Plaster of Paris; chapter eight, part one

I have to go back to the gym tomorrow to find out more about the blond, not to mention try to find Billy.  I ask what Lyle found out about Ursula in order not to have to think about returning to the gym.  Mirabelle did a search on Ursula because she loves doing research, and she knows a few people in the biz.  Turn out, Ursula had exaggerated about her financial assets.  She’s worth about ten million, not the twenty-five or whatever she told us.  Also, she just returned from a weeklong five-state tour.  It was a Midwest swing.  Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and one of the Dakotas.  Lyle and I both shudder with the insularity of true Californians, not able to imagine why anyone would live in the Midwest.  Lyle resumes his narrative, informing me that Ursula’s latest book has been postponed twice.  Her publisher is furious with her, according to Mirabelle, and is threatening to sue her for breach of contract.

Her situation sounds grim, but far from dire.  I clarify that she has money, that she’s not broke, which she isn’t.  However, she won’t be able to spend money at the rate to which she’s rapidly become accustomed.  Lyle lowers his voice to impart the gossip that Ursula has a lover somewhere, but that’s all that Mirabelle knew.  I am taking notes as he talks because it helps me order my thoughts.  Lyle is moody as he finishes reporting because we have all this information and none of it fits together.  Ignoring his temper tantrum, I tell him that the blond girl is the key.  I am beginning to realize that he doesn’t react well under pressure and that it’s nothing personal.  A huge yawn nearly splits my mouth, making me realize that I sleep.  It’s nine o’clock.

“I think I’ll hang here a few more hours, then go home for the night,” I say to Lyle.  “I suggest you do the same.”

“Can I come over to your place?”  Lyle asks, a puppy-dog look on his face.  “I don’t want to be alone.”  I can understand that, as I am feeling the same way.  I nod, then we both go back to the waiting room.  My mom is awake and chatting with the Jensons.  Mr. Jenson is back to impersonating a martinet while Mrs. Jenson is dissolving into a ball of weepy nerves.  Mr. Jenson is patting her stiffly on the back, obviously uncomfortable with attempting to console her.

“Why don’t you guys go home?”  My mother says, shooting me a meaningful look.  When I don’t budge, she adds in Taiwanese, “They’re ready to snap.  You need to get Lyle out of here.”

“Let me just see Paris really quick first,” I say, slipping away.  The officer looks up from the magazine he’s leafing through and nods.  It’s a different officer this time, so I have to give my name again before he lets me inside.  I take my accustomed chair and gaze at Paris for a minute.  Open your damn eyes, I urge him silently, but there isn’t even a flicker.  I vaguely remember something about the chances of recovering being reduced drastically if the victim does not open his eyes in the first forty-eight hours following his trauma.  It’s been about that much time, which means we’re entering the danger zone.

“Don’t you dare leave me,” I whisper, unsure if I’m speaking loud enough for him to hear.  Even if I’m not, I have things I need to say.  “Paris, you’ve been my best friend forever.  I love you more than almost anyone on this earth.  I can’t thank you enough for having my back.”  I pause, not wanting to be melodramatic.  I am stroking his hand which has no feeling to it.  “I promise you, Paris.  I’m going to get the bastard who did this to you.  If it’s the last thing I do.”  I sit, not saying anything else.  My heart is speaking to his, and I’m sure he can hear that message better than any I might vocalize.  I allow myself to feel the pain of his pain.  I relinquish the death grip I’ve had on my control for the last few days.  It’s only in his presence that I feel safe enough to be vulnerable, knowing he won’t take advantage of it.

“Ma’am?”  The officer comes to tell me my time is up.  I smile at him before returning to the waiting room where Lyle is sitting as far away from the Jensons as possible.

“Let’s go,” Lyle says grimly, springing up from his chair.  I don’t want to leave my mother, but she’s making shooing motions.  She does have her car and I gave her back her keys, so I don’t feel too guilty.  “Assholes!”  Lyle spits as soon as we are outside the building.  He pulls out Paris’s cigarettes and lights up.  Without asking if I want it, he holds it out to me.  I accept as he lights one of his own.  “Mr. Jenson started in on me as soon as you left.  Calling me a pervert and a disgrace to my country.  An abomination, I believe he said.”

“Did he lose it?”  I ask, trying to keep up with his rapid pace.

