“Let’s go,” he says when he appears, forty-five minutes later. He is looking straight ahead, his lips set in a thin line. I buckle myself in as he takes off with a screech. Paris is a good driver, but when he’s angry, he becomes more aggressive. I wisely keep my mouth shut as I do not want to aggravate him further. Most of the time, I can jolly him out of a mood, but even I know my limits. Neither of us speak the entire way home.
When we reach our place, he shuts his door with a slam and marches up the steps to our apartment in silence. I follow him meekly, not wanting to set him off. Inside, I head for the fridge and grab two Molson Ices. I pop the tops and hand one to him. He strides into the living room and sits on the couch, flicking on the television and rummaging through the channels. He presses angrily on the remote at the rate of three clicks per second. I sit next to him, but abandon any hope of actually watching anything. We sit in silence, drinking our beers. I sneak glances at him, wondering if I should say something. I want to be supportive, but I also don’t want to get into his business if he would rather I butt out. We have been friends long enough for me to know that talking things out is not always the best thing to do with him. Sometimes he needs to brood before he feels able to discuss the problem. I let him ruminate all he wants, giving him a wide berth.
“You know what pisses me off?” Paris finally says, settling on MTV where there is some asinine reality show on. “The assumption that I took advantage of a lonely older woman, that I’m nothing more than a gigolo. That damn inspector actually thinks I tried to swindle Max out of her money!” Paris’s eyes reflect the hurt he’s feeling. An easygoing guy, he really gets steamed when his niceness is called into question. Because he is so impossibly good-looking, people have a hard time believing that he could be interested in someone less than gorgeous-looking her/himself. It’s a stereotype Paris has had to fight all his life, and it ticks him off every time. The fact that it’s true for the most part doesn’t make it hurt any less.
“Did she say that?” I ask cautiously. I don’t want Paris to think I’m questioning his interpretation of events.
“Over and over. She asked if I was in Max’s will, if I thought I should be, if I was angling to get put into Max’s will, if I knew the contents of Max’s will. The way she was harping on the will, you’d have thought I wrote the damn thing.”
“It’s her job,” I counsel, wanting to calm Paris down. I glance at the VCR clock and see that it’s seven-thirty. “Shit! I promised Emil I’d go over to his place at eight.” I jump up from the couch and hurry into the kitchen. I’m starving, and I want to eat something before I skedaddle. I grab a Tupperware and open it. Paris made fajitas for lunch, and there are two left over. I heat them up, then scarf them down.
“You have one hour,” Paris says sternly as I pass by the living room. “If I don’t hear from you in an hour, I’m coming after you. Understand?”
“Are you ok, Paris?” I ask, pausing. I hate to leave him while he’s in such a state, but I need to talk to Emil.
“Go,” Paris orders me. “Now.”
“Let me give you Emil’s address,” I sigh. I scribble it down along with Emil’s number in case Paris threw away the number and hand the scrap of paper to Paris.
“One hour,” he reminds me, shaking a finger in my face. I give him a look that tells him what he can do with that finger. It’s a fifteen-minute walk to Emil’s place, and I savor the night. Some people refuse to walk in the Mission District by themselves at night, but I relish it. I like seeing the diverse population that roams the streets—so different from the increasingly homogeneous crowd that litters the Mission during the day. The tourists still haven’t infiltrated the Mission, but unfortunately, the yuppies have. However, the Mexicans are loud and proud as well. I hope they keep the upper hand, but I am doubtful that they will be able to live in peace. I make it to Emil’s place with five minutes to spare.
“Come in, Rayne,” he beams at me as he opens the door. He is wearing a tweed suit with patches on the elbows. He has on nice slacks and his hair is slicked back. It is clear that he has taken pains to look his best while I am still in the same outfit I wore to work this morning. It doesn’t stop him from eyeing me with appreciation. I have the uneasy feeling that I will be fending off a pass before the night is through. I can take care of myself, however, as looks are deceiving. Many men think because I’m so petite, I’m easy prey. Precisely because of my size, I’ve taken self-defense courses, and I’m not afraid to use what I know. I can gouge someone in the eyes if it comes down to that. I hope it won’t. I rather like Emil and would hate to have to do him bodily damage.
