Chapter Eight (Part Three)
“Shit,” I yawn as I wake up. I had a disturbing dream that I can’t remember upon waking which has kept me from sleeping soundly. This is so unlike me that I’m not sure what to do about it. Realizing that there is nothing I can do about it, I drag myself out of bed, disgruntled. I take a quick shower and dress in a flattering emerald-green top and slacks. I can’t believe it’s only Friday, four days after my personal hell started.
“Morning, Sunshine,” Vandalia says grimly tossing the paper on the table in front of me. The appetizing aroma of bacon and eggs is in the air causing me to salivate.
“Mowgli make it home OK?” I had gone to bed before Mowgli left, so I wasn’t sure how late he stayed. Or what the two of them did after I went to bed. By the looks they were sending each other, I have a hunch that they are more than just friends. Which leads me back to my question of what gender is Vandalia. I shrug as I pour myself a glass of orange juice. It’s really none of my business, and I don’t particularly care as I’m not attracted to her. It would interest me to know if she and Mowgli are lovers or have ever been, but it is purely personal curiosity to which I don’t often give in.
“Mowgli’s still here,” Vandalia says, her tone still hard. “He’s taking the day off.”
“Why?” I look at her levelly, not understanding the emotion emanating from her. She seems pissed, though not necessarily at me.
“Read the paper.” Vandalia turns back to the stove to look after her cooking. “He was going to go in later, but we need to call a war council.” I pick up the paper and scan the headlines.
“Lady in White Found Slain Behind Famous Strip Club!” I shut my eyes, knowing what is to follow. Jesus, those assholes must have a personal hotline to the press the way they control the flow of information. I’m sure when I open my eyes and read the article, Blanche’s name will jump right out at me. I knew I should have gone back to the club last night; I just knew it.
“Read it!” Vandalia barks, forcing me to open my eyes. She is glowering at me—an irate hausfrau wrapped in a bright red muumuu.
The story is sensational, though maybe not by San Francisco’s jaded standard. An ‘anonymous tipster’ had called the police in the wee hours of this morning after hearing noises in the same apartment building where Sylvian was killed. The cops burst into the apartment and found—surprise, surprise—Blanche White dead on her living room floor. Quite a coincidence that she lived in the same building in which Sylvian was found. The police revealed that the place was in shambles and it would take them some time to discern what—if anything—had been stolen. It is clear that Blanche White, nee Bertha Dubrowski—no wonder she changed her name—has been murdered by a single gunshot to the heart. In case anyone’s wondering if it’s suicide, she was hog-tied at the time of her demise. Not too easy to shoot yourself in the heart with your hands tied behind your back. As with Sylvian and Sato, there is no evidence of sexual intercourse, but Blanche had been severely beaten and tortured before she was killed. The cops say they have irrefutable evidence that Blanche White’s death ties in with Angelica Sylvian’s and Evelyn Sato’s, which means that folks, we have a serial killer on our hands, and it’s a female. As I read, I’m getting more and more pissed off. What’s clear to me is that I am an easy scapegoat for these fuckers to pin a whole plethora of murders on. I curse DiCalvo for walking into my life, and I know that he is going to fucking pay one way or another.
‘Colleagues who talked to Ms. Dubrowski before work say she seemed nervous and upset,’ Detective Beauregard says, his face serious. I stare at the picture of the handsome detective—six-two, dark wavy hair, blue eyes—committing his face to memory. Another asshole to add to my list of fuckers who are out to get me. Either this man is in the pocket of DiCalvo, or he’s being played like a mandolin. Either way, he’s now my enemy. I also wonder why the chief of police didn’t comment himself as is usual in a case like this. Is it because he wants to keep his hands clean or because Beauregard has convinced him to stay out of it? Either way, I need to find out more about the chief, too. I need to know exactly who in the police department has it in for me.
