Plaster of Paris; chapter ten, part three

He starts to speak, then falters.  He is looking for Paris’s mother, as he doesn’t feel comfortable revealing information to anyone but the next of kin.  This doctor is short, about five-six with blond wisps that go every which way but down.  He is wearing round glasses that half hide keen blue eyes.  My mother informs him with a smile that the Jensons are at the hotel because it’s been such a hard time for Mrs. Jenson, as my mother is sure the doctor can appreciate.  The doctor’s sternness melts a little under the warmth of my mother’s smile.  Lyle presses the doctor for information, causing the doctor to look at him with a faint look of alarm.  Lyle introduces himself; Dr. Price reciprocates, looking at me questioningly.  I tell him my name, nodding at him in a friendly fashion.  The doctor relaxes, then tells us what’s happened.

“Ms. Liang reported movement as well as speech.  This is a good sign.  His vitals are stable, and his countenance is strong.  I would feel better if he would emerge from his coma for a prolonged period of time, however.”

“So you’re saying not much has changed,” Lyle says dispiritedly.

“Not at all, Mr. Kingston.  I’m very pleased that he responded to stimuli.  Keep trying to connect with him so he wants to come back to us.”  Dr. Price hesitates, then continues.  “I have a feeling that for some reason, Mr. Frantz does not want to fight his way back.  For whatever reason.  By all rights, he should be out of the coma.  I would urge you all to try to convince him to fight.  That’s about all I can tell you right now.”  He shakes each of our hands again, lingering a minute longer with my mother’s, then hurries away.

“I think he likes you,” I tease my mother, who doesn’t respond.

“So do we call the Jensons or what?”  Lyle throws the question out again, waiting for someone to make a decision.

The three of us look at each other and grimace.  We are at the end of our resources, but it’s still a decision we have to make.  My mother finally heaves herself off the couch and goes in search of a phone.  Lyle is murmuring under his breath, trying to convince himself that Paris is going to be ok.  I don’t bother answering, as it’s not really a question.  My mom returns in minutes, her brow wrinkled.  She plops down in a chair, her shoulders slumped over.  It occurs to me that this is the first time since my father died that my mother seems less than totally in control.  She quietly berates herself for calling and first panicking, then falsely raising the hopes of Mrs. Jenson who now doesn’t know if she should be optimistic or not.  Lyle asks what we both want to know—are the Jensons coming to the hospital.  Apparently, not until morning.  Neither Lyle nor I say anything, but both of us are relieved.  The three of us starting talking about the accident, determined to ferret out new information.  After filling Lyle in on the details, we try to figure out the identity of ‘B’.

Lyle suggests Billy Matthews, much to the enthusiasm of both my mother and me.  He’s our likeliest suspect. Not only did he get into an altercation with Paris, he’s hopped up on steroids which is notorious for increasing aggression.  I pull out a piece of paper so I can write down our suspects.  The name of Lyle’s ex comes to mind, which does not please Lyle at all.  He insists that Basil has nothing to do with Paris’s accident; Basil doesn’t even know Paris.  I am adamant that I have to talk to Basil.  He was on my original list, but had slipped my mind.  Lyle is angry, but he agrees to give me Basil’s cell phone number.  I can tell by the way he’s glaring at me that Lyle would dearly love to give me a piece of his mind.  I don’t blame him, but I also can’t afford to overlook anyone who might fit as a suspect, no matter how marginally.

“We’re not looking at this the right way,” my mother says suddenly.  “We’re trying to find ‘B’, but what we’re overlooking is that someone sent that email to ‘B’.  That means there are at least two people involved in this.”  Neither Lyle nor I ask what ‘this’ is because it doesn’t matter.  My mother is right—there is someone behind ‘B’, and I have a strong hunch I know who it is.

“Ursula’s husband!”  Lyle bursts out.  “Didn’t his name start with a ‘B’?”  We look at each other, nodding in grim satisfaction.  I know he’s been suspicious of Ursula from the first, and I can’t deny that she knows more than she’s saying.  “Blake or Blair, or something yuppie like that.”

