Monthly Archives: March 2020

Plaster of Paris; chapter five, part one

“I see,” she says at last, picking up her fork again.  “Perhaps you have a problem with me yourself?”  She doesn’t look at Lyle, but concentrates on her food.

“I’m just having a hard time believing it’s a coincidence that Paris gets hurt immediately after you show up in his life.”  Lyle has his arms folded across his chest and is glowering at Ursula.  I cannot reconcile this sullen, angry man with the easygoing, laidback Lyle that I have come to know.

“Are you accusing me of hurting my own son?”  Ursula sets down her fork again, the better to glare at Lyle.  I barely restrain a sigh of impatience.  There is enough tension between Mrs. Jenson and Lyle without adding this complication to the situation.

“I’m not accusing you of anything.”  Despite the soothing words, Lyle’s countenance becomes even more grave.  “I’d just like to know why you chose yesterday to contact Paris.”  Although I would have phrased it differently, I’d like to know the answer to that question as well.  Ursula sits up straight in her chair, losing her insouciance.  She places her napkin carefully by the side of her plate.

“Giving up the t—Paris was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life.  My parents told me in no uncertain terms that I would be out of their house if I kept a child out of wedlock.  I cried for the last month of my pregnancy.  Jersey?  Horrid.  The trip to Tijuana?  I don’t even remember it.”  She pauses to take a sip of water.  “Paris was the sweetest, most perfect baby ever.  Oh sure, I know all mothers think that but in this case, it’s true.  He didn’t cry and when he smiled, I just melted.  When the lawyer took him from my arms for the last time, I felt as if my soul was ripped from my body.  I had to bite my tongue until it bled so I wouldn’t beg for him back.”  Ursula laughs a shade bitterly, bemused by her own stupidity.  “I saw him everywhere I went.  Of course, I didn’t know his name was Paris.  I only knew he was adopted by a healthy Caucasian couple.  Back in those days, they didn’t tell you anything!  I got on with my life as best I could, but still thought of—him every day.  Five years ago, I had a little cancer scare and realized life is short.  It was time to reconnect with my past.  I hired a private investigator.”

“It took the P.I. five years to find Paris?”  Lyle interrupts, his forehead furrowed.  “He must not have been very good.”

“She was fine,” Ursula says pointedly before relaxing again.  She waves off the server who is hovering behind her.  “It’s just, my second husband served me with divorce papers around that time, leaving me for his secretary.  What a cliché!  That’s when Lois started acting out.  One day, she’s a sweet, tiny thing—the next, she’s this big, blond monster.  She shot up over night!  We moved to San Francisco for the proverbial new start.”  She reflects for a minute, her eyes hooded.  They clear as she continues.  “If it weren’t for the support of a very dear friend, I never would have made it through.  Those were some desperate days before my breakout book.  ”  She made twenty-five million in three years?  That’s simply amazing—unless she had money to begin with.

“Still, five years?”  Lyle protests.  “I’m surprised it took that long.”

I don’t say anything as I digest what I’ve heard.  I want to believe her not only because I like her, but because she’s Paris’s birthmother.  However, there is so much about her that has been left unsaid.  She is glibly explaining why it took five years to find Paris.  She didn’t know his name at all, which was a big stumbling block.  By the time she started her search, Mr. Frantz was dead and Paris’s mother had remarried which made the trail doubly hard to follow.  There were other things she had to deal with in the meantime.  I am eager to hear what exactly those other things are, but Ursula declines to talk about them.  She also declines to talk more about Paris’s father, saying she doesn’t even know his full name.  Seeing the skeptical look on our faces, she hastens to explain that he just told her to call him Benny.  She hasn’t seen either him or his sister since high school, and that was almost thirty years ago.  I can’t really fault her for that as I have a porous memory myself.

