Monthly Archives: February 2020

Rainbow Connection; epilogue

“It’s good to be home!”  It’s the Friday after the attack, and I’m back home.  The doctors wanted to keep me a few more days, but I insisted.  By some miracle, nothing is broken but my pride.  My face is a cornucopia of bruises and welts; I can’t see out of my left eye because it’s so swollen; my stomach has a fist-sized bruise; I ache all over.  Other than that, I’m fit as a fiddle.

“You sit down,” my mom says, bustling to the kitchen.  She hasn’t left my side since the attack, and neither has Paris or Lyle.  When we are all comfortably ensconced in the living room with tea and brownies, the three of them look at me expectantly.  The inspector had visited me in the hospital today and filled me in on the details she gleaned from Carol.  Seems Carol is proud of her crimes and couldn’t wait to spill the beans.

“I figured it out too late, of course,” I begin, biting into a dense brownie.  I close my eyes to savor the nutty goodness.  My teeth hurt, but it’s a price I’ll willingly pay for something this good.  “When she had a gun pr—” I stop myself in time.  I haven’t given too many details about the actually attack because there is no reason for them to have nightmares, too.  “When we were locked in her office together.”  I give them a brief rundown of what I had deduced.

“What about Ashley?”  My mother asks soberly.  “Why kill her?”

“There’s a few reasons,” I say slowly, feeling a twinge of guilt.  How easy it had been to forget about Ashley and her death, especially after Carol tried to turn the attention to Rosie’s death.  “One, Ashley found out about Carol’s affair with her father.”

“What?”  The three of them chorus, clearly surprised.

“Carol had a brief fling with Mr. Stevenson.  Ashley found out.  Mr. Stevenson was having affairs with many women, and Rosie found out about the one he got pregnant.  Two different women.”  My thoughts are scattered, but I try to order them.

“How did they meet?”  Lyle ask curiously.

“At a bar,” I shrug.  “That in and of itself isn’t a big deal.  Embarrassing, but certainly not illegal.  However, Carol had her little fling with Mr. Stevenson while Mrs. Stevenson was dying.  That’s what pissed Ashley off.  She liked Carol.  She trusted Carol.  Carol betrayed her.”

“That’s why Carol killed that girl?”  Mom asks incredulously.  “Because of a little adultery?”

“No, not nearly,” I sigh.  “Carol has a diploma from Boston College on her wall.  Rosie did a little research and found out Carol never graduated from Boston College.  She never graduated from any of the programs.  She faked the papers.”

“That’s awfully risky,” Paris objects.  “Anyone could have unearthed the deception.”

“It’s quite low-risk,” I say.  “Who looks closely at diplomas, especially when they’re high up on the wall?  Anyway, Ashley was getting suspicious about Carol.  For what reason, I don’t know, but Ashley did a little internet research and found out the same thing Rosie knew—that Carol isn’t an actual therapist.  Ashley, remember, is still mad about the adultery and in no need of money.”

“I can’t believe you went into Carol’s office with her,” Paris interrupts, his brow wrinkling.  “What were you thinking?”

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Rainbow Connection; chapter fourteen

“Change of plans,” Paris says cheerfully.  “We’re walking you to group, having a cup of coffee or a beer at some Mission dive, then we’ll pick you up at nine sharp.”  I want to argue, but it’s not worth the effort.  I simply nod, and we’re off.

“How was the funeral?”  I ask, needing to get my mind off the murders.

“It was hard,” Paris says, his shoulders drooping.  “The casket was so tiny!  It looked like a shoe box.  My mom started wailing the moment she laid eyes on it and wouldn’t let up.”  His face twists in remembrance.  Lyle squeezes his hand on one side while I do the same on the other side.  “Douglas kept shushing her.  He was fucking embarrassed!  Told her she was making a scene.”  Paris sneers as he utters the last word.  “I finally had to tell him to leave her alone.”  Lyle puts his hand on Paris’s back and rubs.  We walk in silence, reaching A Ray of Hope in fifteen minutes.  Paris and I smoke just to have something to do.  When it’s time, I give each of them a brief hug.

“Call when the meeting’s done!”  Paris orders.  Before I can respond, he and Lyle are gone.  I shake my head in mock exasperation.  I take a minute to look for the police, but I can’t spot them—they are that good.  I go inside where the atmosphere is glum.  The women are huddled in their chairs, not looking at each other.  Sharise isn’t there, and I have a feeling that the group is going to disintegrate very soon regardless of what happens tonight.  Jennifer is rocking back and forth and mouthing something, most likely a rosary.

“Good evening,” Carol says, her professional smile in place.  “I know this is a difficult time for all of us, so I’d like to open the floor up to anyone who wants to speak.”

“Dis has gotta stop,” Maria bursts out, her eyes flashing.  “First, Ashley.  Den, Rosie, now her kid.  Who’s gonna be next?”  She throws back her head, but her voice is trembling.  She can’t cover the fear in her eyes.

“Why were you on television again?”  I ask, bringing up the question foremost in my mind.  It has nothing to do with the murders, but I have to ask.

