“Megan. You look good.” Jasmine eyes me critically as she opens her front door. I’m wearing a black dress that covers all my assets as well as my tattoos. Jasmine is wearing a flowered pink dress, and she actually has on a matching hat.
“Don’t worry. I won’t speak out of turn, and I’ll try not to piss off anyone.” I press my lips together so I won’t say anything else.
“Good. I do not want to be embarrassed in my own church.” Jasmine’s words are crisp as we get into her car. We don’t talk on the way to the church, but it’s not entirely uncomfortable. I’m just thinking about what I’m going to say, and I don’t know what Jasmine is thinking. Bob’s been missing for three days with no word from him at all. I’m sure Jasmine has left several messages and texts because I sure as hell would if someone I loved was missing. “The cops still are sitting on their asses,” Jasmine says, her voice soft. “They say they’re looking, but they’re not.”
“That’s why I’m doing this, Jasmine. Someone at your church has to know something.” I look out the window and marvel at how green it still is, even though it’s almost Halloween. Jasmine pulls up to the curb of the church and parks the car. She turns to face me, her eyes serious.
“I need to know what happened to Bob, but I also don’t want to be the gossip of the church.” Jasmine stares hard at me. “You need to be discreet.”
“I’ll do my best, Jasmine.” I restrain a sigh and get out of the car. I look at the church, which is pretty drab and nondescript. Whatever flaws Reverend Yang has, ostentatiousness is not one of them. As Jasmine and I walk into the church, Reverend and Mrs. Yang are there to greet us. I inhale sharply because Reverend Yang is even more handsome in person. He has a way of looking at you as if you’re the only person in the world. Mrs. Yang is lovely, too, but I’m uncomfortable by the way she keeps her eyes fastened on her husband.
“Jasmine. It’s so good to see you.” Reverend Yang clasps Jasmine’s hand in his. I watch as my sister’s posture changes so she’s almost thrusting out her chest at him.
“Reverend Yang! It’s good to see you, too.” I blink because my normally sensible sister is practically simpering. Mrs. Yang is glaring daggers at Jasmine, though my sister doesn’t even notice. “This is my sister, Megan.”
“Megan. How good of you to come. Jasmine has told me so much about you.” Reverend Yang takes my hand in turn, and I have to tell myself sternly to not be suckered by his charm.
“It’s nice to meet you, Reverend Yang.” I shake his hand quickly before extracting my own.
“Jasmine, where is Bob this morning?” Mrs. Yang asks, her voice frosty.
“He couldn’t make it.” Jasmine smiles falsely at Mrs. Yang before adding, “We should go in and make sure we get a seat.” Jasmine marches me into the nave and up the middle aisle. I prefer sitting in the back if I attend church at all, but Jasmine seats us in the third pew on the left side. I groan because I won’t be able to doze off– even if I want to.
The sermon is pretty boilerplate, all about love and redemption. Forgiveness is featured heavily, which is one of my least-favorite words. Forgiveness is too glib these days. Do something terrible? Just say you’re sorry, and you’re forgiven. Call me old-fashioned, but I think a person should have to work for forgiveness. There needs to be repentance and an attempt to make amends before forgiveness should even be mentioned. I do agree that at some point, you have to let the anger go because it’ll eat you up inside, but forgiveness? I’ll leave that to others, thank you very much. Reverend Yang devotes the next five minutes to forgiveness between a husband and a wife.
“Everyone makes mistakes. We’re only human,” Reverend Yang declares, looking passionately around the nave. I see several women nodding their heads as he speaks, while most of the men appear bored. “If you have a log in your eye, you should not speak of your spouse’s speck. You need to attend to your own flaws first.” He looks directly at his wife, and I can’t see her reaction, but I’m sure she’s not happy. I wouldn’t be if my husband called me out in front of hundreds of people, especially if it’s his infidelity that’s causing him to speak out. “Only God is perfect. He is the one who can save us, even when we cannot save ourselves. Place your troubles in the hands of our loving Father, and be uplifted that He will take care of you.”
