Of all the household duties that came with living on her own, the one Julie appreciated least was doing laundry. It wasn’t like at home, where you could toss your gym clothes into the machine and walk away, returning one or two days later, at your convenience, to move them over to the drier, or, better yet, find them dry and folded, courtesy of the Laundry Fairy. Washing clothes in the community laundry room, located on the first floor of the dorm, amounted to a cruel lesson in survival. Figuring out the finicky machines was challenging enough, but leave, and chances were some idiot would pinch your clothes, or take them out and steal your time. Consequently, you were required to sit in the hot, depressing room through the entire process, on average a total of three hours, just to make sure you left with what you came with – and hopefully nothing more. The last time Julie had suffered the deed, she’d discovered a worn-out pair of extra-large men’s briefs in her pile as she was folding.
Julie had just started up the drier when Chloe appeared, shortly after eleven in the morning, looking exasperated. “There you are. C’mon, I got a line on Courtney.”
Julie looked worriedly at the blur of spinning clothes: everything she owned, minus what she was wearing. What if the load was stolen?
“He isn’t gonna wait around all day,” Chloe griped.
Julie dropped another dollar into the machine, enough to cover her for an additional forty-five minutes. She figured if her clothes were stolen, at least she’d be able to narrow down the suspects. An hour-and-a-half spent in the drier would cause her clothes to shrink so much, only someone extra small could fit in them.
Chloe filled her in on the walk over. They were off to the Performing Arts Center to see a guy called Starr (Julie wondered what was with the pithy single names in Chloe’s circle), who held a part-time job maintaining the theater department’s costume collection. Julie considered whether his responsibilities included cleaning the garments and cringed. Not for all the money in the world …
They found him in the wardrobe locker, a long and narrow room with floor-to-ceiling closets, open and facing one another along opposite walls. He was seated on a stool, affixing gold embroidery to the padded shoulders of a military uniform, and glanced up as the girls approached. The expression on his face shifted from annoyance to pleasure once recognition kicked in, the snarl formed by his rosebud lips replaced by a crooked smile.
“D’lish! In the flesh!”
Starr (his actual last name, the first was Grant) stood to greet them. Long and lean, and slightly bent, his body resembled a string bean, the narrow, hunched shoulders no wider than his hips. He wore a snug, emerald green polo shirt tucked into a pair of low-riding, flat-front khakis, held up by a coordinating striped, canvas belt, and scuff-free Jack Purcell tennis shoes. His head was shaped like a peanut shell, and he sported a Post-Punk hairdo – dyed black, spiky on the top and long in the front. His heavy-lidded, bottle green eyes gave Chloe the once over.
“My, we’re looking very Ida Lupino today. Dangerous,” Starr growled, firing off two rounds with the glue gun in his hand as if it were the real thing. His mildly nasal voice bordered on precious, and he chuckled at his own apparent joke, filling the gap since the reference went completely over Julie’s head, and Chloe never laughed at anything. Blowing imaginary smoke off the tip of his household weapon, he regarded Julie down the tip of his nose and said drolly, “Who’s the Donna Reed?”
Chloe snickered, picking that precise moment to unearth her sense of humor, and Julie, while still completely in the dark, got the distinct impression she’d just been slurred. Adding injury to insult, Starr began to circle her, blankly scrutinizing her outfit – baggy sweats, leftover from high school, and a faded T-shirt that was normally relegated to workouts – until Julie felt compelled to justify her shabby appearance by uttering, “I’m doing laundry.”
Starr shot Chloe an amused, knowing smile. “Perfect. And I bet you’ve got a turkey roasting in the oven, too.” He winked at his cohort, and they snickered again.
Julie would have liked to put both their heads in an oven.
Chloe made the introductions. “This is my roommate, Julie.”
Proving he was more of a gentleman than he was a comedian, Starr politely held out a hand. Julie took it, and he gave her fingers a little shake then said, “Come back to my parlor, and we’ll have a chat.”
Julie followed the other two down the aisle between the wardrobe closets, toward the back of the room. The air was stuffy. Completely surrounded by fabric, some of it brushing against her face and arms as she passed, Julie found it difficult to breath. She could feel her hands grow sticky with perspiration and picked up the pace, hoping to outrun her encroaching claustrophobia. They walked past row after row of clothing, shoes, hats and props, and Julie wondered if she’d ever get to Narnia.
Despite her affliction, Julie couldn’t help admiring how neatly everything was organized. Apparently Starr was as fastidious as he was flamboyant. Every hanger was sufficiently spaced and tagged with a number, the toes of every shoe aligned and labeled for size. Never in a million years could she get her closet to look like that. She wondered if Starr made house calls.
They emerged at last into a more spacious fitting area. There were six dressing rooms outfitted with wooden doors, and four salon-style chairs, each facing a makeup mirror. A running fan, mounted on the ceiling, blew air across the space, relieving Julie’s phobia symptoms. They each took a chair and swiveled around to face one another, for which Julie was grateful. She looked scarily gray under the glare of the round, burning lights.
“So, you want to dish about Courtney, hmm?” Starr began, then narrowed his expression and added, “I bet you want to know who killed her.”