Paris has stopped massaging my neck and is slowly stroking it instead. I close my eyes and let the magic of his hands do their work. I am melting under his expert touch—just what I need at the end of a long day. I sigh and let my head drop further forward. Paris is patiently working out the kinks and the knots. I wonder how many people he’s seduced with these magical hands of his, but I don’t ask for fear he will stop. I let the tension and frustration of the last few days slip out of me, trying to empty my mind as well. I don’t want to think about anything more than how good it feels to be touched. It’s not sex that I miss so much as a friendly touch. Although, sex would be nice, too. My mind flits from subject to subject, but I just let the thoughts flow in one ear and out the other. One refuses to leave, however, and buzzes persistently in my head. Suddenly, I pop my eyes open.
“Paris! I forgot to tell you about the email Vashti sent me about Max’s ex-hubby being at the party!”
“What?” Paris is so startled, he stops massaging me. “How did she know that?”
“From a friend of a friend.” I pause. “What was his name again?”
“Harry.” Paris makes a face. “Harry Seavers.”
“Harry?” I frown. “Emil called him something else.”
“His full name is Harrison, but he goes by Harry. He’s one of those haute couture screenplay writers who talks about it more than he actually does it because he doesn’t have to make money doing it. He sells insurance by day.” Paris has a sour look on his face. For some reason, the name Harry is resonating in my brain.
“Screenplays, Harry,” I mumble under my breath, closing my eyes again. They pop open again against my volition. “I remember him! He had a hard-on for Guy Ritchie!”
“That sounds like him,” Paris makes another face. “He likes to think he’s so deep and philosophical, but he really likes the shallow, flashy guy directors.” Paris seems to be feeling low as well. I know something that will make him laugh, however, and tell him the horror story that is my sister’s wedding.
Before I can stop him, he goes camp on me, flipping his hand up and waggling his neck. He cannot believe ‘that heifer’ had the nerve to tell me to lose weight, not to mention her other demands. He is up and stomping before I can stop him, but at least he’s lost the glum look. I let him have his say, rather enjoying his defense of me. When I tell him that she wants me to spend over a thousand dollars for this ordeal which includes me wearing mauve, well, let’s just say he loses his ever-loving mind. He rants and rave about how selfish she is because any fool can see that ivory is clearly a better color for me. He cusses Libby out while questioning her genealogy but in such a way that he’s not questioning mine as well. He is in high camp, and he has me crying from laughing so hard. It is nice to have a friend who cares so much about me.
Once he’s calmed down, he settles next to me again and resumes massaging my neck. We diss Libby some more because it’s a national pastime with us and because she deserves it. When we were in college, we devised an elaborate points system to see who could put her down harder. It was no contest; I am the reigning champion of dissing Libby. “She gets put on hold when she tries calling her conscience,” I say, to cap off the contest. We both laugh uproariously at that before subsiding into giggles. Paris wants to make sure that I’m not going to listen to ‘that heifer’, but I’m not paying attention as he is melting me with his fingers. He lectures me to put my foot down or Libby will run roughshod over me, which I know to be good advice but which I also know will be difficult to follow. He is still massaging and lecturing as the buzzer rings.
“You got a hot date?” I murmur without opening my eyes.
“Nope. Maybe it’s your girl, back from the dead.” I feel Paris get up from the couch and hear him walk to the front door. I hear low voices, but I can’t make out the words.
“It’s the inspector,” Paris sighs. “What the hell is she doing making house calls?”
“Maybe she was captivated by your dashing looks and is here to ask you for a date,” I joke, sitting up straight. Despite my words, I hope it’s me she’s coming to see. My salacious thoughts are cut short by a staccato rap on the door.
“Inspector Robinson. What a pleasant surprise.” Paris’s voice is grim. “Come on in. May I get you something to drink?” He has impeccable manners compliments of his crazy mother. Women usually find it charming.
“Nothing to drink, thank you, Mr. Frantz. Is Ms. Liang here as well?” Inspector Robinson’s voice is cold. She is clearly here on business.
“Yes, she’s in the living room. Please, follow me.” Paris ushers the inspector into the living room. I stand up and gesture to the couch. She looks around and chooses the hardback chair we rarely use. Paris and I sit back down on the couch.
“Inspector, I remembered something else,” I say eagerly before the inspector can speak. She flips out her notebook and looks at me questioningly. “Max’s ex-husband was at the party!” I am pleased that I have this tidbit to give her. Maybe it will warm her up.
“We know that,” Inspector Robinson says briskly. “Thanks for the tip, though.” Damn. I guess it takes more than that to impress her. “You may be wondering what I’m doing here.” Paris and I exchange glances but say nothing. She stares hard at us, and we stare at her in return. I have no idea why she is there, and I’m pretty sure that Paris doesn’t, either.