I have to admit he’s a compelling speaker, even if what he’s saying is twaddle. I can see why so many of the female parishioners are enraptured by him. I scan the crowd, and I see that most of the people are actively engaged in the sermon. I wonder what they get out of it, then I decide it’s not really any of my business. I think about the text I got from Rembrandt this morning. Even though he didn’t specifically mention my leaving in the middle of the night, the text was on the snippy side. I sent an equally terse text in response because I had made it clear that this was nothing more than friends with benefit. Guys tend not to believe me when I say that I want something casual. I don’t know if it’s because of the stereotype of women being clingy, but it’s annoying. I am as honest as I can be when I’m dating someone, and I’m tired of having to explain myself over and over again. Funnily, it doesn’t happen with women—just men. I like Rembrandt, but I’m not sure I want to keep doing this. It’s clear he’s more into me than vice-versa, so the fair thing would be to let him find someone who feels the same way. On the other hand, I enjoy spending time with him, and the sex is fantastic. It could grow into something more if I give it time, but it might not, either. The question is, do I care enough to try? I can’t answer that, and I have a feeling Rembrandt and I will be having another talk soon.
“Amen,” Jasmine says, startling me out of my meditations. Apparently, I have missed the end of the sermon, but I don’t particularly care. Now, I need to talk to the people who know Bob best. I stand up and look around the nave. There is a cluster of women standing near the back, so I make my way down the aisle. There are four of them, and they’re all dressed similarly to my sister. One of them, a slight, twenty-something-year-old with reddish hair—clearly mixed—and a heavy layer of foundation is looking at the ground with bruised eyes. The other three women, all older, are hovering protectively around her. I take a deep breath and approach them, feeling like an interloper.
“Hello!” I smile at them, and, they, understandably, look bewildered. “I’m Megan, Jasmine’s sister. I’m doing some soul searching, so I thought I’d come to church with her.”
“I’m Sally Ming. Nice to meet you.” One of the older women holds her hand out, and I shake it. She’s Jasmine’s age, short, plump, and has a pleasant smile. “Reverend Yang is an exceptional reverend, and I think you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for.”
“Reverend Yang is great,” another woman chimes in, though not as enthusiastically. “I’m Lisa Tsai. Without Marc—Reverend Yang, I don’t think I’d still be married.” She’s about my height with determinedly-black hair coiled on top of her head. She has generous curves, and she looks about my age, though I’d wager she’s ten years older. She’s an attractive woman, and I’m sure Reverend Yang has noticed as well.
“He’s a lifesaver,” the thin woman says so softly, I’m not sure I heard her correctly. “I don’t know what I’d do without—”
“Hayley!” A heavyset man in his fifties claps his hand on the slight woman’s shoulder. He’s wearing a gray Armani suit, and there’s a scowl on his florid face. I can smell the whisky on his breath, and I turn my head so I won’t retch. “We need to go. Now.” He grabs the woman by her arm and starts dragging her away. Her already pallid face loses any color it once had, but she doesn’t resist.
“Excuse me, sir,” I say, laying my hand on his arm. “Let go of that woman.” The older women gasp at my forthrightness, but I am not about to let a bully like this get away with his bullshit.
“This is my wife. I can do what I want.” The man’s grip tightens, and Hayley visibly winces.
“She’s still a person. No, you can’t.” I grab hold of three fingers clamping down on the woman’s arm, and I bend them backwards. The man lets out a howl, but he lets go. The woman sags, and the other three women grab her. They hold her and glare at the man.
“You bitch!” The man lunges at me, his hands grabbing for my throat. I sidestep him easily, guiding his hands downwards. Then, I poke his thyroid with three fingers and push it downwards. It doesn’t do permanent damage, but it feels weird and hurts like hell. The man starts gagging, and I let him go. He falls onto the ground, and the three women titter in their hands. Hayley looks shocked, but also intrigued. I would wager a guess that she’s never seen someone stand up to her husband—and, I assume it’s her husband—before. Hopefully, she realizes that she doesn’t have to put up with it, but I doubt it. Abuse victims have been so beaten down, they think things are hopeless. “You broke my throat!” The man croaks, clutching his throat. “I’ll sue you!”
“I did no such thing,” I say, my voice chilly. “Besides, you attacked me first.”
“I did not! You broke my fingers! I could have you arrested.” The man is slumped on the floor, looking highly undignified.
