At the precinct, I figured I would sort it out. But when we arrived, no one would pay attention to anything I said. I was fingerprinted, photographed, and put into a holding room along with the other women. When I tried to insist I didn’t belong here, I was told if I kept at it, new charges would be thrown on me.

“I need to make a phone call.” I shouted through the bars.

No one listened.

I turned around and realized all the women were staring at me and they didn’t look amused. My eyes met those of the woman who had kicked me and I quickly dropped my gaze and tried to retreat into a corner. It was too late. She elbowed her way towards me. She was a big woman, mean and bitter-looking. But there was a feral intelligence in her eyes. She wondered about me.

She came right up close, adjusting her enormous blond beehive wig that sat askew on her head. “What you doin’ here, bitch? You a cop?”

I blinked at her in confusion. “A what?”

She crossed her arms and nodded her head knowingly. The wig moved up and down and fell into her eyes and she pushed it up again. In other circumstances, I would have found it funny. But not now, not with her staring right at me. “I think we need to teach this bitch a lesson. Right, ladeez?”

I already needed to pee and I thought I might let go of it right there, I was so terrified. Just as I thought I was done for, the woman who had defended me before bustled up. She looked Latina, fit like a dancer, wild dark brown hair tumbling down to her broad shoulders. Her only flaw, and it was a big one, was a jagged scar running along her left cheek. When she spoke, her voice was strong and self-assured.

“Leave the little one alone. We all gotta live in here together for a few hours. Let’s not start a riot, eh?”

I am not familiar with jailhouse politics, but the aggressive woman immediately backed down. “Suit yourself,” she muttered.

The focus left me, and the women went back to chattering and complaining amongst themselves.

The Latina woman, well at least she looked Latina, was eying me thoughtfully. “So what you doing here, heina?”

She really was exceptionally beautiful, her movements graceful as a cat’s. But that scar, it made me shiver involuntarily. Even I could see with my nonexistent street-smarts that she was someone you didn’t want to mess with.

“You don’t look like you belong here, either,” I said.

Her eyes sparked with amusement. “You mean to compliment me? Sorry. None of us do. Everyone in this room is a whore, you’re just a little more high class, yeah, mami chula?”

“I am not!”

She held up her hands in mild protest. “Hey now, lady. I’m just telling you straight. How much your husband pay for you, eh?”

I shuffled uncomfortably while she eyed me up and down, as brazen as any man. “Yeah, a lot I can see. But us whores here, we don’t got such high class opportunities. If we need a fix, we do it for ten, any way we can.”

She smirked a little. “And we got connections. No doubt about it. I bet you and me even know the same people. I bet you get out of here about five minutes before I do. Or maybe I get out before you.”

I highly doubted that. I couldn’t help myself. I said, “Oh, so you were on your way to the wrap party for Moon Wars? Lance Rey invited you?”

Why I was so foolish as to give away all the information, I don’t know. I should have kept my mouth shut.

The smirk grew bigger. “Wow, I’m impressed, heina.”

I should have felt offended by this woman and her sense of entitlement. But then again, my dignity had suffered a severe blow. Could she be right in her assessment that we were all whores, only I’d just managed to sell myself for a higher price?

She waved a long arm at the room. “Look at my people,” she said, and I looked as if seeing the scene for the first time because, really, I hadn’t wanted to look and now she was forcing me to.

There were about twenty of us. Some looked as young as 15. One was obviously pregnant. Bruises on arms and legs and raw red marks spoke of heroin tracks and physical abuse. I shuddered. All looked haggard and tired in the harsh white light, makeup in streaks, hair and clothes in disarray. The smell of sweat was strong, the feeling of hopelessness contagious, and I thought if I stayed there much longer, I might never recover. Each woman in that room had her own story to tell; a horrible story, it had to be, to have ended up here.

I thought how I’d lived in the same city with these women for years but had never seen them. We lived 20 minutes away from each other—on a good day without traffic—but we might as well have been on two different planets. It was better that way, wasn’t it? Better that our paths didn’t cross? Well, of course, we could encounter one another in safe circumstances, such as at a homeless shelter, or an abuse or drug counselling facility, funded by wealthy socialites in my circle. Funded by me. Or rather, if I was honest, by my husband. Giving me money to play with, like all the other socialite women. We passed our money around to each other and gave each other awards and patted each other on the backs and pretended to be generous, when all we wanted was acceptance. How many times had I sat at charity events, donating money to such worthy causes, without ever having had to experience the unpleasantness of spending time with any of the human beings I was “helping?” And how many times had these women had to bow their heads in humility, accepting the help of women like me?

