“I have to ask you something. Did you threaten to kill Bob?” I ask, too tired to be delicate.
“Did I what? Have you lost your darn mind?” Jasmine is shouting, and I yank the phone away from my ear.
“I just talked with Hayley Wu, and she said you threatened to kill Bob over his affair with her. Is that true.” My voice is taut, and I’m on the edge. I have been busting my ass trying to help her, and all she’s done is yell at me.
“What affair? Hayley what? I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Jasmine’s voice is entering dog whistle territory, and I’m about to blow my lid myself.
“I am coming over. We are going to have a long talk. You are going to tell me every damn thing you know.” I hang up the phone, give a few Temptations to the cats, then leave in a huff. I reach Jasmine’s house in record time. “Jasmine, let me in.” Several minutes later, the door opens. Jasmine looks like hell with dark circles under her eyes.
“Get in.” She yanks me inside and slams the door shut. She barely gives me time to take off my shoes before she pulls me into the living room. She must be rattled because she doesn’t offer me any food or drink. She pushes me into the couch and plops down next to me. “Bob was not having an affair with Hayley. I did not threaten him. I did not have an affair with Reverend Yang. What else do you need to know?”
“Hayley said Bob told her you were upset that they were having an affair.” I frown as I recall my conversation with Hayley. “Wait. She didn’t say they were having an affair; she said you were upset because you knew about them.”
“Knew what about them? He never even mentioned her.” Jasmine has calmed down a bit, and so have I. “Megan, we were having our problems, but I swear to God I never threatened to kill him.”
“Then why would Bob say you did?” I shake my head. A week ago, I would have said Bob was one of the most honest men around. Now, I don’t feel as if I know him at all.
“I don’t know,” Jasmine says, brushing her hair from her face. “I just want him home so I can chew him out! Are you any closer to finding him?”
“I have a lot of information I didn’t have before, but I’m not quite sure what to do with it.”
“The police are no help. They keep telling me if a grown man wants to leave, there’s nothing they can do about it because there’s no sign of foul play.”
“Have you heard anything from Geoff?”
“No. He’s as baffled as I am.” Jasmine looks unhappy as she adds, “He’s trying to be supportive, but he’s getting pressure from upper management to let Bob go.”
“What?” I’m aghast, though I know human nature is what it is. “It’s only been a week, and Bob has been with them for ages!”
“You know how it is with marketing. If it’s not today, then it’s nothing.” Jasmine’s mouth twists bitterly, and I have a feeling it’s not the first time she’s said something like this. She takes a deep breath and says, “He’s dead, isn’t he?” I don’t immediately respond because I don’t want to lie to her.
“I don’t know. It doesn’t look good, but you have to have faith. If he’s out there, I’ll find him. I owe you that much.” I lean over and hug Jasmine. She resists at first, then she melts into my arms, sobbing.
“You have to bring him home, Megan. You just have to.”
I stay for another half hour. We don’t talk much, but I think she finds comfort in my presence. When I get home, Onyx and Jet aren’t talking to me. I give them an extra helping of wet food, and that eases their irritation. I promise them that I will only go to work and taiji tomorrow night, and they seem content with that. They follow me into the bedroom and watch as I change into sweats. Even though it’s only ten-thirty, I’m exhausted. I go down to the living room and check my blog. I need to write a new post because I try to write one every day, every other day at the most. The problem is, Bob’s disappearance is foremost on my mind, and I can’t write about that. I can’t write about Reverend Yang without giving away revealing information, and while I don’t mind putting the screws to him—wait, actually, I do. I know he’s a hound dog, and I know he’s hurt a lot of women, but I truly don’t think he means to do so. That doesn’t excuse his behavior, of course, but it means I don’t want to crucify him, so to speak. Anyway, I don’t want to hurt the women who have been involved with Reverend Yang, legions that they are. Sally, Lisa, Hayley—those are just three off the top of my head. Not to mention Katie. Speaking of which, I check my emails. Nothing from her. I didn’t expect it, but it would have been nice.
