Besides, I need to wait for Mr. Jenson, as he’s on my list of people to interview. I doubt very much I’ll get anything substantive from him as he’s a cagey man, but I owe it to Paris to try. I have a hard time believing that he drove or flew from San Diego to the Bay Area to kill Paris for reasons unknown, but odder things have been known to happen. I wonder about the Jensons financial situation, then wonder why I wonder. Even if they are strapped for cash, it’s not as if Paris has much in the bank. The money that Ursula claims she’s going to settle on him hasn’t happened yet, Mr. Jenson don’t know about it, anyway, and it’s not enough to kill your stepson over, is it? Thinking about money leads me to ponder whether Paris has a will or not. My guess is no, but he can be surprisingly pragmatic about things such as that. If he does have a will, I’m fairly share that much of his earthly possessions will be split between Lyle and me. I wonder if Inspector Robinson has looked into that. I’m sure she has. She’s a thorough inspector who always gets her man. Or woman.
I sit at the table a bit longer, though I no longer want to eat. I can’t bear to go back yet, so I sit. It’s nice to be surrounded by others with similar stories, but not to be immersed in their pain. In a strange way, we are a support group without ever having to say a word. This is one place where you can assume for the most part that most people are not here for happy purposes—except, perhaps, to give birth. I wonder how many tears the cafeteria has witnessed? More than its fair share, I’m willing to wager. It’s the one place that has a lock on grief. After ten minutes of resting, I rise, dump my trash, and return to the waiting room. I look around me with displeasure; I am starting to seriously loathe this place.
Lyle, my mother and Mrs. Jenson are each slumped in a chair, my mother sitting between the other two. Mrs. Jenson has her head buried in her hands while Lyle is staring at the wall opposite. My mother is leaning against the wall behind her with her eyes closed. I can’t tell if she’s just resting her eyes or if she’s actually napping. I sit in the seat across from them so we don’t look like a line of prisoners waiting for execution. I close my eyes as well, suddenly exhausted. I want desperately to go home and sleep in my own bed, but it’d be too lonely and desolate without Paris in the other room. In the last couple months since the conclusion of the first murder case, Paris hasn’t stayed over at Lyle’s place very often because he’s been watching over me. I don’t know if I can stay in an empty apartment with Paris unconscious in the hospital. I wonder if I could persuade my mother to come home with me.
“Catherine! I got here as soon as I could!” Mr. Jenson is racing towards us, his face red. He is a short man, around five-feet eight inches, but he carries himself with the erect posture of a military man. He has a short, bristly flat top of white hair with a neat moustache of the same shade. He is wearing a dark brown suit with a narrow black tie, which is appropriate attire for attending a funeral. I shake that thought from my head.
“Douglas!” Mrs. Jenson jumps up and hurries to her husband. He wraps her in his arms and murmurs something into her hair. It’s obvious that he loves his wife and would do anything to take the pain away from her. It warms up my attitude towards him, but only marginally. Mrs. Jenson ushers him over to our little group and introduces him to my mother who has never met him.
“Pleasure, ma’am,” Mr. Jenson says gravely, shaking my mother’s hand. “It’s most unfortunate it has to be under such duress. How is Paris?” He looks from one to another, studiously avoiding looking at Lyle. Mrs. Jenson fills him in on the developments. The five of us do a little shuffle so my mother, Mr. and Mrs. Jenson are sitting in a row with Lyle and I across from them. My mother quickly falls back asleep.
“Would you like to see him?” Mrs. Jenson ask softly, her eyes focusing on her husband’s. He hesitates, and for a minute, I’m sure he’s going to say no.
“Of course, Catherine.” He comes through like a trooper. The two of them stand up, and Mrs. Jenson leads him by the hand.
“Did you see the way he hesitated?” Lyle hisses as soon as the two are out of sight—and hopefully earshot. “He doesn’t give a damn about Paris.”
“Lyle, please,” I say wearily. I am too tired to hear another harangue about the evilness of the Jensons. While I may not agree with their ideology, I have to respect that they are being true to what they believe. Besides, obsessing about it isn’t going to do anything but give Lyle an ulcer.
“Oh, I know. I’m sorry,” Lyle says contritely. “It’s just that they remind me so much of my parents. And about a zillion other parents of queer folk. How did you get to be so lucky?”
“Hippie parents,” I say dryly. “Hemp and homosexuality ain’t nothing to them. I wouldn’t be surprise if one or both of my parents had a homosexual liaison or two in their past. During Pride, my mom marched louder and prouder than any queer I know.”
