After all that build up, it was anticlimactic that he wasn’t at home. I called his cell, but he wasn’t answering that, either. Briefly, I wondered where he was, but realized that I wasn’t in the position to query as I was the one who had insisted on my autonomy. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, I guess, though I really wanted to know where he was. I left him a message requesting him to call me no matter how late he got home. Hey, I didn’t have to work in the morning, so what did I care? I was a night owl by preference, anyway, so being woken up once in a while was no big deal.
“Have you made up with Raphael?” My mother poked her head into my room just as I was hanging up my phone.
“Couldn’t get a hold of him,” I said tersely, not wanting to discuss it any further.
“Well, make sure you make up with him before tomorrow night,” my mother reproved me. “It’s his birthday.” Shit. I had forgotten. Thankfully, I had bought his gifts, though I had left them in the car. I went to retrieve them, leaving my phone in my room.
Just as I was stepping out of the house, I heard a crack, then something whizzed by my ear. It took me a few seconds to realize that someone was shooting at me and I better get out of the way, damn it. It took a few more seconds for the command to travel from my brain to my limbs and for me to respond. Once I realized the danger I was in, I fumbled with the door and pushed it open. Diving back inside, I heard another crack, but didn’t feel any pain, so I assumed that I hadn’t been hit. I slammed the door behind me and locked it. My heart was pounding as I sat on the floor, waiting to see what would happen next. It wasn’t until there was a minute of silence that I thought it might be a good idea to peek out the window and see who had shot at me. Of course, that would make me a sitting target, and I was pretty attached to my head. I would hate to have it get blown off. I waited another minute for good measure before risking a peek. Nothing. It was only after the adrenalin started fading that I realized I had banged my shoulder pretty good in my attempt not to get shot. It hurt like hell.
“Beezus, what happened?” My mother gasped as she and my father came running into the foyer. “What was that noise and why are you crouched on the floor?” I stood up before answering her question. I knew she was going to be upset by what had happened, and I was thinking of the best way to phrase it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of anything, so I just told them the truth.
“Mom, Dad, I don’t want you to freak out, but someone shot at me.”
“What?” My mother clutched me with both hands, which didn’t help the pain in my shoulder. “Are you hurt? What the hell is going on?” She checked me over, ignoring my explanations that the shooter had missed, luckily for me. “We have to tell the police. You need protection. Maybe we should hire a bodyguard. I wish Raphael was here.” Saying so, she immediately retreated from the room.
“Why, so he could get shot, too?” I snapped at her back, immediately wishing I hadn’t. I didn’t respond well to concern when I was edgy, which my mother should know by now.
“This is too much,” my father said, shaking his head. He took a deep breath, which did not portent well for me. My father was slow to anger and also slow to offer an opinion, but it appeared he was about to do the latter at least. “Beatrice, you know we love you.” Uh-oh. If my father was calling me by my given name, then I knew I was in deep trouble. Very deep trouble.
“Ba,” I began, but he interrupted me.
“No. Enough is enough. It is the cops’ job to hunt down murderers, not yours. This stops now, you hear?” When he raised his voice, the family rarely contradicted him. I didn’t do so now, but that didn’t mean I was giving up, either. I just had to hide it better.
“Where did Mom go?” I asked, momentarily distracted.
“To call the police,” my father said, his arms folded across his chest. He was staring at me intently as he did when I was a girl and trying to get away with a bit of mischief. “Is there anything you haven’t told us?” I squirmed under his stare, but I kept silent. I didn’t want to tell him about the note because I knew it would upset him even more. Or about Shannon because it reflected poorly on me. However, I knew that I couldn’t afford to keep it to myself any longer. He wasn’t going to like it, but so be it.
