“Gah.” I sit upright as my phone bleeps Jasmine’s ring. “What?” I glance over at Rembrandt, who is as still as if he’s dead. I poke him in the shoulder and am gratified to see him roll over so I know he’s not dead.
“I got a note. Under my door. I can’t believe it, Megan!” Jasmine’s voice is hysterical, and I yank the phone from my ear. It’s fucking seven in the morning, and I didn’t fall asleep until after three in the morning.
“A note? What note?” I’m not tracking because I’m not fully awake. I need to be up for at least two hours and have five cups of coffee inside of me before I can form a sentient thought.
“A note from some woman! It says Bob is with her and that I should stop looking. Otherwise, I might end up like Reverend Yang!” Jasmine bursts into tears, and I can barely understand her. “Megan, will you come over and go to church with me? Reverend Yang won’t be there, of course, but we will have a service.”
“Jasmine—” I stop. I have no good reason not to go, except that I don’t want to and I’ll have to miss my taiji class. “OK. I’ll be there in an hour.” I get up and write a note for Rembrandt who is still out cold. I tell him that I have to go to church with my sister and that I’ll be back later. I let him know he can stay for as long as he likes. I put it on the nightstand next to his side of the bed before taking a quick shower. I put on a plain black dress and coil my hair on top of my head. Silver hoops, and I’m done. I give the cats more Temptations before slipping out of the house. I’m on my way to Jasmine’s house, and I make it in good time.
“Megan. I’m so glad to see you.” Jasmine grabs me in a bear hug, and she seems disinclined to let me go. She’s weeping all over my dress, but I don’t do anything. I allow her to squeeze the stuffing out of me for several more minutes before I step away from her. “I’m a mess,” Jasmine says, mopping her eyes. “Here.” She thrusts a folded piece of paper in my face, and I take it from her. I unfold it and read it. “Dear Jasmine, you don’t know me, but I know you. Your husband is with me, and there isn’t anything you can do about it. Stop looking for him; he doesn’t want to be found. If you or your sister keeps asking questions about him, you’re going to end up like Reverend Yang.”
“Wait a minute. This note mentions me.” I reread it to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake.
“Yes! It does!” Jasmine screeches. There’s no recognition in her voice, and I hasten to explain it to her.
“This person knows I’m looking into Bob’s disappearance. And, I think she’s protesting too much about you not knowing her.”
“Are you sure it’s a her?” Jasmine asks, wiping her cheeks once again.
“Pretty sure. The language of the writing is feminine.” I examine the writing again, and I nod my head decisively. “The fact that she mentioned Reverend Yang is suspicious, too.”
“What do you mean?” Jasmine asks, a puzzled look in her eyes.
“She must have been the one who beat up Reverend Yang—at least, that’s how I read the note.” I hold the note out to Jasmine, but she refuses to take it back. She’s staring at it as if it’s a viper, and I set it on the table in the hallway.
“He’s dead, I know he is.” Jasmine starts weeping again, and I gather her in my arms. “It’s been over a week. He can’t still be alive, but where is the body?”
“Keep hope alive, Jasmine. If he were dead, the body would have been discovered by now.” I pat Jasmine’s hand consolingly.
“Breakfast!” Jasmine hurries into the kitchen, and I follow her. Soon, she’s scrambling eggs, sizzling sausages, and toasting bread. Ten minutes later, we’re sitting down at her dining room table, eating breakfast. Rather, I am. She’s picking at her food, and no amount of glaring from me can make her eat a substantial amount. She does manage to eat half a slice of toast, three bites of eggs, and half a sausage link before setting down her fork. Once we’ve cleared the table, she hurries up to her bedroom to change for church. I go to the living room and check my website, and I’m pleased that I’m still getting comments on my newest post.
“Maybe I can quit my job now,” I murmur to myself.
“I’m ready.” Jasmine appears in the living room, dressed in a satin red dress with a high neck. We zoom to the church, her at the wheel. Once we go inside, she gravitates towards her friends while I survey the crowd. Mrs. Yang is standing next to a nervous young man in a collar, and she is gripping his arm tightly. He visibly winces, but she doesn’t notice. I deliberate for a minute before going over to them. I plaster a smile on my face, though Mrs. Yang gives me the serious willies.
“Mrs. Yang!” I wave at Mrs. Yang, who doesn’t look at all pleased to see me. She glares at me and doesn’t say anything in return. “How’s Reverend Yang doing?”