‘She mentioned meeting with an Asian woman before coming to work,’ Melody Anderson is quoted as saying. ‘There was an Asian woman in the audience the night before Blanche was killed. She seemed awfully interested in Blanche. Fixated, you know.’ I am stony-faced as I read the quotes from little Melody. She, too, is thrust onto my list. Melody goes on to say the Asian woman doesn’t fit the description of the suspect, but she was wearing a lot of makeup and seemed to have cut her hair short. She goes on to describe Mowgli, Greeley, and Vandalia whom the police call ‘possible accomplices’. Her descriptions are vague, however, and would fit half of the San Francisco population.
By the time I’m finished reading the article, I am speechless with rage. How dare these pricks do this to me? Not only do they kill without compunction, they don’t give a damn that they’re sending me to the chair. Whatever body count they end up with, they best add one more if I’m caught, tried, and electrocuted for crimes I never committed. Why the fuck me? How did they happen to chose me? It can’t just be because I’m Asian and because O’Reilly has a fetish for Asian women—that’s too flimsy. When I cool down, I can see that if my being Asian is a primary concern, then it had to be me. Let’s face it—there aren’t many female Asian repo men running around. In fact, I can’t think of another one besides me.
“Fuckers,” I say, not realizing I’ve said it out loud. I stop reading halfway through the article because I can’t stomach finishing it.
“We need to powwow,” Vandalia says, sliding a plate full of food in front of me. Normally, I don’t eat breakfast, but I make an exception this time. I’m so angry, I need something to fuel that anger. My therapist used to tell me that I had to let go of my anger which is one reason I think therapy is a crock of shit. Anger is a useful tool, and it’s much better than fear.
“Morning,” Mowgli says, shuffling into the kitchen. He is wearing a crimson robe made of chenille, and I hope feverishly that it’s Vandalia’s and not his. “Something sure smells good.” He pecks Vandalia on the cheek before ruffling my hair. It’s a statement of how perturbed I am that he still has his hand attached after trying something so audacious. He grabs a plate from Vandalia and sits across from me. “Shit, I’m going to be so late for work.”
“You’re not going in,” I say coldly, pushing the paper to him. “Things have escalated drastically, and we are out of time.” I don’t say anything more so he can read the article. The puzzlement on his face fades, being replaced by anger as he continues to read.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” he yells, crumpling the paper in his massive hand. “Oh no, they didn’t!” Without thinking, he leans over and punches the refrigerator with his left hand, leaving a dent in the fridge and splitting his knuckles open.
“Stop it,” Vandalia snaps, tossing him a clean dishrag. “Having to go to the hospital isn’t going to help anything.”
“Those motherfucking, cocksucking assholes!” Mowgli rages, pressing the rag to his hand. “They have gone too fucking far this time. When I catch up with them.” His face is flushed to match the blood seeping through the dishrag. He seems oblivious to the gash in his hand.
“Get a grip, Roberto,” I snap, my own emotions on edge. “Vandalia is right—we don’t have time to take you to the hospital.”
“Well excuse me for giving a damn about you, Delilah!” Mowgli retorts, his hands still clenched in fists. “You need to step back and recognize that I’ve been busting my ass to help you out here and not give me grief.”
“You better call in, Roberto,” Vandalia says, interceding between the two of us. The three of us glare at each other, not saying anything. Vandalia breaks the silence. “Look, we need to be on the same side here if we want any chance of beating these guys. I’m going to call Greeley.” She and Mowgli both leave the kitchen to make their respective phone calls while I mull over the situation.
For the first time, I allow myself to contemplate the depth of my troubles. As long as I was running around town trying to solve this thing, I could push those thoughts to the back of my mind. Now, I am forced to recognize that I truly am in deep shit. What I need to do is figure out how widespread this problem is. Is the mayor involved, or just some of his people? Are the cops active in the cover-up, or are they the shills? What is the significance of the messed up apartment of Blanche? Were the assholes looking for something, or tossing it as a blind? And what about little Melody? Is she participating out of her own volition, or is she being pressured to tighten that noose around my neck? The last is something I can clear up the next time I see her. She’s the weak link—if she’s a link at all—and I have no doubt that she will crumble when the smallest amount of pressure is applied.
