Plaster of Paris; chapter twelve, part one

“Let’s go talk,” Lyle says, grabbing me by the arm.  With a wave at the others, he steers me to the cafeteria.

“Isn’t it great, Lyle?”  I say, a goofy smile on my face.

“I forgot to tell you about Ursula,” Lyle says as soon as we sit down.  Neither of us is hungry, but I grab a piece of chocolate pie anyway.  Lyle has a monster cookie which he is munching.  Both of us have coffee as well.

“Ursula?”  I look at him blankly.

“Paris’s birthmother,” Lyle prods my memory.  “I never told you about our talk.”              “Shit!  That’s right!  Dish,” I order.  Lyle spills all he knows.  As we guessed, Ursula tried to feint and dodge, but Lyle’s charm finally won her over.  To a certain extent.  She confessed that she had talked to Paris’s birthfather ‘once or twice’ since the blessed event, but refused to divulge his name or where he lived, saying it wasn’t relevant.  She admitted to discovering Paris months ago, but sat on the information because she was nervous about facing him.  Plus, she had a deadline for the book she was working on, and she couldn’t afford to let anything interfere with that.  Her husband was still out of town, or so she said.  Lyle couldn’t see any traces of him in the living room or the kitchen, the two rooms he actually saw.

“She was tense,” Lyle says, frowning as he sips his coffee.  “She tried to cover it up, but I could tell.  Everything was just a hair off.  You know, laugh a little too loud; gestures a little too broad—that kind of thing.”  I know exactly what he’s saying; it was the same way when we met her in Luna Park.  An actor in a play of her own making—Lyle and I are just bit players on her stage.  The spell she cast over me when we first met has long since dissipated.

Continue Reading

Plaster of Paris; chapter eleven, part three

I compliment her before making an all-points attack on the food.  The way I inhale the food makes me realize that I’ve been neglecting my general health since Paris got hurt.  Well, since before that as well, but especially after.  I gobble down enchiladas smothered with cheese, sour cream and home-made salsa, tortilla chips, and other delights, happy to have real food for once.  It sits nicely in my stomach, causing me to breathe a sigh of relief.  As I eat, Vashti asks if I’ve found out anything about Paris.  She is focusing on her plate and misses the expression on my face.  I quickly assemble my face into a bland visage by the time she looks up at me.  I am evasive, not sure that I want to talk about the case with her.  I flashback to the first case and how she completely misled me, and I never knew she was doing it.  She’s a good liar or evader of truth when she needs to be.  Regretfully, I decide to be cautious and tell her that I’ve eliminated a suspect or two and that I think the accident has something to do with Paris’s birthmother.  That’s all I’m willing to divulge.

Vashti looks as if she wants to say something.  She even goes so far as to open her mouth, but stops.  For a minute, we look at each other with the knowledge that this is one of those awkward moments.  Vashti still blames herself for not telling me about her friend who Vashti was sure had nothing to do with a murder; the friend actually turned out to be the murderer, and what’s worse, found me through Vashti.  I still can’t get over how easily Vashti lied to me and how good she was at it.  I drop my eyes to my food because I don’t want to reopen painful wounds or to remember the aftermath.  I wish I could forget, though I’ve already forgiven.  I don’t want to get caught in that kind of situation again, and I’m not confident that I won’t if I continue to date Vashti.  The thought rises to my mind unbidden that Inspector Robinson would never lie to me like that.  I chase that thought from my mind for two reasons.  One, I have no business thinking of the good inspector in that way, and two, I don’t know if it’s true.

Vashti sets down her fork carefully before turning to me.  She asks if she needs to apologize again, then reminds me that she’s said she’s sorry so many times.  I reassure her that I’m just thinking about something, but I don’t elaborate.  The smile on my face is patently false, but there’s nothing I can do about it.  I would love to be able to unwind with her, spilling my guts about the case.  I am frustrated with the lack of progress and could use an outside perspective.  Unfortunately, I’m just not ready to open up to her, not after what happened last time.  I know that it’s partly my fault for dangling her on the line, but I have no way of knowing when I’ll soften up enough to let her know what’s on my mind.  We finish our meal in silence, then take our tea into the living room.  We sit on her couch, not saying anything.

