“If I were hiding something, where would it be?” I muttered, prowling the green room early in the morning. Eddie was around somewhere, but not in the green room. I was glad he had been at the park because otherwise I would have been forced to scale the outside gate and to open the door with the number which I wasn’t supposed to have, but which I had seen Eddie enter once. The last thing I wanted was to call attention to myself while I tossed the joint. I was the only one in the green room, which made it easier to snoop. It was Friday, but it didn’t feel much like the weekend. I was glad I had Saturday and Sunday off to recover from the events of the last few days.
I had called the cops earlier this morning to tell them about Shannon, which made them very excited. I talked to the male detective, Detective Bradley, and I could tell by his tone that I had just made his day. It was obvious that they were looking at this as a case of mistaken identity. I almost asked him if he had talked to Lydia’s mother about their last conversation, but I caught myself just in time. It wouldn’t do to appear to interested in the case, so I practiced my golden rule—never volunteer information that wasn’t absolutely necessary to the cops. It had kept me out of trouble thus far in my life, and I saw no reason to break it now. Detective Bradley made me promise that I would think more about if anybody had a grudge against me.
The green room did not have many hiding places, so it didn’t take me long to figure out that if Lydia had hidden something, it wasn’t in this room. I wondered if she had hidden it in her apartment, but I dismissed that for two reasons. One, I’ve never been there so there was no reason for her to believe that I’d be able to find something hidden in it. Two, it was too obvious. If someone wanted to find something of hers, that would be the first place she or he would look. I was pretty certain that Lydia had secreted whatever it was she wanted to hide somewhere around the park. The problem was figuring out where, but she seemed to have faith in me. I was beginning to think it was misplaced, but I soldiered on.
The only other place I could think of hiding something in FunLand was Eddie’s office, but I didn’t see how Lydia would have access to it. Besides, the chances of Eddie finding the booty was high, so I doubted that Lydia had hidden her prize there. I supposed I should check just to be sure, but I was reluctant to try because it would seriously fuck me up if I got caught. As shitty as the job was, I couldn’t afford to lose it. I decided to put breaking and entering—not to mention ransacking Eddie’s office low on my list of priorities. High on the list was to talk to Aaron, to talk to Tommy, to find out exactly where Carlos was, and to figure out where Lydia had hidden whatever it was she hid right after I figured out what she was afraid of and exactly what it was she had to hide. After I accomplished all that, I’d strive for world peace—it had to be easier to obtain than the information I sought.
“Bea! You’re here early.” Tommy skidded to a halt at the sight of me. Something in his demeanor told me that he was up to no good. He was sweating lightly and wouldn’t look me in the eyes. In fact, his eyes were sliding from side to side as if he were searching for something.
“Looking for something?” I asked in a deceptively mild voice. No use frightening the boy unless it would be worth my while.
“Uh, I just thought, I, uh, left behind….my watch. You haven’t seen it, have you?” Tommy asked, blushing crimson.
“You mean the one on your wrist?” I asked, staring pointedly at his right wrist.
“Oh, no, not this one,” he stammered, holding the offending timepiece behind his back. “It was a nice one—a Seiko. Um, silver. I thought I left it…but I guess not.” He smiled at me, but it was a sickly smile. I looked at him for a long minute, gauging just what it would take to break him. I made up my mind and spoke.
“Don’t you think you’d feel better if you came clean?” I asked in a harsh voice, glaring at him with purpose. His right eye twitched before he could stop himself.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said lamely, touching his twitching eye as if it were a habit. I wasn’t even sure he was aware that he was doing it, the gesture was so automatic.
“Tommy, you’ve been jumpy ever since Lydia was killed. I think you know more than you’re saying.” I paused to give him a chance to respond, but he didn’t take it. I turned up the heat. “I could tell the cops my suspicions about you, then you’d have them all over your ass.”
“No, please, don’t,” Tommy squeaked, sounding more and more like his mousey counterpart. He was sweating profusely as a man with a guilty conscience. Even though I found it distasteful, I had to press my advantage.
“Tommy, Tommy, Tommy,” I said, shaking my head. “What is it you’re so eager to hide? Does it have anything to do with Lydia’s murder?” Tommy mutely shook his head, but I could see the quiver in his lips and the flicker in his eyes. If what he was concealing didn’t have to do with Lydia’s death directly, it was tangentially involved, which made me more eager to discover what it was.
“Forget it, Bea, please?” Tommy was disintegrating before my very eyes. Even if I had been inclined to let whatever it was bugging him slide, I couldn’t now. I was hooked.
