“Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory!” Trip jerks up in her bed, unsure that she heard what she thinks she heard. There is total silence, then she hears it again. “Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory.” Someone is fucking singing somewhere in her apartment. Still half-asleep, Trip slides her blade out from under her pillow and is out of bed when she realizes that she’s not at home, that she’s at Vandalia’s, and that the voice she’s hearing is the hostess with the mostest as she’s taking a shower. Trip glances at the clock, sees that it’s nearly ten o’clock and decides to stay out of bed, anyway. She throws on a t-shirt and a pair of sweats and pads out into the kitchen. She pours herself a glass of orange juice and is sipping it when Vandalia bounces into the kitchen five minutes later.
“Good morning, roomie!” Vandalia chirps, her voice disgustingly perky. She is wearing sweats as well, but a red velour set that is definitely not made for sweating. She has that ‘I just got fucked’ glow that is so enjoyable to experience but so irritating to observe.
“Morning, Vandalia,” Trip says evenly, pouring herself another glass of juice. She gestures to the juice and adds, “I’ll make a Safeway run soon to replenish the stock.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Vandalia says cheerfully. “I’ll take it out in trade. The next time I need something stolen, you’ll do a freebie for me. Deal?”
“Deal.” Trip nods solemnly, though she’s sure Vandalia is joking.
“What’d you find out last night?” Vandalia pops a couple pieces of bread in the toaster to make toast. “Want some scrambled eggs? I’m making myself some.”
“No thanks,” Trip declines. She doesn’t like to eat first thing in the morning, though she knows breakfast is supposedly the most important meal.
“You have to eat something!” Vandalia burbles, cracking open a half-dozen eggs. “Your body is like a car—it’s needs to be fueled before you can drive it. Besides, I make the most gorgeous scrambled eggs you’ve ever tasted! You’ll swear off sex once you get your teeth into these.” She pauses, looking expectantly at Trip.
“No, thanks,” Trip reiterates, pouring herself another glass of juice. “I’ll grab something later.”
“You’re not dieting, are you?” Vandalia asks in mock-horror, clasping her own ample bosom. “I am sick and tired of girls trying to whittle away into nothing. Size zero! Literally disappearing. I mean, look at me! I’m big, and I’m gorgeous!” She thrust out her bosom proudly before returning to her eggs.
“I’m not dieting,” Trip shrugs, returning the orange juice to the refrigerator. “I just don’t eat in the morning.”
“I bet you work out, though,” Vandalia says, sneaking a quick look at Trip. “Look at those pipes on you! Girl can take care of herself, I bet!” That doesn’t seem to be a question, so Trip doesn’t answer. “Well, I know I can’t get going in the morning if I don’t eat a hearty breakfast. Screw cholesterol, that’s what I say.” Trip says it, too, in moderation. She’s not the type to nibble on a lettuce leaf or to have a salad with dressing on the side for lunch. She’s a healthy woman with a healthy appetite—just not first thing in the morning.
“I gotta roll. See ya.” Trip is almost out of the kitchen when Vandalia’s voice stops her.
“I got the Chron if you want to read it. It’s on the coffee table in the living room.” Trip makes a detour to check out the paper before taking a shower. She wants to see if there’s anything else on Sylvian’s murder, though she suspects that it’s: a) not big enough news to warrant further coverage and b) being covered-up, anyway. She is right; there is nothing further about Sylvian’s murder. To her surprise, however, there is another murder relevant to her sorry-ass life. Evelyn Sato, found dead in her apartment, the police tipped by an ‘anonymous’ phone call.
“Shit!” Trip yells before reining in her temper.
“What is it?” Vandalia calls from the kitchen. “Something interesting in the paper?”
“I can’t fucking believe this.” Trip sits on the couch and rapidly scans the story. The police were called to Sato’s at ten last night by a ‘concerned tenant’ where they found her hanging in her bedroom. There were no signs of a break-in, no signs of sexual intercourse and the police were leaning towards the speculation that ‘Ms Sato killed herself.’ “Bullshit!” Trip exclaims, hopping off the couch, still reading the article. The cops were looking for anybody who had talked to Sato in the last few days.
