Wednesday is uneventful, and I am grateful. I wake up Thursday morning, cautiously optimistic. For once, I have slept for several hours on end. Paris isn’t up yet, which isn’t unusual for him. He had gone on a date with Lyle last night and hadn’t return home by the time I went to bed which was a little past midnight. This morning, I make an omelet because I’ve been hankering for one the last few days, but I hadn’t had the energy to actually make one. Actually, I want scrambled eggs, but I’m no good at that so I stick to omelets which are easier for me to make for some reason. I toss in some gouda cheese, mushrooms, and onions. I am not as good a cook as Paris, but I can get by in a pinch. I toast two pieces of bread to go with my eggs and pull out the tub of butter for my toast, not margarine. I rarely use butter, but when I do, I infinitely prefer the real thing. Margarine doesn’t taste right to me. I pour myself a tall glass of orange juice and sit down to eat.
After I make a dent in my food (ok, six bites. It’s a dent for me these days), I open the Chronicle to aid digestion. I toss the front page aside as I save it for last. The funnies aren’t very funny; the sports’ page only brings bad news. After I read every other section, I glance at the headlines of the front page. What I see makes me almost throw up my breakfast on the spot. There is a big picture of Ashley, only she looks more like Marilyn Manson than Courtney Love. Her hair is dyed dark brown but that’s not the remarkable part. The knife slashes across her pretty face overshadows anything she’s done with her hair. Her shirt is torn to shreds by a knife as well, and there are gaping wounds decorating the top half of her body. At least, that’s my inference as the picture is cut off right above her breasts, and that part of her shirt is sliced to ribbons. Her eyes are wide with shock. A moan rises from inside of me, forcing its way out. My first impulse is to fling the paper in the corner and pretend that I never saw the picture, but being an ostrich is not an option.
I make myself to read the headline. ‘Punk Princess Perforated!’ would have been appropriate, but the Chron is not that crass. Or that ballsy. Instead, the headline read, ‘Marin County Debutante Slain!’ Not nearly as catchy, but nevertheless accurate. My eyes drop to the article. Ashley Stevenson, seventeen years old. A senior at Marin Academy. Her daddy is a CEO with Godiva Chocolatier. Her mommy was independently extremely wealthy before she died of cancer. I steel myself to read the rest of the grim news. Her body was found in the tennis courts of her school which were usually locked for the night, but were open last night for some unfathomable reason. Her body was found by the cops who patrol the grounds once or twice a night. They wouldn’t have noticed except the door to the tennis courts was wide open which it never was after school hours. By the time they reached the body, she was already dead. Stabbed. Suspicion of drugs. The paper hints of sexual interference, but refuses to elaborate. “Mr. Stevenson is devastated,” a ‘close family friend’ says tearfully. “My daughter should not have died,” Mr. Stevenson declares, looking twenty years older than his age. “I know the police will get to the bottom of this.”
Despite the gravity of the situation, I can’t help but snort. Of course the police will do everything in their power to uncover Ashley Stevenson’s killer. They will bend over backwards to do so because she is the chocolate princess, plus she’s young, female, and white. Those are enough reasons to keep their noses to the grind. I flip through the rest of the front page, but nothing catches my eye. I set the paper neatly to the side, a numbness creeping into my body. Even though I’m sure a girl like Ashley has many enemies—she had a knack for pissing people off—I can’t shake the feeling that perhaps her murder is connected to the trauma group. I try to convince myself that I’m paranoid, understandably so, after the events of the last few months. Once you’ve been involved in a murder, it’s hard not to take further murders personally—especially if they happen in close proximity. I want to whine, “Why me?” as if I’m the one who has been savagely stabbed to death. I have to talk to Paris.
“Paris, wake up!” Even in my agitation, I appreciate the irony of me waking Paris up for once.
“Huh, what?” Paris mumbles before bolting straight up. “What’s the matter?” He can go from deep sleep to alert faster than anyone I know. “Did you have another nightmare? Did you need me to do something? What time is it?”
“There’s been another murder, Paris,” I blurt out, wishing I had brought the paper to the bedroom with me.
“What are you talking about?” Paris looks at me in concern. “The investigation was over a month ago. You don’t have to worry about the killer any longer.” His voice is gentle as he thinks I’m having a flashback. Awake. I fight the urge to knock some sense into him, but I manage to restrain myself.
“A girl in my trauma-healing group is dead. Murdered.” I say the words deliberately, partly to convince myself. To my consternation, I begin to tremble. Paris reaches out and wraps his arms around me. I am aware that he’s not wearing anything, and there’s nothing more than two blankets between me and his naked glory. There’s nothing like death to turn me into a horny sex bunny. I shake the thought out of my head and concentrate on the matter at hand. “What if—” I can’t put my speculations into words lest I make them come true. I force the words out of my mouth, then wait for Paris to pooh-pooh my fears, but he remains silent. “Well?” I finally demand when I can’t take the silence any more. “Aren’t you going to tell me I’m overreacting?”
