Chapter Four; Part One
I wake up in a good mood which lasts until I arrive at work and answer the phone only to hear Inspector Robinson’s voice on the other end. A phone call from the cops first thing in the morning, especially a Monday morning, especially a Monday morning at work, can really bring a person down. She has a few more questions that she wants to ask me, she informs me in a brisk tone. When I protest being disturbed at work, she points out that the alternative would be for me to come down to the precinct, which is precisely the last thing I want to do on my lunch break. I hem and haw, but finally give in. Even though I don’t want to be heard associating with the police, it’s the lesser evil which is exactly why the inspector brought up the point about me traipsing down to the precinct, I’m sure.
“When you and Mr. Frantz were outside, how long did you leave Ms. Bowers inside alone?” Now that she has gotten what she wanted, the inspector can afford to be friendly so she warms up her tone a fraction.
“Um, five minutes? No, probably longer than that. Maybe ten.” I tend to underestimate time, thinking less time has passed than actually has.
“And you’re positive that you left the bedroom after viewing the deceased before Mr. Frantz?” She sounds as if she’s reading the questions off a list, which she probably is.
“I told you, I can’t be sure,” I say, lowering my voice. I don’t want my boss to catch me talking on the phone to the police on company time. “Look, I don’t meant to be difficult, but could we do this another time? I’ll even come down to the station.” I’ve changed my mind. Anything is better than sweating it out over the phone, paranoid that one of my colleagues will overhear me.
“What a great idea. Be sure to bring Mr. Frantz with you so you can both sign your statements as well, which, as you probably forgot, you were supposed to do yesterday. Have a nice day, Ms. Liang.” She hangs up before I can ask her where exactly is the station. I suppose I’ll have to look it up on the internet. I call Paris at home to relay the message, but he’s not there.
“Paris? It’s me. We have to go to the police station today to make our statements, and Inspector Robinson wants to talk to me. Call me so we can—”
“Hello? Rayne?” It’s Paris. I should have known he would be screening his calls. He always does because he has too many complications in his love life to want to deal with them in person. “What the fuck?”
“We were supposed to give our statements yesterday, remember?” I am gloomy after talking to the esteemed Inspector Robinson. She was all business on the phone, not at all how I imagined our next encounter would be.
“Damn it, I wish we were done with this!” Paris says in disgust.
“Pick me up at four. I’ll see you then.” I am about to hang up the phone when I add, “Find out where the police station is while you’re at it.” I figure since he’s not at work, it’d be more expedient for him to do it than for me. We could probably walk if it’s in the Mission, but I’m not in the mood.
The day drags, though I try to pass the time by checking out the new worker. She is a cutie, barely five-two, curvy, pixie cut, brunette, warm smile. Since I am merely the administrative assistant and she is a new program coordinator, we haven’t been formally introduced. The uppers tend to ignore me as much as possible until they need something done. They took her around the office earlier, introducing her to everybody except me. It makes me feel like a pariah, but it’s just par the course at the job. I would like to meet her, especially after hearing her laugh. It is low and husky—a surprising sound from a petite woman like her. I am a sucker for a sexy laugh. She looks to be in her mid-twenties, which is just the right age for me. I am well on my way to having us married before we even go on an official date—that’s fast even by dyke standards.
“Excuse me?” She cuts through my reverie, much to my embarrassment. I blush and have a hard time looking her in the eye. I take a moment to regain my composure.
“Yes?” I look up into the greenest eyes I have ever seen. They are so clear, I swear she’s wearing tinted contacts.
“My name is Quinn McGowan. I’m the new program coordinator for the day treatment program.” She extends her hand; she has a nice, firm grip which I like. I hate the Asian way of shaking hands, something I scrupulously avoid.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Rayne Liang, admin assistant extraordinaire. How may I help you?” I am rewarded by her laughter. It’s all I need to sustain me at this moment.
“I just wanted to introduce myself since the administration forgot to do so. I know I’m going to be needing your help, so I thought it best to meet you as soon as possible.” Her eyes gaze into mine for a fraction of a second longer than strictly necessary. Is she flirting with me? I can never tell with women.
