“Oh –y God, Pa—s. It’s Ma—………..looking for Moira…….broke down the door….she’s de—. You have to…….right now!”
“Max, calm down. Are you sure about that?” Paris looks concerned as he cradles the phone to his ear.
“She…..bed…..not moving. Mur— . Some—. I want you…….now!” Her voice rises hysterically as she talks. It sounds as if she’s not even trying to control herself any longer.
“Ok, Max. I’ll be right there. Drink some water and take deep breaths. Remember, stress is your enemy.” He clicks off the phone and turns to me. I’m eagerly waiting for the news, though I can piece together most of it from the excerpts I overheard. “It’s Moira. She’s been murdered. Max’s going crazy. We gotta go.”
“Who’s we, white man?” I retort, trying to ignore his other words. “She asked for you, remember?” I do not want to see Max again, and I definitely do not want to see a dead Moira.
“I need you there with me,” Paris says soulfully, putting on the puppy-dog eyes. “I need you for moral support.” He leans over to kiss me on the cheek which breaks down my defenses. Every time, I vow to be strong. Every time, I fail.
“All right. Let me pull on some clothes first.” I walk toward my bedroom before something strikes me. “The police will most likely be there. Do you think this is a good idea?”
“I have to go,” Paris says simply. “I want you with me.” That seems to be the end of that. We both throw on some jeans and long-sleeve shirts before jumping back into his car. We are silent on the way there.
“Thank God you’re here!” Max rips the door open, tears running rivulets through the powder caked on her cheeks. Her unhappiness grows when she spots me standing next to Paris. “What’s she doing here?” Max snarls, her anguish momentarily forgotten.
“Moral support,” Paris says tersely. “The reason you asked me to come. Where are the police?”
“Police?” Max’s face is blank. She has yet to let us into the house, and her body is blocking the door. “Why would the police be here?” We both stare at her in disbelief. What universe is she inhabiting that she doesn’t know to call the cops when someone’s been murdered?
“Max, the police have to be called in a case of foul-play,” Paris says patiently. I keep my mouth shut, not knowing what will come out if I open it. Something about obstructing justice and how the police don’t look kindly on a person who forgets to call them when a fucking murder occurs in her house.
“Who says it’s foul-play?” Max counters, her eyes flashing. “For all you know, she died in her sleep.”
“You said she was murdered! Why am I here otherwise?” A thin edge of impatience creeps into Paris’s voice. I know him well enough to guess that he is struggling to keep his temper in check. He is the sweetest guy, but not when he thinks he’s being jerked around and especially not at this time of night.
“I want you to look at her,” Max whispers, looking at her hands. “Maybe she’s not dead.” A wisp of hope appears in her eyes, then is gone. She moves back to let us in. Instead of people chatting and laughing and having a good time, there is absolute silence. Not a soul remains from the earlier festivities.
“Where is everybody?” Paris asks as we move through the kitchen.
“I sent them home,” Max calls over her shoulder as she leads us to the bedroom. The door is half-closed. Paul hesitates, and I bump into him. “What?” Max whirls around, staring at Paris. “You have to look, Paris. You have to! Please? For me?” Right then, I realize that there is more to their relationship than just trainer and client. I make a note to myself to ask him what the hell is going on with the two of them after we get the hell out of here.
“You with me?” Paul asks, his eyes pleading with mine. The last thing I want is to see Moira’s dead body, not when she is still alive and vibrant in my mind. I open my mouth to decline, but then I remember all Paris has done for me, and I cannot begrudge him this favor. He holds out his hand, and I grab on to it fiercely. We take a collective breath, then nod at Max to open the door. It takes my eyes a moment to adjust. When I can finally see, I press my free hand to my mouth.
Moira, so beautiful in life, is nothing more than a posed doll in a grotesque scene of death. Her limbs are tied to the posts of the bed, her body spread-eagle. Her eyes are open and staring up at the ceiling. There is a bruise on her left cheek in the shape of a hand. A black silk scarf is crammed in her mouth and tied behind her head. Her makeup is smeared, as if she’s been crying. I have superimposed the impression of her face now on top of the image of her face when she was alive. The latter is already fading, life bleeding out around the edges. Soon, I won’t be able to remember how she looked other than this. Paris makes an inarticulate sound in the back of his throat; I do not look at him. I gather my guts and force my eyes to her neck which is unscathed, much to my surprise. I had expected strangulation marks—I obviously have read too many murder mysteries. I gulp, momentarily shutting my eyes.
