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Out of Sight, Into Mind; chapter three, part one

A horrible feeling washed over me.  No, not that Danny was dead, but that Kayla knew exactly who had taken Danny and why.  If she didn’t know for sure, she could make a pretty educated guess, but for some reason, she was choosing not to share.  I knew that Matt was going to have to sweat her to get the information we needed, but I had a feeling that it was going to take a lot to get her to spill her guts.  For some reason, and I wasn’t sure why, she was more afraid of telling what she knew than she was of losing her son.  I knew Matt wasn’t going to like hearing that, but I couldn’t lie to him.  This was too important for massaging egos and tiptoeing around hurtful truths.  Matt was a big boy; he could take care of himself.

Danny was in a closet.  In an…apartment?  I couldn’t be sure.  It felt like a small space around the closet, but it was just a vague impression.  He was being fed three times a day and taken to the bathroom four times daily, but that was it.  The rest of the time, he was kept in the closet which locked from the outside, of course.  I concentrated harder, hoping to come up with more.  There were two people.  They switched off taking care of him, but they weren’t averse to leaving him alone in a pinch.  I had the definite feeling that Danny knew one of the people, but I wasn’t sure about the other one.  Neither person laid a hand on Danny, but they didn’t comfort him, either.  Neither told him why he was there nor what would happen to him.  I couldn’t tell much about the people other than they weren’t pedophiles.  Small comfort, but still a relief.  The picture faded out despite my best efforts, and I opened my eyes.  Just as I thought, Matt was watching me intently, waiting for me to impart my wisdom.  I finished half my sandwich while deciding what to say.  Then, I ate the truffle, partly to replenish my energy and partly to stall.  I hated to let Matt down, but I just didn’t have much.  I related as much as I could remember before falling silent.  After Matt digested it, he spoke.

“We have to work on Kayla,” he said, his voice wavering slightly.  “She has got to tell us what she knows.”  He slammed his fist down on the coffee table, making me jump.  “Goddamn her, goddamn her to hell.  What the fuck is she into that she has someone snatching her son?  My son.  Our son.”  Tears shone in his eyes, but he refused to let them fall.  “She knows the person, the people who did this, doesn’t she?”

“I think so,” I said cautiously, though I was ninety-eight percent sure.  “Like I said, she at least has an educated guess.”

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Out of Sight, Into Mind; chapter two, part two

“Kayla, where the fuck are you?”  He burst into her bedroom without knocking.  Kayla was bending over something, her body hiding whatever it was.  “Fuck it, Kayla!”  Matt strode over to her and knocked her gear to the ground.

“Matt, what the fuck?  You’re wasting some good shit!  I spent three hundred dollars on that!”  Kayla scrambled to the ground, frantic to salvage her powder.  Matt grabbed her by the arm and hauled her into a standing position with her spitting invectives at him the whole way.  “I need it, Matt!  My fucking son is missing, and my nerves are all shot to hell!  Just a little snort, come on.”  Good.  She hadn’t had an opportunity to fry her brains some more—maybe we could get some sense out of her.  Matt dragged her into the living room and shoved her onto the couch.  He towered over her, terrible in his rage.  She looked at him wide-eyed, but without fear.

“How the fuck could you, Kayla?”  Matt screamed, his hands clenched in fists.  I stood right behind him, ready to tackle him if need be.  “How the fuck could you not tell me?”

“I need it, Matt,” Kayla bleated before Matt’s words sunk in to her brain.  “How could I not tell you what?”  She looked befuddled as well she should.  She probably thought her secret was safe as she was the only one who knew.  Even Bobby thought he was the father, that Danny had been born premature.  Thankfully for Kayla, Danny had been born on the small side which made it easier for Bobby to accept that he was a preemie.  Bobby still saw Danny on the weekends and supported him generously, even though he and Kayla split soon after Danny was born.

“That Danny is my fucking son.”  Matt’s face was inches away from Kayla’s so she could watch and listen as he enunciated every word.  “How could you not fucking tell me?”