“Tommy, you know I can’t.” I felt like a predator stalking its prey the way I was honing in on Tommy. “Look, all I care about is who killed Lydia. I need to know if it was me or her who was the target of the attack. If what you’re hiding has nothing to do with the killing, I won’t say a word.” All that mumbo-jumbo sounded good, but I knew that I would spill the beans in a New York minute if it would keep me out of trouble. Fortunately for me, I was an excellent liar and Tommy believed me. Either that or he wanted to talk about what was weighing on his mind, or a combination of both.
“Lydia caught me,” Tommy blurted out, looking anywhere but at me. “I, uh, she, well…” Tommy trailed off, his face blushing red. He was in his early twenties, and he looked younger.
“Tommy, you’ll feel better if you tell me,” I said, though I didn’t know if that was true; I just wanted to hear what had gotten him so worked up. After several false starts, he told me his tale.
Tommy was extremely shy around girls. He never knew what to say around them and consequently, had never had a date. All through high school, he had pretended that he lost his virginity to a hooker when he was fifteen, and even if his friends never quite bought it, they never called him on it, either. He consoled himself by thinking that it would be different when he went to college, when he was around girls who were more into the intellect. Of course, he was just kidding himself. His self-consciousness grew as he got older until he could barely speak in the presence of a girl he liked. He had a total of six dates in college, and none of them went anywhere. All of them were blind dates, courtesy of his friends. His friends stopped trying to set him up with anyone since he botched every attempt so badly. None of their girlfriends would submit their friends to an awkward night. As a result, he graduated from college a virgin.
He felt like an idiot, like the world’s oldest male virgin. While he could intellectually grasp that there were other guys older than he who hadn’t had sex, his gut told him he was a freak. It didn’t help that he worked with so many fine women—his words, not mine—who wouldn’t give him the time of day as dating material. Another story of his life. He was always cast as the best friend role, one that he detested. He had had a crush on Lydia and tried to ask her out, but mangled it so badly that he had just given up. Mortified, he had retreated into his shell and resigned himself to living a life alone. Until now, he had been telling his story in a steady voice, but now it broke on him. He hesitated, his eyes darting around the room, before settling down and resuming his tale.
He met a girl while working at the park about a month ago. He was wearing his Marvin Mouse head so he didn’t feel shy about talking to her. She was interested in many of the same things he was. Steven Brust books, the Star Wars series and philosophy, just to name a few. She was with a bunch of her girlfriends, but quickly ditched them to talk to Tommy some more. On his part, Tommy was careful to make the rounds and do his job so Eddie wouldn’t get on his case, but any opportunity he had to talk to the girl, he took it. At the end of the day, even though it was against the rules, he let her hang around the green room until he was done changing. By that time, no one else was around. They started to make out in the green room, but she said she had to go before it got too serious. Tommy thought he heard a noise outside the green room, but dismissed it as a flight of fancy.
During the next few weeks, the girl kept coming back, and Tommy let her in the park for free each time. They continued their flirtation, but the girl always stopped it before it got too heavy. Tommy, delirious that he had a girl at all, respected her boundaries. He thought she was the best thing to happen to him, and he couldn’t believe his good fortune. The girl seemed to like him as much as he liked her, but she refused to meet him outside the park. Tommy wasn’t happy with that—he wanted to go on a real date—but, fearful she would refuse to see him at all, he acquiesced. Quickly, the girl became very important in his life, and he couldn’t imagine living without her.
On Monday of this week, two days before Lydia was killed, Tommy had his girl in the green room after hours as usual, and they were making out, as usual. She seemed especially receptive, so Tommy pushed things a bit further than usual. He expected her to stop him when he reached under her skirt, but she simply smiled and allowed him to touch her ‘down there’. I looked at Tommy sharply when he said that, and he was blushing. I groaned inwardly. Here was a guy in his twenties, and he couldn’t even say vagina, let alone pussy. No wonder he had a hard time getting a date! His mentality was more along the lines of a twelve-year old, not a young adult. Tommy gulped and rushed on with his tale.
By this time, Tommy was seriously excited. He hoped that he would get lucky that night, but he didn’t want to press his luck. Out of her own accord, the girl unzipped Tommy’s jeans and set him free. He was so hard, he thought he would come just from her touching him. To his utter surprise—not to mention delight—she sank to her knees in front of him and gave him a blow job. Tommy was in heaven. Only one other girl had ever given him a blow job, and it hadn’t felt nearly this good. He tried to hold out so he could enjoy it longer, but he couldn’t. After a few minutes, he exploded into her mouth. Just as he was pulling away, the door flew open and in came Lydia, screaming at the top of her lungs. She had a digital camera in her hand, and she was waving it around.
