“Yes.” I hesitate, then ask the question. “Do you think they’re related?”
“Yes,” Leticia says firmly. “That means the killer is in your group.” Her eyes widen as she looks at me. From the speculative gleam in her eyes, I can tell what she’s thinking.
“I didn’t kill your sister, Leticia,” I say wearily. It’s never pleasant to be thought of as a murder suspect, but I’m used to it.
“I didn’t think you did,” Leticia says immediately, the flash of fear gone. I pick up the accounts notebook and thumb through it again. A.T., C.R., C.T., L.P., M.S. I stop reading in disgust. It’s no use. If she had added some identifying markers to each name, such as what she’s blackmailing them for, then perhaps I could use the information. Something niggles at me. I open the diary and read the last entry again.
“Leticia, look at this!” I show the entry to Leticia.
“I’ve read it already,” she says impatiently, not glancing at the page. I don’t have time for attitude, so I read it out loud.
“This one, is very special. I play right, I no have to work rest of my life. Ten thousand dollars for first increased payment. Is fair for a life.” I pause dramatically, but Leticia’s eyes don’t flicker. “Don’t you get it? First increased payment. That means she was already blackmailing the killer!” I grab the accounts notebook and open it again. “One of these fifteen initials is the killer!” Ok, not the greatest grammar, but I got the point across.
“Madre de Dios!” Leticia gasps, scanning the initials. “Do you recognize any?”
“It’s hard,” I say slowly, my mind churning. “I only know the first name of the women in the group.”
“I could probably find the last names at the clinic,” Leticia says eagerly.
“A.T., M.S., T.R,” I recite. “Those are the possibilities. I am relieved not to see a R.L., as irrational as that is.
“I’ll ask Carol tomorrow,” Leticia says briskly.
“Can you find out some other way?” I ask slowly. There is no C.S., so she’s not a suspect. Still, I would feel better if Leticia didn’t talk about this with Carol.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Leticia says, energized to have something to do.
“You really need to show these things to the cops,” I say, looking her in the eyes. “They won’t be too happy if you withhold information.”
“It’s their own fault! They didn’t find the things,” Leticia snaps. “Besides, I want to find out about the key before I go to them.” I have to admit that I would like to see what the key opened as well.
“Tell you what. I’ll start calling banks tomorrow,” I say. It’s too late to call them now. “I’ll come up with some story.” Security has become so tight, it’s no use to just ask for information any more. “You see what you can dig up about the names of the group members. I’ll go to group and see what I can find. I’ll call you after, then we’ll call the police. How does that sound?”
“Sounds good to me.” Leticia stands, and I do likewise. She impulsively hugs me hard. “Thank you for helping me. Thank you for not thinking I’m crazy.” She leaves the key with me but takes the notebooks with her. I sit back on the couch, holding the key in my hand. Despite the grim circumstances, a feeling of euphoria sweeps over me. I am close to the finish-line; I’m sure of it. The phone rings, jarring me out of my reverie.
“Rayne! Are you all right?” It’s my mother, her tone indicating that I better answer in the positive. I glance at my watch and see that I have ten minutes to go; my mother must have been too impatient to wait.
“Just fine, Mom,” I say cheerfully. I briefly update her on the session with Leticia. She isn’t as sanguine about it as I am. She still doesn’t want me attending the group, but grudgingly lets it go with only a stern caution.
“I want you to call me as soon as you make it home safely,” she says firmly, anticipating an argument. To both our surprise—and relief—I meekly agree. I don’t like being treated as a child, but I have to acknowledge that my life may be in danger from my poking around. Briefly I fantasize about approaching each suspect and acting as if I know her secret, but I can’t do it. I find blackmail morally repugnant and am reluctant to cause additional pain to these women—no matter how noble the cause.
The next day at work, I finish everything urgent before making a few personal calls. I make sure nobody is around because the last thing I need is a lecture about my work ethics. I work harder than just about anyone in the agency, but I am not allowed any slack. Because my desk is the most visible, I have to appear busy in order to present the right image. At least, that’s what my boss told me the time she caught me playing solitaire—free cell—during my lunch hour. I couldn’t resist asking her about her own movie-watching, which earned me a dirty look and a snub for a week. It appears that what is good for the goose is not good for the gander, and that I am not allowed to goof off even over my lunch. Does that mean I became the paragon of virtue and never wasted a minute at work? Of course not. I just grew more adept at subterfuge. Using those skills now, I pick up the phone and call one of the Wells Fargo in the Mission under the theory that Rosie would keep her bank and open a different account.
“Hello, I am Rosalita Chavez.” I mimic Rosie’s accent, praying the person on the other line hasn’t been paying too much attention to the news lately. “I am wondering if my safety box is ok. I hear rumors of break-ins.”
