“It sucks,” Billie says hoarsely, slurping at her beer. “She was my girlfriend, you know.”
“Really? I thought she was found by her girlfriend,” I say innocently. “Was that you?” I line up for a long table shot and neatly sink the one. The two is on the far rail with the seven in between. I don’t think I can make it.
“That bitch wasn’t her girlfriend; I was.” Billie folds her massive arms across her chest and glares at me. “We just had to keep it quiet. Moira didn’t want to tell anyone because she said it would cheapen what we had.” Good God! This woman who looks like a common thug has the heart of a bad romantic. I try to imagine this goon in bed with Moira, and I have difficulty trying to repress a reflexive shudder. Although, Billie would have the muscles to tie Moira down. “I haven’t been able to stop crying since I found out. I saw her just the night before, and she told me she was going to leave her gi—the bitch for me. She was so happy when I saw her. Then this. I bet that bitch did it. If I find out she did, I’m going to fucking kill her.” Billie finishes her beer and glowers at me as I safety the next shot. Billie marches to the table and without aiming, shoots. She’s nowhere near the two so I have ball in hand.
“I read that the police have other suspects. I wonder who?” I haven’t read any such thing, but I’m counting on Billie’s grief to cloud her judgment.
“That fucking professor who had a crush on her and wouldn’t take no for an answer.” Billie snorts, pulling a pack of cigarettes from her back pocket. Catching the look of the bartender, she puts it away. There is no smoking in bars in California any more, a fucking travesty if I’ve ever heard one. Drinking and smoking go together like sex and, well, anything.
“What professor?” My heart pounds slightly, not wanting her to realize that I am questioning her. Fortunately, she’s too absorbed in her sorrow to wonder why I’m asking her so many questions. Besides, she’s eager to talk about Moira and probably doesn’t have many close friends with whom to share her sad story.
“The one who acts like he’s from fucking Britain. Something Banks. God, I hated him! The old fart didn’t know what to do after his wife left him. Thought Moira was the answer to his dreams. When she told him she wasn’t interested, he tried to rape her. What a prick, and him acting so goddamn proper all the time.” Her nostrils flare in disgust. Her ill-temper is not helped by the fact that I am now up to the five and have a gimme shot. I ponder her words for a minute. She must be talking about Emil.
“Emil Banks?” I throw the name at her, and she doesn’t even blink.
“That’s the asshole. I should have sliced off his dick when I had the chance.” It is clear that Billie is one of those dykes who hate men although it seems to me that she’s not too fond of women, either. She a pure misanthrope, that’s what she is. I have no idea what Moira saw in her, unless it was the stalker adoration this woman is emanating. “Then there are her students. Take, take, take. They took, whatever they could from her, but never gave nothing in return. They all got stupid little crushes on her, then turned hateful when she wouldn’t go out with them. Maybe one of them did it.”
“Where were you that night?” I hold my breath, ready for her to explode. To my relief, she merely shrugged.
“I was here. Playing pool. You can ask anyone.” She presses her lips together and begins fiddling with her cue. It’s clear that this well of information is about to run dry, so I slip in one more question.
“How did you meet her?”
“Right here. She came in with the bitch one night over a year ago. The bitch had a headache and left early, but Moira stayed. She help me close the bar that night.” A smile breaks across Billie’s pudgy cheeks, transforming her from scary to almost beautiful. She hesitates, then pulls out a thin gold chain from under her t-shirt. “Moira gave me this. Said it signified our true love.” It’s a simple gold chain with a tiny heart pendant on it. It’s completely out of character for Billie, which makes it that much more pathetic.
“How often did you see her?” I have a feeling that Billie is about to clam up, but I will keep on asking questions until she tells me to shut the fuck up.
“Once every other week or so.” I don’t say a word, but she sees something in my expression she doesn’t like and starts scowling. “She was a busy girl. So was I. I was perfectly satisfied with our schedule.” Uh huh. And I will be the next Virgin Mary. I wonder how she ended up at the same Halloween party as Moira last year, but there’s no way of asking without letting on that I was there. I sigh and sink the nine-ball.
“Game’s over.” I grab the money from the table and stuff it in my pocket. “Thanks for the game.”
“Hey, let’s play again. Double or nothing.” There is a desperate look in her eye that has nothing to do with pool.
“Some other time.” I smile and walk back to my table where, miracle of miracles, Vashti is sitting alone. I detour to the bar to get us another round of drinks. “What happened to the little redhead girl, Charlie Brown?” I ask as I sit down. I place her drink in front of her, and she grabs it gratefully. She tosses it back in one go, and I’m glad that she’s an Asian who can hold her drink. I chug at my beer, feeling a pleasant buzz spread through me.
“It was after her curfew,” Vashti says so acerbically, I let the matter drop. “Well? What did the big, bad, bull dyke have to say for herself?” I choke on my beer.
