“Hello?” Vashti’s voice is soothing to my ears.
“Vashti? This is Rayne. How would you like to go the Wild West with me tonight?” She agrees and says she’ll be over in a half hour. It gives me enough time to change. I wriggle into a slim black skirt that reaches my ankles. I pull on a low-cut, snug-fitting bright red shirt with long sleeves. I brush my hair until it shines and give myself a little wink. I wish I could do something about the cut on my neck, but I’m not sweating it. I’m wearing my best set of underwear—all lace and very little fabric. I don’t know if I’ll be spending the night at Vashti’s, but I want to be prepared. I slip in a pair of black twisty earrings, black nylons, and black heels. I look in the mirror with satisfaction. I clean up good when I want to. I grab my little black purse and hurry to the living room to wait for Vashti. She is precisely on time which makes me question her heritage. She is definitely not running on CP time.
“You look beautiful,” Vashti compliments me as I slide into her car.
“So do you.” She is wearing black jeans and a white t-shirt with a black leather jacket. Her hair is cut short and slicked back. “You cut your hair!” I reach over to touch it, then pull back. “It looks good.”
“I thought it was time for a change,” Vashti shrugs. “It was getting too heavy.” She roars off into the night. We chitchat as she drives, not wanting to get too serious just yet. I tell her about the email I sent to Libby, and she heartily approves. She tells me that she hates doing administrative work and wants to get back to her kids, but her supervisor won’t budge until the murders are solved. I repeat that she should retain a lawyer, but I don’t push it. It’s her life, and I don’t know what the answer is. I just know what I would do if I were in her shoes. I tell her about Paris breaking up with his newest paramour. She tells me about Dylan’s newest girlfriend. We reach the Wild Side West in record time.
At first glance, it doesn’t appear that Billie is there. She is not working. There’s some cheerful BBW handling the bartending duties. I look over to the pool table, but no Billie. I wonder if it’s worth waiting then decide we might as well drink while we’re there. We snag a table near the pool table, and Vashti gets the drinks. Rum and coke for me, Rolling Rock for her. She is definitely in butch mode tonight as she doesn’t even ask me what I want to drink. I don’t mind once in awhile as long as she doesn’t make a habit of it. We sit and drink in silence as we watch the pool game going on. A cute blond is hustling a dour-looking brunette. Every time the brunette makes like she’s going to walk away, the blond kisses her on the cheek until she repents.
I want to talk to Vashti about Paris’s adoption, but I know it’s not my place. Besides the fact that they don’t like each other, it’s really Paris’s decision who should know and who shouldn’t. I don’t want to talk about the murders, not tonight, but I also want to solve them. I wish this was just a date and that the biggest thing on my mind was wondering if I’d be getting laid by the end of the night. Instead, here I am waiting for surly butch dyke who is bitter towards the world and delusional about Moira Kelley. However, said dyke might also have more information that she’s willing to share if I find the right way to ask her. I have a hunch wearing a tight shirt and leaning over a lot will help my cause. She already respects my pool-playing abilities. Now, if she would just show up. I can take care of business, then go home with Vashti. Or not.
There is a rustling by the hallway that leads to the bathroom and the patio. It’s her. She is buckling her belt so either she just went to the bathroom, or someone has been servicing her. She is wearing the ubiquitous jeans and t-shirt, only she’s wearing shit-kicker boots as well. Black, of course. She swaggers over to the pool table where the blond is running the table on the brunette. Billie watches as the blond sinks the eight ball and triumphantly waves her cue in the air. The brunette scowls, but hands over a ten. Billie whispers something in the blond woman’s ear. The latter nods and waits for Billie to rack them. I notice Billie’s eyes roaming appreciatively up and down blondie’s curvaceous body which is barely covered by the yellow sundress she’s wearing—in the rainy season, no less! The brunette watches with slit eyes as Billie takes her time adjusting the rack. The blond breaks, sinking two of the balls.
They are both good players, but I think I could take either one. Neither can sustain a run of more than three balls whereas I’ve been known to sink up to seven at one time. Both Billie and the blond have set expressions on their faces as they battle it out. The blond is stripes and Billie is solids. The blond has a gimme on the thirteen, but inexplicably whiffs. It’s all Billie needs to run the table and shoot the eight cleanly in the side pocket. The blond pouts, but hands over a ten before racking the balls. I gather they’re going to play two out of three. I decide to watch and wait, biding my time until I approach Billie. I hope to do it when she wins the match, but I’ll just have to leave that to chance. The game starts out promising as she sinks three on the break, but it goes downhill from there for Billie. She scratches on the first ball she tries to sink, then the blond gets incredibly hot and runs the table. I wait impatiently for them to rack again. It’s a seesaw game, but Billie wins in the end. It’s time to make my move. I grab my purse and sashay over.
“Hi, remember me?” I smile at Billie, freezing out the blond who has reluctantly returned to the brunette. “Care to play some nine ball?” While I’ll play eight ball, I really prefer nine. It has the element of ‘this could end at any minute’ that I find irresistible. Besides, I remember it’s Billie’s choice as well.
“You rack them, I’ll break them.” Billie’s eyes are impassive as she chalks her cue. “Fifty bucks. I’m not letting you make a fool of me again.” The blond gasps at the dollar amount, but I know it’s machismo, and I take no offense.
“Fifty.” I pull out two twenties and a ten from my purse and put the money on the rail. She does the same with the bills she pulls out of her pocket. I rack them; she breaks them. She must be nervous because she doesn’t sink any. “Did you hear about Max’s murder?” I ask casually as I line up my shot. I take my time so I can draw out the game.