Taking a deep breath, I told him everything I knew and as I expected, he grew angry because I had kept so much from them. Unlike my mother who tended to shout when she was angry, my father grew colder. It was his eyes that let you know he was disappointed in you—otherwise, his demeanor remained the same. He listened to everything I told him without saying a word. Halfway through my recital, my mother returned to the room. Unlike my father, she had plenty to say as she listened to my revelations—none of them complimentary. She questioned where I got my brains from as it were obvious that I didn’t get them from either my father or her. Her voice rose until she was nearly shrieking. I winced as she hit the high registers of her range.
“Do you have any idea what it’s like,” she began, checking herself before she got any further. “No, of course not, because you don’t have children. How can you know? So damn selfish, just as you’ve always been.”
I felt about five years old again as I listened to her scold me. Just as I did then, I closed my ears to her words. I already knew that I had fucked up by trying to keep everything to myself; I didn’t need her to reinforce my stupidity. Besides, I didn’t want to waste the police’s time if at all possible which was why I hadn’t told them about the note pinned to the knife which had stabbed me or about Shannon. It didn’t make sense that I was the target of the first attack because why would the killer go after Eddie next?
“He knew too much,” my father said. I looked at him strangely before realizing that I had asked the question aloud. My mother stopped in her litany, not pleased with the interruption. “You were the first target for whatever reason, and Eddie saw something he shouldn’t have.”
“How would the killer know?” I asked fretfully. Being shot at and then interrogated by my parents was not my idea of a good time, especially as I knew the cops were soon to follow.
“Blackmail,” my mother said, getting in on the speculation. “From what you’ve told us, your boss sounds like the type who’d have his hand out at the first opportunity.” As much as I hated to admit it, her idea made sense. Eddie was always looking after number one, and if he was losing money through gambling, then he’d view blackmailing the killer as an ideal way to make some money. Just as my mother was going to add something, the doorbell rang.
“The cops are here,” my father said quietly, going to let them in. Even though I wasn’t looking forward to talking to the police, I was glad to no longer be the recipient of my mother’s tongue-lashing.
“We’re not through with this yet,” my mother hissed as we went into the living room where my father had led the police. It was Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum again, not looking any happier to see me than I was to see them. Though this wasn’t technically their turf, they had made an exception because it was me.
“Well?” Detective Bradley barked, bristling right away. Neither he nor Detective Sands sat down, and they refused any kind of refreshments. It was apparent that I was on their shit list, and I hadn’t even admitted yet what I had been keeping from them. This was not going to be pleasant.
I started by telling them about the shooting. Neither of them commented until I confessed that I had been too busy saving my ass to notice anything about the shooter. Detective Bradley started peppering me with questions to see if he could loosen a nugget or two of information from my brain. It didn’t help. I simply hadn’t had time to see, hear, or smell anything. I wished I had because I was heartily sickening of being the target for someone’s sick version of cat and mouse, but I panicked. I could just see the word ‘civilians’ trembling from Detective Sands’ lips, but she managed to swallow it. Detective Bradley said they would investigate it, but neither detective looked too sanguine about the prospects.
“If that’s it,” Detective Bradley began, snapping his notebook shut.
“There’s something else,” my mother said, shooting me a look. I glared back at her, but reluctantly complied with her unspoken order. As I predicted, the cops blew their lids.
“What do you think this is?” Detective Sands exclaimed, putting her hand on her hips. “Amateur hour? Do you think you’re in a TV show? NYPD Blues perhaps?” I cringed from her anger, but didn’t say anything in my defense. “This is how cases get fu—messed up. Because of civilians like you.” She pointed to me, her body tense. For a minute, I was afraid she was going to haul off and hit me.
“Calm down,” my father said, staring at Detective Sands. “My daughter didn’t do the right thing, but you’re out of line.”
“Sandy, come on,” Detective Bradley said, shooting a nervous look at his partner. For a minute, I was distracted. Could Detective Sands’ first name really be Sandy? Whose parents would be that cruel? Then again, my mother called me Beezus, so what did I know? Most likely, Sandy was just a diminutive of her last name. At least, I hoped it was—for her sake.