“Um, you’ve caught the killer?” I finally venture a guess when she doesn’t say anything.
“No.” She waits to see if we have anything else to add. When it’s clear that we don’t, she sighs loudly. “Mr. Frantz, please leave the room, but don’t leave the apartment. I will want to talk to you later, but first I want to question Ms. Liang.” Her tone says she is brooking no argument, and Paris meekly leaves the room. He walks towards his room, but I don’t hear him close the door. “Close the door, Mr. Frantz,” Inspector Robinson says, raising her voice. She continues to impress me with her perceptiveness. How I wish I had met her anywhere other than at the scene of a murder. A beat later, we hear Paris’s door slam.
I expect the inspector to say something, but she waits, her expression unreadable. I wonder if it’s my skimpy top that’s making her stare at me in that way, and I wish I were wearing a sweatshirt. She sits perfectly still, her eyes not moving off of me. I don’t want to be the one to fold, but I can’t stand it any more. I start babbling. I ask if Max had told her about the Brenda character skulking around. I wonder if she’s made any progress on the murder. I point out that it’s suspicious that Moira and Max hadn’t slept together, as if Inspector Robinson needs me to instruct her on how to do her job. I know that I am prattling and that I sound insipid, but I can’t stop myself. Something about her icy stare makes me want to spill my guts, to say something to make her stop looking at me that way. I finally manage to stem the flow of words and wait for her to speak. When she does, her words stun me.
“This is about the death of Maxine Bowers,” Inspector Robinson says abruptly. “Or rather, Maxine Seavers as she kept her ex-husband’s last name.” She watches me as I absorb the news. I feel the blood draining from my face. “Where were you from between noon to five o’clock this afternoon?” I don’t know what her problem is, but she’s highly irked.
Max is dead? What is this going to do to Paris? I know it’s callous of me to be thinking of the impact on Paris when Max won’t ever feel anything again, but he’s my best friend. He’s going to be devastated by the news! I wonder if Inspector Robinson will allow me to be the one to break it to him, but I intuit that she will not approve of that idea. She’s still staring at me so I mumble an apology. I realize that she’s asked me a question, so I answer that I was at work until four before going out on a date after. I can’t prevent myself from blushing as I say I had a date, so I hurry past that part and inform her that I arrived home around six. She asks for his name, and I reply that her name is Quinn McGowan and that I know her from work. I carefully watch her reaction, but like a pro, she doesn’t even flinch. She’s probably a born-and-bred San Franciscan who’s used to every permutation of relationship.
Without thinking about it, I tell her that Quinn almost had an affair with Moira, too, then immediately wished I could snatch the words back. Why do I feel compelled to line up suspects for her? It’s not as if there aren’t enough of them as it is. The inspector simply cocks an eyebrow which causes me to rush into the fray, Pavlovian dog that I am. I explain how Moira put the usual moves on Quinn, asking her to sit for her. How Quinn went over to Moira’s studio unannounced, determined to sleep with Moira only to, um, I falter. My memory fails me at the most inconvenient time. The inspector is watching me, her expression informing me that she’s not buying my story. Somehow, I reach into the dregs of my mind and pull out the tidbit that the woman Moira had in her studio that day had long black hair. It’s not much, but it’s enough to ease the frown lines in Inspector Robinson’s forehead.
After regaling the inspector with that tidbit, I cautiously ask how Max died. I figure it can’t hurt to ask; the worst she can do is refuse to tell me. She hesitates, debating, I’m sure, whether she should tell me or not. She hesitates for so long, I think she’s not going to tell me. She glances at me again before informing me that Max had been strangled, but that is all she’ll tell me. I know better than to argue with her when her voice turns clipped as it is now. She questions me a bit more, then escorts me to my room after I point out Paris’s room to her. I sit down at my computer and turn it on so I can look up articles on Max’s death. There’s nothing on the Chronicle website, nor the Yahoo one. There’s a blurb in the Examiner, but it’s bare bones. It says that there was an anonymous phone call to the police at around five-thirty in the late afternoon complaining about loud noises in Max’s house. When the police arrived there, they found her lifeless body on the very same bed that Moira had been found on. The paper managed to snag a quote from Inspector Robinson if you can call, ‘I have no comment at this time’ a quote.
I lean back in my chair and ponder the information given to me. Who hated Max enough to kill her? I didn’t like her, but I wouldn’t kill her. Is Max’s death tied in with Moira’s murder? That’s a stupid question. I dismiss the coincidence theory—I just don’t buy it. Two lovers murdered so closely one after the other? Coincidence, my ass! Did Max know something? She certainly seemed to imply that she did. If the wrong person heard that Max knew something, well, then, murder made simple. I suddenly remember that I had asked Paris to retrieve Emil’s phone number from Max. I wonder if he did. If so, then Paris might have been the last person to see Max alive or to talk to her on the phone. I wonder what he’s been doing all day. I mentally shake myself for suspecting for a minute that he has anything to do with Max’s death. Maybe he knows something, though, that he’s not telling me. After all, he never told me about sleeping with her. This is different, however. He wouldn’t withhold evidence about a murder, would he? I hate myself for doubting my best friend, but I can’t shake the whisper of suspicion I have about him.
