Apartment 19

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Chapter 2

Milo Hastings looked in the mirror and, seeing her twin, brooded over him, smiled bravely, and thought about his much-admired, deeply and most widely set eyes of chartreuse green, flanking a wide, flat nose typical of Filipinos, not an English boy. The nose was bijou, making him look more elegant than she. His death was mourned by the San Francisco Police Department. Milo had tried to talk him out of becoming a police officer, but that’s what he wanted to be, and the desire never ran its course as it does for most little boys.

She loved him even more in his uniform on graduation day, all six feet and 190 pounds of superhero and superdog.

Milo drew her eyebrows and eyelashes dark and long. She had to. She had the same wide set eyes as Marlowe, but they were brown eyes and her skin a little darker than his. He always said her skin was brown as brown sugar, which meant her best clothes had to be violet. She wore high heels, even as she stood on Carrara marble floors and hung over the sink in front of the mirror, because men love high heels, he said.

Together, wherever the peregrination, they impressed people, who saw in them a rhapsody of fraternal love and admiration, the eyes of one never skipping over the other even when there was a fleeting but more beguiling sight to behold, and when they were in different places 100 miles or more distant, by prior agreement they wrote Austenian letters, which were long, descriptive, and emotional, retelling the events of the day and any funny or terrible cruelties that might have befallen them. If they were not brother and sister, those who cared would have set about preparing for them a connubial bed.

The phone rang.

“Hello.”

“Larry Leahy here. I need to talk to you again. I’m on my way. One of the painted ladies, isn’t it?”

Milo quickly checked the time, half past two.

“Um, yes, 712 Steiner. When will you be here?” she asked nervously.

“Fifteen minutes.”

Her parents, Philomena and Mark, had been in the Philippines since the beginning of the year. It was their custom to spend half a year in San Francisco and half a year on Boracay Island, where they owned a White Beach spa with residence above, and they had no plans to return soon on account of COVID-19.

She drifted through the bedroom feeling lonely and wanting to see Finneas. Inspector Leahy’s call betokened something. She debated, sighed, and argued with herself over whether to change from the lavender blouse and lavender pants into the red dress lying on the bed, but handsome purple satin slingbacks matched what she wore. A novel extolling a brother and sister peaked from under the red dress. She had reached a certain page (didn’t want to remember now) and had put it down, tears running into the ink.

Pick it up again? she asked herself.

The bell rang and she ran downstairs.

“Oh, hello, Inspector, please come in.” With a frown on her face, she steered Leahy to the sitting room, decorated according to her mother Philomena’s tastes, modern dark wood and bamboo furniture, lead chocolate, white, and mustard colors, all of which looked and smelled like it had been scooped out of a coconut shell. The room reflected the more casual, atoll-like influence of her father, Mark. A messy stack of magazines topped by The Advocate and Mark’s immutable presence were an awkward, muddled fusion of puritan-Victorian architecture, Catholic island life, and guns, so she was glad he was not there and his stentorian voice could not be heard.

Suddenly, she felt tired and it was the middle of the afternoon.

“Is that vanilla perfume, Milo?”

Milo didn’t know what to say.

Why would he ask?

Just as abruptly, she realized that loneliness was her new normal.

He took out his notepad.

Milo pouted.

I guess I can learn to adapt.

“Did you attend Catholic school like Marlowe?”

“Well, if you know he went to Catholic school, you know I did.”

“Just checking.”

Even more abruptly, she admitted, “I used to ridicule Mar for clinging to his faith. I still feel the way I do. Religion is for the weak.”

“And you’re the strong?”

“Most of the time.”

“Do you work?”

“I work from home part-time for a personal styling service. You’ve probably heard women talking about it. The coronavirus hasn’t really affected me.”

“What about that magazine I see? Did your parents approve of Marlowe’s lifestyle?”

“No. I did. It didn’t matter. He was still suicidal.”

“Do you believe that?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

“What are your feelings toward Finneas?”

He’s writing on his notepad.

“He’s a nice man.”

“Tell me, how long was their relationship?”

“You mean how long did Mar and Fin know each other? Yes, that’s what you meant. Six months.”

“That was short. Tell me about the three of you...and be honest, young lady.”

Milo got up and headed for the dining room, turned back, and looked down at Inspector Leahy. “Mar rejected Fin. Mar said he wanted to live according to the teachings of the Church. Both of us felt Mar’s decision was due to self-hatred.”

“Were you in love with Finneas?”

“Of course not.”

“Listen, Milo, I know when boys tell lies, and most of the time I know when girls do. I noticed in the first interview and now when you say Mr. Obi’s name, you blush and wiggle and so forth. So, let’s begin again with you telling me the truth. Remember, a broken clock is right twice a day, and only twice, and I think it’s that time of day for the broken clock to be set right.”

“When I was a child, my parents stopped me from doing what I wanted to do and let Marlowe do whatever his little heart desired. It happened when we played with toys or we were in the park or on the playground or at our vacation home in the Philippines. They stopped me from dating the men I wanted to date and from picking my friends. Finneas is now free, and my parents aren’t here, and I’m going to do what I want at last.”

“Does that mean you are going to date Finneas?”

“Yes.”

“Your brother just died.”

“I don’t see that it makes any difference.”

“I thought...I thought Finneas…”

“Is gay?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, we shall see about that.”

