Author Archives: Minna Hong

Trip on This: Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Sixteen

“We’re doing what?”  Mowgli stares at Trip, wondering if his ears are deceiving him.  This is not how he envisioned spending his night—talking to Trip about strip clubs in Vandalia’s living room.

“Going to The Roman Empire,” Trip says.  “Me, you, Vandalia and her consort.  I have to find out more about Angel and the other woman.”  Trip has told Mowgli everything she did that afternoon, but he still isn’t computing.  It’s difficult for him to switch from computer geek to party animal without some downtime in between.  Besides, he has yet to adapt to Trip’s come-hither look as he’s grown fond of her tomboyish, no-nonsense persona.  Seeing her tarted up reminds him of when he first met her, and he, like she, doesn’t care to remember those days.

Trip had raced home from Tosca’s impatient to look up information about Andretti, but to her dismay, there was nothing relevant on Ricardo Andretti.  There was one in Modesto, but he was ninety-five years old.  There was one in New Jersey, but that didn’t help her.  Then she thought of trying just Andretti, but that was hopeless.  She was incensed that her hot new information did little to propel her forward.  She wondered if Seamus had misheard, but there weren’t many names that sounded similar to Ricardo.  She would have to do further sleuthing on this point before she could do an efficient search.  After that, she had gone out and shopped until her credit card screamed from exhaustion, but it had been worth it.  She had spent almost five-hundred dollars on clothes, and there wasn’t a speck of black to be seen.  By the time she returned to Vandalia’s, Mowgli was already comfortably ensconced on the living room couch.

“The Roman Empire,” Mowgli repeats, as if he’s never heard the name before.  “You, Delilah Esther Wire want to go to a strip club.”  His voice couldn’t be more dubious if Trip had said she wanted to run with the bulls in Spain.

“I don’t want to go,” Trip replies tersely.  “Try to keep up here.  That’s where the dead girl worked.  There’s another girl who’s involved in the case who might work there as well.  Vandalia thought it’d be a good idea if I didn’t go alone.”

“Well, she’s right about that.”  Mowgli is frowning as he looks up at Trip from his place on the couch.  She’s still standing, unable to unwind.  “I don’t like what this case is doing to you.”

“Neither do I,” Trip shoots back.  “That’s why I have to find the motherfuckers.”

“Del, you sure you want to do this?  Maybe it’ll die out by itself.”

“Yes, I’m sure!”  Trip stares down at Mowgli, daring him to defy her.  “I got off the fucking streets and got a fucking life.  I damn well want to make sure I can keep living it.”  This has moved beyond a matter of pride for Trip—it’s becoming personal.  If she can’t find the motherfuckers and bring them to some kind of justice, she’ll be running around for the rest of her life looking over her shoulder and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Then I’m in,” Mowgli says simply.  Trip thumps him on the head in appreciation before sliding onto the couch next to him.  They are watching the Food Network when Vandalia comes home.

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Trip on This: Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Fifteen

I stride to my car and drive to O’Reilly’s building, killing the engine once I have the building in sight.  I haven’t really planned what I’m going to do, but it doesn’t worry me.  My slate is cleared until I figure out what the hell is going on here, and I think O’Reilly will be my way in.  Like most pompous, arrogant pricks, he’ll most likely fold once a little pressure is put upon him.  I shift in my seat, trying to find a comfortable position.  I fish out a red scarf from my glove compartment and tie it around my hair, then slip on my Ray Bans.  I know that a stakeout isn’t anything like they show it on television or in the movies; it’s mostly tedious work.  Hours of waiting with little return, unless the action is prodded in an artificial way.  Since I am not known for my patience, I decide to do a little manufacturing.  First, out of idle curiosity, I call the number DiCalvo had given me.  I’m sure it’s a false number, so I’m not surprised to hear, ‘The number you are trying to reach has been disconnected’.  Next, I call O’Reilly’s office number after using my scrambler so he can’t identify my phone.  It occurs to me that I should purchase burners if I’m going to keep making anonymous phone calls.

“Caleb O’Reilly, how may I help you?”  His voice is smooth and just a step away from oily.  I can visualize the smug smile on his face which makes me itch to kick in his teeth.  I raise my voice and make it as breathy as possible.

“Mr. O’Reilly?  I’m an acquaintance of Mr. DiCalvo’s, if you know who I mean.”  I pause, gratified to hear a hissing on the other end of the line.