“Ma’am, I assure you we have the highest security, but let me check just to reassure you.” I hear the tapping of keys for a length of time. “Ma’am? Could you spell your last name? I don’t see any records of a safety box.” After clarifying that there is nothing under Rosie’s name other than her account, I hang up. I call another branch, then another. None of the Wells Fargo I call have any record of Rosie except for that one account. I sigh. I was hoping for a nice and easy score, but it isn’t the case. I start dialing banks randomly, feeling like I’m looking for a needle in a haystack. I can only call when there’s no one around, which adds to my frustration.
“Rayne, can I talk to you a second?” It’s Derek, looking worse for the wear. His hair is uncombed, and he has a day’s worth of growth on his chin. He smells subtly of alcohol and cigarettes.
“Sure, what’s up?” I plaster a smile on my face, throwing a longing look at my phone. The bonus of having a desk out in the open is that I get to see everything around me. The drawback is that everyone around me can demand my attention.
“I wasn’t entirely forthcoming with you yesterday,” Derek says, lowering his voice. “I saw Rosie once, a couple of weeks ago. Right after that girl was killed.” He stops, suddenly self-conscious. “Meet me after work for a drink?” I nod my head reluctantly, not wanting to be rushed before group. It takes me awhile to unwind from work and to slip into evening mode. Besides, this is the day Quinn is having dinner with her friend, and there is no way I can meet with Derek, eat dinner with Quinn and her friend, and go to group all in the same evening. I decide that what Derek has to say takes precedent over dinner with Quinn and her friend, and I let Quinn know the next time I see her. She’s not too happy about it but is placated by vague promises to get together soon.
I continue to call different banks during the day. I keep striking out, ratcheting up my frustration level. I have the truly horrible thought that perhaps she opened an account across the bay, but I push it to the back of my mind. The task is daunting enough without dramatically increasing the possibilities. By the end of the day, I still haven’t found the bank to match the key. On the positive side, only one person questioned me about the name, asking if I wasn’t supposed to be murdered. Fortunately, I was able to convince the young man that Rosalita Chavez was a common name, like Jane Smith. The last thing I want is for the cops to be breathing down my neck again. At four o’clock, I give up in disgust. It had seemed so easy when I began.
“Ready to jet?” Derek asks, smiling a genial smile. His countenance is a far cry from the anguish he displayed the last time we went out for a drink or even from when he last talked to me, and I don’t trust the facileness of it. I nod shortly, powering down my computer. He gallantly offers me an arm, but I slip ahead of him. He is trying too hard which makes me wonder what he wants to tell me. Sometime between the time he talked to me earlier today and now, he’s managed to shave and splash on some cologne. Is he dolling up for me or for his girlfriend? I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that.
Without saying anything, Derek steers me back to the Casanova Lounge. Again, there are only half a dozen people inside, which is probably the major reason Derek chose the place. I briefly wonder why is it that the insides of bars are so damn dark even during the day, then dismiss it as irrelevant. I’m not here to criticize the décor or the drinks which the bartender has made with a decidedly liberal hand—heavy on the alcohol. I make a face as I sip my Cape Cod. The reason I buy mixed drinks is so I’m not overpowered by the alcohol; I would have ordered a shot, otherwise. We sit in a corner table again. I continue sipping, not wanting to make things easy for Derek. I don’t understand all this cloak-and-dagger stuff, nor do I approve. I would have much preferred he just tell me what he had to say while we were at the agency—forgetting that I’d done the same thing to him the day before.
“Well,” Derek says, folding his hands over each other on top of the table. He looks me directly in the eyes and smiles again. I have the distinct feeling that he’s trying to win me over to his side. As I’m not sure why this is necessary, I am understandably wary. “This is kinda hard for me to say.” I look at him expectantly, still not willing to help him out. I have nothing against him personally, but I don’t like getting the run-around. I also don’t like being lied to, and I have the feeling he’s about to try. “I’ll get straight to the point. You don’t seem like the kind of woman who likes to waste time on small talk.” He’s right about that. “I’m still not sure what’s your role in this whole thing, but I feel comfortable around you—like I can tell you anything.” He sips his beer, giving himself a minute to gather his thoughts. My impatience must be apparent because he hurries on. “I haven’t lied to you, Rayne. Rosie did break up with me after her son was killed. I am in a new relationship, almost four months. Greta. She’s great! A counselor at City’s Angels agency. You know, the one that deals with kids before they get locked up, hoping to prevent them from having to use our agency.” Derek flashes his smile again as he continues with the minutiae. “I’ve never been happier than I have been with Greta. She’s so wonderful with the kids.” Derek is no longer looking me in the eyes, and I can’t tell if he’s trying to convince himself or me.
“I don’t mean to be rude, Derek,” I say, finally breaking into his monologue. “What are you trying to tell me? I have to be somewhere soon.” Apparently, those are the magic words because Derek gets to the point.