“Oh, God,” Paris moans, trembling next to me. I squeeze his hand, hoping to comfort him. When I am ready, I focus on her nearly-nude body.
I cannot suppress a gasp at my first leisurely look at that luscious body. I had been fantasizing about it all night, but this is not the setting I would have chosen for my first viewing. It is obscene to be checking her out; I feel as if I’m in the midst of a snuff film. She is wearing a lacy green bra that barely contains her rounded breasts. They are bigger than I imagined and threaten to spill over the tops of the bra. There is an ugly little hole seeping red on the left side of her chest, but I don’t look at that any more than I have to. She is wearing matching thong panties. Her white skin is magnificent—blemish-free. A light dusting of freckles are sprinkled all over her body, matching the ones on her nose. She is wearing a white garter belt with seamed, lace white stockings. Her body is near perfect. I can’t restrain the mixture of revulsion, excitement, and pity that rises in me.
“Jesus, sweet Jesus,” Paris cries softly, his eyes glued to the body.
Other details start filtering into my numbed mind. The black satin sheets Moira is lying upon. The single red rose gently resting on Moira’s bare stomach, the thorns scratching her flesh. The scorching of her skin around the hole in her heart. The way the gag is pulled so tightly over Moira’s mouth, she seems to be grimacing. The secretions running down her leg. The stiletto black heels still on her feet. The scrap of paper on the pillow by her head.
“Shit!” I step forward, then stop. “Paris, do you see that?” I point at the note. I want to read it, but I don’t want to leave fingerprints. “Max, do you have a pair of gloves I can use?” Max raises an eyebrow, but hurries away. When she comes back, she has two black leather gloves in her hand. I push my right hand into one; it’s a tight fit.
“Watch it, you’re stretching it out,” Max complains. “Those are my best gloves, damn it.”
“Shut up, Max,” I say bluntly. I have been itching to say that all night, and it feels good regardless of the circumstances. She gasps, but I pay her no mind. I am doing her a favor, so she can damn well sacrifice a pair of gloves to the cause. She wheels around and leaves in a huff. I finally get both my hands in her gloves and tiptoe to the bed. When I reach the bed, I carefully pick up the scrap of paper and smooth it out. The following quotes are neatly typed on it:
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
Shit. What the fuck is the person trying to say? Well, it’s obvious that someone hated Moira—but what significance do these particular quotes have to the killer? There has to be a reason the killer left the note. Then I have the thought—what if Moira typed it herself? I dismiss this as stupid. Why would Moira type out these quotes, then place it on her pillow right before indulging in S&M games? I am not thinking clearly at this time of night. Or perhaps it’s in a vain attempt to ignore the body congealing right before my eyes. Moira. I say her name a few times to myself so I don’t start thinking of her as ‘the body’. I want her to remain human to me, which is the least I can do for her. I wonder what to do with the note. I know I have to leave it for the police, but I also want to do a little research on the internet about the quotes, see what I can come up with.
“Paris! I need paper and a pen,” I call out. He had left a minute before, along with Max. I hear some scrambling, then Paris returns with paper and pen in hand. I dictate the quotes to him and make him write them down. When I am sure that he has written them correctly, I replace the note exactly where I found it. I motion for Paris to leave the room, and I’m right behind him. “Paris, what if she’s still alive?” I ask, stopping in my tracks. “She can’t be, can she?” Immediately, I feel stupid for asking—just as I’m sure Max does for hoping.
“Not by now,” Paris says grimly. He doesn’t bother to say what we both know. The only chance she had at living was if Max had noticed she was alive when she found her and did something about it at the time. “Max? Did you check to see if Moira was still breathing when you found her?”
“No! I didn’t know what to do so I called you. You didn’t tell me to check her.” Max’s voice rises in panic.
“I’m calling the police.” Paris pulls his cell out of his pocket, but Max grabs it from him.
“No police, Paris,” she screams, out of control. Her eyes are wild as she tightens her grip on the phone. “Do you know what they would fucking do to me? You think they give a fuck about a dyke biting it?”
“This is San Francisco, not Alabama, Max,” Paris yells back, finally losing his temper. “It’s not like they haven’t run into dykes before.” The two of them are toe-to-toe, and I feel like a third wheel. I discreetly slither past them, heading for the door.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Paris snaps at me.
“Outside. Can I bum a cigarette?” You have to give me credit for pure nerve. Paris pulls the pack out of his pocket and flips it at me. He tosses his lighter at me as well.
