I go to the kitchen to make myself a rum and coke before returning to the living room. I slump in the couch, ready to think some more. I can’t get Harry out of my mind, despite any solid evidence pointing at him. However, any theory involving Harry doesn’t take into account the note, the rose, the S&M motif, nor the sex play. In other words, it sucks. I lean back on the couch and close my eyes. The characters are dancing behind my eyelids, taunting me to find the guilty one. Everything is a mess and a jumble. There are so many possibilities, it’s depressing. For such a beautiful, charming woman, Moira certainly squandered her birthright. With her talent and her personal life, she should have been the happiest woman on earth. Instead, she cut a swath through the female population of the Bay Area, leaving carnage and destruction wherever she went. There’s something infinitely sad about someone who’s greatest success in life is messing up other people’s lives. She would be proud of her accomplishments, of course, but it would be a hollow victory. None of her affairs satisfied her. None of her shenanigans masked the fact that she was empty inside. Sex can be an addiction like anything else—I think she was addicted to the drama of star-crossed lovers and obsessive stalkers.
Once again, I find myself wondering what kind of childhood she must have had to turn out the way she did. She was a sociopath—or a psychopath, I always get those mixed up—with little remorse or regret. A part of me envies that about her. She moved decisively once she made a decision—so unlike me. I tend to stew and worry when I have to make a decision and the anxiety doesn’t let up once the decision is made. That’s actually when the fun begins because I get to second-guess myself until I am no longer sure what I should have done. So to me, the appeal of someone like Moira is enormous. The other part of me, however, wouldn’t want to lose my humanity to gain confidence, and I feel that Moira had made that trade-off.
“Hi, honey! I’m home!” There is a slam of the door, and Paris bounces into the living room. He has that disgusting smirk of someone who has just gotten laid. Fortunately, I have the matching look on my own face. We eye each other silently for a second before we both simultaneously burst out talking. After we tell each other to go first and several false starts, I tell him about my evening with Vashti. I glide over a few of the details, but remain true to the spirit of the events. His face loses some of its animation as I talk. There is no love lost between the two, and I sometimes feel as if I’m in the middle of a very personal cold war. Since I want to be fair, I tell him the rest.
“She’s hiding something from me,” I say bluntly. “I have a feeling it has something to do with the killer, but I’m not exactly sure what.”
“Let me get this straight,” Paris says carefully, spacing his words evenly. “You just spent the evening with someone who knows who the killer is, but won’t tell you? What are you, crazy?”
“I guess so,” I say, narrowing my eyes. “But then again, I never dated a woman who systematically stole my money, or someone who threatened to kill herself after I left her. You certainly can’t say the same.”
“That’s not the point,” Paris huffs. “You could be killed if you’re not careful. I think as long as Vashti doesn’t come clean, you shouldn’t talk to her.” He sits on the couch and folds his arms. I can tell he’s angry, but I think he’s out of line.
“Paris, whatever you have against Vashti is between you and her. I’m not getting in the middle of that one. That said, Vashti is my girl. That means treat her with some respect. If you do that, I’m sure she’ll do the same for you.” Paris’s face is closed as if he’s never heard such a thing. I rush on, uncomfortable with the friction between us. “It’s not that I think she’s lying to me; she’s just not telling all she knows. But she said she will in a day or two.” Paris is still not receptive. “Let’s talk about something else. Tell me more about Lyle. I like him.”
“I know you think I’m being unreasonable.” Paris finally sits down next to me on the couch. “I just worry about you, Rayne. We’re not talking about hiding a past lover or other trivial information. She knows something about a killer, and she’s not telling you. She’s putting you in danger. Doesn’t that worry you in the least?” I bite down a defensive retort and really think about his question.
“I’m not crazy about it,” I finally admit. “There’s a part of me that can’t enjoy being with her knowing that she’s not telling me everything.” I pause, thinking about it some more. “I really like her, Paris. I don’t want to stop seeing her.” Paris looks as if he wants to continue the argument, but he refrains.
“Just be careful,” is what he says. “I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“Now that we’ve settled that, tell me about Lyle.” I am eager to get off the subject of Vashti and move on to something less complicated. Paris’s face lights up as he complies. I study him, half-listening to what he’s saying. Everything about his body language screams he’s falling in love. He is leaning forward as he talks, his hands sketching in the air. His eyes snap every time he says Lyle’s name, and he can’t stop smiling as he recounts every detail of the date part of the evening. He stops short of the bedroom, for which I am grateful. I haven’t seen him this animated over someone since, well, since Brett. It warms my heart to know that Paris is finally dating someone worthy of his attention. I have a good feeling about this relationship of Paris’s, early as it is to say. I don’t want to jinx them, however, so I refrain from voicing my opinion out loud.
“Wow, I’m really beat,” Paris says, yawning as he stands up.