I start making notes to order my thoughts. One. Bob was missing a lot of work and lying about it to Jasmine. Two, he was getting close to Hayley, according to her. Three, he was worried about the church’s books, according to Lee Bradley. Four, Hayley is unhappily married and was unhappily involved with Reverend Yang. From this, I can cross off Bob’s work as a reason for his disappearance. Unless Lee Bradley did something to him out of passion. I don’t consider that a likely possibility, though. That means it’s someone from his church, and Hayley is in the middle of it. In fact, I wouldn’t put it past her husband to have done something to Bob if he knew about Bob and Hayley getting ‘close’. The only thing is, where’s the body? Tony doesn’t seem like the kind of man for subterfuge and cleverness, though I don’t really know him. I Google him, but there’s not much more than I already knew. The only thing out of place is that one of his clients claims that he’s bilked her out of millions. He’s being investigated, but the claim seems to be pretty thin. Tony Wu is a pillar of the community, but there don’t seem to be many people who will vouch for him personally. Anyone quoted talks about his business acumen and how he’s helped them professionally. He works downtown for Fishers & Sons, and perhaps I might drop in on him tomorrow during lunch. I also need to talk to Mrs. Yang, but I doubt she’ll talk to me. What would be the best approach? An anonymous note telling her I know about the church’s financial woes? That might goad her into talking, but I’m not sure I want to put a target on my back like that. Mrs. Yang seems like the ruthless type, and I don’t want to get on the wrong side of her.
I Google Mrs. Yang, but there is a dearth of information about her. Before she met Reverend Yang, her life is a void. Afterwards, the only time she’s mentioned is related to church activities. There’s one small article about the church funds impropriety, but it’s buried on page seven. I wonder why there’s not more about it. Does Reverend Yang have that much clout? Or Mrs. Yang? I shake my head. This speculation is getting me nowhere. I write her an email, blunt and honest. “Mrs. Yang, my name is Megan Liang. My brother-in-law, Bob Cheng, is missing, and it seems like it has something to do with your church. I have unearthed some improprieties, and I would like to talk with you about them. Forgive me for being so bold, but time is of essence.” To my surprise, I receive an immediate response. “Tomorrow. Seven-thirty. My husband’s office. We will talk.” I open my eyes wide. I didn’t expect her to be so forthcoming. I have taiji tomorrow night, but this is more important. I groan, silently ask Lydia to forgive me, and tell Mrs. Yang I can meet her tomorrow. As I’m making my plans, my phone rings. It’s Dr. Araki, Julianna’s father. I answer on the second ring.
“Hello, Uncle. How’re you doing?” I ask, keeping my voice respectful. I’ve always liked Dr. Araki, more than his wife, truth be told.
“Not great, Megan,” Dr. Araki says, his voice hoarse. “I think about my Julianna every second of the day.”
“Me, too, Uncle. I miss her so much.” I tear up, trying to keep my sobs in check. I know Uncle took Julianna’s death really hard, as did I.
“My wife has hardly left her bed since it happened,” Dr. Araki says, and I can tell he’s near tears. “She has to be sedated every night.”
“I’m so sorry, Uncle,” I say, wiping away a tear. “I wish sleeping pills work on me, but they don’t.”
“Me, neither. Besides, I’d rather feel the full brunt of the pain.” Dr. Araki pauses, then says, “The will has been settled. You should be getting a check within a week.” I blink because I don’t know what he’s saying. Then, I remember that Julianna left all her money to me—and it’s a nifty sum of a three-quarters of a million dollars.
“Uncle, I don’t know what to say.” I welcome the money, of course, but I almost don’t want to take it because it feels like blood money.
“Say you’ll take it,” Dr. Araki says firmly. “She wanted you to have it, so you should honor her memory by accepting.”
“I will, Uncle,” I say, my voice soft. I feel very uncomfortable talking about Julianna and money, though she wouldn’t have a problem with it herself.
“I have to warn you that Eric hasn’t completely accepted that Julianna cut him out of her will. My lawyer says it shouldn’t be a problem, though.” Eric is Julianna’s brother, and in Julianna’s previous will, he stood to inherit half her estate. However, he’s addicted to gambling, and she cut him out of her will after saving his ass one time too many. I didn’t find out until after her murder, and it was a shock to me that I was inheriting it all. Dr. Araki was the one who told me about the change in the will, and he was fine with it. He’s always viewed me as a second daughter.
“I don’t blame Eric,” I say. “He can use the money more than I can.”
“Waste the money, more like it,” Dr. Araki says crisply. “I love my son, but he’s a lost cause.” I agree with him, but it makes me sad that he’s given up on his son.
“I hope he can get it together one day,” I say, my voice neutral.
“Anyway, let me know when you get the check. Do you have a financial advisor? If not, I can get you one.”
“I do,” I say. I don’t use him much, but he’s certainly more than competent to handle my inheritance. I like him because he’s a refreshing blend of bold and cautious.
“Well, if there’s anything I can do to help you, let me know.”
“Thanks, Uncle. I will.” We chat for a few more minutes before hanging up. I futz around the house, tidying up here and there for the next half hour to take my mind off reality. Then, I call it a night and go to bed.
“Hello. I would like to talk with Mr. Wu if he’s available. I need some financial advice.” I have dressed in my best red dress in order to give the appearance that I have more money than I know what to do with. The girls at my office teased me mercilessly about having a hot date all morning, but I just ignored them. I can’t believe I’ve given up my lunch break for this bullshit, but so be it.
