Four hours earlier.
"Hi sweetie, missed me?"
"You never called me sweetie when we were together."
"What? Look, Faith. I'm expecting another call."
"Of course you were," Faith sniggered.
Tara took a deep breath and counted to five. "I'm sure this isn't a social call."
"Yeah. You need to come back to HQ."
"Yes, now. Something's up but the Mayor isn't saying. He wants us back and he's got me doing phone duty."
"I'm heartbroken, so beneath you."
"You can come back and take over. This sucks, I'm not Miss Moneyfuckingpenny."
"I'll be there as soon as I can."
"The Boss wants everyone here 5 minutes ago."
Tara called Willow's cellphone but couldn't get through, not even to voicemail. Something must be wrong with the network.
There was no time to think about Willow. She dressed quickly, threw money, keys and cellphone into a small backpack, grabbed a bottle of water and was out of the door three minutes after hanging up with Faith.
Traffic was thin and she found herself walking through the club doors in record time. There was a sign outside that informed patrons that the club was closed tonight because of over-running of scheduled maintenance work, which was one of their standard reasons for closing unexpectedly.
It was disconcerting to see the interior of the club like this. The usual subtle mood lighting that gave it its trademark dark and sultry atmosphere had been replaced by bright house lights that made the furniture and decorations stark, pasty and anything but lavish. Without the appropriate lighting, the gold sparkles on the wallpaper looked cheap, not chic.
An uneasy nervous energy permeated the room. People gathered in small clusters, whispering intently to each other. At one corner table, a girl with long straight hair was being comforted by a couple of older women, her eyes puffy with crying. April, Tara thought hard before remembering the girl's name. Katrina's room-mate in the boarding house that some of the women stayed at. She wondered what the matter was, to prompt Mr Wilkins to close the club on a Friday night and commanded the presence of the entire company. It had never happened before and couldn't be anything good.
She wasn't going to get answers in the main room so she made her way to the back, to find Faith.
"What took you so long? One minute longer and I'll start throwing chairs." Faith shoved a headset into Tara's hands and was walking away before Tara could get a word in.
"Wait, wait. What am I supposed to do with this?" Tara shouted after Faith.
"Where are you going?"
"Who else are we missing?"
"Jesus, Blondie, do I need to draw you a diagram? Figure it out." With that, Faith stomped out.
Three hours earlier.
The Mayor eventually made an appearance. By that time the rumor mill had run amok. The club was changing hands; the Japanese were buying it and they were turning it into a cosplay bar; they were going to let some people go; there was asbestos in the basement; they were being isolated because of bird flu; Mr Wilkins was getting married; he was being investigated by the IRS; he was running for the senate and had to disassociate himself to avoid repercussions ... some of the speculation was downright preposterous but in the absence of news, people's imagination went wild.
Wilkins sent for his immediate staff first. Half a dozen 'inner circle' people including Tara and Faith arranged themselves on chairs, desks or against bookshelves in a small, cold office. There were faint murmurs as Mr Wilkins, impeccable in gray pin-striped suit and powder-blue tie, walked in with Lilah Morgan and two individuals who were so mismatched it would be funny if not for the gravity of the situation. An African-American man with an open face who looked like he could break into a toothy grin any minute towered over a blonde woman with cynical eyes and sour expression. Their ill-fitting suits and posture screamed law enforcement.
"There's no easy way to say this so I'll get straight to the point," Wilkins started as soon as he had the attention of the group. "Earlier today, Katrina Silber, one of our most popular performers, was found unconscious by her room-mate. She later died in hospital from," glancing at the unlikely duo, "if I may jump the gun a little, a drugs overdose."
He waited till the inevitable gasps and commotion subsided before continuing. "Two of NYPD's finest are here. I want the message passed down the line that I expect full cooperation." He shook his head sadly. "It's a tragic, tragic turn of events and if there is foul play, I want us to help to bring the criminals to justice. The detectives will say a few words then we are going outside to make a general announcement."
He stepped aside to let the two detectives address the group.
