“Well, here we are,” Brian said, flicking on the lights. “Home, sweet home.”
“You didn’t live together?” I asked, already knowing the answer. I just wanted to see his face when he tried to explain why they weren’t living together.
“Nope,” Brian said easily, ignoring the implied question. “Take all the time you need.” He gestured us into the apartment, and I blinked as I looked around. It was nothing like I had imagined. Lydia was ribald, but anal, wild, but uptight. This apartment, however, seemed more appropriate for a girly-girl with its pastel-colored walls and lacy curtains. Everything was overtly feminine with the doilies on the coffee table and crocheted afghans tossed on the couch. The guys looked decidedly out of place in this dollhouse, and even I most emphatically did not fit in with the décor.
“My God,” Rafe said, looking awed.
“Lydia had a delicate side she didn’t show many people,” Brian explained, looking at the cotton candy mess seemingly with affection. “I’ll show you to her bedroom.” We followed him into a room with the walls a pale lavender and with a canopy bed smack dab in the middle of it. I felt like Laura Ashley walking into that room. There was even a doll with a china head and a frilly dress sitting upon the vanity table. Yes, she had a vanity table. There was a music box almost identical to the one back at her mother’s house sitting on the vanity table as well, right next to the doll.
“I’ll leave you to it,” Brian said, stepping out of the room.
“Why do I feel like the fox in the chicken coop?” Rafe asked, walking directly to the music box. “Or the chicken set out for the foxes,” I murmured in return. I watched as he opened the box and pulled out the shelf. There was a piece of paper beneath the shelf, but it merely said, Not this time. Lydia was taunting us from beyond the grave. Rafe grabbed the paper and shoved it in his pocket, grimacing as he did. He didn’t appreciate Lydia’s sense of humor, nor did I. It seemed entirely inappropriate for the situation.
The two of us went over her bedroom with a fine-tooth comb. We opened every drawer, dug through her laundry basket, went through the pockets of every piece of clothing she had. I leafed through her yearbooks from high school and college and all her other books, but nothing was caught in between the pages. Rafe meticulously went through her clothing, but found nothing. I peered under her bed, under her vanity table, under her dresser and under whatever else was in her room. Nothing. The closest thing to anything scandalous was the vibrator I found in the drawer in her nightstand. Rafe uncovered some naughty pictures of Brian wearing nothing but a smile and a mask over his eyes which made us giggle. After an hour, we had to admit that there was nothing.
“Well?” Brian asked eagerly after we returned to the living room. His face fell when we informed him that we hadn’t found anything. He watched as Rafe and I examined the living room. I briefly wondered why he wasn’t helping but didn’t dwell on it.
Rafe and I went through the same procedure in the living room as we had in the bedroom. Looking through everything. Books—ranging from Sue Grafton to Sandra Cisnero. CDs—from Celione Dion to Mariah Carey to Beyonce. DVDs. The entire Star Wars series as well as Moulin Rouge and many others. Her tastes seemed to vary, and she somehow had the money to support her pop culture habits. Other than finding out more about Lydia’s personality, however, there wasn’t much in the way of hard evidence or clues. The look on Rafe’s face told me that he was as frustrated as I was in the search. Brian didn’t make things any easier as he just sat there and watched us, a blank look on his face.
“I give up,” Rafe growled in frustration an hour later. I didn’t say anything as I looked over the room one last time. The only thing that struck me about it was the rather large painting of a figure bathed in shades of brown and black that looked out of place. The figure was nude and huddled over, with the darkness pressing upon her.
“It’s one of Lydia’s,” Brian said softly. “She was very talented.” I couldn’t deny his statement, but I was looking at the painting more from the point of view that it didn’t fit the rest of the room.
“Take it down,” I said to the guys, startling them with the command. They jumped to do my bidding—what’s the point of having guys around if you can’t use them for heavy lifting and things like that?—and carefully brought the painting down from the wall. With a little jiggling, the back detached from the frame. Wedged between the frame and the picture was a scrap of paper.
“A clue,” Brian breathed in excitement as I snatched the paper and unfolded it. Getting warmer was all it said. “That’s it?” Brian said, his face darkening. “Damn it, Lydia. This isn’t time for your game-playing.” Rafe and I sighed in agreement, but there was little we could do about it. It wasn’t as if Lydia was standing in front of us ready to be castigated.
“When’s her funeral?” I asked suddenly.
“Friday,” Brian replied glumly. “We should have her back by then.”
There wasn’t anything more we could do. Brian gave us his numbers, urging us to call him if we found anything. Rafe and I bid Brian a good night and returned to my parents’ house. We talked about what we had found on the way back, but there wasn’t much else we could glean from the meager clues we had been provided. It was nearly ten o’clock by the time we got back, and we could hear the television blaring from the living room.
“Edward Bates, a heavy gambler, was suspected of embezzling from his business to pay his debts,” Shawn Hsu was saying as we walked into the living room. My parents were watching with rapt attention as Shawn discussed the latest developments of the case with Leonara Watkins, his co-anchor who was a black woman. I never thought I’d see a day when the news anchors of a major station in Minnesota would be a black woman and a Chinese man. I bet they’d be off the air in three months. We watched as Shawn sent it out to Bryce Bowman who was covering the gambling aspects of the case. He was talking to Phillip Bates who looked just as gorgeous as he had when I saw him at FunLand. Just as expensively swathed, too. I’d bet a hundred dollars that he was wearing an Armani suit.
“Bryce, my brother was a good man,” Phillip said, his voice choking. “He had some problems with gambling, sure, but no way he’d put his business in the red just to cover his debts. He wasn’t that kind of man.”
