“Why didn’t you tell me you fucked Max?” I blurt out. I didn’t mean to ask him this way, but I can’t get it out of my mind. The thought of him having sex with Max is just too repugnant to bear.
“What?” Fortunately, Paris isn’t driving yet as he freezes at the wheel. “Who told you that? Did the inspector tell you that? How did she know?”
“Apparently Max told her.” Now that I’m working through the shock, I wonder why Max told the inspector in the first place.
Paris begins driving, and I prudently hold my tongue though I’m dying to jump down his throat for this one. Put aside the ramifications concerning the murder, how could he not tell me? Worse yet, how could he lie to me? I feel like a spurned lover, as I’ve been completely honest about every exploit I’ve ever had. How could he have held this back from me? Paris struggles to explain that it was just one time early in their relationship before they both realized they were better off as friends. Although he emphasizes that both of them made the decision, I have a feeling that Max would be more than willing to have a second round in the sack with Paris. As I’m grappling with my emotions and trying not to feel too betrayed, the salient question pops into my head. Why did the Max tell the cops about it if it really was just a one-night stand? As I mull it over, I can’t escape the conclusion that Max is setting Paris up.
As usual, Paris blows his top when I suggest that perhaps Max doesn’t have his best interest in heart. Despite everything he’s told me, there is definitely something going on between the two of them other than friendship. Paris seems to have a blind spot about Max that even I cannot penetrate. He accuses me of harping on her because I don’t like her. While I admit my bias, I also point out that she’s the one who told the cops about them sleeping together. She’s also the one who called him over to his place the night of the murder, perhaps to have him at the scene of the crime. If the police are focusing on Paris as a suspect—and I think they are—it’s strictly Max’s fault. By this time, we have reached our apartment, and Paris pulls up to the curb with a screech. We don’t say anything else until we’re in the apartment.
“Rayne, you know I love you, but you are way out of line with this. I don’t want to hear another word against Max. She is not trying to frame me, and I’ll never forgive you if you tell that inspector this cockamamie theory of yours, understand?” He glares at me, daring me to make one of my trademark flip responses. I simply sigh and throw up my hands.
“I give up. It’s on you.” I walk into the kitchen to grab a beer from the fridge. I don’t want to fight with Paris, but I think he’s been shortsighted about this. I can’t promise I won’t mention my theory to the inspector if it seems appropriate. I will not let Paris take the fall for something he didn’t do.
Paris does not take kindly to me walking away from him, and he follows me into the kitchen. His voice is combative as he won’t let it go. I’m more than prepared to stop talking about Max and how she’s out to get him, but Paris won’t drop the subject. I rummage in the fridge so I won’t have to look at him as he rants, but he shuts the door firmly and turns me to face him. He shakes his finger in my face as he admonishes me not to be bullheaded as I usually am and to think before I do anything. I retaliate by telling him not to treat me as a child because I’m not one. I walk back into the living room, my heart pounding. Something about Max has him all turned around, and I have no idea what it is. I hope whatever he has with her is worth losing his best friend over.
He follows me into the living room, still blathering away. By now, he is gesticulating wildly, practically poking me in the nose. I swat away his finger as I flip on the television. I’ve shut my ears because there’s no point in arguing any further. I wait patiently for him to finish so I can just forget about it, but he insists that I ‘discuss’ the matter with him before shutting off the TV and standing in front of it so I can’t watch. He wants my assurance that I won’t do anything to hurt Max, and I can’t give him that guarantee. If I have to chose Max or Paris, I choose Paris every time. You would think he’d be happy to know that I’m on his side, but it doesn’t seem to be enough for him. After we go round and round for what seems to be hours because he won’t let the conversation end, I finally snap.
“Paris, how long have you known me?” I don’t wait for an answer. “Have I ever intentionally been cruel to someone? For real? Not any of that petty shit—big time. Look me in the eye and tell me that I’ve screwed someone over who didn’t deserve it.” We engage in a stare-down with neither of us willing to give ground. Finally, Paris softens his stance.
“No, you haven’t.” He sighs and looks away. Since he already backed down, the looking away doesn’t concede further defeat. “You’re loud, opinionated, and a pain in the ass, but you’re fair. I should have remembered that. Sorry.” This last is muttered to the floor, but I accept it in the manner in which it is given.
“You also know that I’m just watching your back, right?” I press the issue, wanting to make sure there isn’t any residual anger between us. I firmly believe in leaving it all on the table, unlike my Taiwanese ancestors. I suppose I have my parents to thank for that as we used to have weekly family meetings where everyone had to air his/her feelings.
“I know that.” Paris strides to me and pulls me into a hug. “You’re my best girl. I know you’re down.” We keep hugging just because it feels so damned good. I want to hold on just a bit longer, but I force myself to let go.