It was the blonde who took the lead. "I'm Detective Kate Lockley and this is my partner Detective Charles Gunn from Vice. Our initial focus is to establish whether, as Mr Wilkins mentioned, this was a suicide, accident or something else. This isn't for the media and I'd appreciate if you talked to either of us before you talk to any reporters: we found a note. The crime lab has it now, and M.E. will perform the autopsy probably sometime tomorrow. If we find," she glanced at Wilkins meaningfully, "that drugs were involved then we'll need to find who and where she got them from."
"We will need to interview everyone who has contact with Katrina in the last 48 hours," Detective Gunn continued. "Obviously it's late so we're hoping that we can get a list of all the people present and come back tomorrow."
"Will it be better to use an office here? Like this one?" Ms Morgan asked.
"That will be great, thank you," Detective Gunn flashed a smile at the normally inscrutable lawyer, who blushed and looked away immediately.
"Are you looking to arrest anyone? Don't you want to establish cause of death before you start interviewing and scaring the girls here?" Alan Finch asked.
Detective Lockley looked at him like he was stupid. "Of course the results of the autopsy is important, but we also want to get a headstart on the investigation," she nevertheless explained politely.
"This is gonna be bad for publicity," someone commented.
"We'll try to be discreet; if the press starts hassling anyone let us know."
Other people started to ask more questions but Wilkins put his hand out and silenced them. "Questions later. We need to go outside now, folks are getting restless."
Two hours earlier.
The pressure cooker of tension burst when Wilkins made the announcement, the reaction went from silenced shock to heartwrenching wails of grief; several girls had to be led away to makeshift cots.
Tara found herself responsible for headcount and making sure the detectives had details of people they needed to interview. She found herself repeating the same speech over and over. No, they weren't in trouble. The detectives needed to eliminate foul play, it didn't mean there was foul play. No, they didn't have a lot of details; more would come in the morning. No, they hadn't decided if the club would still open tomorrow.
She was growing disconcerted because she was being pressed for answers and opinions that she didn't have. She tried calling Faith several times, to ask her to help with the name list, but the normally tough cookie had mumbled something and gone AWOL.
She had almost finished taking details but there were names unaccounted for. She grabbed the nearest girl who wasn't hysterical or acting like a zombie. "What's your name?"
"Joan Lily Anne. My stage name is Chanterelle," the girl recited.
Tara blew out a breath. "What does your mother call you?"
"Okay, Lily. You're now officially working for me. Follow me."
She found a quiet corner and took out a list of names with telephone numbers, putting a check mark next to those who were missing. She paused when she reached Katrina's name and her grip on her pencil tightened.
"What's happening?" Lily asked.
Tara ripped the piece of paper and handed one half to Lily. "Work your way down this list. Tell them briefly what happened and that they are to report back here first thing tomorrow morning. Got that?"
"Isn't it a bit late to be calling people at home?"
"Can't be helped."
One hour earlier.
Detective Lockley came over. "How's it going, um, Tara is it?"
"Yes, Tara; and this is Lily. We're calling anyone who couldn't make it here tonight, to tell them to come in tomorrow morning."
"I appreciate this."
She looked tired, Tara thought. Everyone was understandably exhausted but there was a bone-deep weariness about Detective Lockley that wasn't merely connected to this case.
"Can I get you a cup of coffee?" Tara offered.
Kate Lockley snorted. "Any more caffeine and I'll be crawling up these walls. I'll live."
"Are you making progress?" Tara ventured.
"Too early to tell. But there is something I want to talk to someone about, and I don't know if you're the right person."
"If I'm not, I can tell you who is."
"Someone needs to make a positive identification. We haven't been able to locate family members - I suspect she's a runaway. I guess what I was asking is if you can come down tomorrow, to the morgue."
Tara was stunned and scared. "M-m-me?"
"I didn't want to ask the room-mate, she could barely hold it together as it is. Your boss is the logical choice, or one of your associates."
"No," Tara squared her shoulders. "I'll do it."
Detective Lockley shook her hand in thanks and gave her the address of where she needed to go the next day.
Tara told Lily to call it a night. After the girl waved goodbye, she sat very still, staring into thin air, trying not to think too much. Finally she took a deep breath and swallowed hard. It was going to be a tough, long day. She knew she wasn't able to face the night alone.
She needed someone to comfort her, someone she could trust. Someone who loved her.