“He was exactly that kind of man,” I retorted, indignant at the way Phillip was whitewashing his brother. “Big, slobby, disgusting slime.”
“Beezus!” My mother said, her voice shocked. “You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.” It was on the tip of my tongue to ask why not, but I figured I didn’t need to start a fight so I let it go. Besides, I wanted to hear the rest of what Phillip had to say.
“How much money did he owe?” Bryce asked, his voice appropriately serious.
“I don’t want to say at this time,” Phillip said primly, compressing his lips. “It would cause such heartache to his wife if she heard me talking about it on the news for public consumption.”
“His wife?” I screeched, not bothering to hide my incredulity. “The lying, disgusting sack of shit!” I may not like Antoinette—and I certainly didn’t—but that didn’t mean that I wanted her to get screwed over by a jerk like Eddie.
“Beezus, please,” my mother said, looking pained. She knew that her kids swore, but she didn’t like to hear it.
“I’m sorry, but he had a wife? That letch was over anything in a skirt.” I snorted to show my contempt. “Now there’s one man who needed to be killed.”
A silence greeted my words, but I didn’t regret saying them. I wasn’t a believer in only saying nice things about someone who had died. I hadn’t liked Eddie while he was alive, and nothing I’d heard about him since he’d died made me like him any better. Therefore, why should I be a big hypocrite and pretend that he was a decent human being when he wasn’t? Granted, I didn’t have to be quite so harsh on him since he was dead, but I couldn’t help it. Something about him creeped me out, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. On TV, Shawn was talking again, an earnest look crossing his handsome face.
“Our sources say that Edward Bates owed close to a million dollars in gambling debts.” I was stunned by the sheer amount. I mean, how could someone not stop at say, sixty thousand and say, ‘That’s all for me, boys. I’m out.’? Of all the addictions, gambling was one that I could never understand.
“A million dollars,” Rafe repeated softly, his eyes glued to the television. For a guy like him, a million dollars represented more than what he would make his entire life. Me, too, of course, but it didn’t seem real to me.
“I think it’s time to return back home,” I said abruptly, apropos of nothing. “The reporters should be gone by now, and I’m getting antsy. No offense, Mom and Dad, but I just want to be in my own place.”
As expected, there were protests from all sides. Mom and Dad thought it was dangerous for me to be alone with Rafe taking their side. I pointed out that if someone wanted to kill me, they would have gotten me by now. My parents were in the phone book, and their last name was the same as mine. A dedicated soul would have made the connection by now. I loved my parents dearly, but it was chafing to constantly be around them—especially with Rafe hanging around all the time as well. I was someone who needed her space—and I wasn’t getting it in the fishbowl called my parents’ house. After plenty of argument on each side, my parents finally acquiesced when I grudgingly agreed to allow Rafe to spend the night on my couch. With warnings to be careful and my dad reminding me he was buying me pepper spray, my parents sent us on our way.
“Home sweet home,” I said with a sigh, turning on my lights. There hadn’t been any reporters outside when we returned, which I took to be a good sign. They must have been satisfied with interviewing Antoinette who gave good interview.
“Come here,” Rafe said, grabbing me in a hug. I ceded willingly. Even though we had had sex in my parents’ house, there was a certain amount of reticent on Rafe’s part to be truly free. I had a hunch it had to do with his Catholic upbringing, but I didn’t know that for sure. Come to think of it, I didn’t even know if he had been raised Catholic; I just assumed so because he was of Latino descent. At least, I thought that was his heritage.
Rafe and I didn’t talk as we made our way to my bedroom. In a stereotypical cheesy movie kind of way, we did the stripping on the way to the bedroom thing. By the time we ended up on my bed, we were both nude. Rafe made a move down my body, but I pulled him back up. This wasn’t time for seduction and slow lovemaking; this was the time for a hard fucking. The kind that allowed obliteration of the world surrounding. Rafe fumbled with the nightstand drawer in his haste to find a condom. He pulled it out and rolled it on, nearly dropping it in his eagerness. Without further ado, he parted my legs and thrust himself into me, and not gently. I welcomed the hardness as it stirred something primal inside of me.
“Fuck me, Rafe,” I growled, biting his shoulder hard. I watched in savage satisfaction as a bruise formed on his dark skin.
For the next half hour, there were no words exchanged between us besides the occasional expletive or the calling out of each other’s name. I supposed I talked to god on occasion as sex brought out the spiritual side of me. There was no greater ecstasy than achieving near-perfect harmony through the blending of bodies. A fine sheet of sweat bathed me as I pushed my hips up to meet Rafe’s. Something inside me desperately craved more than he was giving me, but I wasn’t sure what it was I sought. Whatever it was, he seemed to be searching for it as well. Perhaps both of us found it in our climaxes which happened nearly simultaneously.
“Don’t go into work tomorrow,” Rafe murmured into my hair after we had both come for the second time. I was spent, but not enough not to push myself up on my elbow to glare at Rafe.
“Is that why you fucked me so thoroughly?” I asked, narrowing my eyes to squint at him. “Because you were hoping to batter me into submission?”
“No, silly girl,” Rafe said, kissing me on the tip of my nose. “I fucked you so thoroughly because you’re damn irresistible.” He twirled a lock of my hair as he smiled fondly at me. There was something vaguely proprietary in his manner, but it didn’t bother me in the least. “I just think it’d be best if you found another job.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said shortly, my sex glow fading fast. Wisely, Rafe dropped the subject and turned back to the matter at hand. I would never have believed I could go again so soon, but his skillful tongue and fingers soon had me revved up again. It was a pleasant way to spend the night.