We banter back and forth as I discreetly check her out. She is wearing an ankle-length black skirt and a button-down crimson shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Office dress is casual, but she looks good in her slightly more professional gear. I look down at my jeans and white button-down, and frown. I feel like a frump next to her, though she is still lingering by my desk. A skinny black kid with laughter in his eyes saunters to my desk. It’s Jamal, my favorite kid, who favors me with an engaging grin, despite the one decaying gray tooth. He waits patiently for a break in our conversation, which is an improvement. When he first came to the center, he would interrupt every conversation he could just to get attention.
“Hey, Rayne. Got any candy for me?” He grins again, his face radiant. Ever since I brought in a box of Godivas, Jamal periodically stops by in hopes of other goodies.
“Not today, Jamal,” I say, smiling back. We chat on occasion, but this time, he simply nods and goes back upstairs.
Quinn and I flirt a little more as she waits for Esperanza, her boss, to get off the phone. Esperanza isn’t the one who took Quinn on the tour—she would have stopped. Esperanza is in charge of the teachers for both programs—the day treatment and the family education programs—which means she’s in charge of Quinn who will be planning the programming for both programs. It’s not technically part of the teaching aspect, but it certainly fits more with that than with the counseling side. Quinn confesses that this is her first job in the social services, and she’s not sure she can hack it. I reassure her that I have confidence in her which is a crock of shit because I don’t know her, but it seems to make her feel better, which is my intent. She’s definitely an improvement on her predecessor who drank on the job. I hope she’s not offended if she’s not into women that I’m semi-hitting on her. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t mind, but it is the workplace, and I don’t want to create an awkward situation.
“It’s good to know I have someone on my side.” She smiles again, and I notice the dimples poking into her cheeks. She is not my usual type—I tend to like my women more androgynous. She’s even wearing lipstick—but I can’t deny the sparks she’s setting off inside of me. “Oh, there’s Esperanza. I better go. Maybe we can have drinks after work sometime?”
“I’d like that,” I say a bit breathlessly. After she leaves, I mull the situation. It would be so much easier if she were a guy and made that offer because then I would know she was hitting on me. Because she’s female, however, I can’t be sure if she’s just being friendly or if she is interested in something more. Also, if this were anything but a nonprofit organization, I would err on the side of caution, but it’s different here because we have all sorts of diversity. Unfortunately, we still have incompetent administrators like many nonprofits. Take the director for instance, who is a plump and friendly man who has never been in the trenches, but who looks good on paper. He and my boss watch movies on their computers, separately, all afternoon long. Rough job, but someone has to do it. Sometimes, they take a break to talk about their respective movies. My boss is a thin, gawky woman with a serious overbite and damaged hair who thinks that makeup can cover up her flaws.
“Rayne, I need you to copy these papers for me.” Alicia, the lead counselor, plops a stack of papers on my desk before waddling away. She takes the casual dress thing too far, in my opinion, showing up in sweats almost every day. I won’t be surprised if she wears her curlers into work one day. In the year since I’ve worked here, I’ve seen her in something other than sweats or jeans four times. I think that’s the main reason she likes this job. Alicia stops and turns. “Oh, and I need them before you leave today.” She turns and continues on her merry way. I am annoyed by her tone, but not by her order. The intensity of this job goes in shifts, and I’m in a downtime. I can spend time dreaming of how I’m going to be a star when I apprehend Moira’s killer. Some weeks, I don’t even have time to breathe let alone think.
“Finally done,” I mutter at a quarter to four. I lock up my desk and shut down my computer.
“Rayne! I’m glad I caught you before you left.” It’s Quinn, and she’s out of breath from running down the stairs. We’re in a converted Victorian-style house with the administration on the ground floor and the real work done on the next two floors up. “Want to grab that drink today? I can be ready to go in fifteen minutes.” Damn. I hate to turn her down, but I know better than to diss the police.