“I know it may seem cold-blooded,” Carol says carefully, looking at each of us in the eyes.  Only Astarte and I return her look.  “I want to help as many people as possible with their pain!  This is a good opportunity to spread the word.  I hate the fact that it’s death that gives me the chance to promote the clinic and my book, but I’m trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

“I won’t be coming any more,” Jennifer says, still rocking.  “I can’t be a part of this.  That girl, she was just a child.”

“Listen, please.”  Carol raises her voice slightly, the smile no longer on her face.  “This is the time when a group such as this is needed, when in the middle of a crisis.  If you quit now, you may regress.  Besides, Mariah’s death proves that the murders have nothing to do with the group.  You’re all safe.”

“I don’t know about that,” I say demurely.  “Maybe Mariah knew something about her mother’s death, and that’s why she was killed.  Maybe she read her mother’s notebooks.”  The silence is sudden and chilling; I have everyone’s undivided attention.  For once, Carol isn’t scribbling in her own damn notebook.

“What notebooks?”  Carol asks, her voice neutral.

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Rainbow Connection; chapter thirteen, part three

Rosie stole things from her employers, just as I surmised.  Usually silver or jewelry, but once in a while, she’d have a sheaf of papers and wouldn’t tell Derek what they were.  When I open my mouth to interrupt, Derek hurries on over my questions.  The last time he saw her, he tried to find out obliquely if she was still stealing things.  She just laughed at him and said that was penny-ante compared to what she had going on now.  When Derek asked what she meant, she explained her newest venture to him.  Venture.  He makes it sound like she was an entrepreneur or a small-business owner, not the blackmailer she really was.  She regaled him with stories of her clientele without revealing their identities.  She said one had killed her husband; one had embezzled some money; one didn’t have the credentials she said she did; one was running an apartment scam.  Things like that.

I couldn’t believe he hadn’t gone to the police, and I tell him so in no uncertain terms.  I mean, we’re talking about blackmail.  Derek doesn’t see it that way.  In his eyes, all her clients deserved it because they are all liars and cheats and thieves, not to mention a killer.  I look at him in disgust.  This is the same man who works with juvenile delinquents, trying to rehab them.  Does his attitude mean that he thinks they deserve whatever happens to them?  I don’t ask because he’s still talking.  He says the fact that Rosie’s clients live in Marin is a blackmailable offense.  By now, he’s slurring his words which means I should get as much information out of him as quickly as possible and save my indignation for later.  Besides, I’m hoping at some point he’ll realize if he had stopped her from continuing her ‘venture’, she’d still be alive.

“What else?”  I massage my forehead, feeling the stirrings of a headache.

“Um, well,” Derek stalls again, refusing to meet my eyes.  Suddenly, I get it and heave a big sigh.

“Derek, I don’t care if you slept with her,” I say earnestly, though Greta might care.  A lot.  “As long as it has nothing to do with her death.”

“No!  It’s just, um, well, we had both drank a bit, and um, I invited her back to my place, just to reminisce some more.  One thing led to another.”  I look at him in exasperation.  That is the lamest excuse in my book.  One thing doesn’t lead to another, not without help.  I don’t debate his statement, however, as it isn’t the point.

“So, when exactly did this happen?”

“The day before she was killed,” Derek says glumly.  “I can’t believe she’s dead!  We spent all afternoon in my bed talking and having sex.  She told me one of her clients would be upping her payment.  She was in such a good mood.  When she left, she told me she’d call me after the deal went through.  To celebrate.  I waited all the next night for that call.”  A call that never came.  I have a ton of questions, most of them irrelevant to the case.  I also remember the day in question at work—Derek had called in sick after taking off to see the counselor at the other agency.

“Has the police talked to you yet?”

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Rainbow Connection; chapter thirteen, part two

“The last day is especially interesting, don’t you think?”  Leticia asks, her eyes watering.

“Yes.”  I hesitate, then ask the question.  “Do you think they’re related?”

“Yes,” Leticia says firmly.  “That means the killer is in your group.”  Her eyes widen as she looks at me.  From the speculative gleam in her eyes, I can tell what she’s thinking.

“I didn’t kill your sister, Leticia,” I say wearily.  It’s never pleasant to be thought of as a murder suspect, but I’m used to it.

“I didn’t think you did,” Leticia says immediately, the flash of fear gone.  I pick up the accounts notebook and thumb through it again.  A.T., C.R., C.T., L.P., M.S.  I stop reading in disgust.  It’s no use.  If she had added some identifying markers to each name, such as what she’s blackmailing them for, then perhaps I could use the information.  Something niggles at me.  I open the diary and read the last entry again.

“Leticia, look at this!”  I show the entry to Leticia.

“I’ve read it already,” she says impatiently, not glancing at the page.  I don’t have time for attitude, so I read it out loud.

“This one, is very special.  I play right, I no have to work rest of my life.  Ten thousand dollars for first increased payment.  Is fair for a life.”  I pause dramatically, but Leticia’s eyes don’t flicker.  “Don’t you get it?  First increased payment.  That means she was already blackmailing the killer!”  I grab the accounts notebook and open it again.  “One of these fifteen initials is the killer!”  Ok, not the greatest grammar, but I got the point across.

