Rape is one of the most disturbing things that can happen to a person. As such, I feel obligated to note that today’s NaNoWriMo entry has a description of a rape in it. If you don’t want to read that, skip this entry. I’m trying to treat this subject matter with the seriousness and consideration it deserves, and hopefully I am succeeding with that.
* * *
Frankie and I held our office hours the next day in a coffee shop overlooking the hospital. We both nursed cappuccinos while keeping our bloodshot eyes on the entrance across the street. Len hadn’t appeared since yesterday evening, and it was becoming more apparent that he would rather forget that his brother had even checked in. Denial could be a powerful thing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so powerful that Len had forgotten the threat we posed to his precious public persona.
“I’ve told him that we’re done investigating,” said Frankie as she engaged in the odd and unholy practice of cutting up a breakfast muffin with a fork and knife. “As far as he knows, you’re going to present your final report to Mrs. Montgomery by the close of business today.”
“And does Mrs. Montgomery know this?” I asked.
“Not yet, but I’ve penciled you in to meet with her as office hours wrap up. I can cancel that if you want.”
“No…keep it. That puts us on a timer. We’re going to get this all wrapped up by the end of today, one way or another.” I bit into a scone and contemplated the eventual meeting. I had to expect that Len would be there, ready to “influence” me toward painting a rosy picture that would leave his mother with a smile on her face and an obliviousness about the truth of his crimes. There was much to prepare for.
“You know it all goes up in smoke if Jamie listens to Len instead of us, right?” Frankie asked.
I nodded. “If we can get him to tell the truth to the police or somebody else with the right level of authority, it would trigger an investigation into the Montgomery boys’ involvement. All of Jamie’s skeletons, including Della, would come to light. But if he’s innocent like I think and Len’s the only guilty party in all of this, he should be able to come through okay. Maybe he’ll even get the help he needs.”
“And what sort of help do you think he needs?”
I took a sip of my cappuccino. “I don’t know. I think he needs somebody to listen to him, and I think that person should have an insight into cases like this. I’m not sure how to identify him – or maybe he’s even a her. But there are people who can, and that’s who he needs.”
“Speaking of needs, we’ve got another case on the burner right now. And Wyatt wasn’t very happy that you canceled with him after he rearranged his schedule for you.”
“Unless he’s moving into the business of horror films, I don’t think he wanted to get a look at my face,” I said.
“On the bright side, Ms. Madera did get back to you with her account of the events. You’re going to have to go back to the office to get access to that, though. I figured going over something that confidential in a coffee shop would be against all those security measures you so carefully set up.”
I finished my drink and nodded. “You think right.” I placed my hands on the table and pushed myself into a standing position. The action left me with far more muscle aches than I would have liked. “Keep an eye out for Len. If he shows up, call me immediately. And whatever you do, don’t let him leave with Jamie.”
“How am I supposed to stop him if he makes a move?”
Half of me wanted to tell her to be creative. But since I could only think of a few creative solutions that didn’t blatantly break the law, that didn’t seem very fair to her.
“If in doubt, you could always tell the truth,” I said after giving the matter some thought. “Tell the staff that Jamie isn’t safe with Len, and there’s probably some abuse involved. That should at least get them to start asking questions, which may buy us some time.”
Frankie finished her muffin and turned an eye toward the menu posted on the far wall. “You know I’m going to blow through the entire year’s stash of petty cash in this coffee shop over the next ten hours, right?”
“Yeah, I thought that might be a possibility. Just bear that in mind when it turns out I can’t give you a Christmas bonus at the end of the year.”
I shrugged on my coat, paid my bill, and headed out the door. I almost stopped to tell Frankie that she didn’t need to worry about Len showing up – he’s be more likely to harass the hell out of me rather than check in on his brother’s wellbeing. But I didn’t want to jinx myself, or push my luck.
* * *
A woman walks into a bar and leaves with a celebrity. She didn’t plan things that way, but she knows that whatever happens during the course of the night will determine the future of her career. A good word or even a promise to view her script could be the big break she needs in order to finally get into the film industry – an opportunity that most women, let alone non-white woman, rarely see.
The man seems charming at first. He knows all the right jokes, judges his every remark based on how she reacts and adjusts his personality to make sure he responds perfectly. She’s seen him practically every night as he schmoozes talk show hosts and interviewers from her TV set. She’s heard stories about him, but any rumors that didn’t fit with the wonderful man she wanted to envision got conveniently forgotten. When she meets him for the first time, he’s nothing but perfection.
