Chapter Twelve; Part One
The next day, as I’m driving to work, I have the strangest feeling that I’m being followed. I check my mirrors several times, but there’s nothing suspicious. I’m probably being paranoid because of everything that has happened in the last week, but I double-check again. Nothing. When I pull into the parking lot, I hunch my shoulders as I lock my door. I whip my head around, but there is no one there. I hurry into the building, irrationally glad to get out of the open. I go to the office floor and sit at my desk. I frown again. My coffee cup isn’t in the same place as where I normally put it, and several of my pens have been disturbed. I look at my computer, but nothing seems out of order there. I quickly check my files, but there’s nothing there. I still have five minutes, so I check the local news on my phone. The Strib. To my surprise, there’s a picture of Rembrandt on the front page. Does he have a show he never mentioned to me? I read the article, and my surprise turns to horror. He was attacked in front of his house early this morning on his way to his first client. He managed to fight off his attacker, but not before the attacker gouged out his (brown) eye. Rembrandt was rushed to Abbott Northwestern, and I have to get to him now. I run into Cara’s office. Fortunately, she’s not busy, so I tell her I need to take off. She’s not happy about it, but she lets me go. I promise her I’ll make it up to her, and I leave. My thoughts are racing as I speed towards Abbott Northwestern. How can this be happening again? Who the hell would attack Rembrandt?
“I need to see Rembrandt. Rembrandt DiCampo,” I say to the nurse at the front desk.
“Only family is allowed,” the nurse says, looking up at me. Her tone is brisk, but not unsympathetic.
“Can you at least tell me how he is?” I ask, my voice trembling.
“No, I can’t. I’m sorry.” The nurse nods at me. I’m about to leave when I remember that Simon is still here. I get a nurse to give me directions to his room and make my way over there. Trinity is in the waiting area, and I go sit by her as she dozes.
“How is he?” I ask Trinity, startling her into sitting upright.
“He’s bad, but the doctors say he’ll be fine,” Trinity says after she wakes up a bit. “If he stays off the drugs, stays away from old associates, etc., etc., etc.” Trinity and I exchange glances. We both know how likely that is about to happen.
“May I talk to him?” I ask Trinity, holding my breath. There’s no reason for her to say yes, but to my surprise, she does.
“Go on in. No one else has visited him.” Trinity’s shoulders droop, and I know she thinks she has to be there for him because he has no one else. It’s not my job, but I feel somewhat responsible for her.
“You don’t have to do this, Trinity,” I say, placing my hand on her shoulder. She leans into it before pulling away.
“He has no one else.” Trinity’s voice is weary, and I think she’s near the edge of leaving; I just have to find the right words to push her over, so to speak. I think about my options, then I speak.
“I know you feel responsible for him. I know you think he’s alone and has no one else. That can be a powerful drug for people who like to help other people.” I pause to see how she’s reacting. She’s looking at me and is leaning slightly toward me, so that’s a good sign. “The problem is, and this is tough love, a guy like that will drag you down before you can pull him up.” Trinity flinches, but she doesn’t say anything. “I have tried so many times. Lord knows. I’ve lost count. Every time I think I can save someone, not only have I lost that person, but I’ve lost parts of myself as well.”
“I need to leave him,” Trinity says softly. “I know that, but—”
“No buts,” I say firmly. “You’re going to say you should at least be there for him through this. But, there’s always something with a man like him. You know that.” I pat her hand before standing up. “I’ll be right back.” I stride towards Simon’s room and stop before entering it. I never told Julianna, but I smelled rot coming off of Simon the few times I’ve met him. I walk in, and the smell lingers. Simon’s head is wrapped, his arm is in a cast, and his face is all puffy. I can’t tell if he’s sleeping or if his eyes are just swollen shut.
“Simon.” I say, keeping my voice curt. One of Simon’s eyes flutters open, and he starts struggling in alarm when he sees me. I hate him, but I don’t want him to cause him duress. I softened my tone to make it nonthreatening. “Simon, it’s OK. I’m not here to hurt you. I’m a friend of Julianna. Do you remember who that is?”
“Jul’na,” Simon says, his voice slurred. “My bish ess-wife.” Well. He certainly remembers her, that’s for certain. “She thins she better’n’me.” Well, she certainly is, that’s for sure.
“When’s the last time you saw her, Simon?” I ask, keeping as far away from him as possible.
“Stup’d cun wouln’t give me mon. Thiss iss her fau.” Simon weakly points at his face with his ‘good’ hand. “She’ll get wha she des’rv.”
“When did you last see her?” I repeat, my patience wearing thin.
“Dumped me like trash.” Simon’s voice is clear, and I’m fed up. All he’s done is whine, whine, whine about how mean old Julianna has done him wrong.
“OK, Simon. I’m leaving now. How you feel better soon.” I leave the room and inhale several lungs of air. I review what Simon has told me, and something strikes me. He kept talking about her in the present tense, but that’s not uncommon. However, he said she’ll get what she deserves. Which means he doesn’t know she’s dead. He could be pretending, but I highly doubt it. He’s not in any shape to lie. I think this means I can cross him off my list of suspects. Damn. I was hoping it’d be him because I’d like to nail that jackass for something. I return to the waiting area where Trinity is lightly snoring. I decide not to bother her, so I scribbled a note and tuck it in her purse. Then, I send her a short text telling her to call me if she needs to talk. I regret it immediately after sending it, but there’s nothing I can do about it.
