“Rather strange coincidence, isn’t it?” Antoinette interjected, cutting her eyes to me. “The day you two switch costumes, Lydia is murdered.” Although she was purportedly speaking only to me, her voice carries clearly across the crowd. I flushed, but didn’t answer. I figured it was better to save my words for the police than to waste them trying to defend myself.
“What the hell is going on here,” Eddie asked, huffing and puffing. “What is Trixie doing lying on the ground like that? Get up, girl. It’s bad for business.” Even though I was only a few yards away, Eddie didn’t bother to look my way. He nudged Lydia’s body with his toe, drawing gasps from the crowd. “What are you drunk? I swear to God, Trixie, if you’re playing some kind of trick on me.”
“Eddie, that’s Lydia, and she’s dead,” Antoinette said in hushed tones. It’s unbelievable to me that Eddie didn’t see the bullet wounds, but he’s not the most observant guy in the world. “That’s Bea.” She pointed to me. It took a minute for it to register with Eddie what Antoinette had said. When it did, he turned to me, a look of dismay on his face.
“Didn’t I tell you girls not to switch costumes? Didn’t I, huh? What did Eddie tell you the first day of work? No switching costumes.” Uh oh. When Eddie started talking about himself in the third person, it meant he was losing his temper. Granted, it’s a short way to go, but still, I didn’t need the aggravation. Besides, the man needed to get his priorities straight. Lydia and me switching costumes was the least of his worries.
“Eddie, Lydia’s dead.” My voice was fierce as I tried to stem the litany I knew was forthcoming. “This isn’t the time to worry about costume switches. Did someone call the police?”
“I did,” Tommy said, flashing his cell phone in his hand. “They should be here any minute.”
“Police?” Eddie bellowed, turning white. “What do we need the police for?” No one was this stupid—no one. It seemed as if our Eddie was, though. Disbelieving looks passed between the members of the crowd. “Let’s let our security take care of it. Most of them are cops moonlighting, anyway.”
“It’s not that easy,” I said impatiently, not wanting to deal with this moron. I was distracted by what he had said, however. Where was security? I didn’t see any. In the distance, there was the sound of sirens roaring.
“It’s about time,” Antoinette sniffed, her hand on Eddie’s shoulder. As repulsive as he was, he was top dog, and Antoinette was determined to move up in this Mickey Mouse world. I didn’t know why she gave a damn as she was only doing it to make money to pay for her tuition at the University. She was an business major, or something like that. I didn’t want to watch her debase herself, so I looked away. I missed the tiny smirk she directed my way, but I felt it, nonetheless.
“Get outta here!” Eddie bellowed to the crowd which was steadily gathering. Not the most diplomatic thing to say, and not what the police would want to hear.
“Eddie, if anybody saw anything, they should wait for the police,” I said softly, not wanting the common people to overhear. “Maybe somebody saw something important.”
“You’ve been reading too many mysteries.,” Eddie guffawed, his jelly belly shaking. “I know how much you girls like that crap.” There was so many things wrong with that statement—the first being that I hate mysteries and wouldn’t read one if my life depended on it, the second being that I stopped being a girl a long time ago—I didn’t know where to begin castigating him. As was often the case with Eddie, I ended up saying nothing. He’s not going to change any time soon, so I wasn’t going to waste my breath.
“She’s right,” Tommy said, unexpectedly supporting me. Even though he was supposed to be my partner, he avoided me as much as possible. I think he thought I was uncouth or something. Just because I have three tattoos, a couple piercings, and a foul mouth—sheesh. Some people were just way too fucking uptight. “The police are going to want to talk to possible witnesses.” I flashed him a grateful look, and to my surprise, he turned red and looked away. Perhaps what I had taken for aloofness was really shyness. I filed that idea away to think about at a less traumatic time.
“Eddie, what’s going on? What if someone is trying to kill off all the characters?” Antoinette whimpered, pressing her body into Eddie’s. Far from taking offense, he puffed out his chest and patted her on the shoulder.