I poke at the food on my plate, no longer hungry. I force down a few bites before throwing the fork on the table. I look around the kitchen, noting the warm reds and browns that Vandalia has chosen to decorate her walls. She seems to be into sensuous colors, which I wholeheartedly embrace. Something about her décor bolsters a flagging spirit which I certainly need right now. My mind wanders to Mowgli in Vandalia’s robe. That seems to bespeak of a relationship there that until now hasn’t displayed itself. I wonder if it’s going to be a problem for Greeley, if he indeed finds out, but don’t really give a damn. With matters of life and death pressing down on me, I can’t find it in me to pay attention to the vagrancies of the heart. Greeley is a big boy who can take care of himself, and if he can’t, it’s about time he learned how.
“Greeley’s coming over,” Vandalia announces, flinging open the kitchen door. She heaps food onto a plate, sits across from me, and digs in.
“Are you fucking Mowgli?” I ask abruptly, reaching for my glass of juice.
“Is it any of your business?” Vandalia doesn’t even miss a beat as she chows down on her eggs.
“It is if it means things get messy with Greeley,” I say, scowling at her for putting me on the defensive. Mowgli is my best friend—of course it’s my business.
“It’s all good,” Vandalia replies, which isn’t really an answer. Irritated, I press on.
“So if you are fucking Mowgli, and I assume by your coyness that you are, does that mean you’re pre-op? ‘Coz Mowgli don’t do girls.” I stare at Vandalia, hoping to catch her flinch. She lifts her eyes to meet mine, her gaze steady.
“Because you are Mowgli’s best friend and because you’re in trouble, I’m going to let that go. However, remember that you are my guest, and I don’t have to let you stay.” She drops her eyes and continues eating, her demeanor not ruffled at all.
“All I care about is clearing up this shit. I just have this hunch that Greeley is more enamored of you than vice-versa. I seriously do not want the shit to hit the fan. That means I need to know the variables at hand.” My voice is level, but my hands are clenched in fists. There is something about her manner that grates my ass, and I have to actively restrain myself from popping her in the eye.
“Look, girlfriend, it’s simply none of your business and has nothing to do with what’s happening here.” Vandalia’s voice takes up a warning tone which I stridently ignore.
“Bullshit! It’s definitely my business if you’re fucking my best friend.” I slap the table, half-standing as I do so.
“Oh, I get it. This isn’t about Greeley and the murders—this is about you being jealous.” Vandalia now sounds slightly amused which infuriates me even more.
“Jealous? Of you? I don’t want to fuck Mowgli,” I exclaim.
“That’s good, because the feeling is mutual.” Vandalia takes a large bite of her eggs and deliberately chews them. “You are so not his type.”
“Because he’s fucking gay!” I yell at her before reining it in. I can’t afford to lose my temper, especially not at her. As much as I don’t like it, she’s on my side. “I’m going for a walk. I’ll be back in a bit.” I stomp out the kitchen, running into Mowgli on my way out.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” He’s still wearing the stupid robe which enrages me even more.
“Nothing,” I spit, trying to get around him. He grabs me and won’t let me go.
“You’re mad,” he says, stating the obvious. “Why?”
“Ask your lover,” I snarl, trying to break free from his grip. “I don’t have time for this.”
“My what?” It’s his turn to look bemused. “Did you say my lover? Who would that be? My right palm?” There’s a sardonic grin on his lips as he gazes at me.
“Her!” I blurt out, pointing at the kitchen. “Vandalia. Jesus Christ, Mowgli, couldn’t you keep it in your fucking pants, now of all times? Greeley’s coming over, and I do not want a scene. What a mess!”
“You think I slept with Vandalia?” Mowgli’s eyebrows nearly shoot right off his head. “Dear heart, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m gay.” His tone is arch, but his eyes are smoldering. “That means I don’t fucking sleep with women.”