I text Rembrandt, but I don’t get anything in response. I send him one more asking him to text me whenever he can. Then, I go to Ramona’s bakery store and peer in the window. Casually, though, because I don’t want to garner any unwanted attention. I see Ricardo behind the counter, but I don’t see Ramona anywhere. Without thinking about it, I slip in the store. Ricardo looks up from the counter, and I inhale sharply. He’s six-feet four of gorgeous. His wavy black hair flops in his eyes, his very dark, very smoldering eyes. Yes, I know that’s a stereotype, but he embodies it. His tats are all related to nature, which is somewhat of a surprise. I chastise myself for stereotyping him, but, man he certainly looks like a bad guy. A sexy and hot bad guy, but a bad guy, nonetheless.
“May I help you?” His voice is deep and lightly accented, and I want him to do wicked things to my body. I pull myself together because I am not here to make a spectacle of myself.
“Yes. I’d like a strawberry rhubarb pie, two flans, a chocolate cream puff, a blueberry cheese Danish, and three lemon poppy seed scones.” I flash my brightest smile at Ricardo, but he is unaffected by my womanly wiles.
“Coming right up.” Ricardo nods before getting to work filling my order. I can’t stop staring at his arms which are bulging with muscles. I briefly fantasize about spraying whipped cream on his abs before coming to my senses.
“Hey, did you hear about that murder Loring Park? An Asian woman, she got her throat slit.” I leave out the tongue getting cut out part. “What is this world coming to?”
“I didn’t hear about that,” Ricardo says. His tone doesn’t change at all, and his hand doesn’t falter. He just keeps filling my order, and I don’t think it’s an act. I write him off my suspect list, but I leave Ramona on it. She hasn’t been forthcoming with me, and I need to find a way to get her to talk. “Here you go. That’ll be sixty-two dollars and fifty-three cents.” Ricardo hands me the bag while I hand him my credit card. As he’s ringing me up, Ramona comes into the shop. Her eyes flash surprise, then fear as she registers my presence.
“Thank you. I love your pastries. I’ll be back!” I wave at Ricardo and Ramona before leaving. I peek in the window again, but there’s nothing amiss. Not a minute later, I get a text from Ramona, and boy, is she angry.
“What the hell were you doing here? Were you interrogating my husband? You have some fucking nerve.” I wince, but she’s entitled. I would be suspicious of me as well. I text back, trying to keep my tone placating.
“I just loved your pastries so much, I had to have more.” I pause and add, “Sorry.” Three minutes later, she responds.
“You’re lucky my husband didn’t recognize you. Don’t do that again.” I frown at her words. Why would he recognize me? I shrug and unwrap the Danish. I eat it, nearly moaning out loud in ecstasy. It’s everything I dreamed it’d be, and it would be a shame if I couldn’t return to their bakery. I go home and check my messages. Nothing of any importance. Then, I check my website. There are several comments on my post about my dating life, most of them positive. The negative ones sounded more like they’re jealous than anything else, while the positive ones are merely celebratory. QueenBee’s newest comment catches my eye. “Megan, I’m sorry. I overreacted. I’m so, so sorry. Don’t block me.” I heave a deep sigh. She’s such a basket case; I should just cut her loose. I feel sorry for her, though. I quickly reply, “It’s OK. You just need to be chill. If you can do that, I won’t block you.” She immediately responds. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I will be so, so, so chill! You won’t even recognize me.” I shut it down and go take a quick shower. Onyx and Jet trill at me from outside the curtain, and I poke my head out to stick my tongue out at them. This amuses me, but them, not so much. After my shower, I go back to the kitchen and take out the cream puff. I eat half of that and then put the rest back in the fridge.
I have a class tonight, but I’m not sure I want to go. Rather, I know I don’t want to go, but I also know I’ll feel better if I do. I still have a few hours before then, and I’m suddenly exhausted, so I decide to take a nap. I know I should be researching more about Julianna’s murder, but I simply can’t do it. I lie down on the couch and close my eyes. I feel two thumps on the couch, and I know my cats have joined me. I immediately fall asleep, and it’s dreamless this time. I wake up an hour later feeling less tired than when I fell asleep. I consider that a win, but not much of one. I wonder if I’ll ever have a full night’s sleep. I get up and go to the kitchen to make some tea. I probably should eat a light snack before going to class, but I’m not hungry. I force myself to eat a bowl of Cheerios, and that’ll be enough to prevent me from getting hungry in class.
I putter around the house, not looking online at all. Fifteen minutes before it’s time to leave, my doorbell rings. Onyx and Jet ghost as I go to answer the door. I look out the peephole. It’s the detectives, and I groan inside. I do not want to talk to them, but I know I can’t evade them forever. I open the door and eye them warily. Detective Quentin is wearing a tailored, black pinstripe suit, and Detective Lorrimore is wearing a baby blue pantsuit, and I want to tell her to lay off the pastels. I have a hunch that won’t endure me to them, so I put it out of my mind.