If only I had never made that wrong turn. I could have been at the party now. Maybe flirting with Phillip Chu. He’d made his attraction clear to me on more than one occasion. What was wrong with me? It was time I lived a little. Only now, I probably never would.

I’d always been a good girl. Done what was expected of me in my social circles. So how could I be the same as these women?

Because we were all “good girls,” really. We all did what was expected of us in our social circles. Truth hits unexpectedly. And it hurts more than all the bruises I’d received that day.

“Hello, hey?” I heard the voice as if from far away.

Someone was shaking me. “Wake up. It’s time to go.”

I opened my eyes to see the Latina woman standing over me. I rubbed my eyes. Was it possible I’d fallen asleep?

“The guard says you can go,” she said.

I struggled up, every bone aching, noticing how cold I was and feeling naked in my torn dress. I started to pick my way across the bodies lying in the center of the room, but then I turned back.

The Latina woman was staring at me with a serious expression. “Good luck to you, China Doll,” she said.

I should have been offended. How many derogatory names had she called me in a few short hours? I’m not Chinese, I should have said. Instead, I smiled. “What’s your name?” I asked.

“Farida.”

“I’m Lilly.”

“Call me if you ever need to,” she said, and told me her phone number, making me recite it a couple of times so I wouldn’t forget.

It was a strange thing for her to say. How could I ever need her? Surely it was the other way around.

The few women who still had any fire left in them called out, “Good luck, Miss Maravilosa.” And, “I give you my number too, puma.”

Fortunately, the beehive woman was passed out and snoring in the corner.

I was led out of the holding tank to find Terri waiting for me, a harassed expression on his face. He had taken care of all the paperwork and led me out without a word to his ridiculous VW bug.

We drove off in continued silence until, finally he blurted out, “What the fuck do you think you were doing?”

No word of concern. Just brutality.

I remained stone-faced. I hated this man.

He continued to complain. “I have enough problems with this movie, and now Chu has really fucked up.”

He glared at me. “And you get yourself picked up as a fucking prostitute? What if this gets out? Do you really want to be front and center on every gossip rag?”

I should have said something back. But it all felt futile. The truth of my life had been exposed under the glaring lights at the police station and who cared if the whole world knew it. It all seemed so obvious now and impossible to hide any longer.

“I’ll have to fix it. Like I fucking fix everything.” His hands tightened on the steering wheel.

He turned to me with a look of such utter loathing, it was like a physical attack. He jabbed me with a finger. “You’ve had one job in our marriage and that’s to look beautiful and act appropriately. What a fucking failure.”

“Just get me home,” I whispered.

Terri exited the freeway at Kanaan Road and drove the rest of the way in silence. He clicked open the security gate of our home and I thought, what a joke. There was nothing safe about this place. It was a prison.

I fairly leapt out of the car, no longer aware of my aches and pains or my exhaustion. All I could think about was tearing off my clothes and getting into the shower.

The water on my skin felt wonderful and I stood there for a good ten minutes letting it wash over me. I put on some sweats and went downstairs and to the bar, downing a big shot of whiskey.

Now, where was my shithead of a husband?

I found him where I thought he’d be. In his Zen room. That’s what he called his home office, which was a bungalow behind a row of trees beyond the pool. Everything was peaceful inside. Muted gray walls, a Buddha we’d picked up in Thailand on our honeymoon, lotus flowers, even a pond with coy fish in the center of the room. A skylight above the pool.

And there he was, the storm in the middle of that serenity. He was on the phone, barking, barking. That’s was he did. He was a mad dog, barking in a Zen room awash with soft light. A demon, flitting this way and that.

“Terri,” I said.

He ignored me.

“Terri.”

Hand over the phone. “Shut up and get out!”

Resolute, I approached him.

“No, you get off the phone. Now.”

He turned on me, eyes ablaze.

“Really?” he hissed. “I have to make things right, don’t I? First with Chu and now with you. Ungrateful stupid cunt.”

And he hunched over his phone once more, jerking around with his hands, talking a mile a minute.

I don’t know how it happened. I really don’t. Because, you see, I’m not like that. I don’t kill things. I even put spiders outside instead of killing them. I’m a vegetarian. Well, there’s my fur coats, but nobody’s perfect.

I must have walked out by the pool to where a workman had left some tools. I must have picked up the hammer. I must have come back into the Zen room.

