“If you like the black woman, go talk to her,” I say. “That’s what we came here for, right?”
“What do I say to her?” Quinn starts sweating at the thought of being so bold.
“Say, ‘Hi, my name is Quinn. What’s your name?’ I guarantee she’ll say something.” I am being sarcastic but serious at the same time. I am not into game-playing and find the straightforward approach, pardon the pun, refreshing. Quinn looks as if she’s going to argue with me, but doesn’t. She stands up, straightens her shirt, then walks over to the black woman. I am too far to hear what they’re saying, so I decide to watch the baby butch play pool instead. The woman who is playing against her slaps her on the ass, so I decide to look elsewhere. A motion by the door catches my eyes. It’s my favorite bartender, and she’s looking good. She’s the miniature, female version of the male bartender from the 500 Club, except she manages to be feminine while still being tough. She is wearing a black t-shirt and black jeans, and she looks hot. I know her name is Vivienne, she’s half-French and from Canada. Quebec, to be precise.
“Viv!” A teenage-looking girly calls out to Vivienne. The latter flips the former a wave, but doesn’t reply verbally. Vivienne takes her place behind the bar. I finish off my drink and saunter up to the bar for the next one.
“Hey, darling,” Vivienne grins at me. She has the darkest eyes for a non-Asian person, and she uses them to her advantage. “What can I get you?”
“I’d like a Cape Cod,” I say, unable to take my eyes off her. Why have I never asked this woman out, besides the fact that I have a policy of not hitting on someone at the place of their employment because she can’t walk away?
“Viv. I gotta roll. See you back at the crib?” A stunning bi-racial honey leans over the bar to peck Vivienne on the cheek. The kisser has a head of curly black hair I would kill for, skin the color of molasses, and curves that look just as sweet. Oh yeah, that’s why. Vivienne is a married woman. She’s been with girlfriend for seven years, I believe I’ve been told. I sigh as I watch Vivienne’s better half leave. I turn back to the bar, catching Vivienne as she watches me in amusement. I have a feeling she knows that I am hot for her, but I won’t do anything about it as long as she’s with her girlfriend. I may not be the most monogamous gal myself, but I don’t mess with other people’s monogamy. Even if she and the gf aren’t monogamous, it’s too messy a situation for me to want to get into the middle of that.
“Here you go, sweetheart,” Vivienne places my drink in front of me with a flourish.
“Thanks, Vivienne,” I say with my best smile and a sizable tip. I always call her by her full name because I think it’s beautiful. She winks at me as she scoops up the money. I return to my table and covertly watch as Vivienne serves other women. She doesn’t call anyone else those pet names, so I start fantasizing about what that means. Before I can get too far, Quinn returns.
She is bubbling over because she got the black woman’s number, and they have a date. She prances up to the bar to get a drink from Vivienne who is nothing more than cordial to Quinn. I can’t stop staring at Vivienne, which doesn’t escape Quinn’s notice. She makes a face as she repeats that she doesn’t get the whole butch thing. Why not be with a man, then? This time, I bite. I lecture her about strength not being the same as being manly, but it sails right over her pretty head. Instead, she focuses on my obvious crush on Vivienne and wonders why I don’t ask her out. Even the information that Vivienne has a girlfriend doesn’t dissuade Quinn’s opinion, which surprises me considering how PC she is. To her, however, it’s survival of the fittest and every woman for herself. I’ll never understand the way this woman thinks.
“I don’t play that,” I say. “I don’t need that kind of drama in my life.” Something shrill beeps at me from my purse. I root through it with an apologetic glance at Quinn. It’s my cell phone . I use it so rarely, I usually forget I have one. “Hello?” Now I’m really embarrassed. I hate using these things in public.
“Rayne? It’s me, Paris!” I knew it’d be him. Very few people have my cell number.
“What’s up, Paris? Guess where I’m at? The Lex! Can you believe it?” He hates the Lex more than I do. Not because it’s a lesbian bar, but because it’s a lesbian bar with no fashion sense. “I’m here with Quinn.”
“You have to come home! The cops think I killed Max! I think they might arrest me in the morning.” Paris’s voice is panicky as he blurts out the information.
“What? What the hell are you talking about?” I must have a bad connection because I could swear I heard Paris say the police were going to arrest him for Max’s murder.
“Rayne, come home, now!” He hangs up on me! The nerve. I better go find out what’s the matter.
“Quinn, I gotta go. Emergency on the home front.” I stand up and grimace. “Sorry.”
“It’s ok. I got what I came here for.” She pats her purse where presumably rests the number of the woman she was putting the moves on. Vivienne is watching us as we leave. I give her a wave, then Quinn and I disappear into the night. I walk her home and after saying our good-nights and her thanking me for going with her to the Lex and introducing her to sushi, I hurry home.
“What the hell took you so long!” Paris screams at me as I let myself in the apartment. His eyes are bloodshot, and he reeks of not-so-cheap rum.