“How did you, who are you, I mean, why are you calling me?”  He’s disconcerted, but he hasn’t hung up yet.

“Mr. DiCalvo would like to meet you at his office this very minute.  He has an urgent matter to discuss.  About Angel.  Don’t try to call him as his phone may be bugged.”  I hang up the phone.  This is the tricky part, whether O’Reilly will fall for it or not.  I don’t doubt he’ll call DiCalvo—in fact, I’m counting on it.  I turn on my car and wait to see what happens.  Not five minutes later, O’Reilly is hustling from the building towards a silver Lexus.  How disappointingly clichéd.  He zooms off without looking around, so it’s a piece of cake to follow him.  Pretty soon, we are in downtown near the Embarcadero BART station.  To my surprise, he parks near Stacey’s bookstore and walks to the McDonald’s there.  I trail him casually, my cell phone glued to my ear so it appears that I’m just one of the throngs going to or from work.  I am still wearing the scarf and sunglasses, so I’m confident that I’m unrecognizable.

DiCalvo is already there, which means he’s closer to downtown than is O’Reilly up in North Beach, which isn’t saying much.  DiCalvo looks just as I remember him, but worse for the wear.  His leg is jittering under the table, and his eyes flit from spot to spot.  I quickly order a Diet Coke and a Quarter Pounder so I won’t look suspicious, then I slide into a chair a few tables away from DiCalvo.  O’Reilly has gotten stuck in a slower line so he’s not at the table yet.  I study DiCalvo without his noticing me, and it’s all I can do not to punch him out.  No matter how much I want to do him grievous bodily harm, what I want more is answers.  I won’t get those by muscling the punk, especially as O’Reilly is making his way towards the table as well.  The two of them are like Mutt and Jeff with one being a nervous wreck and a slob to boot while the other one is swathed in sartorial splendor and has a regal bearing.

“What the fuck are we doing here?”  DiCalvo blurts out.  “Who’s the bitch who called you?”

“Don’t know.  Not the oriental chick.  Not her voice.”  O’Reilly looks down at his Big Mac in disdain.  “Really, I don’t know why we have to meet here.”

“I like the food,” DiCalvo mumbles, biting into a hamburger.  “It’s good for what ails you.”

“Whatever,” O’Reilly says dismissively.  “Whoever it was mentioned Angel.  Perhaps it was the real problem woman.”

“She knows better,” DiCalvo says.  “She fucking knows better now.  The only calling she should be doing is for a fucking pizza delivery.  Bitch.  Why couldn’t she have been like the other bitches?”

“Because he slipped this time,” O’Reilly says coolly.  “He’s not infallible, you know.  Especially when he starts thinking with his dick.”

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Trip on This: Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fourteen

“Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory!”  Trip jerks up in her bed, unsure that she heard what she thinks she heard.  There is total silence, then she hears it again.  “Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory.”  Someone is fucking singing somewhere in her apartment.  Still half-asleep, Trip slides her blade out from under her pillow and is out of bed when she realizes that she’s not at home, that she’s at Vandalia’s, and that the voice she’s hearing is the hostess with the mostest as she’s taking a shower.  Trip glances at the clock, sees that it’s nearly ten o’clock and decides to stay out of bed, anyway.  She throws on a t-shirt and a pair of sweats and pads out into the kitchen.  She pours herself a glass of orange juice and is sipping it when Vandalia bounces into the kitchen five minutes later.

“Good morning, roomie!”  Vandalia chirps, her voice disgustingly perky.  She is wearing sweats as well, but a red velour set that is definitely not made for sweating.  She has that ‘I just got fucked’ glow that is so enjoyable to experience but so irritating to observe.

“Morning, Vandalia,” Trip says evenly, pouring herself another glass of juice.  She gestures to the juice and adds, “I’ll make a Safeway run soon to replenish the stock.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Vandalia says cheerfully.  “I’ll take it out in trade.  The next time I need something stolen, you’ll do a freebie for me.  Deal?”

“Deal.”  Trip nods solemnly, though she’s sure Vandalia is joking.

“What’d you find out last night?”  Vandalia pops a couple pieces of bread in the toaster to make toast.  “Want some scrambled eggs?  I’m making myself some.”

“No thanks,” Trip declines.  She doesn’t like to eat first thing in the morning, though she knows breakfast is supposedly the most important meal.

