Plaster of Paris; chapter twelve, part one

“Let’s go talk,” Lyle says, grabbing me by the arm.  With a wave at the others, he steers me to the cafeteria.

“Isn’t it great, Lyle?”  I say, a goofy smile on my face.

“I forgot to tell you about Ursula,” Lyle says as soon as we sit down.  Neither of us is hungry, but I grab a piece of chocolate pie anyway.  Lyle has a monster cookie which he is munching.  Both of us have coffee as well.

“Ursula?”  I look at him blankly.

“Paris’s birthmother,” Lyle prods my memory.  “I never told you about our talk.”              “Shit!  That’s right!  Dish,” I order.  Lyle spills all he knows.  As we guessed, Ursula tried to feint and dodge, but Lyle’s charm finally won her over.  To a certain extent.  She confessed that she had talked to Paris’s birthfather ‘once or twice’ since the blessed event, but refused to divulge his name or where he lived, saying it wasn’t relevant.  She admitted to discovering Paris months ago, but sat on the information because she was nervous about facing him.  Plus, she had a deadline for the book she was working on, and she couldn’t afford to let anything interfere with that.  Her husband was still out of town, or so she said.  Lyle couldn’t see any traces of him in the living room or the kitchen, the two rooms he actually saw.

“She was tense,” Lyle says, frowning as he sips his coffee.  “She tried to cover it up, but I could tell.  Everything was just a hair off.  You know, laugh a little too loud; gestures a little too broad—that kind of thing.”  I know exactly what he’s saying; it was the same way when we met her in Luna Park.  An actor in a play of her own making—Lyle and I are just bit players on her stage.  The spell she cast over me when we first met has long since dissipated.

Lyle asked Ursula how many people she told about Paris.  She said her family and one ‘special friend’.  I can hear the quotes in his voice.  Lyle is positive that Ursula is having an affair, but I don’t see how that matters.  Lyle says it’s about Ursula’s will.  She’s considering changing her will if Paris wakes up.  What if her lover is one of her heirs and doesn’t want to do without his portion?  That would give him plenty motive to do away with Paris.  Lyle takes a huge bite of his cookie and chews ferociously as I consider what he just said.  I curse her under my breath.  I can’t believe she’s playing this game, pitting one family member against another.  I wonder if she can see the potential damage in what she’s doing, or if she even cares.  Lyle shrugs.  He’s gotten everything he can out of her; now it’s my turn.  We finish up then return to the waiting room.  I remember that I was supposed to go to the precinct to make my statement and put it at the top of my list of things to do for tomorrow.  Lyle will have to go, too, so we agree we’ll try to coordinate our visits.  Tomorrow.  Back in the waiting room, my mom and Mrs. Jenson are quietly chatting.

“He should be fully conscious in the next day or two, Lord willing,” Mrs. Jenson says gratefully.  My mom is holding Mrs. Jenson’s hand, patting it once in a while.  “It truly is a miracle that he’s pulled out of it, but I had no doubt.”

“Where’s the Mister?”  I ask jovially.

“In with Paris,” Mrs. Jenson says.  I must have twitched involuntarily or something because she adds, “Douglas really does care for the boy; he just isn’t crazy about his lifestyle as neither am I.”  This statement is not delivered with its usual venom, however, so neither Lyle nor I take offense.

“I’m going home,” I sigh, my whole body sagging.  The first commandment of dire hospital situations should be, ‘Thou shalt take care of thyself’.  I am drained from the waiting and worrying, but it’ll be worth it if Paris just wakes up for good.

“You’re not going alone,” my mother says immediately.  “I’m coming with you.”  I know better than to argue.  We look at Lyle, but he indicates that he’ll remain for the night.  My mother and I stroll to her car arm in arm.  I feel better than I have in days.  Now that Paris is off the ventilator and waking up periodically, I’m optimistic that he is on his way to a full recovery.

“I forgot the mail,” I swear softly as we zoom our way home.  The great thing about driving around San Francisco late at night is that there is less traffic that way.

“What makes you think it matters now?”  My mom asks curiously, executing a particularly neat U-turn.

“The scratches on the lock,” I say reasonably.  “If he, and I mean a generic he, got what he wanted from the mail, he wouldn’t have any reason to try to break in.”