“Paris, you’ve been drinking,” I say with disappointment. “You’re drunk.” I can’t keep the judgment out of my voice. I thought he was stronger than to give into his heritage.
“Damn right I’m drunk, Rayne! You would be, too, if you were about to end up in the slammer.” Paris lifts the bottle he’s holding to his mouth; it is three-quarters empty. If it’s the same bottle that I bought a month ago, it was a three-quarters full the last time I checked.
“Give me that!” I snatch the bottle away from Paris. He makes a valiant attempt to retrieve it, but the alcohol has dulled his reflexes. I run towards the bathroom with Paris in hot pursuit. I manage to slam the door in his face and quickly lock it.
“Open the fucking door!” Paris screams, pounding on the door. I pour out the rest of the rum, watching it swirl down the drain. I wash all traces of it from the sink then open the door.
“Here.” I hold out the empty bottle to Paris. He knocks it from my hand and it bounces on the floor. Fortunately, it’s made of thick glass and doesn’t break.
“You bitch,” Paris seethes. “Who the fuck do you think you are?” I stare at him without saying anything. He has never called me a bitch before except in jest, and I am not about to put up with it now.
“I’m Rayne, and I’m going to my bedroom.” I push past him and start walking towards my room. I cannot talk to him while he’s like this, nor do I even want to try.
“How many times have I told you? You don’t walk away from me.” Paris grabs me by the arm and jerks me around to face him. His eyes are wild as he towers over me. For the first time in my life, I am afraid of him. I manage to free myself and start backing away from him. I flip out a hand at him, barking for him to stay. He seems rooted to his spot, so I turn and flee. I half-expect to hear footsteps behind me as I reach my bedroom, but there is only silence. I lock my door, anyway, something I normally don’t do. My heart is pounding as I throw myself on my bed. Things are seriously wrong when I have to hide from Paris. I curse Max for starting this whole chain of events, then remember that she’s dead and feel even worse for cursing her. I yawn. It’s only eight-thirty, but the events of the night have worn me out. I’m pondering going to bed when there’s a knock at the door.
“Yes?” I call out, like I don’t know it’s Paris.
“Rayne? I need to talk to you.” His tone is abject. “Please open the door.” I don’t move. I still get shivers when I think of how he looked at me after I emptied out the bottle. “I’m really sorry. I can’t believe I flipped out like that. Please?” I hesitate. He’s my best boy, and it’s not like I’ve been Ms. Perfect Friend, either. Then again, I couldn’t knock Paris out with one punch, either. I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt, but be ready just in case. I go to the door and unlock it. I step back and wait.
“It’s open.” I tense my body, ready to duck under his arm if I have to. When he pushes the door open and enters, however, I relax. He is slumped over and everything about him screams dejection. “Come on, honey,” I say, gently grabbing him by the arm and leading him to my bed. “Sit.” I press him on the shoulder, and he obediently sits down. I sit in my computer chair so I can look at him and so I’m out of harm’s reach. Just because I think he’s not going to freak out on me again doesn’t mean I’m going to take any chances.
“I lied to the police,” Paris says without preamble. I can tell he’s been thinking about this for a long time, and I let him tell his story without interruption. “When Inspector Robinson said Max had been murdered, I panicked. I knew that she already was suspicious of me in Moira’s killing, and I thought if I told the truth, it would only add to her suspicion.” Something about the way I am looking at him triggers his defensiveness. “I know, I know, stupid to think she wouldn’t find out. I was stupid. My only defense is I wasn’t thinking right. She had just given me the shock of my life.”
“What really happened, Paris?” I ask softly. I don’t want to interrupt his flow, but I have a feeling that he will never come to the point if I don’t prod him along.
“I-I-I went over to Max’s earlier yesterday to ask her for Emil’s number.” Paris spits out the sentence after stuttering at the beginning. “When I called, she said she had to see me, so I went over. She gave me the number, then started ranting about the woman she thought killed Moira. That part was true. I didn’t make that up.” He says it as if he’s expecting brownie points for telling the partial truth. I can’t muster up too much enthusiasm for his truth-telling, however, until I hear the whole story.
It isn’t a particularly edifying one. After she wound down her rant, Max burst into tears over losing Moira. Max had been drinking and couldn’t control her tears. Paris sat next to her on the couch to comfort her. He had his arms around her when suddenly, she kissed him full on the lips. He pulled away, not wanting the kiss to develop into anything more. He decided it’s time to leave, but she begged him to stay. She was lonely, she said. She needed his company. Only he could understand what she’s going through. Such clichés, but so often they work with guys like Paris. Guys who have the need to save people. He sat back down and even put his arm around her again. She was snuggling up to him and stroking his chest with her hand. It felt good. When she lifted her face to kiss him again, he didn’t pull back this time. In fact, he leaned into it. Even though he had denied it to me repeatedly, there had always been sexual tension between him and Max, and he no longer could deny it. They ended up in bed together.