“Right.” Detective Sands inhaled rapidly, visibly calming herself down. “Where is this note you allegedly received?” Allegedly. Even though I knew it was cop-speak, it still annoyed me. As if I were making it up. I stifled my protest and went up to my room to fetch the note as well as the papers and photos I had found in Brian’s apartment. I thanked the deities that I had had enough foresight to make copies earlier. The note, I didn’t care about as it didn’t really say much of anything. Smug in the knowledge that I had a copy of the papers and photos, I brought them downstairs. The cops were in a deep discussion with my parents which broke off when I entered the room.
“Is this everything?” Detective Bradley asked, reaching for the pile.
“Yes,” I said hesitantly. “Well, no, not really.” I hadn’t told them about Shannon yet, so I plunged into that tale as well. Neither batted an eyelash at my revelation; they must have heard it countless times before.
“We’d like copies of those emails,” Detective Bradley said, glancing through the papers in his hand. Detective Sands had gone back to her silent-as-a-post routine while contenting herself with glaring at me. First, I went upstairs so I could pop another pain pill. I didn’t know how long the cops were going to be around, and I was really hurting. Next, I hustled to the den and turned the computer back on. When I had it running, I printed the half-dozen or so emails I had received from Shannon. I hesitated before printing out Aaron’s as well, but decided to hold nothing back. Well, almost nothing. I didn’t print a copy of the second one. When I was finished, I returned to the living room.
“….grave danger,” Detective Bradley was saying as I re-entered the room. Once again, a lull fell over the group upon my entrance. I tried not to take it personally, but I hated it when people talked about me as if I weren’t there, or if I really wasn’t there. I held out the emails to Detective Bradley who took them without comment.
“One last thing,” I said wearily. I told them about Eddie’s nephew Carlos and how I had gotten him fired. I didn’t mention my cousin because I didn’t want to get her in trouble. I had thought Carlos had taken what Frieda had said to heart, but I wasn’t going to hold back anything from the police. The expression on Detective Sands’ face told me that I could add her to the list of people who wanted to kill me.
I sank into the couch, suddenly exhausted. My shoulder was throbbing again, and my knees were trembling from having been shot at. Rafe hadn’t returned my call, and I still had to fetch the damn presents from my mother’s car. Maybe I should do it while the cops were there so I wouldn’t have to take a chance at getting shot at again. I had to wrap the things as well, and I wanted nothing more than to sleep. My body was aching; my mind was tired, and I was about to drop dead from exhaustion. I closed my eyes as the detectives thumbed through the papers. They stopped several times in interest, but I was beyond caring. I just wanted them to go away and let me sleep. I was unaware of my parents’ concerned looks, but apparently, they’d had enough. There wasn’t much the cops could do about the shooting, anyway.
“I think that’s enough,” my father finally said when his gentle hints weren’t picked up on. “Can’t you see she’s about to fall over?”
“We’re not done yet,” Detective Sands said, her tone cold. I opened my eyes and took another look at her. What was her problem? Did she not like Asians, or was she just surly in general? Probably she’d been passed over for promotion a few times because she was a ‘two-fer’—black and a woman—and was now bitter because she had given up her one chance at love for her job. She wasn’t too old to find someone else—she looked to be in her mid-thirties—but love was the casualty of her job. She had seen too much for most guys. Once they found out what she did, they were either unhealthily preoccupied with the violence she was steeped in, or they weren’t comfortable with a woman who dealt in violence. Either way, her love life was screwed because of her job—even more so than for men who were cops.
I had no idea whether my conjecture was correct or not, but it made me feel better about Detective Sands. It enabled me to look at her with compassion rather than irritation or anger. She was just a sister trying to do her job in a hostile world. I bet she had cats at home which she left for her roommate to look after. I was tempted to ask her just to see the look on her face, but sanity prevailed. One did not discuss pets with a cop who was interrogating her about murders—it just wasn’t done. I was sure Emily Post would have something reproving to say to me if I dared breach etiquette in such a manner. Besides, Detective Sands looked as if she were ready to take my head off at the least provocation, and for once in my sorry life, I didn’t jump into the fray. After promising that they’d be back tomorrow morning—and ascertaining that I would be around—the detectives reluctantly left.