“Unless he was after more than one thing,” my mother points out.  “You need to have your landlord fix your mailbox, by the way.”  Just what I want—more contact with Dickie, my landlord.  Then again, maybe he’ll give me more rent-free time because someone broke into my mailbox.  That man lives in constant fear that I’m going to sue him for the lax security in the building.  I pick up the mail on the way up the stairs and shuffle through it.  It’s mostly bills, but there’s a manila envelope from Ursula to Paris.  It has a faint scent that I cannot identify, but I’m willing to bet is Chanel or something expensive like that.  Perhaps even Vera Wang.  Out of my league at any rate.  Ursula has firm writing with dashes of flair.

“Look, Mom,” I say, waving the envelope at her.  “Ursula speaks.”  I let us in to the apartment, dropping the rest of the mail on the coffee table in the living room.  My mother makes us tea while I hold the envelope up to the light.  Damn.  Nothing.  After we sit down on the couch to drink our tea, my mother asks the question that is on both our minds.

“Well?  Do we open it?”  She pulls out her pipe from under the couch as well as her stash and lights up.

“Normally, I would give a speech about privacy and how important it is to protect Paris’s right even though he is in the hospital.”  I hesitate, not knowing how my mother would feel about a little snooping.

“These are not ordinary circumstances, Rainbow,” she says firmly, holding her pipe out to me.  I shake my head.  “If there is anything in that letter that will help us find Paris’s attacker, we need to know.”

“What I can’t figure out is why she sent him a letter after he ended up in the hospital,” I say slowly, noting the postmark.  It had been sent on Monday—two days ago.

“Well, let’s open it and see.”  That’s all the encouragement I need.  I rip open the envelope, and several sheets of paper fall into my lap.  One is a letter.

Dearest Paris—

            It is with a grievous heart that I take pen in hand to write this missive to you.  You are my beloved son, one who deserves so much more than I could ever give you.  Even though it was so difficult, giving you up for adoption was the best thing I could have done.  There are so many things you don’t know about your birth, so many things I want to tell you.  You have to wake up so I can tell you the full story.  Only one other person knows everything, and only because I recently divulged my secret after almost thirty years.  One other person knows half the story, same as you do.  The two of you need to be able to put together the two halves to make a whole.

            Forgive the maunderings of a woman prone to fits of indulgence.  Talking to you on Saturday was such a high.  I had so looked forward to seeing you.  I can’t believe that you’ve had this horrible accident, but I will be waiting for you when you awake, and I have good news.  I have decided to change my will so that you will inherit a fifth of my estate, equal to that of the rest of my children.  My husband will get the house and the cars, but the rest is for my children.  This in addition to a trust I have established for you.  I’ll tell you the details when we finally meet!  I only beg of you that when you finally hear everything, you won’t judge me too harshly.  I did what I thought best. 

            Your loving mother, Ursula. 

“She changed her will!”  I exclaim as I finish reading.  “That was fast.”

“A fifth of her estate?”  My mother’s brow wrinkles.  “That means there’s one other child.”

“Unless the other fifth goes to her husband,” I suggest, but not very strongly.  “And what’s the garbage of two halves making a whole?”  We look at each other in bewilderment.  Ursula’s letter doesn’t bring any answers, only more questions.

“Your question is very valid,” my mother muses, puffing at her pipe.  “Why send it when she knows Paris is in the hospital?”

“’Cause she knew I’d open it?”  I suggest.  “She wanted me to read it?”  My mother shakes her head in dissatisfaction, but doesn’t say anything.  I pull out another sheet of paper; this one is folded.  “A birth certificate!”  I say enthusiastically.  “She sent a copy of Paris’s birth certificate!”  I carefully unfold it, then peruse it with my mother looking on as well.

“She called him Benny,” my mother says softly.  “Wasn’t that her lover’s name?”

“Nickname,” I correct, still skimming.  “What’s this?”  On the line where it reports how many births occurred, it says that he’s one of two—he’s a twin.  “A twin!”  I shriek, overwhelmed by the discovery.  “No way!  He can’t be.”  I imagine another Paris running around, and it’s strangely appealing.

“I can’t believe this,” my mother murmurs.  “I wonder if the Jensons know?”  My guess is not.  If Mrs. Jenson knew Paris had a twin, she would have done everything possible to adopt him as well.  There is a photograph in the envelope.  It’s of a much-younger Ursula holding two babies—one in each arm.  She looks exhausted, but manages to smile for the camera.