“Emil, it’s nice to see you.” I smile as he takes my coat from me. I am wearing an Oxford shirt and jeans. Nothing seductive, but you couldn’t tell that by the way Emil’s eyes are devouring me.
“May I get you something to drink? Rum and coke, perhaps?” He’s remembered. I don’t know whether to be touched or wary. This man is old enough to be my father and he’s putting the moves on me. It creeps me out, so I stay on my guard.
“That would be fine.” I keep my voice brisk, allowing no intimacy to enter it. Emil leads me to his living room, then hurries into his kitchen to fix the drinks. I look around.
There are bookshelves galore; they take up a majority of the room. He has everything from Kant to Locke to C.S. Lewis. Patricia Cornwell to Shakespeare. V.S. Naipul. He even has Banana Yoshimoto. I am impressed despite myself. He has an eclectic taste in literature. I spot the Marquis de Sade, which puts me on edge. Besides the books, there’s little else remarkable about the room. There is a twenty-inch television tucked away in one corner. I’m willing to bet that he watches the news and perhaps public television, and that’s it. There is a picture of him with his arm around a plump, smiling young woman with dark brown hair. She is laughing up at him, her cheeks dimpling. There is something familiar about the woman, but I can’t place her. There is also a picture of Emil next to a dark-haired young man who is quite good-looking. An old-fashioned couch with claw legs sits in the middle of the living room. A hardback chair is set next to it. I immediately claim the chair so I don’t have to sit on the couch next to Emil. His face falls as he returns and spots me in the chair.
“Here you are.” He hands me my drink, and I sip cautiously. I remember the last drink he fixed for me, and this one is just as lethal. I set it on a coaster on the coffee table. He does the same, then grins at me.
“Well, Rayne! To what do I owe the pleasure?” He doesn’t seem too broken up by the murder of Max. Is it conceivable that he doesn’t know? I can’t believe the police haven’t talked to him yet. He must be a suspect as he’s a suspect in Moira’s death.
“How are you feeling after what happened at the party?” I keep my tone soft so I don’t scare him off.
“Terrible,” Emil says immediately. He arranges his features into a solemn visage. “Moira was not my favorite person, but no one deserves to die that way. Horrible, horrible tragedy.” He shakes his head, but his tone strikes me as false. There is a lightness in his eyes that he can’t quite hide.
“Who do you think did it?” I’m hoping my blunt questions will catch him off guard, but it’s not to be.
“Could be anyone.” He shrugs as if the question does not interest him. He leans forward and stares into my eyes. “Do you know, you have the most beautiful eyes. Has anyone ever told you that before?” I stifle a groan that pops to my lips. My eyes aren’t remarkable in any way. They are dark and almond-shaped, like most Asians’. It’s clear that Emil’s mind is not on the matter at hand.
“Emil, I need to know if you saw anything suspicious after I left the party.”
“Why? What’s it to you?” Emil smiles, clearly not taking me seriously. “Are you trying to play inspector?” He is amused at the thought. “You should leave that to the cops.” He must have sensed my displeasure because he hastens to add, “I left about a half-hour after you did, anyway. Max was pretty steamed about Moira still not coming out of her room.” A thought enters my mind. How was Moira shot with no one hearing the gun go off? Max had music on during the evening, but it was never exceedingly loud.
“Did you talk to anyone after I left? Notice anything suspicious?” I already have written Emil off as a witness, but I feel compelled to say something as I’m the one who requested we meet.
“There was one guy who was suspicious,” Emil confides as he leans even further forward. I have the sneaking suspicion that he is trying to look down my shirt as I have the top two buttons on my oxford unbuttoned. “He kept running around asking if anybody had seen Moira. He even took a swing at some pompous ass who told him he needed to sober up.” That had to be the student of Moira’s who had been looking for her earlier. “God, the second guy was a pain in the butt. He cornered me for a few minutes to wax poetic on Guy Ritchie. Guy Ritchie! He’s who passes as a role model these days. Can you believe it?” Emil shakes his head dolefully. No doubt he is talking about Harry, Max’s ex. I frown. Emil told me he knew Max’s ex, didn’t he? What was the story about Harry cheating on Max? Maybe Emil heard it from Max.
“Emil, did you know Max’s ex?” I slip in the question casually, hoping he won’t notice my sudden spike in interest.
“Oh, no. I’ve never met him. What I know is from Max.” Emil sips at his drink, then smiles at me again. I mentally sigh. Anything he’s told me about the ex is filtered through the lens of Max, which means it’s worth less than nothing. “Why are we talking about that awful business when we could be talking about other things?” It’s a good thing I didn’t choose the couch as he would have tried to undress me by now.
“You’ve heard about Max, haven’t you?” I want to keep the questions strictly business. I watch his face as I ask the question. Not a twitch.
“Yes. It’s even more horrible than what happened to Moira.” A bit of animation colors his voice. “When a woman can’t even be safe in her home, we’re all in trouble.” The words sound hollow, as if he’s practiced them. The grief in his eyes, however, is real. The pain for Moira that was absent is now present. He cared about Max, but not about Moira. I want to know more about that.
“Don’t you think they’re related?” I am becoming more curious about Emil’s reaction. He doesn’t seem to be overly sad about either death, but I sense that he’s holding something back.
“Who am I to say?” Emil has lost his easy smile, and he’s lightly sweating. He pulls out a handkerchief and mops his forehead. I decide to push him further to see what he’ll reveal.
“I heard a couple conversations at the party about Moira screwing around. What do you know about that?” I watch as Emil’s face turns white. Clearly, I have struck a nerve.
“I, uh, don’t think that’s any of my business. I told you she slept around. I think it suffice to say that she was a whore.” Not even Moira’s death can mitigate Emil’s dislike of her. I deliberate, then choose to take advantage of his hostility.
“She certainly took advantage of people,” I say cheerfully. “Especially young women.” Emil cannot hide the flash of rage that crosses his face at my words. “She was quite cavalier with their hearts. Didn’t care whom she hurt.” Bingo. By now, Emil’s mouth is working overtime, but no words come out. “I hear she was into drugs.” A stab in the dark, but one that pays off.
“I’m glad she’s dead,” Emil hisses, clutching his glass in his hand so tightly, I’m afraid he’s going to break it. “She was nothing but a cancer and a bane to society. She was a leech. A parasite. Sucked the blood dry of one person before moving on to the next. Sometimes she didn’t even wait until she was finished with one before moving on to the next. Bitch.” To hear that one word come from between such cultivated lips tells me more than the rest of his rant put together.
“She seduced your daughter, didn’t she,” I say abruptly. Again, he cannot hide his emotions fast enough. I see the answer before he even reluctantly nods his head. The story is not a pretty one.
Emil’s daughter was a first-year student at State where Moira was an adjunct art professor. Moira had a way of honing in on one student per class, and Emil’s daughter, Annie, was it for the forms class that Moira was teaching. At first, Annie was simply happy to have the extra guidance because she had the talent, but no formal training. She knew that she would have to work extra hard to make a career out of it. She followed Moira’s suggestion to meet with Moira once a week for outside the classroom instruction. The third time they met, Moira suggested that Annie pose for her. Annie, flattered, agreed to pose nude for Moira, but was nervous about it. Annie was raised in a modest family, and wasn’t sure she could take off her clothes so casually. Once Moira persuaded her, it was cake after that.