“But you’re wearing her robe,” I say, my voice flat.
“I drank too much and couldn’t drive back to my apartment. I slept on her floor.” Mowgli says, his voice deceptively mild. “I would have slept on the couch, but as you can see, I wouldn’t fucking fit.” He is still holding me, and his grip is tight. I notice that he’s put a gauze bandage on his hand.
“Shit, I’m such an ass,” I sigh, running a hand through my hair. “She wasn’t helping, though, I’d like to point out.” Mowgli lets go of me and rubs his nose with his good hand.
“That’s because you accuse me of being a pre-op, of fucking Roberto behind Greeley’s back, and who knows what else you thought I was doing?” Vandalia roars, entering from the kitchen. “What the hell would you have done?”
“Told you to shut the fuck up,” I sigh. “All right, all right. No more accusations. I still want to catch a walk before Greeley comes over.”
“Was that my apology, or did I miss it?” Vandalia says, cocking her hand on her hip. She glares at me and waits. She can wait for eternity for all I care—that’s how long it’ll take before I apologize.
“Forget it, Vandie, Del don’t do apologies.” Mowgli flips his hand in the air. “You might as well take what you can get.” The two of them move back towards the kitchen as I go outside for a walk.
As I’m walking around Richmond, I notice that most people look like me. Richmond is like another Chinatown, and these are the real deal. Not the ABCs or the adoptees like me, but the FOBs who don’t speak English. I hear the jabbering of what I assume is Mandarin, but I can’t understand a lick of what they’re saying which is fine by me because it sounds like chicken’s squawking to my Americanized ears. Little old ladies rush by me, rudely pushing me aside to get where they need to be. I stare at their backs, which impacts them none. Feeling slightly foolish, I move on. I am comfortable mingling with the natives as long as I keep my mouth shut. I look like them to some extent, though my dress is outlandish, and one or two smile and nod as they pass by which is more than most San Franciscans do. As I walk, my anger dissipates somewhat and hardens into resolve. I am going to get these bastards before they get me, and I am going to make them regret that they ever tangled with me. By the time I’m through with them, the fuckers are going to wish they had chosen anyone but me. I turn around and head back to Vandalia’s. By the time I reach her apartment, I have been gone for half an hour, and Greeley is firmly ensconced in the kitchen, wolfing down eggs and bacon. Vandalia says hi cordially enough, but with a hint of reserve.
“Where’s Mowgli,” I ask, pulling the orange juice out of the refrigerator and pouring myself a glass. There’s nothing like orange juice after a walk.
“Went home to change,” Vandalia says tersely. “He’ll be back as soon as he can. I’ve filled Greeley in on the bare bones of the situation.”
“Yeah, neat,” Greeley says, beaming angelically at the both of us. Either he’s the densest male on earth, or he’s pretending not to notice the tension between Vandalia and me. As I glare at him, his face flushes scarlet. “Whoops, wrong choice of words. It’s not neat, of course, but it is, uh….” His voice trails off. He looks so painfully young, it almost hurts to look at him.
“You have to admit it’s out of the ordinary,” Vandalia says, her tone defiant. She sounds like a mother cub defending her young, and I wonder if she really loves this boy. It’s so hard to imagine, I dismiss the thought from my mind. She’s a dynamic, powerful woman. He’s, well, he’s Greeley. I can understand why he’s attracted to her, but what does he have to offer her? That’s what I don’t get.
“Vandalia tells me you’re being framed,” Greeley says eagerly. “For three murders! How appalling.” He should say thrilling if he wants his words to match his tone. I try not to begrudge him his enthusiasm, but it’s difficult considering it’s my fucking life he’s devouring. This is not a fucking reality television show, and I don’t appreciate his rapacity.
“Greeley, chill,” Vandalia says, darting a glance at me. Even though she hasn’t totally forgiven me for our confrontation, she’s not comfortable with her boyfriend’s vulture act either.