“Well, this was probably her business in the Midwest,” I say softly.  “Assuming she wanted to make contact with both twins.”  I glance at the birth certificate again.  “Paris is the older twin.  I wonder if that makes a difference.”  I set it aside to think about it later.  The last article in the envelope is a copy of her will, but I’m not up to reading the whole thing.  I do see something that states if one of the benefactors dies, his or her share reverts to the estate, which means that the other children will get more.

“Look at this,” my mother says softly, pointing at something in the birth certificate.  It’s the line for father, and Ursula had said, “Benny B.”  That’s it.

“I don’t get it,” I say, frowning at our cachet of treasures.  “Why go to all the trouble now?  When Paris is in the hospital?”

“Maybe she doesn’t think he’s going to make it,” Mom suggests.  “Maybe this is all for show.  Maybe she’s the one who tried to kill him.”

“Why?  Why would she contact him just to set up this elaborate hoax?”

“Oh, who knows, Rainbow?  Murderers aren’t exactly the most rational of people.”  I shudder because I know from experience that it’s true.  My mother is examining the letter carefully.  She frowns.  “What is it?”  I ask, rolling my shoulders to ease the tension there.

“She didn’t leave anything to her husband in the will,” my mother says, then corrects herself.  “Besides the house and cars.  I wonder what that means?”  I shrug.  There’s no guessing the vagaries of Ursula’s mind, and I have long given up trying.  I get up to check the answering machine which I neglected when we first came it.  The blinking red light tells me someone’s missed me.

“Ms. Liang, this is Inspector Robinson.  Uh, you forgot to come down and give your statement.  I expect to see you tomorrow.”  It isn’t a question but an order.

“I wonder why she didn’t call me on my cell?”  I mutter, erasing the message.

“Probably too shy,” my mother teases.  “She’s sure looking for excuses to call you, don’t you think?  Why don’t you put the poor woman out of her misery and ask her out already?”

“Suspects and detectives don’t fraternize,” I say firmly, though there’s a tiny smile tugging at my mouth.  “It’s simply not done.”

“You’re not a real suspect,” my mother says impatiently.  “She should know that if you were going to kill someone, you’d have done it by now, and it most likely would have been your sister.”  I choke on the laughter bubbling up inside me, but sternly tamp it down.  I call Lyle to let him know about Ursula’s little care package, and he’s just as baffled as my mother and I as to what it means.  We agree that I need to talk to Ursula as soon as possible.  When I find out the game she’s playing, I’ll be more than halfway there to solving this mystery.

I retire to my bedroom, leaving my mother to Paris’s.  There are so many things I should be pondering such as the little packet from Ursula, who is trying to kill my best friend, how am I going to tell him he’s a twin, etc.  What I am thinking about, however, is what to wear tomorrow so I can look fresh when visiting Inspector Robinson.  I shake my head, trying to steer my thoughts to more fruitful pastures.  The last thing I need to be worrying about is the state of my love life, but it’s preying on my mind.  It doesn’t help that I just broke up with Vashti and am feeling a little empty inside.  Not so much for her, per se because we didn’t get to know each other well enough to really care, but for the possibilities of what might have been.  A potential relationship cut short before it really even had a chance to start.  I remind myself that it’s not a permanent dead-end, but merely a pit stop.

I toss and turn, unable to sleep.  After mentally rummaging through my entire closet and changing my outfit five times, I am finally ready to let go of that bone.  Instead, my anger at Ursula slowly builds.  Who the hell does she think she is just dropping into Paris’s life like that with no warning, spreading mass chaos in her path?  Why didn’t she tell Lyle and me about Paris’s twin when we met her at Luna Park for lunch?  Why not tell us who the father of the babies are unless he lives in the city, and she’s protecting him for a specific reason?  Why did she tell her children about Paris so many weeks before approaching him?  Did she tell them about his twin as well?  Most likely since Lois taunted Lyle with it.  I doubt that was just a shot in the dark, though who can tell?  What  is Ursula playing at, and is she in any danger?  Or is this an elaborate hoax she dreamed up for god knows what reason?  The next time I talk to her, I have to make her understand I’m not playing.  On that note, I fall asleep, but it’s not easy—filled with shadows and monsters better left unexamined.

Leave a reply

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *