Monthly Archives: July 2021

A Hard Rain; chapter seven, part two

“Shit.”  Leslie glances at her watch and sees that it’s 7:04:32.  Siobhan would be awake if not at work yet.  Leslie calls her.

“Where the hell are you, Leslie?  I tried to call you all day yesterday.”  Siobhan is angry and not reticent about showing it.

“Sorry.  I had my cell off.”  Leslie turns off her cell when she can’t deal with it—which is most of the time.  And, it’s now telling her that she’s missed many, many messages—which is annoying the hell out of her.  “Listen.  I’m in Chicago.  I—“

“What the hell are you doing in Chicago?”

“I came to meet Rose—John’s best friend.”

“Who the fuck is Rose?  What’s going on, Leslie?”

With a start, Leslie realizes that she hasn’t told Siobhan anything since discovering that John was not John.  Taking a deep breath, Leslie makes as concise a summary as she can.  Still, it takes a good twenty minutes with Siobhan interrupting frequently to ask questions.  When Leslie is finished, Siobhan doesn’t hesitate to express her opinion.

“You get your ass home now.  This is not a game, Leslie.  Whoever killed John and took Rose isn’t going to stop at killing one more person.  I would greatly prefer that person were not you.”  Siobhan is struggling to keep her temper, but it’s touch and go.

“Do you think this person is going to stop?  He knows I am on his trail.  Whether or not I stop, I don’t think he’ll feel safe until he gets me out of the way.”

“That’s why you should quit now.  Make it clear you’re leaving everything up to the cops.  Please, Leslie.  Don’t do anything rash.  Come home and call your shrink.”  Siobhan is pleading now as she senses that Leslie’s mind is made up.

“I have to do this, Siobhan.  For John.  I love you, and I’ll talk to you later.”  Leslie hangs up the phone and turns it off.  She knows that if she talks to Siobhan any longer, they’ll just end up in a long, shouty argument.  Then, they will say things they regret before apologizing.  Then, Leslie will do what she plans to do, anyway, so why not skip all that?  Leslie reminds herself to call Siobhan later just to update her on things, and then she returns to her laptop.

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A Hard Rain; chapter seven, part one

“Damn.  Where is she?”  Leslie scans the area outside the baggage claim for Rose.  Leslie only brought her duffle and her laptop with her, so she has no baggage to claim and has arranged to meet Rose outside.  Rose had said she drove a black Suburban, license plate RedRose.  Leslie is tired and grumpy, and she has no patience for this nonsense.  It’s five in the morning, which is not a good hour for her.  She waits five minutes, then ten, then fifteen.  By now, she is fuming.  She pulls out her cell and punches Rose’s number.  The phone rolls over to voice mail, so Leslie leaves a message at the sound of the beep.  “Rose.  This is Leslie.  Where the hell are you?”  Leslie clicks of her phone and waits some more.  After another fifteen minutes, she’s had enough.  She flags a taxi to go to Rose’s house.  The driver is an older white man who is laconic to the point of taciturn—which suits Leslie perfectly.  She has a running monologue in her mind of all the scathing things she’ll say to Rose when they finally meet.  All these thoughts flee her mind, however, when she sees three cop cars with their cherries blinking parked in the driveway.

“Shit.  Take me back to the airport,” Leslie says to the taxi driver.  “No, wait.  Take me to a nearby ATM, Wells Fargo is preferable.”  He doesn’t even pause as he changes course.  He pulls into a nearby gas station and waits as Leslie requested.  Leslie races inside and takes out $200.  Checking her wallet, she sees that she has a hundred in cash.  That should be enough.  “Take me to a nearby hotel, but not in this city.  Something around seventy bucks a night.”  The cabbie drives her to a nearby Best Western.  He gives her his card and tells her to call him if she needs a ride anywhere.   Leslie tips him handsomely for not asking her any questions before she goes into the hotel.  She pays for a room for two nights in cash and hurries to her room after making sure the hotel has wireless.  She plugs in her laptop, thoughts whirling in her mind.  She has no doubt that Rose has been killed as well, but she is not sure why.  Is it because Rose knows more than she told Leslie?  Or does the killer just think that Rose knows too much?  A thought chills Leslie—was Rose killed because she was meeting Leslie?  In other words, does the killer know about Leslie’s existence?  If so, how much has the killer figured out about Freddy’s new identity?  Leslie doesn’t want to jump to any conclusions, but it’s hard for her not to look over her shoulder to see if anyone is watching her—even though she is in the room by herself.