Moira began plying her charms; Annie resisted at first. She was not ‘into’ women, but had often wondered what it’d be like. Girls her age didn’t have the same sense of taboo towards lesbianism as did previous generations. It was trendy to experiment—a notch in the belt. Annie had offers before, but never felt comfortable accepting them. With Moira, however, it was a foregone conclusion. There were few things Moira enjoyed as much as turning someone. It gave her a sense of power like none other to be some hapless girl’s first, and in her position as adjunct professor, Moira had ample opportunities to practice her craft. If she had been a male professor, she would have been pressed with sexual harassment charges after a few attempts, but there was a double standard for female profs, especially those pursuing female students.
It was a foregone conclusion that Annie was going to submit to Moira; it was just a matter of when. Although Annie didn’t know it, many of the art students had a pool for picking what day Annie would give it up to Moira. Annie wasn’t really friendly towards the other students, so none of them thought to warn her about Moira. The one who picked the third modeling session pocketed $500. During this time, Annie was still living with her mother who noticed changes in Annie. Always a moody girl, Annie became lively and gregarious alternating with sullen and gloomy, depending on the day. Every up was the epitome of blissful perfection while every down was total devastation. It seemed as if she was crying herself to sleep every other night. Her mother called Emil daily. Now that they didn’t live with each other, they no longer clashed. They made much better friends than lovers. Emil would offer words of encouragement, but there was little he could do. Annie had long since stopped listening to him—she thought he was a coward for leaving his wife.
Emil suspected Annie was involved with someone married, perhaps a professor, but he thought it was Professor Hubert Jones, her advisor. Emil had no inkling that Annie had lesbian tendencies nor that she had Moira as a professor. It wasn’t until the affair had progressed to the point of obsession that Annie let slip to her mother who her tormentor was. The former Mrs. Banks was properly appalled and called her ex-husband in a hurry. He placated her best he could, but he was secretly shaken as well. Not so much by Moira’s gender, but by the fact that it was her. As Max’s friend, Emil disapproved of Moira’s free-for-all ways. He had seen Max hurt more times than he cared to count, not to mention Moira’s habit of flushing lovers down the toilet once she was through with them. Emil was frantic to think his daughter would soon be experiencing that kind of pain. After hours of agitation, he decided to talk to Moira.
He made an appointment to meet her at her studio as she didn’t have an office. She preferred meeting students outside of school anyway. Emil carefully prepared what he wanted to say. He presented his speech, listing reasons Moira should stay away from Annie. Moira listened attentively, then succinctly told Emil to go fuck himself. Annie was a big girl and could handle herself. She was free, white and twenty-one. She didn’t need Daddy cleaning up her shit. Moira went on in this vein for quite some time, clearly enjoying the sound of her voice, not to mention watching Emil squirm. By the time she was through with Emil, he was literally shaking with rage. Moira had so effectively emasculated him, she might as well have snipped off his testicles with a pair of wire cutters while she was at it. He left in a huff, vowing to put a stop to the liaison.
“When was this?” I interrupt his story, wanting to ground it in reality.
“Three months ago. Thereabouts.” Emil replies. I blink. For some reason, I had envisioned the affair as happening eons ago. The fact that it was going strong as recently as three months ago bumps Annie into the realm of active player. I wonder where she was the night of Moira’s murder. He points to the picture of him with the laughing young woman I had notice earlier. “See that? That was my daughter before Max got her hands on her.” He can’t look at the picture, though it is displayed prominently.
“Where’s your daughter now?” I ask Emil, not taking my eyes off him. His manner, so candid while relating the story of Annie’s deterioration, shifts to cagey within seconds. He hoods his eyes as if he doesn’t want me to read what’s there. He moves minutely in his seat, restless to escape my scrutiny. When he realizes that I’m not going to let him off the hook, he exhales loudly.
“I’m not really sure.” He still won’t look at me. “She wouldn’t talk to me after that. I assume Moira told Annie I confronted her.” The truth, but not all of it. He is sweating again, so I push the issue.