“You have to eat something!”  Vandalia burbles, cracking open a half-dozen eggs.  “Your body is like a car—it’s needs to be fueled before you can drive it.  Besides, I make the most gorgeous scrambled eggs you’ve ever tasted!  You’ll swear off sex once you get your teeth into these.”  She pauses, looking expectantly at Trip.

“No, thanks,” Trip reiterates, pouring herself another glass of juice.  “I’ll grab something later.”

“You’re not dieting, are you?”  Vandalia asks in mock-horror, clasping her own ample bosom.  “I am sick and tired of girls trying to whittle away into nothing.  Size zero!  Literally disappearing.  I mean, look at me!  I’m big, and I’m gorgeous!”  She thrust out her bosom proudly before returning to her eggs.

“I’m not dieting,” Trip shrugs, returning the orange juice to the refrigerator.  “I just don’t eat in the morning.”

“I bet you work out, though,” Vandalia says, sneaking a quick look at Trip.  “Look at those pipes on you!  Girl can take care of herself, I bet!”  That doesn’t seem to be a question, so Trip doesn’t answer.  “Well, I know I can’t get going in the morning if I don’t eat a hearty breakfast.  Screw cholesterol, that’s what I say.”  Trip says it, too, in moderation.  She’s not the type to nibble on a lettuce leaf or to have a salad with dressing on the side for lunch.  She’s a healthy woman with a healthy appetite—just not first thing in the morning.

“I gotta roll.  See ya.”  Trip is almost out of the kitchen when Vandalia’s voice stops her.

“I got the Chron if you want to read it.  It’s on the coffee table in the living room.”  Trip makes a detour to check out the paper before taking a shower.  She wants to see if there’s anything else on Sylvian’s murder, though she suspects that it’s: a) not big enough news to warrant further coverage and b) being covered-up, anyway.  She is right; there is nothing further about Sylvian’s murder.  To her surprise, however, there is another murder relevant to her sorry-ass life.  Evelyn Sato, found dead in her apartment, the police tipped by an ‘anonymous’ phone call.  Continue Reading

Trip on This: Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Thirteen

After working out, Trip is no more settled than she had been beforehand, so she decides to pay her old friends a visit.  She showers and changes into black jeans and a black long-sleeved t-shirt before covering that with her black trench coat.  It’s her work outfit, and that’s what she’s doing tonight—working.  She stops at her bank and withdraws five hundred dollars, tucking it into her pocket.  If she needs more, the girls know she’s good for it.  She has to be if she wants them to continue talking to her.  She has her Bowie knife with her, which she carefully straps to her calf and pulls her jeans’ leg down over it.  It’s a beaut with a six-inch blade—a girl’s best friend.  Trip knows better than to go to the ‘Loin without protection, though truth to be told, she rarely goes anywhere without her knife.

“Looks who’s here, girls,” a skinny white skank named Snow sneers as she scratches her arm listlessly.  “It’s Suzie Wong herself.”  Trip hates being reminded of her working days, but lets it slide this once.

“Shut the fuck up, Snow,” Mona Lisa, the one who used to talk about the Louvre, snarls.  “You just mad because Trip made something of herself.”  She’s white trash, too, but better-looking than Sugar with her white-blond hair done in a retro-eighties style and lime-green micro-mini-skirt.  Her makeup is a riot of colors that no sane person would dare attempt.  Pink and green eye shadow, silver lipstick, black nail polish.  Trip wonders how much Mona Lisa Lisa is raking in these days.  She’s had better days, and she looks ridden hard and put away harder.  Despite it all, though, she still sticks up for Trip.  It’s one of her better qualities—her fierce loyalty.

“You better step,” Snow says, flipping her hand at Mona Lisa.  The other hookers are pretending not to notice the altercation as they scan the streets for possible johns.  “I’m tired of you flapping your big-ass mouth at me like you was somebody.”  Snow’s eyes are ugly as she juts out her hip.

“Listen up, bitch,” Mona Lisa hisses, stepping closer.

“Hey, Mona Lisa, let it go.”  Trip reluctantly gets between the two women.  She knows fighting is part of the life, but she needs information and she doesn’t want to have to scrape Mona Lisa off the street to get it.  Mona Lisa can hold her own, but Snow didn’t get her name because she likes to ski, and like many cokeheads, Snow doesn’t feel the pain until after her high wears off.  Since that’s never for her, Trip prefers to keep Mona Lisa separated from Snow.

