We migrated to the living room where we hashed out everything we knew. We both thought that the club should be the center of our focus, but we differed on the most likely candidate. Matt insisted that Digger was involved, but that was his prejudice talking. I thought we needed to talk to the girls in depth because who knew Kayla better than her coworkers? Besides, with the way she was blackmailing some of them, more than one stripper had a reason for wanting to do her harm. Then, of course, there was the drug dealer. He had my money for being the one who’d taken Kayla and killed the other woman. From Kayla’s description of him, he sounded like the most ruthless of the bunch. If it was him, he wanted his coke back. Where the fuck we’d find that, I didn’t know. I mean, if Kayla hadn’t blown through it all. It must be somewhere in her house, but wouldn’t the cops have found it? Not if she hadn’t wanted it to be found. I started when the doorbell rang, but I got up to let Martinez in. To my dismay, Daily trailed behind him.
“Where is this alleged email,” she barked, doing away with pleasantries. It was clear from the expression on her face that she thought I was making it up. That, or she’d heard about Martinez’s date and wasn’t pleased about it. The way she was glaring at me, I’d bet on the latter.
“This way,” Matt said, starting towards his room.
“You stay here,” Daily snarled at me as she trotted after Matt. I caught Martinez by the arm before he could follow.
“How are you?” I asked, keeping my voice low. He looked about ten years older than he had a mere hour ago, so I assumed it hadn’t gone well.
“Not well,” Martinez said honestly, trying to smile. “She was the only child of two elderly people whose lives centered around her. The mother had to be sedated.” I winced in sympathy, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek.
“Next time we get together, I’ll give you one of my famous massages,” I promised. “It’ll make you feel like a million dollars.”
“Right now, I’d settled for a thousand.” Martinez squeezed my hand before striding down the hall. I went back to the living room to wait for them to finish. I must have dozed off while watching infomercials because the next thing I knew, Daily was glaring down at me.
“I need to see your computer,” she said, making no pretense of civility. She was radiating such hostility, I could almost tangibly feel it.
“Why?” I asked, not getting up. I knew why she wanted to see it, but I vowed to give her as much trouble as I could. I didn’t like her attitude towards me when I’d done nothing to earn it, and I intended to make her work for whatever she got from me.
“I need to see if you sent the email to Mr. Reynolds,” Daily seethed, barely unclenching her jaws. I didn’t bother asking how she’d ascertain that when the sender name was blank. Suddenly, I didn’t care to play games with the irate woman in front of me. I stood up and walked towards my bedroom, not bothering to see if she was following me. I powered up my computer while she sneered behind me.
“Cozy,” she said nastily, glancing around my room. As it was done in reds, oranges and yellows without the slightest hint of frills, lace or frippery, I knew she was being sarcastic. As soon as I had my email service running, I ceded the chair to her. I watched her like a hawk, however, as I didn’t want her planting evidence against me. How I’d figure it out from what she did with the computer, I didn’t know, but I was going to watch her, anyway.
“What you got?” Martinez asked as he entered the room. He didn’t give me so much as a look, but it didn’t bother me in the least. Daily was his coworker, and he had to coexist with her most of the day. I didn’t want him to endanger their partnership in anyway.
“Not a damn thing,” Daily said in frustration. Her fingers were flying over the keyboard, pounding on the keys with extra force. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask her to ease up, but I decided not to get into a confrontation. I had a feeling she was just looking for a reason to bust my ass, and admonishing her for her abuse of my keyboard would probably do it.
“Hey, Daily, back off,” Martinez said, noticing the same thing I had. “There’s no reason to break Ms. Hsu’s keyboard. We don’t have enough money in the budget to replace it.”
“Oh, I’m sure she can fuck it out of you,” Daily sneered, her eyes focused on the monitor. “You’re her inside source, aren’t you?” A heavy silence hung over the three of us as even the thickheaded Daily seemed to realize that she’d crossed the line. She looked up at Martinez who was glaring down at her.
“Go to the car,” Martinez said, his voice cold. “I’ll finish up in here.” Daily opened her mouth to say something, but wisely closed it. With a parting sneer at me, she swept out of the room. “I’m sorry about that,” Martinez said to me as soon as Daily was out of earshot. “She was way out of line.”
“Can’t blame her, really,” I shrugged. I refused to elaborate as it was still not my place.
“If you would like to file charges,” Martinez said formally. I merely shook my head as I didn’t trust myself to answer. Martinez kissed me on the cheek before leaving, then I went to hunt down Matt.
“They think I sent it to myself,” Matt said when I found him in his room. He was sitting in front of his computer, his fingers on the keyboard. I could tell he wasn’t doing anything other than sitting, however, as his monitor was in sleeper mode. “The fuckers think I did it! I don’t think you should be dating Martinez. He’s a prick.”
“Daily thinks I did it,” I said, ignoring his comment about Martinez. “It’s the cops’ job to suspect everyone. Guilty until proven innocent.”