He ran into Rosie one day outside of A Ray of Hope. He was meeting a counselor there for his job, he hastened to assure me. I bite off the impulse to say I don’t give a good goddamn what he does with his time and allow him to tell the story his way. Rosie looked happier than he’d seen her in some time. He thought she had a new boyfriend because Rosie wasn’t the type of woman to be without a man for very long. Derek involuntarily grimaces as he reveals this information, most likely unhappy at the thought of Rosie with someone else. I wonder how the wonderful Greta would feel about Derek’s devotion to his dead ex and almost miss Derek saying that he asked Rosie out to lunch.
He breaks in his narration, finishing off his beer. He asks if I want another Cap Cod, and I nod as he gets up and goes to the bar. I curse him for breaking the flow just when he is about to get to the root of his story. I have a hunch he did it on purpose in order to compose himself. He returns in five minutes, drinks in hand. I nod my thanks, then gesture for him to continue. He takes his time settling back in his chair, fussing with the coaster before placing his glass in the exact center of it. Just as I’m about to scream at him to quit wasting my time, he stops fidgeting and returns to his saga.
He and Rosie went to some taqueria on Mission Street which she recommended. They ate and reminisced about their relationship. Derek’s eyes water as he talks about the last time he saw Rosie. It doesn’t bode well for his relationship with Greta, but I have a hunch that it’s transitional, anyway. I ask what Rosie was doing in the Mission District that day, but Derek doesn’t know and really doesn’t care. He only cares that he ran into her. He supposes she stopped by the agency to visit her sister, but it’s clear that’s not relevant to his story.
They drank many beers that day. He tosses back the one he has at hand while telling his story. Derek rambles at length about how beautiful she still is. I definitely don’t see his relationship with Greta lasting, especially as Derek is now talking about Rosie in the present tense. Watching his face carefully, I lob the opinion that Rosie was rather nondescript to me. His reaction is instantaneous. He loses the dreaminess and his whole face comes to light as he expounds on her beauty, pounding his fist on the table at the same time. He informs me that she is the most beautiful woman in the whole world, and if her son hadn’t been killed, he would have asked her to marry him. I lean back, not wanting to come under direct fire. He calms down and continues talking in a more normal tone.
He asked her if she was seeing anyone, but she laughed and said she had no time for romance. She had something more important going on in her life, and she wasn’t going to screw it up by hooking up with someone. Derek quickly drains his beer and pops up to buy another, not bothering to ask if I want something else. I don’t take offense as my glass is more than three-quarters full. When Derek returns, I frown at him. I’m tired of him telling me the story in dribbles and drabs. Every time he reaches the interesting part, he goes to the bar for a drink. I ask if she told him what was so important, and I can see the indecision in his face. She told him, but he’s just not sure he wants to share the information with me. He leans closer as if to impart something confidential. He wants me to promise not tell anyone what he’s about to tell me as it could get him in trouble. Of course I cannot promise him that because, as Inspector Robinson is so fond of saying, it’s a murder investigation and nothing is sacred.
The more Derek talks, the more he bothers me. I have the feeling no matter how much he loved Rosie, he’s all about taking care of number one. Talking a deep breath, I inform him that he should give any pertinent information to the police. It is their job to hunt down murderers. Derek reacts as if I told him to join a satanic cult. He talks about the police being gangs with badges and other sixties’ nonsense. I’m not the cops’ biggest fan, but I recognize the need for them and the fact that they have a nasty job to do which most people wouldn’t touch for anything. I interrupt his diatribe which is veering towards a rant. It’s easy to see that he could go on for hours about the iniquities of the police, but I don’t have time for it. I bluntly ask him if he knew about the blackmail, and he finally admits that Rosie told him all about how she was making money. He glares defiantly at me, daring me to make a big deal about it. So I do.
First of all, I question why she would tell him this explosive information after not having spoken to him in over half a year when she hadn’t even told her sister. I tell him he needs to bring it stronger than that if he wants me to believe him. After all, the last time we talked, I had implied that she was blackmailing her clients so he hasn’t told me anything I don’t know yet. It’s clear that Derek doesn’t like my skepticism. He huffs to the bar to buy another beer—his fourth!—before returning to the table. Questions about his drinking from me are brushed aside impatiently. I find it amazing how many people in the social services have problems with drugs of all kinds when they’re espousing abstinence to the kids we serve. Derek drinks half his beer before continuing his story. I don’t understand the magic of their relationship, he assures me. What they had together. It explains why she would just tell him her secret.
In order to understand why she would tell him about the blackmail, I have to understand that she had a little problem while they were dating. Drugs? That’s usually the ‘little problem’ most people have. I am way off-base. Seems Rosie was a kleptomaniac, which Leticia neglected to tell me. I am shocked, but not unduly so. It fits in with what Quinn’s friend had told Quinn about the missing cufflinks of her husband. That’s not the worst of it, however. Derek used to hold some of her booty for her when they were dating. I can see why he’s reluctant to tell me as his job would seriously be in jeopardy if the administration knew about his little side business. I am disgusted, but I can’t afford to get sidetracked, so I push him to continue.