Plaster of Paris; chapter five, part three

“Ok, you two,” my mother says firmly.  “You need to rest.  Go home.”  Lyle and I begin to protest through our tears.  The last thing I want to do is leave Paris.  “Go!  You need real sleep—not an hour here and there.  Take Lyle’s truck and crash at Rainbow’s.  I’ll stay with Catherine.  I have my car if I need it.”  When my mother decides on a course of action, the best thing to do is to follow it.

“I’m not going,” Lyle says firmly, not having as much experience with my mother as I have.

“You are going,” my mother replies, leveling him with a stare.  I shudder at the memory of that well-timed look.  I’ve seen it rarely over the years, but the effect is emblazoned on my soul.  “Ideally, you’ll stay away until morning, but barring that, get at least five hours of sleep.  It’s seven-thirty now.  That means I don’t want to see you until after midnight.”  She lifts her chin, daring Lyle to defy her.  To his credit, he recognizes an immovable force when he sees one and simply nods his head.  The last thing I see as Lyle and I leave the cafeteria is my mother buying more food, presumably for Mrs. Jenson.  Lyle and I walk to the truck in silence.  We are well on our way home when Lyle finally speaks.

“You going to work tomorrow?”  He is gripping the steering wheel so tightly, his knuckles are white.

“I have to,” I say simply.  He knows better than most why.  I took a month’s leave of absence after the first murder case and pretty much exhausted my goodwill with the agency.  After the second murder case, I was made to feel guilty for taking a week off.  In addition, people were starting to looking askance at me at work.  I can tell they’re thinking, ‘What’s wrong with her that she’s been involved in two separate murder investigations?’  I’m not thrilled that there has now been a third attempt.  If I’m fortunate, however, it will be thought of as a simple hit-and-run.

“I’m closing shop for a few days,” Lyle says.  He is the owner of a novelty shop on Mission Street and sets his own hours.  “We should check the news when we get to your place.”  He is obviously thinking the same thing I am as far as to how the ‘accident’ is being reported.  When go inside my apartment, there are messages on the machine.  I zip through them quickly.  I’m half-listening, when the last message catches my attention.

“…lucky.  Next time, I won’t miss.”

“Lyle!  Come here!”  Lyle had gone into Paris’s room to find something to wear and comes hurrying into the living room.  He’s wearing a pair of Paris’s black jeans and one of his silver shirts as they are roughly the same size.  My heart twists just looking at him.

“What it is?”  Lyle’s eyes are troubled as he sees the look on my face.  It’s on the tip of my tongue to demand that he take off Paris’s clothes, but I swallow my comment.  I press play on the answering machine instead.

“Paris, you must have nine lives, like a cat.  I don’t know how you managed to survive.  Enjoy your reprieve.  This time, you got lucky.  Next time, I won’t miss.”  The voice is low, so I can’t tell if it’s a female or male.  It has no discernible accent or distinguishing features.  I don’t even know if I’d recognize it if I heard it again.  At Lyle’s request, I play the message once more.

“You know what this means?”  Lyle asks, a disturbed look on his face.  “The person who did it knows he screwed up.  How does he know that?”

“The news?”  I suggest, shrugging my shoulders.  I’m fighting a chill that’s inhabited my body; I have the voice of Paris’s would-be assassin on tape.  I have to call Inspector Robinson.

“Then he’d probably know that Paris is still in the hospital.  Why would he leave a message?”  Lyle and I look at each other, not wanting to acknowledge a possible reason—the driver left the message just to scare me.  If so, it worked.

“Why do you say he?”  I ask Lyle, trying to keep my mind off the message.  “Did you see the driver at all?  Did it look like a man?”

“Generic he,” Lyle replies.  “I didn’t get a look at the driver at all, unfortunately.”

“I guess I should call the good inspector,” I sigh.  It’s not something I want to do, but I know the protocol.  Lyle flips on the television to see if there’s any news on Paris’s accident.  There isn’t anything, so I send him to my room to use my computer to dig up information.

