Chapter Eight (Part Two)
“I feel pretty, oh so pretty,” Vandalia is singing as I enter the apartment. “Why, hello, Trip! Isn’t this a glorious day?” She smiles at me in the manner of one who’s just been thoroughly fucked. “Who would have thought young Greeley would have had it in him?” She giggles as she waltzes around the kitchen. “By the way, nice disguise.” I have shed the wig, but I still look drab in my ‘I’m trying to blend in’ ensemble. “That’s my wig, isn’t it?” Vandalia asks, spotting it in my hand. “Oh well. It didn’t suit me, anyway.” I hate talking to people in lust. They think everything they do, say, and feel is so profound when it’s simply inane. Without fail, sex brings out the stupid in people—that’s why I tend to stay away from it except as a strict physical release. Who needs the complicated shit that accompanies romance?
“Got anything to eat?” I ask, opening the fridge.
“Yes, and thanks for asking how my night was,” Vandalia says waspishly, but quickly regains her sunny mood. “Can you believe we did it four times in five hours last night? I feel as if a train has plowed its way through my thighs.” She giggles again as she continues to hum and sidestep around the kitchen. “Girl, there’s nothing like a good loving to cure what ails you.” She flicks her eyes up and down me. “You look as if you could use a good fuck.”
“What I could use is Andretti’s and O’Reilly’s nuts in a vise,” I growl, pulling a container of egg salad out of the refrigerator. “Then I’ll work on getting laid.” The bartender from Tosca’s flits through my mind, but I can’t remember his name.
“Girl, you know what they say,” Vandalia drawls, pointing at me. “It’s gonna plumb dry up if you don’t use it.” It’s irritating that Vandalia has seemed to appoint herself my big sister, but I am beholden to her because she’s letting me stay in her apartment, so I keep my mouth shut.
“I’m going to check the news,” I say abruptly, taking the egg salad sandwich I made into my bedroom. I power up the computer and wait impatiently for my Yahoo! homepage to show its sweet face. I zip over to the Chron’s webiste, and grit my teeth in anger. The news I’ve expected to see is there billed as breaking news, and it’s worse than I thought.
“Cops Get A Break!” The headline screams. The story goes on to say that a witness has come forth with the information of seeing an Asian woman breaking into the building of one Angelica Sylvian the night she was murdered. There is a fairly detailed description of me along with a police sketch that, amazingly, looks eerily similar to the real me. ‘The police state that this woman, placed in her early twenties, is at the very least a witness and at the most, a suspect. They would like to question her, so she should do her civic duty and turn herself in.’ I have to laugh at the last statement—why in hell would I voluntarily turn myself in knowing what I know? The writer must be smoking crack to think that I’m going to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, this is the woman seen breaking into Angelica’s apartment. How may I help you?’ Even if I don’t show up at the cop shop, they can trace where I’m calling from, and besides, my interactions with Andretti and O’Reilly have convinced me that they have connections in high places, most likely including the cops. It’s a no-go on me turning myself in, thank you very much. I check the Examiner as well, which carries the identical story, except, they emphasize even more strongly that I’m a suspect and not just a mere witness. I curse under my breath, then stop. Why now? It’s Thursday, the third day after the murder. What do the Handy Man and Silver Tongue have to gain by alerting the cops to my presence now? Is it because they know I’m dogging their every move and are worried that I’m getting too close, or is it something else? I know they set me up to take a fall for Angel, but what about Evelyn? What is going down tonight, and am I going to be blamed for that as well? I find the timing of this ‘news break’ odd, but I can’t figure out what the reason for it is.
“Vandalia? Can I talk to you a minute?” I walk out to the living room where Vandalia is watching the soaps. Instead of sudsy activity, however, there is—you guessed it—breaking news. She’s watching with rapt attention as the composite sketch of my face appears on the screen.
“That’s you,” she says needlessly, her mouth dropping open in awe. “I mean, I knew you were in trouble because Roberto told me so, but I never expected…” Her voice trails off just as my cell phone rings. I find my bag in the kitchen and fish my phone out of it. It’s Mowgli.
“What?” I ask, my foul mood getting the best of me.
“I saw the news. What now?” That’s Mowgli for you, skipping the niceties and getting right to it.
“I think the question is, why now?” I explain to him my suspicions, with which he agrees. We ruminate over the various reasons why the boys would want to wrangle with me now that whatever publicity about Angel’s death has completely subsided. Wouldn’t it be better for them to let the public forget about the case completely, I ask Mowgli who is in agreement.