“I can’t, Quinn,” I say regretfully. It isn’t every day I have an attractive woman extending me invitations. “How about tomorrow?”
“Ooh, not so good. Wednesday?” Quinn asks, tilting her head. How can I resist?
“Wednesday is good for me,” I say, relieved that I don’t have to explain why I can’t go out with her today.
“Rayne?” Paris steps through the door, looking at me questioningly. He’s early, but he usually is if it’s not a social situation. It’s one of his most annoying traits.
“Hello!” Quinn cuts her eyes towards him, taking her time appraising him. He is looking especially fine today in a tight black t-shit, black jeans, and his black leather jacket. “I’ve seen you somewhere before.” She starts fiddling with her hair, twirling a strand of it around her finger. I watch as she straightens up, thrusting her chest out ever-so-slightly. I sigh inwardly, cursing Paris for coming inside. It looks like I am wrong about Quinn.
“Probably on a billboard somewhere,” I say sourly, shooting daggers at Paris who, understandably, looks bewildered. It’s not his fault Quinn changed allegiances so quickly, but I feel like blaming him anyway. “He’s a model.”
“Yes! You were the guy wearing those briefs for that Calvin Klein ad! I saw it at the Embarcadero BART station!” Quinn is practically salivating as she continues to look at Paris. “Rayne, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”
“Quinn, this is Paris. Paris, Quinn.” I have seen this happen too many times before. A woman I’m interested in falls for Paris instead. It sucks having to watch your best friend get together with the woman after whom you’re lusting. Or man.
“Pleasure,” Paris says, smiling and nodding at Quinn. “Rayne, we gotta roll.”
“Don’t forget our date Wednesday after work,” Quinn chirps at me. I make a bet as to her next words, and I’m not far from wrong. “Bring your friend, if you like.”
“See you tomorrow, Quinn,” I say with a sigh, following Paris out to the car. “Do you have to do that,” I demand as I slide into the car. He has parked in a no-parking zone, but he has excellent parking karma so there is no ticket. I hope it bites him in the butt some day.
“Do what? Walk into your work?” Paris asks, expertly maneuvering the car out of the tight fit.
“Wear those outfits that show off every inch of your muscles,” I say grumpily. I know it’s not his fault, but I still don’t care. “I don’t stand a chance next to you.”
“Excuse me if I’m wrong, Miss Thing, but you have a date with her on Wednesday.” Paris looks at me briefly before turning his eyes back to the road.
“Not a date. Drinks. Now, she’ll probably want me to set you up with her.” I am inconsolable. He’s always taking my best girls without even trying. A few of my boys, as well. It gets old after a while.
“Tell her I’m gay,” Paris shrugs. “That’ll get her back on your side.”
“Whatever.” I don’t want to talk about Quinn any more because it’ll just make me depressed.
Paris is unusually quiet for the next few minutes. Just as I’m about to ask what’s the matter, he cautions me to be careful with Quinn. When I ask him why, he shrugs. He says she has ‘bad vibes’ but can’t quite pin it down. I look at him in surprise because Paris is the last person I would suspect of using such New-Agey terms. He’s a practical kind of guy who scorns the occult and the touchy-feely ways of Californians even though he’s been one all his life. For him to talk about vibes is serious, indeed. No matter how much I quiz him, he can’t elaborate on his initial statement. He just keeps repeating that I need to be careful of her because she’s trouble. He refuses to say more in case he misleads me unintentionally, so I am forced to subside unsatisfied. We remain silent until we pull up to the police station.
“Here we are,” we say simultaneously, which causes both of us to giggle. That makes us feel good enough to get out of the car and into the station. There is a receptionist/secretary/administrative assistant who asks in a bored tone if she can help us. When we tell her we’re there to see Inspector Robinson, she waves a hand behind her. She wouldn’t last a second in the place I work—here, she’s ensconced for life.
“Hello, Ms. Liang, Mr. Frantz. Glad you could make it.” Inspector Robinson smiles at us from her desk. “Mr. Frantz, please go over there to make your statement and be fingerprinted. Ms. Liang will be with you in a minute.” Paris shoots me a look, but obediently goes to the officer Inspector Robinson is pointing at, leaving me alone with the inspector.