“I can’t help it, Vandalia!” Greeley protests, practically bouncing in his seat. “This is the most exciting thing that’s happened to me. Except meeting you, of course.” He’s wearing jeans and a Giants’ t-shirt which support his golly-gee-whillikers attitude. He’s like Huck Finn on speed which makes me want to kick his ass. “I mean, geez, the story of her life would make a great movie-of-the-week.” He assumes a narrator’s voice and continues with his stupidity, not realizing how close to castration he is inching. “She was an ordinary girl, adopted at birth from a Chinese orphanage, but given all the comforts of a good home. It’s not enough for her, so she flees from the Midwest to the city by the bay where she walks the streets at night and cries in her pillow during the day.” I am glowering at Greeley, but he’s too caught-up in his storytelling to notice.
“This girl has a gift, though, one not of the carnal kind. This girl is a crackerjack thief who can steal the clothes off your back without your noticing the draft. So the girl from the streets switching professions to one that is slightly less dangerous than being a whore and nets her a whole lot more money. At twenty, this girl has found a career that has her in clover.” Greeley is drumming on the table with his fork in excitement as my rage builds. This is my life he’s unfolding for the invisible audience—not some dipshit girl on the streets. Who the hell does he think he’s talking about?
“Greeley,” Vandalia says anxiously, patting his hand. “Hush now.”
“How was she to know that one day, her job wouldn’t be so ordinary? That one day, she’d be FRAMED FOR MURDER?” He booms out the last phrase in a way that lets me know that’s the intended title for his nonsense piece. I reach over and swat him sharply on the head.
“Shut the fuck up,” I hiss, poised to hit him again. The peace I had acquired on my short jaunt has evaporated, and my rage is seething again. “You think this is funny? You think this is a fucking movie? Well, it’s not, asshole. That’s my life you’re talking about.” My nostrils flare as I talk down to Huck Finn who is looking abashed in an aw-shucks sort of way. “California has the death penalty, in case you don’t know. And even if they don’t, all they would have to do is declare this a federal case, and I could be put to death. That’s how fucking funny this situation is!” I smack him on the back of head again just out of principle.
“I’m sorry,” Greeley says immediately, not flinching from the blows. I have to grudgingly respect that he’s not whining for me to stop or any other such nonsense; he’s taking his chastisement like a man. Vandalia surprises me as well by remaining silent and not getting in the middle of us; I appreciate that. “I guess I just have a hard time dealing with this, and joking is my way of coping with a bad situation. Friends?” He sticks out his hand, waiting for me to shake it. I don’t want to be friends, but he is on my side.
“I accept your apology,” I say, shaking his hand. “I’m going to change.” If we’re just going to powwow, no reason to be so dressed up. I go to my room and change into jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt. White. I wonder if I’ll ever get to wear black again.
“OK, let’s start,” Trip says, her face unsmiling. It had taken Mowgli almost an hour and a half to return which has made Trip antsy. The four of them are in the living room with Vandalia and Greeley sitting on the couch. Trip and Mowgli are in hard-back chairs facing the couple, and it’s time to brainstorm.
“Look, you guys have to bring me up to speed here,” Greeley says earnestly. “I’ve heard bits and pieces, but not the whole shebang. I need to know everything.”
Mowgli, Vandalia and Trip look at one another for a moment before coming to a silent agreement that out of necessity, they must tell Greeley everything. So they do. The three of them. Greeley listens with his mouth hanging open, as if he’s unable to believe what he’s hearing. Several times he shakes his head, whether in denial or just to punctuate how outrageous their story is, is unclear. The three of them tell their story succinctly and without embellishment, but not leaving out any important details. Trip is reticent about telling him the truth, but his ass is on the line, too. If anyone connects him to her, he’ll become a target so it’s only fair that he understands what he’s up against. Even that wouldn’t have swayed Trip, but she owes Vandalia, and Trip hates to be in anyone’s debt. She figures that this is her way of repaying without making a big deal of it. Besides, the more Greeley knows, the more he can get with the program and help out. It takes a good half hour to reveal the whole story.