“Now you’re shilling for the cops?” Matt asked angrily, turning around to face me. There was a look in his eyes that made me shiver. He had a difficult time controlling his temper, but he rarely got mad at me. I didn’t like it, but I wasn’t going to back down, either.
“Matt, knock it off. I don’t think Martinez really thinks you did it.”
“He was riding my ass like he did!” Matt said, raising his voice. He stood up so he could look down on me, which I didn’t like, either. “I think he’s wondering if there’s something going on with the two of us, but doesn’t know how to ask. I had half a mind to tell him I was fucking you. I bet that would have gotten him mad.”
“That would have gotten me mad,” I answered, my own voice rising. The last thing I needed was a pissing contest between Matt and Martinez. “Matt, come on. We need to be together on this thing. Quit acting like a jerk.” Matt deflated before my eyes at my well-timed comment.
“Sorry,” he muttered, dropping his eyes. “I haven’t been getting much sleep lately, what with Shawn and Danny.” It was my turn to feel guilty because I’d forgotten he’d lost one of his favorite parolees. I reached up to hug him, and he wouldn’t let go. I could feel his hardness against my leg, and I tried to back away. “I need you, Scar. Don’t leave me now.”
My heart melted, nearly causing me to give in. If there was one thing I craved, it was to be needed. My siblings all knew the best way to get me to do something was to tell me they needed me. I could withhold against any entreaty but that. Now that I was supposedly grown up, however, I knew that it was not enough to be needed. I wanted to comfort Matt, and let’s face it, I wanted to fuck him. However, I also wanted to date Martinez and see where that led. I had to decide which was more important to me because I knew if I gave in to Matt now, I would give in again. We had a bond that went beyond romance and even though sex was just sex, each time we fucked, it increased the bond between us.
“Matt, I can’t,” I said, reluctantly stepping out of his embrace. It went against my beliefs to turn down sex, but I knew I had to do it this time. I also knew I had to make Matt stop trying to lure me into his bed—which wasn’t that far away—because I had enough trouble battling with my own desires let alone his. “I need to see where things are going with Martinez, and I can’t do that if I’m having sex with you.”
“He’s no good for you,” Matt said, stepping closer to me again. “He’ll be out all hours of the evening, and who knows what will happen to him? You couldn’t even get through your first date with him without him having to leave. Is that what you really want?” Matt hugged me again, seductively rubbing my back. I stiffened, not wanting to give in.
“Matt, are you my friend?” I pressed my hands against his chest to create some distance between us. “Do I mean more to you as a person than a fuck? If so, then please back off.”
“All right,” Matt sighed, taking a step back. “I guess I can give you that much, seeing how you did the same for me. I came back to you, though, didn’t I?”
There was something hovering between us, something that had never been vocalized. I knew that if he said one more word, we would have to deal with a situation that I didn’t want to think about. In our ten years of friendship, we’d each had crushes on the other but at differing times. They had been nothing more than temporary insanities, and they had always faded rather quickly. Matt sounded serious this time, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I didn’t want him to have a crush on me; I didn’t want to have to deal with that while I was trying to date Martinez. I had a sneaking suspicion his crush was more about me finding someone else attractive than really wanting to be with me. Matt had a sizable ego, and it’d been some time since I’d like someone as much as I liked Martinez. Matt liked being the number one guy in my life even if we weren’t a couple. For the first time, I wondered if our friendship could sustain me seriously falling in love.
“I’m going to bed,” I said softly, leaving Matt’s room without hugging him. I felt a tinge of sadness as I left, as if something had ended. I reached my room just in time to hear my cell phone ringing from God knows where. By the time I reached it, it had rolled over to the voice-mail. I waited until the end to hear who’d called me at this time.
“Scarlett, it’s Martinez. I wanted to apologize for Daily. I don’t know what the hell got into her. She’s not usually that way. I also wanted to apologize for running out on you tonight. I was wondering if you’d like to do dinner at my place Saturday night. I’m pretty sure I can give you at least two hours of uninterrupted time. Shall we say eight again? Give me a call.” I hugged myself, feeling a tingle at the sound of Martinez’s voice. I called him back immediately, rationalizing that he’d just called.
“Martinez.” His voice was totally weary, and I wanted to wrap him up in a blanket and put him to bed.
“It’s Scar. Thanks for the call, but you have nothing to apologize for.” I knew why his partner had been so bitchy to me, and I was surprised he hadn’t picked up on it.
“Hey, you,” Martinez said, his voice perking up. “Why do you call yourself Scar? Scarlett is such a pretty name.”
“I’m not no Southern belle,” I joked. After a second’s hesitation, I gave him the rest of the punch-line. “And Scarlett is no name for a Midwest alternative Chink.” To my relief, he laughed heartily at my joke. Hey, racism was a bitch, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t laugh at it. “Saturday sounds great. You gonna cook me Mexican food?”
“Yup. Gotta stick with what I know.” We chatted for a few more minutes before I let him go. I knew he had a long night ahead of him, and I didn’t want to keep him up even later than he had to be. I went to bed a short while later, sweet dreams of Martinez dancing in my head.