“Oh no, not in front of the missus,” Lyle says, bitterness lacing his words.  He sighs, shakes his head, and tries again.  This time, the tone is lighter.  “He made it perfectly clear, however, that I am only to be tolerated as long as Paris is unconscious.  Once he wakes up, Mr. Jenson is making him go back to Memphis with them if he has to drug him and drag him there himself.  That’s a direct quote.”

“He wants to take Paris to Memphis?”  I ask, appalled.  “For god’s sake, why?”

“To get him away from me,” Lyle says simply.  By this time we have reached his truck and are on our way.  “And perhaps you.  I don’t think he likes you very much.”

“Paris in Memphis?”  I am still stuck on that concept.  “How is he going to do that?  Paris won’t go there, not voluntarily.”

“Who the fuck knows?”  Lyle says furiously, peeling out of the parking lot.  “He’ll find a way, I’m sure.”  I place my head carefully against the window, gently rapping it a few times.  “What the?”  Lyle risks a look over as I’m rhythmically tapping my head against the window.  “Stop that!  It’s not going to help anything.”

“But it sure feels good,” I say, sighing as I stop.  We are both exhausted and say nothing as Lyle brings us to my apartment.

“Want me to cook something?”  Lyle asks.  I’m sure he can’t be hungry again so soon; most likely, he just wants something to do.  He opens the fridge and peers into it before shutting it prematurely.  “Shit, Rayne, what am I supposed to do?”

“Have a beer,” I say, reaching past him to open the fridge door and grab him a MGD.  “That’s what I’m going to do.”  I grab two, opening them and handing one to him.  We both drink as we make our way into the living room.  The light is blinking on the answering machine, so I press play.  There is a hang-up followed by a call from Vashti asking me to call her when I had the time.  I wonder why she didn’t call my cell, then find out that I had inadvertently turned off the ringer on my cell, and she had tried to call me there as well.  There’s a message from my boss saying we need to have a talk in the morning.  I’m about to hit rewind when one more message leaks through.

“Is this the bitch who lives with Paris?”  The voice is hoarse and indistinguishable.  “You ask too many questions, girl.  Do you know what happens to nosy broads like you?”  He made a sound that sounded like a cross between a cat hissing and a balloon leaking.  I can only presume that he is making the universal, ‘your throat gets slashed’ sound, though I can’t be sure.  “Back off, bitch, or you’re next.”  This guy is getting on my nerves—talk about overkill.  Then it sinks in that he’s threatening me, and my knees go weak.

“Rayne!”  Lyle catches me just as I’m about to hit the floor and carries me to the couch.  Miraculously, I’ve held on to my beer from which I take a sip.  The tape rolls on, but there’s nothing left on it.  After Lyle deposits me on the couch, he stops the tape.  “You ok?”  He turns to me, his dark blue eyes alive with concern.  I nod weakly, unable to talk.  “I guess this means we have to call the good inspector again,” he says with a sigh, pulling out his cell.  Like me, he has her on his speed dial and is talking to her in less than thirty seconds.  “Yes, Inspector, another tape.”  He pauses, making a wry face at me.  “See you soon.”

“She hassle you again?”  I croak, my throat feeling dry.  I swig more beer to hydrate myself even though alcohol is dehydrating.

“She thinks it’s highly coincidental that I’m here when it happened again.  You’d think she’d be more suspicious if it happened only when I wasn’t here.”  Lyle plops down next to me while running a hand through his curls.  Idly, I wonder if he has a perm before deciding he doesn’t.  We sit in silence until the sound of the buzzer shakes us out of our lethargy.  Lyle lets in the good inspector who is looking anything but fresh.

“Well?”  She is brusque, almost rude, which is unlike her.  Though no one would accuse her of being warm, she’s never bordered on hostile before.  Well, except the last time when she was questioning me about my sex partners.  I point at the machine, too tired to get up.  Lyle plays her the message through which her face remains impassive.  After finishing, she follows the same procedure as before, then slips the tape into her pocket.  Then, she sits in the chair adjacent to the couch and pulls it so she’s staring me in the face.  “Who have you been pissing off?”

“No one!”  I protest, uncomfortably aware of her proximity.  She is wearing a pale blue shirt with tailored cream-colored pants that neatly flatter her slim hips.  A cream-colored jacket complete the ensemble.  Tough to pull off, but she does so with elan.  “I just went to Paris’s gym and asked a couple questions.”

“Tell me about it,” Inspector Robinson orders, pulling out her notebook.  She takes notes as I babble out the information, trying to make sure to include every scrap, no matter how small.  I tell her about the client of Paris’s, about Jimmy, even about the slimy guy I had to pretend to hit on in order to get information.  By the time I’m through, I’m exhausted.  Inspector Robinson finishes writing before she looks up at me again.  “Is that all?”  Her tone is softer this time, and I wonder at her mood swings.

