Plaster of Paris; chapter eleven, part one

Wednesday.  Four days after Paris was almost killed.  It seems much longer, and yet, it seems like it just happened.  Time is the first thing to go in a period of crisis because it’s simply no longer important.  If someone you love is hovering between life and death, what does an hour or a day really mean?  With this mentality, I make it through the day at work.  I keep my nose to myself and don’t mind so much the snubs that are pointedly aimed at me; most of them sail right over my head.  I receive an email from Libby accusing me again of trying to sabotage her wedding, and I barely flinch as I delete it.  This feeling of detachment is marvelous, and I wish I could cultivate it permanently.  I idly consider meditation or becoming a Buddhist, but it seems like too much effort.  I decide that it’s much easier to be in denial than to reach nirvana, and it feels pretty much the same.  I remember that I half-promised my mom I would talk to Libby about her ‘if there is a wedding’ statement, but I don’t have the energy.  When this case is over and Paris is better, then I’ll talk to her.

After work, I take the bus to the Tenderloin where Jenna lives.  It’s not that she doesn’t have money—she’s one of those white-bread liberal girls who thinks she has to show her compassion by living in what’s possibly the worst neighborhood in San Francisco, an area even I wouldn’t live in.  She’s also the one who flipped when Paris broke up with her after a month, threatening to sue him for breach of promise and an assortment of other spurious claims.  She would show up at his gym and start screaming at him, then cry when he tried to calm her down.  He quickly learned that the best way to deal with her was to not engage her at all because she thrived off the interaction, no matter how small. Just as he was about to get a restraining order slapped on her, she stopped.  I hadn’t liked her while Paris was dating her, and I certainly didn’t like her when she stalked him.  I am careful to keep my purse next my body as I press the buzzer to her apartment.

“Yes?”  Her nasally voice grates on my ears.  She’s from one of those Midwest states and came to the Bay Area to study archeology or something equally boring.

“Jenna?  It’s Rayne.  Paris’s friend.  I need to talk to you.”  Belatedly, I realize that she might not want to talk to me.

“Oh.”  Long pause.  “Come in, I guess.”  She buzzes me in, and I go to her apartment.  It will be the first time I see it, and I’m curious to see her habitat.  She waits for me to knock on the door before opening the door.  She is short—shorter than my five-feet two inches, and her face is sullen.  Her long brown hair is pulled back in a high ponytail which flatters her high cheekbones and pouting lips.  She’s pretty, but dull as dishwater.  Before Lyle, Paris had a habit of dating people who weren’t as smart or interesting as him because he likes to be the focus of a relationship.  Except Brett, and now, Lyle.  She opens her door a crack, forcing me to squeeze my way in.  Her walls are beige with a few pictures of fossils on the wall.  Other than that, there are bookshelves filled with esoteric tomes on subjects that make my eyes cross.  I don’t know how Paris put up with her for even a month.  She doesn’t make any move to invite me in further, so I push my way past her and sit on the white couch.

I inform her of Paris’s accident, wanting to know what she knows about it.  She plays coy, asking why I think she knows anything about it.  I decide there is no way I’m going to be able to forge any kind of bond with this woman, so I’ll confront her instead.  I state the facts baldly about her taking the break-up so badly, she began stalking him, including showing up at his place of work to threaten him.  It seems fairly obvious to me why I thought of her, but she doesn’t look convinced.  She tries to dodge by saying that if it was an accident, I had no reason to be there.  She folds her arms across her chest and glares at me.  It occurs to me if she’s the one who tried to kill Paris, it may not be smart to question her with no one else present.

I watch her and I say it might not be an accident.  No reaction.  I elaborate that I want to know if she’s involved.  No reaction again.  She says she hasn’t talked to Paris in ages and waves her hand in the air in preparation for showing me the door.  Goaded, I blurt out that she called him recently and that she wanted him back.  I silently thank Lyle for sharing this tidbit with me so I have some leverage.  She doesn’t say anything, so I think she’s not going to answer.  A weariness overtakes me as I’m waiting for a response.  There’s a part of me that just wants to wash my hands of her, she’s that unappetizing.  Only the knowledge that perhaps she might know something about Paris’s accident stops me from leaving.  Just when I’m about to give up, she starts speaking in a low voice.

“You don’t know what it’s been like for me since we’ve broken up.  We’re meant to be together.  When I first met him, I knew he was the only man I’d ever love.”  One cliché after another spews from her lips.  I wince at the triteness.  Yes, Paris is enchanting, but they only dated a month.  That’s pretty extreme, even for one of his acolytes.  She drones on in her adenoidal tones, so irritating to my ears.

“Jenna, did you try to kill him?”  I ask abruptly, interrupting her flow of words.  I stand up at the same time, figuring I’m not about to get anything useful out of her.  I don’t even bother to mention her threat to get him to see her; she most likely made it up in desperation.

“What good would he be to me dead?”  Jenna asks, looking at me with empty eyes.  She doesn’t even bother escorting me to the door.  I hurry down the stairs, eager to get as far away from her as possible.  Outside, I snag a taxi—I’m lucky to hail one in the Tenderloin so quickly—to go to the hospital.  I lean against the seat, suddenly exhausted.