“You’re overreacting,” Paris says slowly. “The problem is, if you’re overreacting, so am I.” We look guiltily at each other.
“Shit, I have to get to work.” I glance at Paris’s clock and realize that I better get a move on if I want to be on time. “You going to be around when I get home from work?”
“I should be,” Paris says after thinking for a minute. “Talk to you then.” We peck each other on the cheek, then I fly.
During the day, I can’t think of anything other than Ashley’s death. The agency subscribes to the Chron, the Examiner, the Oakland Tribune, and a few smaller papers. Ashley is the top story in all but the Tribune paper—they carry it on the second page. I read every story I can, gleaning little more than what I read in the Chronicle. By the end of the day, I am saturated with knowledge, most of which is uninteresting or not relevant. I do my job with difficulty as I’m still focused on who would kill poor Ashley. I stop and frown. Poor Ashley? The girl had a mouth on her like a sewer and didn’t respect anyone. Come to think of it, that made her similar to most kids her age. That may not be a ringing endorsement of her as a person, but it’s a start.
“Let’s talk.” Paris steers me to the kitchen as soon as I step in the door after a boring day at work. Everyone in the office is avoiding me, but no more so than usual. Paris has set out a plate of cheese and crackers which are not just Ritz and American slices. I take a few minutes to demolish several crackers stacked with cheese before I feel fit to respond to Paris’s dictum. “Tell me what you thought of her.” Paris’s first command takes me by surprise. What does it matter what I thought of her? And yet, Paris seems to think it does. I begin recollecting, telling him everything I can remember about how she was at the meeting. I remember most of the spats she got into, but it’s difficult to believe that anything which had occurred in the meeting was the impetus for her death. Everyone felt sorry for her. No one hated her. Except, perhaps, Jennifer.
“She was a difficult girl,” I say slowly, wanting to give an accurate portrayal. “She wore more eyeliner than Ozzie Osbourne, had more attitude than Bjork, and more forced sex appeal than a nude Christina Aguilera.” I pause. “Perhaps I’m not being completely fair. She was also smart and had obviously thought hard about issues such as abortion. She just didn’t think them all the way through.” I frown as I think about what I had just said. “She would have been a great woman in ten years or so.” I leave unspoken the thought that now she won’t have that chance. I can tell by the look on Paris’s face that he is thinking the same thing.
“Who in your group didn’t like her?” Paris continues his questions, then nibbles at another cracker piled with cheese.
“Few people actually liked her,” I reply, grabbing a few crackers-and-cheese myself. “She was opinionated and abrasive. She said something mean about a black woman—Astarte—and one of the Latinas positively detested her. Jennifer, the Latina, is a devout Catholic and is sure that Ashley is going to hell.
“Astarte?” Paris repeats the first name, looking puzzled. “Isn’t that a goddess or something?”
“Yes.” I smile as I recall the black woman. “She looked like a goddess, too. However, according to Ashley, Astarte drove her husband to kill himself. Astarte agreed. Jennifer didn’t like Ashley’s smart mouth, either.”
“What else?” Paris’s face is impassive. Very few things surprise him any more.
“Um, that’s it. Nobody else had a direct conflict with her, I think. You know how my memory is.” Paris likes to make fun of my poor memory, but I don’t find it a laughing matter. I think of something. “You know, Paris, maybe it has nothing to do with the group. Her father is a CEO with Godiva, and her body was found at her school. What if her killer is someone from her family or her school?”
“That’s a possibility,” Paris acknowledges. “I can’t shake the feeling her death had something to do with your group.” I can’t, either, but I don’t want to think about it any more. I have spent the last month recuperating from the murders I was involved in—I do not need a new body to get in the way of my healing. I feel a flush of shame that I place my personal mental health before the solving of the homicide of a young woman, but that’s the way it has to be. The doorbell rings, startling me out of my reverie. Paris crosses the room to find out who it is. I wait in the living room as I’m fairly certain it’s not for me. “May I help you?” Paris is puzzled by the person on the other side of the intercom, I can tell.
“Police.” I hear the word, and my heart sinks. It must be the police from Marin County to ask me about Ashley. “Sergeant Grimes and Detective Brady. We’re here to talk to Ms. Rainbow Liang.” I wince as he utters my name. His tone is courteous, but there’s an undercurrent of command to it. I wait for Paris to buzz them in before slowly moving towards the front door. Very slowly. By the time I get there, Paris is opening the door for the cops.