Blaine, that’s his name.  I am proud that I’m able to produce it with minimal thought.  Lyle and I beam at each other as my mother smiles indulgently at us.  This means that we’ll have to talk to Ursula again, which is the last thing I want to do after she hung up on me.  Lyle pleads with me to allow him to approach Basil, promising he’ll talk to Billy as well.  I argue with him about Basil because I’m afraid that Lyle won’t be able to be as ruthless with Basil as I would be.  We argue back and forth, becoming more set in our positions.  My mother is watching us with a worried frown; her eyes flitting from my face to Lyle’s.  She sees something I miss—Lyle is drooping from exhaustion.  She stops our argument, ordering Lyle to go home and sleep.  Her tone brooks no argument as she tells him she doesn’t want him to come back for eight hours.

As expected, Lyle protests vigorously, acting as if he’s been banished to the doghouse.  I snort as he protests, causing both of them to glare at me.  I don’t bother explaining to Lyle that he will go home for eight hours, whether he wants to or not.  I concede the point of interviewing Basil to Lyle because I know he’s about to be told what to do ‘for his own good.’  I also remember being on the receiving end of one of my mother’s lectures and thinking that even if she’s right, she doesn’t have to be so damn sure about it.  True to form, she informs Lyle in a compassionate, but firm voice that he won’t be any use to Paris if he’s completely worn out.  Paris is going to need every bit of Lyle’s strength, my mother continues, when he wakes up.  I’m  startled that she’d use that as a gambit considering she thinks it’s likely that Paris won’t live.  I keep my mouth shut, though, not willing to risk incurring her wrath.  My mother angry is not a pretty sight.  Besides, she made those comments of concern prior to Paris briefly regaining consciousness.

Lyle gives in, grudgingly, asking me if he can stay at my place.  What he won’t ask, but is in his eyes is the question of if I’ll go with him.  I stand up and hold out my hand, saying I’ll drive.  I’m afraid he’ll get us into an accident, then where will we be?  Right by Paris’s side, thank you very much.  Lyle tries to smile at my lame joke, but it comes out as a grimace.  He tells me I worry too much, then hands over his keys.  Though he doesn’t verbally say thank you, his eyes speak of his gratitude.  I make sure my mother feels safe staying on her own, but she dismisses my worries saying that she’s going to check up on Paris, then get some food for the policeman who probably hasn’t eaten in hours.  How like her to worry about the cop watching Paris.  I link my arm through Lyle’s as we stroll to the parking lot.  Lyle is stumbling over his feet as if he’s drunk.  By the time we reach his truck, I’m practically dragging two hundred pounds of dead weight.

“Almost there,” I mutter, propping Lyle against the truck while I dig the keys out of my pocket.  I hear a sharp crack, then something sails by my ear.  I scream and drop to the ground, pulling Lyle with me.  He lands on top of me with a thump, stunned, but hopefully not hurt.  There is silence, then a whizzing sound.  Then a thunk, then a thud.  More silence.  I lay on the ground with Lyle on top of me, not daring to move.  I don’t know what just happened, and I’m not particularly eager to find out.  After an estimated two minutes of silence, I cautiously push Lyle off me.

“You ok, Rayne?”  Lyle croaks, rolling onto his side.

“Yeah, you?”  I pull myself to my knees before stopping to gag and almost throw up.  My adrenaline is still flowing, and it’s making me nauseous.

“Wind knocked out,” Lyle pants, pulling himself into a sitting position.  The two of us stare at each other, neither wanting to talk.

“Gunshot?”  I finally ask, raising an eyebrow.  Lyle nods his head, not bothering to say anything.  We both stagger to our feet and look around us.  Whoever shot at us is long gone.  We hastily check out the truck, but there’s no bullet hole.  We search the area for the bullet and don’t find it, but find a rock with a piece of paper tied around it instead.  It’s lying by the cab of the truck, and there’s a slight dent in the trunk from impact.  I reach for it, but Lyle grabs my hand.

“Don’t touch.  Fingerprints.”  He nods wisely, pulling out his cell.  He dials a number familiar to him and me by now—Inspector Robinson.  He talks to her for a few minutes in hurried, hushed tones before ending the conversation.  “She’s on her way.  She says to not touch anything, but to stand guard.  Unless it appears there’s more danger, in which case, we’re supposed to run like hell.”  The running I could do; the waiting is more difficult.  It seems like forever, but it’s probably more like fifteen minutes when the inspector and her crew arrive.

The inspector admonishes me that I only have to call to get her attention, that I don’t need to keep putting myself in danger.  Then she smiles at me, throwing me off-guard.  If I weren’t so damn rattled—and tired—I would have been delirious at her quip.  She quickly questions us as her team dusts for prints on the rock and carefully scours the premises.  One of the uniforms tells the inspector he’s found the bullet before the two of them move a bit away so I can’t hear what they’re saying.  To my dismay, I am in tears.  It’s only now when things have calmed down that the horror has set in.  Some motherfucker shot at Lyle and me; I can’t believe it.  My hands are trembling as I stuff them into my pockets.  Lyle is gray with exhaustion and barely able to hold himself upright.  We cling to each other for support as we wait for the inspector to allow us to go home.  She does her thing for a good twenty minutes before returning to us.

“No fingerprints,” she grumbles, holding the note.  She shows it to us.

Stay out of things that don’t concern you—if you care about living.  Next time, I won’t miss.

I am disappointed at the triteness of it.  If someone is going to try to kill me, I prefer something original.  I’ve been knifed; I’ve twice had a gun held to my head; I’ve been almost run over twice; I’ve received threatening phone messages; I’ve had my apartment ransacked; I’ve been beaten up more times than I care to count—this is almost banal in comparison.  Lyle, reading over my shoulder, makes a sound in the back of his throat which sounds suspiciously like a snort.  The would-be assassin totally misjudged us if he thought this was going to scare either me or Lyle.  He or she.  I have to remind myself not to be sexist—we have just as many female suspects as male ones, and I know from my past, that women can be just as deadly as men.  More so because when roused, women’s minds are more devious than men’s.

I observe myself from the detached part of my brain.  On some level, I acknowledge that I am suffering from shock which is why I can remain so calm.  Even if the perp is only trying to scare me, s/he is serious about killing me if s/he has to.  Even with this realization, I am more pissed than frightened.  Here I am in the middle of something again, and I have no idea why.  Not even a glimmer.  Sure, I have a few likely suspects, but until I figure out what it is this person is trying to protect will I, or Paris, be safe?  I frown.  Protect?  Why do I think this person is trying to protect something?  Because s/he was looking for something Paris has or will receive.  Because there doesn’t seem to be any other reason for killing Paris.  Because it seems too unlikely a coincidence that Paris is hit the same day he hears from his birthmother.

I think harder.  Ursula is smack-dab in the middle of this somehow, either voluntarily or non-voluntarily.  I close my eyes, trying to recall the conversation in Luna Park.  There was a stagey feeling to it, as if we were part of a play with Ursula as the director.  Some of the concerns Lyle have—her reputed forgetfulness concerning Paris’s father’s name, the amount of time it took for her to find him—are beginning to bother me as well.  Plus, why is she so eager to discover what I know about the case?  She may claim some kind of kinship, but she’s never laid eyes on Paris since giving him away twenty-eight years ago.  In light of her tenuous claim, it’s interesting that she’s so profoundly concerned about him now.  I don’t have children of my own so perhaps I can’t understand, but it’s difficult for me to accept that she can play the mother card in her situation.

“Ms. Liang?”  Inspector Robinson’s voice slices through my meditation.

“Yes?”  I snap out of it.  She heaves a sigh as she shuts her notebook.

“I have some advice for you,” she says, not unkindly.  “Go home.  Get some sleep.  Leave the detecting to us.  Try to stay out of trouble.  Make your statements as soon as possible.”  She pats me on the shoulder, nods to Lyle, then leaves.

“Motherfucker dented my truck,” Lyle mutters.  “Should we tell your mother?”

“I don’t think so,” I sigh.  “She’ll only worry, and what can be done about it now?”  We hop into the car and head home.  No one else has paid me an unexpected visit, and I’m happy about that.  “Want a beer?”  I ask Lyle, heading to the fridge.

“Yes,” Lyle says with a heartfelt sigh as he goes into the living room.  I pop the tops of two Molson Ices, go into the living room and hand one over.  We are sitting side by side on the couch, silently drinking our beer.

“I’m going to visit Jenna tomorrow,” I finally say.  “I want you to talk to Ursula—see if you can get anything out of her.”

“I don’t want to talk to Ursula,” Lyle whines.  “Let’s switch, ok?”

“You don’t know Jenna; I do.  I already gave you Basil.”  I punch Lyle lightly in the shoulder.  “Besides, I think you could charm Ursula if you choose.  She definitely is a man’s woman.  Also, I want you to talk to her before I do.  We’ll double-team her; she’ll never know what hit her.”  We finish our beers and go to bed—separately.  I don’t know how Lyle feels, but I’m glad this day is over.  I just hope tomorrow will be better; it certainly can’t be much worse.

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