“Megan, I’d love to meet you for a cup of coffee after work. Seward Cafe at six?” It’s an email from Lee Bradley, and it’s the first thing I read when I get up. I dash off a quick yes, and I’m pleased to have made progress. I get through work with minimal mistakes before heading for Seward Cafe. It’s in South Minneapolis, which means I don’t get there often, but I like it’s homey atmosphere. Lee Bradley is already at a table, and I take a minute to look her over. She’s tall—five-foot nine inches, and she’s got a booty that would make Nicki Minaj envious. She’s wearing a pinstripe suit with a knee-length skirt. It’s clear she’s trying to minimize her curves, but to no avail. Mother Nature certainly took her time with the creation of Lee. Today, she has finger waves pulled up in a high ponytail and big gold hoops. She’s tapping her magenta-tipped fingers on her coffee cup. I order myself a large coffee and a chocolate croissant, then head to Lee’s table.
“Lee? I’m Megan.” I hold my hand out to Lee, and her grasp is firm and hearty.
“Megan. I’m so glad you emailed me. Please, sit.” She gestures to the seat across from her, and I sink into it. I take a bite of my croissant, then wash it down with a sip of coffee. I’m trying to think of my approach, and I decide the truth is for the best.
“Lee. Let me be honest with you. As you know, Bob is missing.” I sip my coffee again while watching Lee’s reaction. She’s nodding, and her eyes are reddened.
“I can’t stand it. It’s driving me crazy.” Lee’s hand is trembling as she picks up her coffee cup. “I did a little research of my own, but I can’t find shit.”
“Same here. It’s mostly fluff.” I sip some more and set down my cup. “Except.” I feel shitty for saying this, but I have to. “We have reason to believe he’s having an affair.”
“Bullshit!” Lee says, slapping her hand on the table. “Bob adores that sister of yours. You can take that to the bank.” She nods her head several times, and there’s nothing but sincerity in her voice.
“We determined her name was Lee.” I keep my eyes trained on Lee’s face, and there’s nothing but surprise on it.
“Me? You think he’s stepping out with me?” Lee flutters her fingers at her chest, and a second later, there’s guilt and/or anger on her face.
“I didn’t say that.” I spread my fingers to show her I mean no harm.
“Nah, but you sure as hell implied it.” Lee grips the edges of the table before relaxing. “I ain’t ashamed to say I wouldn’t have minded, but he was stuck on Jasmine like flies on—glue.”
“I really don’t mean to be disrespectful, but are you sure he didn’t say or do anything untoward?” I sound like a dime store romance novel, and I’m not proud of myself.
“Nope. He was the picture of propriety. He never even looked twice at me.” Lee’s voice is sad, and I’m sorry she’s smitten with him. “It ain’t like I don’t have a man at home, but there was something about Bob that made me sit right up.” She thinks a second and adds, “He was such a good listener. I told him all about my problems, and he gave me some good advice.”
“Such as what?”
“My man cheated on me some months back. He kept promising he’d kick her to the curb, but he was dragging his heels. ‘Give me some time, bae,’ he said. I gave him more time than he deserved, I’ll tell you what. Bob told me to lay the wood to him, and I did. I told him if he didn’t drop her that week, I was outie. He dumped her in an instant.” Lee fiddles with a sugar packet, and I’m sure my mouth is agape in surprise. Bob is a good man, but he’s pretty self-involved. He never asks me about myself or my life, so it’s startling to hear someone think he’s a good listener.
“Bob told you that?” I ask, unable to keep the surprise out of my voice.
“He quoted the Bible. Something about not letting any man put asunder what God has put together.” Lee cocks her head to the side and sips her coffee. “He’s a wonderful man. What the hell happened to him?”
“I don’t know.” I sigh, draining my coffee. “I’ll be right back.” I go to the counter to get more coffee plus a blueberry scone. I had an early lunch, and I’m famished. “Lee. Please think hard. Is there anything Bob told you that was odd? I’m really running out of ideas.”
“I don’t know anything. Really. Mostly, we talked about me and my problems. Makes me sound selfish, don’t it?” Lee drops her eyes, but I’m not thinking about her narcissism. “Wait! There is one thing he mentioned last week. We were mad busy, and it’s all we could do to take a fiver. In the lounge, Bob looked worried. I asked him what was up, and at first, he wouldn’t say boo. But, he eventually told me there was something hinky at his church. Something about the reverend and his books.”
“His books?” I blink. That’s the last thing I was expecting to hear. “What about his books?” My pulse quickens; this could be the lead I’m looking for.
