I wake the next morning, Friday, feeling particularly refreshed. I did not wake up screaming from a nightmare, nor did Lyle have to wake me up. I am downright cheerful on my walk to work. I have put on a green blouse and white slacks because I feel so good. I even whistle a bit as I walk. The weather is sunny with no wind for a change, so it seems as if even the heavens are smiling on me today. At work, nobody is overtly friendly towards me, but no one pointedly ignores me, either. I pour myself a cup of coffee before sitting down at my desk. I drape my jacket on the coat rack, then power on my computer. I like to execute the same movements every morning as my own little ritual. I have emails from my sister and from Vashti as well as a voice mail message from Vashti. There is nothing from Ursula, however, which surprises me a bit. I decide to try to call her again during my lunch break. I read the email from Libby.
Rayne, thank you again for the advice. I appreciate your unique point of view. Really, I do. It’s so hard to do the right thing sometimes, isn’t it? I know I love Wallace; I just wish I loved him more. I haven’t made a decision yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.
“Hey, Rayne!” Jamal grins at me as he bounces around. I am glad that he’s gotten over being mad at me as he’s my favorite kid. He is munching a Snickers bar, and it’s probably not his first this morning. “How’s your homey?”
“He’s awake, Jamal,” I say, grinning in return. “He’s going to be just fine.”
“That’s great,” Jamal says softly, standing still for a minute. He’s lost his grin, and there’s something wistful in his eyes. “You lucky, you know?” He waves at me with the Snickers before disappearing up the stairs. I watch him fondly before turning back to my computer. I’m immersed in my work for the rest of the morning.
“Hey, Rayne!” Quinn McGowan, my coworker who used to be a quasi-friend until she started avoiding me like the plague because of the rash of murders I’ve been involved in. She interrupts me just as I’m about to take my lunch break.
“Hey, Quinn,” I say pleasantly. Even though she’s a basket case with more than a few issues, she’s still attractive. Five-feet two with generous curves, pure green eyes and glossy dark brown hair cut pixie-style, she dresses to accentuate her positives. Today she’s wearing a tight green sweater that matches her eyes and a short black skirt. I’m cautious, however, as the last time she talked to me it was because she wanted me to have a threesome with her and her boyfriend. “What’s up?”
“Did you hear the big news?” She asks excitedly, bouncing on her toes. She doesn’t seem to do much work as the program coordinator, but perhaps that’s just my perception as she used to spend way too much time in the foyer for my comfort. “Ursula Meadows has been killed!” I stare at her, not understanding what she said. “Shot through the heart. Just like the Bon Jovi song.” She giggles, clearly glad to be the bearer of bad tidings. Still, I can’t speak, and she misinterprets my silence. “Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of Ursula Meadows? She’s one of the hottest writers in town! And San Francisco Wept? You must have read it!”
“Um, yeah, I did.” I finally am able to speak, though my voice comes out hoarse. Why didn’t the inspector call me right away? “When did she die?” A strange question, but Quinn doesn’t notice as she’s so eager to talk about the murder.
“Late last night, around one or two in the morning,” she says, pressing her hands together. Her eyes are shining in a way that sickens me. She’s getting off on what she’s telling me, reminding me of a vulture. I had forgotten this side of her, which had been evident during the last murder case as well. It’s yet another reason we could never be real friends. “Her body was found in her driveway this morning by, get this, her son!” Immediately, I think of that polite voice on the phone. He had sounded about twelve years old. I hope it wasn’t him, but as the other son is younger, that would be even worse.
I deliberately downplay my reaction, knowing it’s the best way of drawing information out of her. I’m not sure I want to hear it from her, but she’s the one with information. She gladly dishes the dirt, telling me that Ursula’s body was laid spread-eagle on the driveway. Clothed. The expression on Quinn’s face tells me that she would have preferred it otherwise. I wish she would go away and take her ghoulish interest with her. It sickens me how she discusses murder in such a bloodthirsty way. I know from experience, however, that she won’t leave until she’s told me everything she knows and resign myself to hearing every gory detail. At least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that after Quinn is through, I’ll know everything there is to know about the case that hasn’t been held back by the cops.
Ursula’s husband is still out of town. The scuttlebutt is that he’s having an affair, but doesn’t want to divorce Ursula because she has the money. Of course, there are rumors that she’s having an affair of her own. No one knows why she and hubby number three didn’t just divorce and hook up with their respective flings. Quinn rattles off her suppositions in her surprisingly husky voice, tacking on a little laugh at the end. Once she exhausts that vein, she changes topics and lets me know that there are no suspects at this time. Then she amends her statement by saying that the police are taking a close look at the husband, but he’s not considered a suspect at this time. Of course, they are also looking at the children, especially Lois. Quinn nods her head wisely as she says it’s always about money. The papers must not have known that only the kids inherit her money. All her children. What a field day the press will have with the bit about the twins as soon as it’s known that Ursula had illegitimate children. My heart aches for Paris who has already suffered so much.
“Shouldn’t you be getting back to work?” I say delicately. She takes my hint and scurries off to deliver her news elsewhere. The minute she’s out of sight, I call Lyle on my cell. I hope none of my coworkers walk by as I’m talking to him, but I have to tell him the news.
