“Sorry to intrude,” Inspector Robinson says, flashing her badge and not looking at all sorry. “I’m Inspector Robinson. I’m investigating the homicide of Rosalita Chavez. This is Detective Brady. She is investigating the homicide of Ashley Stevenson.” Detective Brady nods, but her eyes are scanning the crowd. Cop eyes—they don’t miss a thing.
“What do you want?” Carol’s tone is combative, which is not ideal for talking with the police.
“We would like to say a few words to the women here,” Inspector Robinson says, still rooted to a spot just inside the doorway. It is clear that she is taking the lead on the case with Detective Brady content to play second fiddle. Presumably, she’s used to it with Sergeant Grimes as her boss. “If that’s all right with you.” Her tone is courteous, but it’s an order and not a question.
“I don’t have a choice, do I?” Her good humor restored, Carol acquiesces with grace. The cops stand behind Carol so most of us can see them without moving in our seats. The women on either side of Carol move their chairs to get a better view. Unexpectedly, Detective Brady speaks first.
“The homicide of Ashley Stevenson is a puzzling thing,” she begins, fixing her eyes on the person across from her which happens to be Tudd. Tudd starts squirming under the scrutiny. “While she has been a troublemaker for most of her short life, she is far from a delinquent. She comes from money and as far as we can tell, has not ventured too far into the seamier side of life. Just your ordinary teenage girl with ordinary rebellions. So why was she killed? That’s what we’re trying to discover.
“Her father is another matter.” Detective Brady has slipped into a rhythmic telling of her saga which draws her listeners in. “He is a powerful man with many enemies but not the type to kill a daughter of an enemy to make a statement. So, if the killing isn’t personal and it isn’t because of her father, then what is the motive? That is the stopping point.” Inspector Robinson takes over.
“Rosalita Chavez was a single mother whose son was killed in the gang wars. Rosie, as she was called, raised a fuss about it to whomever she could get to listen. She’d go to the cops and harass them to arrest someone. She wrote her congressman every day. She was determined her son’s death wouldn’t be for nothing. As a result, there were some powerful gang members irate with her for stirring up trouble as they saw it. She was threatened several times to keep her mouth shut, which she didn’t do.
“So it would seem that this was a retaliation murder. An execution, if you will. However, we have ascertained beyond a reasonable doubt that her death wasn’t gang related. She is not dating anyone, nor does she have any shadowy figures in her life. What does that leave? Now, we know. Someone in her position probably has a shady character or two tucked away somewhere. If so, we can’t find that person. Reluctantly, we have let go of gang-related motives for the time being.”
By now, everyone in the room is listening with rapt attention. I’m sure we’ve all watched cops show on television, but for most of the women in the room, this is the first exposure to the real thing. Well, perhaps not, but it’s enthralling nonetheless. The two women work well together, though they are not partners on a daily basis. I admire the rhythm they have going, but wonder where they are going with it. Do they believe that someone in the room committed the murders? If so, do they think that person will confess solely because two cops are in the room? I haven’t quite figured out what they are trying to do, but I know it’ll become clear soon enough. The cops aren’t going to waste their time like this unless they are expecting to get something out of it. I sit back and enjoy the show, knowing they’ll get to the point sooner or later.
“Now, ladies,” Detective Brady says, letting Inspector Robinson rest her throat. “You may be wondering why we’re telling you all this. You may be wondering why we’re here at all.”
“Damn right we are!” Sharise calls out, eliciting titters from a few of us. I’m glad someone broke the tension that is simmering in the room. “Shoot! I could be watching COPS on the TV if I want this kind of drama.”
“We have found a link between the murders,” Detective Brady says evenly, ignoring Sharise’s outburst. There is an excited murmur among the group, which Detective Brady also ignores. “I am not at liberty to tell you at this time what the link is, but I wanted you to know. Inspector Robinson and I have talked to each of you individually. Now we’re appealing to you as a group. Tell us what you know. Tell us what you think. Even if it’s small or you think it has no relevance, tell us. We want to know what’s happened in the group in the last few weeks as well as whether any of you had any prior connection with either or both of the victims outside the group. We would like that information now.” Detective Brady crosses over to the door and closes it.