“Not great, thanks to you!” Mrs. Yang snaps, her talons digging even deeper into the young man’s arm. What she says sinks into my brain, and I’m actually hurt she suspects me. I mean, she has every right to suspect me, but still.
“You’re wrong, Mrs. Yang,” I say firmly. “I did not attack your husband. He was on the phone with someone else when I left him Friday night.” I turn to the young man, who is looking distinctly ill-at-ease. “Hi. I’m Megan Liang. And you are?”
“Assistant Reverend Stephen Chu,” the young man holds out his hand and shakes mine. His mop of black hair falls in his large brown eyes, and his thin frame is begging to be stuffed with authentic Taiwanese delicacies.
“Pleasure to meet you. I take it you’ll be giving the sermon today?” I ask, ignoring the daggers Mrs. Yang is sending my way.
“Yes. My first. I’m so nervous!” I can tell as his hand is damp with sweat.
“Excuse us. We must go. There’s a lot I have to tell Stephen before the service.” Mrs. Yang drags Stephen away by the arm, and he waves at me as they leave. Rebuffed, I go into the nave and look for Jasmine. Just as with the last time, she’s sitting near the front, and I’m reluctant to join her. I do, however, keeping my head high. I can feel more than a few eyes on me, but I might just be paranoid.
The service is more blandishments, as to be expected. Reverend Chu does a decent job, but it’s just platitudes. “God works in mysterious ways.” “Reverend Yang is in our prayers.” “We must do his work in his absence.” I look around the nave as discreetly as I can, but my view is limited given my proximity to the podium. Once the service is done, I stand up and scan the room. I see Doug, but I don’t approach him because he’s engrossed in a conversation with a comely middle-aged woman. I spot Hayley near the back, wearing sunglasses. Tony is nowhere in sight, and I wonder why he’s missed church. I make my way over to Hayley and tap her on the shoulder.
“Yes?” Her tone is icy until she sees it’s me. Then, her rigid frame melts into soft helplessness. “Oh! Megan. I’m so glad to see you. This has been such a difficult week.” She collapses into my arms, and I begrudgingly pat her on the back. “Did you hear about poor Reverend Yang?” She takes off her sunglasses and dabs at her eyes, though they’re suspiciously dry. One of them has a shiner, and I’m cynical enough to wonder if it’s self-inflicted or not.
“I heard. He’s in very bad shape.” I set Hayley against the wall, and she almost slides down it.
“I had a terrible dream last night.” Hayley chews on her cuticle, which looks ragged and raw. “It was about Reverend Yang, and I dreamt that I shot him! Right in the heart through his red tie. As he was falling to the ground, he clutches at the curtains and pulls them down on himself. As he’s dying, he utters one word, ‘guacamole’. Then, he dies! What do you think it means?”
“I don’t know, Hayley.” My eyes glazed over three words into her prattling, and I had only half-listened to what she was saying. I stop. I feel there’s something I’ve missed, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.
“I’m so afraid Tony will—” Hayley stops, then looks at her phone. “I gotta go. He’ll ne—”
She cuts herself off and starts walking away from me.
“Where’s your husband, Hayley?” I call out to her. Several parishioners turn to stare at me, and I flush crimson in embarrassment. I would rather not be having this conversation out in the open, but I have to do what it takes, and she’s walking away from me.
“On a business trip. I have to go. He’ll be waiting for me.” In a blink, she’s gone, and I don’t have the wherewithal to follow her out the door. There’s a tap on my shoulder, and it’s Doug.
“Have you found Bob yet?” Doug asks, his eyes concerned.
“No, but I’m getting closer.” I nod at him. I hesitate, then add, “What do you know about Hayley Wu?”
“Hayley? Not much. She’s too much of a wilting flower for me.” Doug wrinkles his nose, and I warm to him even more. “Any time I talk to her, she’s always batting her eyes at me and acting all helpless.” Doug smiles a wicked smile and adds, “I like my women with plenty of backbone and sass.” “I like the way you think,” I wink at Doug and squeeze his arm. I’m comfortable bantering with him because it’s clear he’s just having fun with it.
“I know Bob thought highly of her. She told him some sob story, and he ate it up.” Doug’s suddenly a font of information, and I wonder why he didn’t tell me think before. I have a hunch it’s because he didn’t know he knew it, if that makes sense. It’s not something that seems important in and of itself, so he probably didn’t even think twice about it until I mentioned her.