“What are you talking about, Matt?”  Kayla whimpered, her eyes filling with fear.  She tried to keep a smile on her face, but she couldn’t quite do it.  “Bobby is Danny’s father.  You know that.”  She looked away at the last second, unable to hold Matt’s gaze.

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Out of Sight, Into Mind; chapter two, part one

“Scarlett, thanks so much for doing this.”  Kayla’s eyes were reddened as she greeted me, but that might be because of whatever she was on.

“It’s Scar,” I reminded her sharply, knowing it was useless.  One of the things I loathed most about her—and the list was long—was the fact that she refused to call me by my nickname because she didn’t consider it a real name.  As if Kayla was any less made up.  “I’m doing this for Matt,” I added, feeling like a shit doing so.  Whatever I felt about this woman, her son was missing.  I could only imagine what kind of hell that was.  “I’m sorry, Kayla, about Danny being missing.”  I gentled my voice, not wanting to get off on the wrong foot.

“Do you want to see Danny’s room right away?  I’m not sure how this sort of thing works.”  The way she said it indicated the she considered it just this side of witchcraft, which was actually quite useful.  I wasn’t a witch, but I knew a few who had helped me out with a spell now and then.  I didn’t respond to Kayla’s comment as Matt and I followed her into her modest home.

“I don’t know how it works, either,” I said honestly, not wanting to give any false hope.  “I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“But Matt told me that you had ESP!”  Kayla protested, her eyes darting back and forth.  Her right hand was trembling, making me suspect that she was on coke or heroin.  No, I’ve never done either, but I had friends who did drugs.  No, not the witches—they were more into dandelion wine and things like that.  “You have to find him!”  Kayla clutched my arm with her red talons so hard, I winced.

“She’ll do her best,” Matt said, detaching Kayla’s claws from my forearm.  She immediately transferred her grip to his arm, and he took it like a man.

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Duck, Duck, Dead Duck; chapter four, part one

“Trixie, get your ass in here!”  Eddie bellowed at me from inside his office the minute I showed up for work the next morning.  He was looking particularly repulsive as he had bits of egg clinging to his once-white t-shirt.  I stepped into his office, and he slammed the door behind me, causing my hackles to raise several inches.  I didn’t like being enclosed in a small space with a man I didn’t trust, but he was the one paying my checks.  As long as he kept his greasy paws to himself, I would put up with his odious self.

“Yes, Eddie?”  I asked, keeping my voice this side of civil.

“Tell me all you know about Lydia,” he barked.  “And what’s this about you guys switching costumes?  You know that’s against the rules.”  He made it sound like we had embezzled a million dollars from the company or something heinous like that.

“Eddie, I told the cops everything I knew,” I said, not feeling the least bit guilty for lying to the son-of-a-bitch.  “Can I just get on with my job?”

“You don’t stop copping an attitude, and you won’t have a job any longer,” Eddie said, his tone terse.  I looked at him, wondering why he was so upset.  It wasn’t as if he even liked Lydia or anything like that.  I knew murder wasn’t good for business, but it didn’t have anything to do with him.  I took a second look at him as he was sweating profusely.  I wondered if he was hiding something, something that might be connected to Lydia’s killing.  “You and Lydia were close.  Tell me what you know.”

“I don’t know anything,” I repeated, my voice harsh.  He was creeping me out, and I wanted to get out of the office.

“She must have said something to you.  Was she the one who suggested that you changed costumes?  Or was that you?”  By now, Eddie’s face was bathed in sweat, and he was giving off a decidedly pungent smell.

“I don’t remember, Eddie,” I said softly, narrowing my eyes.  “Why is it so important to you?”

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Plaster of Paris; chapter twelve, part three

He wasn’t able to find Billy Matthews, either, as the latter wasn’t at the gym today.  Lyle tried to get an address or a number, but couldn’t charm it out of anyone.  It’s a good thing, really, as it’s for the client’s protection; it just makes our task of hunting down Matthews a bit more difficult.  I think about how I’m going to find him, but I can’t come up with a better plan than to go to the gym again in the morning—or have Lyle do it—and repeat until we get our man.  Too bad I’m not V.I. Warshawski with her plethora of cunning ideas.  I put it firmly out of my mind because it’s just giving me a headache to think about the case.  I deserve a break after all the hard work I’ve been doing.  I reach for my sandwich again, suddenly famished.  We all gobble sandwiches as fast as we can.

