“I’m not really sure.” He still won’t look at me. “She wouldn’t talk to me after that. I assume Moira told Annie I confronted her.” The truth, but not all of it. He is sweating again, so I push the issue.
“What did you talk to Moira about the night before the party?” I have definitely caught him off-guard. There is a look of panic on his face, and I haven’t even asked him about the supposed attempted rape.
“Who told you I talked to her then?” The words tumble out of his mouth before he can stop them. “The bitch! I wouldn’t have thought she’d have the nerve to tell anyone.” So it is true. I look at him expectantly, hoping he’ll fill in the blanks. It’s a well-known trick of the cop trade to stay silent, forcing the perp to talk. It works. “It wasn’t enough that she seduced my daughter, oh no. She couldn’t be satisfied with just that, could she? No, she had to do more. Moira did cocaine once in a while. Crack. I bet you didn’t know that.” I didn’t, but I keep quiet. Now that he’s finally talking, I don’t want to do anything to stop the flow. “She only did it recreationally. I think she thought it made her cool or something.” I see where this is going, but I want to hear him say it. “She gave some to my Annie. Imagine that! The girl is only twenty-three, and this barracuda gets her hooked on crack. ‘Just try it,’ she says. ‘It’s like nothing you’ve ever felt before.’ So my Annie, my innocent daughter who is so in love with Moira, does what she is told. Before she knows it, she’s shooting up daily.”
“How did she get that kind of money?” I ask. Crack, while cheaper than its glamorous cousin, cocaine, is still not cheap if being done every day.
“My ex gave it to her before she realized what Annie was doing with it. Once it became clear that Annie was using, Ginny—my ex—refused to give her any more money.” A font of information up to this point, Emil stops. He doesn’t want to tell me anything else, but I wait him out. There’s no contest, and he breaks. “Annie started hooking to make the money to feed her crack habit.” It is what I’m expecting to hear, but saddens me, nonetheless. Any residual good feelings I had for Moira drain away; I’m glad I never went on that date with her.
Emil hadn’t been able to put Moira’s treachery out of his mind which is why he met with Moira the night before the party. He had been brooding about his daughter almost nonstop for three months, and he couldn’t take it any more. His work was suffering from his lack of concentration; he was having difficulties sleeping at night; he’d lost ten pounds because he couldn’t eat. It was one reason he was taking a sabbatical next year. He had to talk to Moira again, if only to give him peace of mind that he’d done everything he possibly could to help his daughter. He said Moira wasn’t so high-and-mighty when Emil threatened to tell the department about her conquests. In fact, she looked absolutely panicked until she realized that she had something to threaten him with, too. She told him she’d turn Annie in to the cops if Emil ratted on her. Emil’s nostrils flare as he starts breathing harder. His skin is ashen, and he is panting slightly. I worry that he will have a heart attack in front of my eyes. I won’t be able to handle the guilt if I send this man into cardiac arrest.
Given the state of his health, I hesitate before asking about the supposed rape. The last thing I want to do is push this man over the edge, but I have to ask. With everything else swirling around, an allegation like that needs to be cleared up if possible. He looks at me uncomprehendingly when I ask, nothing but exhaustion lining his eyes. Even as I explain the accusation, I am embarrassed at having brought it up. There is no way this man would lay an unwanted hand on someone, not in that manner. Especially not the woman he views as the person ruining his daughter. Unless it’s revenge. I cannot suppress the thought before it flashes across my mind. Predictably, Emil is outraged at the accusation. He denies it categorically, his face flushing red as he does so. He claims to have had no attraction to her whatsoever, and besides, that’s not the kind of man he is.
He cannot believe that Moira would spread such lies about him, but I can. Moira was a woman who believed in preemptive strikes. By laying the framework for an attempted rape by Emil upon her, she gained the upper hand. If he voiced his complaints to the department, they would take what he had to say with a grain of salt after hearing what Moira had to say on the subject. The claim of rape carries heavy weight, and it’s difficult to dispel the negativity surrounding it even if it proves false. It’s taken seriously, rightly so, but it can also be misused as seems to be the case in this situation. Emil is pacing back and forth, his color still red. I manage to convince him I believe him which calms him down an iota, and it’s enough to push him to sit back down. I pat his hand comfortingly, doing my best to soothe his ire.