“Rayne! Get out here!” I hear Paris yell at me from the living room. I check my clock automatically. The inspector has been talking to him for half an hour—twice as long as she talked to me. I wonder what that means. I switch my computer to sleep mode, then go out to the living room. The inspector is still there.
“I just wanted to say to both of you to think some more and let me know if anything else occurs to you. The killer has struck again—I don’t have to tell you that he or she may not be done yet. Be careful, and call me if you remember anything else.” She gives each of us a look, then exits. Paris silently closes the door, and we migrate to the kitchen. I fill the kettle with water and set it on the stove. Paris pulls out a frozen pizza and pops it in the oven, not even bothering to preheat the oven first. He has a bad habit of eating when he’s emotional, which, unfortunately, usually trickles down to me.
“Well?” I finally ask. “What’d she have to say to you?”
“You go first,” Paris says quickly, fiddling with the dials on the oven. I know he is trying to avoid talking, but I allow him to get away with it. For now. I tell him what I told the inspector, which isn’t much. When I reach the part about Quinn almost sleeping with Moira, Paris explodes. “Jesus Fucking Christ! Couldn’t that woman keep her pants on? Did she have to nail every woman that fucking moved?” To my consternation, he burst into tears. I’ve only seen Paris cry twice outside of when he was caring for Brett, and I don’t know what to do.
“Come here.” I pull him into my arms. At first, he’s stiff as a board, but then he relaxes. The more he tries to muffle his sobs, the more he wails. I don’t know if he’s crying solely for Max or for other nebulous things, but this is not the time to question him about it. I pat him on the back and whisper inane words meant to comfort. I’m sure they don’t, but he’s too far gone to register much of anything.
“She’s dead, Rayne,” Paris blubbers. For the second time that night, I have someone crying on my shoulder. I much rather it be Paris than Quinn, however. “I can’t believe she’s really dead.” I say nothing, but simply hold on to him. He clings to me for dear life. I click off the stove as the kettle starts whistling.
“Come on,” I say firmly, pulling away at last. “I’m going to pour us both a cup of tea, then we’re going into the living room to talk.” I throw green tea leaves into two mugs and pour water over them. I turn off the oven so the apartment won’t burn down when we forget about it. We each grab a mug and head for the living room. We flop down on the couch, and Paris snuggles up to me. I put an arm around him and stroke his hair. “Feel like talking about it?” His reaction to Max’s death is more than I expected, but I am not going to push him on it.
“I just, it’s just,” he tears up again and can’t continue. “I loved her, Rayne. She brought me chicken soup at the gym. She gave me dating advice. She even vetted out this hot guy at the club and let me know in no uncertain terms that he wouldn’t be good to me.” He lapses into silence. I heave a small sigh of relief. He is mourning her as a surrogate-mother figure, not as a would-be lover.
“I’m sorry, Paris,” I say softly. I didn’t care for the woman, but I hate seeing Paris suffering like this.
As he’s still grieving, I ask him what he talked to the inspector about. I feel shitty for questioning him now, but it’s the best time to get information out of him. I brush my conscience aside and wait for his answer. He gave me a rundown of where he’s been in the last eight hours or so—working out at the gym, late lunch with a coworker, a call to Max to see how she was doing. He also got Emil’s number from her, which he pulls out of his jeans’ pocket. He presses it into my hand and murmurs that he doesn’t think the inspector needs to know about that. I’m not as sure, but I keep silent. After all, his lie by omission to the inspector is to protect my ass. I ask when Paris had talked to Max, stuffing the paper with Emil’s number into my pocket. Around three, Paris says. The window of her death narrows. Three to five. Two hours. That’s a pretty small window. I ask Paris is Max said anything odd when he talked to her.
He reminds me that everything she says is odd which doesn’t cut it with me. She mentioned something about someone being at the party who shouldn’t have been there, and that she was going to confront her. I pounce on Paris’s last word, wanting to make sure that Max said it was a female. Paris says that Max definitely said her. His eyes start to water again, but he continues. He’s pretty sure that Max was killed by the woman she confronted. I muse that perhaps I don’t need to talk to Emil if that’s the case, but Paris protests. He needs to know what happened to Max, and he thinks I should talk to whomever I can if there’s any chance it’ll help. I stroke his hair, hoping it’ll calm him down. He is staring at me, tears still clinging to his eyelashes. There is such hope in his eyes, I haven’t the heart to turn him down, even if I’m losing my taste for detecting.