Continue Reading

Plaster of Paris; chapter eleven, part two

Lyle went to see Ursula this morning, and she was gracious enough to receive him into her house.  He promises he’ll tell us about the interaction, but he has something else to relate first.  After his meeting with Ursula, he’s about to get into his truck to leave when this tall, leggy blond clamors out of a red BMW and slithers over to Lyle.  She looks Lyle over lazily, wondering if he’s Mom’s latest.  Because if he is, she tells him, he’s a definite improvement over hubby number three.  The blond laughed throatily, leaning forward so he could look down her low-cut sweater.  Despite the chilly temperatures, she wasn’t wearing a jacket.  Her cranberry-colored sweater clung to every generous curves, while her white jeans left little to the imagination.  Her blond hair draped seductively down her back as she batted her lashes at him.  Apparently, she thought of herself as a modern-day vamp.  Owing to her young age—late teens—and Lyle’s proclivities, she came off as more pathetic than sexy.

He simply said he’s not Ursula’s lover, and there’s a flicker of disappointment in the blond woman’s eyes.  She didn’t back down, however, as she introduced herself.  She’s Lois, the prodigal daughter, the one who gave her mother so much grief.  As Lois talked, she laughed deeply, thrusting out her hip at the same time.  Lyle stared at her for a long minute without saying a word.   Mistaking his stare for interest, Lois winked, moving closer to Lyle.  He felt her fake breasts pressing against his chest, but didn’t move away.  She rubbed against him for a few minutes, a patented lascivious look on her face.  Lyle continued to stare at her without smiling.  Unnerved, she backed off.

When Lyle was sure that he had her attention, he told her that he was Paris’s lover, adding that he was sure she knew who Paris was.  Lyle watched Lois carefully as he pronounced Paris’s name.  She started, unable to cover a flicker of surprise which crossed her face, then tried to cover by saying it was a city in France.  Lyle continued his silent stare.  Either she was the kind of girl used to men talking to hear their own voices, or she’s merely uncomfortable with silence because she babbled about ‘the Greek god who stole Helen of Troy.  Or was he Roman?  I always get them mixed up.’  She smiled again, but there’s a tinge of nervousness this time.  Lyle and Lois locked eyes.  For a minute, it looked as if Lois would just leave, but she caved.

Continue Reading

Plaster of Paris; chapter eleven, part one

Wednesday.  Four days after Paris was almost killed.  It seems much longer, and yet, it seems like it just happened.  Time is the first thing to go in a period of crisis because it’s simply no longer important.  If someone you love is hovering between life and death, what does an hour or a day really mean?  With this mentality, I make it through the day at work.  I keep my nose to myself and don’t mind so much the snubs that are pointedly aimed at me; most of them sail right over my head.  I receive an email from Libby accusing me again of trying to sabotage her wedding, and I barely flinch as I delete it.  This feeling of detachment is marvelous, and I wish I could cultivate it permanently.  I idly consider meditation or becoming a Buddhist, but it seems like too much effort.  I decide that it’s much easier to be in denial than to reach nirvana, and it feels pretty much the same.  I remember that I half-promised my mom I would talk to Libby about her ‘if there is a wedding’ statement, but I don’t have the energy.  When this case is over and Paris is better, then I’ll talk to her.

After work, I take the bus to the Tenderloin where Jenna lives.  It’s not that she doesn’t have money—she’s one of those white-bread liberal girls who thinks she has to show her compassion by living in what’s possibly the worst neighborhood in San Francisco, an area even I wouldn’t live in.  She’s also the one who flipped when Paris broke up with her after a month, threatening to sue him for breach of promise and an assortment of other spurious claims.  She would show up at his gym and start screaming at him, then cry when he tried to calm her down.  He quickly learned that the best way to deal with her was to not engage her at all because she thrived off the interaction, no matter how small. Just as he was about to get a restraining order slapped on her, she stopped.  I hadn’t liked her while Paris was dating her, and I certainly didn’t like her when she stalked him.  I am careful to keep my purse next my body as I press the buzzer to her apartment.

“Yes?”  Her nasally voice grates on my ears.  She’s from one of those Midwest states and came to the Bay Area to study archeology or something equally boring.

“Jenna?  It’s Rayne.  Paris’s friend.  I need to talk to you.”  Belatedly, I realize that she might not want to talk to me.

Continue Reading

Plaster of Paris; chapter ten, part three

He starts to speak, then falters.  He is looking for Paris’s mother, as he doesn’t feel comfortable revealing information to anyone but the next of kin.  This doctor is short, about five-six with blond wisps that go every which way but down.  He is wearing round glasses that half hide keen blue eyes.  My mother informs him with a smile that the Jensons are at the hotel because it’s been such a hard time for Mrs. Jenson, as my mother is sure the doctor can appreciate.  The doctor’s sternness melts a little under the warmth of my mother’s smile.  Lyle presses the doctor for information, causing the doctor to look at him with a faint look of alarm.  Lyle introduces himself; Dr. Price reciprocates, looking at me questioningly.  I tell him my name, nodding at him in a friendly fashion.  The doctor relaxes, then tells us what’s happened.