Emil is grateful that I don’t believe ‘such pernicious nonsense’, but realizes as well as I that there will be others who do. He sighs as he eases his body back into the couch. He slumps over, the picture of resignation or possibly, defeat. I remind him that anyone who knew Moira would question such an accusation. He is slightly cheered by this statement, but not much. It is a serious blow to his ego that those kinds of rumors are circulating about him, and it seems to me if he’d known about them before Moira had died, he would quickly move up the suspect list for her murder. I allow him to compose himself before continuing my questioning. Perhaps it would have been kinder to forget the subject until another day, but I don’t feel like I have that luxury. There is a murderer running loose, and I, for one, will not feel completely safe until that person is caught.
I ask Emil about his conversation with Moira the night before her death. He recites the gist of the conversation then says he told her if she left his daughter alone, he’d stop bothering her. Otherwise, Moira could count on him harassing her at every turn. He would haunt her day and night until she stayed away from his daughter. His eyes are alive with an emotion I can only dimly grasp. I wait a beat, then I lean forward, commanding Emil’s attention before asking the important question—where is his daughter? I remind him that if Annie didn’t kill Moira, the best thing for her to do would be to come forward so she can clear her name. The longer she is missing, the more the inspector will focus on her as a suspect. Of course, I am talking shit, but it sounds good, at least to me. I wait to see how Emil will react to my logic.
“You don’t have kids, do you?” Emil says, finally lifting his eyes. They are dull with pain. I wince at what I am making him experience, but there’s no way around it. He doesn’t wait for an answer. “If you did, you’d understand. Annie’s mother and I are nearly out of our minds with worry. Neither of us have seen her since my ex had it out with Annie. That was a week before the party. Ginny told Annie as long as she was using, she wasn’t welcomed in the house. When Annie showed up on my doorstep, I told her the same thing. Tough love, you know.” Despite himself, his voice cracks. He takes a long sip from his glass to regain his composure.
When he has recovered, we continue. I ask when was the last time Moira saw Annie, but Moira wouldn’t say. She was a bitch, according to Emil. He is starting to turn red again, and I devoutly hope that he won’t keel over right in front of my eyes. I wonder why he went to the party if he hated Moira so. If it were me, I would have stayed as far away as I possibly could. I don’t think I could have spent a whole night in the close proximity of someone I hated without it eating a hole in the lining of my stomach. Max wanted Emil there for support. Emil went to be a good friend to Max since he’s a believer that you do for your friends what you would want them to do for you. His voice is flattening as he continues to talk, and I can tell that he’s shutting down. I still have questions about Max’s death, so I hastily switch topics. I have three questions tops before he mentally checks out.
“How do you feel about Max’s death?”
“I can’t believe it happened!” Emil becomes animated; it’s as if someone flicked a switch. “Moira, sure. She made enemies left and right. But Max? She was a doll. Who’d want to kill her?” I am beginning to see that Max made a good impression on guys. Or maybe I am the only person who hadn’t liked her. Somehow, I doubt that. “It has to be connected with Moira’s death. It just has to!”
“Did you know that Max had a suspect?” I ask guilelessly, wanting to provoke a reaction.
Emil is in complete control of himself by now and shows little interest in my second question. Even when I say that she was going to confront her suspect, he doesn’t rise to the bait. He says he heard that Paris was over there and that, maybe. He allows the sentence to trail off, but I finish it in my mind. I defend Paris to the best of my ability, but I know I’m fighting an uphill battle. I can’t get too upset about it, however, because the evidence points to Paris—if you don’t know him as well as I do. At least Emil has the decency to pretend that he believes it wasn’t Paris, though he does think it’s a shame Paris was seen leaving Max’s place the afternoon of her murder. I can’t argue with him on that point. Paris has been incredibly dumb throughout this whole ordeal. If he wasn’t my best friend, he would, indeed, be my number-one suspect.