“We won’t be leaving without talking to all of you one more time.” Inspector Robinson folds her arms across her chest and looks at us levelly.
“This is an outrage!” Carol says furiously, leaping up from her seat. Her notepad and pen fly across the room. Since I’m the closest one to her notebook, I pick it up and wait for an opportunity to return it to her. “You can’t do this!” Her pen clatters to a place unknown.
“Ms. Sayers, we have the right to talk to these women,” Inspector Robinson says sharply. “We could pull them in one by one into the station, but we decided it would be easier on everyone if we came to the group.”
“No! You are not going to take up the group’s time with this. You’ll have to see them on their own time.” Carol is like a mother hen protecting her brood. Unfortunately, the cops don’t play by the same rules.
“Aw, let’s just get it over with,” Sharise says suddenly. “If we gotsta do it, might as well hook it up now.” Several heads nod, mine being one of them. The cops start with Maria. I glance down at the notepad and frown at what I see. I don’t mean to read what’s written on the paper, but a line jumps out at me.
Daniela clings to her religion as a child to her safety blanket. It would be detrimental to take away her religion without offering something as a replacement. Unfortunately, her rudimentary knowledge of her own religion rarely exceeds the superstitious level—
“I’ll take that,” Carol says, holding her hand out to me. Her eyes are grim as she waits for me to give her back her pad.
“Here you go,” I say, fighting to keep my tone even. I know I shouldn’t have looked at what she wrote even if I had been trying to find a way to do just that earlier on, but I’m concerned nonetheless. She had said that she wouldn’t be writing about us as individuals, but it sounds as if she’s at least making diagnoses about us and given us fictitious names. That makes me wonder if she’s planning on putting us in her book after all. I am wondering about the legal ramifications of the situation when Inspector Robinson beckons me over. Maria appears glad to escape the clutches of the evil duo, but sends me a sympathetic look as she passes me. The cops have pulled three chairs to the side, and they gesture for me to sit in the one facing the other two.
“Ms. Liang,” Detective Brady says with a cool nod. “Who did you know outside the group?”
“Nobody,” I say shortly. I hate repeating myself, especially when I think the police are on a fishing expedition.
“Are you sure?” Detective Brady lifts an eyebrow. “How did you find out about the group, then?” She may be pretty, but she doesn’t have the class of Inspector Robinson.
“Online.” I vow to keep my answers terse. I don’t like Detective Brady’s supercilious tone, and I am determined not to reveal too much. She seems to have taken on the offensive characteristics of her superior, and I am not enamored by it.
“Ms. Stevenson insulted you in the first group,” Detective Brady says, consulting her notepad. “She took an instant dislike to you. I think it’s because you had a history with her. What do you think?”
“I think you’re so desperate to make a connection, you’re fabricating,” I say bluntly “This is ludicrous.”
“Did you know Ms. Stevenson had a scrapbook of all your clippings from the other murders?” Detective Brady asks suddenly, changing the subject. “It looks like she had quite a case of hero worship for you. What do you think of that?’
“So what?” I think it’s flattering that Ashley went to the trouble, but it doesn’t mean anything.
“Perhaps she made a pass at you. Maybe she did more than that, and you were repulsed, so you killed her.”
“Detective, I do not kill unwanted suitors.” I am longing for Sergeant Grimes. As much as I dislike him, he’s better than this bitch. “There are easier ways to take care of them.”
“Ms. Liang,” Inspector Robinson says after looking hard at her colleague. “Back to what Rosie said in the last meeting. Try to remember what exactly she said.”
“I told you as much as I remembered,” I say miserably. I think for several seconds. “She said she was a maid, I think it was, in Marin County. Must be nice to have that kind of money. She may have seen something or someone, but she was confused.”