After polishing off two sandwiches, I finally ask how Paris is.  I thought they would have brought it up by now, but they haven’t.  To be fair, they’ve been eating just as heartily as I have.  My mother tells me he’s great, that he actually spoke in sentences today.  Short ones, to be sure, but sentences, nonetheless.  I ask if he remembers anything, my pulse racing.  This could be the break we’re looking for.  Please, let him have seen who hit him.  To my disappointment, he didn’t.  He doesn’t remember anything about his accident and has to be told repeatedly that he’s in a hospital.  The cops haven’t been able to question him, either, which I’m sure is driving them crazy.  I don’t care, however, as nothing is as important as Paris’s recovery.

I’m eager to see Paris, so I stand up and stretch.  It seems like my life has been work, detecting, and the hospital.  My mother and Lyle want to go, too, of course, so we clean up and leave.  I ride with my mom to the hospital.  Neither of us speaks until we are halfway there, then my mother warns me that the Jensons are seriously considering bringing Paris back to Memphis, at least until he recovers.  I didn’t know they could do that without his consent.  My mother says they’ve been working on him.  She keeps reassuring the Jensons that Paris will be better off here with his friends, but they refuse to listen.  They’ve gotten it into their heads that this would never have happened if only Paris didn’t live in Sin City, which is ludicrous.  Even if they don’t know the background of the case, it’s silly to think that crime doesn’t happen outside the Bay Area.  They’ll take him over my dead body—there is no way I’m letting Paris go without a fight.

We are silent for a minute as I watch the scenery whiz by.  I remember the email Libby sent me and relay it to my mother.  My mother is pleased, but surprised that Libby emailed me about something so serious.  I tell her it surprised the hell out of me, too, that Little Miss Perfect is having second thoughts about being a trophy wife.  My mother sends me a withering look which immediately makes me contrite for my flippant statement.  I quickly amend my statement, saying I’m impressed that Libby has the guts to think about stopping the wedding, let alone write about it to me.  It must be killing her to admit she has doubts, especially at this late date.

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Don’t Rayne On My Parade; chapter eleven, part three

“Hello?”  Vashti’s voice is soothing to my ears.

“Vashti?  This is Rayne.  How would you like to go the Wild West with me tonight?”  She agrees and says she’ll be over in a half hour.  It gives me enough time to change.  I wriggle into a slim black skirt that reaches my ankles.  I pull on a low-cut, snug-fitting bright red shirt with long sleeves.  I brush my hair until it shines and give myself a little wink.  I wish I could do something about the cut on my neck, but I’m not sweating it.  I’m wearing my best set of underwear—all lace and very little fabric.  I don’t know if I’ll be spending the night at Vashti’s, but I want to be prepared.  I slip in a pair of black twisty earrings, black nylons, and black heels.  I look in the mirror with satisfaction.  I clean up good when I want to.  I grab my little black purse and hurry to the living room to wait for Vashti.  She is precisely on time which makes me question her heritage.  She is definitely not running on CP time.

“You look beautiful,” Vashti compliments me as I slide into her car.

“So do you.”  She is wearing black jeans and a white t-shirt with a black leather jacket.  Her hair is cut short and slicked back.  “You cut your hair!”  I reach over to touch it, then pull back.  “It looks good.”

“I thought it was time for a change,” Vashti shrugs.  “It was getting too heavy.”    She roars off into the night.  We chitchat as she drives, not wanting to get too serious just yet.  I tell her about the email I sent to Libby, and she heartily approves.  She tells me that she hates doing administrative work and wants to get back to her kids, but her supervisor won’t budge until the murders are solved.  I repeat that she should retain a lawyer, but I don’t push it.  It’s her life, and I don’t know what the answer is.  I just know what I would do if I were in her shoes.  I tell her about Paris breaking up with his newest paramour.  She tells me about Dylan’s newest girlfriend.  We reach the Wild Side West in record time.

