“What happened exactly, Bet?” Rafe asked as he drove me to my apartment. I was still groggy and not up for a conversation, but I gave it the old college try.
“I’m not sure,” was my detailed answer. “It happened so fast.” Rafe sighed, but refrained from asking additional questions.
“How long do you think you’ll stay at your parents’?” was Rafe’s next question.
“Not very long,” I answered, looking out the window. My shoulder was beginning to hurt again, and I reminded Rafe to stop at the pharmacy so I could fill my prescription. “I love my parents, but I don’t want to live under their roof again.”
We fell into a silence as he drove to the pharmacy. Afterwards, we went to my apartment so I could decide what to take with me. I should call Phillip to tell him that I wasn’t coming to work today—if he hadn’t figured it out—but I couldn’t seem to give a damn. I was tired of FunLand, and I didn’t care if he fired me. In fact, I would almost welcome it. My aching shoulder agreed with me. Rafe helped me change into a fresh pair of jeans and a black t-shirt before sitting me on the bed. I watched as he started packing for me. As I supervised him packing, I told him about my dreams.
“Weird,” Rafe commented, pausing in the packing. “Do you think they have any significance?”
I shrugged as he folded my shirts before placing them in my suitcase. I hadn’t given my dreams much thought, but I believed that our subconscious spoke to us in our dreams. Therefore, there had to be something of use in those dreams, even if I couldn’t immediately identify what it was. The second dream seemed marginally more straightforward than the first one, so I concentrated on the second one. Obviously the painting in Lydia’s apartment had affected me, but was there more to it than that? I would be hard-pressed to recall the details of the painting now even though I had liked it at the time, so I was inclined to believe that there was something to the painting—more than meets the eye. What had the note said? Something like almost there. No, that wasn’t quite it. Getting warmer. That’s what it said. What did that mean?
It meant that Lydia had expected someone to think of the painting—based on her first clue? What was it? Remembering a date. What date? Date? Painting? How did the two of them go together? I frowned. When else had Lydia talked about painting? It was something she did in her spare time, but not something she talked much about. She had a superstitious feeling that she’d jinx it if she talked about it too much. But I distinctly remembered her telling me something about a painting she had done. Recently. What was it for? I frowned and concentrated hard, but it was just at the edge of my consciousness. I knew better than to try to force it, so I pushed it out of my mind. It would come to me sooner or later.
By the time I resolved that in my mind, Rafe was finished packing. I didn’t plan on staying at my parents’ place for more than a few days, so I had him pack light. We went to the living room and turned on the television to see what was on the news. There was a brief notice about me being stabbed, but there wasn’t much they could do with it since I refused to be interviewed. I had decided a long time ago that if I were ever involved in something media-worthy, I would not talk to the press. I hated the way they circled around like vultures, picking through the carrion for the last bit of gristle. I was about to turn off the television when they segued into a story about Tommy’s arrest.
“While it’s obvious that Thomas Starks could not have attacked Beatrice Chen today, he is a suspect in the two murders at FunLand.” The blond reporter had her game face on—grim with just a touch of concern. “He is facing charges of Sexual Misconduct with a Minor,” the reporter continued, her face reflecting her horror. “He says he’s innocent.”
“Tell us something we don’t know!” Rafe shouted at the television in exasperation.
“In related news,” Shawn Hsu said solemnly, radiating sincerity. “Edward Bates, the former owner of FunLand who was asphyxiated, there was no evidence of him having sex before he died. The police speculate that him being naked and tied up was a red herring.”
“What is going on?” I asked, my eyes glued to the television. I had nearly forgotten about Eddie’s death, much to my shame. It only made sense, though, as Lydia was something of a friend, and Eddie was scum. Not something I’d be likely to admit now, but it was true. “Someone has it in for the FunLand characters.”
“I don’t think it’s that easy,” Rafe said, turning down the volume on the news as they moved on to other stories. “I think it’s like Eddie being tied up—devious.” He couldn’t explain what he meant any more than that, so we let it drop.
On the way over to my parents, I brooded. I had no desire to be killed, damn it, which meant I had to figure out who was trying to kill me—either in particular or generally—and put a stop to it. I had no confidence in the cops as I knew that there were many homicides that went unsolved. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder, forever paranoid about someone stalking me. What bothered me most was that I hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary before the character stabbed me; I would have to be on my guard from now on.
“Want to stop for breakfast?” Rafe asked, breaking into my musings. I shook my head once. If I knew my mother, she’d have a feast waiting for us when we got there—it was the kind of woman she was. Nobody but nobody left her house hungry—it was her Asian genes.
When we reached my parents’ house, she proved me right. Rafe and I barely had time to step into the house before she whisked us into the dining room and sat us down hard. My father pressed the pepper spray into my hand, which I slipped into my purse. Dish after dish appeared from the kitchen—scrambled eggs, pancakes, Belgian waffles, sausage, toast, freshly-squeezed orange juice. My mother urged us to eat seconds and thirds while my father stopped after one helping. He was the only one in the family allowed not to stuff himself, and I theorized it was because if he was forced to overeat every night, he’d explode. My mother especially appreciated it when outsiders ate heartily of her food, so she beamed as Rafe helped himself to fourths. He was her kind of man through and through. While she was urging him to have yet another helping, my cell phone rang. I went into the hall to take it.
“Bea?” An unfamiliar male voice asked.
“Who is this?” I countered, not wanting to give myself away.
“Oh, sorry, it’s Phillip Bates,” the voice continued. Suddenly, it wasn’t so unfamiliar, and I identified it as Eddie’s brother. “I just wanted to call and see how you were doing. How’s the arm?”