As I’m ruminating on Paris, Emil stands up and gracefully extricates himself from the situation by stating that he has to get up early tomorrow. It’s not even nine, but I follow his lead. What else can I do? I am not the police; I don’t have official standing here. He kisses the back of my hand as he thanks me for stopping by, but he doesn’t mention a repeat visit. If nothing else, I have cured him of his crush on me, which is a silver lining, I suppose. I am disgruntled that I wasn’t able to worm more information out of him because I’m sure there’s information to be had, but he’s a stubborn man. As I walk back to the apartment, I fish out my cell phone to let Paris know I’m on my way home since I don’t want him worrying about me. Just as I click off the phone, I sense a presence behind me. I whirl around but am not fast enough. I see the glint of a knife as it slashes down towards my face. Instinct takes over. I jump to the side, and the knife glances off my arm. It doesn’t penetrate my coat, for which I’m thankful. The arm rises and falls again. I move again, but I am not as lucky this time. The knife glances off my neck, and I can feel the blood ooze down my throat.
“Someone help me!” I finally find my voice and scream. I can hear people shuffle towards me, and I force myself to look at my attacker. I get a clear glimpse of a white, frozen face with hollowed-out cheeks and burning eyes before the knife is coming at me for a third time. I drop to my knees and curl in a ball. I wait to feel the knife, but nothing. When I finally look up, my attacker is gone, and there is a small crowd of people around me.
“You ok, lady?” A Hispanic man looks at me with concern. “That girl, muy loca. What you do to her?”
“Nothing!” I am indignant that he thinks I provoked the attack. “I don’t know who she was. You sure it’s a she?” I only remember the face, which could have been either male or female. There is something familiar about it, but I can’t quite place it.
“I know a girl when I see one. Crazy.” He shakes his head, getting ready to leave.
“Please,” I catch him by the arm. “Stay until the police come.”
“No way!” The man’s eyes widen with alarm. He is probably illegal and doesn’t want anything to do with the cops. I can’t blame him, but he seems to be the only one willing to acknowledge seeing my attacker. I hear the sirens in the distance. My witness reluctantly waits with me. I call Paris while we’re waiting.
“Rayne! Where are you?” Paris’s scolds me, but his tone quickly turns to concern when he realizes that what I’m saying. “Oh my god! I’ll be right there.” He clicks off, and I continue to wait. The cops are there within minutes. I half-expect to see Inspector Robinson, but that’s silly as this is not a homicide. I am grateful to whomever called it in. Thank god for cell phones.
The cops are sympathetic, but there isn’t much they can do. My description is vague in the extreme. My witness cannot add much more except to confirm my attacker was a woman. I inform the cops that the attack may be in conjunction with a homicide case. They tell me they’ll let Inspector Robinson know what happened, and she may have further questions for me. By this time, Paris has shown up and is glaring at the cops ominously. They ignore him as they continue to question me. They suggest we move things to the precinct as we are only a couple blocks away from it. When we get there, they have me sign a statement. They even have a sketch artist draw the person I saw, but it’s not very good due to the fact that I froze when I saw her. The officers press me to go to the hospital before allowing that my wound isn’t that serious. They clean and bandage it for me, still advising I go to the hospital. Paris doesn’t speak to me until we are home, sitting in the living room sipping a beer.
After we are settled, Paris speaks his mind. He most emphatically does not want me to sleuth any more because it could get me killed. Which, in case I hadn’t noticed, I almost was tonight. I noticed, thank you very much. Avoiding being murdered is high on my list of priorities of things to do, but I can’t stop now. The attack on me cheers me up in some strange way because it must mean I’m getting closer to the murderer. At least, that’s what it means in my mystery books when the protagonist gets attacked. Paris retorts that this isn’t a fucking book which I also know. We are working ourselves up to a full-blown fight when Paris lets it slip that he couldn’t bear to lose me. too. Knowing that it’s fear of losing me that’s making him so ornery makes me back down quickly. I understand his pain, and while I truly don’t want to add to it, I can’t stop now. I ask tentatively if he wants to hear what Emil had to say since he’s so against me investigating. He nods his head tersely, so I spill the beans. When I reach the part about Moira getting Annie hooked on drugs, Paris frowns. He has come to the same conclusion as I: Moira wasn’t a very nice person.
