“Mrs. Curtis, you’ve been very helpful. Can you tell me if you saw anything else suspicious next door the last week or so?” I frown at how I worded that, but it can’t be helped. I don’t think Mrs. Curtis will notice, anyway. Besides being batty, she’s draining her glass of lemonade until there’s nothing left. She looks at it wistfully before setting it down on the tray. I can tell she wants to pour another glass, but she won’t in front of me.
“I’ve seen girls go in and out at all hours of the day,” Mrs. Curtis says, primming up her mouth; I don’t think it’s from the lemonade. “Sluts, all of them.”
“Do you remember a week ago Friday? The day before Moira and Max’s party? Did you see anything unusual then?” I don’t know why I’m even asking. If this woman talks to fairies, how is she supposed to remember mundane events like a party next door? She surprises me, however, with a factual answer.
“During the day, a girl came to the house. She looked very upset. She was crying when she left.” Mrs. Curtis looks at me triumphantly, proud that she is able to remember this tidbit.
“What did she look like, Mrs. Curtis?” I am patient, digging for information I’m not even sure will be of any use.
“White, young, raggedy,” Mrs. Curtis shrugs. “Thin and really upset.” It could be any of Moira’s students, but I would bet it was Annie. That put her at the scene of the crime a day before it happened. I am liking her more and more.
“Thank you, Mrs. Curtis.” I shut my notebook and beam at Mrs. Curtis. She may be talking to the fairies, but she also knows what’s going on. I start standing up in preparation of leaving.
“Wait, don’t you want to know about the other girl?” Mrs. Curtis reaches out and grabs my wrist. She has a surprisingly strong grip for someone her age and size. “The dark one who was angry when she went over that very same day?” Mrs. Curtis smiles like a cat, pleased to hold back this bit of information until I am about to leave.
“What, when, huh?” I ask inelegantly. Finding out about Annie was more than I had hoped for. I am lost as to what she is trying to say.
“A dark girl, Arabian or something like that with long black hair and flashing brown eyes. She had a pierced nose. She slammed her car door so hard, it shook.” Mrs. Curtis tells these details with relish. I slowly sink back into the couch as what she says hits me.
“Can you tell me anything more about her?” I pray that she tells me something to contradict the idea I am forming.
“She was wearing something filmy that trailed behind her. Looked foreign. She was only in the house for five minutes. She was screaming at the top of her lungs as she left. Cursing.”
“Did you get a good look at either woman’s car?” I am scribbling notes again, much to my dismay.
“First girl didn’t have a car. Second girl’s car was black. Had ‘CAT’ in the license plate. That’s all I remember.” Shit. It’s Vashti. As much as I want to deny it, I can’t. So what was she doing at Moira and Max’s the day before the party, so angry she’s screaming epithets as she leaves? That’s something I’m going to have to find out tonight.
“Mrs. Curtis, I read that you need glasses, but you don’t like to wear them. How can you be so sure what you saw that day?”
“I was wearing them then. I had been working on sorting my pictures to put them in an album, so I had my glasses on.” I think she is telling me the truth—what reason would she have to lie?
“Thank you, Mrs. Curtis,” I say, not so brightly this time. I stand up slowly, feeling as if I’ve been punched.
“Do you have to go so soon? I’d love to tell you more about the fairies.” Mrs. Curtis smiles at me as she stands up as well.
“Some other time,” Mrs. Curtis.” I shake her hand, and she slips three cookies wrapped in a napkin into my hand. I stuff the bundle into my coat pocket and hurry outside. On the bus ride home, I ponder what she’s told me as I eat the cookies. How can she be so sure of what she saw? Do I believe her? I believe she saw people going into Moira and Max’s place, but I’m not so sure about the dates and times. Then again, she talks to fucking fairies so who’s to say she didn’t make up everything she told me? I can’t deny the license plate, however, as how would she know?
I am shaken to realize that if what Mrs. Curtis said is true, Vashti knows more about this case than she has let on. I had been operating under the assumption that she had told me everything she knew—looks like I was wrong. Well, she did say she had something to tell me. I think about other tidbits of information I had been given—such as Quinn’s description of the woman she caught Moira with as having long black hair, and I’m forced to consider the idea that Vashti was having an affair with Moira when she died. Why did she lie to me? Out of embarrassment over the affair or something more sinister? I hadn’t seen her at the party, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t there or that she hadn’t shown up later. After Paris, Vashti is the last person I want the murderer to be. Paris is home when I drag myself into the living room.
“Why so glum, Rayne? Another email from the bitch from hell?” Paris is watching TV aimlessly and shuts it off when he catches a glimpse of my face.
“Not likely,” I retort gamely. Libby only emails me from work. This is a good thing as I couldn’t endure hearing from her 24/7. “I just heard some disturbing news.” I quickly fill him in on the information Mrs. Curtis imparted to me. I pray that he’ll tell me I’m imagining things. Instead, he looks sober as I finish my recitation.