What good would he be to me dead?  I ponder the question Jenna tossed at me just as I left.  She means it in a romantic sense.  He can’t be her Prince Charming if he’s dead.  He can’t rescue her from her dreary life if he is dead.  She can’t fantasize about how perfect life would be if he just came back to her if he was dead.  Though I don’t like her, I think she’s telling the truth about not trying to kill Paris.  I mentally strike her from my suspect list.  I have a hunch the key to finding the would-be killer is discovering the answer to Jenna’s question, though not necessarily in the romantic sense.  How would Paris’s death benefit someone?  More specifically, why now?  What in his life had changed recently that made his death necessary?  So far, I haven’t uncovered any deep, dark secrets, so it has to be Ursula.  I frown.  I keep touching on her, like a bad tooth, but she’s the obvious change in his life.  I wonder what Lyle has been able to pry from her.

When I reach the waiting room, the only one of our crew there is my mother; I hope she hasn’t been here all alone ever since I left her last night.  She’s bouncing up and down, radiant despite having spent the night in the hospital.  She excitedly tells me that Paris opened his eyes again.  He didn’t talk, but he squeezed Lyle’s hand, and.  Here,  Mom pauses for dramatic effect.  Paris smiled.  I let out my breath, which I didn’t know I was holding, thrilled with the news.  I ask what the docs have to say.  They think he’s going to come out of it just fine.  Well, not just fine, but I know what she means.  We chatter some more about the exciting news before I finally get around to asking where the Jensons and Lyle are.  Even as I’m asking, I can’t stop grinning like an idiot.  Paris is awake, and he’s going to be just fine.

Mrs. Jenson is with Paris; Mr. Jenson is in the cafeteria; Lyle is out sleuthing.  My mom wants to know if I found out anything today, speaking of sleuthing.  I tell her that Jenna, Paris’s ex, is cleared because she wants him alive, not dead.  I hate striking her off my suspect list, but she just doesn’t fit as a potential killer.  My mother agrees and counsels me to focus on Ursula because there’s something highly suspicious about the timing of her ‘finding’ Paris.  I can hear the quotes around ‘finding’ as clearly as if she had said them or made the universal hand gestures for them.  Furthermore, my mother believes that in this case, correlation may very well be causation.  I don’t know if it’s lack of sleep or if my brain is just that much slower than my mother’s, but I’m not tracking what she’s saying.  She pauses to rearrange her thoughts before explaining what she means.

“Ursula gives up Paris for adoption and doesn’t bother to contact him for the first twenty-eight plus years of his life.”  My mother chooses her words carefully.  “According to her, she had a cancer scare five years ago which caused her to think about her mortality.  She decides she wants to find Paris.  She also got divorced for the second time around then, right?  And her eldest starts getting in trouble.  She finds Paris, reveals who she is, and then, Paris almost gets killed before he can meet her.”  She pauses and looks at me questioningly.  I nod to indicate that she has her facts right.  “You know she lied about how much money she makes.  Who’s to say she’s not lying about other things?  How do you know she’s Paris’s mother at all?”

“Why would she lie about that?”  I’m flabbergasted.  “What would be her point?”

“I can’t answer that.  I’m not even saying she did, but there’s already been one woman who’s lied to Paris about being his mother.  How do we know this isn’t another?”  The question my mother has is reasonable, but it deeply disturbs me to consider that someone would play such an elaborate ruse on someone and for no apparent reason.

“The inspector!”  I say suddenly.  “She knows.  She told Paris during the first case that she knew, but couldn’t tell him who was his mother.  Only that he’d been born in Jersey.”

“Wouldn’t it be on record?”  My mother asks.

“I’m not sure,” I say doubtfully.  “His adoption was a closed one.  I don’t think they let just anyone see the original certificate.”

“Then you’ll have to find out from Inspector Robinson,” my mother says firmly.  Seeing the look of dismay on my face, she adds, “Or confront Ursula and force her to produce the certificate.”  Frankly, the latter idea appeals to me, most likely because I’m spoiling for a fight.  My mother’s notion that perhaps Ursula isn’t Paris’s mother is one I can’t banish.  Even though I can think of no earthly reason why a rich, successful author would lie about something like this, I’m intrigued at the same time.  I look up to see Lyle striding towards us.

“The blond is Ursula’s daughter,” he says, his eyes flashing.

“What?”  My mother and I say in unison.

“The blond seen cavorting about town with Paris is Ursula’s daughter,” Lyle repeats, enunciating each word carefully.  “The tall, conniving blond bitch is Ursula’s daughter.  The troublemaker.  The dropout.  The one sponging off mommy, but resentful of her mother’s control.  The one who rubbed her fake boobs all over Paris in the gym, then tried the same thing with me.”  Lyle’s face grows redder with each word.  I’m afraid he’s going to have an apoplectic fit, so I force him to sit down before telling us his story.

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