Chapter Eight; Part One
I sit in the car and check the comments on my latest post about dating. There are a few comments about dating not being worth it, but there are many more that urge me to take a chance. MNborn writes, “After my horrible marriage fell apart, I told everyone who would listen that I was done with men. My ex-husband had been abusive and cheated on me. He was constantly lying about his affairs, and I was a shattered woman by the time the divorce was finalized. Fast-forward three years, and I was in a Barnes & Noble, browsing through the Sci-Fi section. A tall, weedy ginger started talking to me and convinced me to have coffee with him. Coffee progressed to dinner which progressed to dessert in his apartment. Within a week, we had moved in together, and we’ve been together ever since. That was eight years ago.” NoFussNoMuss says, “Dating is bullshit, but spending weekends with my honey is everything. So I put up with the bullshit to get to this place. And, I overlook her flaws by in part by reminding myself that I never, ever want to endure the bullshit of dating again.” SeedSawed gives his opinion as well. “After a bad relationship, my brother took me out to the clubs every weekend over my objections. If it were up to me, I would have stayed home and brooded. So, while I cussed him out at the time, I’m grateful to him now, especially since I met my wife during one of those nights out.”
I shut down the browser and drive to Pinky X’s parents’ house in Plymouth and ring the doorbell. Nobody answers, but I hear rustling inside. I wait several seconds before ringing the doorbell again. I can definitely hear someone. I knock sharply on the door, refusing to go away. I know from experience that Minnesota Nice will kick in sooner or later, and whoever’s inside will open the door before long.
“What?!” The door is yanked open, and Pinky X is before me in the flesh. She’s a solid six feet tall with magenta dreads and ice-blue eyes. She’s slender, but shapely, and she’s wearing torn jeans and a multicolored tank top. A dozen bangles on each arm, and half a dozen earrings in each ear. She’s glaring down at me, but there’s fear in her eyes. I’m puzzled because I’ve never met her before, so why is she afraid of me?
“Pinky X? My name is Megan Liang.” I hold out my hand, but Pinky X just stares at it. I let my hand drop and try not to take it personally. “I’m looking for Simon. Do you know where he is?”
“No. He’s nothing to me. Leave me alone!” Pinky X tries to shut the door, but unfortunately for her, I have my foot in the way. Unfortunately for me, my toes get caught in the crunch, which fucking hurts. Her words suddenly click in my brain, and I understand why she’s so afraid.
“I’m not after him for money. I don’t care about that.” I smile reassuringly at Pinky X, and her shoulders relax a fraction of an inch.
“Come in.” Pinky X opens the door and gestures for me to come in. I take off my shoes and leave them in the hallway, glancing around me as I follow Pinky X into the house. The walls are austere, painted a hospital white, but decorated with impressionist paintings. “Would you like something to drink?” Pinky X asks, her voice polite.
“Diet Coke if you got it?” I ask, taking in as much of the environment as I can without being too obvious about it. The furniture looks fancy, like mahogany or something, and I’m afraid to touch anything. There’s an air of sterility in the air, and there’s no living creature other than us in the house.
“Of course!” Pinky X opens the fridge, grabs two Diet Cokes and pops the top of one of them. She pours it into a crystal glass, adds three ice cubes, and hands it to me. She does the same for herself, adds rum to it, then leads me into the living room. The couch is red suede, and I’m afraid I’m going to spill on it. I sit on the couch and carefully set my glass on a coaster on the coffee table. Pinky X sits in a leather recliner across from me and puts her feet up on an ornate ottoman. “Why are you looking for Simon?” The flash of fear in her eyes again.
“What do you know about Simon’s life before you met him? And, how long have you been together?” I answer her question with a few questions of my own, hoping she won’t notice.
“Three months. The best three months of my life.” Pinky X’s tone is perfunctory as she speaks, which makes me wonder if she’s trying to convince herself more than me. “I know he was married a while back and that his bitch of a wife never understood him.” I wince, but I know those are probably Simon’s words verbatim. He never forgave Julianna for cutting off the cash flow, and I’m sure he blames her for whatever problems he currently has.
“Do you know the last time he’s talked to his ex-wife?” I’m a bit discomfited at my dissembling, but I don’t feel it’s time to show her all my cards quite yet.
“He’s been emailing her all week, but she won’t answer. She has a heart of stone.” Tears glitter in Pinky X’s eyes, and I marvel once again how an asshole like Simon can engender so much passion in intelligent, strong, capable women. Something nudged my brain, something about what Pinky X had just said.