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Plaster of Paris; chapter four, part three

“Holy shit!”  I blurt out, pressing my hand to my mouth.  Immediately, I feel like a damned ingénue in a cheap novel and drop my pose.  “You’re Ursula Meadows.”  Talk about fucking coincidences!  This is a big one.

“Yes, I am.”  Ursula smiles and stands up, holding out her hand.  She didn’t do herself justice with her self-deprecating description.  Yes, she’s middle-aged with frizzy blond hair and wide hips, but what she forgot to say was that the hair reaches the middle of her back and the hips are accompanied by a generous bosom and a slim waist.  She is wearing a black dress that shows her assets to their best advantage.  She also forgot to say that she has porcelain skin with dark blue eyes and a ready smile.  This is a woman comfortable in her own skin, and what beautiful skin it is.  “You must be Rayne and?”  She dangles the sentence attractively, waiting for me to fill in the blank.  She stands up, showing off her nearly six-feet in its full glory.

“Uh, Rayne.  Paris’s best friend.”  I suddenly wish I had gone home to change.  “This is Lyle.  Paris’s partner.”  Not a flicker from the cool Ms. Meadows.

“It’s so good to meet you, Rayne,” Ursula says, clasping my hand warmly in hers before doing the same to Lyle.

“Ms. Meadows, it’s an honor to meet you,” I say reverentially.  “They were just talking about your upcoming book at Dog Eared.”  She was a waitress before she hit the bigs.  When And San Francisco Wept burst onto the scene, it shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller’s list.  Critics gushed about her being the ‘trenchant observer of our postmodern, weary days’.  They compared her to everyone from Bukowski to Stein, from Henry Miller to Flannery O’Connor.  She’s been hailed as ‘a refreshing antidote to the ennui displayed by today’s youth’.  She’s a local icon.

“Please, I am only Ursula.”  She laughs and gestures to the seats across from her.  “I’m so glad you brought Lyle along.”  Lyle and I sit down, too awed to speak.  At least, that’s my excuse.  “How is Paris?”  A frown creases her forehead.  Lyle and I glance at each other, wondering how much to reveal.  Though I instinctively like this woman, she is virtually a stranger.

“He’s in the hospital,” I say hesitantly.  “Recovering from surgery.”  That seems safe enough to say.

“I can’t believe the horrible hands of fate,” Ursula muses sadly, sipping on what appears to be a sangria.  Our server miraculously appears out of nowhere to ask if we want anything to drink.  He has a ready smile and dark skin that contrasts marvelously with his white shirt.  I order a dry martini, not wanting to appear uncouth by having a Bud Light or something so horrible domestic.  Lyle asks for a shot of Jack.  Ursula orders us an appetizer consisting of goat cheese and bread before turning back to us.  “It’s utterly ironic that I contact Paris yesterday afternoon, and hours later, he’s had an accident.  So cruel.”

“How did you know it was hours later, Ms., uh, Ursula?”  I ask curiously.  I am fairly certain I didn’t mention when the accident happened, just that it had.

“I was guessing,” Ursula says ruefully, fiddling with her glass.  “I talked to him late afternoon yesterday, and I just assumed it wasn’t this morning.”  Probably true, but it’s hard to say.  She tosses her magnificent mane of hair back, and smiles at us benevolently.  It’s hard to believe this woman is in her mid-forties, but she must be if she’s Paris’s birthmother.  “Well, kiddies, shall I tell you a story?”

Without waiting for a reply, she launches into her tale of woe.  She grew up in Philly.  When she was a teenager, she was a frump who had no social life.  Worse, she was tall and gangly which did nothing to increase her appeal to boys.  She spent Friday nights studying and Saturday nights crying in her bedroom.  Her parents were loving, but distant as they were professors with full lives of their own.  They liked her, were fond of her, but had no idea what to do with a spotty, stuttering girl who had no friends.  Ursula turned to books, especially romance novels that promised a Prince Charming and a happy ending on the last page.  She devoured them like candy, determined to have her romance one way or another.  She dreamed of her own prince, and even had a name picked out for him.  Nicholas.  She thought it was regal without being stuffy.  He would have dark brown hair and flashing brown eyes—she was partially to flashing brown eyes.  He would be the end of all her miseries.