“Unless they’re not done yet,” Mowgli returns, which segues neatly into me relaying the information I’ve learned today about Blanche and O’Reilly—leaving out the part where O’Reilly tells whomever to take care of it tonight. Mowgli is oddly quiet as I tell him my tale. “I don’t like it,” he says finally, his tone hard. He is the gentlest of men until one of his own is threatened—then he’s Mama Bear all pissed off in protection of his cub. “Those motherfuckers are going to escalate the situation tonight, and we don’t know how.” Well, I’m pretty sure of how, but I don’t know where or when. What I do know is that I must talk to Blanche before tonight. I entreat Mowgli to call her and set it up. I await his return call after we hang up.
“What?” I say, an impossibly-long ten minutes later. Turns out Ms. White is just bursting to talk to Mowgli and share all her dirty little secrets—for a fee, of course. What would come of her hard-won reputation if word gets out on the street that she actually did something for free? Never mind that she’s most likely the catalyst for all the shit that’s been going on or that she’s the one who had thrown a temper tantrum in Tosca’s this very day. In her mind, Mowgli is the one to pay for the privilege of her company, and he doesn’t demur.
I sigh as I think of what this case is costing monetarily. Having whores and strippers as informants is an expensive way to find out what I need to know, but it’s the most effective as well. What these girls don’t know isn’t worth knowing, so I’m willing to pay the money in order to keep out of jail. Seems like a fair tradeoff to me. I know that Mowgli won’t ask for reimbursement for the money he’s put into the case, but I’ll give it to him, nonetheless, because I hate to be beholden to anyone—even my best friend. It’s a damn good thing I have the fronted twenty-five thou from this ‘job’ as well as thirty thou from the last. I have a feeling I’m not done paying out quite yet. Mowgli tells me that we have an appointment with Blanche at Vandalia’s apartment at six-thirty tonight which is right after he gets off work and before she has to get ready for work tonight. Mowgli is leaving it to me to tell Vandalia and to finagle a way to evict her from her own place for the night. As soon as we’re done talking, I find Vandalia—still in the living room, but now watching her soaps—and wait until a commercial to lay the situation out for her.
She’s understanding and generously pronounces her willingness to disappear for the night. After making the magnanimous offer, she ruins it by giggling and confessing that she’s spending the night at Greeley’s again. Seems her sweet little boy can’t get enough of his mountain mama and is insisting on cooking her dinner tonight. Nude. While she’s soaking in his bathtub filled with rose petals. I try to make her stop because I’m about to hurl, but she steamrolls over my objections to finish describing just exactly what Greeley wants to do with her body. By the time she’s done, I’m fighting the impulse to stuff my fingers in my ear and say, ‘I can’t hear you’ over and over until she shuts up. God, I hate it when people are in lust. Have I mentioned that already? Well, I really, really hate it. A lot. Especially the people like Vandalia who beam and bounce around, wanting to share the love with everyone else. Someone needs to shoot the girl with a tranquilizer gun. I find myself praying that it’ll be me. Not a nice sentiment, but one I can’t stop from running through my brain as she natters on about ‘Greeley this’ and ‘Greeley that’. You know what I think she should do with her Greeley, but I don’t tell her that, either.
Finally, after what seems like eternity spent in the lower rings of hell, I am able to escape from Vandalia’s clutches as she minces to her room to prepare herself for a night of debauchery. I heave a sigh of relief once she’s gone. I can’t think when she’s around, even if she’s not directing her attention to me. I find her to be more distraction than aid and want her out of my hair as soon as possible. Speaking of hair, I need to change my image when I meet with Blanche tonight. I can’t meet her as myself, certainly, but I’m not about to meet her in my current state, either. Besides the risk that she’ll recognize me from Tosca’s, I have my pride. When meeting a gorgeous woman, always make sure you look your best. Trouble is, my best has to be based on a deception as I can’t be Trip, so I’ll have to settle for another persona. Again, I curse DiCalvo for what he’s putting me through. I hope to god he’s enjoying himself right now because once I’m through with him, he won’t be able to function as a normal male ever again.
After Vandalia is out of the apartment, I can let my guard down even further. She’s a sweet person, but something about her grates on me. Maybe it’s her over-theatrical personality. I never quite get the feeling that she’s being authentic in her interactions. She takes to heart Shakespeare’s words that life is but a stage. I don’t trust people who feel the need to put on a performance for others at all times. It speaks of an insecurity that is unattractive, not to mention a weakness. After she is gone, I go into her room to peruse her wigs. Her flaws notwithstanding, she has an impressive array of hair. While I don’t care if Ms. White knows I’m Asian, I think a different hair color is in order. I choose a mahogany wig in a blunt cut that when placed on my head, just brushes my shoulders. I feel like I’m in a Fellini flick and stifle the impulse to whip out a tiny cigarette from my silver carrying case and to start smoking. I pad back to my room, stripping off my clothes along the way. I’m nude except for the wig by the time I reach my room.
“Nice visual,” a voice comments wryly, startling the hell out of me.