At first glance, it doesn’t appear that Billie is there.  She is not working.  There’s some cheerful BBW handling the bartending duties.  I look over to the pool table, but no Billie.  I wonder if it’s worth waiting then decide we might as well drink while we’re there.  We snag a table near the pool table, and Vashti gets the drinks.  Rum and coke for me, Rolling Rock for her.  She is definitely in butch mode tonight as she doesn’t even ask me what I want to drink.  I don’t mind once in awhile as long as she doesn’t make a habit of it.  We sit and drink in silence as we watch the pool game going on.  A cute blond is hustling a dour-looking brunette.  Every time the brunette makes like she’s going to walk away, the blond kisses her on the cheek until she repents.

I want to talk to Vashti about Paris’s adoption, but I know it’s not my place.  Besides the fact that they don’t like each other, it’s really Paris’s decision who should know and who shouldn’t.  I don’t want to talk about the murders, not tonight, but I also want to solve them.  I wish this was just a date and that the biggest thing on my mind was wondering if I’d be getting laid by the end of the night.  Instead, here I am waiting for surly butch dyke who is bitter towards the world and delusional about Moira Kelley.  However, said dyke might also have more information that she’s willing to share if I find the right way to ask her.  I have a hunch wearing a tight shirt and leaning over a lot will help my cause.  She already respects my pool-playing abilities.  Now, if she would just show up.  I can take care of business, then go home with Vashti.  Or not.

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Don’t Rayne On My Parade; chapter ten, part one

The Friday before the party, the day in question when Mrs. Curtis saw Vashti livid outside of Moira’s house, started out like any other day.  Vashti went into work thinking of the five thousand things she had to do that day, and how she was going to do it all in eight hours.  She didn’t even have enough time to pour herself a cup of coffee before her supervisor pulled her into his office, a grave expression on his face.  Vashti thought of the million things he might want to talk to her about, but couldn’t find anything about her job performance that would have put him in such a solemn mood.  They had their differences, sure, but he respected the work she did with the kids; Vashti was certain of that.  She sat in the chair across from his desk and waited for him to speak.  She knew from experience that he liked to take control of a meeting and things would proceed more smoothly if she allowed him to speak first.

“Vashti, we’ve had a complaint about you,” he said slowly, looking at her from over the top of his bifocals.  He was a slight, nervous man who was constantly popping Tums because of his ulcer.  He wasn’t cut out to be in a supervisory position, but he wasn’t good with kids, either.  The board figured he’d do less damage as a supervisor than as a counselor.  Still, Vashti didn’t speak.  She had a hunch that she would want to reserve her words until Mr. Benson finished with his speech.  “A woman called up this morning.  Said she is thinking of pressing charges against you.”

“What?”  Vashti couldn’t help interrupting.  “Who?  A mother?”

“No, not a mother.”  Mr. Benson’s eyes shifted away from hers so he was gazing at a point just above her left shoulder.  He picked up his pen and started fiddling with it.  He was one of those men who had to have something to do with his hands even if it’s only to jingle the coins in his pocket.  He took a deep breath and let it out explosively.

“Who, then, Mr. Benson?”  Vashti was careful to keep the impatience out of her voice, but she wanted him to just tell her.  She had been on the job for less than a year and was still considered the new kid on the block.  This was exactly what she didn’t need to feel more confident doing her job.

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Parental Deception; chapter fifteen

“Ms. Liang? I’m Connie Wang.” A slim, but shapely Taiwanese woman holds out her hand as she approaches the table I’m seated at. She’s looks to be about my age, although I know she’s a good ten years older. Her determinedly black hair is carefully crimped and swept in a knot at the back of her neck. She’s wearing a Vera Wang red dress, and I’m glad I’m wearing an emerald dress instead of slacks and a shirt. She’s stunning, and I’m a little intimidated.