“Ms. Liang reported movement as well as speech.  This is a good sign.  His vitals are stable, and his countenance is strong.  I would feel better if he would emerge from his coma for a prolonged period of time, however.”

“So you’re saying not much has changed,” Lyle says dispiritedly.

“Not at all, Mr. Kingston.  I’m very pleased that he responded to stimuli.  Keep trying to connect with him so he wants to come back to us.”  Dr. Price hesitates, then continues.  “I have a feeling that for some reason, Mr. Frantz does not want to fight his way back.  For whatever reason.  By all rights, he should be out of the coma.  I would urge you all to try to convince him to fight.  That’s about all I can tell you right now.”  He shakes each of our hands again, lingering a minute longer with my mother’s, then hurries away.

“I think he likes you,” I tease my mother, who doesn’t respond.

“So do we call the Jensons or what?”  Lyle throws the question out again, waiting for someone to make a decision.

Continue Reading

Plaster of Paris; chapter ten, part two

Ms. Liang,” the inspector nods at my mother, then frowns.  There is the apparent problem of confusion of address with two Ms. Liangs in the room.

“You can call me Songbird,” my mother says helpfully, drawing a raised eyebrow from the inspector and a giggle from me.  “Or Susannah,” my mother adds, anxious to make Inspector Robinson more comfortable.

“How about Mrs. Liang,” Inspector Robinson says cautiously.  In this day and age, it’s more common than not to offend women by offering to call them ‘Mrs.’.

“That’s fine, too,” my mother says cheerfully.  “Would you like a cup of tea?”

“Um, no, thank you, ma’am,” Inspector Robinson says, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips.  My mother has that effect on people.  “Ms. Liang, would you please show me the mailbox??”  Inspector Robinson is so bewitched by my mother that she doesn’t even protest when my mother trails behind us as we retreat downstairs again.  I remember to lock the door.

“Here it is,” I say, stepping aside to let the good inspector view the remains of my mail box, which she probably saw on her way in.  She keeps her hands in her pockets as she examines the box—there isn’t much to see.

“Did you touch anything?”  She asks, her voice laced with weariness.  My mother looks at her sympathetically, which doesn’t escape the inspector’s attention.  There’s a rap on the door which startles my mother and me.  “There’s the team.  Why don’t you take your mother upstairs and wait for me there?”

“I didn’t touch anything,” I say rapidly.  “But upstairs, the front door, there are scratches.  I touched that, obviously.”  She nods, smiles briefly, then goes to let her people in.  I can hear one of them bitching loudly, probably raising his voice on purpose for my benefit.

“Christ, Inspector, this is fucking ridiculous.  Why the special treatment?  This chick your girlfriend or something?”  Inspector Robinson’s response is immediate and scathing.

“If you object to doing your job, Donaldson, let me know, and I’ll be sure to inform your supervisor of your distaste.”  Donaldson glowers at the inspector, but stops complaining.

“I like her,” my mother said admiringly as we reentered the apartment.  I don’t bother to answer as I head for the coffee table where I keep the mail.  I leaf through it, but don’t find anything other than bills and advertisements.  “Do you think she’s a lesbian?”  My mother continues speculating.  “That comment her coworker made gives me hope.”

Continue Reading

Plaster of Paris; chapter ten, part one

“I’m going to see Paris,” I say defiantly, striding towards the room.  I positively itch for a confrontation, but this officer, yet a different one, lets me in as soon as I give her my name.  I sit down. “It’s a mess, Paris.  I’m no closer to finding out who did this to you, and worse yet, I quit my job today.  Sort of.”  I pour out everything, not wanting to bottle up my feelings.  As I’m talking a glimmer of something comes to my mind, but it’s gone.  I don’t try to push it because I know it’ll come to me sooner if I let it simmer.  I want more than anything for Paris to open his eyes, for him to smile at me, for him to come home.  “Oh, god,” I sob, my head dropping forward.  How much longer can I stand to see Paris like this?  I long to shake him by his shoulders until he awakes.

“Ma’am, it’s time.”  The officer carefully places her hand on my arm, her eyes showing sympathy.

“Mom, let’s get out of here for a bit,” I say to my mother in Taiwanese.  “Just you and me.”