“What is going on?” Vandalia bursts into the living room, her hands on her hips.
“I should have called her again last night! I knew it.” Trip starts pacing back and forth, furious at herself for
“Give me that!” Vandalia snatches the paper out of Trip’s hand and reads the article. “Oh my god! Is that the girl you met? You’re like the death plague or something.”
“Yes, that’s the girl,” Trip snaps, ignoring the last bit.
“She killed herself after talking to you! What did you say to her?” Vandalia’s voice is growing louder with each word.
“Don’t be stupid,” Trip says impatiently, taking the paper back. “She didn’t kill herself—she was murdered.”
“Don’t call me stupid,” Vandalia says, narrowing her eyes. “The paper says there was no sign of forced entry.”
“I don’t care what the paper says,” Trip replies, poring over the article. “She didn’t kill herself. She was scared when I talked to her, so she must have known they were after her.” The article says the only anomaly in the suicide scenario is that the chair under the place from where Sato was hanging was in an odd position, but the paper implies that’s just quibbling. Trip tosses the paper aside and rushes to her bedroom so she can read the Examiner’s version. They aren’t as certain that it’s suicide because according to their sources, there’s an unusual amount of bruising on Sato’s neck. That only reaffirms Trip’s certainty that Sato had been killed as well, most likely to prevent her from telling Trip anything further about O’Reilly. Trip calls Mowgli on her cell.
“Roberto Esteban, how may I help you?” Mowgli is using his best professional tone which is wasted on Trip.
“Evelyn Sato has been murdered,” Trip says without preamble.
“Shit,” Mowgli replies, his voice low. “You sure?”
“Read the Chron and the Examiner.” Trip waits while Mowgli pulls up the sites.
“Fuck, Del, it’s not a coincidence, is it?” Unlike Vandalia, Mowgli doesn’t waste any time arguing over whether Sato has committed suicide or was murdered. “It’s because she talked to you.”
“Yes.” Trip is economical with her words. The noose around her neck is tightening, and she doesn’t appreciate it. Bad pun, but apt.
“Which means she most likely had even more that she wasn’t sharing with us.”
“Yes.” As is often the case, their minds are on the same track.
“This isn’t going to stop, is it, Del?”
“No.” They both know that in the near future, a nice police artist sketch of Trip will be on the front page of the paper and an APB out with a warrant for her arrest, if it isn’t already.
“What’s your plan?” Mowgli asks, his voice a mere whisper.
“Don’t know.” Trip pauses as she considers. Obviously, talking to Sato is out of the question. She quickly fills Mowgli in on what she learned from Mona Lisa last night. He, too, is stunned to learn that Angelica Sylvian had been a stripper named Angel. He agrees that Trip needs to find out more about Sylvian. What he disagrees upon, however, is her plan to get closer to O’Reilly.
“The man could have you arrested,” he points out. “He’s a fucking lawyer with high-powered friends.”
“He won’t know me,” Trip says coldly. The rage that she’s been holding at bay is steadily growing. Instead of repressing it, however, this time she embraces it. “I think it’s time to effect a change.”
“Del, don’t do something stupid. Wait until I come over tonight so we can talk about it.”
“Not my style, Mowgli, waiting. You know that. I’ll talk to you later.” Trip clicks off her phone and heads back to the kitchen where Vandalia is wolfing down her eggs. “I need your help,” Trip says tersely. “Please,” she adds without softening her tone. Vandalia looks at her hard for a minute before answering.
“What do you need?” She picks up a napkin and deliberately wipes her fingers one by one.
“Make it so my own mama wouldn’t recognize me.” It flashes through Trip’s mind that she’s not sure her mother would recognize her, but that’s not the point. “I’m talking serious disguise.”
“I can do the face,” Vandalia says after a moment of consideration. “What about your hair?”
“Get rid of it,” Trip says immediately. It’s only hair, and she can always grow it again later if she wants.