“Three months. You’ve been together three months. So right after Simon got out of jail,” I say suddenly.
“Yes. I met him at his probation officer’s office. I was there with a friend of mine. It was all a mistake. He was framed. The drugs weren’t his.” Pinky X’s voice is earnest, and I’m suddenly weary. I heard these same excuses from Julianna when she was with Simon, and it’s the same thing every dazzled woman says about her undeserving man.
“Where is he now, Pinky X?”
“Call me Trinity,” Pinky X says. “That’s my real name.”
“Trinity. Where’s Simon?”
“I don’t know,” Trinity says, her voice small. I stare at her, and she says, “I don’t! Honest! I haven’t heard from him since Tuesday.” Tuesday. Julianna’s birthday. The day she died. Kind of.
“What time Tuesday?” I hold my breath. This could be important, though I’m not sure why.
“Two, three in the afternoon? He said he’d talk to me soon, but he hasn’t answered my texts since.” Trinity’s shoulders slump, and she looks as dejected as a little kid who’s had her doll taken away.
“Tell me the truth, Trinity. How much money does he owe and to whom?” I use my no-nonsense voice on her, which is what I use to keep my nieces and nephews in line. Trinity is young enough that she responds to a ‘mom’ voice without hesitation.
“I don’t know who, but it’s over a hundred thousand dollars.” I gasp at her, sure I had heard wrong.
“How the hell did that happen?”
“He fucked up his last venture and lost a shit-ton of money. Plus,” here Trinity hesitates. “He has a problem with coke. He doesn’t do it all the time, but when he does, he really goes on a bender.” Coke. It seems to be his bete noire. The one and only time I met him, he was jittery, couldn’t keep a coherent thought, and paranoid. He kept raving about a conspiracy of government agents against him. It was at a party Julianna was throwing, and he shoehorned me in a corner and ranted about the chip planted in his head for half an hour before I was able to escape. Later, when I mentioned it to Julianna, she laughed it off and said he was having an off night. I didn’t believe her, but I kept my mouth shut. Foolishly. I wish I had said something, but I didn’t want to make Julianna mad. She had to have known, though. She did all kinds of drugs when she was a teenager, and she hung out with artists.
“Trinity, may I be blunt with you?” I wait until she nods before continuing. “You seem to have your shit together. You’re a beautiful and talented young woman.” Here, Trinity blushes and mumbles her thanks. “Why are you with Simon?”
“I don’t know,” Trinity says, much to my surprise. “He was so different and exciting when I first met him, but….now, he’s just…I dunno.” She looks as if she’s going to cry, and I want to say something that will comfort her. I have nothing, however, because I think Simon is scum of the earth. “I feel trapped.” Trinity’s voice is so soft, I have to strain to make out the words.
“Has he been abusive to you?” I stare her in the eyes, but she doesn’t even flinch.
“No. If anything, he’s too passive. He goes out of his way to avoid conflict, but it comes out in other ways.” Trinity starts crying, and my heart aches for her. She’s so young and naïve in many ways. She needs to get away from Simon before she wastes any more time on him, but it’s not my place to say so. Then again, if not me, who?
“I’m going to say something that’s not polite, but I think you should dump him.” I sip at my Diet Coke and wait for Trinity’s response.
“I know. But, he’s so broken. I want to help him be a better man.” Trinity, grabs a handful of Kleenex from a box on the coffee table and blows her nose.
“He’s a drowning man, and he’s going to take you down with him.” I decide it’s time to come clean with why I’m questioning her, even though she hasn’t asked me why I’m there. “I’m a friend of his ex-wife’s, Julianna.” In a flash, Trinity’s tears are gone, and they are replaced with anger.
“That bitch! She was so mean to him. She’s the reason he’s where he’s at today.”
“That’s bullshit, Trinity. Come on. You’re smart enough not to believe that.” My tone is sharp, but I hate hearing Julianna’s good name besmirched, especially over a patented lie.
“She should have—”
“What, gone bankrupt trying to save his sorry ass?” I clench my hands into fist before telling myself to breathe smoothly and slowly. It’s not her fault she’s in love with a conniving, lying jerk.
“She cheated on him. I bet you didn’t know that.” Trinity’s tone is equally fiery, and it seems as if we’re inches away from mixing it up.
“I did know. I bet you didn’t know that he cheated on her first.” Trinity’s mouth drops open in surprise. “He didn’t tell you that part, did he?” I shake my head in disgust. I’m not surprised Simon tailored his sob story to flatter himself, but I have no patience for it.
