Chapter Nine; Part One
“Gah.” I’m awakened by my phone ringing. It’s Jasmine’s ring, and it’s not stopping. I let it go to VM as I glance at my clock. It’s five in the morning, and I’m going to kill Jasmine for calling me so early. A minute later, my phone starts ringing again, and it’s Jasmine—again. I have a hunch she’s not going to stop calling me until I answer, so I grab my phone. “What?” I snap, pissed off that she’d call me so early. “This better be important.”
“He’s dead, Megan!” Jasmine screams, causing me to wince. I yank the phone from my ear and glance over at Rembrandt. He’s still sleeping, of course, because nothing short of a hurricane will wake him up.
“Who’s dead, Jasmine?” I ask, slipping out of bed so I can grab a cigarette while we talk. Onyx and Jet meep in protest, but they remain on the bed. I go downstairs, take my cigarette and mug outside, and smoke.
“Henry! Our father! Look at the local news.” Jasmine is still screeching, which is setting my teeth on edge. Then, her words sink into my brain, and I’m jolted awake.
“Hold on.” I quickly pull up the Strib’s website, and there’s a picture of that man staring back at me from the lower right corner. The photo is just of his face, thankfully, but it’s accompanied with the question, “Who is this man?” I frown. Why would they need to ask that question? He should have some identification on him that says who he is. Come to think of it, why the hell didn’t I ask for any identification from him? I curse myself, then dismiss it as unimportant at this point. I read the article, and it says that he was hit by a car last night in Richfield. Richfield. Why does that tickle my brain? I go through my mental rolodex of what that man told me, and I finally recall that he used to work for the IT department of Best Buy, who are based in Richfield. He also talked about being bilked out of money by somebody or bodies during that time, so it wouldn’t be surprising if those people live in Richfield.
“Did you read it?” Jasmine asks, her voice tearful.
“Yes, Jasmine,” I say. “I did.”
“I’m going to the police to tell them what I know,” Jasmine says, breaking down. “I’ll let you know what they tell me.”
“Do you want me to go with you?” It’s going to make it difficult for me to get to work on time, but I’ll do it for her.
“No. I can do it myself. You go to work.” Jasmine’s voice is wavering, but she sounds determined.
“OK. Let me know as soon as you’re done there.” I could sleep for another hour, but I’m wide awake with this news. It’s bothering me that I never asked that man for identification, and I’m kicking myself for being so stupid. I didn’t push him hard enough on why he scrubbed his online history, and I brushed off that phone call he received when we first met. In addition, I didn’t ask more about the business venture that went wrong and—oh shit. He sent me that rambling email last night in which he said he was going after the people who stole his money.
I take a shower, a long one because I have the time. When I get out of the shower, Onyx and Jet are on the counter. I give them each a skritch behind the ears before going back into the bedroom to get dressed. Rembrandt is in the middle of the bed, his arms splayed to the sides. Ginger is smack dab in the middle of his stomach, also splayed on her back. I snicker at them before pulling on a pair of brown corduroy pants and a magenta blouse. I’m hungry, so I go downstairs to see what I can rustle up for breakfast. I usually just make toast and jam, which is what I resort to this time. Toast and strawberry jam. It’s not very original, but it gets the job done. I still have time before I need to leave, so I check my blog. The debate about sex is still raging, and people on both sides are getting heated. No one is crossing the line into disrespectful, though, so I don’t step in. I Google more about that man being run over, but there isn’t much. Let’s face it, it’s not a sexy story in any way—an older Taiwanese man gets hit by a car—so I don’t expect it to be front page news. The fact that they don’t know who he is does add to the mystery, but that won’t take much to clear up. I’m startled out of my musing by my phone ringing. It’s Jasmine, which means she’s probably done with the police.
“What did they tell you?” I ask, making sure I have everything I need for work.
“He’s not our father,” Jasmine says before bursting into tears.
“You don’t say,” I say, my tone even. I’m not completely surprised, though I am angry at his deception.
“They called the police out where he’s supposed to have lived, and they found out Henry Liang died a month ago in San Francisco.”
“What?” That does surprise me, though I can’t say why. “So this man stole our dead father’s identity?”
“Yes!” Jasmine is sobbing, and I ache to wrap her in my arms. “I can’t believe I was so stupid.”
“Jasmine, you’re not stupid,” I say firmly, pacing back and forth across the living floor. “You have a loving nature, and you were giving that man the benefit of the doubt.”
“You didn’t believe he was our father,” Jasmine says through her tears. “You weren’t taken in by him.”
“I’m suspicious by nature,” I say, checking the clock. I still have fifteen minutes before I have to leave. Shit. I have to tell James whether or not I want to fuck him. I push that aside as unimportant right now. “It’s not necessarily a good thing.”