And I must have walked up to my husband while his back was to me, barking into that phone.

And I must have hit him on the head.

After the first hit, he whipped around and stared at me. Piggy eyes wide. I hit him again. Right between those eyes and down he went.

Bam. Bam. Bam. Over and over the hammer came down until his skull was smashed and his brains an explosion of mush.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Blood everywhere.

I straightened up. And immediately threw up all over him.

For a while after that, I just stared without seeing or feeling.

The phone rang on Terri’s desk. I didn’t answer it.

It rang again. And again.

When it finally stopped, I went over to it as if in a dream. And then I did the craziest thing ever. I picked up the receiver and dialed the number I’d memorized.

“Hello?” said Farida, so strong and self-assured.

“Can you get here? Now?”

I told her my address.

I stayed huddled on the floor until she came.

I buzzed her in and then I ran down to meet her in the driveway. Her eyes narrowed when she saw me, covered in blood, but she didn’t say anything and neither did I.

I led her back to the Zen room.

“Jesus Christ,” she said when she saw the carnage.

“What…?” she asked.

“Just…I had enough. I…I…what should I do?”

Farida looked at me and I looked back, suddenly coming to my senses. I realized for the first time that she looked nothing like she had in jail. Her hair was back in a demure ponytail and she was wearing a pair of jeans, black boots, and an army green T-shirt and short black jacket.

My hand went to my mouth in horror. “I shouldn’t have called you. You’ll blackmail me. You’ll—“

I ran over the phone again. “I’m calling Rey. That’s what I should have done…”

Next thing I knew, her hand had grabbed the receiver and slammed it down.

“Don’t be an idiot,” she said.

I stared at her. “Who are you?”

She gave me an ironic little smile. She reached into her pocket and pulled out an FBI ID.  “I’m an undercover agent. Top shelf.”

“Oh my God!” My knees buckled and I would have fallen if she hadn’t propped me up.

She laughed, but there was no mirth in it. “Don’t worry. I know all about your husband. And Lance Rey.”

What?”

She nodded. “Rey’s hands are in every kind of pie. Sadistic pervert. Human trafficking, ties to Russian mafia. Something going on at the docks. You know about that? No? Well, I was working undercover when I met you.”

I held my throbbing head. “That all sounds crazy.”

She surveyed the carnage in the room. “Yeah, well, I think you get the prize for crazy.”

“Okay, I can see that. But how do I know you’re telling the truth?”

She shrugged. “You can’t. But for some reason, you called me. And here I am.”

That was true. And now that she was here, I had no choice but to do what she said.

She told me to wait while she went out to her car. When she came back, she explained, “I radioed for some backup.”

“What?” I began to babble idiotically. I thought I might have a seizure.

She slapped me—actually slapped me. But, I have to say, it brought me back from the brink.

“Hey, listen, China Doll, I got this,” she said. “I wouldn’t have minded killing the creep myself. I could never get proof connecting him or Rey to anything. I’ve dreamed of searching this office. So thanks for that. Now, take off your clothes and leave them here. And go take a shower.”

I took off my clothes and did what she asked. I came back to the Zen room an hour later, unable to believe what I saw. Two guys were there, cleaning in a way that made my housekeeper look like a slob. There was a big rolled-up length of plastic to one side of the room. I assumed my husband was inside.

The men didn’t look at me and didn’t say anything, just kept on with their job.

“See? Everything will be fine,” Farida said. “Your husband brought you home and then he went out. That’s all you know and that’s all you ever say.”

“What about his car? This is too much for me—“

Farida cut me off. “You want me to slap you again?”

I shut up.

“I said I’d take care of everything. All you have to do is be the concerned wife.”

I nodded. The things Farida was doing now were probably like the things Terri had done. Cleaning up messes. Really big messes. I mean, he never did it himself. He had other people do it. And now he was the mess being cleaned up.

“What do you want from me,” I asked Farida, because surely there was a catch.

She gave me that ironic smile again. “Nothing right now except to put on your act. But whatever I ask, whenever I ask, you do it. It might be now, it might be a year from now. Maybe ten years. Understand?”

I nodded.

Farida’s smile turned almost sincere. “Look, China Doll, this is how the big world works. And it’s much better to deal with us than with someone like Lance Rey. You don’t ever want him to know about this.”

I nodded again.

“What do I tell him? How…?” my voice trailed off.

“All those years of practice playing the perfect wife? You can pull off another acting gig,” she said.