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Plaster of Paris; chapter four, part two

“Geez, I can almost feel sorry for her,” Lyle mutters once we make it safely outside.  “Her whole fucking life is falling apart.”

“At least she has her husband,” I say lamely, pulling the phone out of my purse.  “God, I would give anything for a cigarette.”  Lyle silently pulls a pack out of his shirt pocket and hands it over.  I look at him in surprise.

“Paris’s.”  That’s all he says, but it’s enough to crack his façade.  The tears start flowing again.  I allow him to cry as I open the pack of cigarettes—American Spirits—which, thankfully, carries a lighter as well.  I pull out one and light it up gratefully, allowing the nicotine to enter my system.  I flick on Paris’s cell and stare at the number.  Lyle is still crying.

“Lyle, listen to me,” I say softly.  While I am sympathetic to his pain, I can’t have him falling apart on me.  “You want to find out who did this, right?”  Lyle nods his head, gulping back his sobs.  “Then help me.  Do you recognize this number?”  With those well-chosen words, Lyle sucks it up and stares at the phone’s display.  He shakes his head before holding out his hand.  I’m puzzled until I realize what he wants.  I light up a cigarette and hand it to him.  He falls upon it as a starving hyena would a carcass.  “I didn’t know you smoked.”

“I don’t.  Quit years ago.  Only once in a while.”  A social smoker like me.  I puff on my cigarette before dialing the number on the screen.

“Hello?”  A delightfully husky voice answers.

“Um, hi.”  I am at a loss, feeling like a telemarketer making a cold call.  “Ma’am, you don’t know me, but—”

“Are you going to sell me something?”

“No, ma’am.”

“You from a charity?”

“No, ma’am.”

“I just wanted to get that out of the way.  Proceed.”  She laughs exuberantly, her personality practically spilling through the phone lines.

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Plaster of Paris; chapter four, part two

I bring up Paris’s birthmother, something both of us have let slide.  She did call Paris the afternoon he was hit.  Is it merely a coincidence that on the day she calls, Paris is hit?  That’s too much to swallow, although coincidences do occur.  Lyle and I look at each other, thinking the same thing.  Where is Paris’s cell phone?  Lyle had assumed the doctors had it, but he isn’t sure.  We have to get the cell phone to find out if there is a record of Paris’s birthmother’s phone call.  I curse Paris silently for his love of drama.  If he had just told one of us who she was before he was hit, we wouldn’t have to waste time tracking her down.  Lyle and I both start shoveling in the our food as fast as possible, gabbing the whole time.

We are short in the way of suspects, and we start tossing things out into the air.  Lyle mentions that Jenna has been calling Paris on his cell lately, begging Paris to come back to her.  I am disconcerted as I thought she had finally gotten over Paris.  He hadn’t mentioned a thing to me about Jenna calling him, but it’s probably because he knew I’d give him hell for getting involved with her in the first place.  I can’t believe she’s calling him again.  They only dated for a month, and she’s acting as if they’re Romeo and Juliet.  Lyle is more sympathetic than I, however, remembering some of his own pathetic behavior at her age.  My face flushes as I recall a few of my own escapades.

Of course, Lyle can’t let it slide and wants to know why I’m reacting so dramatically.  I try to deflect him by returning to the suspect list, but he’s not having any of that.  With a flare of intuition, he guesses the story has something to do with Paris and crows in delight when I am not quick enough to come up with a plausible lie.  When I realize that he isn’t going to let it drop, I order him to finish his sandwich to give myself time to think.  I don’t like thinking about the incident, and I certainly don’t want to tell Lyle as it involves me, stupid behavior, and Paris.  I have a hunch Lyle won’t be happy to hear it once I’m through, but there’s nothing I can do about that since he insists.  Besides, maybe it’ll take his mind of Paris for a minute or two.