“Bob seemed to think Reverend Yang was skimming off the top. Or his wife was. Same same.” Lee drops the news casually, as if it’s not a bombshell. His wife? Up until now, I had no suspicions of her other than she was a stand-by-your-man wife who might commit violence to keep her husband. I pull out my phone and Google Mrs. Yang. I find out that she’s in charge of the accounts, which lends credence to Lee’s story. I also remember that Reverend Yang had told me Bob talked to him about a problem at work, but I think the good reverend was lying to me. I decide to think about it later and focus on the conversation at hand. “He also mentioned that he was worried about a friend at his church. No name, though.”
“Thanks. This is some good information.” I smile at Lee, and she smiles back. She’s a bit distracted, and I wonder what she’s holding back. “Anything else you’d like to share with me?”
“No, just….” Now Lee looks distinctively uncomfortable. She taps her nails on the table, and I wonder what’s making her nervous. Suddenly, I realize it might have to do with my sister, which would explain her reluctance to share.
“Lee, if it’s about Jasmine, don’t worry. You can tell me. I won’t get mad.” I say, smiling reassuringly at her. I’m not sure that’s true, but I’ll say anything at this point to get her to talk.
“Bob was worried she might be having an affair. This was a few months ago. He hasn’t talked about it recently,” Lee says, finishing her coffee. “I’ll be right back.” She gets up and goes to the counter, and my mouth drops open. Jasmine having an affair? There is no way in hell she’d do that. She has never looked twice at another man, except….Unwillingly, I think about church on Sunday when Jasmine went from a competent woman to a simpering fool in the presence of Reverend Yang. Lee returns, cup in hand. “I’m a churchgoing woman myself, but I don’t hold with those mega-churches. They’re all about that money.”
“I know what you mean. The pastors with the private jets and the million dollar houses turn me cold. Eye of the needle and all that.” I nod my head and eat my scone. It’s surprisingly flaky and light.
“Anyway, that’s all I know. You gonna find him?” Lee’s mouth turns down at the corners as she sets down her coffee cup.
“I’m going to do my best.” I stand up and shake her hand before leaving. My mind is whirring with possibilities. I have to check into the church’s finances and see if Mrs. Yang is fiddling with them. I don’t know how I’m going to do that, but I’ll start by Googling it. I doubt I’ll find much, though. I get home in record time after stopping at Subway to grab a turkey sub to go. Once I’m home, I feed the cats, take a quick shower, and settle down on the couch to eat and research. I type in the church’s name and finances, and there’s an article in the Strib about some alleged improprieties. The IRS is looking into it. It seems that the Yangs are living above their means. More to the point, the Strib is digging into Mrs. Yang’s background. They tried to interview her, but all she said was, “No comment.” I wouldn’t comment, either, if I were her. There is no upside, especially if she’s guilty. Still, the church was packed on Sunday, and there are several women quoted in the article saying they can’t believe the accusations. According to the article, there is a half a million dollars missing from the accounts. I whistle because that is not chump change. I can’t believe no one at the church has made a fuss about it, but faith can work in funny ways. For some people, believing in someone means turning a blind eye to any and all flaws.
I take a few notes on my phone before setting down the phone. I rub my forehead because as interesting as this information is, I don’t see what it has to do with Bob’s disappearance. Even if he were to confront Reverend Yang, I don’t think Reverend Yang is the type to get violent. I stop, appalled at my train of thought. Do I really think a man of God would do something untoward with Bob? I’m not saying pastors can’t do heinous things because they certainly can and have, but Reverend Yang doesn’t seem like the type. I mean, he’s a womanizer and maybe an embezzler, but a kidnapper/killer? I find that hard to believe. I’m going to have to talk to Reverend Yang again, and this time, I’m not going to play any games. I’m going to talk to him straight and strong-arm the information out of him. I pick up the phone and call his number, and to my surprise, he answers himself.
“Reverend Yang. How may I help you?” Unlike his usual warm voice, he sounds harried.
“Reverend. It’s Megan Liang. I need to see you as soon as possible.” I keep my voice brisk, but that doesn’t stop him from sounding lusty in return.
“Of course. I would love to see you again. Tonight? Nine-thirty?” He’s eager, and I know it’s going to be another night of grab ass.