I dither for a few minutes more before finally conceding.  I call the precinct, hoping that the inspector won’t be there.  She is.  She is civil, but I can hear the weariness in her voice.  I am blunt and tell her that I have received a threatening message from the driver of the car.  I hasten to point out that I called her immediately after listening to the message as she is wont to be scathing when she thinks I’m holding out on her.  The lassitude is gone from Inspector Robinson’s voice as she snaps to attention.  She orders me not to do anything until she gets there.  She hangs up the phone without giving me time to respond.  I replace the receiver before going to check up on Lyle.  He is engrossed with the Chronicle website which has an article about the accident, but it’s not on the front page.  It doesn’t say anything we don’t know.  The only unique thing is that it takes the tone that Lyle is somehow responsible for the accident.

Lyle is indignant, of course, as the paper hadn’t even bothered to talk to him.  We’ve been pretty lucky at avoiding the media.  My guess is that with all the terrorism crap going on, the news of a hit-and-run isn’t a big deal.  I mention my theory to Lyle who snorts before typing in the URL for the Examiner.  It’s not much better except for the tidbit that there was an eyewitness to the accident who gave the cops a partial description of the car that hit Paris.  Dark blue or perhaps black, sleek, new.  The witness thinks that XT were the first two letters of the license plate.  The witness didn’t see the numbers or the driver, however.  Not much to go on.  I hope the cops questioned the eyewitness several times to squeeze out extra details from his or her brain.  Lyle surfs a bit more.  The buzzer rings, and I go to the living room to let in the inspector.

She is in bad shape.  Her blond hair is pulled away from her face and held back with two barrettes.  She is wearing a white blouse and black pants that look as if she’s slept in them.  The colors are not her best—with her delicate coloring, she should be wearing pastels.  I usher her in to the living room before offering her something to drink.  We have done this ritual so many times, it’s starting to feel comfortable.  She asks for herbal tea if I have any, causing me to lift my eyebrow.  A homicide inspector drinking tea?  Will wonders never cease. I also find it amusing that she’s asking an Asian person if she has any tea, but I don’t know her well enough to joke about it, so I simply tell her that I have chamomile, peppermint, lemon, and peach.  My collection of Chinese tea is more impressive than my herbal tea, but she wants decaffeinated.

“Chamomile would be just great.”  The inspector is examining my answering machine which is pretty nondescript.  I go to the kitchen to heat up a kettle and make us both a cup of tea.  When I return, the inspector is listening to the message that so bothered me.  Frowning slightly, she replays the message which doesn’t diminish in scariness the more times I hear it.  I hand her one of the cups of tea, and she nods absentmindedly.  She doesn’t speak after the message is played, forcing me to say something.

“Well?”  I gulp at my tea, burning my tongue in my haste to drink.  Damn.  I know better than to drink tea right away.

“I’ll have to take the tape,” Inspector Robinson sighs.  “Would you like a receipt for it?”

“No.  I want information,” I say bluntly, sitting on the couch.  “Are you getting anywhere?”

“If I were, I wouldn’t share it with you,” Inspector Robinson says not unkindly.  “You’re a suspect, remember.”

“Not a serious one, though,” I say hopefully.

“Serious enough,” is her depressing answer.  There is a sound in my bedroom which draws her attention.  “Company, Ms. Liang?”  I flush at her tone.

“It’s Lyle,” I say stiffly, not sure it’s any of her business.  “He’s using my computer to find news about Paris’s accident.  We both are about to drop from exhaustion, so we came here to get some sleep.”  I stop, aware that I’m giving out extraneous information.

“Have you had sex with Mr. Kingston, too?”  Her tone is arch with a tinge of disapproval.

“What do you mean by ‘too’?”  My tone is edgy; I’m not sure I like her line of questioning, nor do I see the relevance to the case.