The tale isn’t pretty, nor is it particularly interesting.  When Paris and I were sophomores in college, I was desperately unhappy for many reasons and watching Paris date bimbos of both genders did nothing to cheer me up.  I decided I was in love with him and tried to seduce him.  It didn’t work, and I fled from the apartment, humiliated.  I slipped into a bar and proceeded to drink myself into a coma.  Some snake approached me and persuaded me to go home with him.  We were just about to leave when Paris showed up and prevented the snake from whisking me off.  Oh, I protested, but Paris simply slung me over his shoulder and brought me home.  When we got there, I promptly fell apart—as well as threw up—and Paris held me until I regained my sanity.  After reaffirming his love for me and the fact that we make better friends than lovers, he carried me off to my bed.

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Plaster of Paris; chapter four, part one

I hurry home and take a quick nap before hopping in the shower.  Nothing feels as good as the water running down my body.  The steam soothes the prickliness I feel, but to my horror, I start to cry.  The tears I’ve been repressing all night long storm to the surface and spill over, mingling with the shower water on the way down.  I start to sob loudly, unable to control my response.  I can’t control my shivering, no matter how hot I make the water.  I place my hand on the wall to steady myself, but my knees are trembling and I feel as if I’m going to fall over.  I close my eyes and try not to lose my balance.  My legs aren’t listening to my commands, and down I go.  I land on my ass with a thud—it’s cold on the ground.  I wrap my arms around my knees and just let the water fall onto me.

“Rainbow!  Where are you?”  My mother’s voice shouting for me jolts me out of the trance I have put myself in.  I am still on the floor under the pouring water, but it’s turned cold in the time I’ve been zonked.  My mother bursts into the bathroom and shuts off the tap.  She hauls me to my feet, clucking the whole time.  She’s talking to herself in Taiwanese as she wraps a towel around me.  I catch a phrase here and there, but my mind can’t process what she’s saying.  I idly wonder how fast she had driven as she seems to have made it across the bridge in good time.  Then again, I did take a nap, albeit a short one.  My mother ushers me to my room and sits me on the bed.  She rummages through my closet, pulling out a blue sweatshirt I got from A Brighter Day, the agency where I work, and a pair of blue jeans.  She finds a bra and underwear before presenting the pile to me.  I pull on the clothes without saying a word.  She watches as I dress myself, waiting until I’m finished before speaking.

“Are you all right?”  She asks the question deliberately, peering anxiously into my eyes.  She speaks English to make sure I understand.  Taiwanese may be her first language, but English is mine.  I look at her dully, not comprehending what she wants from me.  Am I all right?  My best friend is in the hospital because someone tried to make road-kill out of him, and she wants to know if I’m all right?  I pick at my fingernails, losing interest in the conversation.  All the nervous energy I was feeling earlier is now spent, leaving me as limp as a dish rag.  She walks over to me and deliberately slaps me across the face.  I rear my head back in surprise.

“What the hell did you do that for?”  I snap, some color returning to my face.

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Plaster of Paris; chapter three, part three

Per agreement, they didn’t try to find the teenager or even speculate about whom she might be.  Mrs. Frantz was too tense to relax, but Mr. Frantz managed to enjoy much of the local flavor, especially the spirits of the land.  He was fond of rum, which was plentiful in supply.  Mrs. Frantz sat in their hotel room and waited, dreaming of her baby boy.  By then, she knew she was getting a son, but she was cautious about investing too much emotion in him until she actually held him in her arms.  She just sat with the lights out, gazing outside her window, not really seeing anything.  Her husband would try to coax her to join him in his revelry, but she rebuffed him firmly.  When the first day melted into the second day, she began to get jittery.  Their lawyer had said the baby was born already, so she didn’t see the problem.  She was afraid to voice the fear niggling the back of her mind—the birthmother had changed her mind.  The second fear—the birthmother wanted more money.  There was none to be had.  The Frantzes had to borrow heavily to come up with the ten thousand, not to mention the trip to Tijuana.