Once she is online, she goes to Google to see what she can find out about Rose’s death.  Oh, she probably shouldn’t jump to conclusions—wait, what?  Breaking news for Chicago.  Rose Duffy, aged forty-three, is missing from her home.  Missing—not killed.  She is single with no roommates, so it would have gone unnoticed if not for the fact that one of her neighbors had insomnia the night before and had heard noises coming out of Rose’s house.  The neighbor noticed what appeared to be a man helping a drunken woman—one who was resisting his efforts—out of the house and into a car.  There was something odd about it, the neighbor recalled.  After fifteen minutes of deliberation, the neighbor called the cops who discovered copious amounts of blood on the bed in Rose’s bedroom.  It is reported that Rose Duffy was a close friend of Federico Amato, the missing man who is the only suspect in the slaying of Amy Robertson, the daughter of Senator Robertson.  Leslie frowns.  If the papers play up that angle, it would mean that Amy’s murder would be thrust back into the spotlight.  Leslie frowns more deeply as she reads a quote by Chief Matthews.

“We have heard the rumors about a connection between the disappearance of Ms. Duffy and the death of Ms. Robertson simply because of a mutual connection.  We would like to state unequivocally that there is no connection.”

“Really, Chief Matthews?”  Leslie murmurs suspiciously.  It’s only been one hour, seven minutes, and twelve seconds since Leslie had seen the cops at Rose’s house.  That is pretty fast footwork on the part of the cops for them to ‘unequivocally’ declare that there is no connection between Rose’s abduction and Amy’s murder.  Leslie mentally moves Chief Matthews up the suspect list before moving him back down again.  His statement is suspicious, but it could be nothing more than the chief doing a favor for a friend.  Or an ex-roommate.  Still, whatever the reason, it just makes Leslie more certain that the disappearance of Rose is connected to Amy’s murder.  This time, it doesn’t seem like the killer—OK, kidnapper—wanted to get caught; he just had the misfortune of being seen by an insomniac neighbor.  Leslie frowns.  The neighbor had stated that she saw a man ‘helping’ a struggling woman into a car.  Could the man be a woman?  Possibly, but not probably.

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A Hard Rain; chapter six

“Beth, we have some breaking news.  Senator Jonah Bronson of Chicago has been accused of molesting three girls, ages 10, 11, and 12 in his youth group, starting from when they were each eight years old.  Let’s go to his church for some reactions.”

Leslie stares at her television, her spoon halfway to her mouth.  She is killing time before her flight, and she had thought it good to keep up on what’s happening in the world.  She is watching the evening world news while eating a bowl of Kashi GOLEAN Crisp! Toasted Berry Crumble with Josephine watching her every bite.  Jonah Bronson.  Chicago.  She knows the name—how does she know the name?  Then it hits her as she recalls John’s commentary which she had read just that afternoon.  In fact, John had mentioned this very thing, and Leslie had tried to forget it because it had bothered her so much.  She chastised herself for being so weak.

“Shit!”  Leslie gets up from her bowl of cereal in order to go to her computer, grabbing a protesting Josephine in one hand along the way.  Leslie shuts the door, plunks Josephine in her bed, and then hops online.  She Googles Jonah Bronson, and it’s just as she thinks—Senator Robertson’s crony and old friend—the one who loved kids and who babysat Amy when Amy was a little girl.  Leslie mentally runs through what she’s learned about the case, and she can’t help but wonder if Jonah Bronson’s predilection for little girls is not a recent thing—it usually isn’t with pedophiles.  Leslie does a Google search and discovers that there have been accusations against Senator Bronson throughout the years, but none of the cases had been substantiated—mostly because the girls refused to talk about it.  That makes Leslie wonder if the senator had employed intimidation to keep the girls quiet.  That is often the case when a powerful man abuses his position.  He intimates that no one will believe the girl and that she deserves it.  Sadly, it’s often true that a girl isn’t believed—especially against the word of a man like Senator Bronson.  Most people do not want to believe that a grown man would force sex upon a young girl.  Leslie knows, firsthand, however, that it does happen.