“This is getting us nowhere,” Detective Brady says angrily. “I think. She might. It could have. We need some hard facts.” She rolls her eyes in disgust
“Ms. Liang, listen to me.” Inspector Robinson drops her voice. “We know that Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Chavez knew each other outside of this group. We also know that they didn’t get murdered until after they joined this group, both within the last couple months. Detective Brady and I would like you to keep your ears open during the sessions and report anything suspicious to us. Can you do that for us?”
“You want me to spy on the group?” I am incredulous, sure that I’ve misinterpreted her. The last thing I want to do is become more involved in the drama surrounding this situation. I started attending this group so I could heal from the last investigation; why would I want to put myself through that again?
“We could book you as a suspect right now. The murders didn’t happen until you joined the group,” Detective Brady snarls, her arms flexing. “Either you cooperate, or we take you in now.” I have no idea why she dislikes me so much, perhaps they are playing good cop/bad cop, but I am in no mood to put up with her attitude. I know she is bluffing, trying to force my hand, which just puts me in a worse mood. I do not like to be manipulated, especially as poorly as this.
“You have nothing,” I inform her. “Because I didn’t kill either of them. I am not a cop, and I will not do your dirty work for you.”
“Brady, leave it to me.” Inspector Robinson stares at her colleague until the latter drops her eyes. I am fascinated by this interplay as it seems to give Inspector Robinson more leverage, though they have the same rank, or so I assume. It’s hard to tell with the titles they have, but that’s my assumption, anyway. I notice a look of malice passing from Detective Brady to Inspector Robinson which the latter doesn’t catch. It fascinates me, and I ponder briefly the root of the animosity Detective Brady feels for the good inspector. “Ms. Liang, we’re not going to force you to do anything, but it would really help us out if you would just listen for anything unusual. We are not asking you to spy. We don’t care why these women are here or anything about their personal lives. We just want to know who killed Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Chavez, and we think some of the answers may be here in this group. We’re not asking you to break confidentiality.” I am more suspicious of her genial explanation than I am of Detective Brady’s hostility. I expect the latter; I don’t expect the former.
“I’ll do what I can,” I say at last. Inspector Robinson flashes me a smile before letting me go. I go over to the donut table to bolster my sugar levels, not to mention my caffeine supply, where I am met by Maria.
She is sympathetic with me, but her eyes are watching me like a hawk. She wants the details of my session with the cops, but I don’t give her much. She points out that Inspector Robinson seemed awfully chummy with me, smirking as she awaits my response. I manage to deflect the unspoken question by saying that I know Inspector from the last case I was involved in. Will I ever be allowed to forget that time of my life? Maria rails about the cops being on her ass just because she was Latina and so was Rosie. Unfortunately for Maria, she did know Rosie. Just to say ‘hi’ to, though. Nothing wrong with that, is there? Her accent is thickening as she grows agitated. I try to soothe her by saying that the cops have to look at all possibilities and every little detail.
Instead of being comforted, Maria snaps that the cops should be looking at ‘Miss White Girl’ who used to go to ‘da hood’ to score a little something. My heart begins to pound as I realize that Maria means Ashley which means she knew both the murder victims outside of group. That has to be more than coincidence. As much as I am attracted to this woman, I vow to stay away from her as long as the investigation is going on. I do not want a repeat of the Vashti scenario. I make the mistake of commenting on the coincidence. Maria counters that she didn’t know them, that she just saw them around, that’s all. She is upset that I am questioning her like ‘the pigs’, wanting to pin the murders on her. Her voice is rising as she gesticulates wildly, drawing a few curious looks from the other women. She is standing with her hands on her hips as if she is ready to mix it up. I know better than to try to fight her, even though I was raised in Oakland. I can defend myself if need be, but I really rather not.