“No, he didn’t,” Trinity says. Her voice is weary, and I’m sorry I’m the one who made it that way. Then again, it’s not me—it’s Simon. I’m just the bearer of the bad news. “We had an argument the last time we talked. He wanted me to loan him twenty-thousand dollars. He said it would be enough to calm his creditors for the time being.”
“Twenty thousand?” I gape at Trinity. “He had the balls to ask you for that?”
“Well, he actually demanded it. Said if I don’t, he’d break up with me.” Trinity starts crying again, and she dabs ineffectually at her cheeks.
“That asshole.” It slips out of my mouth before I can censor myself. “What did you say?”
“I said no! I don’t have that kind of money.” Trinity glances around before adding, “This is my parents’ house, as I’m sure you know. I have a trust from which I get a monthly stipend. It’s more than enough for me to live on, especially since I don’t have to pay rent, but it’s certainly not enough to give him that much money. That’s when he hung up on me. I haven’t heard from him since.”
“He must be desperate.” I finish my Diet Coke and set the glass back on the coaster.
“He sounded really afraid,” Trinity says. “I’ve never heard him like that before.”
“Will you let me know if you hear from him?” I ask Trinity. She nods, so I scribble my number and my email address on a piece of paper and hand it to her.
“I know he’s a shit, but I do care about him,” Trinity says, a trace of an apology in her voice.
“I understand. I really do.” I nod at Trinity as I stand up. She stands up as well, and to my surprise, she grabs me in a hug.
“Thank you. I don’t have anyone I can talk to about this shit.” She lets go and pats my shoulder awkwardly.
“Any time.” I hesitate and add, “Julianna’s life was a wreck for years after she divorced Simon. I don’t want you to go through the same thing.”
“Me, neither.” Trinity walks me to the front door and watches as I put on my shoes. She waves to me as I go to my car, and I wave back at her. I have a hunch we could be good friends, but I’m not sure I want to get involved in her situation. On the other hand, she’s almost out of it, and it should only take a little nudge to get her out of it. I shake my head because that’s codependent thinking. Only *I* can help her. I’m the savior she needs. One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that I can’t save anyone. I can only be supportive as that person does the work herself.
I drive to Uptown to visit the Minneapolis Slammin’. There are five or six of them gathered, of all races, ages, genders, and sexual orientations. I relax as I always feel comfortable among the freaks and the geeks. I’m an outcast myself for many reasons, and I never feel as at home as when I’m with other weirdos. There’s a tiny black chick with two Afro puffs, a thick booty, and a truly bodacious chest chatting with a lanky Asian dude with tats choking both his arms. There’s a white chick with a pink Mohawk and a ton of facial piercings snapping her fingers in the face of a comely Latina woman with long legs and a perfectly chiseled torso. These are my people, and I make a vow to see more of their performances. I saw as many of Julianna’s as I could, but it doesn’t seem like enough. I feel as if I’ve let her down by not being
“Hey, can I help you?” A bald, muscular white dude appears before me, eyeing me up and down. Not in an offensive way, though, but in a, “Are you one of us?” kind of way. He has five silver rings in his right ear and five gold rings in his left. He has a wedding ring on the third finger of his right hand, which he twists self-consciously.
“Yes. I’m Megan Liang. Julianna’s best friend. J-Pop?” I offer Julianna’s performance name when his face remains blank as I say Julianna’s name.
“Omigod! I’m so sorry!” The man’s face creases into pain as he vigorously pumps my hand. “Regicide, er, Reggie. I can’t believe J-Pop is dead!” He burst into tears, still clutching my hand, and I gingerly remove it from his. I pat him on the back, murmuring comforting phrases. “Sorry. Sorry. It’s just that she was so alive, and the best damned poet of any of us. She shouldn’t be dead!”
“I agree. Do you know of anyone who had a beef with her?” I glance around the room, but no one is paying any attention to us.
“No! Everyone loved her.” Reggie is still sniffling, but at least he’s not still crying. He lowers his voice and adds, “Well, except Pussy Riot—Paola.” He nods at the Latina woman, who looks like a less-voluptuous version of Salma Hayek. “She was jealous of J-Pop’s talent and tried to steal her riffs all the time.”
“How did Julianna react to that? I can’t imagine she’d take it quietly.” Juliana was fiercely protective of her art, which is understandable. In these days, it’s way too easy to rip off other people’s work without repercussions.
