“Auntie Scar, are you leaving again?” Her voice was reproachful, and I turned to find an upset Banana staring at me.
“Banana, I just need some air,” I said, trying to smile. I also tried to calm the rage inside because I didn’t want to unnerve Banana any more than she already was. “Uncle Bobby just said some things to upset me. I need to cool down.”
“When I’m mad, I scream real loud,” Banana confided, her scowl lightening. “That makes me feel better.” She stepped forward and slipped her hand into mine. Looking up at me, she allowed her lower lip to tremble. “I wish I could do it right now.”
“Scar, you have to—” Julia stopped when she saw me and Banana holding hands. “What’s going on? Are you ok, baby?” The last was directed towards Banana who ignored her mother.
“Can I go with you, Auntie Scar? Please?” Banana squeezed my hand as hard as she could. “I can cheer you up—honest.” I was about to answer when my cell phone rang..
“Hold on a second, honey,” I said, disengaging from Banana’s clench. I hurried into the living room to take my call, watching out of the corner of my eye as Julia knelt to hug a stiff Banana.
“She died around midnight,” Matt said without preamble. “My cop friend said she was killed somewhere else, then dumped in her house. She was found on her bed, tied down spread-eagle by the cops. They got an ‘anonymous tip’ to check out her house—so they did. My friend told me she was so beat up, they could barely recognize her.” His voice was hollow, as if he didn’t have the energy to put anything into it.
“I’m so sorry, Matt,” I said, sinking onto the couch. I didn’t know what to say as I felt there was very little I could do. I had the sinking suspicion she had been raped as well from the way she was found, but that could just be misdirection. Just as I was about to add a meaningless platitude, a picture flashed into my mind
It was Kayla, and she was very much alive. She was on her knees, pleading for her life—not her son’s, I noticed—to a man who simply laughed at her. He had the coldest laugh I’d ever had the misfortune of hearing, and I had to force myself to look at him in detail. He had an aura of menace about him, but I looked past that towards his face, his hair, his body. He was over six-feet tall with the body of an ex-jock. His brown hair combed back into a widow’s peak, and he had full, sensuous lips. Somehow, that made it worse. He should have been a thin, sparse man with not an ounce of flesh to spare. Instead, he was almost voluptuous in a way that went against his personality.
“Please, please, please,” Kayla begged, pressing her lips against the man’s shoe. “I’ll do anything.” The man simply laughed again as he hauled Kayla up to her feet by her hair. Kayla cried out in pain as the man backhanded her across the face. As the blood dripped down her cheek, he plunged his free hand down the front of her top and grabbed her breast. He squeezed it viciously, eliciting another howl.
“Stupid bitch,” he spat, literally, in her face. “You never, ever, take what’s not yours. Didn’t your mama every teach you that it’s not nice to steal?” He hadn’t let go of her hair or her breast, and she looked too afraid to move. “I guess it’s time for me to teach you a lesson.”
“…body. She doesn’t have close relatives.”
“Huh, what?” I said in elegantly as Matt’s voice penetrated my conscious.
“Weren’t you listening, Scar?” Matt asked, his voice querulous. “I have to identify the body. The body. She’s the body now.”
“Want me to go with you?” I asked, my mind more focused on what I’d seen in my head than anything else.
“No.” Matt’s voce was firm as he turned me down. “You have a date, tonight, remember?”
I wasn’t listening as another scene came into my mind. There was a woman who bore a striking resemblance to Kayla but wasn’t kneeling on the ground, her mouth gagged and her eyes covered by the scarf tied around her eyes. Her face was a mass of bruises as was most of her body. Her clothes were ripped to shreds and she had several bleeding wounds all over. The same man from the scene with Kayla was standing in front of her, just watching her. The woman was crying, and she was trying to say something. The gag was in the way, of course, which didn’t prevent her from trying to articulate whatever was on her mind. The man sneered down at her, apparently enjoying what he was witnessing. At any rate, he didn’t seem in any hurry to do whatever it was he was planning on doing.
“What’s that? I can’t hear you.” The man reached down and pushed the gag out of the woman’s mouth. “Now speak.”
“What, who, why are you doing this to me?” The woman asked, her voice panicky. “I don’t even know you.”
“Why? Why am I doing this to you?” The man emphasized the last word instead of ‘doing’ as the woman had. “I’m doing this to you because it has to be done. It’s nothing personal, you see.” Saying so, he pushed the gag back in place and brought a gun out of his pocket. He slowly lifted his arm and pressed the gun against the woman’s temple. The picture went black, but not before I felt the abject terror of the bound woman. It was as if I’d been in her, and I knew one thing for sure.
“It’s not Kayla,” I blurted out, stunned by the revelation. I was also exhausted by the mini-visions, but I pushed through it. “Oh, my God, Matt, it’s not Kayla.” I was in shock and could only repeat that phrase over and over again inside my head. But if it wasn’t Kayla, then who was it? And where was Kayla? And how did the corpse get into Kayla’s bedroom? There were so many questions I needed to ask, including how did the news get hold of the story before identification was verified? I bet there was going to be more than one or two executives fired over this fiasco.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Matt asked furiously. “What do you mean it’s not Kayla? Who else could it be?”