“Hey, what’s for dinner? Should we go to We B and grab some sushi?” We are both sushi fiends, choosing it over other cuisines more often than not. It is our favorite default-food. He nods and we head out the door. There are still one or two reporters lingering.
“Ms. Liang, Mr. Frantz, we’d like a word with you about the murder of Ms. Kelley,” an anorexic blond shouts, shoving her mike in my face. Taking a deep breath, I start speaking Taiwanese at a rapid pace. I’m confident none of the reporters speak it. Mandarin, perhaps, but not Taiwanese.
“What’s that?” A rotund man with broken blood vessels crisscrossing his nose asks, his eyes hardening. I continue jabbering. Paris jumps in with a few well-placed German phrases from German 101. While I am talking about what a prick I think Dubya is, Paris is asking where the bathroom is and uttering other such useful phrases. We are having a ball as we move through the crowd. No matter what they say, we respond in a foreign language. They are frustrated and finally give up. Laughing, Paris and I race to We B. We have caught the late dinner rush, and we wait for a table. By mutual unspoken accord, we don’t talk about the case. By the time we reach the table, we are famished.
“Paris! Imagine running into you here!” Max appears at our table simultaneously with our sushi. She steps aside to let the cute Japanese server place the trays in front of us. The server is wearing a snug t-shirt that shows off her curves nicely. All three of us try not to gape in appreciation.
“Enjoy your sushi,” she chirps in accented-English.
“Very nice,” Max watches the rear view disappear until she remembers she’s a grieving widow. She rearranges her facial features into a semblance of mourning. She is wearing all black which is not her best color. It shows her age, although that could just be my prejudice talking.
Paris invites Max to join us for dinner, but to my relief, she is only there to pick up her take-out order. She rattles on about the inefficiency of the police—they haven’t released Moira’s body yet—while Paris is his usual soothing self. He murmurs something about the police doing everything they can to catch the bastard who killed Moira, which sets Max off on sniffling jag. She wouldn’t actually dare to cry, however, as that would mean smearing her eye makeup in public. Paris is solicitous as he gathers Max in his arms, which brings a gleam of triumph to Max’s eyes. Paris hugs her briefly before letting her go. I’m relieved that she’s settled down because the other patrons were beginning to stare. I don’t mind being the center of attention as long as it’s a scene of my own creation. This, however, is just damn embarrassing. Max eventually gets up to get her food after telling Paris she’ll see him at the gym tomorrow. She gives him one last hug before leaving.
“Well, that was quite the coincidence, wasn’t it?” I say sourly when Paris’s attention is back on me.
“What?” Paris is taken aback by my strident tone. “Rayne, check yourself. The woman just lost her girlfriend. Show some compassion.”
“I’m sorry, Paris,” I say, swallowing the rest of my comment. He’s right. This is not the time to heap criticisms upon Max’s head, especially when I have no evidence to back up my suspicions. It’s quite possible that I’m the slightest bit jealous over Max’s claim on Paris, which I know is unworthy of me. I let it go, and we enjoy our sushi. We B may not be the best sushi in town, but it’s cheap, fast, and filling—three of our top requirements. We stroll back to the apartment arm-in-arm. We find a hysterical Max on our doorstep when we get there, but thankfully, no reporters. Her makeup is streaming down her face, and she is huddled on the steps.
Paris, of course, breaks from me and runs to Max. He ushers her into our apartment while I trail behind. The minute we get inside, Max starts wailing about Moira being gone while throwing herself into Paris’s arms. To me, it seems like a calculated move to keep Paris firmly on her side. I wonder how it is that Paris can’t see through her deception when it’s so obvious to me. Then again, he’s a man who needs to be needed—so he’s the perfect victim for Max’s machinations. Paris strokes Max’s hair as he comforts her. By the look of pain on his face, I know he is thinking about Brett, his last serious partner, who died of AIDS three years ago. Paris offers her tea, which makes me want to protest as it’s my tea. Again, I swallow my complaint. It is bad etiquette to rag on someone whose partner has just been brutally murdered; I am slowly accepting that as truth. We walk into the living room.
“You understand,” Max murmurs, sniffling a bit as she does. She shoots me a look that isn’t hard to fathom; she wants me out of the picture. She realizes, however, that it will damage her image as the grieving widow if she directly orders me from the room, especially as I am a resident of said room. I am tempted to force her to kick me out, but decide to be the bigger woman and gracefully extricate myself from the situation.
“If you’ll excuse me, I have things to do.” I nod at them both before escaping to my room. I leave the door open to see if I can catch any of their conversation. To my delight, I can hear every word.
