“Uh, Rayne? Get to the point?” Vashti breaks into my recitation with impatience. “I do not need to know about every person who is wanting you. I do not have such time.” She is smiling impishly, daring me to defend myself. I ignore her and fast-forward.
“Hey there, beautiful.” A harem girl wearing a purple outfit slinked up to me, her veil covering all but her gorgeous green eyes. Her body was not covered nearly as much. She was wearing a royal-purple halter top that exposed her milky skin above and below it. She was wearing sheer pants that ballooned at the calves before tapering off. She had a fake diamond pasted in her belly button. She had silver bangles up and down her arms as well as anklets on each ankle.
“Hi,” I stuttered before remembering that I was Wonder Woman and had nothing to fear from this woman. “You better be a good girl, or I’ll have to lasso you.”
“You actually said that to her?” Vashti asks, wrinkling her nose. “I cannot believe that you are not smoother than that.”
“She took me off-guard!” I protest. “Can I tell this story, please?” Vashti motions with her hand for me to continue…
“Come with me.” The harem girl entwined her scarf around my neck and pulled me outside. As soon as we hit the backyard porch, she pushed me against the wall and started kissing me through her veil. There was something unbelievably hot about having that filmy piece of material blocking her lips from mine. I was so into the kiss, I didn’t see the person looming over us until the harem girl was wrenched away from me.
“I might have known the minute I took my eyes off you, you’d be out here making it with another girl.” A behemoth of a woman, dressed in a tux, threw the harem girl aside and turned to me. There was murder in her eyes, and I was poised for flight because there was no way in hell I was fighting this true Amazon.
“Look, man, I didn’t know.” I began backing way. I did not want any part of this. “I didn’t know she was your girl or I’d never have kissed her.” I wasn’t sure that’s true, but figured I’d better say something to stop the crazy look the butch woman was throwing my way.
“I’m not her girl,” the harem girl said viciously. “She just wishes it were so.” The butch turned to the harem girl and backhanded her across the mouth. I was frozen in my tracks, unsure what to do. I wanted to protect the harem girl, but I also wanted to keep myself intact. I moved toward the tuxedoed woman, but stopped as she turned back towards me.
“Don’t listen to the bitch,” she says, her tone suddenly calm. “If you go near her again, I’ll rip your arm off and shove it down your throat. Understand?” It was the first time I’d been physically threatened, and I wasn’t quite able to take it seriously. I mean, it’s the kind of thing done in movie, not in real life. I understood that the woman was making a real threat, but I had to stifle an impulse to look around for the rolling camera.
“She is not my girlfriend!” The harem girl screamed as she cringed away from both of us. Right then, I decided even if she’s the most alluring person in the place, she was trouble. I stayed away from her the rest of the night…
“You are thinking this girl is Moira?” Vashti asks when I am done telling my tale.
“Same walk, same voice, same eyes,” I recount as I lean back into the couch. “What I can’t understand is why she didn’t say something at the party. She must have known it was me.”
Vashti disagrees as she points out that Moira hit on many women in her life, and she might not recognize the Wonder Woman from Halloween last year, especially if Moira had been drinking that night. Or perhaps all Asian women looked alike to Moira, which is a possibility I don’t want to consider. I allow that perhaps Moira had hit on me as a matter of form, to hone her chops, so to speak. It seemed to be her M.O., given the way she hit on me the night of her death. Vashti agrees that it’s just like Moira to hit on any available woman at a party, regardless of Moira’s level of interest in said woman. I am loath to admit that I’m not memorable, but it’s entirely possible. I don’t put much store in gossip, but the buzz about Moira is too consistent to ignore—she hit on a lot of women and pissed off a great many of them. I wonder what ever happened to the tuxedoed woman from the Halloween party.
Vashti and I chat a little more before I maneuver the conversation to the question I really want to ask—did Vashti sleep with Moira. I am watching her face carefully as I ask, but she is too disciplined to give herself away. She dances around the question, not giving me a straight answer, smiling enigmatically the entire time. She hints that Moira had chased after her for a while. She heaves a sigh worthy of an Oscar nomination, but she won’t come out and answer the damn question. I’m becoming impatient. What’s the big fucking deal? Either she slept with Moira or she didn’t. I’m not going to judge her either way, so why can’t she just tell me? Just as I’m about to reach the exploding point, Vashti reveals the first part of her history with Moira.
Vashti had been in Moira’s neighborhood to drop off a manuscript for Max to read for the next writers’ group, but had found Moira by her lonesome and polishing off a bottle of red wine. Moira had immediately hit on Vashti, reassuring Vashti that she had an open relationship with Max. Each of them had other lovers, and it was all good. Vashti accepted Moira’s statement at face value because she wanted Moira. Deep down, Vashti suspected that Moira was lying, but she simply didn’t care. They made their way into the living room and tumbled on to the couch, Moira’s lips fastened to Vashti’s neck. Vashti yanked off Moira’s top and pulled her bra under her breasts before reaching for her own shirt. Their lips met in a crushing kiss as Vashti fumbled with the buttons on Moira’s shirt. For some reason, Vashti couldn’t get her fingers to work. Just as she had the shirt unbuttoned, the door slammed.