His interest in her obviously runs deeper than her screenwriting abilities. She knows that just by watching the way his eyes wander over her body as she speaks, to way he makes sure to keep her drink constantly refreshed. Her head swims from both excitement and alcohol. The sensations are more than enough to silence the slight twinge of doubt that lurks in the back of her brain, even as it begins to grow.
He invites her back to his place, and she doesn’t feel like she can afford to say no. She has plans to go visit her grandmother in the morning, which usually means that she has to follow the old maxim of early to bed, early to rise. But what does it really matter if she’s a bit listless in her next visit? She can take one night of sleep deprivation in exchange for a potential lifetime of opportunities.
She knows what he wants when he invites her back to his place. He’s had his hand on her upper thigh the whole night, sliding it in under her skirt after the waitress served them their second round of cocktails. That hand lands on her bottom on the way out of the club. She doesn’t mind at that point – in fact, she leans into him, letting him feel the warmth of her body and smell her perfume.
If she had any chance of sobering up, it’s shattered when she gets into the limo and he starts serving champagne. She makes a conscious effort to cut back, her sips getting smaller and smaller with each passing block. When they finally reach his mansion, she’s been nursing the same glass for almost ten full minutes.
She’s slow to get out of the limo, and it’s not all sluggishness from her suddenly exhausted limbs. That little voice of doubt that started as a whisper in her brain has grown loud enough that she can no longer ignore it. He offers her yet another drink once they’re inside, but she turns him down. She tries continually to steer the conversation away from personal topics and back toward her screenplay. Maybe she can salvage this night and turn it into the professional opportunity she once hoped for.
But he’s not interested in talking shop. Most likely, she realizes, he never was. Any interest in her screenplay was probably feigned, a little bit of bait dangled in front of her to keep her opening up back at the bar. Ultimately, he places a hand on her arm and directs him to the bedroom.
She follows him at this point, because she’s not sure she has any other option. Power dynamic aside, she feels like there’s some sort of social contract involved here – she’s come this far, so isn’t she obligated to give something? After all, women aren’t supposed to be teases.
And so her clothing comes off, and her defenses fall one by one. She winds up on her back with his naked body on top of her. And then, almost accidentally, she sees movement behind a darkened window that looks into his bedroom. She squints as his lips run across her nipples, and she can’t help but say something.
“Is somebody in there?” she asks, pointing toward the darkened room. “It looks like there’s somebody there with a camera.”
“Don’t look at her,” he orders. “Look at me.”
Then he’s inside her, and her body tightens in an involuntary spasm. That’s when the voice in her head explodes into a panicked scream. She slaps her hands against his chest and vainly tries to push him off her. When he makes his first thrust, she lets the voice in her head come out audibly: “Stop.”
He pauses and stares into her eyes for a second that seems to last forever. Then he starts to move again, faster and harder. She tries to give him the benefit of the doubt, assuming he didn’t hear her, so she tell him to stop again, louder and clearer. But then he shakes his head and presses his mouth against her. From there, her struggles are useless.
* * *
I finished reading Ms. Madera’s account, pushed my chair away from my desk, and folded my hands in contemplation. This was the fifth time I had investigated a case of sexual harassment or assault, but it was the first time I had gone out of my way to get both sides of the story. From an cold analytical sense, it shocked me that I hadn’t considered doing that before – having an account from the victim made it easier to pick things apart. From a more emotional – and, one could argue, human – sense, it left questions in my mind. Far too much of what she said lined up with Mr. Wyatt’s claims about that night. There were only two things that Wyatt hadn’t mentioned – the presence of another person and Ms. Madera verbally asking him to stop.
One could prove or disprove the other. If the tape really existed, it would be a simple matter of listening to the audio to figure out if things really proceeded the way Ms. Madera claimed. Of course, Wyatt had no reason to give up such a tape if it did exist – it could only hurt him in the long run, especially since the work I had done so far discredited his accuser at ever turn.
Lucy was right – he said, she said wouldn’t go nearly as far as he said, they said. And that turned me back toward the murder case that had dominated most of my mind over the past few days. Was there a he said, they said case buried somewhere there?
I knew perfectly well that there was no other witness on the scene at Livia’s death – one of the few perks of finding the body myself. But that appointment book had many different names in it. How many people had seen the illegitimate doctor? Could they shed some light on a case that seemed determined to hit dead ends everywhere?
I checked my watch. It was still early – an hour and a half before lunch. I had the whole day ahead of me before I played my final hand in front of the Montgomery family. It was time to find some aces for my sleeves.