“Warn a girl before you do that,” I say indignantly. “I almost lost some of my precious beer all over your blouse!” I pause to let the beer settle before recounting what Billie had told me.
“Do you believe her?” Vashti asks when I’m through. That is the question that I haven’t been able to answer. The more I learn about Moira, the less I trust anything she said or did. However, Billie is classic stalker material and one of the symptoms is twisting everything to reflect a perspective that one favors.
“I believe there was something between the two,” I say slowly. “I’m just not sure how far it went. Perhaps they just fucked once, and Billie created this elaborate fantasy world in which she and Moira were a couple. I mean, we both know that Moira was Max’s girlfriend. They were living together! It takes a special kind of delusion to call someone your girlfriend when she’s living with someone else.”
“I don’t know about that,” Vashti protests. “Straight women do it all the time when they date married men. ‘My boyfriend this’ and ‘my boyfriend that’. I don’t see why it’s any different.”
“You have a point,” I concede. “What else do you think?”
“I think Billie is nuts,” Vashti says bluntly. “But that is not what you are asking me. Knowing Moira, she would have enjoyed having Billie on a leash and tugging it whenever she needed attention. Saying meaningless words to keep Billie from getting too frustrated.” Vashti pauses for so long, I think she’s through. I’m about to speak when she continues. “Do not quote me on this, but I would not be surprised if she even staged the scene with you on Halloween knowing that Billie was somewhere nearby. What better way to get attention than to have two girls fighting for her?” I mull it over. Moira had been the one to lead the way, and she had pulled me to a specific area. It is very possible that she knew Billie was lurking in the shadows and planned the whole interaction to happen just the way it did.
It’s sad that such a beautiful woman had so little self-respect. For all her beauty and show of confidence, she must have been pretty empty to keep trying to fill herself up like that. Vashti reminds me that Moira craved attention like a drug. That was her addiction, and it’s something I can’t forget. She had to be the focus at all times, and Vashti is convinced that’s what cost Moira her life. We hash over what Billie had said about Emil, which I immediately reject. I have a hard time believing that that charming older man had tried to rape Moira. Perhaps he misinterpreted signals Moira sent him, but not rape. Vashti rightly points out that just because I like him doesn’t mean he’s not capable of rape. I counter that Moira wouldn’t have had him at the party if he had tried to rape her. She’s not the type of woman to put up with ill-treatment. Neither of us want to fight, so we finish our drinks quickly and head out into the cooling night.
“Come in for an nightcap?” I say to Vashti as we near my apartment.
“I’ll have to take a rain check,” Vashti says regretfully. “I have to get up early in the morning.”
“Thanks for coming along with me,” I smile at her, leaning over to give her a quick hug. When I enter the apartment, Paris is just getting out of the shower. He has a towel wrapped around his lower half, and nothing else.
“Hello, sailor,” I purr, jutting out my hip. “Looking for a good time? I can give you one.”
“Oh, you. Get on with your bad self.” Paris blushes and clutches the towel. For someone as sexually experienced as he is, he has a modest streak that is endearing.
“I got more dirt. Throw on some clothes and come out to dish. Better yet, don’t throw on some clothes.” I wiggle my eyebrows at Paris who simply laughs and flees to his room. I go into the kitchen to pour both of us some lemonade, then take the glasses to the living room. I go over the case in my mind while waiting for Paris to show up.
When he does, he is wearing a black t-shirt and gray sweats. I like it when he’s casual because he’s not so crafted that way. He says that he saw Max at the gym, but she didn’t have any more information. Not surprising as it’s not even been, what, six hours since he saw her last? I can’t help being snide when it comes to Max, no matter how much I promise myself I won’t be. The best I can do is try to keep such nasty thoughts to myself. In order to stop myself from saying something mean about Max, I quickly bring Paris up to date. I’m sure I’m forgetting some details as my brain is like a sieve, but I think I hit all the pertinent spots starting with Dylan’s incident with Moira to my run-in with Moira at the Halloween party to Billie at the Wild Wild West. Paris doesn’t remember seeing Moira at the party, and I figure it’s because she most likely left after the scene Billie pulled. How could that be topped as far as stirring up trouble goes? It couldn’t, so it’d be the perfect note for Moira to leave on. I am definitely liking Moira less in absentia than I did when she was alive.
“I feel sorry for her,” Paris says softly. He is sitting on the couch next to me so I have to twist to gape at him incredulously. “Hear me out. She was a beautiful woman who was never convinced of her beauty. She was with a woman she didn’t love, stalked by another woman who sounds as if she has a few screws loose, and no one saw behind the façade to the person she really was. She must have been incredibly lonely.”
“She fucked up people’s lives,” I say indignantly, forgetting I’d had similar thoughts earlier. “Look at that poor old Emil.”
“Who might have tried to rape her,” Paris reminds me.