“Shit!” Vashti jumped up from the couch and struggled to put her shirt back on.
“Relax. I told you it’s ok.” Moira made no attempt at straightening her own clothes. Vashti paid Moira no mind as she raked her hand through her hair. It’s one thing to mess around with a friend’s girlfriend—it’s quite another to get caught doing it.
“Moira, I’m home!” Max’s voice sang out before she enters the room. She stopped cold when she saw the scene in front of her.
“Hi, Max,” Vashti said, fighting a blush. Not that it would have mattered with her dark skin. “Um, I was dropping off a manuscript for you.”
“I can see that,” Max said acerbically, her eyes darting from Vashti’s mussed lipstick to her half-clad girlfriend. She was shooting daggers at Moira and ignoring Vashti. There was a frisson of between Moira and Max as the tension mutated into something else.
“Want to join us?” Moira’s lips curved into a smile. She leaned forward so her breasts were bulging towards Max. “It’s been a while since we’ve had a threesome.” Vashti’s mouth fell open. She considered herself liberal when it came to sex, but she was shocked. She suddenly decided she didn’t want Moira, any more…
“I can’t believe she said that!” I shake my head in reluctant admiration. Moira had balls; I’ll give her that much. I don’t think even Paris would have been able to pull off a stunt like that, and he’s the master manipulator.
“I got out of there pretty quickly, let me tell you.” Vashti laughs, though it’s a tad rueful. “It is only later that I got to wondering if Moira set it up that way, knowing that Max would be home soon.”
I mull over the information that has been gleaned in the last half-hour. It occurs to me that I know nothing about Moira that isn’t about her sex life except that she was a sculptor who wanted me to pose for her. That demonstrates her good taste, but little else. I wonder why she was so driven to have sex with every woman she met. It is a cliché that sex-crazed women have been abused in their youth, but it’s usually true. I can’t think of a single woman I know who is obsessed with sex who hasn’t been abused as a child. Then again, I am pretty pro-sex myself, and neither of my parents ever laid a hand on me because they were too busy firing up the bong. I have sex because I enjoy it; I don’t do it to boost my ego as Moira seems to have. It’s a shame because she was a captivating woman in her own rights and didn’t need to be a slut to rivet people’s attention.
Her behavior had been singular. She had to constantly validate her desirability by conquering every woman she met in order to feel good about herself. It seems strange that as much as Moira craved attention, she stayed away from men. In my experience, a woman’s sexuality is more fluid than a man’s, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if Moira had lovers of different genders. I made a mental note to nose around and see if Moira had ever dated men. I don’t know what bearing that would have on the case, but it’s a loose thread that bothers me. It would make me feel as if I am making progress when the opposite is true. I have all these stories and anecdotal information that don’t coalesce into any semblance of a whole. It is much easier to read a novel and solve the mystery than to figure this real-life one out. I will solve this mystery, however, and I will make the headlines of the papers. That’ll show my sister, and she’ll apologize for ever being mean to me about my so-called-life.
Yeah, right. The day my sister apologizes is the day I give up sex. I have never heard her say ‘I’m sorry’, and I’m not going to hold my breath waiting. She’s been bossy, demanding, and a know-it-all from the day she was born. I don’t see her changing any time soon, not when she has a fiancé who supports her every delusion. I once asked my mother if she was awake during Libby’s birth because I was sure someone had switched the babies. My mother burst out laughing and assured me that Libby was my blood sister. My mom had eschewed drugs of any sort and gave birth to Libby at home with the help of a doula. “I was wide awake the whole time! I saw her head crowning because your father held a mirror between my legs.” That shot my theory out of the water and gave me a disturbing mental image to boot.
“…Isn’t that funny?” Vashti looks at me expectantly. It’s obvious that she’s been talking, and I missed what she said.
“Sorry, Vashti. My mind was wandering for a second. Could you repeat that?”
“The next time I saw Max, she hit on me. I thought that was funny.” I think it’s sad, but I keep that observation to myself. We are both quiet for a minute.
“I can’t believe Moira didn’t recognize me,” I say, worrying it like a sore tooth.
“Me, neither,” Vashti says solemnly. “You’re very memorable.” I can’t tell if she’s teasing or being serious so I decide to take her at her word.
“I know.” I preen myself slightly. It’s not good to be arrogant, but a little self-confidence never hurt anybody.