“Funny what a good romp in bed will do to you,” I retort, standing up myself. We hug briefly before going our separate ways. I sit at my computer to do a little research. I am desperate to uncover the murder, and I pull up my file containing the quotes in the note found by Moira’s body. Even though I couldn’t make heads nor tail of the quotes the last time I looked, I want to check them out again.
The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.—Hannah Arendt
I hit him to get his attention. I shot him to calm him down. I killed him to reason with him.—Henry Rollins
All men kill the thing they hate, too, unless, of course, it kills them first.—James Thurber
I ponder the quotes. Hatred is an obvious theme. The last indicates that the killer felt threatened by Moira somehow. Self defense? Not in the legal sense of the word since Moira was tied up before she was killed. Maybe the killer felt consumed by Moira—she had a habit of doing that to people. To women. Hannah Arendt. Henry Rollins. James Thurber. I shake my head in frustration. If there’s a connection between the three people, I can’t find it. I can’t see how the quotes give me anything other than a headache. I shove them aside and try to think logically about the suspects involved in the case. Excluding Paris and me, there still is a depressingly large amount of suspects. Any of Moira’s lovers, present and past. Billie. Emil. Harry. Annie. The boy at the party who was looking for Moira. Vashti. I add the last name reluctantly to the list. She had the motive, the means, and the opportunity. I can’t leave her off the list just because I feel it in my gut that she’s not the killer. As for Max’s murder, assuming it’s the same person, the motive is pretty obvious. She figured out something about Moira’s death and was foolish enough to allow the other person to see that she knew something. That means that Max wasn’t afraid of the other person. Otherwise, she had to have been crazy to see the other person without protection. Unfortunately, that doesn’t bring me any closer to the killer.
I give up. The information is zooming through my mind, refusing to settle down. Just as I think I might have something, it flits out of my reach. I pound my keyboard in frustration, taking care not to damage it. I have just broken it in the way I like it, and I don’t want to have to train another one. I go to the bathroom to get ready for bed. As I’m brushing my teeth, my thoughts keep returning to Max. I want to know if she was Paris’s mother; I want to know who got her pregnant. I wonder how serious her ex was about getting back together with her, or if she had money and he was after her for that reason so he could finance his documentary. I wonder if I should talk to him or if that would be showing my hand. Max didn’t show any particular fondness for the man, but perhaps she hid it well. Maybe she was fed up with Moira for cheating on her and was going back to Harry. No, that didn’t make any sense.
Billie. I can see her killing Max, but not Moira. However, I did see Billie being violent towards Moira. What if Moira broke up with Billie or told her that they were through? Worse yet, what if Moira laughed at Billie and told her that the relationship was only in Billie’s head? Billie’s fantasy of being Moira’s girlfriend was probably the only positive thing in her life. How would she react to the news that she wasn’t Moira’s girlfriend and moreover, that Moira never wanted to see her again? If that were to happen, I could easily see Billie killing Moira, but not in that elaborate way. No, a quick strangling or bashing her over the head with a blunt object would be more of Billie’s style. As for killing Max, Billie would have no qualms about that. Strangely enough, though, I believed her when she said she would tell everyone she knew if she had been the one to kill Max. So that let her off the hook for Max’s murder, but not for Moira’s. I have to keep her on my list, but she’s not my primary suspect.
My thoughts drift to Emil. Although I’m inclined to think the murderer is a female, Emil is a likely suspect for multiple reasons. First, I only have his reassurance that he didn’t try to rape Moira. She is certainly in no position to dispute his version of the story. If he did and she threatened to expose him, that would be the end of his academic career. Even if he didn’t try to rape her or harass her or whatever, just the hint of it would be enough to cast suspicion over him. This late in his career, he doesn’t need the headache. I tend to believe that Moira was making it up when she said he tried to rape her, but it would have been a weighty accusation nonetheless. If that isn’t enough, there’s the story of his daughter being seduced by Moira which he readily related to me. If he killed Moira, it was mostly for his daughter. Plus, he was disgusted about Moira’s slutty behavior in general. He stays firmly on the active suspect list.
Annie. She’s a solid suspect. Emil said he hasn’t seen her in a while, but that doesn’t mean she’s not in town. It doesn’t even mean he’s telling the truth about seeing her lately. I try to remember the picture of her I saw at Emil’s place. The round face, the dark brown hair. The dimples, the smile. There is nothing about her that stands out—just your average middle-class white girl. Of course, the drugs would have changed her in ways I can’t picture, including weight loss. I don’t remember seeing her at the party, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t there. Crack. I shake my head. Moira might as well have handed her a loaded gun and be done with it. Crack is a vile drug, a slow road to hell. I’m beginning to wonder why I’m trying to find her murderer.