Max starts by informing Paris that the police won’t leave her alone, that they actually suspect her of killing Moira. I cannot tell if Max is simply angling for sympathy or if she’s trying to find out what Paris knows, but I can’t believe she’s dense enough not to realize that she would be the first suspect as she’s not a stupid woman. Paris assures her that the police are looking hard at him as well before Max leaps in another direction by saying mournfully that she doesn’t think I like her. I can’t believe she’s dissing me that way when it’s clear she has equal distaste for me. To my consternation, Paris sticks up for me by saying that I’m not comfortable with people I don’t know and that it’s not personal. Lie! It’s definitely personal. He offers her something to drink, but she declines. I’m curious to see when she’ll get around to stating what she really came here for, but I’m in no hurry to get there. I hear sounds of muffled weeping, which I presume to be from Max.
“I wish there was something I could do to help you,” Paris says.
“There is.” Max says softly. I straighten up. Here it comes—the real reason she stopped by. “There’s something I haven’t told the police, and I think it would sound better coming from you.”
“What? Are you crazy?” I breathe a sigh of relief that Paris isn’t soft-hearted enough to fall for that.
“Just hear me out.” Big dramatic pause. I wonder if Max ever participated in theater; she has a great sense of timing. “I saw someone go into Moira’s bedroom about the time Moira disappeared.”
“And you didn’t tell the cops?” Paris sounds scandalized. I wait to hear how Max will wiggle her way out of this one.
Max tries to explain that she didn’t remember at the time which is believable to me because of my own poor memory, but not believable because it’s Max. It wasn’t until the third or fourth interview with the inspector that Max remembered what she had seen. She felt the inspector would have been suspicious if she suddenly just pulled out the story at that time. Paris asks why she thinks the inspector would accept it better from Paris than from her, and Max comes up with a creative response. She says Paris can just happen to stop by the precinct to find out how the case is going because he’s so concerned about Max, then casually drop into the conversation that Max told him something about someone coming out of Moira’s room.
“Wait a minute, Max.” Paris sounds stern. I smile at his paternalistic tone as I’ve heard it many times in my day. Max is probably bristling as Paris speaks. “You need to get your story straight. You said you saw someone go into your room. Now you just said you saw someone coming out of Moira’s room. Which is it?”
Max states firmly that it was someone coming out. She had been in the kitchen looking for more dip when this person came out of their room looking very furtive. She had thought there was something fishy about it, but didn’t know it was a big deal. When Paris asks who the person was, Max hesitates. She thinks the inspector might believe it more if Paris doesn’t know who it is because then it won’t seem as planned. Paris points out that it wouldn’t be natural for Max not to tell him the name and that if Max wants his help, she can damn well tell him the name. Max still dallies, not wanting to get the person into trouble if the person had an innocuous reason for being in Moira’s room.
“Max!” That’s it. When Paris shouts, he’s totally pissed. Max must sense he’s at the end of his rope because she comes clean.
It’s a woman named Brenda Fullerton, one of Moira’s protégé. Her latest fling, too, or so Max thinks. When she came out of Moira’s room, she had the guiltiest look on her face, according to Max. I frown. The name sounds familiar. It has something to do with one of the conversations I overheard. Either the woman telling the guy she was in love with Moira, or the woman telling her female friend that Moira was not just after her body. Paris questions the furtiveness that Max ascribes to Brenda, but she sticks to her description and says she noticed it at the time. When Paris asks if she didn’t think to check what it was about, Max explodes.
“I thought Moira was just fucking someone, as usual! It wouldn’t be the first time she did that at a party. In fact, I thought it was going to be your friend. I didn’t want to get into it with her at that moment. I had guests to take care of!” Max’s tone is defensive, signifying that her hackles are up. “It’s not like I knew she was being murdered, or I definitely would have done something about it.” I hear the sniffling. Nothing dissipates Paris’s ire more than a few well-placed tears.
Instead of being his usual soothing self, however, Paris is merely irritated as he requests Max to hurry along with her story. It cheers my heart to no end that he’s not a complete sap when it comes to Max. She reiterates that she was looking for more dip and saw Brenda coming out of Moira’s room looking furtive. When Paris asks why she keeps calling it Moira’s room, Max is silent for so long that I think she’s not going to answer. Instead, she admits in a low voice that Moira had kicked her out of the bedroom because she needed time to think and couldn’t do it with Max breathing down her neck. Her words, not Max’s. I feel a twinge of sympathy for Max despite myself. It must have hurt to hear that from her lover. Max further reveals that she was sleeping on the couch. She kept her stuff in the bedroom, but used the pull-out couch at night.
“How come she didn’t sleep on the couch?” Paris asks. My question exactly. Seems to me the person who does the kicking out should have to be the one to move.
“She has a bad back. She wouldn’t have survived a night on our couch.”