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A Hard Rain; chapter five, part three

Leslie presses the letter to her lips as the tears fall down her cheeks.  The last bit of mistrust she had for John melted away.  It still stings that John had kept so much of his life a secret from her, but she no longer doubted that he did it out of love.  She struggles to her feet, Josephine butting her in the shins, and takes the letter into her bedroom so she can place it in her keepsake box.  The last letter she’ll ever receive from John.  And, it’s in his own hand.  She will never throw it away.  She opens her keepsake box and reverently places the letter inside, right on top of John’s smiling face.  She touches the letter, briefly, before closing the box.  Only when she is done does she remember that she has the packet John sent her.  She pulls out a sheaf of papers, most of them computer print-outs, sits down on the bed, and begins reading.

She already knows the basics, of course, though John goes into greater detail.  There are several pieces of paper that has his written commentary on the case.  He reveals that Amy did, indeed, have evidence that her father embezzle money from his campaign.  In addition, he was getting paid to play—meaning he accepted large sums of money to vote a certain way.  Now, this wasn’t very surprising as many politicians take bribes.  However, the shocking part was that Senator Robertson had conspired with other senators to vote en bloc.  He refused to name the other senators, but sources said that Senator Bronson was one of them.  John listed several deals that Senator Bronson had made that were questionable, but every time a case went to trial, and important witness would either clam up or suddenly disappear.  Now, Senator Bronson had higher aspirations.  He had tossed his name into next year’s gubernatorial race just to test the waters, but he was widely expected to be the front-runner in the 2016 election.  All bets were off, of course, if he were found guilty of taking bribes.  The voters might not mind, but the FBI surely would.  The only other comment about Senator Bronson was that he’d been accused of molesting girls over the years.  Leslie scowls.  She pushes that thought to the back of her mind because she doesn’t want to deal with it at the moment.

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A Hard Rain; chapter five, part two

“Leslie, meditation is done now.”  Sasha’s voice is unusually gentle.  Leslie snaps to the present and is astonished to find that her face is wet with tears.  Two of the other students, longtime classmates of Leslie’s, make a point of not looking at her.  The third, a relative newcomer is staring at her with an open mouth.  Leslie flushes in embarrassment as she tries to stem her tears; they continue to fall.

“Excuse me.”  Leslie walks over to the table in the corner of the room and picks up a tissue.  She uses it to dab her eyes, but she continues to cry silently.  She grabs a handful of tissues and walks outside.  Sasha lets her be because she knows that Leslie needs a minute to collect herself.  If she doesn’t return in a few minutes, Sasha will go outside to make sure she’s OK.

“I miss you, John,” Leslie whispers as she huddles by the door.  It’s not exceedingly cold out—twenty degrees—but Leslie feels a coldness that cuts straight through her heart.  Leslie aches to hold John one last time, to feel him inside her one last time, to kiss him one last time.  She couldn’t tolerate the idea that she would never see him again.  She had known him a relatively short amount of time, and yet, he had become indispensable in her life.  She counted on him to be there for her, and now—he isn’t.  He will never be there for her again.  Leslie hugs herself in a futile attempt to stave off the despair.  How can she bear it that she will never ever get to hear him call her lover again?

After several minutes, Leslie returns to class.  Sasha is leading the class in chi gong, but she glances quizzically at Leslie as Leslie gently shuts the door behind her.  Leslie nods once, not trusting herself to speak.  She sits on her chair, drinks her bottled water, and skips the chi gong.  When it’s over, she rejoins the class for the first section of the solo form.  She is able to stumble through it with minimal mistakes.  She endures the rest of the class, counting the minutes until it’s over.

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A Hard Rain; chapter five, part one

“All right, class.  Let’s do some standing meditation.”  Sasha gathers the four students into a small circle.  Leslie takes her usual place to Sasha’s immediate left and assumes the standing meditation posture, but not without trepidation.  Meditation taps into the deep wells of sorrow in her.  Many of the memories she has repressed for decades became released as she practiced standing meditation.  This had started soon after John had moved in with her, and she realized it was because she was having the first spectacularly joyous and positive sexual experience in her life.  In her past, none of her partners had matched her libido or her creativity in bed.  What’s worse, most of her partners made her feel like there was something wrong with her because she wanted sex so often and in so many different ways.  They were intimidated by her appetite, and they thought she was weird because of it.  In addition, the abuse she had suffered twisted her view of what she had to offer in a relationship—mostly being the perfect sex doll.  So, she sometimes wondered how much of sex she enjoyed for the act itself and how much she enjoyed because she was trained to enjoy it.  John had thrown her paradigm out the window, and meditation was tapping into the pain Leslie held around the subject of sex.  Her first recovered memory had been seemingly benign.