The boy at the party. I latch on to him. He was obviously strung out on something and looking for Moira. Frantically. Even as I try to fit him as the killer, I fail. Whoever killed Moira had planned it in advance, and I’d be surprised if that boy was able to remember his own name, let alone plan an elaborate murder. I frown. That’s something I hadn’t thought about. Moira’s death had been premeditated which meant that whoever killed her had to have the gear to do so, most likely at the party. I don’t remember Emil having a briefcase or anything like that, but again, that doesn’t mean he didn’t. I still have a hard time seeing Billie planning a murder like that or blending in at the party without Max noticing her. I don’t remember seeing her at the party, and she’s not easy to miss. I slowly cross her off my mental list. Emil is looking less likely, and the boy never really was a suspect.
Vashti. The person I least want it to be, besides Paris. I have no hard evidence that she is not the murderer, but neither do I have any hard evidence that she is. I have nothing on her at all except for her relationship with Moira and the heinous way Moira paid her back for breaking up with her. I have a horrible thought. What if Vashti is lying to me about the story? Again, Moira is dead, so she can’t dispute anything. What if Vashti is the one who had been obsessed with Moira, and Vashti made up the story about Moira claiming sexual harassment? Then, perhaps Vashti, as a spurned lover, killed Moira. It is, admittedly, a far-fetched scenario, but completely possible.
Just as I am dismissing Vashti from my mind, another name crawls into my brain and refuses to leave. Paris. I curse myself for even thinking it, but he has motivation for killing Max, and the opportunity. If she was his birthmother, it must have hit him pretty hard to know that he’d slept with her a few times, albeit not while knowing who she purportedly was. I have to admit that I’m a bit grossed out by the idea of Paris fucking his biological mother, as illogical as that is. I can’t imagine what it must have done to him to be told that the person he just finished having sex with was his mother. He must have felt betrayed, to put it mildly. I could imagine him lashing out and strangling the life out of her. I stop, horrified. I have, in effect, accused my best friend of murder. Not to his face, but in my mind. I push the thought to the back of my brain. No matter how bleak the situation, the one thing I count on is that Paris had nothing to do with the murder. If he did, I would rather be dead myself.
Sleep doesn’t come easily that night. The more I think about the case, the more baffled I am. There are so many threads that threaten to unravel when pulled. I become convinced that Vashti is the answer. She knows something that she’s not willing to share and that really upsets me. I have an impulse to call her, but it’s too late for that. She is supposed to talk to whomever by tomorrow; I hope she keeps her word that she’ll tell me what she suspects. There’s another reason I want her to tell me—it’s getting in the way of our relationship. I can’t help but feel hurt that she’s keeping something so important from me. Girlfriends are supposed to share secrets, to trust each other. Not that we’re girlfriends yet, but if we were true dykes, we would have called U-Haul by now. Instead, she is holding back crucial information from me. I resolve to call her first thing in the morning from work, to demand that she tells me what she knows. I will not take no for an answer. Satisfied, I finally fall asleep.
“All right, Vashti, tell me what you know.” I call her first thing after I arrive at work. I keep my voice low so my coworkers won’t overhear me.
“I’m at work, Rayne,” Vashti replies, a tinge of impatience creeping into her voice. “Can’t I call you later?”
“You could, but I’d prefer to know now.” I appreciate that it’s an awkward position for her, but I’m not going to let her off the hook.
“All right.” Vashti sighs, as if I’m requesting a huge favor from her. “I talked to someone who was having an affair with Moira and who was also at the party. I talked to her at length. I am convinced that she had nothing to do with the murder, so there’s no need to tell you anything else.”
“That’s it?” I am stunned. How can she dismiss this person so cavalierly? “Don’t you think I should be the judge of that?” After all, I am the one doing the detecting. I don’t say it, but I think it.
“Really, Rayne. You’re over the line. This girl is not a killer. I am thinking that you are becoming obsessed.”
“Paris, main suspect,” I remind her, though I’m not so sure that’s still true. “What else did you talk to this girl about?” I’m not happy that she won’t tell me the girl’s name, but I let it drop for now.
“Nothing relevant. After I was sure she had nothing to do with the murders, we talked about every day stuff.” Vashti is adamant about not revealing more than she thought I needed to know. I resent her patronizing attitude, but am unsure what to do about it. I can’t force her to tell me about this girl—if she even knows anything else about her.
“Did I tell you that I was attacked by someone on the streets?” I ask casually. “I’m pretty sure it was the killer.” My neck no longer hurts, but I’m not above using my injury to elicit information.
“I’m sure it wasn’t this person,” Vashti says firmly. We harangue each other a bit more, but she refuses to divulge the name. I reluctantly hang up, cursing her under my breath. Where does she get off playing god? How does she know what’s important and what isn’t? Just because she has a feeling that this person isn’t involved in the murders doesn’t mean the person isn’t. Vashti may pride herself on being a good judge of characters, but even the best of us gets fooled sometimes.