“Sir. You were hurting this woman. I asked you to stop, but you refused. I decided to make you stop.” I keep my voice brisk, and I notice Hayley is eying me with a mixture of hero-worship and…fear? Horror? I’m not sure, but I’m sorry to put it there. She’s had enough of that in her young life.
“I need someone to look at my fingers. Dr. Hsiang!” The man walks away, leaving the rest of us to gawk at his back.
“That was amazing!” The third older woman whispers to me, her eyes shining. She has green eyes, oddly, probably contacts, but she’s the same age as the other two women. Her hair is salt-n-pepper and crimped in waves. It’s an old-fashioned style, but it suits her. She’s wearing pearl earrings and a pearl necklace, and are those? Yes, they’re white gloves. “I’m Wanda Liu. What did you do to Tony?”
“Just a little taiji,” I say with a smile. I make a quick note of all the names on my phone before turning back to the women. All four of them are looking at me as if I’m a specimen in a petri dish. I decide to change the subject, though the next one won’t be any easier. “Hey, how well do any of you know Bob, my brother-in-law?” The looks change from speculative to ones of surprise.
“Bob?” Sally is the first to speak. I have a hunch that is often the case. “He’s a nice enough man, I guess. I don’t really know him that well.” Lisa and Wanda nod in agreement, but they are studiously not looking at Hayley. Interesting. I turn to Hayley, and she looks like a deer caught in a headlight.
“Hayley?” I address her, making my voice gentle. “Do you know Bob very well?”
“Bob! No, I barely know him. We’ve only talked a few times over coffee. Well, coffee for me and tea for him. Black tea. No sugar. I have to go.” Hayley scurries off, and I squash the impulse to run after her. I do notice that she knows quite a bit about how Bob takes his tea, despite protesting she doesn’t know anything about him. I chat with a few more people, but none of them seem to have known Bob very well. All of them say he’s an upstanding man, blah, blah, blah.
“Megan?” A slight, older man with snowy white hair touches my shoulder, a smile on his face.
“Doug!” I grin at Doug; he’s looking very natty in a gray pinstripe suit. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“You, too.” Doug holds out his hand, and I shake it firmly. “Have you found Bob yet?”
“No. That’s why I’m here. To see if I can learn anything.”
“I wish I had more to tell you,” Doug sighs, his shoulders sagging. “I’ve been racking my brain, but I can’t think of a blessed thing.” I chat with him for a few more minutes simply because I like him the best of all the people I’ve met. Then, I move on, listening to as many conversations as I can. I ask a few more people about Bob, but nobody else seems to know him very well. I’m tired, so I decide to find Jasmine and see if she’s ready to leave. I find her close to the altar, talking to Reverend Yang. He is leaning forward and staring at her intensely. As I near them, I hear a snippet of the conversation.
“I’m so worried, Reverend Yang.” Jasmine is dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief, and Reverend Yang is patting her arm, trying to comfort her.
“You must believe in the Lord, Jasmine.” The reverend’s voice is earnest, and Jasmine is soaking it up. “Raise up your burdens to Him, and He will help you bear them.”
“I’m afraid Bob will never come home again.” Jasmine bursts into tears, and Reverend Yang gathers her in his arms.
“You have to have faith.” Reverend Yang hugs Jasmine hard, and I see Mrs. Yang in the distance, her teeth bared. “The last time I talked to him, he looked fine.”
“When was that, Reverend?” I ask, sidling up to the pair. “That you last talked to Bob, I mean.”
“Four or five days ago.” Something flickers across his face, but it’s gone before I can decipher it. He steps away from Jasmine, his arms dropping to his side. He looks at his watch, then says, “I have to go. Be strong, Jasmine.” One more pat on Jasmine’s arm, and Reverend Yang is gone. I’m upset because I didn’t get a chance to talk to him yet, but I know where to find him.
“Come on. Let’s go.” Jasmine grabs my arm and marches me out of the church. Once we get into her car, she starts crying again. “Bob! Where are you? I need you.” She buries her face in her hands, and nothing I say can comfort her.