“What can I do for you?” I ask flippantly, not wanting her to see me shaken. She gestures for me to sit, which I do.
I barely have my ass in the seat before she starts the interrogation. Oh, sure, she calls it asking questions, but an interrogation it is. She asks if I remember why Moira looks familiar. She raises an eyebrow when I still cannot place her. All I can see in my mind is a crowded, noisy place, which can be just about anywhere. The inspector questions if I’m protecting someone, namely Paris by having such a porous memory. I protest, but it sounds weak, even to my ears. The things that I’m holding back from her are mere speculations unfit to be heard, but she doesn’t believe me when I tell her that I have nothing of importance to tell her. I desperately root through my memory for any scraps to give to her. I can understand why witnesses start making up information; it’s because they feel so damn bad about not being able to help the cops, they’ll do anything to make up for the lapse. I recall dimly the conversations I overheard, but not the content. I roll my eyes helplessly at the Inspector to indicate my apologies.
“Try, Ms. Liang,” Inspector Robinson snaps, her patience at an end. I do my best.
“Ok. I’ll try to be as concise as possible, but bear with me. A guy and a woman were talking about the woman having an affair with Moira. The woman was saying she thought Moira would leave Max for her. The guy was telling her to face reality. Really, very boring stuff.” I frown. There is something about that conversation that I am missing. Something I had told the girls last night. What was it?
“You don’t remember the names?” Inspector Robinson’s voice doesn’t hold out much hope of that. She knows me too well by now.
“No, I don’t. Sorry.” My mind is still working on what the woman had said about Moira.
“Let’s move on to the other conversation.” Inspector Robinson heaves a small sigh as she doodles on a scrap of paper. I feel bad, but I’m not going to invent memories just to make her happy.
“Um, it was two women. One was defending Moira while the other was putting her down. The one defending her thinks Moira really cares about her students. The other one thinks Moira just wants to get into their pants.” I pause, ordering my thoughts. “The latter tells the former that Moira just wants to jump her. The former tells the latter she should know. Seems like the latter had a fling with Moira.” I restrain myself from adding, ‘Hasn’t everybody?’ It doesn’t seem appropriate given the circumstances. The inspector still seems to be waiting for me. “Um, that’s it.”
“So what we have here are two hearsay conversations with no names.” When she puts it like that, it doesn’t sound so impressive. Something clicks.
“Wait! In the first conversation, the female told the male something about Max not liking the rough stuff.” I smile like a well-trained puppy looking for a pat on the head. The inspector is kind enough to give it to me.
“That’s good, Ms. Liang. That’s something we can definitely ask Ms. Bowers about.” She smiles, showing off her lovely teeth. “Why didn’t you tell us that Ms. Bowers and Mr. Frantz had been intimate?” It comes out of nowhere and hits me in the gut. Max and Paris? She has to be kidding.
“No way. Not Paris.” I shake my head, denying it. He called her his mother, for god’s sake. Max and Paris? I shudder at the thought.
“Ms. Bowers told us this herself,” Inspector Robinson says, watching me carefully. “Are you trying to say you didn’t know? You are Mr. Frantz’s best friend, aren’t you?” Her eyes are not without compassion as she picks me apart. I cannot breathe after hearing this astounding information. Max and Paris. It’s as grotesque as the thought of Emil and me.
“I didn’t know,” I say softly, trying to keep my emotions under check. She must believe me because she moves on.
“Take me through your movements one more time.” I sigh, but comply as best I can. My momentary triumph of coming up with the rough stuff seems insignificant next to this. I don’t know whether to feel angry, betrayed, or incredibly sad. I decide on all three.
“Is that it, Inspector Robinson?” I ask without my usual spark. She nods and points me to where I have to give and sign my statement. Then I am fingerprinted, which is not a horrible experience. After I’m through, I am reunited with Paris who has been waiting patiently for me in the lobby.