“Mowgli, what the hell are you doing here?” I hit him in the chest for scaring me, but make no move to cover up. I’m not selling anything he wants to buy, so there’s no reason to play the modest maiden. Besides, I lost any vestige of self-consciousness about my body when I was on the streets; you learn very quickly to see your body as nothing more than a commodity with which to barter. “And how did you get into the apartment?”
“Vandalia gave me a key yesterday,” Mowgli says, not bothering to turn away as I start rummaging through my closet. “I got off work early so we can decide how we want to handle Ms. DuBois.
“I wanna be the bad cop,” I say immediately, pulling out a red blouse with a sweetheart neck, capped sleeves and cropped above my belly, which is one of my best features if I do say so myself. Since we’re at home—well, home for now—I decide not to get too formal and slide on a pair of black jeans. I quick change my makeup out of the dull crap I’d been wearing, just to brighten up the visage. I add a dab of Purple Passion lipstick, then make kissy faces at myself to make sure it’s even. “How do I look?” I turn around so that Mowgli can inspect me.
“You looked better before,” he says lazily, leaning against the wall. “You have one hell of a nice body.”
“Coming from a dyed-in-the-wool fag like you, that’s quite a compliment,” I wink. I study myself in the mirror, marveling at what difference makeup and a wig makes to a girl’s appearance.
Mowgli and I sit on my bed and discuss what we want to talk about with Blanche before moving on to other topics. Mowgli is worried about his job security for the first time since the dotbomb happened. He’s hearing murmurs that he might be out on his ass in a matter of weeks. There’s even a disturbing rumor that his boss thinks Mowgli is involved in nefarious doings which is the reason behind his termination. That can only mean influence from high places—say, DiCalvo or O’Reilly. It pisses me off that Mowgli is affected by this shit, too, when all he’s tried to do is help me dig my way out of it. He reassures me that he’s a big boy and can take care of himself. Unlike most Americans, he’s managed to save close to forty percent of his salary. Add to that his genius for investing, and he’s safe for years if he gets laid-off. The problem is that he likes his work and isn’t sure that emotionally he’ll survive without it.
We move on to our love lives or lack thereof. He’s still crushed out on the boy at work who is an intern and three years his junior. At twenty-six, that age difference feels vast to Mowgli. Besides, the intern is a Republican which is a cardinal sin in Mowgli’s eyes. Also, the crush—Shirag—doesn’t like sports of any kind, not to play and certainly not to watch. In other words, Mowgli has nothing in common with this boy—who is Muslim to boot whereas Mowgli leans towards Buddhism—other than their growing lust for each other. This is one topic in which I have little to offer by way of advice. Not because I don’t have opinions—Lord knows I have more than my share of them—but because I have had too many negative experiences with men to really encourage anyone to pursue one. Rationally, I know that not all men are like the johns I used to trick, but after years of only spending time with jerks and assholes, it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. I suppose it’s how cops feel after being on the force for awhile. The only thing I can say to Mowgli is that not all men can be complete assholes, and I’m not even sure about that.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to defend my gender, either. There are just as many female assholes as there are male ones, but since Mowgli doesn’t play for that team, females are not a problem for him. It amuses me when people declare that if women were in charge of the world, things would be so much better. I maintain that the women who make it up the ladder are twice as vicious as men because they have to prove that they—the women—can work the system twice as hard as any man. It’s the same when a person of color trots up those rungs—she has to Amy Tan her way up that ladder in order to not be deemed a threat. So I’m not naïve enough to think that it’s only white men who are fucked up—they just happen to be the power system right now. And who Mowgli wants to date. Except Shirag isn’t white—he’s Indian from India, but that’s neither here nor there.
Mowgli whips us up some macaroni and cheese, Filipino-style. I don’t know what the hell that means—I just like to say it. I am famished since I haven’t eaten all day, and I inhale more than my fair share of the pasta along with garlic bread and salad. I’m blessed with a high metabolism so that even when I don’t manage to squeeze in my workout routine, I don’t have to be strident about what I eat. Mowgli finds half a chocolate cake in the back of the fridge which doesn’t have refrigerator burns, so we dig in happily. There’s nothing better than eating someone else’s food. If I ever am filthy rich, I’m going to have a cook. That’s number one on my list of priorities. I make a mental note of that as I wipe my mouth with my napkin. The doorbell rings just as I’m placing my plate into the sink.
“She’s early,” Mowgli comments as I rush to the bathroom to reapply my lipstick. “What the hell was your name again?”
“Sherrilee,” I say, pasting a smile on my face. “In town for a few days. How did you explain meeting here?”
“Easy,” Mowgli shrugs. “Place where you’re staying. You don’t have a car, so it was better for us to meet here.” The doorbell rings again, this time impatiently. We glance at each other before moving towards the door.
“Let’s do it,” I say with a sigh. “Time to get the show on the road.