Chapter Thirteen; Part Two
We talk about other things for a few more minutes, but I’m eager to get home so I can think about Lydia’s revelation. Once I’m there, I feed my cats some treats before retiring to the living room. I pull up a Google tab, but then stop short. What am I supposed to Google? In order for a search to be effective, I need good parameters. I can Google tongues being cut out and eyes being gouged out all I want, but it’s not helpful if I don’t already have some connection between the two. Something hits me. I was so excited by Lydia’s suggestion, I overlooked one thing—if she’s right, the only thing that connects the two is me. Yes, Julianna and Rembrandt saw each other at the club when Rembrandt and I first met, but they didn’t even say ‘hey’ to each other. So, if the two attacks are connected, then it has to be because of me.
I slump back in the couch, stunned by my realization. I’d been so focused on who would want to kill Julianna, I developed tunnel vision. If Julianna’s murder has to do with me, then I have to recalibrate everything I thought I’d already known about this case. Wait a minute. If I’m the connection, then who the hell would want to hurt me by attacking my loved ones/friends? I don’t have any enemies that I know of, and more than that, even if I did, none of them would know I was dating Rembrandt. I only told a few people, and one of them is dead. The others are beyond reproach, so what does that leave? As I’m thinking about it, I decide to check my blog. As it’s loading, I realize that’s the answer. My blog. I wrote about Julianna the night before her death, and I wrote something about her voice being the first thing I was drawn to. Then, after my last date with Rembrandt, I wrote about his eyes. Whoever did this is reading my blog. The bile rises in my throat, and I race to the toilet just in time. I vomit until I only have dry heaves left. It’s my fault Julianna is dead and Rembrandt lost an eye. I dry heave some more until my stomach hurts. Once I’m done, I slump down, too exhausted to move. The tears well up in my eyes, but they refuse to fall. I know I have to look over those posts and see what I can find, but not just yet. If I’m lucky, I’ll find something in the comments. If I’m not, it’ll be a lurker who doesn’t comment who has been doing these terrible things.
I stand up, my knees weak, and wobble my way to the sink. My cats are on top of the counter, staring at me in concern. I try to smile reassuringly at them, but I can’t seem to get my facial muscles to work. I pour myself a glass of water and drink it quickly. I splash water on my face, but nothing seems to help. Someone is killing people I love or like because of me. I stagger to the kitchen and boil some water for tea. Once it’s boiling, I make myself a cup of peppermint tea. I need energy if I’m going to do something about this. I give my babies some treats and then go to the living room. I sit on the couch and wake up my laptop. I take a deep breath and go through my post about Rembrandt. I read the comments, but nothing really stands out. Except…I open another tab and pull up my post about Julianna, the one I wrote right before her death. I scan both the comments, and then I notice it. QueenBee’s comments. On the one I wrote on Julianna’s birthday, she said, “All bark and no bite. You can tell she’s got no substance, and her voice is ugly, too. I don’t know what you see in her.” After my post on Rembrandt, she wrote, “You couldn’t wait to move on, could you? Was what you wrote about Julianna a lie? Now you’re just taken in by a pair of pretty eyes.” There it is. QueenBee is the killer, and she has to be local.
I hear a noise outside. I stand up and grab my metal sword and phone before going down the hall. I punch in 9-1 before turning on the front porch lights and peering out the peephole. Nothing. I heft the sword in the air as I open the door and poke my head out. I don’t see anyone, but there’s a box on my doorstep. It’s wrapped, tied up with a pretty pink bow, and has a gift tag attached. This is not good. I hesitate, go back inside, lock the doors, grab a pair of latex gloves, then go back outside. I pick up the box and bring it inside, locking the door behind me. I take the box into the living room and set it on the coffee table. I stare at it in trepidation. Should I open it or should I call the police right away? I probably should call the cops, but I’m curious. I pluck the tag from the box and I read it. “I will be your eyes and your voice.” Not good. It’s the killer. Do I even want to know what’s in the box? I suspect I know what it is, and I most definitely do not want to see. However, I also have to know, so I gingerly untie the bow and open the box. In it are a tongue and a brown eye, both covered in congealed blood. Even though it’s what I expected. I gag and drop the lid of the box before rushing to the kitchen sink. I retch, although I have nothing in my stomach. I call Detective Quentin, and when his weary voice answers, I blurt out what I’d found and what I think.
“Don’t touch anything.” Detective Quentin’s voice is energized, which means he’s probably been hitting his head against a wall up until now. “We’ll be right there.” I hang up and sit on the couch, numb. Onyx and Jet snuggle against me, and I pet their fur to soothe the agitation in my brain. Someone hates me enough to do this to me, and I have to figure out who it is. Soon, my doorbell rings. I go to the hallway with my sword in hand and peek out the peephole. It’s the cops. I relax my grip on my sword and lean it against the wall in its hilt before opening the door.
“Come in, detectives.” I open my door and gesture to the detectives. Even though it’s ten p.m., Detective Quentin looks as fresh as a daisy in a charcoal gray pinstripe suit. Detective Lorrimore, on the other hand, looks haggard and worn in her lime green pantsuit. After the case is over, maybe I’ll drop a discreet hint that she would look much better in solid and dark colors, but now is not the time.