“Mrs. Wang. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” I stand up and shake her hand. Her grip is firm, but not crushing. “Please call me Megan.”

“I’m Connie. Mrs. Wang makes me feel like I should be walking with a cane.” Connie laughs as she sits down, and I laugh with her. We don’t talk as she studies the menu. I’m still determined to order the olive burger and fries, so I don’t need to look at the menu. Once we’ve ordered, Connie’s face turns serious. “You want to talk about George Tsai?” Her full red lips compress, and her eyes are displeased.

“Yes. I know it’s probably not something you want to talk about, and believe me, neither do I.” Taking a deep breath, I give her an abbreviated version of why I want to talk about George, and her eyes narrow until they’ve disappeared.

“That is so like him,” she says between clenched teeth. “He was a selfish man who didn’t give a shit about anyone but himself.” I blink at her swear, not because she’s Taiwanese, but because she’s so refined in appearance. “Did he really tell his wife it was for your sisters and your good?”

“Yes, he did. According to her,” I say, glancing at her face. I want to see her reaction to Mr. Tsai’s wife, but her face remains blank.

“Believe it or not, I feel bad for her. She loved him so much, and he treated her like trash.” Connie sighs, and it’s filled with unhappiness. “I know that sounds hypocritical of me because we had an affair, but once he ran back to San Francisco, it was as if the fog had cleared. I was so intoxicated with him while we were lovers, but I was embarrassed once we were through.” She’s very open about her affair, so I decide I can ask her some very frank questions about it. We’ll see if she remains honest and open about it.

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Parental Deception; chapter fourteen, part two

“Hi, Megan. How’re you doing today?” Donny asks, smiling at me as I enter the studio. He has his sword in his hand, and he’s lightly sweating.

“I’m OK!” I say brightly, smiling back at him. I can see a sparkle in his eye that suggests he wouldn’t be averse to practicing together, and I don’t mean taiji. I’ll have to nip that in the bud because I do not like mixing business with pleasure. Besides, he’s young enough to be my kid, and despite what Betty intimated, I’m not into teenagers at all. The older I get, the more unformed anyone ten years and more younger than I am appears. I like my partners with some wear and tear on them, preferably scars that tell the tale of their life journey. “Practicing your sword?”

“Yes! I can’t get enough. Would you mind?” Donny waves his sword at me, and I nod my head as I pull out my metal sword. We go to the middle of the floor, and I lead Donny in the Sword Form. I say the names, but not the counts, and he’s doing a great job keeping up with me. I glance at him out of the corner of my eye from time to time, and he’s struggling once we get past the part he’s already learned. He doesn’t give up, however, and he follows me as best he can until the end.

“Good job.” I hold my hand out and shake Donny’s. He’s sweating more heavily, but he’s beaming as he enthusiastically pumps my hand up and down.

“Thank you so much! That was fantastic.” Donny’s eyes are shining, and I know it’s not all because of the sword. He swallows hard and asks, “Do you think it’d be possible for us to practice outside of class?” I hesitate. I actually wouldn’t mind having a practice partner, but I can’t shake the feeling that he is developing a crush on me. If that’s the case, then being practice partners would complicate things. On the other hand, maybe I’m being too arrogant in thinking he wants me. I have to make sure he knows it’s nothing but taiji if I agree.

“Donny, I’d like that. However, I need to ask you a delicate question.” I glance at his face, and he’s flushed red.

“OK,” he mumbles, his eyes glued to the floor.

“Is there a reason other than our mutual love for the sword that you asked me to practice with you?” That’s about as gentle as I can ask, and it’s enough to allow him to keep his composure. Just to make sure, I add, “I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but I have to ask.”

“I think you’re very attractive,” Donny says softly. He risks a peek at me before looking down again. “I wouldn’t mind dating you.” I’m flattered, but not interested. How do I let him down gently? I have to find a way and quick. Should we be practice partners if he wants to fuck me? I decide to tackle one issue at a time.