“Trip, you’re getting soft.  You know how it is on the fucking streets.”  Mona Lisa is not backing down, and neither is Snow.

“Do it later, then.  I have to talk to you.  All the girls.”  Trip stares hard at Mona Lisa, then Snow.  “I need some information, and I need it fast.  I need to know if there’s any word on the street on someone talking about me.”

“Yeah, they be saying they miss that ass,” a girl calls out.  The other girls whoop it up.

“Then they get a piece of this,” a tiny, Asian girl slaps her nonexistent butt.  “They forget all about you.”

“Have you seen this girl?”  Trip pulls out a picture of Sylvian at which few of the girls even bother looking.

“Hey, it’s Angel!”  Mona Lisa says, blanching.  She grabs the picture and shoves it in her coat pocket before anyone else can get a good look.  “Come on.”  She grabs Trip and drags her to the Phoenix Hotel.  “We have to talk in private.  Can you front for a room?”  Trip nods.  It’s the least she can do since Mona Lisa won’t be working while she’s talking to Trip.  The room is $79, and Trip hands over two fifties and her credit card number to Candace, the smiling woman behind the counter.  To her credit, Candace doesn’t even smirk as she hands back $21.

“Have a nice stay,” Candace calls out as Mona Lisa hustles Trip to their designated room.

“Tell me,” Trip says the minute they step into the room.

“I gotta drink something to talk about this shit,” Mona Lisa announces.  “Mind?”  It’s not really a question, and Trip doesn’t bother answering.  She sits on a chair and waits for Mona Lisa to situate herself.  When Mona Lisa is well-oiled, she plops on the bed, spreading her legs.  It’s an unconscious decision, but it makes her look cheap.  “Trip, they been talking about you.”  She has one of those miniature bottles of alcohol in her hand, and she gulps it down in one swallow.  “They saying you heading for a fall.  ‘Course, the girls are jealous because you’ve got it good now.”  Her eyes stare at Trip.  “That Cocoa did right by you, didn’t she?”

“Yes, she did.”  Trip doesn’t feel guilty for getting out of the life nor for her new profession.  She works hard, pays her taxes like a good American—consultant work, only skims off twenty percent—and owes nobody except Cocoa anything.  And Mowgli.  She can never repay what she owes him.

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Trip on This: Chapter Twelve

Chapter Twelve

“Where the fuck have you been?”  Mowgli scowls at me from outside Vandalia’s apartment.  “I’ve been waiting for you for a fucking half hour.  Time is money, chiquita, in case you haven’t heard.”

“Come on in,” I say, ushering Mowgli into Vandalia’s place.  “Want something to drink?”  I move to the kitchen and manage to find the tea kettle.

“Uh, hello?  Did you not practically order me over only to stand me the fuck up?”  Mowgli has his hand on his hip and his lower lip thrust out.  Oh great, he’s doing the pissy queen act which is really not pretty on so large a man.

“Get over it, Mowgli.  I had something I had to take care of.  I’ll try not to let it happen again.”  That’s the closest I get to apologizing, and Mowgli lets it drop.

“Tell me what you got, girl.”  Mowgli drops into a chair while I rummage for something to munch on.  Vandalia has a righteous stash of Doritos, Keeblers, M&Ms, and other assorted goodies guaranteed to give a dentist nightmares.  Not to mention a nutritionist.  As I tell Mowgli what I found out from Rock, I dump some snacks on the table while waiting for the water to boil.  “You trust this Rock?”  Mowgli asks me, his voice level.  “You sure he’s not hustling you?”  At my request, Mowgli has never been with me to The Savage which is a sore point between us.  He doesn’t understand my need to keep my job and the ritual I’ve created separate from him.

“Yeah, I’m sure.  He knows I’ll rip his balls off and stuff them down his throat if he’s shining me on.”  Like any guy, Mowgli instinctively crosses his legs at my words.  “Besides, he wants to fuck me again.  He knows that won’t happen if he lies to me.”

“I thought women weren’t supposed to use sex as a weapon any more in these post-modern feminist times,” Mowgli playfully scolds me.

“Nah, we’re just not supposed to admit it any more,” I reply, handing a cup of Earl Grey to Mowgli while sipping on black tea myself.  I bet the Earl Grey is just for Mowgli as it seems too tame for the likes of Vandalia.  “The PC thing is to say that we assertively bring up our complaint, then discuss it, then make a mutually-satisfying decision.”

“Uh huh.”  Mowgli shoots me a look that says he doesn’t believe me.  “And what’s playing on reality TV?”

“You don’t get none if I don’t get what I want,” I say simply.  “It’s not my fault that men are controlled by their dicks.”

“Girl, don’t I know it,” Mowgli says with a knowing grin.  “A blessing and a curse all rolled up in one.”  We share a brief snicker at the fallibility of men before I get serious.

“I want this motherfucker,” I say abruptly, slamming down my mug.  I slop tea on the table, but I’m too focused on the matter at hand to notice.  Mowgli grabs a rag from the sink and wipes up my mess.  “Nobody plays Trip Wire for a fool, but nobody.”  A little boy in first grade with chubby cheeks and an angelic smile campaigned to turn the entire class against me because I had slanty eyes—his words, not mine.  Once on the playground, he stuck his foot out as I was walking by, and I tumbled to the ground.  I can still remember him and his cronies snickering as my dress flew up over my head and showed my ruffled underwear to the world.  Two things happened that day—I beat that boy until the school monitor pulled me off him, and I informed my mother that I was never wearing a dress again.  The boy stayed away from me after that, but I was forced to concede on the dress thing when I was on the streets.

“Girlfriend, you really should leave this to the cops,” Mowgli begins, but stops when he sees the look on my face.  He knows when to press me and when to back the hell off, and I’m grateful that he usually follows his instincts.  “OK.  What’s your next plan of attack, and how can I help?”  He pours us each another cup of tea so we can do some serious thinking.

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Trip on This: Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven

“What’s the word, Rock?”  Trip asks her favorite bartender as he plunks a Freezin’ Seamen in front of her.  It’s only five in the evening, but it’s never too early for a Freezin’ Seamen.  She drains it in one gulp.  There are two guys at the bar, and a few scattered patrons elsewhere.

“What’s up, Trip?”  Rock asks, giving her soulful looks.  He turns on the puppy-dog eyes which succeeds in irritating her.  “How come I haven’t heard from you since, you know.”

“Since we fucked?”  Trip asks bluntly, not missing the wince on his face.  “Rock, I had a great time, I really did, but it was just one night.”  Her tone is matter-of-fact.  She had made herself abundantly clear that night that she wasn’t a stand-by-your-man type of woman, but it appears that Rock hasn’t gotten the message.  Of course, they’d both been bombed out of their minds, but she had thought he understood because he had nodded after she spelled out the rules.  Right before she fucked the shit out of him.

“I thought you really liked me,” Rock says, his lower lip trembling.  He’s older than she by three or four years, but seems more vulnerable.  “I thought we really had something going.”  Good god, not another closet romantic.  Could it be for all his tats and piercings, he is a wilting flower at heart?  She knows how to pick them, yes, she does.

“Listen, Rock, I have to ask you a question.”  Trip changes the subject as she doesn’t want to waste time coddling the broken-hearted.  “Did a man come in here the last week or so asking about me?”

“What, are you some kind of celebrity and nobody told me?”  Rock laughs a bit meanly.  The two guys sitting on their bar stools snigger, not even bothering to pretend that they aren’t listening.

“You tell her, Rock,” the older one who is missing a few teeth, not to mention most of his stringy white hair, crows.  “You have to keep the ladies in check.”

“Let me rephrase that,” Trip says evenly, her dark eyes impenetrable.  Rock shrinks back a bit, even though he outweighs her by a hundred pounds or so.  “Has someone been asking for a repo man?”

“You’re not a repo man,” the younger barfly snorts, sucking down his Bud.  He has a baseball cap jammed on his head, but his watery blue eyes are keen under the brim.  “You’re a broad.”

“Rock!”  Trip snaps, tensing her muscles.  “I do not have time for this shit.”  Her eyes lock onto Rock’s until he looks away.

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Trip on This: Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten

“Hello?”  I growl into my cell phone as I speed home.  If I was irritated or upset before, I’m furious now.

“Hey, it’s Roberto.  What’d you find out?”  He’s speaking in a low voice which means he’s at work and not on a break, naughty boy.

