“Change of plans,” Paris says cheerfully. “We’re walking you to group, having a cup of coffee or a beer at some Mission dive, then we’ll pick you up at nine sharp.” I want to argue, but it’s not worth the effort. I simply nod, and we’re off.
“How was the funeral?” I ask, needing to get my mind off the murders.
“It was hard,” Paris says, his shoulders drooping. “The casket was so tiny! It looked like a shoe box. My mom started wailing the moment she laid eyes on it and wouldn’t let up.” His face twists in remembrance. Lyle squeezes his hand on one side while I do the same on the other side. “Douglas kept shushing her. He was fucking embarrassed! Told her she was making a scene.” Paris sneers as he utters the last word. “I finally had to tell him to leave her alone.” Lyle puts his hand on Paris’s back and rubs. We walk in silence, reaching A Ray of Hope in fifteen minutes. Paris and I smoke just to have something to do. When it’s time, I give each of them a brief hug.
“Call when the meeting’s done!” Paris orders. Before I can respond, he and Lyle are gone. I shake my head in mock exasperation. I take a minute to look for the police, but I can’t spot them—they are that good. I go inside where the atmosphere is glum. The women are huddled in their chairs, not looking at each other. Sharise isn’t there, and I have a feeling that the group is going to disintegrate very soon regardless of what happens tonight. Jennifer is rocking back and forth and mouthing something, most likely a rosary.
“Good evening,” Carol says, her professional smile in place. “I know this is a difficult time for all of us, so I’d like to open the floor up to anyone who wants to speak.”
“Dis has gotta stop,” Maria bursts out, her eyes flashing. “First, Ashley. Den, Rosie, now her kid. Who’s gonna be next?” She throws back her head, but her voice is trembling. She can’t cover the fear in her eyes.
“Why were you on television again?” I ask, bringing up the question foremost in my mind. It has nothing to do with the murders, but I have to ask.
“I know it may seem cold-blooded,” Carol says carefully, looking at each of us in the eyes. Only Astarte and I return her look. “I want to help as many people as possible with their pain! This is a good opportunity to spread the word. I hate the fact that it’s death that gives me the chance to promote the clinic and my book, but I’m trying to make the best of a bad situation.”
“I won’t be coming any more,” Jennifer says, still rocking. “I can’t be a part of this. That girl, she was just a child.”
“Listen, please.” Carol raises her voice slightly, the smile no longer on her face. “This is the time when a group such as this is needed, when in the middle of a crisis. If you quit now, you may regress. Besides, Mariah’s death proves that the murders have nothing to do with the group. You’re all safe.”
“I don’t know about that,” I say demurely. “Maybe Mariah knew something about her mother’s death, and that’s why she was killed. Maybe she read her mother’s notebooks.” The silence is sudden and chilling; I have everyone’s undivided attention. For once, Carol isn’t scribbling in her own damn notebook.
“What notebooks?” Carol asks, her voice neutral.