“I wanted to believe so bad he was my daddy,” Jasmine sniffs. Her sobs are subsiding, but there’s still pain in her voice. “I thought I was over it, but I guess I wasn’t.”
“Who can blame you?” I exclaim, peeking at my clock. I still have five minutes before I have to leave, ten if I want to push it. “He had stories from our childhood that you remembered. He seemed legit.”
“Who is he, then?” Jasmine asks. She’s stopped crying, and now her voice is puzzled.
“I don’t know,” I shrug. “I don’t particularly care, either.” I’ve given that man too much mental energy, and I don’t think he deserves any more of it. A sniffle on the other end greets my ears, and I tense up. I have a hunch I’m not going to like what Jasmine is about to say.
“I want you to find out who he is,” Jasmine says, her voice tiny. She senses my displeasure and rushes to add, “You’re so good at the Google thing and digging up dirt. Look how you brought my Bob home! Please. I need to know who he was and why he did this to us.” I stay silent. I don’t want to do what she’s asking, but I can’t deny there’s a small voice in the back of my head wondering who the hell this man was and how he knew so much about our father. Obviously, that man was a friend of our father’s. Otherwise, why would he know so much about our father and our childhood? Goddamn it. I’m interested despite myself.
“Ok, Jasmine. I will do my best. However, he scrubbed our father’s online history, so it’ll be difficult to find information. In other words, don’t get your hopes up.”
“Thank you, Megan. I really, really appreciate this.” Jasmine sounds grateful, which means I’m in this to the bitter end.
“OK. I gotta go to work. I’ll let you know what I find out.” I hang up and drive to work, my mind on that man. I never felt comfortable calling him my father, which I don’t have to do now. I don’t know what to call him, however, even if it’s only in my mind. Well, I’ve been calling him ‘that man’ to myself up until now, and that’s what I’ll keep calling him.
I have a tough time at work because my mind keeps drifting to that man. After the initial shock of what Jasmine has told me has worn off, all that remains is anger. There’s a sliver of hurt, too, but it’s mostly anger. How dare this man barge his way into my life, turn it upside down, then leave like this? I’m not faulting him for getting himself killed, of course, but damn him for leaving such a mess behind. If he lied about his identity, how do I know anything he told me is real? There’s probably some kind of business adventure that went wrong the last time he was here—by the way, he definitely said he was living here, so that’s probably the truth. It doesn’t help me, though. How do I Google ‘old Taiwanese guy living in Minnesota maybe ten or twenty years ago’? I do think he was telling the truth about dying, but, again, how am I supposed to research that? Without a name, I really can’t do much of anything. I think of something and call Jasmine—after making sure James is nowhere near.
“Yes, Megan? Have you found anything?” Jasmine asks eagerly.
“No, I’m at work. I do have a question for you, though.”
“Did the police tell you how our father died?” I ask, keeping an eye on James’ door. I still have to talk to him about whether I want to fuck him or not, but I’m not worrying about that right now.
“Heart attack,” Jasmine says. “He was taken to…” There’s a rustling, and I assume she’s pulling out a piece of paper. She’s not much of a technical person so she uses actual paper and a pen when she takes notes. “UCSF Medical Center. I didn’t get a phone number, though.”
“Don’t worry about it. I can Google it.” I do that and jot down the phone number on my phone. “Thanks, Jasmine. That might help.” I slog through work, my mind racing. If I call the Medical Center, maybe I can find out more information about that man. My guess is that he was my father’s executor if my father had a will, which is probably how he came in possession of those letters. I flush at the impertinence of him stealing my father’s identity so brazenly. I can’t think why the fuck he would want to do it in the first place. I mean, what would he gain from it? It’s not as if any of us had him in our wills. Sure, he might have thought he could talk us into changing our wills, but why? It’s not as if any of us are outwardly rich. I mean, Jasmine is comfortable, and I’m actually close to rich with my recent inheritance from Julianna, and, come to think of it, Viv isn’t hurting either, except she gives away massive amounts of money. So, maybe it’s for money? But that doesn’t make sense. He’s never brought up money, except for what he lost in that business deal that went sour, so if he was trying to soak us for money, he had gone about it the wrong way.
“Hey, Megan. May I talk to you in my office?” It’s the end of the day, and James materializes by my desk. I know he wants to talk about our one night, but I am not up to it. Then again, I can’t put it off forever, so I nod and follow him into his office. I shut the door behind me, and the minute I do, he has me up against the wall. He presses his lips against my neck, and I moan, despite my distracted thoughts. It’s only when I feel his hand on my tit that I come back to my senses.