“The motherfucker rented the office from his lawyer for ten thousand for the day.”  I lay it on the line as I cut off an asshole SUV driver who thinks he’s hot shit.

“What the hell?”  Mowgli is understandably bewildered.

I explain the whole encounter from start to finish, not leaving out any details.  As I’m relating the story, my anger grows.  It has been a very long time since someone’s made a fool out of me on such a grand scale, and it’s leaving a sour taste in my mouth.  I pride myself on being on top of things—I have to be in my line of work.  Something like this slices to the guts of me.  It twists me up inside until all I can think about is how nice my hands will look wrapped around DiCalvo’s throat.  The satisfaction I’ll receive squeezing the life out of him as he begs for mercy.  By the time I’m through with him, he’ll think prison is the best idea he’s heard of in a very long time.  Mowgli patiently listens as I spew out the vitriol that is eating away the lining of my stomach.  He knows from experience not to interrupt when I’m on a roll.  Even when I’m finished talking, however, he remains silent.

“Say something,” I demand, giving the finger to the shit-head in the Jimmy who thinks it’s his god-given right to occupy two lanes simultaneously.

“I don’t like this, Del,” Mowgli says, his tone low, but firm.  “What’s your next step?”

“I’m going to find out more about the girl,” I say, cutting neatly in front of a Honda Civic who is timidly crawling along in the fucking left lane.  People, please, I’m begging you not to drive in the left lane if you’re not willing to speed.  I like the states on the East Coast where it’s mandated by law that the left lane is only for passing and you must immediately move back to the right once you’re through or be ticketed.  It’s a brilliant concept, and I don’t know why it’s not used everywhere.  “I want to know what she did to get herself fucking killed.”  Not that I care about the girl, but if she’s going to mess up my life, I have to find out why.

“What was her name?”

“Angelica Sylvian,” I say.  DiCalvo tried to rush past his slip, but

I have a good memory for names. In fact, I can be pretty sure this was a truth because he was pissed when he said the name. Good. One actual fact in a sea of lies.  “Looks like she was pretty once.  Long black curls, cat-green eyes.”  I frown as I picture her face.  “I think she had a mole on her lip like Marilyn Monroe.  She was wearing a white dress.”  Amazing what I can remember when I’m not in panic over possibly being arrested for murder.

“Doesn’t ring a bell,” Mowgli says.  “Do you have a lawyer?”

“What do I need a lawyer for when I got you?”

“Well, I know of one if you need her.”  Mowgli is not in the mood for jokes which is too bad because I am.  I could use some serious cheering up.  “Is there anything you want me to do?”

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Trip on This: Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

“I need to talk to Mr. Renaldo DiCalvo,” Trip says firmly to the receptionist, a woman about Trip’s age, also Asian, who is looking at Trip with bored disdain.  The receptionist is Chinese-pretty with slanted eyes and planed cheekbones—Lucy Liu in the flesh.  These North Beach bitches have such an attitude.

“Who?”  The receptionist asks, her voice nasal.  She’s twirling a lock of her shiny black hair around her finger with its perfectly-manicured fingernail, and Trip has the urge to reach across the desk and strangle the woman.

“Mr. Renaldo DiCalvo,” Trip says, enunciating carefully.  Her voice is flat, but menacing.  She doesn’t have time for this bullshit.  “I need to talk to him now.”

“There’s nobody here by that name,” the receptionist informs Trip, her tone implying that perhaps Trip better stop taking whatever drug it is she’s ingesting.  There is also a hint of smugness that sets Trip’s teeth on edge.

“Look,” Trip begins, then shuts her mouth.  This is the same receptionist she saw when she visited yesterday.  Either she’s losing her mind, or Nicole—as her nameplate says—is lying through her pearly-white teeth.  “I’d like to speak to whoever occupies the corner office, then.  The one with the great view and the elevated chair.”  Her tone is hard, and her eyes are staring into Nicole’s.  The latter would have to be made of sterner stuff or making more than twenty dollars an hour to stand up to Trip, so she merely nods and presses a button on her phone while picking up the receiver.

