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.
“Ms. Chang, we are trying to do our job. Please let us do it.” Detective Ricks’ voice is brusque as well. Josephine takes this opportunity to slip into the room. Unfortunately for her, Detective Stevenson is faster than she. He scoops her up with a little squeak of indignation on her part and hands her over to Leslie.
“Fine. Just don’t mess anything up.” Leslie clutches Josephine to her chest and marches back to her own computer room. As she’s about to hop online, her cell rings. Who the hell would be calling her at this time of the morning? Checking the display, she sees it’s Sasha, so she answers it. “Sasha. Why are you calling me at this time?”
“Les, I just saw the news about John. Why didn’t you call me?” Sasha’s voice is warm with concern.
“I—I didn’t call anyone.” Leslie doesn’t know how to answer Sasha’s question, not really. Leslie is not a phone person, and she much prefers email to talking on the phone. It would never occur to her to call someone, no matter what her state of mind.
“Is it true that John was—murdered?” Sasha hesitates before saying the last word, and then she stumbles over it in her eagerness to spit it out.
“Yes. And, that’s not all, Sasha. Oh. I have so much to tell you. But, the cops are here now, so I can’t talk.”
“You need a class. I have one tomorrow afternoon at one.”
“I can’t, Sasha. I’m a mess.”
“All the more reason for you to practice Taiji.” Sasha is firm in her belief that tai chi is good for what ails you. It had saved her life more than once, and she loved teaching it to others.
“OK. I’ll see what I can do.” That is the best Leslie can offer, and Sasha has the sense to not push any further. They agree to go out to a late lunch after so Leslie can fill Sasha in on what’s happening. Leslie feels better after hanging up the phone.
Once again, Leslie Googles Amy’s murder case. There is no doubt in her mind that John’s murder has to do with Amy’s murder. It’s ludicrous to think anything else. More to the point, Leslie has a hunch that Amy’s past plays an important role as well. Leslie knows from personal experience that a person’s childhood can shape someone and scar her for the rest of her life. She thinks back, unwillingly, to her own childhood.
Mr. Chang and Mrs. Chang had been matched in Taiwan because he was seen as a good catch and she was exceptionally beautiful. They had moved to Minnesota as soon as they married so Mr. Chang could attend grad school. The Changs had every intention of moving back to Taiwan once Mr. Chang had his PhD in philosophy, but Mrs. Chang’s pregnancy changed all that. Since she would have the twins before Mr. Chang finished school, they decided to remain in Minnesota to raise the girls.
Mrs. Chang never wanted children, but she had acquiesced to Mr. Chang’s wishes because that’s what a woman did. After the twins were born, Mrs. Chang suffered from postpartum depression. She wanted nothing to do with the girls. She would only hold them if Mr. Chang forced her to do so, and she would put them down the minute he turned his back. It got so bad, Mr. Chang flew him mother out from Taiwan so she could look after the babies while Mrs. Chang took to her bed. When she finally emerged from her depression two weeks later, she would only look after Lisa. She stared through Leslie as if she didn’t exist. Mr. Chang finally hired a nanny to look after Leslie once his mother had decided it was time to return home.
Lisa had always been the favored child, for whatever reason. Leslie didn’t know if it was because she was three minutes and twenty-nine seconds older than Leslie, but it had been obvious since they were little girls that Lisa was the darling of the family. Early in the girls’ childhood, Mrs. Chang became a mean drunk who yelled at everyone when she was smashed, but she yelled the least at Lisa. Mrs. Chang often wrecked the house when she was drunk. Mr. Chang was a quiet man who became even more insubstantial as the marriage progressed. He didn’t know how to stand up to his wife, so he stopped even trying.
Mrs. Chang had very firm ideas on how children should be raised. They should be seen and not heard. They should not cause any trouble, and they definitely should not question their parents. Little girls should wear dresses and play with dolls. Little girls should NOT climb trees or play rough games on the playground with the boys. They should be exposed to every activity known to womankind, including ballet classes, music lessons, softball, and charm classes. Leslie had looked forward to the last because she knew that she was lacking in charisma. She had hoped the charm classes would teach her how to actually be charming, but apparently, that wasn’t what the school had in mind. It was more of a finishing school, and Leslie hated every minute she was in that place.
By the time the girls were five, their roles in life were set. Lisa was the good daughter who was praised for everything she did—when she wasn’t hearing the boozy confessions of her drunken mother; Leslie was the bad daughter who only received criticism and beatings. Mr. Chang left all the disciplining to Mrs. Chang, who believed that sparing the rod most certainly spoiled the child—though she might not have phrased it that was as she was not a Christian. She was a stay-at-home mother for the first five years of the girls’ lives, but Mr. Chang lost his middle-management job that year, so Mrs. Chang was forced to go to work to make some money. She left the girls with a neighbor who had three children of her own as she trudged off to her secretarial job. It was all she was qualified for, and she hated every minute. She had a boss who had a thing for Asian women. He would always find reasons to stand behind Mrs. Chang and look down her dress. She didn’t have much on top, but apparently, it was enough to interest Mr. Pederson.
Mrs. Chang allowed Mr. Pederson to take liberties with her in exchange for more money. It made her sick to her stomach, but someone had to make money in the Chang household. She began to drink more heavily when she was at home. She felt she was entitled to her drinks given what she had to put up with at work. She then would mock Mr. Chang’s manhood by pointing out that she made more money than he did, even though he was the one with the PhD. Mr. Chang refused to rise to the bait, which only infuriated Mrs. Chang even more. At some point in the evening, she would grab whatever was handy and throw it at Mr. Chang. Magazines, books, paperweights, and one time, a frying pan. Mr. Chang became especially adept at dodging projectile missiles in order to not be hit by his wife.
Lisa and Leslie fled the scene as soon as objects started flying. During the shouting part, they would remain completely still in order to not draw attention to themselves. However, once Mrs. Chang got her throwing arm going, they knew it was better to take their chances and run. They would run to their room and cower in their respective beds, just waiting for the storm to end. They would have knots in their stomachs because they never knew what Mrs. Chang would do after her anger at her husband ran its course. Sometimes, she knelt by Lisa’s bed and burst into tears while sobbing out how sorry she was for being a horrible mother. Lisa would have to comfort her mother, despite her own fears. After Mrs. Chang calmed down, she would leave the room swiftly, as if she were embarrassed by her outburst. Other times, she burst into the room and started beating the crap out of Leslie for no reason. These episodes were fairly short, but Mrs. Chang always managed to inflict a great deal of pain in the seven to ten minutes bursts. Leslie learned to endure by watching her clock and counting the minutes and seconds until her mother’s rage had expended itself.