Mrs. Frantz thought she would lose her mind as she waited for something that might never happen.  She rocked slightly back and forth to keep her mind off the tedium.  She watched as kids romped outside her window, happily oblivious to the woman gaping at them from inside her hotel room.  The maid knocked on the door for maid service, but Mrs. Frantz impatiently shouted at her to go away.  Mrs. Frantz didn’t want to be interrupted while she was obsessively worrying about acquiring her baby boy.  What would he look like?  Would he be a total stranger, or would she know him when she saw him?  Would they instantly connect, or would they have to work towards something?  She was afraid that she would look at her son and not feel anything other than panic and remorse.  What if she thought he was ugly?  What if he cried when she held him?  So many questions buzzed through her mind, she was unhappy that her husband wasn’t there to share her angst.

The knock on her door startled her.  She asked who it was and was relieved to hear her lawyer’s voice in reply.  She hurried to open the door, not remembering that she was wearing only a tank top and a pair of shorts.  Her lawyer didn’t seem to care, even though he himself was wearing a lightweight suit in charcoal gray.  He looked professional, but cool at the same time.  In his arms was an infant, cooing and batting his eyelashes as if he had something in his eyes.  Her lawyer was talking, but she couldn’t hear what he was saying.  Her mind blocked out everything but the sight of her son smiling at her.  Her week-old son who turned up the wattage when he sensed her eyes on him.  She didn’t touch him, but simply stared—memorizing every feature.  His large green eyes.  The few soft blond curls decorating his head.  The way his chubby fist waved in the air.  The little dimple poking into his right cheek.  He was her son, no doubt about it.

Mrs. Frantz gathered him to her chest, cradling him as if her life depended on it.  Everything else in the world ceased to exist—the lawyer, the bed, the television, the tacky wallpaper, even her husband who had straggled back to the room at some point.  She could only focus on the tiny bundle squirming in her arms, beaming up at her.  She felt a benevolent force smiling down at her as if to say, ‘This is your due; this is why you’ve struggled so hard.  Now, you are rewarded.’  She knew God’s voice when she heard it and renewed her lagging vows to the church.  From now on, she would tithe religiously.  From now on, she would attend every Sunday.  From now on, she would try to bring God into every portion of her life.  She felt it only fair in return for the miracle that was her son.  Her son.  It didn’t matter that she didn’t carry him or give birth to him because he was hers as surely as if he had been taken from her gut.  He even resembled her in coloring, though not in temperament.

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Plaster of Paris: chapter three, part two

“Lyle, honey, we’re here.”  I tap him gently on the shoulder, not wanting to disturb him.  He looks up, his eyes blank.

“Hi,” Lyle says bleakly, not even attempting to smile.  He struggles to stand up, finally hauling himself off his ass.  “Mrs. Jenson.”  He holds out his hand to Mrs. Jenson, who steadfastly ignores it.  Lyle lets his hand drop back to his side, then sits down again.

“How’s our boy?”  Even though I know Lyle would call me if anything changes, I can’t stop myself from asking.

“No change.  He’s resting,” Lyle shrugs.  “No one is allowed to see him.”

“We’ll see about that.”  Mrs. Jenson purses her lips as she strides towards the nurses’ station.  We watch as she gestures broadly to the attending nurse, a large, black woman with a shorn head and a weary look on her face.  Mrs. Jenson’s face is etched with distaste as she gestures; the nurse is equally terse in her response.

“Ten to one she gets in to see Paris,” I whisper out of the side of my mouth, eliciting a wan smile from Lyle.