Tommy was in hysterics as he tried to zip himself while fending off Lydia at the same time. The girl looked confused, then scared as Lydia ranted about how she was going to turn Tommy in to Eddie. Eddie barely tolerated coworkers having a romantic relationship—he absolutely forbade us from dating customers. That didn’t mean nobody did it, but most of us weren’t stupid enough to do it on grounds. Tommy managed to calm the girl down and shooed her away with promises to talk to her later. Once the girl was gone, Lydia turned on Tommy with a vengeance. She told him she had pictures of him with the girl and that she had to tell Eddie. She gave Tommy until the end of the week to tell Eddie himself before she did.
Tommy finished telling his tale, looking as hangdog as I’ve ever seen a person look. He told me that before Lydia died, she was taunting him that she had hidden the pictures somewhere in the green room, and he had come in early today to see if he could find them. He hadn’t been able to sleep or eat ever since Lydia caught him and the girl, who, by the way, he hadn’t seen again, either. With every word, his chin sunk further into his chest. He was the picture of misery, but I couldn’t feel too sorry for him. I had the feeling that he wasn’t telling me something, and besides, he had just given himself a great motive for killing Lydia. Then again, would he have so readily told me the saga if he were desperate to hide it? It could be an artful double-bluff considering that the cops would probably find out sooner or later, and it would sound better coming from him.
“I didn’t kill her, Bea,” Tommy said, his eyes meeting mine for the first time. I looked at him without saying anything before abruptly nodding. I still thought he was hiding something, but I believed him about Lydia’s murder. He didn’t have the guts to kill anyone, at least not in cold blood. Tommy took a deep breath and asked, “What are you going to do about my story?”
“I’m not going to tell Eddie,” I said, causing Tommy to exhale in relief. While I may not approve of Tommy using the grounds for his trysts, I didn’t want him to get fired over it. “I think you should tell the cops, though. They’re going to find out somehow.” Tommy looked as if I’d punched him in the stomach, but he reluctantly nodded. “By the way, Tommy,” I said casually as if I’d just thought of it. “What was the deal with telling me that you and Lydia were having an fling?”
“I just, you know, it was the best I could do. I wanted to see if you knew anything, and I had to give you a reason.” Tommy’s eyes were anguished. “Look, Bea, I know I fucked up. I’ll do better from now on, I promise.” I waved him away, and he left with palpable relief.
The rest of the day was relatively uneventful. The cops came back and interviewed everyone a second time around, but they were polite about it. It was clear they didn’t have a lead that they were willing to share with us. Other than that, I spent most of my time avoiding Eddie who seemed determined to track me down. I didn’t have the strength or the patience to deal with him today. I promised myself that I would talk to him on Monday, but I wanted to have a good weekend. Which meant not talking with him today. I managed to give him the slip which cheered me no end. I didn’t manage to find what Lydia had hidden, which didn’t cheer me at all.
I talked to most of the other characters, but none of them would cop to knowing where Lydia would have hidden anything. In fact, most of them wouldn’t cop to knowing Lydia very well at all. Stephen made it clear that he would have liked to have known her better, but she wouldn’t give him the time of day. When I asked about the firing rumors, Stephen claimed not to know what I was talking about. He said it wasn’t true, that Eddie hadn’t said anything to him. As far as I could tell, he wasn’t lying, which meant I had to ask Eddie about it on Monday. That did not thrill me, but what else could I do? I wouldn’t put it past Antoinette to lie through her teeth, but I needed confirmation.
By the end of the day, I had to refrain myself from snapping at the kids. For some reason, they were even whinier on Fridays than they were the rest of the week. The only day they were worse was Sunday, presumably because they had to go to summer school or something like that the next day. One precious little darling barfed cotton candy all over my patent leather shoes. I cleaned them off best I could, but the faint odor of spun sugar lingered. She didn’t even have the courtesy to apologize, and her mother was too busy scolding the little girl for eating so much junk food to force her to apologize. Then there was the boy who ran around kicking the characters in the shin behind his mother’s back. I kicked him back, which, of course, made the boy cry. Fortunately, his older sister had seen the whole thing and ratted him out. His mother spanked him then and there, much to my delight.
As for my ‘date’ with Delia, well, we both agreed to call it off—to postpone it for another time. I was relieved as I couldn’t imagine spending any appreciable amount of time with her especially without Lydia there to buffer the situation. I made a face as thoughts of Lydia slipped into my mind. I hated remembering her as she lay on the ground, so terribly still. I wanted to remember her laughing, smoking and raising a ruckus. That’s her true nature, and that’s the way she should be remembered. I sighed and went about my business for the rest of the dreary day. When it was time for me to leave, I was more than ready to go.