“Um, I think so.”  I have no intention of revealing that I’m thinking of sending Lyle to the gym tomorrow morning to talk to Billy—I don’t think the good inspector would appreciate the help.

“Anything else?”  Inspector Robinson barks.  I hesitate before telling her about Mr. Jenson.  I don’t want to get him in trouble, but he is a potential subject.  “I’ll stop by at the hospital after I’m through here,” she nods firmly.

“Please don’t tell him I ratted on him,” I say desperately.  “The man is scary.  I don’t want him angry at me.”

“I was in the neighborhood, checking on Mr. Frantz.  What a coincidence.  Nice to meet you, Mr. Jenson.”  The inspector favors me with a rare smile which takes my breath away.  She is so damn lovely when she smiles, I nearly forget that I’m dating Vashti.  I rein in my thoughts before they can traipse into treacherous territory.  I lean forward imperceptibly, and it seems as if she does, too.

“Excuse me, but I’d like to know what’s going on with the case if it’s not too impolite to ask,” Lyle butts in, a smirk on his face.  He is standing behind the inspector so she can’t see the expression on his face, but I can.

“We are doing what we can,” the inspector says immediately, craning her neck to look up at Lyle.  Then she turns back to me.  “Let me know if there’s anything else you can tell me.”

“Oh, wait.  We didn’t tell you about Paris’s birthmother or about the blond.”  The inspector raises an eyebrow, and I remember why I hadn’t told her.  I had been too busy throwing her out of my place for asking if I’d slept with Lyle.  Letting bygones be bygones, I plunge into a spirited if somewhat confused account with Lyle chiming in here and there.  We talk of Ursula’s teenage encounter with Benny.  With her becoming enormously famous, getting divorced, having three other children, the cancer scare, and her desire to connect with Paris.  We speculate about the blond and why she keeps showing up everywhere suddenly.  By the time we’re done, the good inspector has gone back to surly.

“Are you sure you’ve told me everything?”  She barks the minute I fall silent.  “Or are there other surprises in the closet?”  The obvious retort to that is hovering on the tip of my tongue and on Lyle’s, but we both valiantly let it slide.

“No, that’s it,” I say meekly.  I don’t blame her for being upset with us.

“Why didn’t you tell me this yesterday?”  Inspector Robinson exclaims, obviously upset at a perceived betrayal.

“Excuse me, but you were flinging accusations around last night,” I retort, my own temper rising.  “It wasn’t exactly conducive to me sharing girlish secrets with you.”

“Ms. Liang,” Inspector Robinson says, snapping her notebook shut.  “I am the homicide inspector.  It is my job to ask questions.  You are the civilian.  It is your job to cooperate.  Am I making myself clear?”

“That doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want just because you don’t like bisexuals!”  I have completely thrown caution to the wind.  I hope Lyle knows a good lawyer because I’m going to need one soon.  “It’s discrimination, you know, to think that bis want to sleep with everyone we meet.”

“It’s a stereotype, not discrimination,” Inspector Robinson corrects me.  “And if I recall correctly, I simply pointed out that you had slept with Mr. Frantz and Ms. Dal at some point in your life, so what was stopping you from adding Mr. Kingston to the list?”

“You slept with Paris?”  Lyle asks, his eyes huge.  Ah, shit.  I had tried so hard to keep that from him.  I close my eyes, knowing there is going to be a huge fight up in here after Inspector Robinson leaves.  Thanks, Inspector.  Well, I’ll deal with him later.  Right now, the good inspector.

“I repeat—I do not want to sleep with everyone I meet.”  My tone is as frosty as hers.  The knowledge that I do, indeed, want to sleep with the inspector does nothing to improve my mood.  “This line of questioning has nothing to do with Paris almost being killed.  I still don’t know why you’re wasting your time on it.”

“Well, this is neither here nor there,” Inspector Robinson says, standing up.  Lyle is rooted to the spot, his eyes boring into my skull.  I stand as well, ready to usher Inspector Robinson out.  “Watch your back, Ms. Liang.  Someone knows who you are and what you’re doing.  I’d be very careful if I were you.”  Well, thank you, Columbo.  She pats my arm right before I leave, causing me to nearly jump out of my skin at the unexpected touch.  I shut the door, lingering so I won’t have to return to the fray.

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