It had started as a normal Saturday.  The girls did their chores in the morning, and then things turned strange.  Mrs. Chang made the girls put on their best winter dresses, changed into her favorite bright pink woolen dress, and she dragged them to the part where they ran into a tall, smiling, handsome Taiwanese man she introduced as Mr. Liu.  Leslie remembered that the day was chilly, but the sun was shining brightly.  Even though Mr. Liu was affable to the girls, Leslie hadn’t liked him from the start.  She liked him even less when Mrs. Chang insisted the twins call him Uncle Liu in the old-school way.

Mr. Liu bought the girls hot chocolate, taking special care to have it doctored exactly as each girl liked it.  Lisa had told him she wanted marshmallows in hers, and he had turned around and asked Leslie if she wanted marshmallows as well.  Leslie shook her head without saying anything; she did not want hot chocolate at all from this man.  However, Mrs. Chang was insistent, and Mr. Liu finally wormed it out of Leslie that she liked whipped cream in her hot chocolate.  Lisa asked if she could have some as well, and Mr. Lie said no.  This created the first crack between the girls—one that would never be mended.

Mrs. Chang scolded Leslie as Mr. Liu went to fetch the hot chocolate.  When he returned, Lisa immediately started sipping hers whereas Leslie simply held her cup in her mittened hand.  It was only when Mrs. Chang ordered her to drink did Leslie lift the Styrofoam cup to her lips, and then she methodically chugged down the hot chocolate over Mr. Liu’s protests.  She finished her hot chocolate quickly, ignoring the blister that was forming on her tongue.  She thanked Mr. Liu for the drink, threw the cup away, and spent the rest of the afternoon trying with little success to avoid talking to Mr. Liu.

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A Hard Rain; chapter four

“Siobhan!  What are you doing here?”  Leslie is surprised to see her best friend at Funk ‘N Junk because she isn’t scheduled.

“I switched with Muriel,” Siobhan says briskly.  “I wanted to work with you your first shift back.”  Leslie snorts because Siobhan makes it sound as if Leslie has been wounded in battle or something equally ridiculous.  Siobhan stares at Leslie and then plucks a silver lame scarf from a shelf and hands it to Leslie.  “Put this on.”  Leslie accepts the scarf and drapes it around her waist.  She is still wearing the red sweater she had put on this morning, but she had changed from her jeans into black velour pants.  She has on ankle-high boots with two-inch heels.  She is not a clotheshorse, but she accepts that she has to be an advertisement for the store.  To that end, she plucks a silver bangle from a counter display and slides it up her left arm.

“Nice touch,” Siobhan says approvingly.  “Have you called your therapist yet?”

“No.”  Leslie doesn’t think it’s necessary now that she has a mission—finding John’s killer.  She knows Siobhan will not like that, however, so she keeps it to herself.

“Do it.  You need him.”  Siobhan pauses before adding, “You put on lipstick.  Good girl.”  Leslie stifles the impulse to give Siobhan the finger because three customers choose that precise moment to walk through the door. Besides, she and Siobhan have had this argument countless times, and she is unwilling to rehash it yet again.  She casts an envious glance at Siobhan.  Siobhan is wearing a tight navy blue sweater that dips enough to display her impressive bosom.  She has on a white flare skirt that has an uneven hem.  Her five-inch blue platforms make Leslie’s feet ache just by looking at them.  Siobhan has her mane of red curls arranged in a messy bun at the nape of her neck, and she is wearing a white cloche hat that is both whimsical and fun.  All the clothing is from the store, as is the butterfly barrette festooning her bun, and Leslie would bet it took Siobhan less than ten minutes to achieve her look.

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A Hard Rain; chapter three, part three

Leslie’s stomach growls, but she does not want to eat anything until after the cops leave, so she ignores her stomach and concentrates on her computer.  She reads about how Amy had been rushed to the hospital with a broken leg when she was ten.  It was said to be an accident, but the article hints that Senator Robertson may have had something to do with it.  Another article methodically lists all the emergency trips the Robertson children had taken to the hospital in their childhood, and it was pretty long.  Then again, with five children in the family, it was only natural that accidents would occur.  The most interesting part of the article was the statement that Mrs. Robertson had been rushed to the hospital herself once when Jack Jr. was thirteen-months old.  She had been rumored to have been pregnant with baby Robertson number six, but no one could verify that tidbit.  At any rate, there was no sixth Robertson baby, so people freely speculated as to whether Mrs. Robertson had miscarried, and if so, whether Senator Robertson had caused the miscarriage.