“There, there, Nettie,” Eddie said, coping a quick feel while he could. “Don’t get your undies in a bunch. Big Eddie will take care of you.” I turned away, nauseated. Big Eddie was old enough to be ‘Nettie’s’ father, but that wasn’t stopping him from leering at her even with Lydia’s body not ten feet away. I risked looking down, then immediately wished I hadn’t. The blood was visible from the two impossibly small holes in the back of Lydia’s body. Who killed her? Who hated her so much, he wanted her dead? Or she. I was a feminist which meant I believed that women could kill, too.
“That should have been you,” Tommy said clinically, staring down at the body with dispassionate interest. For a moment, I didn’t respond until I realized that he was talking about me.
“Excuse me?” I said stiffly, preparing myself to be offending. “Are you suggesting that someone wanted to kill me?”
“She’s wearing your costume,” Tommy nodded. “Who knew that the two of you switched? Was it something you planned?”
“No, it just seemed like it’d be fun,” I confessed. I thought back to this morning when we made the decision. “I don’t think anybody was in the changing room at the time, nor do I think anybody knew.”
“Damn, Bea, was that you under the duck head the whole time?” Stephen asked, staring at me in dismay. “Dude, believe me, I never would have hit on you if I knew.” I didn’t know whether to be relieved or insulted. In fact, I was a bit of both. “Whoa, that’s hella weird.” Stephen was from the San Francisco Bay Area and still slipped into the vernacular in times of stress.
“Here come the cops,” Antoinette whimpered, burrowing her face into the front of Eddie’s dirty shirt. Just the thought of it made me want to gag.
I looked hard at the cops to see which one was the softer touch. There were two of them, traveling in pairs. One was an African American woman, mid-thirties, with full lips that seemed as if they wouldn’t be caught dead smiling. Her body was boyishly slim, but her eyes told me that she’d lived a long, hard life. Her partner, a bluff, hearty white guy in his fifties, seemed to be the prototypical good old boy who had nothing more on his mind than his retirement and cracking open a couple of cold ones. One look at his eyes dispelled that notion, however, as they had the same flat, hard stare as did his partner’s. It must be something they teach in cop school—or else, it’s all the things they’ve seen on the streets. I shuddered to think about carrying around those eyes wherever I went.
“Detective Bradley,” the male officer said, pointing to himself. “Detective Sands,” he added, waving negligibly at the woman trailing slightly behind him. “Who found the body?” There was a moment of silence. I wasn’t sure if the person who found the body didn’t want to be known, or if it was merely a case of trying to remember who actually found the body.
“I guess that would be me,” Antoinette said, pushing reluctantly away from Eddie. She pushed her lower lip out in what I’m sure she considered a fetching pout.
“Sands, secure the scene until the crime until comes,” Detective Bradley barked. “I’ll start the preliminary questioning.” Detective Sands was shooting daggers into the back of Detective Bradley’s head, but he didn’t seem to feel them. I sighed and settled against a tree; I had a feeling it was going to be a long wait.
“Hey, querida, I have dinner ready.” Rafe greeted me at the door with a smile on his face and a bottle of chilled red wine in his hand. He opened the door wide, inviting me into my own place. As always, I took a minute to appreciate the vision before me. I never wanted to take him for granted, even though I knew it’s nearly impossible not to start doing so. “I hope you’re in the mood for Chinese.” To my everlasting shame, he made much more delicious Chinese food than did I. It’s my secret comfort that he’s horrible at desserts which were my forte—I got it from my mother.
“Hey, baby,” I said, giving him a long, slow kiss of invitation. He shut the door with his foot so he wouldn’t have to interrupt our action.
“What was that for?” Rafe gasped when he could breathe again. Not that we didn’t do our fair share of kissing, but usually we came up for air after thirty seconds or so.