“Ms. Dal, most likely Mr. Frantz, now Mr. Kingston who happens to be Mr. Frantz’s lover.  Quite the busy bee, aren’t you?”  Inspector Robinson glares at me, her tone haughty.  Normally, I would have had a snappy retort and perhaps a laugh at her assumption.  Now, with little sleep and a shit-load of stress, I react strongly.

“Inspector Robinson, it’s none of your damn business with whom I’m sleeping.  The last I heard, having sex is not against the law.  However, to keep your records straight, Paris and I are just friends.  Vashti and I aren’t not having sex right now.  Lyle is Paris’s boyfriend, and I would never sleep with him even if he weren’t gay!”  I glare at the inspector who looks levelly back at me.

“You’ve slept with Mr. Frantz, though, haven’t you?”  Her tone is mild; she must have people going off on her all the time.

“Ages ago,” I say impatiently before remembering, with dismay, that I’ve never told her that.  Damn her!  I rush on out of discomfort.  “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Suppose you had a crush on Mr. Kingston.  Maybe you wanted to get Mr. Frantz out of the way.”  Inspector Robinson pauses as if to allow me to respond.  As I’m flabbergasted by her suggestion, I can’t say a thing.  “Or perhaps Mr. Kingston is a switch-hitter as well.  Maybe he was in love with you, but Mr. Frantz wouldn’t let him go.  So Mr. Kingston hired someone to kill Mr. Frantz.”  The inspector’s voice warms up as she continues.  “Or maybe you both conspired to get rid of Mr. Frantz so you could be together!”  Her eyes are amused as she surveys my shocked face.  “What do you think of that scenario, Ms. Liang?”

“Get the fuck out of my house,” I snarl, coming to my senses.  Dimly, I’m aware that swearing at a homicide inspector is not in my best interest, but I can’t help myself.  I have never been more insulted in my life.  Not only did she sneer when she called Lyle a ‘switch-hitter’, but she actually dares to say that I would try to kill my best friend to sleep with his gay boyfriend.  If she was smiling in the least, I would think she’d just made a crude and inappropriate joke, but her face is serious.

“I’m just hypothesizing, Ms. Liang,” Inspector Robinson says coolly, ejecting the tape from the machine before bagging it, tagging it, and slipping it into her pocket.  “No need to get so bent out of shape.”  I flush, confused at her sudden antipathy.  Is her animosity towards bisexuals or sluts in general?  Lyle unfortunately chooses this moment to come out of my room.

Inspector Robinson eyes him, a sardonic smile on her face.  She asks him what he knows about the threat on my answering machine, and Lyle coolly responds that he heard it when I heard it.  I’m impressed that he’s able to keep calm as she’s riding him much harder than she did me.  The inspector goads him by threatening to hit star sixty-nine, hinting that perhaps it will be his cell phone that rings.  Her tone is steely.  No doubt about it, she’s pissed.  Lyle tells her to try it, holding his temper in check.  I’m relieved that one of us has the good sense not to swear at a cop.  Inspector Robinson picks up the receiver to my phone and punches in the code.  The phone rings, but no one picks up.  Lyle smiles smugly at the inspector, holding up his cell, but it doesn’t daunt her.

Inspector Robinson changes subjects abruptly, asking what Lyle remembers about the car that hit Paris or the driver.  She asks him three different ways, but still, Lyle doesn’t rise to the bait.  He merely repeats that he can’t remember anything.  There is a sorrowful look on his face, and I could kill the inspector for inflicting further pain on to Lyle.  As if he doesn’t feel guilty enough.  Inspector Robinson persists, urging Lyle to remember anything about the accident, any little detail.  She has lost the hostile tone, but it doesn’t matter.  Lyle can’t remember anything else, no matter how she phrases the question.  The inspector finally gives up, leaving with tape in pocket.  I’m still fuming at her remarks, which I share with Lyle as soon as the inspector is gone—minus the me sleeping with Paris part, of course.  To my surprise, he starts laughing.

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