“Smoke one for me, too, ok?” Paris tries to smile, but he’s not successful. I nod and skedaddle as fast as I can. Something about the two of them interacting—Paris and Max—makes me uncomfortable, and I don’t want to watch. I plunk myself down on the front steps and light up. Nothing tastes as good as a cigarette when I’m stressed. Three cigarettes later, Paris steps outside himself and closes the door. I hand the pack back to him as he sits down.
“What’s going on with you two?” I ask, not wanting to pussyfoot around the subject.
“What do you mean?” Paris asks innocently, not quite pulling it off. He fumbles with the pack, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it.
“There’s something going on between you that I don’t understand.” I do not say it accusingly, as Paris would not take it well if I do.
“She’s a client. I worry about her.”
“You’ve been here before. You didn’t have to get directions.” I force myself to sound matter-of-fact and not shrewish at all. “Plus, you’ve met Moira before, and I don’t think it’s at the gym. The cops coming, by the way?”
“Yeah, I managed to convince her.” Paris takes a long drag off his cigarette before exhaling slowly. “Max is kind of like a mother to me.” At the skeptical expression on my face, Paris rushes to explain himself. “You’ve only seen the hard side of her because, well, she doesn’t like you. With me, she’s soft and tender.” Sounds like chicken nuggets, but I don’t want to be catty so I hold my tongue. “She gives me advice on dating, which I appreciate. Hell, Rayne. She bakes me cookies. She may not seem like the maternal type, but it’s there.” Paris pauses, then confesses, “One time, I was simply falling apart at work. I couldn’t hold it together. I kept rushing to the bathroom and crying my eyes out. Max came for her session, took one look at me and marched me over to the juice bar and made me spill my guts. I owe her.” Paris shrugs as he exhales. A plume of smoke wafts over head.
“Ok, maybe you owe her. Maybe there’s a reason for us being here, but don’t you find it a little suspicious that she didn’t call the cops?” I don’t want to lean too hard on Max, but I don’t have the same warm fuzzy feelings toward her as does Paris. Besides, as it stands, she’s a primo suspect in Moira’s murder.
“She was shook up,” Paris says. “Wouldn’t you be?”
“Yeah, but I’d still call the cops.” I muse over Max’s odd behavior. “What if she has an ulterior motive for dragging us out here?” I pose the question cautiously, as I do not want to raise his ire.
“Like what?” Paris narrows his eyes suspiciously. I can tell that he is not going to like whatever I have to say, that he’ll probably mark it down to cattiness and dismiss it, but I forge on.
“What if she wants to provide the cops with suspects other than herself?” I can tell by the look on Paris’s face that he has already thought of this but doesn’t want to believe it. I wait, not wanting to push the subject too hard.
“She wouldn’t do that,” he finally says, though he doesn’t sound too sure. “Why would she do that?”
“Because she’ll be the first suspect,” I say patiently. “The significant other usually is. Not surprising, really, considering that it’s the partner in seventy-some percent of the cases.”
“Usually the man,” Paris protests. “Which, in case you haven’t noticed, Max isn’t. A man, I mean.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I say stubbornly. I don’t know why I’m continuing this, but I feel compelled to pursue this thread of thought. “Paris, I don’t want to piss you off, but there has got to be a reason Max called you other than she wants to fuck you. She must have closer friends than you. Why you?”
“You really think she’s trying to frame me?” Paris asks slowly, fiddling with his cigarette.
“Or me,” I say softly. “She probably knew I’d come with you.”
“Now you’re pushing it,” Paris compresses his lips, a sure sign he’s angry. “Just because she doesn’t like you doesn’t mean she’s out to get you.” We smoke in silence until an unmarked car drives up to us. We see a tall, willowy woman with shoulder-length, ash-blond hair step out of the car. We watch as she strides toward us, her face set.
“Maxine Seavers?” The blond says to me, a shade doubtfully. “Inspector Robinson.” She flashes a badge at us, too quickly for either of us to get a good look at it. “Looks like I beat the medical examiner.”
“Inside,” Paris replies, pointing behind us. “Shouldn’t there be two of you? I thought cops always traveled in packs.” I say nothing as I stare at this woman. She is five-foot ten with clear, light gray eyes that gaze steadily at me. She has cheekbones like a model’s, and legs that go for miles. If Moira coveted my cheekbones, she would have killed for the good inspector’s. She is wearing a sensible black pantsuit which successfully covers her slender curves. I find myself wondering what she looks like underneath the suit.