“That’s a good thing, isn’t it?” Lyle asks, his forehead creasing. He casts an adoring glance at my slumbering mother before refocusing his attention on me.
“Yeah, sure,” I shrug. “I mean, it’s cool that she never gave me grief when I came out, but it’s hard to rebel against such laid-back parents. Unless you become an uptight, Republican, Wall Street maven like my sister.” Lyle laughs a genuine laugh, and I’m pleased that I am the one who elicited it from him. We are chatting about nothing in particular when Mr. Jenson returns ten minutes later, by himself. He sits next to my mother, holding himself stiffly erect. Lyle gives me a meaningful glance before standing up. Murmuring something about the cafeteria, he disappears. My mother is still sleeping.
“So, Mr. Jenson,” I say, a pleasant smile on my face. He looks at me without comprehension. I realize that he doesn’t remember who I am, so I hasten to introduce myself.
“Ah, Rayne. Paris’s best friend.” His tone is neutral, and nothing is his face divulges what he thinks about me.
“I hear you were at a hunting convention in San Diego. How did it go?” I try to ask the question smoothly, but it comes out heavy-handed instead.
“Fine,” Mr. Jenson replies, folding his arms across his chest. Everything about his demeanor screams, ‘Back off!’, but I plow on.
“Lots to do? Bet you didn’t have a spare minute to yourself!” I wish I had rehearsed what I was going to ask him as I am sounding like a total idiot.
“I had plenty of free time,” Mr. Jenson says. His pale blue eyes are staring at me intensely. I shudder, but struggle to hold his gaze. I know that in this game, I lose if I look away.
“So what did you do in your free time? See the sights? Maybe go to the zoo?” I cringe at the inanity of my questions. I am acting like a twelve-year old because being in his stern presence reduces me thusly.
“The zoo.” Mr. Jenson repeats the two words with disdain. He pauses, thinking, then suddenly leans forward. I jerk back in alarm. “Ms. Liang, I did not come up here and harm my stepson, if that is what you’re thinking.” He leans back and adds, dropping his voice considerably. “I don’t care whether he lives or die save for the fact that my wife cares. Because she wants him alive, I want him alive. Understand?” His eyes haven’t left mine, and it’s all I can do not to shut my own eyes to block him out. This man is cold-blooded, and perhaps even dangerous. He isn’t even afraid that I’ll tell his wife what he said because he knows she’ll never believe me. He watches me process what he’s said, then nods with satisfaction. Message delivered. I stand up to retrieve Lyle. “One more thing, Ms. Liang. If I were the one who wanted Paris dead, he would be.”
I backpedal as fast as I can to get away from this repellent—and alarming—man. There isn’t even a hint of a smile on his face as he utters those parting words, and I have no doubt he means them. That doesn’t eliminate him a suspect, however, as he might not wanted to kill Paris, but merely wished to hurt him. To what purpose, I don’t know, but I want it to be Mr. Jenson, desperately. A minute later, I’m ashamed of myself. This man is Paris’s stepfather, and just because I don’t like him, doesn’t mean I should hope he’s the would-be killer. I pause. Perhaps he’s putting on an act. I shake my head; nobody is that good of an actor. He simply told me what he thought—nothing more, nothing less. I make it to the cafeteria in record time.
“Rayne! Over here!” Lyle waves at me with a fork loaded with chocolate cake. I stroll over, plopping down in the chair opposite him. “How did it go with the martinet?”
“Creepy,” I say, picking up his spoon and snitching a bite of his cake. It tastes like sawdust—sweet sawdust, but sawdust nonetheless. I relate the conversation I had with Mr. Jenson as best as I can remember it with Lyle exclaiming indignantly in all the right places.
“I’d say he just shot up to number one on my suspect list,” Lyle says when I’m finished.
“I don’t know, Lyle,” I say slowly. I don’t want to anger Lyle, but it just doesn’t compute. “Don’t get me wrong. I’d like nothing more for him to be our man, but I just don’t think he’d do anything to hurt his wife. Besides, what would be his motive? Irritation? He never saw Paris. Money? Paris had none. Moral indignation? If so, he would have done it years ago.”
“What if Ursula called them first?” Lyle asks, setting down his fork. “We only have Mrs. Jenson’s word for it that she didn’t know.”
“She was pretty convincing,” I say, then a thought struck me. “I wonder if she’s talked to Mr. Jenson about Ursula? I need to find out.” Without waiting for a response, I take off running. “Mr. Jenson!” I call out as I enter the waiting room. My mother is still sleeping, and Mr. Jenson is still sitting exactly as I left him.