“What about Lyle?”  My mother asks, casting a worried glance at Lyle who isn’t paying any attention to us.  “We can’t leave him here by himself.”

“That’s rude, you know,” Mr. Jenson says suddenly, interrupting our conversation.  “Talking in a foreign language in front of people who don’t speak it.  Besides, this is America.  Speak English.”

“There’s no mandate that says we have to speak English,” I say heatedly, a flush creeping up my neck.  We had been rude, but I am too edgy to apologize.

“Rayne and I are going to run back to her apartment for a bit,” my mother says evenly.  “Lyle, would you like to come with us?”

“I’ll stay here,” Lyle says, glaring at the Jensons.  Mrs. Jenson avoids his eyes, but Mr. Jenson glares right back.

“You sure, honey?”  Mom asks Lyle, squeezing his arm solicitously.  He nods, not taking his eyes off Mr. Jenson.  My mother and I reluctantly leave them.

Continue Reading

Plaster of Paris; chapter nine, part two

“If I am not knowing better, I would think you were avoiding me.”  Vashti’s husky voice causes the anger inside of me to melt into something much nicer.  I am practically deliquescing on the street.

“Sorry, Vash,” I say lamely.  “I’ve had a lot on my mind.”

“I understand.  How is Paris?”  Concern laces her tone, and I’m grateful.  I know she and Paris aren’t the best of friends, but she’s a kind-hearted woman.

“The same,” I say, my throat tightening.  “He’s still in a coma.”

“Oh, Rayne, I am so sorry,” she sighs.  “Is there anything I can be doing for you?”

“I’d like to see you,” I say impulsively.  I can’t spend all my time working on the case or at the hospital, or I’ll go mad.

“I cannot see you tonight, but how about tomorrow?  I’ll make you dinner.”

“Sold.”  Vashti is a fabulous cook, and I have no qualms about letting her cook for me.  We agree on seven o’clock, then I click off.  Immediately after, the phone rings again.

“This the cunt roommate of Paris?”  The voice is hoarse and ugly-sounding, not the same one as the one who’s been calling my home number.

“How did you get this number,” I demand, like an idiot.  Why on earth would he tell me that?

“Don’t worry about it, bitch.  Back the hell off before someone else gets hurt.”  Before I can respond, he hangs up on me.  I immediately press *69, but with little hope.  Just as I suspect; it’s scrambled.  I call Lyle.

“Hello?”  His voice is low.  “Rayne?  Let me call you right back.”  He must be in the hospital; they don’t allow cell phone conversations in most parts of hospitals.  He calls me in five minutes.  “What’s up?”

“That bastard or one of his friends called me on my cell,” I fume.  Lyle doesn’t ask which bastard, for which I am profoundly grateful.  “Told me to back off.”

“Your cell?  I wonder why he switched?”

“To show that he can get an unlisted number,” I say impatiently.  “There are very few people who have this number.”

“We’ll talk about it and more when you come here.  I talked to Bil—Matthews.  I cannot in good conscience call a guy over twelve Billy.  Anyway, get here as soon as you can.”  He clicks off before I can tell him I’m on my way.  I’ve run out of steam, so I hail a cab to take me the rest of the way.  The cabbie is an older white gentleman who calls me, ‘doll’ and ‘babe’.  I find it oddly enduring and don’t jump on his shit as I normally would.  He tells me about life as a cabbie, something he’s been for over thirty years.  He doesn’t believe the city’s become more dangerous—we’re just more aware of it.  He has a high school diploma, but never went to college.  Didn’t really see the point.  Got out of being drafted for ‘Nam because of his fallen arches.  He is sympathetic when I tell him about Paris.  Turns out he has a friend in St. Luke’s, too—a fellow cabbie.  The guy was driving his shift one day when he had a heart-attack.  He managed to drive to St. Luke’s since he was in the neighborhood before passing out.  Zachary, my cabbie, says his friend had to have a quadruple bypass, and wasn’t that a bitch?  I agreed that it was.  I give Zachary a healthy tip when I exit his cab in exchange for him cheering me up.  I stride to the ICU waiting room where my happy band of fellow sufferers are waiting for me.

Continue Reading

Plaster of Paris; chapter nine, part one

“I suppose you’re wondering why I called this meeting,” Sandra says to me, smiling a brittle smile.  We are in her office, with the door closed, of course.  She is wearing a prissy white blouse buttoned up to her neck and beige pants, perfectly creased.  Today, her hair is scraped off her face and held back with a gallon of hairspray.  It does unfortunate things for her buck-toothed grin.

