“Damn. Maybe I shouldn’t have trusted him,” Leslie whispers as she stares at the monitor. Something in her gut twinges, and she straightens her shoulders. “No. He was a good man. He was.” She has to hold on to that thought or she will go completely insane. It is painfully obvious that he had not completely truthful with her, but she knows that he had a good reason for hiding his past—she just has to find it.
“Meow!” Josephine hops into Leslie’s lap and begins kneading. Leslie strokes one, two, three, grateful for the respite from her fact-finding mission. Josephine licks her tiny front paw and passes it over her head, in the manner of cats everywhere. Leslie closes her eyes and spreads her toes, allowing the tension in her body to drain out the soles of her feet.
“So, what do we now, Josephine?” Leslie kisses her cat on the tip of her black, satiny nose. Josephine looks indignant at the affront to her dignity, but she tolerates it—most likely because she knows that she’ll get more treats that way. “We know that John’s real name is Freddy. We know that he has a good friend named Rose. We know that something terrible has happened, most likely in Chicago.” Leslie stops. How does she know that John even lived in Chicago prior to coming to Minnesota? Leslie looks at the emails and notices that the sender’s addy is email@example.com. Leslie pulls up Google in a new tab on Google Chrome and types in Rose Duffy and Chicago. She crosses her fingers as she hits the enter button. To her delight, up pops a Rose Duffy in Oak Park, IL. The Googley tells Leslie that this is an artsy neighborhood near Chicago, and the official website for the Village of Oak Park confirms it. In addition, the Googles tells Leslie that Duffy means black, so it all fucking fits. Leslie wishes there is a way to find Freddy as well, but nowhere is his real last name mentioned in the emails, and, as she knows, his email addy is firstname.lastname@example.org, which is of no help at all.
Leslie reads the rest of the emails. There isn’t much more information there. She notices that the last email is from Wednesday, the day before John’s murder. For some reason, Leslie is reluctant to open the email. Maybe it’s just information overload, but she is suddenly overwhelmed with lassitude. Pushing aside her weariness, she reads John’s final email to Rose.
Rose, I am getting very near to the truth. I am going to have to cut off communication with you for a few days because they are getting near to me, too. If you don’t hear from me in four days, please contact my woman at email@example.com and tell her everything. Give her everything. I love you always, Rose. Freddy.
Leslie stops reading, stunned by the mention of her name in the email (well not her name, exactly, but of her email addy)—and, if truth to be told, by Freddy’s declaration of love for Rose. It seems that while John had been less than forthcoming with her, he had told Rose everything. Granted, that everything included mention of her, Leslie, but that is small comfort, indeed. A flash of blue-hot anger washes over Leslie. Even though she still feels that John is inherently a decent man, her confidence is shaken by this last email of his to his Irish Black Rose. Before she can think about it, Leslie logs into her Gmail account and shoots of an email to Rose. It says, “I need to talk to you. Now.” A minute later, she gets this reply, “Call me.” A number is included, and Leslie pulls out her cell so she can call Rose.
“This is Rose Duffy.” The voice is high and silvery, with just a hint of an Irish brogue.
“My name is Leslie Chang. Tell me what you know about John Smith.” Leslie’s voice is extra brisk so she can hide the tears gathering in her throat.
“I’m sorry? I don’t know a John Smith. I am presuming that you are the raging Asian in question, though. Am I right?” Rose’s voice is not quite steady. Leslie wonders if she’s been drinking or if she’s just tense.
“Yes. I’m the ragin’ Asian. I am John’s woman. Or, as you know him, Freddy.” Leslie unconsciously accents the last word, unable to hide the tremor in her own voice as she does so.
“He’s dead, isn’t he? He knew they were coming after him, and though he was careful, they finally caught him.” Rose’s voice is filled with sorrow. It’s all Leslie can do to hold back her own tears. She nods her head several times before realizing that Rose can’t see her over the phone.
“Yes. He’s dead. I’m sorry. I know you were close.” Leslie bites off each word with great effort. She isn’t feeling very sorry for Rose at the moment, but it’s proper protocol to offer someone condolences when that person loses someone she loves.
“You were the light of his life. He called you his angel. No matter what you hear about him, never forget that Freddy loved you.” Rose is crying, but she collects herself enough to tell Leslie a bit of her history with Freddy.
They had met freshman year in high school in Tennessee, though both of them went to segregated Catholic high schools. They were both in theatre, and of course plays could not be performed without both boys and girls, so the two schools teamed up and had a combined drama group. Rose was a natural actress, and she was always cast as the lead. Freddy, on the other hand, was better in bit roles and in schmoozing with the girls from Rose’s school. They had taken to each other at once, though they weren’t sexually-attracted to each other. They became fast friends, spending much of their free time together.