“Yeah, I heard the bitch bought it,” Billie grunts as she casts a speculative eye at the blond who is watching our game with interest. The brunette has wandered off somewhere, leaving the blond to her lonesome. “Good riddance.” Even though I know Billie has no love for Max, I’m still somewhat shocked. Not that she harbors hatred towards Max—that she would be so careless with whom she shares this knowledge. She doesn’t know me; it would be prudent to keep her mouth shut. Fortunately for me, she doesn’t wish to be prudent. I miss a shot, and she takes over. She works in quick succession, sinking one ball after the next.
“They don’t know who did it.” I have learned by now that making innocuous statements is enough to elicit a comment from Billie.
“I hear it’s her personal trainer,” Billie smirks. “Heard he was porking her.” I restrain myself with difficulty. It won’t do to punch out Billie just when she’s starting to open up a little. “You know how them men are.”
“There’s no evidence against him,” I point out, sticking to the obvious. Paris wouldn’t care less if this bull dyke bad-mouthed him. He has less than no patience for the more masculine of the lesbians.
“Yeah, it could be that professor that was bugging Moira. Maybe Max killed Moira so he killed Max.” Billie misses her shot, leaving me with the last three balls. Too bad. She had a nice little run going there. I line up my shot before asking my next question.
“What about you? You take a shot at her?” I ask the question casually, not expecting much of an answer. I feel myself caught by the hair and my head pulled back. Fortunately, I haven’t taken the shot yet.
“Listen, bitch, if I killed that no-good slut, I would shout it at the top of my lungs. Understand?” Just like that, she lets go of my head.
“Just asking.” I line up my shot again, then cleanly sink the seven ball. To take revenge on her for the stunt she just pulled, I sink the eight and nine as well. “Thanks for the game.” I scoop up the bills and stuff them in my purse. I make like I’m going to walk away—I don’t think there’s much information to be had here.
“Not so fast,” Billie snarls, clamping her hand down on my arm. I merely glance at her. Bullies like her thrive on fear—it feeds their testosterone. “One more. Double or nothing.” The blond, whom I had forgotten was there, gasps again. She is seriously getting on my nerves. I pull out the bills and set them on the table, waiting for Billie to do the same.
“Rack ‘em.” I stare at her hard. I know how to play the macho game, though it’s not something I enjoy. She racks ‘em tight.
“Max called me before she died,” Billie says casually as she lifts the triangle from the table. “She found out about Moira and me and was mad about it.” She has a smirk on her face that ill-suits her features. “I guess Moira and me weren’t as careful as we should have been.” There is a proud tone in her voice that is sickening. I break the balls with a vengeance and sink the nine ball.
“Thanks for the game.” I pick up the bills and place them in my purse, closing it with a snap. The blond is eyeing me with admiration, and I give her a cool smile. I’m not really partial to blonds except for Paris.
“No fucking way!” Billie bellows, her mouth dropped in surprise. “Come back here, bitch!” I continue walking, everyone’s eyes on me.
“Let’s go,” I say to Vashti who nods and stands up. Billie is still bellowing behind us as we make our escape. We get in Vashti’s car, and she drives back to my place. We are silent for a few minutes until Vashti makes the mistake of telling me that she thinks I should drop the case. I am tired and displeased with the lack of information flowing from Billie even if I did make a hundred and fifty off of her so I don’t take kindly to Vashti’s well-meaning advice. Since neither of us wants to have an argument, we let it drop and force ourselves to talk pleasantly of other subjects until our tempers have cooled. Nothing more is said until we reach my place. I invite her in, which she accepts with alacrity. I pour us both drinks, then usher her into the living room.
“I am liking your place,” she says with a smile as we sit on the couch. “Rayne, I have bad feeling about you being involved with this…this…case. I would feel much better if you stopped.” So would I, but I have to clear Paris’s name. “Please, Rayne, if you would listen to me.” There is something about her tone that strikes an odd note.
“What aren’t you telling me, Vashti?” I look at her sharply, but she doesn’t meet my eyes.
“Nothing! Everything! I mean, I have told you everything.” She looks at me briefly, but her glance skitters away. “I just worry that you will be hurt. I don’t want you hurt.”
“I don’t want me hurt, either,” I assure her, patting her on the thigh. Her skin is soft under my touch.
“So you will be stopping?” Vashti leans forward until her face is inches from mine. Without giving me a chance to respond, she leans forward and kisses me. Her tongue slips into my mouth, making me weak with desire. She pulls away, her face flushed. “You are not making me go home tonight, are you?” Her hand slips under my blouse and under my bra. I moan as she tweaks my nipple. A part of my mind is listening for Paris’s footsteps, but I hear nothing. Still, I don’t feel comfortable making out on the couch, though that’s never stopped Paris.
“Follow me.” I stand up, holding my hand out to Vashti. Her grasp is warm and comfortable. I lead her to my bedroom and shut the door. She is on me the minute I turn to face her. She pushes me up against my wall, stroking my neck with her hand.
“You are beautiful,” she murmurs, pressing kisses all over my face. She is a mixture of soft and hard that I find intoxicating. She has her knee pressed in between my legs, and her free hand on my breast.
“The bed,” I gasp, unable to form a complete sentence. “There.” She pulls me over to the bed and pushes me gently onto it. She climbs on top of me, a wide smile pulling at her lips. There is no need for words during the hours that follow.