“Mr. O’Reilly?  There is a, uh, there’s someone here to talk to you.”  Nicole pauses to listen, and her cheeks are stained red.  “I know, but, uh, ok.”  She turns back to Trip, a bit more steel in her voice.  “Mr. O’Reilly is not to be disturb.  I’m sorry, Miss….You’ll have to make an appointment.”  Her voice is smug, as if she’s won a coup over Trip.  She pats her glossy hair, preening at a job well done.  Trip looks at Nicole until the latter’s eyes fall.  Nodding to herself, Trip walks past the desk and through the unlocked door.  “Hey!”  Nicole bustles after her, her voice bristling with indignation.  “You can’t just charge back there like you own the place.”  She totters after Trip in impossibly-high heels, swaying dangerously as she moves.

“You aren’t going to stop me.”  Trip halts in her tracks, turns and steps towards Nicole.  Trip’s biceps bulge as she clenches her fists.  Nicole emits a little squeak and takes a step back.  She is one of those Asian women who thinks it’s better to be tiny and cute than in shape.  Satisfied, Trip turns around and continues until she reaches the same office where she had met with Renaldo DiCalvo.  Without knocking on the door, she opens it and strides on in.  She stops when she sees what’s going on.  There is a man about six feet, stretched out on what looks to be a masseuse’s table, his white hair obscuring his face.  He is naked except for a towel wrapped around his mid-section.  Behind him is a breathtaking Japanese woman dressed in a traditional kimono, her hair pulled back in an elaborate bun.  The man doesn’t even bother looking up, but the Japanese woman does.  When her eyes catch Trip’s, she looks away in embarrassment.  Trip glares, angry at this woman for perpetuating that stupid fucking stereotype.

Trip takes several breaths to calm down, looking around the office as she does.  It’s definitely the same office, but there is no trace of DiCalvo.  Trip walks over to the desk, ignoring the other people in the room.  The pile of papers are gone; the picture is gone; the desk is sparse and clean with a neat pile of business cards perched on the corner.  Trip’s fury mounts as she silently contemplates what to do.  There is nothing in the this room that identifies it as the one where she had met DiCalvo.  There are now diplomas on the walls from prestigious Ivy League schools with the name, Caleb O’Reilly prominently penned on each one.  The man on the table doesn’t look like he’s Irish, but really, what has Trip seen of him other than his undercooked body and his shock of white hair?

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Trip on This: Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

“Ready to go?”  Mowgli looks disgustingly fresh for someone who hasn’t had his eight hours of sleep.  He is wearing dark brown slacks, a black button-down, and a charcoal-gray tie.  In other words, he’s dashing.  I refrain from rolling my eyes as he’s doing me a favor and doing it willingly.  I nod, slipping my backpack-like carrying bag containing my laptop on my back, throwing my duffle bag over my shoulder then point at the garbage bag.  Mowgli picks it up gracefully, and we’re out the door.

“Delilah!”  Mrs. Sanderson, an old lady from across the hall, totters towards me, a smile wreathed on her wrinkled face.  “I made you some chocolate éclairs!”  She holds up a bag that is moist with grease.  She knows that I love her éclairs even if I’m not crazy about chocolate, and she makes them for me at least once a week.  “I know how much you love them.”  She beams up at me—she’s five-foot nothing to my five-six.  “Who’s this handsome boy?  Is he your beau?”

“Mrs. Sanderson, this is Roberto.  You remember him—you’ve met him before.”  Mrs. Sanderson’s memory is failing as is most of the rest of her, but she remembers me and likes me for some unfathomable reason.

“Roberto?”  Mrs. Sanderson squints up at Mowgli, trying to look at his face.

“Nice to see you again, Mrs. Sanderson,” Mowgli says obligingly, bending forward so she can see him better.  He shifts the trash bag to his left hand and holds his right hand out.  When Mrs. Sanderson places her bird-like claw into his hand, he kisses it, making her blush.

“Oh, it’s you!  I remember you!  You gave me a carnation once.”  Mrs. Sanderson stares up at Mowgli with adoration.  He’s not only kind to animals, but to the elderly and the infirmed as well.

“A lovely lady such as yourself deserves some beauty in your life,” Mowgli says gallantly.  “It was the least I could do.”

“Oh, you,” Mrs. Sanderson blushes, a pleased smile on her face.  “What would Mr. Sanderson say if he heard you?”  As Mr. Sanderson is the same height as Mrs. Sanderson and in a wheelchair, not to mention deaf, it’s safe to say he wouldn’t say or do much of anything.  “What’s your favorite pastry?”