“Well, shit,” Greeley says when they’ve finished their recitation. “You do get yourself involved in some kind of trouble, don’t you?” This remark is directed towards Trip who takes exception at his tone.
“I didn’t start this,” she says evenly. She crosses her legs and contemplates Greeley through slit eyes.
“Your choice of occupations certainly had a hand in it,” Greeley counters, his tone hardening. “I mean, if you weren’t a thief, this Andretti character wouldn’t have chosen you, now would he?”
“That sounds a lot like blaming the victim,” Trip replies, still casual-like. “And I’m not a fucking thief, by the way.” Nothing in her tone betrays her growing anger. “Isn’t this the point where you tell me I might as well sit back and enjoy it?”
“I’m not saying it’s your fault that these men are trying to frame you for murder,” Greeley says, holding a hand out in front of his face, palm outward.
“Then what the hell are you saying?” Trip asks, jiggling her foot. Her voice has dropped, which is a sure indication of her increasing rage. Mowgli winces as he recognizes the signs.
“Look, it may not be my place to say this, but neither Roberto nor Vandalia are going to tell you this to your face so it might as well be me. You are a thief. You perform a job that is illegal. You were a hooker before that. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that your unsavory past makes you a perfect target for a scheme like this. And before you get your panties in a bundle, let me add that your past is also what made it impossible for you to even think about going to the cops, right? I mean after the first murder. Speaking of which, do you realize that if you had gone to the cops after the first murder, the other two girls might be alive now?”
“You little shit,” Trip hisses, moving forward in her chair. “This is payback for my earlier reaction to your get-rich scheme of selling my story, isn’t it? You’re just being a prick on purpose.”
“It’s true, isn’t it?” Greeley asks sullenly, his boyish face suddenly looking sour. “You’re so fucking proud of your past as a whore and your present occupation of thief—well, it’s certainly been your downfall.”
“Look, asshole,” Trip says, keeping her temper under control but just barely. “I am not proud of my past, but I’ll be damned if I whimper and moan about it either. I am not ashamed of it and see no reason to hide it. As for being a repo man, it’s a job that I’m fucking good at. Enough said about that. I did not call this upon me, and it’s not my fucking fault. If not me, they would have just chosen another patsy.” Vandalia moves in her seat as if to interrupt, but Mowgli stops her with a look He knows this is between Trip and Greeley.
“You really think this has nothing to do with you personally?”
“Yes, I really do,” Trip snarls, ready to punch him in the mouth.
“You’re just being stupid,” Greeley says flatly, his lips unsmiling. He looks like Opie having a bad day, but Trip isn’t laughing. “I bet if you look hard enough, there is a personal connection between you and one of these guys. With your past, there has to be.”
“Fuck you,” Trip retorts, standing up and looming over Greeley. “Why don’t you just get the hell out of my place?”
“It’s not your place, is it?” Greeley bounces up from the couch and stands nose-to-nose with Trip. “It’s Vandalia’s place, and do you realize how much danger you’re putting her in just by being here? And you’re not even grateful, are you?”
“If she wants me to leave, I’m ready to go,” Trip huffs, poking her finger in Greeley’s chest. “That’s none of your business, Junior, so why don’t you just back off?”
“OK, that’s enough.” Mowgli finally steps between the two of them, his bulk forcing them to separate. “We do not need to be fighting with each other, do you hear me?” He stares at them both until first Greeley then Trip nods. “Sit.” Greeley does so quietly; Trip follows suit reluctantly. “I’ve had enough of this shit,” Mowgli announces, including Vandalia in his glare. “I’m tired and worn-out and don’t need to be playing mommy. We are all a part of this whether we like it or not. Personally, I hate it, but I’m not going to bitch and moan about it. Greeley, you are the one with the least involvement. If you want out of here, just say so.” He waits until Greeley shakes his head, once. “All right, then, let’s get to work.” He sits back down, daring anyone to contradict him; no one does.