“Madre de Dios!”  Leticia gasps, scanning the initials.  “Do you recognize any?”

“It’s hard,” I say slowly, my mind churning.  “I only know the first name of the women in the group.”

“I could probably find the last names at the clinic,” Leticia says eagerly.

“A.T., M.S., T.R,” I recite.  “Those are the possibilities.  I am relieved not to see a R.L., as irrational as that is.

“I’ll ask Carol tomorrow,” Leticia says briskly.

“Can you find out some other way?”  I ask slowly.  There is no C.S., so she’s not a suspect.  Still, I would feel better if Leticia didn’t talk about this with Carol.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Leticia says, energized to have something to do.

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Rainbow Connection; chapter thirteen, part one

There is very little to be gleaned from my conversation with Derek other than Rosie’s strong sense of morality which only makes sense in the case of her murder if her belief system was her excuse for carrying out blackmail.  Asking for money from people she didn’t approve of to care for her child might have seemed like some sort of poetic justice to her.  Derek and I part, and I meander home.  My head is pounding from too much information and not enough evidence.  How I wish I had Paris here to bounce ideas off him—him and Lyle.  Speaking of Paris, there is a message from him on my cell phone which I have forgotten to turn on.  He is put out because he had to find out about Mariah’s death from the news.  I call him when I reach home.

“What the hell is going on over there?”  Paris’s voice has regained some of the vigor it had earlier lost.  “Who’s going to be next?  It better not be you!  Tell me everything.”  I tell him about Mariah’s death and what little information I have gathered about it.  I still don’t tell him about the second attempt on my life or the threatening note in my pocket because there’s nothing he can do about it from Memphis, and the last thing he needs is to be worried about me.

“Enough of that.  What about you?  How are you?”  I want to think about something other than the murders for a little bit even though I’d love to get Paris’s take on it.  It’s clear, however, that his mind is focused on the situation with his family, and I want to be a good friend and support him.

He is at his wit’s end.  His mother is wigging out.  Last night, she started screaming and couldn’t stop.  She kept saying it was her punishment for lying to Paris about being adopted.  She started pulling out her hair, and her husband had to pin her arms behind her back to keep her from making herself bald.  I ask about Lyle, hoping to take Paris’s mind off a difficult subject, but apparently, that is a touchy area as well.  Lyle is trying to be supportive, but understandably, is under tremendous strain as well.  He is spending the day alone because he needs some space.  While Paris can understand the need, it still makes him panic.  Any whiff of abandonment throws him into a tizzy, and they had a fight about it before Lyle took off.  Paris isn’t sure he can come back Wednesday after all with his mom in such bad shape and Mr. Jenson not being any use at all.  He just sits around, scowling, exhorting his wife to pull herself together.  I vaguely remember Mr. Jenson from when the Jensons lived in Oakland, but that was years ago.  He was very phlegmatic; I remember that much.  Seems he’s crossed the line into asshole-ness.

“I don’t mean to be flippant, Paris, but what about your mother’s deep relationship with God?  Isn’t that helping her at all?”  I am not a Christian, but I admire the faith that devout Christians have.  I wish I were that certain of a benevolent force having a positive interest in me.

“That’s the worst part, Rayne!  She’s renounced God.  She spent a half an hour calling Him every filthy name in the book.  I never thought I’d see the day when I wished she would spout Bible verses at me.”  Paris stops.  I hear a distinct sniffle.  “I don’t understand how someone’s faith can collapse like that.  It’s as if she thought because she believed in God, she was protected from bad things.”  I wonder if that’s why Rosie quit church as well.  Her son’s death certainly seems like a catalyst for the catastrophic events to follow.  I shake my head to remind myself that Ashley had been killed first.  I have a gut feeling, however, that Rosie’s blackmailing hobby plays a large part in this whole mess.  What if she found out something about Mr. Stevenson and tried to extort money out of Ashley?  A glimmer of something niggles at my brain, but I can’t force it to the forefront.  I let it simmer, hoping it’ll develop on its own.

“People deal with their grief in different ways, Paris,” I say soothingly, but honesty compels me to add, “Though I’m sure it’s not good to pull out your own hair.  Have you talked to her about seeing a therapist?”

“We are not people who resort to therapist,” Paris says in a sing-song voice, obviously imitating his mother.  Or perhaps his stepfather.  “We take care of our own problems, thank you very much.”  I restrain a sigh.  That is such a prevalent feeling, even in this day and age, and it’s so destructive.  I’m not advocating therapy for everyone or for every situation, and I balked at entering it myself, but at least I intellectually realize that there are some problems I can’t solve on my own and it’s not a weakness to seek out help.  “I almost punched my stepfather when he said he’d take care of my mother himself.  He’s doing a shitty job of it so far.”

“Maybe you should check out therapists yourself,” I suggest.  I don’t want to widen the rift between Paris and his stepfather, but it’s clear that his mother is not coping well at all.

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