“Yes?” Mr. Jenson turns his head a fraction of an inch to stare at me. I sit across from him, but inch my chair back surreptitiously. There is just something creepy about this man that makes me wary.
“Um, did you know about Paris’s birthmother?” I blurt out, not knowing a better way to say it.
“What about her?” Mr. Jenson parries, making things as difficult as possible. Mentally, I make a face at him for being a prick.
“She talked to him the day he got hurt,” I explain, scrutinizing Mr. Jenson’s face. “She wanted to meet him.”
“What?” The instantaneous change in his demeanor catches me off-guard. Instead of the phlegmatic, stoic ice-king, he turns into raging bull. His face flushes as he leans forward so his nose is almost touching mine. The vein in his forehead is throbbing, and his eyes are a deep blue now. Impossible, but true. “That bitch called Paris?” I blink in shock at his lost of control and his swearing. “What the fuck does she want with him?” Instead of appearing as a general, he is talking like a sailor swabbing the deck.
“I told you. She wants to meet him—see how he turned out.” I ease my chair back a couple more inches and lean as far back into it as possible.
“If that cunt thinks that she can take him back, she’s sorely mistaken.” Mr. Jenson is breathing laboriously, and I fear for his health.
“Mr. Jenson, please,” I say, fluttering my hands nervously. The last thing I want is for him to have a coronary, though this would be the best place for it to happen. The change is fascinating. I wonder why he feels so free to be this way around me. Probably because no one—read, his wife—would believe it. “Paris is an adult. There is no taking back.”
“Catherine raised that boy as if he were her own flesh and blood. No two-bit whore is going to take that away from her.” Mr. Jenson has risen from his chair, and he is towering over me. I wonder if this is a performance for my sake, to show that he isn’t the one who hit Paris. I don’t know what to think. He’s unbalanced me, and it’s disturbing.
“I just thought you should know,” I murmur in a placating manner. I stand up as well, trying not to feel threatened. “I better go, ah, that is…” I am saved from having to come up with an excuse by the return of his wife.
“Douglas? What’s going on here?” Immediately, the rage seeps out of Mr. Jenson’s body only to be replaced by the starchiness that is his signature.
“Nothing, dear,” Mr. Jenson says stiffly. “Ms.—Rayne and I were just having a conversation.” He glares at me, daring me to divulge what exactly we were conversing about. I decline and leave to find Lyle who is still in the cafeteria.
I plop down opposite him before filling him in on our conversation. There is something about Mr. Jenson that just bothers me. I want to know what he’s playing at, and Lyle suggests that perhaps he’s schizophrenic. He’s half-joking, but it would explain the violent shifts I witnessed. Lyle doesn’t think Mr. Jenson was trying to snow me because how would he know I was trying to solve the crime? I think about it as I snitch a fry from Lyle. He must have gone up for seconds, which I take as a good sign. He wants to know where was my mother and ‘the battleaxe’ were during all this. I devoutly hope Lyle remembers not to call Mrs. Jenson that to her face. I explain they were sleeping and in with Paris, respectively. Then I bring him up to date about my activities thus far. He is encouraged that I was able to locate a potential problematic client, and he’s intrigued by Jimmy’s blatant hostility as Jimmy has always adored Paris.
Then Lyle reports his findings after reminding me that he’s been at the hospital all day. As he talks, I eat more of his fries. He called Mirabelle who was able to tell him that the blond girl was talking about her bitch of a mother who didn’t really care about her, that she’d show her. Despite the profusion of feminine pronouns, I figure out what he’s saying. He continues his report. The blond woman was definitely trying to seduce Paris; she had a hand on his knee. She mentioned something about the gym, Mirabelle said, so that’s probably where Paris met her. I ask if Marigold happened to remember if the blond mentioned the gym by name or just said the gym. Lyle informs me that Mirabelle can’t remember the details as this event happened a few weeks ago. She thinks the girl may have mentioned the name of the gym, but it might have been Paris. The only other thing Mirabelle can remember is that the blond whispered something in Paris’s ear before moving her hand up his thigh. Paris moved it away and whispered something back that made the blond unhappy. I wonder how Morticia construed Paris having an affair from that picture, but decline to ask. Lyle is under enough stress as is. My hunch is that the good Malaysia has a crush on Lyle and wants to turn him. Futile, if you ask me, but a woman will go to great lengths to get her man.