When Paris asks how long Max has been sleeping on the couch, Max grows defensive. She accuses Paris of interrogating her like the cops did and says she needs a friend. Paris counters that if he’s going to help her out, he needs to know everything about the case. Max sniffles, but finally tells him that she’s been in the doghouse for a week. She hasn’t told the cops because she didn’t want them more suspicious of her than they already were, but they need to be informed. I don’t want Paris involved in this, but it’s his decision. He asks if there’s anything else she hasn’t told him, and he sounds tired. I don’t blame him. I’m tired just by listening to her, and she’s not even asking anything of me.
I think we both assume that there’s nothing else, but Max drops another bombshell on us. Or rather, on Paris, but I’m still listening. Moira saw Emil the night before the party and she came home upset. When Max tried to discover why, Moira just clammed up and told Max to leave her alone. Of course, Max never told the cops about this, either, because she didn’t want to get Emil—a dear, dear friend—in trouble. There is something patently false about the last statement, though she’s sounded truthful up until that point. Paris asks if there’s anything else that she’s hiding, and he sounds fed up with her. Quite meekly for her, she affirms that she’s told him everything. I seriously doubt that’s true, but then again, I’m just naturally suspicious.
I wait miserably for Paris to acquiesce to Max’s request that he be her messenger boy. I don’t think it’s a good idea for him to go to the cops with this information as they’re already deeply suspicious of him. However, I know that Paris has an inexplicable thing for Max, and I’m sure he’ll consent to her wishes. To my surprise, he declines to ‘drop in’ on the inspector and to do Max’s dirty work for her. He does, however, offer to go with her when she goes to the police and talk to the inspector with Max if that’s what Max wants. His voice is definitive, leaving no room for argument. Max is properly grateful and accepts with such alacrity that I wonder if that’s what she was after in the first place. After a flurry of hugs, kisses and coos, she’s on her way. Finally. I want to talk to Paris about what I overheard, but I don’t want him to know that I was eavesdropping. As I dither, he makes the decision for me.
“You can come out, Rayne,” Paris calls to me. I flush, but do as I’m told. I tell myself not to feel guilty because Paris would have told me everything, anyway, but it doesn’t stop my cheeks from staining red.
“How did you know I was listening?” I go into the living room where Paris is slumped on the couch. He looks like he could use a hug, so I sit next to him and put my arm around him.
“I didn’t hear a door close,” Paris explains. He is a smart boy, sometimes. “I assume you heard everything.” I nod silently, not daring to talk yet. “You can imagine how frustrated I feel.” I nod again. It’s easier than talking. “I don’t like to be manipulated, Rayne. I really can’t stand that.”
As much as I dislike the woman, I have to offer my opinion that I thought she was being honest for most of the conversation. I’m still not sure he’s comfortable with my eavesdropping, but he’s not jumping down my throat about it. We toss around reasons why she came to him for help which links back to the question of why she called him in the first place. I suggest she’s looking for objectivity from someone outside her usual circle. I don’t buy this theory, but it sounds plausible. I don’t want to say what I really think because he’ll probably accuse me of being hard on Max again. It pleases me when he’s the one who suggests that maybe he’s supposed to be the patsy. I know it pains him to admit the possibility, so I refrain from telling him that I had told him so.
We agree that there has to be a reason for her wanting Paris to be the one to reveal those pesky little details to Inspector Robinson, but not her stated reason. Paris is the one who points out that Max is not stupid enough to think her stated reason of the information sounded more credible coming from him actually holds any water. She dropped it pretty quickly once Paris pointed out how ridiculous it was. When we can’t stand talking about that any more, Paris asked me what I thought she was lying about. I hedge, not wanting to upset him again, but he did ask me. I try not to lie about important things like this, especially not with Paris. Besides, one look at Paris’s face tells me that he’s not in the mood for half-truths.
I tell him I thought she was lying when she was talking about Emil, that she didn’t want to get him in trouble. When he presses me, I say I can’t pinpoint it any closer than that. He agrees that she’s holding something back, but he has no idea what it is, either. When I ask why he agreed to help her—the question that has been foremost on my mind during our entire conversation—he simply shrugs and says he’d do the same for any friend. That bothers me more than I’d like to admit because I want to be special in his eyes. I know he’d do the same for me, but we’ve been best friends forever. Until this murder case, I didn’t know Max was anything more than a client. I tell him sharply that I think she’s playing him, and he doesn’t even bother denying it. I can tell by the closed look on his face that he won’t tell me why he feels so obligated to help her, so I let it drop.
“You better tell me all about it tomorrow.” I instruct him. “We’re in this together, right?” Paris doesn’t reply, but he reluctantly nods his head. I let it go at that.