“Do you think it might have been Annie who attacked you?” Paris asks abruptly. “Maybe Emil does know where she is and told her you were coming to talk to him. Sort of a warning.”
“Maybe she was even at his place,” I say slowly. “Maybe she heard the whole conversation. Maybe she followed me out.” We exchange glances.
“That’s a lot of ‘maybes’,” Paris frowns. “What we need is evidence.”
“I thought you said I had to keep out of it,” I protest mockingly. “I guess that leaves you to do the evidence-gathering.” Paris shoots me a withering glance; I let it slide.
It has been a long day. I am a night person, but the last week has taken the punch right out of me. I want nothing more than to crawl into my bed and stay there forever. I can no longer think about the murders and the information Paris and I have collected. I know that I’m avoiding, but it’s a healthy sort of denial. My mind is on overload and thinking more about the situation will only cause my brain to explode. Now, while that may make for an interesting experience, it’s not one I’m eager to embrace. I sneak a peek at Paris who seems to be falling asleep. I wonder if I should just leave him there or if I should wake him so he can go to bed. Just as I am leaning over to tap him on the shoulder, his eyes fly open. We both jump in our seats.
“Don’t do that!” I admonish him once I catch my breath. “You took ten years off my life.”
“Me? What about you? Hovering over me like that!” Paris pats his chest, inhaling rapidly.
“I forgot to tell you about my sister’s emails.” It seems like a lifetime since I received them, but it was only this morning. After pouring out the whole situation to Paris, I wait to see what he has to say.
“What a little shit,” is his comment. I feel one-hundred percent better to have his validation. “I’m sorry, Rayne, but she’s always been a little shit, and it looks like she’ll always be a little shit.”
“So I’m not overreacting?” I lean on Paris’s shoulder, finding comfort in his solidness.
“Hell, no. She doesn’t want you as a bridesmaid. She wants her image of what, or rather, who she thinks you should be. Might as well cut out a cardboard figure of you and put that in your place.” He has said exactly what I feel about the situation. “Like you told her, would she change for you? Would she not shave her armpits and legs, not wear makeup, buy a dress that cost less than a hundred dollars? Would she talk politics and smile politely when your friends told her they were gay? Hell, no. She would do no such thing. Besides, just because she’s getting married, it doesn’t make her Queen Mother for a day.”
“So I shouldn’t go?”
“I didn’t say that.” Paris hesitates in his rant. “What I’m saying is, be firm. Stand up for yourself. You are trying to do the right thing. Don’t let her mow you over.” We sit in compatible silence after he agrees he’ll go with me if he can and if I go. The silence is shattered by the beep of a cell phone. I can tell by the ring that it’s Paris’s.
“’Lo?” Paris’s face goes glum as he listens to the voice on the other side. “So soon? No, of course, I’m delighted. Yeah. See ya.” He clicks off and heaves a sigh. “Jenna is coming back tomorrow. She just found out. She wants to see me when she gets here. She wants to talk. Why do girls always want to talk?”
“Why do boys never want to talk,” I retort. “I think that’s the more important question. It’s about time she made an honest man out of you.”
“It’s been a month! Shit. I thought I had a few more days at least.” I can tell Paris is rattled because he is repeating himself. I feel a twinge of sympathy for Jenna who is out the door, and she doesn’t even know it. While I secretly agree that she’s rushing things a tad bit, I can also understand her desire to pin Paris down. He’s so damn ephemeral. I am thankful all over again that we are just friends and not lovers.
“I gotta sleep.” I stand up, yawning. “I must be getting old. I used to be able to stay up all night and be ready to party some more.” Paris well remembers the days when we would stay out until dawn, sleep for a few hours, then repeat the cycle. We didn’t get much studying done, but we sure had a lot of dates.
“Night.” Paris stands and pecks me on the lips before walking towards his bedroom. I walk to mine, strip, let my clothes drop to the floor and fall into bed, not even bothering to brush my teeth, wash my face, pee or anything like that. I sleep, uninterrupted, for the first time in a week. It’s something my body sorely needs.