Afterwards, Max wanted Paris to stay. She wanted to cuddle and talk about the usual things lovers talk about after having sex. She wanted to bask in the afterglow and to quietly gloat that she had gotten him into bed when he wasn’t drunk. It is sad that she needed to have sex with a much younger, gorgeous man to validate her sexuality, but there you have it. She wanted to have sex again, but Paris just wanted to leave. He knew that he had made a mistake by having sex with her, and no way was he going to compound the problem by repeating the performance. He tried to extricate himself with grace, but she wouldn’t allow it. She called him all sorts of unflattering names which burned his ears as he pulled on his clothes. Then she started crying again and accused him of taking advantage of her in her vulnerable state. She threatened to tell the police he took advantage of her unless he stayed with her. On that note, he left.
After he is done recounting his tale, his body sags as he waits to hear what I have to say. For a minute, I cannot speak. How could he allow himself to be seduced by her? Even if she was the one who initiated it, he should have been the one to show some restraint. What she said was bullshit, but she was accurate about one thing. She was in a vulnerable state, and he should have had the wherewithal not to sleep with her. I can’t fault him completely, though. He was only taking what was so clearly being offered. I do not for a minute believe he killed her; he’s only guilty of horrible judgment. I look at him suffering from guilt, remorse, and probably some residual anger as well. I do not have the heart to judge him as he has already judged himself. I get up and sit down next to him. Putting my arms around him, I pull him towards me. Exhaling deeply, he starts sobbing, wetting my shirt with his tears. We sit in this manner for several minutes until his sobs start to ebb.
“I’m sorry, Rayne,” Paris whispers. “I seem to be saying that to you a lot lately, but I am. I’m sorry for trying to seduce you; I’m sorry for lying to you; I’m sorry for getting angry at you; I’m sorry for getting snot on your shirt.”
“It’s the last one that really pisses me off,” I joke feebly, eliciting a watery smile from him. “The rest? Forget it.” I wave my hand magnificently, trying to lighten the mood. A question occurs to me. “How did the police find out?”
“A neighbor saw me leave. Plus, the M.E. found semen inside of Max.” Paris cannot look at me as he gives me this information. He knows my next question because he answers before I can speak it. “She’s on the pill, and I’ve seen her clean bill of health. She’s seen mine as well. It’s perfectly safe.” I don’t say anything as he knows better than I that there is no such thing as perfectly safe. In fact, after Brett—but I don’t even think about going there. This is not the time nor the place. “The inspector left a message on the machine while I was gone telling me that I was going to have to go into the station tomorrow to clear up some confusion. I know she’s going to book me.”
I ask when he was there because I have a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t at three. My hunch is right. He was at Max’s around noon, leaving a little after one. That opens the time of possible death by a couple of hours. So the cops think Paris killed Max after having sex with her. I repress a sigh because it doesn’t look good for Paris, and it looks worse precisely because he lied. I tell him to make sure when he sees the cops tomorrow that he tells them everything, even the part about her threatening him. I can tell by the look on his face that he would just as soon leave that part out. I want to shake him for his stubbornness. I say sternly if he doesn’t tell them everything, they definitely will arrest him. I don’t know if that’s true, but I figure threatening him may keep him in line. He promises he’ll tell the inspector everything. He is exhausted, not to mention drunk. He can barely keep his eyes open. I decide it’s time for him to go to bed.
I stand up and hold my hand out to him. I intend to take him to his room, but he balks at moving. He doesn’t want to sleep alone, he explains, giving me the puppy-dog eyes. I waver. It will be hard sleeping next to him, but I don’t want to abandon him, either. I agree reluctantly, instructing him to go get ready for bed before returning to my room. He stumbles to his feet and since I don’t hear any crashing sounds, I deduce that he is safely on his way to his room. I turn on my computer and wait for it to power up. By the time Paris returns, I am online and finding articles about Moira’s death and/or Max’s death. Paris informs me that he’s ready for bed. Though he still smells of booze, he also smells of mint. Not a bad combination. He is wearing black boxers and nothing else. He likes, as do I, to sleep naked. I am glad he has thrown on his boxers. He wants to know if I’m coming to bed.
“Not yet, Paris. I want to research a few things. I’ll be there soon.” I smile at him reassuringly. I get up from my chair to give him a hug. He doesn’t want to let go, so I keep on hugging him. Finally, he steps back and plants a kiss on my lips.
“You’re the best, Rayne. You know that?” After kissing me again, he climbs into bed and pulls the covers up to his chin. He in on his right side facing the wall and immediately falls asleep. I watch him for a minute; he looks so innocent as he sleeps. I turn back to the computer. The only new fact I learn is that Max was strangled with one of her own scarves. I make a note of it but am not sanguine that it means anything. The only thing it might possibly tell me is that the killer didn’t go to Max’s place intending to kill her, but I don’t even know that for sure. The killer might have brought something, but decided it would be better to use something of Max’s. Who knows how a killer thinks?