Vashti proffers the theory that Moira had recognized me, but kept quiet when it became clear that I hadn’t recognized her. It’s the kind of secret that Moira would have loved to hug to herself. I suggest that perhaps Moira was embarrassed by what happened, but neither of us buy that theory. Moira was a woman who went to a Halloween party dressed as a dominatrix —she wasn’t easily embarrassed. It’s strange how I’m getting to know her through her death. The snippets that I’m collecting are not enough to help me visualize Moira in the flesh and blood. She seems rather one-dimensional, and I find myself wondering about her hopes and dreams and mundane shit like that. There had to be more to her than just her lust for sexual encounters of different kinds. It would be unbearably sad if her only legacy to this world is how many women she had fucked. Speaking of fucking.
I mention the tuxedoed woman again, and Vashti orders me to describe her. I struggle to remember, but I manage to say that she was over six-feet tall, solidly built with dark brown hair—very short on top. Spiky. Big boobs. I shrug helplessly. I might as well have been describing half the dykes in the city. Vashti echoes my thoughts by saying that’s not much to go on. She frowns before adding that Max had once told her that Moira had a stalker. A bartender at the Wild Side West. She had been sniffing after Moira for a while and fits the general description. The Wild Side. I haven’t been there in a long time, but I suddenly feel like going. I invite Vashti for a drink, and she accepts with alacrity, though it’s not one of her usual haunts, either. I like it better than the Lex, however, as it’s more low-key, so I’m looking forward to dropping by. We jump into her black Saturn with the license plate ‘CATLVR-1’ because, obviously, Vashti loves pussy. It takes her no time at all to find a parking space because, as she puts it, she is the queen of parking karma. She is lucky her positive karma isn’t canceled by my negative karma. I’m the type of person who notices an open space just as I whiz by the spot, only to look in the rearview mirror and see it being claimed by a snot-nosed punk who has just earned his driver’s license. I must have been driven the equivalent of a Hummer in my past to earn this kind of payback.
“Hey, girls. What can I get you?” The bartender is plump and feisty with her bosom spilling over her skimpy tank top. “Haven’t seen you around lately. What’s shaking?”
“Not much,” I smile at her. I believe in having the bar staff on your side; it makes life so much easier. “I’ll have a Bud.”
“Shot of Jack for me,” Vashti chimes in. We get our drinks, tip her well, then find a table near the door. “There.” Vashti tilts her head towards the pool table where a beefy woman is chalking up her cue.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I announce, setting down my beer. “Be right back. Don’t give my seat away while I’m gone.” I get up and stride towards the bathrooms, glancing discreetly at the pool table as I pass by. The woman is done chalking her cue and is lining up her shot. Her eyes are red and puffy, and it appears she’s had too much to drink. She sinks the two ball anyway, then takes a swig of her beer. The guy she’s playing with shakes his head, but leans casually on his cue. I go to the bathroom, decide to use the facilities while I’m there, then go back to the table. Vashti is finishing her second shot, and it looks like it’s going down smooth.
“It’s her.” I sit down with a thump and drain half my Bud.
“What are you going to do about it?” Vashti asks, her eyes wandering to a particularly tasty-looking redhead at the table next to us, who is giving Vashti a look of her own.
“Challenge her to a game of pool,” I say, standing back up and grabbing my beer. “Let me know if you’re about to leave. You are my ride, remember.” Vashti laughs at me, but continues making eyes at the redhead. I saunter over to the table and watch the woman demolish the guy.
“Another game?” She asks him as she accepts a five from him.
“Nah. Three is enough for me for one night.” He backs away, returning to his buddies. The woman looks a bit forlorn, so I swoop in.
“I’ll take you on.” I pull a five out of my pocket and slap it on the table.
“Done.” She puts the five the guy just handed her on top of my five. “I’ll even rack for you. I’m playing nine-ball, by the way.” She racks the balls quickly, then tosses the triangle onto the floor. She swigs at her beer and watches me chalk my cue. “You look familiar. Have we met before?”
“Don’t think so,” I say, my heart hammering. “I would remember if we had.” I recall Vashti’s words about this woman stalking Moira and decide to choose my words carefully. I don’t want to give her the wrong impression. “You work here, right?”
“Yeah, I do.” The woman is still watching me with a puzzled frown. I pray that she doesn’t place me before I leave. She’s a big girl, and I don’t want to be on the business end of her fist. “Name’s Billie Holiday.” I can’t hide my surprise. “My mother loved the blues.”
“Rayne.” I decline giving her my last name. “Nice to meet you.” I take a deep breath and break the balls. It has been years since I played nine-ball, but I used to be quite good. I sink the four on the break and take a moment to study the table. “Did you hear about that woman who got murdered last weekend? Isn’t that awful?” I figure that’s a safe opening as it made the front pages of the Chron and the Examiner. “Makes me wonder if there’s someone out to get queer women.” I fight the impulse to embellish and just wait for her to speak.