“Jasmine, let me drive.” We switch places, and I drive her back to her place. Once we’re there, I guide her into the kitchen and put on a kettle. Once the water boils, I make us some chamomile tea with plenty of sugar. I spy some chocolate chip cookies and stack several on a plate. I take everything to the dining room, and Jasmine trails behind me. I push her into a chair and put a cup of tea in her hand. “Drink.” I glare at her until she takes a sip. She picks up a cookie and nibbles on it. I pick one up and take a healthy bite. My sister is a fantastic cook, and I am happy to partake in her baked goods any time.
“I haven’t slept in three nights, Megan. I can’t keep doing this.” Jasmine tears up again, and her hand is trembling.
“I’m doing the best I can, Jasmine. I have a few leads, and I’ll get right on it when I get back home.” I pat Jasmine’s hand in consolation, and she grabs my hand and squeezes.
“Thank you, Megan. Thank you so much.” Jasmine kisses my cheek, and I pat her on the shoulder. I stay with her for another half an hour before going home. I’m pensive as I drive back.
“Hayley and Tony,” I type into Google. Too many results. I add the church’s name, and that narrows the results down considerably. Their last name is Wu, and they have a ten-month-old son, Teddy. They live in South Minneapolis in a two-story Tudor; they have a cabin up north, and; Mr. Wu is a financial broker. Mrs. Wu stays home with her son as well as volunteers with the church. Mr. Wu belongs to a cigar club, but he doesn’t seem to help out at the church. “Interesting.” The police have been called out to the Wu’s household at least a half dozen times in the last year. Domestic disturbances. Mrs. Wu never pressed charges, though, and Mr. Wu has friends in high places apparently. The Wus have been married for three years. Mr. Wu is a good friend of Mrs. Wu’s parents, which makes me feel icky about the situation. Mrs. Wu was born Hayley Su, and she’s half Taiwanese and half Norwegian. She went to Edina High School where she was a mediocre student. She didn’t go to college and subsisted on family money until her father introduced her to Mr. Wu. Reading between the lines, Mr. Su told Hayley that either she marry Mr. Wu or he’d cut her off financially.
I dig a little deeper. Hayley had two good friends in high school, a Norma Clayborn and a Danica Vaughn. They’re both still living in Minnesota, the former in Northeast Minneapolis and the latter in Plymouth. I make a note of it, but I don’t call them. I wouldn’t know what to say, and, besides, I want to talk to Hayley first. I read a little further, and I discover that there’s a year of Hayley’s life missing while she was in high school. I’m immediately suspicious. Teenage girl, a year of her life gone, the first thing that springs to mind is a baby. I do more research, but I can’t find any more evidence of my hypothesis. I don’t see what it has to do with Bob’s disappearance, anyway, so I just make a note of it and move on. I also find out that Hayley’s parents are filthy rich, which isn’t a big surprise. Mr. Su transferred a million dollars to Mr. Wu when the latter married Hayley. I’m not the biggest romantic, but it makes me ineffably sad that Hayley had to participate in this cold transaction. Yes, she could have refused, but then she would have had to make it on her own, which she has never done.
I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to talk to Reverend Yang, so I’m going to have to come up with an excuse to visit him on my own. Without thinking about it, I pick up the phone and call Reverend Yang. After several beats, a woman’s voice answers the phone.
“The Taiwanese Evangelical Church in the Twin Cities. How may I help you?” The voice sounds like Mrs. Yang, but I can’t be sure as I’ve only heard it through gritted teeth.
“May I speak to Reverend Yang? I need to make an appointment with him. I’m having difficulties in my relationship, and I’ve heard he’s wonderful in counseling.” I keep my voice breathy so she won’t be able to recognize me.
“Reverend Yang is busy this week,” Mrs. Yang says, her voice so icy, I shiver. “He is book solid.”
“Oh, please. I’m going through a personal trauma, and I could use a sympathetic ear. I just need twenty minutes. Please!” I make my voice as pathetic as possible. I count to ten before I receive an answer.
“He can see you for a half hour at nine-thirty tonight.” Mrs. Yang’s voice is marginally softer, and I thank her profusely. My eyebrow shoots up, however, because that seems rather late for a counseling session. I don’t question it, however, as I need to talk to him. Now, I just have to think of a way to approach him that won’t raise his suspicion.