He doesn’t like the fact that I’m meeting Vashti alone. Paris turns paternal at the damnedest times. It irritates me, but also makes me feel loved. I tell him that I don’t think she’s the murderer, but he’s not buying it. I hand over Vashti’s cell phone number, her landline number, her address, and her license plate number. He wants me to call him every hour on the hour, which would be ludicrous if it weren’t so insulting. I’m not a kid, for heaven’s sake. I wish he would trust me to use my discretion. I mean, what if we start having sex? Does he still want me to call him? He is in no mood for jokes and tells me so in no uncertain terms. He says I can be doing the muff dive for all he cares, but I still have to call him. Just come up for air, dial his digits, then go back to plumbing the depths. That Paris has such a way with words, I tell you. He is adamant about the on the hour every hour thing so I give in, but not gracefully.
“I’m going to get ready.” I storm to my bedroom and start rifling through my clothes. I can take Paris’s fatherly side in small doses, but not when he starts issuing ultimatums. My anger dissipates as I consider what to wear. I’m may not have the budget to be a clotheshound, but I do like to dress up for special occasions. While I’m still not sure what Vashti has to do with Moira’s murder, I know I want to look my best in case it turns out she has nothing to do with either of the killings. I pull on a blue, raw silk blouse and a black skirt that reaches my ankles. Sexy, yet not too tantalizing. There’s nothing I can do about the bandage, though.
“Once an hour!” Paris shouts at me as I traipse past him. “Every hour,” he adds as I leave. I stick my tongue out at him before shutting the door. I take a cab to Vashti’s place.
“Rayne, you look beautiful.” Vashti opens the door, a welcome smile on her face. She is wearing a pink sari which bares enough belly to make me weak in the knees. She indicates for me to enter, and I do so gingerly. She takes my coat and hangs it up for me. She catches a glimpse of my neck and frowns. “But what has happened to your neck?”
“Nothing,” I say with a smile. I don’t want to talk about my attack just now.
“Well, I have been cooking for you. I am hoping you are hungry.”
“Um, yes, but I didn’t bring anything.” I feel like an idiot for arriving empty-handed. I know better than that—really, I do. “Next time, I’ll bring you two gifts.”
“It is not necessary.” Vashti ushers me into her dining room. She lives in Noe Valley in a small one-bedroom house. She is loaded, though I’m not quite sure where she gets her money. Not from her job, that’s for sure. She’s in the social services, same as me. The lights are off, but there are candles flickering everywhere. I can smell a faint trace of incense. The whole atmosphere is intimate without being cloying. She has the table laden with food. I can see dal and samosas and lentils and a plethora of Indian food I can’t even identify. She has made mango lassi as well.
“You shouldn’t have gone to the trouble,” I protest, my mouth watering. It has been ages since I’ve had Indian food as it’s not something Paris enjoys, and he’s the one I eat out with most often. We sit next to each other, and Vashti pours us each a cup of tea. Indian tea, which I don’t like as much as Chinese tea, but it’s still tea. Neither of us say anything as she dishes out the food. It is not a tense silence, but one of appreciativeness. I give a silent prayer of thanks before digging in. Nirvana. “This is outstanding. You and Paris should open a restaurant.”
“It’s hard to imagine me and Paris doing anything together,” Vashti retorts, but she looks pleased. She is watching me more than she is eating, but I am too absorbed in my food to care. After I’ve made a serious dent in the amount of food on my plate, I set down my fork with a sigh.
“Divine, Vash.” I smile fondly at her. No way can someone who cooks this well be a murderer. So what if she was angry with Moira? Who wasn’t? Vashti smiles back, but she looks preoccupied.
“Rayne, there is something I must tell you.” She sets down her fork as well, looking me in the eyes. I sit up straight, ready to hear whatever she might have to declare. “I have not been honest with you about Moira. I am ashamed to be leaving a few things out.” She pauses, gauging my reaction. I keep my face pleasantly neutral so as to not set her off. “I was having an on-and off affair with Moira that ended a few weeks before she died.” I expel the breath I didn’t even know I was holding. It is a relief to hear her say it so I don’t have to find a sneaky way to bring it up.
“Yes?” I am careful to sound nonjudgmental so she will continue talking.
“I was not stupid enough to think she loved me, oh no. I knew she loved Max first and foremost.” I must have let something show on my face because she says, “That surprises you, yes? That she could treat the one she loves so poorly. Moira was needing Max to be her rock. Her lovers, including me, were simply diversions.” Her tone is composed, and her face is placid. I am having a hard time believing her because a) who in her right mind would choose Max over Vashti, and b) from what Mrs. Curtis said, Vashti was not as accepting as she’s now projecting.