Leslie’s mind is swirling with all the information.  The more she reads, the more she’s convinced that there’s something in Amy’s childhood that isn’t being reported.  What’s more, when she unearths this thing, it will clear up a lot of the questions surrounding Amy’s murder—of that, Leslie is dead certain.  And, of course, if she can solve Amy’s murder, she will solve John’s murder as well.  With that in mind, Leslie turns back to Google to see if she has missed anything.  Unfortunately, the problem is that Amy’s childhood was pre-internet, so nothing was recorded for posterity.  Of course, the fact that her father is a politician means there’s some dirt available, but not enough.  At some point, she may have to talk to Amy’s family, but Leslie pushes that thought to the back of her mind for now.  Leslie doesn’t have much use for family—which is not surprising given hers.


Mrs. Chang left her old job when the girls were six-and-a-half.  By then, she and Mr. Chang were sleeping in separate bedrooms, but there was no question of divorce.  Taiwanese people did not do that, and it would have brought great shame to both their families.  She was still a secretary, but she no longer had to put up with Mr. Pederson’s advances.  Mr. Chang finally got a job as an adjunct philosophy prof at the U, so their financial worries were eased somewhat.  However, Mrs. Chang was now an alcoholic, albeit a functioning one, and she had no intention of giving up the bottle.  Mr. Chang had long since given up arguing with Mrs. Chang about her alcohol consumption.  In fact, he pretty much emotionally checked out from the marriage when Mrs. Chang made it clear that she had chosen the bottle over him.

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A Hard Rain; chapter three, part two

Leslie brushes away the tears as she kisses the ring on her finger.  She has worn it since John placed it on her finger, and now she knows she will wear it for the rest of her life.  She holds it up to the light and admires how the onyx shimmers and glows.  She presses another kiss on it as she caresses the box one last time and sets it on her nightstand table.  Then, she turns off the light and leaves the room.

Leslie waits for the cops to come.  She tidies up the house by dumping advertisements and magazines into the paper bag she uses to hold the products to be recycled.  She takes out the hand-held vacuum and sucks up free-floating cat hair.  For such a tiny, short-haired cat, Josephine sure sheds a lot.  Josephine trots from room to room with her human, tilting her head to watch Leslie clean.  Josephine is not afraid of the vacuum cleaner—little or big—but she does hate the washing machine with a passion.  Every once in a while as Leslie cleans, the light catches the ring just right, and she smiles, albeit wanly.  She waters the few scraggly plants in the living room.  She has a black thumb, but she periodically feels as if she should have plants in the house.  She buys the hardiest specimens, puts them in her living room and promptly forgets all about them.  When she does remember that she has living green things in her house, it’s too late.  The plants are beyond saving, but she can’t just toss them, so she sprinkles water on them from time to time and hope they’ll quietly expire.  The doorbell rings, causing her to pour water onto the carpet.  Sighing, she sets down the watering can and goes to answer the door.  As usual, Josephine is right on her heels.

“Good morning, Ms. Chang,” Detective Ricks says, nodding her head at Leslie.  Both she and Detective Stevenson look as if they haven’t slept in days, and it’s quite possible that they haven’t.

“Hello, Detectives,” Leslie says, nodding at them in return.  She notices that she has a death grip on the door, and she fights to relax her fingers.  She ushers the police inside.  “Would you like some coffee?  It’s Fair Trade; it’s dark; it’s good.”  Both cops shake their heads.

“We need to see Mr. Smith’s computer,” Detective Stevenson says.

“You haven’t figured out his real identity yet?”  Leslie asks curiously.

“No.”  Detective Stevenson’s voice is terse as if he loathes to admit that the cops had failed in some respect.  “We are hoping there is something on Mr. Smith’s computer that will help up.”

“Have you looked at Mr. Smith’s computer yourself since we talked last night, Ms. Chang?”  Dr. Ricks smoothly slips the question in, but she cannot hide the tenseness of her voice.

“No.  I couldn’t bear it.”  Leslie lies with no hesitation.  She is confident that she has covered her electronic footprints, and she sees no reason to tell the cops that she has been doing some detecting of her own.  That’s nobody’s business but her own.  “John’s office is this way.”  Leslie leads the detectives to John’s office with Josephine trailing the trio.  Leslie allows the cops to enter the room and is about to follow them in when Detective Ricks stops her.  “You will wait elsewhere.”  It is not even couched in a request, and Leslie bristles at the tone.  “How do I know you won’t mess anything up?”  Leslie asks, her tone hostile.

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