“Listen, Matt,” I said urgently, lowering my voice. I didn’t want little ears to overhear, and I knew I had to tread carefully. “I just had a vision. Someone set it up to make it look like Kayla. It’s not, though. It’s not her. You have to go as fast as you can.”
“Wait, how did the cops not know? I mean, she was found in Kayla’s house.”
“I don’t know,” I said, my voice frantic. “Just go find out, ok?” As I hung up the phone, I got a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that there was more to this whole convoluted situation than any of us realized.
“Auntie Scar?” Banana said timidly, as if she were afraid of intruding on my thoughts. I didn’t know how long she’d been standing there, but she was looking at me fearfully.
“Come here, Banana,” I said, holding my arms out to her. She came to me without hesitation, and I enfolded her into my arms. I smelled the fruity scent of her hair and felt comforted. I pulled back and tried to smile at her.
“Are you ok, Auntie?” Banana asked, looking up at me in concern.
“No, I’m not,” I said honestly. “But it’s not something you need to worry about, ok? You just think about how you want to spend the weekend with Matt and me. Maybe we’ll go see my mom. What do you think about that?”
“I love your mommy,” Banana said, her face immediately transforming into happiness. “She gives me lots to eat.” I stifled a laugh because my mother did, indeed, go overboard when it came to feeding others. It was her way of showing love—old country—and it persisted no matter how long she’d been living in the States. Banana sat on my lap, and I hugged her close. There was nothing like hugging a child when in a bad mood.
“Scar, we have to get to work.” Julia appeared out of nowhere, her face strained. “Bobby promises to keep his big mouth shut so we don’t have to kill him. Let’s go.” She turned to leave, but I caught her by the arm. I looked down at Banana who was as still as I’d ever seen her, and I knew I had to get rid of her so I could talk to Julia in private.
“Hey, sport,” I said to Banana, ruffling her hair. “Why don’t you go see if you can get one of the gang to give you a cookie? I need to talk to your mom a second.”
“Ok,” Banana said, reluctantly climbing down from my lap. The prospect of a cookie didn’t seem to cheer her up, but she obediently trudged out of the room. Watching her leave, I knew I was going to do whatever I could to cheer her up this weekend.
“What’s up, Hsu?” Julia asked, looking down at her arm in surprise. I was still holding onto her, and I quickly let go.
“It wasn’t Kayla,” I said, my voice low. When Julia looked at me with a blank look on her face, I expanded. “The dead body found in her house wasn’t Kayla. It was some other woman.”
“What?” Now that Julia understood what I’d said, she looked shocked. “How can that be? The cops—the press—everybody said it was her.”
“The man who killed her chose a woman who looked a lot like Kayla—enough to fool anyone who didn’t know her personally. I saw what happened, and the dead woman isn’t Kayla.” I tasted bile in my mouth, but I managed to keep it down.
“Oh my God,” Julia said, pressing her hand to her mouth. “What the fuck is going on?” She shook her head, not allowing me to answer. “I can’t deal with this right now, Scar. Come back to the dining room so we can finish our work.” I knew she was right, so I reluctantly hauled my ass off the couch and followed her back to the dining room.
“Hey, Scar,” Bobby said, his voice subdued for him. “Sorry about what I said earlier. I was out of line. I didn’t know that dead girl was a friend of yours. I shouldn’t have said anything.” I opened my mouth to tell him Kayla wasn’t a friend of mine and further more, she wasn’t dead. Plus, he shouldn’t say that about anyone—not just someone I knew. I shut my mouth when I realized that now was not the time. Julia looked as if she was going to say something, and I shot her a warning look. Bobby didn’t believe I had the sight, and he’d ridicule me mercilessly if I told him how I was involved.
“Don’t sweat it, Bobby. You can’t help being ignorant.” I sat down, daring Bobby to reply, but he smartly held his tongue. I was glad to see Banana slurping a bowl of ice cream which meant she must be feeling marginally better. “Let’s do this thing.”
I felt drained after the meeting. I managed to hang behind after the others had left to tell Julia about my date with Martinez. Predictably, she crowed over the news and high-fived me for taking the initiative. Of course, then we had to dish about how good his ass looked in his dress pants and how he must work out to keep fit. Then I told her about Daily and her unrequited crush on Martinez. When I revealed how Daily had been dumped by her boyfriend for a JAP, Julia groaned. She hated them more than I did because she felt they reflected badly on her as a Japanese-American woman. I didn’t think they reflected any worse on her than me because most Americans couldn’t tell the difference between Taiwanese and Japanese. After she gave me extensive advice about what to wear and what to make, she let me go.
I stopped by the organic market on the way home. Though I was not, by any means, a stickler for organic food, I did like fresh produce and free-range meat. It had to do with taste, not fashion. Yes, it cost a few cents more, but it was worth it. I glanced at my watch and saw it was five—I had three hours to pull something together and to pull myself together. I was tempted to buy something from the market, but that would be cheating. I was also tempted to make something Mexican, but that would be suicidal. Never, ever cook something ethnic for a person of that ethnicity. I refused to go to a Chinese restaurant unless I knew it personally, and I had a hunch that Martinez was one of those Mexican-Americans who knew his cuisine. In addition, why would he want Mexican from me when he probably ate it all the time? I’d do Taiwanese.