“Sure. I’ll be there. Thank you.” I hang up, staring at the wall as I do so. I’m grumpy because I hate going out at that time of night, but it can’t be helped. I spend the next few hours just futzing around until it’s nearly time to go. I change into a low-cut sapphire blue blouse and a tight black skirt. I French braid my hair, leaving the ends loose. I put in my giant silver hoops and black stockings before padding downstairs. I give the cats some more Temptations before leaving the house. When I get to the church, there’s only one light on. It’s spooky, and I shiver as I enter the church. There’s no one in the entry way, and I cautiously make my way through the nave. No one is there, either. I keep walking until I reach Reverend Yang’s office. The door is closed, and I knock on it. I glance behind me, but there’s no one there. I can’t suppress a shiver, anyway.
“Megan! Come on in.” Reverend Yang ushers me inside and closes the door behind him. He’s lightly perspiring, but it doesn’t stop him from giving me the once-over. His eyes linger, as usual, on my tits, which, admittedly, are stupendous.
“Reverend. You seem agitated. Is there something wrong?” I press my hand against Reverend Yang’s chest, and he puffs it out against my hand before deflating.
“No, no. Just the daily worries of running a church. I’m sure you understand.” Reverend Yang tries to smile, but he can’t pull it off. I subtly shift from seductive to sympathetic by squeezing Reverend Yang’s arm.
“It must be hard to have that much responsibility on your shoulders. Everyone confiding in you, expecting you to take care of everything. You have to be the strong one, the rock.” I massage Reverend Yang’s shoulders, and he relaxes a fraction. “Come on. Sit on the couch.” I guide him to the couch and situate him so his back is to me. “Take off your jacket.” He shrugs it off and throws it on the floor. I start massaging his neck and shoulders, and soon, he’s moaning in pleasure.
“That feels so good.” His head drops forward, and I use my knuckles on the back of his neck. In a few minutes, I hear snoring, and it seems he’s fallen asleep. I maneuver him so he’s lying on the couch, then I go to his desk. Squelching my distaste, I pull on my gloves and wake up his computer. I start reading his files, but there’s nothing there. I didn’t expect it to be that easy, so I keep going. He has his Gmail running, so I start scanning the emails as well. Nothing. Glancing at Reverend Yang, I keep opening files until I’m five or six layers deep. I find a folder labeled Washing Tips, and I open it because all the other folder labels are straightforward. In it, I find two sets of books. One that is the one they give to the IRS, and the other, well, it’s doctored information. I furrow my brows because it was too easy to find this information. In addition, if Mrs. Yang is the accountant, why is this information on this computer? Then again, maybe they share a computer. I spy a few thumbnail drives and use one to download the folder before slipping the drive in my purse. I’m not comfortable with lifting it, but I consider it the lesser of two evils. Reverend Yang is still conked out, so I read more of his emails. There are several in his inbox from his grateful female parishioners. None of them say anything specific, but I can read between the lines. There are at least five women who are ‘so grateful’, and I have to admit I’m relieved to see that Jasmine isn’t one of them. From what I can piece together, none of these women are currently being ‘counseled’ by Reverend Yang. I wonder who the current woman is because I’m sure there is one. His pattern seems to be that he has one serious paramour and two or three dalliances.
“Ohhhhh,” Reverend Yang groans, and I quickly return the computer to how it was before putting it to sleep again. I sit next to Reverend Yang, trying to look as pious as possible. “What, what happened?” Reverend Yang struggles to sit up, and I assist him in doing so. “That’s the best I’ve slept in months.”
“You were only out a half hour or so.” I keep my arm around Reverend Yang because he’s still woozy.
“Haven’t eaten much today,” he says, leaning on me. “I don’t know if I can do this any longer.” He sags against the couch, suddenly looking ten years older. “I’m a weak man. This church deserves better.”
“Reverend Yang….” My voice trails off. I can’t argue with what he’s saying because he really is wreaking havoc on the church, not to mention his home life.
“I’m sorry, Megan. We’ll have to cut it short. Thank you for helping me sleep.” Reverend Yang stands up and holds out his hand to me. I grab it, and he pulls me up. Do I want to ask him anything about Bob? I think I have enough information for now. I can come back if need be. Besides, the flash drive is burning a hole in my pocket, and I want to get home as soon as possible. Who knows what else is on that drive?