“Budget cuts,” the inspector says briefly, a spasm of disgust crossing her face because she quickly eradicates it. “Who might you be?” She looks first at Paris then at me.
“I’m Paris, a friend of Max. This is Rayne, a friend of mine.”
“What are you doing here,” Inspector Robinson asks patiently, apparently not in any hurry to go inside.
“Max called. She wanted moral support.” Paris says, expending as few words as possible. He is fidgeting with his cigarette which has long since gone out. Seeing this, he stubs it carefully on the ground, then holds it in his hand. He want to flick it into the street, I can tell, but he’s inhibited by the presence of the inspector.
“Let’s go inside, shall we?” Inspector Robinson nods and waits for me to crush out my cigarette as well. I, too, hold my butt in my hand as we reenter Max’s house.
“Paris! I’m glad you’re back,” Max says eagerly, trailing off when she sees Inspector Robinson. “Who is this?” Her face has hardened as she prepares for battle.
“Max, honey, this is Inspector Robinson.” Paris moves aside, letting Inspector Robinson walk past him. She strides right up to Max, stopping just short of invading her personal space.
“Ms. Seavers, is there somewhere private we can go to talk?”
“Please, call me Max. Or at least, Ms. Bowers. Seavers is my ex-husband, and I can’t stand being reminded of him. Our divorce was just finalized a month ago. I hate the bastard.” Max is running on at the mouth, out of nervousness, I suppose.
“Ms. Bowers. Please. Someplace private.” She turns to Paris and me and says, “The team should be here any minute. Let them in when they arrive. Don’t go anywhere. I will be talking to you next.” She waits for Max to usher her into the living room while Paris and I wait in the kitchen for ‘the team’. We toss our butts while we’re at it. Not more than a minute later, the doorbell rang. It is the team, and we let them in. We show them where to go, and they are swarming all over the house. Finally, they have all made their way into the ‘scene of the crime’ except for one officer who plants himself in the kitchen with us. He doesn’t say anything, but makes sure that we do not talk to each other.
“When can we go?” I finally ask Officer Clark. His name is the only thing he’s told us.
“When Inspector Robinson says you can,” Officer Clark snaps, his hand resting lightly on his gun. He is one of those men who is always compensating for something; this does not make me feel comfortable near him. Paris moves toward the sink, forcing Officer Clark to move that way as well.
“I’m just getting a glass of water,” Paris says in exasperation when Officer Clark blocks his way.
“You be sure that’s all you get,” Officer Clark retorts, caressing the handle of his gun. I be that’s the only way he can get it up with his wife—stroking his damn gun. I bet he even sleeps with the thing, which is a disturbing picture. Paris fills two glasses with water and gives one to me.
“Drink up,” Paris says, clinking my glass with his.
“No talking!” Officer Clark barks, his face turning red. I wonder if he’s been demoted and that’s why he’s doing the heavy power trip. It makes sense. He used to be a Homicide Inspector, getting to ask the big questions and intimidate the hapless suspects. Now, because of his drinking or because a few too many people called in to complain about police brutality, he’s been bumped down the ladder a few notches. This fancy pleases me, and I elaborate on it in my mind for several happy minutes. “Fucking dyke murder,” Officer Clark mumbles under his breath in a voice so low, I can’t be sure I hear him correctly. “I hate this damn city.” That I understand perfectly well. I wonder why he’s a cop if he hates it so much. Maybe he comes from a family of cops who expect all the male progeny to be officers of the peace. He’s probably the oldest son who has been pressured the most to follow in daddy’s footsteps. He doesn’t have the guts or the aptitude for police work, but it’s his destiny, and he hasn’t yet learned not to fight against it. If it’s specifically San Francisco that he hates, then why doesn’t he move? There are many cities that share his attitude towards queers.
Maybe he simply hates working for a woman, and he takes his frustration out on the suspects. Giving his attitude, I think it’s perfectly possible that he hates working for Inspector Robinson, convinced that she got the job because she is a woman. Goddamn affirmative action! If she had balls, she never would have gotten the job in the first damn place. I can practically see the thought racing through his mind. He’s not even thirty, and he’s already bitter and ruined. He hates cop work, but what else is he good for? Once, he wanted to be an opera singer, but now he can’t even stand to listen to any kind of music because it reminds him of what he’s given up. I imagine him fat and happy in a tux, standing in front of throngs of adoring fans. He hits the high register with ease, sliding back down with a seductiveness that is as patented as it is practiced. Yes, he would fit in the world of opera much better than he does the cop world.