She ran a finger down the side of my face and I tried not to flinch. Then she touched her own, where the scar was. “You husband did this to me.” She frowned and closed her eyes. For one split second, her strong exterior cracked. But then, her eyes opened and they were hard.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “How did he? What happened?”

Farida’s eyes narrowed again. “You really don’t know anything, do you?”

I looked away guiltily. “Well, not really. I mean, look, I know he did stuff. But details. No. I just went to the gym and parties and…” my voice trailed off. I felt like such an idiot.

“It’s good you don’t know anything. Safer,” said Farida. “And hey, don’t feel bad. God knows I’ve done my fair share of dirty work. But you, China Doll? I’m impressed. You smashed his skull in. The only person more deserving of death would be Rey himself.”

I guess that was supposed to be a compliment. Make me feel better. And in a perverse sort of way, it did.

Terri was put in the trunk of his emissions-free Bug. One guy took off in the Bug while the other one zoomed away in the truck they’d arrived in.

Farida got in her black convertible corvette, turned the key, and it rumbled to life.

As she backed up, I called out, “I’m not Chinese, you know!”

She flipped me off and drove away.

The waterfall in the swimming pool turned on, just like it did every morning at this time. The water gurgled happily. The birds sang.

I walked back into the Zen room. Fish swam lazily in the pond. The Buddha stared benignly down at me. It was as if nothing had ever happened.

Except that the storm in the middle of the room was now gone. Forever.

I reported my husband missing. I must have pulled off the acting job because the police seemed to accept my explanations just fine.

A few days later, Lance Rey called me.

“A strange turn of events,” he said smoothly.

Terror engulfed me. I made some response and I know my voice sounded tense, but then, my husband was missing and so it should sound that way, right? He promised to look into it and I had to pretend to thank him.

Terri’s body was found a day later, inside his car at the bottom of a ravine. An autopsy revealed drugs and alcohol. Two things Terri never did, but who was I going to tell? I’d hoped he’d have been disappeared permanently, but Farida explained that that would have looked even more suspicious and would have entailed a bigger search and investigation. Terri wasn’t someone to disappear, so it would have seemed like some big conspiracy. This looked like a simple accident.

Rey took care of the funeral. Everything. It was a small affair. It’s not like Terri had any friends. Press came. But not because of my husband. Because Ray and Chu were there. Chu posed and preened.

At the gravesite, Rey’s wife stood next to me. I’d always wondered about her. When Rey had married her, it had been a shock to everyone. He didn’t seem like the marrying type. He didn’t seem like he had any emotions for anyone at all. And yet, they appeared happy enough. She certainly was. So beautiful. Even with her baby due any day. We’d never even really talked to one another. At the funeral, we couldn’t even look each other in the eyes. As if we were afraid of…what? Seeing the truth reflected there?

I saw Rey watching me. Of course he knows it wasn’t an accident. He knows Terri didn’t do drugs. And never got drunk.

I haven’t left the house for days. I’m thinking of going on a holiday. But Farida won’t let me leave. I am bound to her now.

I hate the phone. It might ring.

It might be Farida asking for something.

Or worse, it might be Rey.

No. Rey wouldn’t waste his time with a phone call. He’d just snap his fingers and I’d be gone.

Who am I to talk after what I did? To my own husband? The police haven’t even called me again. It’s as if the whole thing is being swept under the rug. And what a dirty rug that is.

Lately, I can’t stop thinking about the café, Le Relais Basque. I’d heard rumors about what goes on there. Smatterings of conversations between Terri and others. But I’d never seen actual proof. I couldn’t tell Farida about all of that. She’d think I was even crazier than I already am.

Now I find myself fantasizing about giving Rey a taste of his own medicine. Maybe it’s time he was sent somewhere. Or maybe it’s time someone comes from that other place for him.

Because who has the power to touch Rey in this world? There’s got to be a way to get rid of him. I got rid of Terri, didn’t I?

Am I sorry?

Are you kidding?

I see him sometimes, laughing, sneering. Hunched over his phone. Piggy eyes staring. Barking.

Fixing things.

Well, I fixed him.

***

For all installments from Firefly Lane, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Chapter 1: Come to Me — Lana
  2. Chapter 2: The Proposition — Hannah, Part 1
  3. Chapter 2: The Proposition — Hannah, Part 2
  4. Chapter 3: Killer Gene — Natasha, Part 1
  5. Chapter 3: Killer Gene — Natasha, Part 2
  6. Chapter 4: Wrong Turn — Lilly, Part 1