“Mrrreow!” Onyx yells at me the second I step in the house. She and Jet are not pleased with me being gone so much, and they’re not shy in telling me. I go to the kitchen and feed them Temptations. Then, I go upstairs to change. Once I’m done, I go into the living room and plug in the flash drive. I read the accountant files again, and it’s a pretty simple scam. They padded every bill by ten percent when they submitted it to their parent church in LA. In addition, they invented structural problems that don’t exist. I really am surprised it was so easy to find, but oftentimes, criminals are confident to the point of idiocy. They probably thought no one would catch on to what they were doing, so they didn’t bother to hide their tracks. I’m sure they’re both in on it because I can’t imagine Mrs. Yang pulling this off without her husband knowing. I stop and frown. Why am I sure of that? Just because he’s a control freak doesn’t mean he knows everything his wife is doing.
There are other folders on the flash drive, most of them innocuous. There’s one that’s simply called ‘Love’. I open it, and there are emails from a parishioner dated back four and a half months ago. In the beginning, the emails are filled with angst about her marriage. Her husband is abusive, and she’s afraid for her life. In the next month, she gushes about how much the reverend has done for her, and how he saved her life. In the last month, however, the emails are more mixed. One is filled with love, and the next is full of accusations of Reverend Yang taking advantage of her. Reverend Yang’s emails in return are terse, and in the last few, he makes it clear that he’s done with the woman, whoever she is. She doesn’t sign her emails, and her user name is firstname.lastname@example.org. There’s not much there. Her last email to the reverend is dated a week ago, and she says she’s going to file a complaint about him with the parent church. His last email to her is even shorter, saying they needed to talk and she shouldn’t do anything rash. Damn it, I need to find this woman. I also need to call Jasmine. It’s late for her, but I’m sure she’s awake. I call her.
“It’s late, Megan. What do you want?” Jasmine’s voice is weary, and I can tell she’s been crying. I hate to add to her pain, but I have to ask her my questions.
“I found something out, Jasmine. I thought you’d want to know.” I’m tentative because this is my older sister whom I adore and idolize.
“Yes! I do. Tell me.” Jasmine shouts at me, and I have to yank the phone from my ear. Once my ear stops ringing, I put the phone back.
“There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to be blunt.” I take a deep breath and ask, “Are you having an affair?”
“What? How can you ask me that? Is that what you think of me?” Jasmine’s voice is fearful, and that tells me more than I need to know.
“No judgment,” I say, keeping my voice even. “I just heard Bob was worried about it.”
“All these years you’ve known me, and you have the nerve to ask me that?” The fear in her voice grows, and I know it’s true.
“This is important. It may help find Bob.” I don’t know if it’s true, but I’m not above using whatever I have to get Jasmine to talk. There are several seconds of silence, then a soft sigh. I hear sniffling, and then she finally answers.
“I was. Briefly. About six months ago. It only lasted a few months.” The words are barely audible, and I have to strain to hear them. “It was a mistake when I was in a vulnerable moment. I ended it when I came to my senses.”
“Was it someone at your church?” I ask, keeping the question purposefully vague.
“No. It was someone at my financial advisor’s office,” Jasmine replies, much to my surprise. I really thought it would be Reverend Yang. “Bob and I have been married for a very long time. The fires sometimes don’t burn as brightly as they did when you first get married. Bruce, Mr. Janson, made me feel young and alive again.”
“Why did you stop?” I ask, genuinely curious.
“I came to my senses.” Jasmine sighs, and I hear a lingering regret in that sigh. “I was not going to throw away thirty years of marriage for a few hot moments in the sheets.” She adds, “Plus, he was starting to make noises about us leaving our spouses and getting married.”
“What is it about guys?” I ask, unable to hold back. “You tell them you don’t want anything serious, and they don’t believe you.”
“It’s so irritating,” Jasmine agrees, her voice rising. “I told him I just wanted a diversion from my real life.”
“Let me guess. He agreed and said it was fine with him.” I can’t believe I’m talking with my sister about booty calls, but life is strange sometimes.
“Exactly! Until he got in my pants.” Jasmine titters, and I laugh with her.
“Then he’s all, ‘But I loooooove you!’, I bet. Guys are all the same.” I shake my head, laughing ruefully. I sober up quickly and add, “How did Bob know about it?”
“I don’t know! I would swear he didn’t. I was very discreet.” Ah, hormones. They make us do some very stupid and indiscreet things.
“OK. Thanks for telling me.” I sigh and rub my forehead. I don’t see how this figures into Bob’s disappearance, and it’s disconcerting, to boot.
“Anything else, Megs?” Jasmine is close to tears again, and I wish I could do something to make her feel better. All the other news I have, however, is guaranteed to make her feel worse. The embezzlement in the church, for example. Would she believe me? I don’t know. She’s very protective of her church and of Reverend Yang. I decide to keep that to myself for now, and I say goodbye to Jasmine.