Nothing could separate them, except for the attentions of one Luigi “Tino” Valentino. He was cast as Danny in Grease, opposite Rose’s Sandy. Tino had a rep as a troublemaker and a womanizer, and he set his eye on Rose. Freddy could see Tino for what he was and tried to warn Rose, but Rose was having none of that. She was fragile-looking with her slim, milky-white skin, light blue eyes, and a fluff of red curls, but she had the arrogance of youth in her belief that she was invincible.
Things came to a head at a cast party. Tino plied Rose with drinks until she was staggering on her feet, and then he ushered her out of the house. Freddy went after them, yelling as Tino secured Rose in his Corvette, but two of Tino’s buddies stopped him and beat the crap out of him. He put up a valiant fight, but he was no match for his two attackers, and he blacked out as one of the thugs was stomping on his head. Tino’s two friends continued to kick Freddy until they heard sirens in a distance—a neighbor had called the cops, and Freddy was rushed to the hospital.
“I’m sorry for what happened to you,” Leslie says stiffly, breaking into Rose’s recitation. “Believe me, I know how you feel. However, what does it have to do with John’s murder?”
“I know you know,” Rose says, her voice soft. Another fresh surge of anger rushes through Leslie’s body. John had told Rose about that? “Freddy needed some advice from me on what to say to you. He didn’t give me details, only very general basics.” Leslie is only partially mollified, but she wants to hear what else Rose has to say about John. Freddy. Leslie’s lover.
Tino raped Rose, of course. He had slipped her a mickey in her last beer, which had rendered her unconscious. When she came to, he was on top of her and still having his way with her. he wouldn’t stop no matter how much she begged and pleaded with him until he had everything he wanted. Once he was done, he cleaned her up thoroughly and warned her that if she told anyone, he would kill her sisters—but not before he fucked them, too. Rose knew he would do as he said, and she vowed not to say anything as he dropped her off a mile from her house.
Once she got home, she took another shower as she was desperate to wash off his touch. She couldn’t, of course, and she ended up in a heap, sobbing, on the floor of her shower. When she found out that Freddy was in the hospital, she felt doubly guilty because she knew that was her fault, too. She rushed over to visit him, telling the receptionist she was his sister. Rose was a good liar, and she got in to see him with no problem. She let out a cry at seeing his bruised form, and he grimaced as she hugged him impulsively. She didn’t want to dump her troubles on him, but he insisted she tell him what happened. As she did, he lay perfectly still, his face turning to stone. Afterwards, he still didn’t say anything. She begged him to talk, even if it was to tell her that he had told her so. He finally opened his mouth and told her that he would take care of that bastard, Tino, for what he had done to her—she hadn’t deserved it. Rose had cried at his words of kindness.
“Again, I am very sorry for you,” Leslie begins. Rose quickly interrupts her.
“Two weeks after Freddy got out of the hospital, Tino was in the hospital. He had been beaten with a tire iron, and he lost the sight in his right eye in the process. He refused to talk to the police, and he never bothered me or my family again.” Rose imparts the information as if it’s no big deal, but it hits Leslie in the gut. She can draw the inference—Freddy had gotten to Tino. A mixture of emotions washes over Leslie. On the one hand, she doesn’t believe in vigilante justice. She knows that society would descend into chaos if everyone takes the law into his or her hands. On the other hand, justice is often blind—especially in the cases of date rape, especially twenty years ago. Leslie has no doubt that if the case had gone to court, Rose would have been torn apart yet again while Tino wouldn’t have received anything except maybe a slap on the wrist in terms of probation. What’s worse, scum like that have no compunctions on following through on their threats—which meant that had Rose gone to the police, she would have put her sisters’ lives in danger as well.
“Freddy didn’t kill Tino like the bastard deserved. All in all, I think Tino got off lightly,” Rose says, correctly reading Leslie’s mind—even over the phone. “The last time I Googled Tino, I discovered that he was a banker like his father before him, married with three children. I don’t lose any sleep crying over scum like him.”
“Point taken,” Leslie replies. “But, what does this have to do with John’s murder?” Even though she knows his real name, Leslie still calls her lover John because that’s who he was, hell, who he is to her. This man named Freddy isn’t quite real to her yet; she’s not sure he ever will be.
“Freddy has always had a strong sense of justice. He believed in the legal system, but he wasn’t naïve enough to think that justice was always served.” Until now, Rose’s voice has been steady. Here, she falters. She has to clear her throat several times before she can continue. “Before Freddy left Chicago, he, he was accused of something pretty heinous.” Rose pauses again, and Leslie wants to scream at her to go on. “Freddy was dating a woman named Amy. They had been together for two years. Amy had many positive qualities, but she was bipolar. When she was in a manic phase, she would disappear for days. During those disappearances, she would have multiple affairs, rack up thousands in debt, and in general, screw up her life. She would return to Freddy after crashing and usually full of remorse. For two long years, he stood by her.”
“I take it something happened to precipitate a breakup?” Leslie asks, her mouth dry. She is not sure she wants to hear more of the tale, but she doesn’t convey her ambivalence as Rose continues.