“That’s a sucker bet if I ever heard one,” he shoots back, his smile wobbling.  “I’d never bet against Mrs. Jenson getting whatever she wanted.”  Except her daughter alive.  Except her son not being in love with a man.  Perhaps Mrs. Jenson is not so lucky after all.  Mrs. Jenson is still arguing with the nurse when a tired-looking doctor strides over towards them.  He is tall and cadaverous thin, with round spectacles and a brisk manner.  After listening to Mrs. Jenson for a few minutes, he says a sentence or two that seems to satisfy her.  Within minutes, she returns to where Lyle and I are watching her.

“That takes care of that,” she says in satisfaction.  “Watch my purse.  I’ll be right back.”  She hands her oversized purse to me, then follows the waiting doctor.

I try to convince Lyle to go home for a few minutes so he can eat, shower, and nap.  He digs in his heels, not wanting to leave Paris.  He points out that he is the only one with a vehicle as well, and what would I and Mrs. Jenson do without his services?  I can call Vashti or my mother or hail a cab.  He needs to take care of himself, I say firmly.  He is adamant, however, about not leaving Paris to the mercies of a killer.  He scowls at me before plunking back into his seat.  He’s sobbing again, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.  I sit next to him and pull him to me.  He is stiff in my arms, but at least he allows me to pat him on the back.

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Plaster of Paris; chapter three, part one

Lyle and I move a bit away to an unoccupied couch.  Now that there’s nothing else to do, I can’t help but notice our surroundings.  There are people everywhere, with every kind of wound imaginable.  One woman has an angry gash from her collarbone to her belly.  A knife wound, by the indication of the shredded dress.  She is being talked to by a nurse who quickly hustles her behind a door.  There is a small boy blubbering as he watches blood dripping from his knee which is embedded with slivers of broken glass.  I avert my eyes from the human suffering that is happening around me.  I rather watch the nurses and doctors rushing from one place to the next, intense looks of concentration on their faces.  They don’t even acknowledge each other as they hurry on their way, intent on their next assignment.  The walls are a dingy white, as if tired of offering brightness and comfort.  There is an older man arguing with the intake nurse, the volume of their argument increasing by the word.  I shudder and shut my eyes to block out all the stimuli.  I hate the hospital—as I’m sure most people do.  It’s ironic that the place which is supposed to be for saving lives is loathed by so many.

The hours pass with monotonous regularity.  Sometime during the evening, the inspector returns to question Lyle.  It takes a half hour, which is twice the amount of time she talked to me.  Lyle doesn’t want to talk about it, so we go back to waiting.  We also take turns napping.  First me with my head on his lap.  Then him with his head on my lap.  Neither of us is able to sleep for more than half an hour at a time, which doesn’t make for very restful sleep.  Lyle tosses as he sleeps, moaning softly for Paris.  I stroke his forehead, not wanting to cause him more agitation.  It’s strange how this terrible circumstance has thrown us together.  I like Lyle tremendously, but I haven’t really spent much in-person time with him.  Most of our conversations have taken place over the phone when he and Paris were in Memphis for Paris’s sister’s funeral.  Now, we are going to be spending much of our time together over the next couple weeks whether we like it or not.  Fortunately, I like him because it would be even more hellish to spend this kind of time with him if I didn’t.

The hospital isn’t quiet—not even at four in the morning.  There are patients still streaming in the door.  It’s Saturday night, so many of the wounded are hopped up or drunk as well as injured.  My admiration for hospital personnel increases tenfold as I observe the business they have to do.  I know there is no way I could handle dealing with this kind of large-scale tragedy on a daily basis without flipping my lid.  I lean against the back of the couch and close my eyes, even though it’s my turn to stay awake.  I don’t know why Lyle and I decided that one of us needs to be awake at all times, but it suddenly seems ridiculous.  If the doctors have anything to say to us, they can wake us up.  Why are we keeping this vigil?  What good is it doing Paris?  I’m sending him good vibes, but what he really need is a miracle.  For the first time, I allow myself to think the unthinkable.  I open my eyes, suddenly shivering in fear.