We argue back and forth about whether or not Emil tried to rape Moira. For some reason, I felt compelled to defend the man, first against Vashti and now against Paris. Paris isn’t convinced that Emil had tried to rape Moira, but Paris believes it more possible than do I. Paris says that just because Billie’s crazy doesn’t mean she isn’t telling the truth. He doesn’t understand why I’m protecting the ‘old geezer’, and I’m not so sure myself. I just know that the more I learn about Moira, the more it seems like she contaminates everything and everybody she touches. It wouldn’t surprise me if she merely interpreted Emil’s friendliness as a come-on, then turned it into attempted rape to dramatize herself. Oh, I know it sounds as if I’m blaming the victim, but not every woman who cries rape actually experiences it, and I firmly believe Moira falls in that category.
We’re both getting heated, so I change the subject. I ask Paris what he thinks about Billie’s statement that she was Moira’s true love. Did Moira lead Billie on, or did Billie simply delude herself into thinking Moira loved her? Paris thinks it might have been both: Moira leading Billie on and Billie deluding herself. He flexes his muscles as he talks, trying to relax them. Poor boy doesn’t get to work out much while he’s working even though he’s at a gym. The stress of the last few days must really be knotting him up. I roll my own shoulders experimentally and find them tight. I am discouraged as it seems we haven’t gotten any further. All we have is hearsay and speculation. I need hard facts.
“I wonder if I could talk to Emil again,” I say, thinking out loud.
“He did take quite a shine to you,” Paris says cattily. “Maybe you were next on his lists of ladyloves.”
“Shut your mouth,” I say good-naturedly. “If I’m going to talk to him, I need his number. Can you get it from Max for me?”
“I’ll get it from her tomorrow,” Paris sighs. “You sure you don’t want it more for nefarious reasons? You have to be careful of those old letches, you know.”
I glare at him, not wanting to spar again about Emil, but I’m not letting Paris get away with insulting Emil. Emil is a sweet guy who is trying to rebuild his life, and I am strangely protective of him. As I open my mouth to further defend him, Paris holds up his hand as he puzzles over something. Just as I’m about to bite his head off for treating me so cavalierly, he asks me to remind him if I had said that Billie told me that she had seen Moira the night before Moira was killed and that Moira had been happy. I shrug, but nod my head. He reminds me that Max had told him that Moira had been upset after seeing Emil the night before the party. I stare at him in dismay because I can’t believe I hadn’t made the connection. Moira saw Billie and was happy. She saw Emil and was upset. I frown, because I can’t quite see why that matters. Paris draws the dots for me. If both Max and Billie are telling the truth, then whatever happened to upset Moira had to have occurred at Emil’s house since Moira went home upset.
“If Billie is telling the truth,” I interrupt. “It gives Max a great motive for killing Moira!” I forget that Paris is not looking for reasons why Max may have killed Moira but for reasons she didn’t.
“However, is Billie telling the truth?” Paris is the voice of reason, dampening my enthusiasm.
This is the crux of the matter. Can we trust a taciturn, violent, possibly delusional alcoholic loner who is obviously at the end of her rope? Moira emphatically denied that Billie was her girlfriend, but Moira has been proven to be quite skilled at bending the truth as it suited her; I can readily believe that Moira had hooked Billie into a little game and made her believe that they were girlfriends or that their love was too pure to be spoken about or some other such nonsense. On the other hand, Billie might be crafting a fantasy around a few smiles and giggles. It bothers me that it’s a toss-up as to which is true, and I can tell by the frown on Paris’s face that he is thinking similar thoughts. It’s too close to call either way.
There’s only one thing to do—talk to Emil again. I would like to know his side of the story, especially with the rumor floating around that he tried to rape Moira. I put no truck in that theory, but Moira had been upset after seeing him the night before the party, and he might be willing to supply the reason why. Of course, I don’t know him any better than I know any of the players in this drama, so I might not be able to discern if he’s telling me the truth, either, but I have to give it the old college try. I yawn as I stand up, stretching my back in the process. If I’m going to be at all coherent in the morning, I need to get to bed. Just as I’m about out the door, Paris asks if I have a date with ‘what’s-her-name’ tomorrow. He stands, too. Unlike me, he is a natural morning person and likes to get to bed by midnight if he can. I nod and invite him along since she asked. To my relief, he turns me down, claiming he doesn’t want to cramp my style. He reminds me to be careful, but doesn’t go through the whole tiresome speech again for which I’m profoundly grateful.
The minute my head hits the pillow, I’m out like the proverbial light. I have an unsettling dream filled with colored lights and shades. When I wake up, I vow to remember it as I always do, but it’s gone before I have a chance to write it down. I know I should keep pen and paper by my bed, but that doesn’t work, either. I used to do that, and the dreams would still slip away before I could grope my way around for the notebook. I stumble out of bed and make my way toward the bathroom. The door is shut. I am irritated as Paris never has to be anywhere in the morning unless he has a shift at the gym which he doesn’t. Ok, I take that back. Once in a blue moon he has a shoot that starts before noon, but he would have flaunted it if he had one.