“Has she been acting weirdly the last week or so?” I ask, careful to keep my question vague. I don’t want to mislead him, so I’d rather he figured things out for himself.
“It’s hard to say because I don’t know her very well.” Doug furrows his brow as he ponders my question. “She’s always been high-strung and nervy, maybe even more so in the last few months.”
“What do you think of her husband?”
“Honestly? He’s not a bad guy. I wouldn’t want to be married to him, but I wouldn’t mind having a beer with him.” Doug runs his hand through his hair and looks at his watch. “I have to go. I have an appointment in a half hour.”
“Thanks, Doug. I appreciate you talking with me.” I hold out my hand, but he ignores it and pulls me into a hug. I tear up because he’s exactly what I’d want in a father.
“No problem. I like you. Maybe we can do lunch at some point.” Doug says, his voice eager.
“I’d like that.” I smile at him, and I tell him I’ll email him in the next few days.
I’m in a good mood as I search for Jasmine. She’s in the lobby, surrounded by several of her supportive friends. I wait until there’s a break in the conversation before saying, “Jasmine? I hate to bother you, but I need to get home.” I’m feeling guilty about leaving Rembrandt to his own devices, especially since he just texted me a sweet note saying he is going to make us burgers when I get home.
“Sure, sure. Let’s go. I want to visit Reverend Yang on the way home.” Jasmine says goodbye to her friends before linking arms with me. We walk outside and to her car. “Did you find out anything? Anything that would lead us to Bob?” Jasmine asks, keeping her eyes on the road.
“I’m not sure. I think so, but I have to think it over.” Neither of us say much else as she drives us towards Abbott Northwestern. We find Reverend Yang’s room with little difficulty and ask the nurse at the desk about his condition. Understandably, she won’t tell us. We’re about to leave when Mrs. Yang comes up behind us.
“Sharon! How is the reverend?” Jasmine asks, enveloping Mrs. Yang in a warm hug.
“Still hasn’t woken up,” Mrs. Yang says, sniffling into a handkerchief. “The doctors aren’t sure he ever will!” She bursts into tears, and Jasmine pats her on the back. Jasmine is much better at this than I am. Mrs. Yang looks at me, and her face drains of color.
“You. You dare show up here? After you attacked my husband in his office?”
“Sharon. For the last time, I did not attack your husband. Yes, I had a session with him, but when I left, he was alive and well.” A thought hits me. “We were not having an affair, Sharon. I promise you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mrs. Yang says, flushing bright pink. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to look in on Marcus.” She walks away from us, and Jasmine eyes me curiously.
“What was that about?” She asks as we go back outside.
“She and the reverend are involved in some weird game,” I say as we climb into her car. “They both are having affairs, and neither of them care as long as it’s not serious.”
“You’re lying,” Jasmine says, gasping in shock. She turns to look at me, and I resist the impulse to screech at her to keep her eyes on the road.
“I’m not,” I say crossly. “They’ve both confirmed it. Why would I lie about that?”
“You never cared for religion,” Jasmine says, griping the steering wheel tightly. “You’ll do everything possible to discredit it.”
“Jasmine, come on. You know me. I’m not going to shit on religion just for the hell of it. I don’t care what other people believe as long as they don’t shove it down my throat.” I’m exasperated with her, and I’m not able to hold it back any longer. I have been busting my ass for her over the last week, and all she’s done is berate me. I’m tired of it, and if I weren’t so worried about Bob, I’d walk away.
“You must have misunderstood them, then,” Jasmine says in a more subdued tone. “There is no way they’re swingers!”
“It’s not swinging, Jasmine,” I say, modulating my own tone as well. “They have an open marriage with certain restrictions.”
“No. They’re not the kind of people to do that.” Jasmine says, voice firm. I marvel again at normies. They have such a narrow viewpoint about who has kinky sex and who doesn’t. I believe that most people would go buck wild if they felt comfortable doing so, but it’s not an opinion that’s widely shared.
“You’d be surprised,” I say, leaning my head against the window. I’m tired, and I want nothing more than to be at home on my couch.
“Do you think it has anything to do with Bob’s disappearance?” Jasmine asks, glancing my way.
“Maybe tangentially,” I say and briefly fill her in on Reverend Yang’s affair with Hayley Wu.
“Hayley Wu?” Jasmine says, her voice puzzled. “I didn’t even know Bob was friendly with her.”