“He’s a very busy man.” Mr. Wu’s secretary, a haughty blond named Renee according to her nameplate, sniffs down her nose at me.
“Too bad. I was thinking of investing a million dollars. Today.” I twist the diamond ring on my wedding finger and bat my eyelashes. It’s cubic zirconia, but it’s high quality. No one will be able to tell unless they get really close up.
“Really.” Renee straightens up in her chair. “Let me check again.” She picks up the phone and murmurs into it. After replacing the handle, she says, “He can see you for fifteen minutes.” She nods at Mr. Wu’s door.
“Thank you,” I say with a wide, plastic smile. I straighten my shoulders and push open Mr. Wu’s door. He’s on the phone, but he puts it down when I walk into the room.
“Ms. Liang! So nice to meet you!” Mr. Wu’s smile isn’t any more genuine than mine, and it fades completely when he recognizes my face. “You! You’re the one who attacked me at church on Sunday. Get out of my office.”
“Mr. Wu, I need to talk to you. About your wife and Bob Cheng.” I sit in the chair across from Mr. Wu and stare at him straight in the eyes. Belatedly, I realize that he might not actually know about Hayley and Bob. Well, it’s too late to take it back now.
“I have nothing to say. My personal life is my own.” Mr. Wu’s face turns red, and he clenches his hands into fists. He may be wearing an expensive Armani suit, but he’s just a thug at heart.
“Not if you’re involved in illegal activity.” I look at Mr. Wu sternly, but he doesn’t even flinch. Nor does he answer. I add, “I know you’re having domestic troubles, too.”
“My wife is a liar,” Mr. Wu says, his eyes flashing. “You can’t believe anything she says.” Interesting. He doesn’t deny he’s abusing her, but he’s impugning her character instead. Not uncommon, but detestable, nonetheless.
“I saw you attack her with my own eyes,” I say, lifting my chin. “Don’t try to snow me.”
“I merely urged her to move more quickly,” Mr. Wu says, his voice haughty. “She’s so damn slow.”
“What do you think about Reverend Yang?” I ask, abruptly changing the subject.
“He’s OK,” Mr. Wu says grudgingly. “I like Pastor Chu better, but he was eighty when he retired.” There is no anger in his voice, so I have to surmise he doesn’t know about the affair. Interesting because Hayley had said he went in a rage when he got an email telling him about it. Either Mr. Wu is a great actor, or Hayley wasn’t telling the truth.
“What about Bob Cheng?” I ask, keeping my eyes on Mr. Wu’s face. The color drains from his face, and a blotch of red stains each cheek.
“He’s nothing but a troublemaker,” Mr. Wu says, griping the edges of his desk. “Putting his nose where it doesn’t belong. He should just butt out.”
“When was the last time you saw him?’ I ask, keeping my voice casual.
“Church. Sunday before last. We had words because he thought he knew more about marriage than I did—much like you do.” Mr. Wu stands up, but I remain seated. “Let me be perfectly blunt, Ms. Liang. I do not beat my wife. I am firm with her because she’s like a wayward child, but that’s all. Yes, I shoved Bob when he suggested the same thing. I told him to make himself scarce, and I haven’t seen him since.”
“You sure about that?” I ask, giving him the gimlet eye.
“Yes. Now, I have an actual client to talk to, so you must leave.” He grabs me by the arm and hauls me to my feet.
“Take your hands off of me,” I say, yanking away. I glare at Mr. Wu, and he looks back, unperturbed. “I’m going.” I march out the door, my head held high. I think about our conversation on the way back to the office. As much of a lout as Mr. Wu was, he also seemed very straightforward. He didn’t show any evidence of lying. His eyes met mine; he didn’t fidget with anything; his voice didn’t change registers at any point. He may be a narcissistic sociopath, though, which would mean he wouldn’t feel uncomfortable even if he was lying.
“Girl, how’s your one-eyed honey doing?” Darla asks as I walk into the office.
“OK. I haven’t talked to him for a few days,” I say, feeling guilty. Rembrandt has texted me a few times in the past couple days, and my responses have been brief. “I’ve been busy with other things, and I, well….”
“The commitment phobia strikes again!” Darla says, chuckling huskily. “Jimmy is lucky he’s not big on living together, either. He’s fantastic in bed, but I must admit I like when he goes home afterwards, too.”
“Don’t I know that,” I say, rolling my eyes. I wave at her before going to my desk and sitting down. I plow through my list at lightning speed, then I drive home. As usual, Onyx and Jet are thrilled that I’m home, and they’re even more pleased when I feed them their treats. I ruffle them under the chin before going to take a shower. A long one. I need it after the week I’ve had.