“Ms. Liang.” Detective Quentin stops, eying my sword with interest. Or is that apprehension? Either way, I rush to explain.
“I do taiji. This is my sword from my practice. The blade is not sharp, but it can still be effective as a blunt instrument.”
“Gotcha.” Detective Quentin nods. I lead them to the living room, and we go through our pre-talking ritual. My cats are nowhere to be seen.
“It’s right there.” I point at the box with the tag beside it. My latex gloves are next to them both, and again, Detective Quentin raises an eyebrow. “I didn’t want to leave prints,” I say. “I’ve seen enough procedurals to know not to touch anything with my bare hands.” Detective Lorrimore snorts, but quickly hides it behind her hand before continuing to take notes on her tablet. Detective Quentin and Lorrimore pull on latex gloves of their own. Detective Quentin looks in the box while Detective Lorrimore reads the note. Once they’re done, they switch roles. I wait, but I’m anxious to hear what they have to say.
“OK. Fine. We’ll take this from here.” Detective Quentin gathers up the box with the contents, the tag, and the bow.
“Wait! There’s more.” I open my laptop and pull up my website on two different tabs. I find both the Rembrandt post and the post-birthday dinner Julianna post. “Look.” I point at the QueenBee comments. Detective Quentin takes a picture with his cell, then they’re gone. I lock the door behind them, pick up my sword, and go back into the living room. I check my messages, and there’s nothing from Rembrandt. I try not to take it personally, but it hurts. I call Liz, time zones be damned. It rolls over to VM, however, so I leave her a message before hanging up. I go to the kitchen to make myself a cup of chamomile tea. I have a hunch that sleep isn’t going to be easy tonight.
“Girl, you seem to be here less than not,” Darla says, flashing her teeth at me as I sit at my desk.
“Good work if you can get it,” I crack, turning on my computer. I stop and frown. Someone has been messing with my stuff again. My cup is in the wrong place, my pens are scattered, and my papers are out of order. It seems like the person doesn’t care if I know. I get up and go to the bathroom, disturbed by what’s happening. I don’t actually need to pee, but I do it, anyway. When I come out, Sara is leaning on the sinks, her arms crossed in front of her chest. I notice that she actually has some musculature in her arms, then dismiss it as unimportant. Sara is glaring at me, which I also don’t consider important.
“Excuse me,” I say politely, trying to get around her to wash my hands. She moves so she’s in front of me, and I swear she’s puffing out her chest. I don’t know why she’s pulling this Alpha Female bullshit on me, but she better get out of my way. I do not have the time or the patience for her bullshit right now. I place a hand on her shoulder and use my back legs to push her out of my way so I can wash my hands. She looks affronted and puzzled as if she couldn’t understand how I’ve done that. I turn to leave, but she grabs me by the arm and yanks me back toward her. “What the hell are you doing, Sara?” I say, staring at her in surprise. “Let me go!”
“I did it all for you, and you didn’t even notice. Or care!” Sara grips my arm even tighter, but I don’t wince.
“What are you talking about?” I ask, confused. Then, what she’s saying clicks in my brain, and I almost blurt out that she’s the one who killed Julianna, but I’m smart enough to keep it to myself.
“You don’t even see me or appreciate me!” Sara bursts into tears, but retains her grip on my arm. I’m not too concerned about that because I can break a hold, but then she pulls out a hunting knife from her purse and points it at me. That ups the ante quite considerably. Lydia always say if there’s a knife, you better count on getting cut. I take a smooth, slow breath, relaxing as I face Sara. I notice she’s holding the knife tightly—too tightly. She’s tense, which is better than if she were relaxed. I use my waist to twist my body and break free from her grip while simultaneously bringing up my left hand (the one she wasn’t grasping) to chop down on Sara’s hand. She yelps and drops the knife, then lunges at me. I step to the side and use her momentum to guide her into the wall. Her head smacks against it, causing her to yelp in pain. I follow up with a strike with the palm of my hand to the middle of her back, which causes her to fall flat on her face. I drop to the ground and place my knee in the small of her back. I fumble for my phone in my purse, and as I pull it out, Sara starts kicking and flailing her limbs. She throws her hand back, trying to strike me, but I easily evade her fist and capture it in my hand.
“Stop struggling, Sara. You’ll only hurt yourself.” I say, trying to contain my rage. This is the woman who killed my Julianna and who injured Rembrandt so horribly.
“I love you so much! I did everything I could to get you to see me, but you never did.” Sara’s screaming and crying at the same time. I call 9-1-1 and explain the situation, which causes Sara to start struggling anew.
“Stop it!” I say, slapping her on the back of the head. It feels good, so I do it again.
“You hit me!” Her voice is incredulous, and I start laughing, albeit it bitterly.
“You fucking killed my best friend and hurt someone I care for!” I punch her in the back, careful to avoid the kidney. Dimly, I wonder where my coworkers are, but I decide it’s not relevant. I take a slow, deep breath and force myself to keep my fist down. It’s over, and there’s nothing more for me to gain here. All I can do is wait for the cops, and then I can go home.