“Just fine,” I said, ignoring the fact that my shoulder was throbbing.
“Good, good,” Phillip said heartily, his voice positively booming over the phone. Something about it set my teeth on edge because he sounded so phony. “Don’t worry about missing your shift today. We got you covered. You take your time and get better, you hear?”
“Ok,” I said, pacing back and forth. I wasn’t interested in his rah-rah behavior and waited to see if he’d get to the point—if he had one, that was.
“You’re a valuable asset to FunLand, and we wouldn’t want anything to happen to you, would we?” There was something patently false about what he was saying, causing me to be suspicious about why he had called me in the first place. I was but a cog in the great machine called FunLand, and it wouldn’t be affected in the least if I disappeared. Already, we were missing two of the characters, and nobody appeared to notice—or care.
“I’m fine,” I repeated, not knowing what else to say. I had the feeling that he was waiting for me to say something, but I had no idea what it was he wanted me to say.
“Good, good,” Phillip said, repeating himself. “Now, Bea, I want you to take the next few days off, with pay, of course. Wouldn’t want you suing FunLand, now would we?” There it was again, that false heartiness. Was he really worried about me suing or was there something more sinister about what he was saying? “I heard someone say that you saw one of the characters right before you were, uh, hurt. Is that true?”
“Yes, it is,” I said, keeping my answers short. I wanted to see where he was going with this conversation before I gave him anything substantial. It’s not that I didn’t trust him, but I didn’t trust him.
“Bea, you’ve had a terrible shock. Could you possibly have been mistaken? I mean, it must have happened so fast. It’d be pretty hard to know what exactly you had seen.”
“I saw one of the characters,” I insisted, though my voice wasn’t quite as adamant as before.
“You couldn’t even identify which one,” Phillip pointed out. I damned Delia for blabbing to him what I had told her while I was in shock. That would teach me to keep my mouth shut.
“I know it was a character,” I said stubbornly, sticking to my story. I wasn’t going to let him intimidate me into changing my mind. He must really be worried about me suing for him to suggest that I hadn’t seen what I had. Or was there another reason he was so insistent on me not identifying my attacker as one of the characters? Whatever reason, I was done talking to him. “I have to go, Phillip. I’ll let you know when I’m coming back.” I clicked off my phone and nearly chucked it across the room. I gathered myself before returning to the dining room where my mother was urging more food onto Rafe.
“What is it, dear?” My mother asked after seeing the look on my face.
“My new boss telling me to take some time off,” I said briefly. I didn’t feel like sharing the rest, and nobody thought to ask. I was thinking about my dreams and trying to puzzle out Lydia’s cryptic messages when my mother said something to catch my attention.
“Raphael, we’d love to help you celebrate your birthday. Where would you like to go?”
Birthday, Rafe, painting. Suddenly, it clicked in my mind. Talking to Lydia about birthdays and her painting. Whose birthday? Brian’s. She had given Brian a painting for his birthday the night before she died. The note behind her own painting said Getting warmer. It had to be! Whatever evidence she had, it would be found behind the painting she gave Brian. I looked up to see my parents and Rafe looking at me expectantly. Since I hadn’t heard what they were talking about, I looked back at them quizzically. They shot looks at each other that clearly meant I was frazzled because of being injured.
“What?” I asked impatiently, not bothering to tell them that I had been figuring something out and not gathering wool.
“We were just asking what you thought about going to Tiburon for Raphael’s birthday Thursday night,” my mother said gently, her tone appropriate for dealing with a dying child, not one who was merely stabbed.
“Sure, Tiburon, great,” I said, dredging up a smile. I still had to buy him a present, damn it, and it was already Tuesday.
“We’ll invite the family, of course,” my mother continued. Planning family events was her forte, and she rarely let others help out. “Is there anybody you’d like to invite, Raphael? Someone in your family, perhaps?” I perked up; I wanted to hear Rafe’s answer. To my disappointment, he merely shook his head with a smile.
“I’ll leave it in your capable hands, Van,” Rafe said, wiping his lips with his napkin before placing it on his plate. “Let me do the dishes, please.” Without waiting for my mother to respond, he began collecting the dishes and silverware. I got up to help him, but he shooed me away. I fished out my cell phone and called Brian’s cell phone.
“Hello?” His voice was dull, but he perked up when he heard it was me. “Have you found anything out?” He asked eagerly. I debated whether to tell him about being attacked, but decided not to.
“Brian, I need to see your apartment. Would that be possible?” I didn’t know why I didn’t just ask him about the painting over the phone, but I didn’t. I wanted to talk to him about it in person so I could see his reaction, I guess. That surprised me. Was I viewing him as a suspect? So far, I hadn’t found anything suspicious about him, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t have a hidden motive. Besides, I wanted to make sure I got to the painting first.
“…today?” Clearly, he had been talking as I was ruminating, so I had to ask him to repeat himself. “I said, I’m pretty booked up. Does it have to be today?”
“Yes, it does,” I said, trying not to sound impatient. I was looking into his girlfriend’s murder—you’d think he’d be eager to help me in whatever way possible.
“I can spare an hour at five this afternoon. That’s it.” He didn’t say ‘take it or leave it’, but he might as well have.
“I’ll be there,” I said before hanging up the phone. I made a face at the phone which made me feel better. I returned to the kitchen where Rafe was still cleaning up. “Babe, I have a few errands to run,” I said, kissing him on the cheek. “What are you up to today?”
“I better go into work,” Rafe said reluctantly. “I took the morning off, but they’re expecting me in the afternoon. You have my cell number in case you need me, right?”