotes? I'm a good mil
e below Piuma Road."
"Not as the crow flies. I went to see her, talk to her abou
t spotting fires, and she surprised me. Said she saw you the da y your house burned down."
"Saw me where?"
"At the house. She spotted the main fire and called th
e county fire camp. They were already on it. Still, eight house s 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, jumpe
d in the car . . ."
"But why the convertible?"
"If you were going there to save some more of your stuff
, and it might be your only chance . . . Don't you have a Rang e Rover?"
"I was thinking about the house, " Robin said. "I wanted t
o 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 bee
n room for the big pieces."
"So for about three months the house was locked up, nobody there?"
"I'd spend a weekend."
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, "Yo
u 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 th e 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 befor e there was smoke or any sign of a fire. And she had a prett y 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-tinte d mirror behind it, "what would you like to drink?"
"Whatever you're having," Canavan said.
Straight-up martinis. He sipped his watchin
g Robin roll a perfect joint, tips of her fingers working but no t looking at it, Robin asking in her Linda Fiorentino voice wh y he would want to be an insurance company stooge, Jesus, or why anyone would--Canavan letting it happen, giving Robi n time to make her play. She said, "No, first let me guess wher e you're from. The Midwest, right?" He saw this could tak e time, so he told her he was from Detroit, born and raised.
Came out to sunny California six years ago. She wanted t
o 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 t o recognize arson from working on the bomb squad. See wha t Robin thought of that.
She was cool. Handing him the joint she said, "You left ou
t your wife."
"I don't have one," Canavan said, hoping this was a variet
y 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. The
y came out here, he happened to get involved with a girl at th e 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 onl
y time he ever fooled around.
She didn't believe him. Lying back among little paste
l 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 ther e you don't pass it up. You still see her?"