“Ms. Chen?” It was Detective Bradley, and he was with another officer who wasn’t the other detective. “Detective Bradley and Officer Johnson. May we come in?” The detective was glowering at me, though it seemed a bit perfunctory. The officer, on the other hand, kept his face bland.
“This way.” I gestured for them to follow me into the living room where my parents and Rafe were sitting. I introduced everybody, then waited.
“Everybody here knows what you discovered?” Detective Bradley barked at me, his tone hard. When I nodded, he grunted in frustration. “You should have called us right away,” he said, struggling to keep his tone even. “The less people who know, the better.”
“We won’t tell anyone, Detective,” my mother said stiffly, her hackles bristling. Anyone attacking her cub had to answer to her.
“You better not,” Detective Bradley rumbled ominously. “This is police business, you know.” I couldn’t believe he actually said that, but he didn’t seem a man of great imagination. We all agreed not to mention what we’d found to anyone, and he had to be satisfied with that. He still looked disgruntled, but he let it go. “I’d like to speak to Ms. Chen alone,” Detective Bradley said, his eyes on the giant mouse head. “Officer Johnson will be taking notes for me.”
“Ok, but we’ll be right in the kitchen,” my mother said, frowning at the detective. Rafe glared at Detective Bradley as well before following my parents out of the room.
“Now, tell me what happened,” Detective Bradley said as Officer Johnson pulled out a pad and a pen. I invited them to sit down, which they did in the hardback chairs. I sat on the couch, then immediately wished I hadn’t. It put me at a serious disadvantage.
I plunged into my narrative with a bit of judicious editing. I told the detective what Mrs. Rodriguez had said to me and how I figured out what it meant. I assured him that there was nothing in the Daphne head, which was what led me to believe that Lydia had hidden whatever it was in my head. By this time, I had almost forgotten the officer taking notes and focused my concentration on Detective Bradley. After some hesitation, I told him about my conversation with Tommy and handed over the pictures. Detective Bradley leafed through them, expressionless, before passing them onto Officer Johnson. The latter wasn’t quite seasoned enough to keep his face blank as he looked through the pictures, but he’d probably acquire that in time.
Then I handed over the papers and told the detective the snippets of gossip I’d overheard or been told such as Eddie’s purported bad business acumen. I was more than willing to point the detective in a direction other than Tommy, for what reason, I wasn’t sure. I felt vaguely sorry for Tommy because of his obvious ineptness with women, but in no way did I condone his dalliance with a preteen/teenage girl. There was just no excuse for that. However, I still didn’t think he’d killed Lydia, and I didn’t want to see him nailed for a crime he didn’t committed—he had enough troubles as it was. The detective read over the papers, not saying a word as he did. As he finished each page, he handed it to junior, who was able to keep his face empty this time. I waited for them to finish reading.
“Ms. Chen, this is all fine and dandy,” Detective Bradley said after he finished reading the papers. “We still have reason to believe that you were the target of the first murder. If I were you, I’d watch your back.” With those words, any well-being I felt vanished.
“Because of the note,” Officer Johnson blurted out, then wilted under Detective Bradley’s glare. Note? What note? None of my coworkers mentioned a note.
When I tried to press the detective, he refused to say anything more. After gathering up the evidence and issuing another warning, he and his lap dog were off.
“Are you ok? What did they want? Did they tell you anything?” My mother asked, rushing back into the room. Rafe and my father were hot on her heels.
“They still think I was the target,” I said slowly, my mind churning. “Officer Johnson let something slip about a note, though neither would elaborate on that.”
“Note? I wonder what note…” My mother trailed off. She looked at her watch, saw that it was just in the afternoon and hurried from the room. We could hear her on the phone talking to my cousin, Frieda.
“The hotline to the cops,” I quipped. My father and Rafe chuckled, though not with any real mirth. In a few minutes, my mother came bustling back.
“Frieda is on it. We should know fairly soon what that note said.” My mother look inordinately pleased with herself as well she should. However, I felt a niggling doubt at using my cousin in this manner. When I voiced my concerns, my mother brushed them aside. “Dear, when she was five, I bought her every bloody Barbie doll she ever wanted, despite my sister’s protests. When she was twelve, I took her to buy her first bra because Zelda was too embarrassed to do so. The least she can do in return is find out what that note says.”
“Emotional blackmail,” Rafe said approvingly. “I like it, Van.” It wasn’t ten minutes later when our phone rang. My mother went to answer it, a smug look on her face. When she returned, however, she looked troubled.
“What is it, Mom?” I asked, immediately tensing. The look on her face said it wasn’t good, whatever it was.
“The note,” she said, avoiding my eyes. “Frieda was able to find out what it said.” She paused, which was unusual for her. She was usually forthright to the point of bluntness. “It was found in the green room—Frieda couldn’t find exactly where—and it said, ‘The Chink bitch must die. Death to the yellow-skinned pussy.’” My mother blushed as she pronounced the last word as it’s not something she normally would say. She glances at the pad of paper in her hand before continuing. “It also said, ‘Chinks are the scourge of the West and must be eradicated, starting with this one.’” My mother looked up. “That’s it.”