“Good night,” I said to my parents, pecking each of them on the cheek. I trudged up the stairs, ready to tumble into bed even though it was only nine o’clock. Rafe still hadn’t called me back, so I left him another message, but omitted what a fun-filled night I had. I didn’t want to piss him off any more, and being shot at wasn’t something to talk about in a message. “Hope you’re still coming to dinner tomorrow night,” I said mournfully. “My mom will kill me if you renege.” I paused. “I’m sorry, Rafe. I know I’ve been difficult these last few days. Call me back.” I hung up, placed my phone on the nightstand and crawled into bed, forgoing hygiene for one night. My arm wouldn’t let me sleep, however, so I went to the bathroom and took a pill before climbing back into bed. When the pain eased, I drifted off to sleep. What seemed like minutes later, but was actually hours later, my cell rang, waking me from a drug-induced sleep.
“’Lo?” I mumbled groggily, trying to fight my way out of the haze.
“Bet? It’s Rafe. Did I wake you?”
“Sorry.” Rafe sounded blurry, and I couldn’t tell if it was because I was waking up from a drugged sleep or because he was drunk.
“S’okay.” I sat up and yawned, rubbing my eyes. I was still in my clothes which bothered me so as I talked to Rafe on the phone, I began to disrobe. I was soon stumped, however, as I only had one good wing. I gave up and remained clothed.
“God, it’s after midnight,” Rafe said, laughing a little as he did. “Where did the time go?”
“You drunk?” I asked suspiciously. He sounded more ebullient than usual.
“Yeah, went out. Partied. Good times.” Rafe started singing under his breath, a tune I couldn’t identify.
“Coming tonight?” I asked. I crawled back into bed as I waited for his response.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” he sang. He had a nice voice, but not at one in the morning. Or whatever the fuck time it was.
“Rafe, I….” I trailed off. Should I tell him about being shot at while he was in this condition? I wasn’t sure he’d be able to absorb what I said, but I also knew that he’d be pissed if I waited until tomorrow. Tonight. Whatever. I decided to spill the beans. “Rafe,” I said to get his attention as he was still singing. “Rafe!”
“You know what, querida? I love you,” Rafe said, his tone softening. “Even when we fight, I love you.”
“Rafe, listen,” I said impatiently. I was in no mood for boozy revelations. “I was shot at tonight.” That sobered him up in a hurry.
“What the hell? Why didn’t you say so in your message? I would have come right over instead of—well, I would have come.”
“Instead of what?” I asked, my radar going up. Rafe was a straightforward type of guy, and I’d never heard him resort to subterfuge before.
“Were you hurt? No, of course you weren’t. You’d be in the hospital if you’d been hit.” Rafe seemed to be talking more to himself than to me. “Shit. I knew I shouldn’t have left you alone.”
“What could you have done?” I retorted, nettled. “Jumped in the way of the bullet? That would have done a lot of good.” I paused before adding, “And don’t think I haven’t noticed that you haven’t answered my question about where you were earlier tonight.” Dead silence.
“Look, Bet,” Rafe said so carefully, I went on alert. “We need to talk. I took tomorrow off because it’s my birthday. Can I come over early?”
“The cops are coming back in the morning,” I said. Then I remembered that I still hadn’t wrapped his gifts. “How about we talk after dinner?” I asked.
“I want to do it before,” Rafe insisted, his voice rising.
“Ok, ok. Come after lunch. About one or so.” I would just have to get up early or else wrap the gifts right after the cops were done with me. We got off the phone still snarky with each other, then I finally got to change. I went to bed in a foul mood. I didn’t wake again until the morning.