I placate her as best I can, saying that I was just making conversation. She tells me that she’s not the only one. Jennifer ran into Ashley at an abortion clinic. When I ask how she knows this information, she tells me Jennifer told her when she thought Maria was a good little Catholic girl like her. Jennifer was protesting at a clinic when Ashley came out of the clinic and got up in Jennifer’s face. Jennifer got pissed and screamed right back at Ashley. Maria thinks Jennifer is one crazy chica and the probable murderer of Ashley. I refrain from pointing out that Jennifer’s religion prohibits killing. Besides, that never stopped the zealots before.
Maria is a font of information. She tells me about Rosie seeing Astarte outside Rosie’s church trying to convert people to her religion. Maria emphasizes that she’s not the only one with connections to the dead women, though the examples she’s pointed out only have connections with one or the other. I mumble something about just wanting to make sure group is safe to attend. It seems to do the trick of calming Maria down. She asks that I call her, then returns to her seat. I stand by the coffee a bit longer, mulling things over. I get the feeling she deliberately imparted this information to me for a reason, perhaps to deflect attention from herself. While we were talking, she was sweating, and it wasn’t from the heat. She was nervous while talking to me, and I wonder if she has something to hide. It still seems strange that she knew both the women outside the group, but it could be nothing more than a coincidence.
“Ok let’s gather.” Carol claps her hands and motions for us to sit down. The detectives haven’t left yet, but Carol is doing her best to ignore them. As soon as we all find our seats, Detective Brady takes the floor.
“Ladies, I have the feeling that some of you aren’t telling everything you know.” Is it just my imagination, or are her eyes lingering on me? “This is not a game. If any of you know anything about either murder, call Inspector Robinson or me.” They hand around cards which we all slip into our purses or pockets. “In the meantime, be extra-careful with your safety.” She stares at us all one last time before leaving the room. Inspector Robinson follows.
“Man, that was whack,” Sharise explodes as soon as they leave. “How dare they come up in here and get all in our face? This is supposed to be a safe space for us.”
“Our chakras need serious alignment after this experience,” Astarte chimes in. The other women, including me, all agree.
“I know they were intrusive, but put yourself in their shoes,” Carol says softly as she strives to look sympathetic. It’s a stretch given how upset she was with them earlier.
I stare across from me, not really looking at anyone in particular. The cops want me to do their dirty work for them. I’m supposed to rat out these women to the police if I hear anything suspicious. I am torn because I want the murderer caught, of course, but I do not want to be involved in the catching. I just want to go about my life and not have to think about anyone else for a while. I want to pretend that I live in a world where nobody kills anyone, where we all just get along. It’s not possible, I know, but I want to forget that the world around me is fucked up. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. “I’m sorry we didn’t get much done this week, but next week we will return to task.” Carol is wrapping things up, but the women around me are not looking reassured.
“Man, forget this,” Sharise mutters as she gathers up her belongings. “I don’t need this kind of stress in my life. Shit, I use this group to get away from the stress in my life!”
“Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” Maria has magically reappeared by my side, her grin working overtime. I almost forget my vow not to date Maria before this case is wrapped up. I try to rationalize that she’s not really asking for a date, just a get-together.
“Can’t,” I say regretfully. “I got plans.” As soon as I say it, I curse myself. How stupid does that sound at nine o’clock on a Tuesday night.
“Maybe next week.” Apparently it doesn’t sound as stupid to Maria as it does to me because she waves to me before she leaves, no hard feelings. I sigh and pull out my cell to call Paris. I hesitate. The clinic is no more than a ten-minute walk, and I hate feeling like an overprotected schoolgirl. I stuff the phone into my purse before taking off for home. I am not paying attention to my surroundings when I hear the acceleration of a car behind me as I’m crossing the street. I have the green light, but the car behind me doesn’t care. It swerves to hit me, and I jump out of the way, narrowly being missed by the speeding car which doesn’t have its lights on. I am no more than shaken up, but I start to wonder if the car had done it on purpose, if it is trying to hit me. I conclude that it is and reluctantly fish my cell phone out of my purse. I call Paris.