“Uh, sure.”  I have no clue, nor could I care less.  She could be giving me a raise or firing me for all I know.  I’m pretty sure it’s not the former, but it certainly might be the latter.

“Rayne, I know it’s been a hard time for you lately,” Sandra says with faux sympathy.  She leans forward, a semblance of concern lurking on her face.  “What with the, uh, incidences and all.  Because of your involvement in the, uh, events of the past few months, the administration has tried to cut you slack in your time of grief.”  She pauses expectantly, waiting for me to say something.

“Uh huh,” I say, not sure what it is she wants from me.  I have the distinct feeling she’s looking for thanks, which she’s not going to get.  “Hard time.”  I nod my head like an idiot, waiting for her next move.  Even though I had slept soundly after my nightmare, I am still bone-tired.

“Yes, a hard time.”  Christ, now she’s repeating me repeating her.  There has to be a point to this, but I’m not sure what it is.  “The thing is,” she pauses, fiddling with the cuff of her shirt.  She moves it a quarter of an inch down, then a quarter of an inch up.  When she has it to her satisfaction, she finally me square in the eyes.  “We’ve been having complaints about your work.  Paperwork not done on time; emails going unanswered—that sort of thing.”

“Who’s complaining?”  I ask idly; I don’t really care, but I’m curious to see if she will come up with anything more substantive.

“You know I can’t reveal that,” she says with a strained smile.  “Confidentiality and all.”

Continue Reading

Plaster of Paris; chapter eight, part two

When I do return to the living room, Lyle is ready to take me to the mat.  I can tell by looking at him that he’s itching for a fight.  It saddens me because I like him very much, and I don’t want to ruin our budding friendship.  He demands to know why he has to hear from the inspector that I’ve fucked his boyfriend, and while I understand his pain, I’m not about to roll over and play dead.  If he has a beef, it’s with Paris for not telling him as I haven’t slept with Paris in years.  I hope that Lyle will let it go, but he won’t.  It’s not enough to know that Paris and I haven’t slept together in a long time; he has to know exactly when was the last time I had sex with Paris.  He also insists on knowing how many times Paris and I have slept together, which is even more of an asinine request—order.  I press my lips together; I’ll be damned if I let Lyle browbeat me into ‘confessing’ my sins.

Lyle throws a fit when I refuse to answer his questions.  I suggest that he get over himself because whatever happened between Paris and me is in the past.  Furthermore, perhaps Paris was right not to tell Lyle seeing how he’s reacted to the information.  I dress him down completely, the tension of the past few days suddenly releasing.  I know I’m not saying the right things nor am I being tactful, but I’m tired beyond belief and cannot control what I’m saying.  Lyle starts ranting that the inspector is right about me fucking anybody if I’ll fuck my own best friend.  That does it!  Any vestige of guilt or pity I have for him because he hadn’t known about Paris and me has vanished.  He’s acting like a prima donna over something that happened a lifetime ago, and it’s beginning to piss me off.  I bound across the room and slap him soundly across his face.

“You listen to me, Lyle Kingston, and you listen good,” I hiss at him.  I’m fed up with his pettiness.  My best friend is in the hospital, and I don’t need to dig up ancient history.  “Paris and I have slept together, yes.  It’s not something I’m ashamed of, but it’s not something that I flaunt, either.  We know we are not good partners; we know we are infinitely better as friends.  You want to know the last time I had sex with Paris?  The night he watched Brett die, that’s when!”  Lyle’s face changes, and he tries to speak, but I won’t let him.  He wants to hear the gory details, then he’s going to hear them.  “The last year was total agony, but I expect you know that.  Paris had to do everything for Brett and didn’t dare leave him for more than an hour at a time.  You remember that, don’t you, Lyle?  How absolutely draining it is to watch a lover die from AIDS?  Little things like changing the catheter?  Big things like waking up in the middle of the night afraid your lover is dead?  First the body goes, then the mind goes until he’s nothing more than a walking corpse.  He should have died six months before he did, but his body just wouldn’t give up.  Paris was there every step of the way.  I helped out as much as I could, but it wasn’t enough.”  By now, there are tears running down Lyle’s cheeks as well as my own.  It had been so hard to stand helplessly by and watch my best friend go through such excruciating pain.  I see that same pain on Lyle’s face and wish I hadn’t reminded him.  However, I knew he wouldn’t be able to understand about Paris and me if I hadn’t put it in the proper context.

Continue Reading