Paris is more necessary to me than any of my appendages.  I’d rather lose all my limbs combined that lose Paris.  He is more important to me than any lover I’ve ever had, except perhaps, Claudette, the girl I partnered with for a year of my life in high school—the longest relationship I’d ever been in.  I was shattered the day she killed herself after tiring of her battle with anorexia, and it was Paris who patiently put me back together.  It’s been Paris holding my hands the last few months when the nightmares visit each night.  It’s Paris who has cooked me tempting dishes every day, hoping it’d coax my capricious appetite to spring to life.  It’s Paris who kept me from drowning after my father was killed by a drunk driver.  It was Paris who showed me what it meant to love someone unconditionally.

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Plaster of Paris; chapter two, part two

“I think that’s our job, Ms. Liang.”  A woman’s voice, husky, informs me.  I sigh heavily.

“Hello, Inspector Robinson.”  I don’t have to look up to know what I will see.  A tall, slender woman with blond hair that falls to her shoulders and light gray eyes.  Cheekbones to die for.  A woman I’m attracted to, but could never date.  I don’t even know if she dates women, but we have too much history to be bed partners.  She holds herself responsible for not preventing both attempts on my life, though there really was nothing she could have done.  When I do look up, I’m struck again by her fragile beauty.  She is much too delicate to be a homicide inspector.  “How are you?”

“I’ve been better,” she says levelly.

“We must stop meeting like this.”  My attempt at jocularity falls singularly flat.  “What are you doing here?  This isn’t a homicide.”

“Attempted, Ms. Liang,” Inspector Robinson says wearily.  “In addition, because of Mr. Frantz’s involvement in previous homicide cases, we are taking every precaution to ensure that this attempt is not linked to the prior ones.”  Sounds like faulty reasoning to me as both the previous murderers are indisposed of, but it’s not my place to say so.

“What can I do for you?”  I am less cautious with Inspector Robinson than I would be with another cop, but I’m still on my guard.

“I would like to have a few words with you in private,” Inspector Robinson says, glancing at Lyle who is paying no attention to us.  He is more interested in staring at the back of his hands.  Inspector Robinson motions with her head, so I stand up and follow her a healthy distance away.  She gestures for me to sit, and I do so reluctantly.  She angles a chair so it’s facing mine, then sits.  She stares at me for a minute before starting her questioning.  I have the uncomfortable feeling that my blouse is buttoned crookedly; the inspector has that effect on me.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see Vashti walk over to Lyle and sit next to him.  She must have been waiting for an appropriate time to approach us.  What a thoughtful woman.  I’m so intent on watching her, I miss what Inspector Robinson says.

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?”  I wrench my thoughts back to the inspector who doesn’t look pleased with my request.

“Where were you this evening?”  Inspector Robinson asks, her voice brisk.  I stare at her uncomprehendingly.

“You’re asking me for an alibi?”  Unreasonably, I’m wounded.  After the last two cases, I would think I’d be above suspicion, but obviously not.  I take a minute to compose myself before replying.  “I was at Vashti’s apartment.”  I nod at Vashti, and the inspector follows my gaze.  “She made us dinner.”

“Then what?”  Inspector Robinson is scribbling notes, but doesn’t miss the blush that spreads to my cheeks.

“Um, we were getting to know each other better when Lyle called me on my cell.”  I am strangely reluctant to give the inspector the gory details, though they’re fairly tame.  “Vashti drove me over.”

“How have you and Mr. Frantz been getting along?  Things tense lately?”

“You have to be kidding me,” I exclaim.  “I just gave you my alibi!  You still think I might have,” I stop as my eyes flood with tears.  My best friend is in surgery fighting for his life, and I’m being questioned by the cops.  “I love Paris.  I would never hurt him.”

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