A gloom settled over the group, especially me. As much as I had tried to keep my spirits up, they now plummeted to the ground. It was one thing to speculate that someone had tried to kill you—it’s another to have it confirmed. What’s worse—someone was specifically gunning for me and not just any character at the park. What had I done to engender such hatred? Although if I were to trust what was written in the note, it wasn’t me specifically, but my race. To make matters worse, whoever had written the note didn’t even know that I wasn’t Chinese. Somehow, I didn’t think it would make any difference to whoever wrote the note. Now that the killer knew I hadn’t been killed, would he or she come after me again? And where did Eddie fit into the whole scenario?
“I think you should quit your job,” my father said, dismaying me with his words. While I expected that from Rafe and my mother, I counted on my father to back me up. “Just until the killer is caught,” my father added, seeing the look on my face. “Why make it easier for him to get you? You’re a sitting target in that costume of yours.”
“Dad, I have got to find out who’s doing this,” I said, a pleading note creeping into my tone. “The easiest way to do that is to go to work and snoop around. I promise I won’t ever be alone with one of my coworkers. That should eliminate the danger.”
“It is not up to you to find the killer,” Rafe said through gritted teeth. “You think I have machismo? You’re the one who insists on going up against a killer.”
“Dear, I think they’re right,” my mother put her two-cents’ worth in. “I don’t feel comfortable with you running around the park with a killer on the loose.” I knew I was about to explode, so I took some deep breaths.
“Look, I appreciate the concern, I really do. But I’m a big girl now, and I can look out for myself. Besides, I can’t hide from this psycho forever. I have got to live my life, and I refuse to skulk around until he or she is caught. Who knows when that will be? The cops practically admitted they were at a dead-end.” I stared at each of them in turn, willing at least one of them to cross over to my side. Not to my surprise, it was my father who first relented.
“Ok, Trish,” he said with a sigh. “I won’t push you any more as long as you show common sense. You don’t spend time alone with anybody out there, and I mean anybody. You keep your cell phone on at all times and keep it within reach. I’m buying you pepper spray, and I expect you to have it on you at all times. Understand?”
“Yes, Dad,” I said, nodding my head.
“I would feel better if you carried a gun,” Rafe said suddenly, disconcerting me to say the least. He knew that I was rabidly anti-gun and wouldn’t carry one of those things if my life depended on it. My silence gave him my answer, and he gave up without pressing the issue. I could tell by the look on his face, however, that this was not the last time we would discuss the matter. My cell phone rang, startling us all. I went out in the hallway to answer it. Checking the number, I saw that it was Liza.
“Hey, girl, what’s up?” I strove to keep my voice normal, and I thought I did a fairly good job of it.
“You really piss me off, Trish,” Liza said without preamble. “How come I have to learn from the news that your boss was murdered and that it’s most likely linked to the first death? You promised you would keep me updated.”
“Sorry, Liza,” I said with a sigh. “It’s been one long nightmare.” I hastily summarized what I knew in as few words as possible. Even so, it took a good twenty minutes to recount when it was all said and done. Liza didn’t say a word the entire time until I had finished my recitation.
“You have got to be shitting me,” was her response. After I assured her that I wasn’t pulling her leg, she had more to say. “You’re quitting your job, right?” When I didn’t answer, she said angrily. “Oh, no, you’re not going to snoop around and get yourself killed, are you? Tell me you’re not that stupid.”
“I’m not that stupid,” I said, getting upset myself. Why was it that everybody thought I had the brain cells of an amoeba? I knew how to take care of myself, damn it. “I just can’t sit around twiddling my thumbs and wait for this jerk to come after me.”
“This isn’t a game, Trish, or a book. Some motherfucker tried to kill you, and you have no idea who it is. How are you going to watch your back twenty-four seven?”
“I’m staying with my parents temporarily,” I explained, pacing back and forth. “Rafe is here, too.”
“Rafe is staying with you?” Liza asked, temporarily distracted. “In the same room?” She was well aware of my dislike of nighttime company and couldn’t resist asking.
“He’s staying in the guest room, if it’s any of your business,” I informed her, a hint of a smile in my voice. “After spending quality time with me, of course.”
“Do you think you’re safe at your parents’ house?” Liza asked, switching subjects again. “Don’t you think you might be putting them in danger as well?” I hadn’t thought of it that way, but she might be right. “Let’s get together soon, Trish. We have lots of catching up to do.” Setting a girl’s night out date for Saturday, we hung up.
“Let’s go out to eat,” I said impulsively to Rafe upon returning to the living room. “You don’t mind, Mom, do you?”
“Go, Beezus,” Mom said, a broad smile on her face. “You guys need a break from us old folks, anyway. Just be careful.” Her eyes clouded over as she recalled the words of the note found in the green room after Lydia’s killing, but she managed to smile at us, anyway.
“Keep your cell phone on,” Dad reminded me. I refrained from pointing out that Rafe was going to be with me and simply nodded instead. I went upstairs to change into something more fetching while Rafe did the same. We met in the hallway twenty minutes later, me in my little black dress and him in black slacks and a electric blue shirt.
“Wow,” Rafe said, whistling in appreciation. “You look great.” Just as we were about to go, my cell phone rang. I was going to ignore it, but something told me to answer. It was Mrs. Rodriguez again, and she was crying.