“Yeah, what?” Lyle answers, sounding groggy.
“Did I wake you?” I ask, momentarily startled. “It’s almost noon.”
“I’m bored, not sleeping,” Lyle responds, sounding a bit more awake. “What’s up?”
“Ursula is dead,” I say abruptly. “Murdered.”
“What?” Now he’s wide awake, and, like me, in shock. “Details!”
“I can’t right now. I’ll talk to you after work. If you can’t wait that long, check it out online. Are you at the hospital? If so, tell my mom, too.”
“What about the Jensons?” Lyle asks. “Should I tell them, too? Oh my god, what about Paris?”
“Don’t tell them,” I say immediately. I’m not sure why I say that, but it feels like the right decision. “Not Paris, either.” We arrange to meet at my apartment after I’m done working, then we hang up. Ten minutes later, my phone rings.
“What the hell is happening, Rainbow?” My mother’s voice is low and urgent. I haven’t heard her this perturbed since I told her about Paris’s accident. “Lyle told me Ursula’s dead.”
“Did he also tell you about Paris’s twin?” I ask wearily. When she answers in the negative, I fill her in, making sure no one’s around. Any time someone walks by, I switch to Taiwanese because I don’t give a fuck if my coworkers think I’m rude.
“I’m calling a powwow,” my mom says firmly. She agrees to meet Lyle and me at my apartment when I’m done working. She also agrees that I’ve done the right thing by withholding the newest information from Mr. and Mrs. Jenson. I endure the rest of the day until I can go home. Lyle and Mom are waiting for me when I let myself in.
We gather in the living room, my mother and I on the couch with Lyle in the chair opposite. There are cookies and sandwiches—ham and cheese this time—on a tray on the coffee table as well as tea. None of us are hungry, but we all nibble as we discuss the case. I wonder if we have more than one killer as there is a larger field of suspects for Ursula than there is for Paris. Her kids, her husband, her lover, the Jensons. Those are just the ones we know of. A woman like Ursula is sure to have made many enemies in her lifetime. Lyle isn’t buying that there is more than one killer—or, would-be killer—in this mess. He says it stretches credibility that Ursula is killed after both of her illegitimate children—twins, no less—are attacked. When he puts it that way, I have to admit that it does sound most implausible. We hash it out but don’t come up with any answers. I turn on the television just in time to catch the local news which, of course, consists primarily of Ursula’s death. There’s Lois, being interviewed, her eyes heavily reddened from crying.
“My mother was a saint,” she declares, staring directly into the camera lens. “A city treasure.”
“What crap!” Lyle says indignantly as Miss Princess spins her dramatics. “When I ran into her, she spent most of the time stabbing her mother in the back. Now, she’s ready to canonize her mother.”
“It’s possible that she has contradictory feelings for her mother,” Mom says gently. “She’s a teenager, after all.”
“She’s a conniving liar,” Lyle says fiercely. “If she feels one iota of grief, I’ll have sex with the first woman I see.”
“Make sure it’s me,” I quip, quickly subsiding under my mother’s glare.
“Marv, the body was discovered by the victim’s eleven-year old son, Sean Crawford. He is her son by her first marriage. Ms. Meadows returned to her maiden name after divorcing her first husband.” A thin, anorexic-looking, light-complected black woman says seriously. “We have tried to get a comment from the son, but he refuses to talk to the media.” There is a shot of a slender young boy with a shock of dark-brown hair and huge hazel eyes hurrying into the house, a horde of reporters trailing after him.
“Scavengers,” my mother exclaims indignantly. “Why don’t they leave that poor boy alone?”
“Because the truth needs to be told, of course,” I say sarcastically. “The public has the right to know!”
“They don’t have the right to harass a child,” my mother says fiercely. “How would they like it if it was their own kid?”
“They’d probably push him into the spotlight,” Lyle says snidely. None of us have a very high opinion of the media, partially because of our own bad experience with members of the press. Of the three, I’m probably the least averse to the press, and even I can’t stand them right now.
“If you want to find my mother’s killer, find her friend—the one she spends so much time with,” Lois says, her eyes flashing resentfully. “Male, of course. Mother only had male friends.” She belatedly remembers that mother is supposed to be a cross between Mother Theresa and Gandhi, but it’s too late. The media pounces on her words.
“Ms. Crawford, was your mother having an affair?”
“Ms. Crawford, was your mother divorcing your stepfather?”
“Ms. Crawford, what were the terms of your mother’s will? How much do you inherit?”
“Ms. Crawford, what about your mother’s illegitimate children?” The last question cuts through the cacophony and for a minute, silence prevails.
“Shit, shit, shit,” Lyle whispers under his breath. “Not now! Please not like this.” I devoutly hope the Jensons aren’t watching the news. Forget the Jensons. I hope Paris isn’t watching. If this isn’t enough to cause a setback, I don’t know what is.
“I have nothing further to say,” Lois declares, her mouth clamped shut in a thin line.
“Too little too late,” my mother snorts, turning up the volume a notch. The reporter happily speculates on the questions posed, but it’s clear that none of them have solid proof about any of the questions they asked.
“How like the noble media,” Lyle says, his voice dripping with scorn. “Throw as much mud as possible and see what sticks.”