“Detectives. May I help you? Have you learned anything more about Julianna’s murder?” I ask, ushering them inside.
“We’re not here about that, Ms. Liang. We want to talk to you about Mr. DiCampo. Mr. Rembrandt DiCampo.” They follow me into the living room and wait for me to sit in my recliner before they sit on the couch.
“Ms. Liang. You are dating Mr. DiCampo.” Detective Quentin says. It takes me several seconds to realize that he’s waiting for an answer to his non-question.
“Yes. Yes, I am.” I keep my answer short and wait for the next question.
“When was the last time you saw him?” Detective Quentin asks while Detective Lorrimore takes note on her tablet. I remember this combination from the last time they were here.
“The night before he was…hurt. We had a date. He went home around midnight.” I stare into Detective Quentin’s eyes to show him how sincere I am.
“Where were you at six the next morning?” Detective Quentin asks, his voice even.
“Here. Asleep. With my cats. No one can vouch for me.”
“Do you know anyone who’d want to hurt him?” Detective Quentin asks.
“No.” I think of something and add, “Wait. He was having trouble with a client of his. He’s a photographer. What was her name….Camille? Kendra? No, Kimberly! I don’t know her last name, but she stalked him for a while.”
“We know about Ms. Ransom. Thanks. Anyone else?” I think about it for a minute, but I can’t think of it. Let’s face it; I don’t know him very well.
“Nope. Sorry.” I ask, “Can you tell me how he is? They’re only letting in family.” I don’t think they’ll tell me, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
“He came out of surgery just fine. He will recover eventually. Physically, at least.” Detective Quentin stands up, and Detective Lorrimore follows suit. I walk them to the door and thank them. Because of them, I know a little more than I had before. Rembrandt is going to be OK, and that’s a good thing.
I feel upbeat on my way to class, even though I’m going to be five minutes late. I get there in record time, hitting every green light on my way. I’m only three minutes late, but most of my classmates are already there. Lydia is talking to Betty—or rather, Betty is talking Lydia’s ear off—and waves at me as I come in. I wave back before setting down my weapon bag and taking off my sweatshirt.
“Hey, Megan. How’re you doing?” It’s Sylvia, one of the older members of the group. She has fluffy white curls that frame her rosy cheeks, and she’s the very picture of a sweet, Norwegian grandmother. I would not underestimate her, though, because she will put you on your back faster than you can say, “Bake me a cake, Grandma!”
“I’m OK, Sylvia. How about you?”
“I can’t complain. I’m healthy; I’m still getting it on a regular basis, and; all my children still call me at least once a week.” Sylvia laughs heartily, and I laugh with her, albeit with less vigor.
The class is a good one as it forces me to focus on something other than Julianna and Rembrandt. I concentrate on making sure I don’t shift too far forward as I step, which is one of my enduring flaws. I get to lead the Sword Form, which is always my favorite part of class. We end by doing the whole Solo Form to music, and I’m lightly perspiring by the time we’re done. I gulp down my water as I wait for my classmates to leave so I can talk to Lydia alone. Once everyone is gone, she turns to me, her face serious.
“How are you really doing, Megan? We haven’t had time to talk much lately.” Lydia reaches out to grab my hand. She gives it a sympathetic squeeze, and I squeeze back.
“Rembrandt, the guy I was dating, was attacked the morning after our last date,” I blurt out, my hands trembling. All the calm I had generated during class dissipates, an there’s nothing I can do to stop it. “He had his eye gouged out.”
“Oh, no! That’s terrible!” Lydia gasps, her hands flying to her face. “Is he OK?”
“The police said he’ll be fine eventually. But, he’s a photographer. How can he do that with only one eye?” I start crying, unable to keep it in check. Lydia rushes over to me and puts her arms around me. I sob into her shirt, feeling vaguely guilty that I’m smearing snot on it. I can’t help myself, however, so I just weep. Once I’m done, I pull back and blow my nose on a tissue.
“I don’t know, Megan. I really don’t.” Lydia pauses, then adds more slowly. “There was something odd about Julianna’s murder. What was it?”
“I don’t know, Lydia. I think her being murdered is pretty odd in and of itself.” I struggle to keep my voice even, but it’s hard.
“No, I know that. But,” Lydia pulls out a phone and starts poking at it. “Her tongue was cut out,” Lydia says, setting down her phone.
“Thanks for reminding me. I’ve been trying to forget that.” I grimace, not happy that she brought up that ugly fact.
“Megan! Think about it. Julianna was a slam poet, and she gets her tongue cut out. Rembrandt is a photographer, and he gets his eye gouged out. There has to be something there.” I stare at Lydia, gobsmacked that I never thought of it myself.
“Why didn’t I think of that?” I tap myself lightly on the forehead.
“You’ve been distracted. It’s understandable.”
“Thanks, Lydia. I guess I just needed a fresh perspective on things.”
“Glad I could help.”