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Parental Deception; chapter three, part one

“We’re going to Ginger’s!” I say to Onyx and Jet, keeping my voice cheery. They eye me in suspicion as I produce the carrier. Of course, they flee at the sight of it, so I have to do the song and dance of placing treats in it and then pretending not to pay attention. Jet saunters into the carrier and scarfs down the Temptations. Onyx peeks her head around the corner, and I place three Temptations a few feet from where she is. She inches forward and eats them. I repeat this pattern until she’s right in front of the carrier. She and Jet touch noses, and I gently push her inside the carrier. She howls as I shut the door, but settles down once I put more Temptations in the carrier. I’ve already put their favorite toy mice in there—but not the catnip ones. I grab my overnight bag, the carrier, and my purse before going to my car. I text Rembrandt to let him know I’m on my way, and he texts me back telling me to drive carefully. There are more people on the road than there were in the morning, so I have to pay more attention to my driving. I still make it in decent time, and Rembrandt and Ginger are at the door to greet me. Once I’m inside, I set down the carrier and release the beasts. They and Ginger sniff each other to everyone’s satisfaction before they tear down the hallway. I take off my shoes and line them up before giving Rembrandt a big kiss. He’s wearing black chinos and a forest green button down, and I’m tempted to have a shag before we start baking. However, I know if we do that, then he’ll fall asleep, which means we wouldn’t start baking for a few more hours. It’s better to get the work done first, then have fun later.

“Have you eaten yet?” Rembrandt asks, grabbing my hand as we walk into the kitchen.

“I had a sandwich an hour ago, but nothing much.” Suddenly, I’m aware that my stomach is grumbling, and all I can think about is eating.

“I have some leftover lasagna I made yesterday. I haven’t eaten yet, either.” He pulls out a covered pan with more than half a sausage lasagna in it, cuts two generous portions, and nukes them. The cats appear out of nowhere, probably because they can smell the sausage. They stare up at the microwave without blinking, and I pull out a bag of Greenies from a cupboard to divert them. They eat the Greenies, of course, but then go back to staring at the microwave. Most cats are very food-driven, and they are no exception.

“How was your day?” I ask Rembrandt after grabbing a Diet Coke from his fridge. He stocks them especially for me, which is considerate of him because he doesn’t drink much pop.

“Good! I think I’m finally getting my perspective back.” He smiles, and I smile back at him. “It’s not a hundred percent, but I’d say it’s roughly at ninety.”

“That’s terrific!” I beam at him, thrilled that his eyesight is so much better than it was right after the attack.

“I’m still thinking about opening a restaurant, though. I really enjoy cooking.”

“You can do both! It’d be a shame for you to give up your photography.” My mouth waters as Rembrandt pulls the lasagna out of the microwave. He grabs a loaf of garlic bread and cuts us each a big hunk. He arranges two plates, adding a small green salad to each plate. He drizzles a raspberry vinaigrette on the salads before handing the plates to me. I bring them to the dining room, and the cats follow me, meowing the whole way. I give them each a piece of sausage, and they meow for more. I shake my head because too much is not good for cats, but they don’t care.

“There’s plenty more if you’re still hungry after the first helping,” Rembrandt says as he comes into the dining room. He has a plate of cheeses and crackers in one hand, and a plate of fruits (grapes, orange slices, strawberries, and blueberries) in the other.

“I think this will be plenty,” I say, eying the feast. “Especially if there’s dessert.”

“There is. Dark chocolate gelato.” Rembrandt knows my weaknesses, and gelato is one of them. “How are you doing? What do you think about that man who’s claiming to be your father?”

“I’m meeting with him on Friday afternoon. He pestered me into it.” My voice is bitter, but I can’t do anything about it. I can’t help feeling as if he guilted me into meeting with him again, even if he didn’t directly pressure me. “I am pissed off that Jasmine invited him to Thanksgiving dinner, by the way. I don’t want to deal with him.”

“You’re not going to be rude to him, are you?” Rembrandt asks, his eyes trained on mine. I’m miffed that he asked me that, though it’s not an unreasonable question.

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