“Forgive me for interrupting, but I have a question.” It’s time to shake things up a bit. I feel a twinge of regret that I might be out on my ass before I get to sample dessert. Vashti tilts her head, waiting for my question. “There was a witness placing you at Moira’s home the day before the party,” I say slowly, trying to figure out the best way to phrase what needed to be said. “She said you were extremely angry.” I decide to leave it at that. I don’t want to piss her off if there’s an innocuous reason for her being angry with Moira, which, knowing the deceased, there is bound to be one. I am beginning to weary of being stuck with Moira, whom I didn’t know that well while she was alive. Why am I taking it upon myself to find her killer? Then I remember that Paris is the prime suspect for both her and Max’s murders, and that reminds me why.
“Rayne, I am not very proud of myself for my behavior with Moira,” Vashti says slowly. She toys with her glass of water so she doesn’t have to look at me. For the first time, she is not ebullient or radiant. If anything, she is drained. I wait for her to speak again. “I am not going to make excuses and say it just happened, or that I couldn’t help myself. I am an adult. I am having to take responsibility for my actions.” She sighs, looking off into the corner.
After the fiasco when Max walked in on Moira and Vashti, Vashti decided to steer clear of Moira. As much as Vashti was attracted to her, it just wasn’t worth the trouble. Besides, while Vashti was powerfully attracted to Moira, she didn’t actually like Moira as a person. Vashti began to avoid Moira. She stopped answering her phone, letting the machine pick it up. She stopped going to the writers group with Max because Moira often frequented the meetings, though she wasn’t a writer. She continued this vigilant watch for months, making sure to adhere to it strictly. Just when she thought she had it under control, she ran into Moira at her neighborhood Safeway. Vashti knew there was no reason for Moira to be at that Safeway, but couldn’t quite believe Moira had been following her. Moira admitted it, however, laughing quite comfortably at her daring.
Vashti knew. She knew better than to go with Moira. She knew that Moira was a head-case who got her rocks off by fucking up as many women as possible. She knew that Moira was abandoned as a little girl by a mother who was impregnated at age sixteen by her history teacher, and her parents forced her to have the child because they didn’t believe in abortion. They were Catholic, of course and raised the child themselves when the mother disappeared three days after giving birth. Moira was a wild child, and grew into a wild woman. She was one of the few women who knew she was a lesbian by the time she could speak her mind. She was a gold-star dyke who had little-to-no use for men, though that didn’t prevent her from messing with their minds as well. In her screwy brain, the more people she had in her grasp, the more she was loved. So yeah, she liked to get the men all worked up about her, but she never went to bed with any of them. She was the oldest virgin cocktease known to womankind.
Vashti knew all that, but went to have coffee with Moira, anyway. This was a few months ago. After meaningless conversation over lukewarm coffee, they raced to Vashti’s place where they had hot sex until it was time for Moira to go home. Even then, Vashti promised herself it was a one-time thing. She was sick to her stomach after Moira left. She didn’t sleep well that night. Her resolve held until Moira called her from her studio; Vashti rushed right over. It didn’t seem to matter how many times she told herself to stay away from Moira, she always ended up running back to her. When they were apart, Vashti felt nothing but disgust that she was so weak. Her mind was resolved, but her flesh was very, very willing. It’s not easy to be infatuated against your will, when you know that the best thing would be to stay away from the very person that fascinates you. When you lose control like that, it’s easy for lust to turn to anger—infatuation to hate.
Vashti tried to break it off. She would leave Moira’s studio, vowing never to return. She would hold out for days on end, one time as long as a week. Each time, Moira would do something especially sweet such as sending Vashti a huge bouquet of tulips—her favorite flowers—just to say hi. After one such break, Vashti came home from an especially trying day at work—she was a counselor for special ed kids—to find a sketch of her and Moira tacked to her door. It was lovingly rendered by Moira herself, and it was enough to bring Vashti back into the fold. This was the most intense affair that Moira had ever had, and it seemed more to do with pride than love. Moira was the one to break things off with her paramours, not the other way around. Her ego couldn’t handle the fact that someone would dispense of her before she tired of the other person.
They played this song and dance countless times. Vashti never left because of anything concrete—she was just losing interest. Her attraction to Moira was ethereal in the first place and the more she got to know Moira, the less she liked her. The last time she broke things off with Moira which was a week before the party, she was sure it was the last time. They had been lying in Vashti’s bed, snuggling, when Vashti had a flash of pure hatred for the woman lying next to her. It shook her up enough for her to kick Moira out of bed and order her never to return. Moira was used to this, and at first, pursued Vashti with their usual games. Flowers, candy, balloons. She even sent Vashti a singing telegram at work. Vashti didn’t respond at all, throwing everything in the trash. She finally emailed Moira and said it was over for good. Moira must have believed her, because she ratcheted up the stakes, swiftly and disastrously.