“I’m not a counselor, but it sounds like you got the wrong end of the stick.” He shifted on the sofa. “I’d advise against it. Just a gut feeling.”

“You’re quite mistaken. Finneas is the most honorable guy I’ve ever met.”

“Is he?” Larry asked.

“Is that all?”

“So, you’re sure Marlowe killed himself?”

“Yes, and now I need to look after Finneas. Marlowe is gone, there is nothing left, and I want my own family. What more can I say to convince you that Finneas is a good man?”

Two Bichon Frize with bowling ball haircuts came running into the living room.

“Hi Tootsie, Wootsie. Give the nice policeman a kiss.”

“Do you have a diary?”

“Yes.”

“Can you get it and read what you recorded on the day your brother died?”

“Why?”

The Frize bobbed up and down and licked Larry’s shoes in between waggles.

“I want to know what Marlowe confided in you. You kept his company every day, didn’t you?”

Milo watched Larry push the dogs to the side, but they wouldn’t leave him alone.

“Mar and I were like my darling pets, but Mar was with Finneas the night before, and I went to bed before he came home.”

“I think you stayed up late until he came home. That was your habit, wasn’t it? If the dogs could speak, they would tell me the truth.”

“He didn’t come home!” she shouted at Larry, who was looking at the large photograph of her father on the mantle.

“Was your dad a hippie?”

“How’d you know? Now, he’s an insufferable ass.”

“Are you going to get that diary?”

“I suppose so. It’s upstairs.”

“Did Marlowe get along with your parents?”

“He adored them.”

“And what about your parents? Did they adore Marlowe?”

“I suppose so.”

“Were you jealous of that?”

“Absolutely not.”

“You say ‘absolutely’ a lot.”

“I’ll get the diary, Mr. Leahy.”

“Thanks...and take the dogs out to the backyard.”

Who does he think he is, ordering me about?

Milo ran upstairs and grabbed the diary from under the red dress.

Inspector Leahy stood looking out the front window at Alamo Square. “Nice view. Did you get the diary?”

She stood close to him and said, “Here.”

As she sat down, the doggies jumped into her lap.

Still at the window, Larry said, “Amazing you can balance both on your knees. Let me find the date. Here it is. ‘I’m so in love with Finneas.’ All right. I just confirmed what I had said, Miss Hastings. Marlowe knew you were in love with Finneas, didn’t he?”

“No. He asked me if I was, and I told him no I wasn’t in love with Finneas. I didn’t want to fight with my brother. I loved him.”

“I’m sure you did. Did you and Finneas conspire to kill Marlowe?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Another ‘absolutely’. What time did Marlowe come home?”

“I don’t know. I was asleep. He was found the next morning miles from here.”

“His car wasn’t in the China Beach parking lot. Where is it? Do you know?”

“No.”

“Are you hiding it?”

“Absolutely...not. You know, I thought about walking down the middle of the road, somewhere, maybe West Marin where it’s lonely and deserted, and hoping a car would hit me. You wouldn’t understand that, Mr. Leahy. You’ve probably never been depressed in your life.”

“You’d be surprised what I’ve been through. My wife suffers from depression and takes medication. So, I am not an expert or a sufferer, but I live with someone who is, young lady. Be around for more questions. Understand?”

From the modern chair she occupied, she extended her hand, drew back a sheer, and said, “There’s someone across the street looking at the house.”

“That’s Captain Dempsey. He must have something important to tell us.”

The doorbell rang.

Milo leapt up and answered. “Why didn’t you let me know?”

“We were notified of what happened and rushed home.”

Milo brought a man and woman into the sitting room. She felt disappointment.

“Well, mom, dad, this is Inspector Leahy. He’s been handling the case.”

“How do you do?” Larry said.

Her parents, Philomena and Mark, had a puzzled but appreciative look on their faces.

“How do you do, sir?” Mark said.

“I’ll leave you now. I’m sure you would like to be alone with your daughter. I’m sorry we had to meet under these circumstances. Thank you, Milo, for your help.”

Inspector Leahy left in a hurry.

“I told you to take that magazine off the coffee table.”

Milo answered back, “You’ve been gone for months, Mark, and that’s all you have to say? All right! I’ll take it.”

She grabbed The Advocate and ran upstairs to her room. She pushed the red dress onto the floor and pounded her pillow several times, partly disgusted with the undying decor, pink sheets, pink duvet, and pink canopy, but partly disgusted with her weak response to Mark.

I need my own life.

She jumped up, snatched Fin’s picture off the corner of the dresser mirror, and kissed it all over. She called him, waited, got voicemail, waited five minutes, called again, got voicemail a second time, and threw the phone on the bed. She lay down next to it and rolled over to send a text, “Where are you? You said you would call.”

She sat up, wondering if he was at work and what girl he was talking to.

His boss is a woman. Maybe she’s interested in him. No, she’s married. That doesn’t matter. I need to hear from him. My parents will start monitoring me again. Fin, get me out of here.

She called again, then texted, then called.

I’ll leave a message saying I want a dinner date and a kiss and nothing more. He’s so stupid he won’t ever know I’ve had other offers. Men think I’m gorgeous.

Her head went back and she stared at the pink canopy, loved for fifteen years, only to be hated for the rest of her life.

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