“They became pretty good friends over the past few months. That much I know for sure.” I root through my purse and pull out a tissue. I feel a sneeze coming on, and I want to be ready.
“Hayley Wu? You’re sure about that?”
“Yes. I’ve heard it from more than one source.” I sneeze into the tissue several times, hoping I’m not getting a cold.
“I don’t like her. She always needs to be the center of attention.”
“Seems like it.” We’re silent the rest of the way to Jasmine’s house. I don’t know what’s on her mind, but I’m thinking about my next move. As much as I hate to do it, I think I have to follow Hayley. She may not be the one who made Bob disappear, but she knows more about it than she’s saying. Jasmine pulls into her garage, turns off her car, then faces me.
“Thanks. I feel better with you here. I know you’re doing your best, Megan. I’m sorry for being so mean to you.”
“It’s OK, Jasmine. I know this must be really hard for you.” We hug before I go to my car and drive home. Enticing smells greet me, along with three excited cats. I give them all vigorous pets before I go into the kitchen. Rembrandt is frying meat patties on the stove, and he’s wearing an apron that says, “Fuck off; I’m cooking.” My apron. I bought it on a whim even though I don’t cook. I kiss him on the cheek, and he turns his face so his lips touch mine.
“Hey, babe. How was church?” He smiles at me, and I want to fuck him. I’m also starving, however, so I allow him to finish making our burgers.
“Boring as hell. I may have learned something important, though.” I go to the fridge and grab a Diet Coke, popping the top and draining half of it in one gulp.
“Oh, yeah? About your brother-in-law’s disappearance?” Rembrandt asks, his eye on his burgers.
“Yes. I talked to Hayley. The one Bob was getting close to. She said her husband was on a business trip, but then she said she had to go because ‘he’ needed her.” I feed the cats Temptations before continuing. “Who’s the ‘he’ if her husband is out of town?”
“Didn’t you say she had a son? Maybe that’s what she meant?” Rembrandt sautés some onions, making my mouth water. He’s also baking home fries, which makes me want to marry him on the spot. Well, not really, but I do love me some good home fries.
“It could be, but it didn’t sound like it from the way she worded it.” I pause and add, “I think she knows where Bob is. It’s not enough to go to the police, though.” I frown as I rehash what Hayley had said to me in my mind. She was nattering about her dream, and there was something in it that I missed. “She said something about a dream in which she murdered Reverend Yang.”
“That’s gruesome,” Rembrandt says, flipping the patties onto hamburger buns. I blink. I didn’t know I had hamburger buns in the house. In fact, I’m pretty sure I didn’t, which means he went out and bought them. Come to think of it, I don’t have hamburger meat, either. What a sweetie.
“Yes, but that’s not the point.” I think a few seconds more, then says, “She was talking about shooting him in the heart.” I’m almost there. I concentrate a bit more, then it comes to me. “She said she shot him through his red tie! How did she know it’s red if she wasn’t there that evening? And, given that Reverend Yang and I were just talking about her before I left and he called someone, I bet she’s the one who attacked him.” I squeeze Rembrandt’s arm in jubilation.
“Sounds like it to me,” Rembrandt agrees, nodding his head. “How are you going to prove it, though?”
“I don’t know,” I say, momentarily deflated. Most of my ‘proof’ is hearsay and second-hand gossip. I don’t have anything solid, which means I really am going to have to follow Hayley if I want to find Bob.
“Can you get Jasmine to let you read Bob’s emails?” Rembrandt asks, turning off the stove. He plates the burgers, fries, and a small salad, and we go into the dining room to eat. I have my Diet Coke with me, and he has a glass of water. We sit down to eat, and the cats hop up on the table as usual. I give them each a tiny piece of beef, and they’re eager for more. Rembrandt does the same, and they yowl in unison for more. Neither of us budge, however, and we both eat our burgers as fast as possible so they won’t steal any more. We have two burgers each, and I could get used to having someone cook for me.
“If the photography thing doesn’t work out for you, I may hire you as a personal chef,” I say, burping in satisfaction.
“I’m still thinking about the restaurant idea,” Rembrandt says, eating his last home fry. “I have a buddy who’s willing to float me some money along with my mother.”
“Really?” I’m surprised that he’s still thinking about it, but I shouldn’t be. Photography is his life, and if he can’t do it with the skill he once had, he doesn’t want to do it at all. I don’t blame him. If I couldn’t write with my usual gusto and panache, then I would completely quit doing it.