“I love scones,” Mowgli says solemnly.  Like I said, the boy has a hard on for all things British.

“I hate to break up this chat-fest,” I say, an artificial smile on my face.  “But I have a plane to catch.  Remember, Roberto?”

“A plane?”  Mrs. Sanderson claps her hands, forgetting she’s still carrying the bag.  “Where are you going, Delilah?”

“To, ah, Connecticut.  My mom’s sick, and I thought I’d visit her.  I’m going to be gone at least a week.”

“Oh, your poor mother!”  Mrs. Sanderson says, her eyes moist.  “My own daughter, Ellie, is no longer with us, but there’s no use talking about that.”  She swipes her eyes with her hand.  “Here.”  She thrusts the bag into my hands and gives me a peck on the cheek.  “Your mother is lucky to have such a good daughter.”  Sure.  The mother I haven’t seen since she and my father gave up on me when I was seventeen.  Not that I blame them—I drove them to it.  “Have a nice trip, dear.  I’ll keep an eye on your place while you’re gone.  See you, Roberto.”  Waving to the both of us, she totters back to her apartment.

“Nice old lady,” Mowgli says cheerfully.  As we go down the elevator, I tell everyone we run into the fabricated story about going to visit my sick mother in Connecticut.  By the time we leave the apartment building, I’m beginning to believe it myself.  Mowgli dumps the garbage before we head to our cars.  “Shit, your face,” Mowgli says as he hops into his car.

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Trip on This: Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven

damn. did it, anyway.
Don’t touch the class. Just don’t.

The apartment building is deathly quiet and has an unlived-in feel to it.  Trip cannot repress a shudder as she presses on the buzzer.  Nothing.  Then she notices that the door is propped open.  Once again, she marvels at the stupidity of her fellow man.  Sure, it makes her job easier, but it also makes it more dangerous for the residents.  The purpose of having security is so that not just any Joe can walk in off the street.  Trip slips the piece of wood from the doorway and shuts the door firmly behind her.  She takes the elevator up to the fourth floor then gets out.  ‘Go to your left immediately when you enter the apartment,’ DiCalvo’s voice says in Trip’s mind, unbidden.  She picks the lock and slips inside, carefully shutting the door behind her.  For the first time ever, she doesn’t linger but simply flips the light switch.  She just wants to get this job over with.  She hates rushing, but something is compelling her to keep moving.  Nothing.  No lights.  She frowns and gropes her way to the left, her hands safely encased in gloves.  The light works in the bedroom, and she heaves a sigh of relief.  She looks around, hoping the jewelry box is in plain sight.  It isn’t.  She starts tossing the room, starting with the dresser drawers.  She hears the wail of a cop car faintly in the distance.

There’s nothing in the dresser but expensive clothes and lingerie Trip would kill to own.  Just because she’s a tough woman doesn’t mean she doesn’t enjoy feminine fripperies.  This Sylvian must be a high-maintenance gal with the thousands of dollars of clothes she has.  Trip goes through the vic’s drawers twice before concluding the box isn’t there.  She opens the closet, but there are only clothes.  She is frowning by now, exasperated that this isn’t as easy as she was told it would be.  The jewelry box isn’t under the bed or in the desk drawer, either.  In fact, Trip can’t seem to find it anywhere.  Her sense of unease grows as the siren’s wail grows louder.  She looks around the room for a hidden door or a safe or something, but there is nothing.  If there is, it’s hidden so well that she can’t spot it in a glance.

What the hell is going on here?  The siren sounds as if it’s just outside the building.  Trip’s heart stops, making her hurry to the window.  The bedroom is facing the front of the apartment, and the police car stops right in front of the building.  There are more sirens in the distance.  Shit!  Trip runs from the room, leaving the light on.  The feeling she’s had all day grows until it’s spreading throughout her body.  She can’t go out the front door because she just knows this is the apartment the cops are coming to.  She rushes into the kitchen and flicks on the light.  She nearly shrieks out loud when she sees a body lying on the floor, covered in blood.  The knife is still sticking in its—her—sternum, and her eyes are staring dully at nothing at all.  The vic must have been a pretty girl in life with her long black curls and green eyes, but now she’s just a corpse.  No longer Sylvian—just a body.  Trip’s eyes flicker to the table where there are two glasses just like the one DiCalvo offered her—one filled with whiskey, the other with water—this very afternoon.

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