“Lydia was murdered,” I said bluntly, not knowing the best way to say it.
“Funny joke,” Rafe guffawed, not taking me seriously. “You have such a weird sense of humor.” He shook his head as he retreated for the kitchen to watch over his creation.
“I’m not joking, Rafe,” I said sharply. “Lydia was murdered today.” That stopped him in his tracks. He turned and looked at me, comprehension slowly dawning.
“Your coworker was killed?” I could practically see the wheels turning in his head, and I was pleased to break through the fog.
“That’s what I’m trying to say,” I said impatiently. I shivered as I remembered the cops zipping up her body in a body bag after carefully removing her head. My head. Eddie had made it clear that I was to remain being Daphne Duck until the police were through with the Maisie costume, but I wasn’t sure I could ever wear that thing again. The cops had found the weapon in a nearby trashcan, but I bet they wouldn’t get any prints off it.
“Wait, the cute little gal with the curly hair and the nice body?” Rafe leered, showing plenty of teeth. I paused, startled for a minute. I wouldn’t call Lydia cute, but I could see how a guy might find her striking in an offbeat sort of way with her dark skin, dark curls, and curvy figure. Rafe had met her when I had her over for drinks after work. They hit it off right away.
“Yeah, I guess,” I said doubtfully.
“She have some Mejicano blood in her?” Rafe asked casually.
“You know, I have no idea.” I didn’t really know Lydia that well, though we worked with each other. I thought about it a little harder. “Her last name is Wilkerson, though.”
“Some papacita playing on the wrong side of the tracks,” Rafe said with a wolfish grin. “You know how we Mejicano men are.”
“I certainly do,” I murmured appreciatively. I flashed back on the last time I saw Lydia before she was killed, and I swallowed hard. Suddenly, dinner didn’t seem as appealing.
“You have to eat, querida,” Rafe said gently, correctly guessing my mood. He steered me to the table and pressed me into a chair. In a minute, he had fried noodles, fried rice, dumplings, and other Chinese delicacies on the table. In two minutes, we were eating compatibly, nothing but the clicking of chopsticks disturbing the silence. He had even made oolong tea, which was my absolute favorite.
“You are a godsend, Rafe,” I said finally, after sating my appetite. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was.
“Tell me more about the murder,” Rafe said, setting down his chopsticks. “But hold on a second.” He hurried into the kitchen and returned with some custard-filled buns from an Asian bakery. My favorite. I gulp down half a bun before continuing my saga.
I told him how the two cops played good-cop/bad-cop with Detective Bradley—incredibly—being the good cop. Detective Sands mostly glowered at everybody, even when she was allowed to participate in the questioning. I didn’t have much to tell them because I was inside the changing room when the action occurred. From what I gleaned from the others—it was impossible for Detective Sands to keep us apart—Lydia was walking towards the changing room, presumably to eat or smoke—when someone came up to her yelling, “Maisie Mouse! Maisie Mouse! Die, you rodent bitch!” The person then shot her in the back and ran away. The irony was that while many people heard what was going on, very few saw it. Nobody could give an accurate description of the shooter, couldn’t even say if the person were male or female. One witness said something about seeing the rabbit hop away from the scene, which didn’t make Antoinette happy. That witness had managed to smuggle a pint of Johnny Walker’s best into the park, however, so his words didn’t cut much ice with the cops.
“Wait a minute,” Rafe cut into my narrative. I was so engrossed by the story I was telling, I had almost forgotten that he was listening. “Why did the shooter say that about ‘rodent bitch’? Wasn’t Lydia a goose or something?”
“Um, not exactly,” I said, fiddling with my napkin. Suddenly, I couldn’t look him in the eyes. “She was Daphne Duck.” I could feel his eyes boring into me; I knew that my response didn’t really answer the question. I heaved a huge sigh before reluctantly admitting, “We switched costumes for the day. She was Maisie.” I was able to count to three before the explosion happened.