“She just laughed it off at first, but then, Pussy, Paola won quarters two weeks ago with a piece that was mostly Julianna’s. She wasn’t laughing then.” Reggie glares at Paola, who is supremely unaware of the look.
“Didn’t Julianna also win in the quarters? I remembered her being awarded something.” I had been at the performance, but my mind was understandably distracted because it was only a week after I caught Tessa in bed with Patricia.
“Yes, she did. Still, she wasn’t happy that Paola copped her style. They had a huge fight about it, and it nearly came to blows. I had to separate them and send them to their respective corners.” Reggie folds his arms over his chest, making his biceps bulge. “Paola was cursing in Spanish as I made her take a walk.”
“Do you know what she was saying?”
“She was calling J-Pop a bitch and saying she’d get hers one day.” Reggie rubs his chin as he talks, but he’s not keeping his voice lowered any longer. Paola glances over at us, but she doesn’t evince any curiosity.
“Do you think she meant it?” I ask, keeping my voice low. There’s something dangerous about Paola, and I don’t want to direct any of her ire my way.
“Oh, yes. We had a guy a long time ago, Beretta, who was dating Paola for a few months on the downlow. He dumped her because she was calling him thirty times a day, and she went nuts. She camped outside his crib and would not leave him alone. He left the group because of her.” Reggie’s eyes well up with tears again, and I squelch the instinct to cradle him to my bosom.
“On the downlow?”
“It means she was cheating on her boyfriend,” Reggie says helpfully. I roll my eyes because I know what it means. “She was the one who hit on Beretta, then freaked the fuck out when he ended it.”
“Anyone else you can think of?” I make a note on my phone, then look expectantly at Reggie. He looks deep in thought, so I don’t prod him.
“Her ex! He stopped by here earlier in the week. Asking for money.” Reggie makes a face, and it’s clear he’s not a fan of Simon, either. “He looked like shit—as if he hadn’t slept in a week. Julianna gave him an earful and sent him on his way.”
“What did he do?” I know Simon well enough to figure he didn’t go quietly into the night.
“He went for her throat, but I was watching him and got to him in time.” Reggie flexes his muscles unconsciously as he speaks. “I roughed him up a bit and told him if I ever saw him around here again, I would kill him.” There’s not a trace of humor in his voice, and I shudder. I wouldn’t want to get on his bad side, but Simon is not a sensible guy.
“What did he say to that?” Instead of answering, Reggie looks at me for a long minute. Hard.
“Are you looking into her murder?” Reggie asks, his voice serious. I don’t answer because I’m wondering if I should tell him. I’m not sure I should be spreading this around too much, but on the other hand, if I want people to tell me shit, I probably need to let them know why.
“Yes. I am. I hate that she’s been murdered, and I need to know why.” And punish the perpetrator, I think, but I keep it to myself. I have a hunch Reggie would be on my side, but I don’t want to get him in trouble if push comes to shove. Plausible deniability. Also, I want to be able to plead temporary loss of sanity myself, which I can’t if I talk about it.
“Same here. She’s the best person I’ve ever known, and I will kill whoever did this to her.” Well, so much for that plausible deniability. I wonder if Julianna and Reggie had ever been a thing because Julianna had been known to dabble with boys now and again, but I decide it’s not any of my business—for now. It might become an issue in the future, but for now, I’ll put it on the backburner.
“Anything else you can tell me?”
“No….” Reggie’s voice trails off. “We had several hang-ups in the few days leading up to J-Pop’s murder. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but what if it has to do with J-Pop’s death?”
“It certainly seems suspicious,” I agree. “Thanks, Reggie. I appreciate your help.” I hold a hand out to Reggie, which he shakes firmly.
“Call me if you need any more help.” Reggie scribbles his number and an email address on a piece of paper and hands it to me. I write my number and email address on a separate piece of paper and handed it to Reggie, telling him to do the same.
I get home to two indignant cats who make their displeasure known. For whatever reason, they are not happy with me for being gone, even though this is a work day. It’s probably because I’ve been home, and I don’t tend to leave the house in the afternoon for an appreciable amount of time. I give them treats, which soothes their irate souls. They chirp at me after they eat, probably hoping for more. I don’t give it to them, however, because I don’t want them to get fat. I don’t worry so much about Onyx, but Jet tends to run towards fat, so I have to limit both of their treats. Jet may adore Onyx, but he’s addicted to his treats and woe be the woman who gets between him and them.