“I have some clothes that might fit, but you’ll probably want to buy new stuff, too.” Vandalia stands up, setting her plate in the sink. “Let’s do it.”
“Well, what do you think?” Vandalia stands behind me as we look into the vanity mirror in her bedroom. My hair, which I’ve had shoulder-length for the past three years, is now almost completely shorn. It’s closely cropped to my head a la Halle Berry, making my eyes look enormous. After I showered, Vandalia did some serious work on my face. I’m wearing pink eye shadow, coral lipstick, and a shade of blush called Desire which Vandalia describes as a dusty rose. I look like one of those fucking Japanese models which means I look nothing like myself. My skin is dead white thanks to some stage makeup of hers.
“Wow,” I manage, stunned by the image in front of me. My mother would definitely not recognize me as I don’t even recognize myself.
“Now, for clothes.” Vandalia sweeps to her closet and flings open the door.
“Vandalia, nothing you have is going to fit me.” I have a nice figure, but it’s half the size of Vandalia’s.
“You forget, I’m in theater, darling! I’m also a klepto.” She rummages through her closet, finally pulling out a hot-pink velour mini-dress. She eyes it, eyes me, then tosses it to me. I let it drop to the floor.
“No,” I say firmly, barely repressing a shudder.
“Yes,” Vandalia says just as firmly. She has her hands on her hips and a speculative look in her eyes. I pick up the dress and storm to the bathroom. I slide it over my head, careful not to muss my hair or my makeup. The dress clings to my curves as if it’s made for me. It scoops low enough in the front to show the top of my tattoo, and falls to just below my ass. I hate it, but I have to admit it looks damn good. I suck it up and return to Vandalia’s bedroom. Her eyes widen as she catches sight of me.
“Girl, you are wearing that dress!” She snaps her fingers in admiration. “It’s so fucking you.”
“It is not me,” I burst out, my hand on my hip.
“It’s you now,” Vandalia amends. She moves to her closet, and the top of her disappears again. She pops out a second later with a pair of thigh-high black vinyl boots.
“I don’t think so,” I say, eyeing them with distaste.
“I do,” Vandalia replies, holding them out to me. I sit on her bed and start tugging. They fit perfectly as well. I stand up and go back to the bathroom to look in the full-length mirror, Vandalia trailing behind me. I repress a flinch at my image. I look like a higher-classed version of the hooker I used to be, but it’s effective—I no longer look anything like me.
“I can’t wear this during the day,” I say flatly, turning away from my image.
“I think I have something else you can wear.” Vandalia turns on her heels and returns to her room. I stride after her, my gait somewhat hampered by the boots. I pull them off the minute I’m in her room.
“Here.” Vandalia hands me a pair of white leather pants and pink, long-sleeved stretch shirt. This time, I don’t bother going to the bathroom to change. I try the outfit on, and Vandalia nods in approval. She forces a pair of red cowboy boots on me which I have to admit adds dash to the outfit. “It works,” Vandalia says, gesturing for me to look. I return to the full-length mirror and look. It’ll do.
“Thanks,” I say simply.
“No sweat.” Vandalia looks pleased. “Hey, whatever happened with you last night?” I give her the rundown. “You planning on going to The Roman Empire tonight?” I nod. “I think Roberto and I should go with you. Maybe I’ll invite my gentleman friend, and it can be a double-date.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Protective coloring, I like it. We make tentative plans, then Vandalia has to leave. Not before we exchange cell phone numbers, however. As I’ve said, I hate giving it out, but she definitely needs to know. As she leaves, I find myself wondering again what her gender is, but dismiss the thought from my mind. It’s none of my business, and I don’t need the distraction. I go back to my room and hop back online. My mission today is to find out as much about O’Reilly as possible since I haven’t gotten a handle on DiCalvo yet. Handy Man. ReDiCal, Inc. There is so much I need to find out about the son-of-a-bitch who set me up, and O’Reilly is going to lead me to him. I gather as much information as I can about him from my computer, including his office phone number, then I’m out the door.