“James, I can’t.” I push him away, making sure to keep my voice unapologetic.
“You want me, though. I can tell.” James backs away immediately, making sure to keep several feet between us.
“Yes, I do,” I say, nodding my head in agreement. “I’ve always found you hot as I’m sure you know. I just don’t want to fuck up what I have, and I’m sure you don’t, either.”
“They don’t have to know.” James keeps his distance, but he is eying me speculatively. I flush, but I keep my composure. As much as he turns me on, I know it’s not what I ultimately want. Is a relationship with Rembrandt what I want? I don’t know, but it’s higher on my list than one night with James.
“I’ll know. You’ll know. You try to be a badass, but you’re a decent guy—it’ll get to you at some point.” I sigh and rub my forehead, wishing life weren’t so complicated. James looks at me for several seconds before responding.
“You’re right. Cynthia means the world to me. I don’t want to do anything to fuck that up. Friends?” James holds out his hand, and I shake it without hesitation.
“Friends.” I pull James to me and hug him, careful not to let in linger for too long. “I still get to be teacher’s pet, right?”
“You know it,” James says, winking at me. “You’ll always be my favorite.” With that, I return to work. The rest of the day is uneventful, which is exactly how I like it.
“Mrrreow!” Onyx leaps at me as I walk in the door, and I catch her easily in my arms. “Hi, baby girl. How’re you today?” I boop her on the nose, and she coos her approval. Jet bonks me on the shin with his head, and I rub the top of his head. I feed them their treats before calling the UCSF Medical Center.
“Hello, UCSF Medical Center. How may I help you?” A cheerful voice pours over the phone, and it immediately puts me at ease.
“Hi. My name is Megan Liang. I’m the daughter of Henry Liang. He was treated at your hospital about a month ago. Can you tell me anything about it?” I hold my breath because I don’t know if I’m breaking medical confidence laws.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” The voice is a little less cheerful, and I know this isn’t going to be easy.
“Megan Liang. My father died in your hospital a month ago. Henry Liang.” I stop and wait to hear her response to that.
“Henry Liang. Yes. We treated him.” Her voice is now brisk, and I wonder if I’ll be able to get anything else from her.
“I’m his estranged daughter. Is there anything you can tell me about his death?”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Liang. I cannot. You’ll have to ask Mr. Tsai about it.”
“Mr. Tsai? Who is that?” My pulse quickens. This is more than I thought I’d get, so I’m thrilled already.
“Mr. George Tsai. He was the emergency contact—that’s all I can tell you.” She hangs up, but I’m not put off by it. I have a name, which is more than I had five minutes ago. I’m pretty sure George Tsai is the man I met, and I go to the living room to Google him. Fortunately for me, he hasn’t scrubbed his own history. I wonder how he managed to erase my father’s digital footsteps, but I push it to the back of my mind for now. I’ll deal with it later. Right now, I need to concentrate on finding out as much about George Tsai as possible. I learn that he’s married to a woman named Rowena Tsai, half-Taiwanese and half-Scottish. I’m guessing she was the one who called him while he was talking to me. They don’t have children because she wasn’t able to have them. George worked in IT all his life until his retirement. If he was my father’s emergency contact, they must have been close friends. I see no mention of Henry Liang, though, because that asshole made sure I wouldn’t.
I glance at my computer clock. I have an hour before my taiji class, so I decide to call Rowena. I don’t know what I’m going to say to her, but—wait. What if she doesn’t know? The last I read, the police didn’t know who that man was. I wonder if they do now. I check the Strib, but there’s no update. Do I dare call Rowena? If she hasn’t heard yet, I don’t want the police to be pissed at me. However, I need to talk to her. I decide to call her, but not tell her George is dead. I’ll put out a few feelers, then take it from there. I also need a techie person who can un-erase my father’s online history. I don’t know anybody myself, so I send out an email to Rembrandt, Viv, Liz, and Lydia. I’ve asked most of them in person, but it won’t hurt to remind them. I’m confident that one of them will know someone who can do what I want. I make sure to tell them that I’ll pay for it because I don’t believe in taking advantage of someone’s expertise. Once I’m done with that, I call Rowena.
“Hello?” Her voice is tremulous and weak, and I’m instantly protective of her. I try to brush that aside, but it’s hard to bury it.
“Mrs. Tsai. My name is Megan Liang.” I hear an intake of breath, and I know she knows who I am. “You know my name, don’t you?” Silence greets my words, but she doesn’t hang up, so I take that as a positive sign.
“You’re Henry Liang’s middle daughter,” she whispers. I have to strain to hear her, and her words hit me in the gut. Not only does she know I’m Henry Liang’s daughter, she knows I’m the middle one. What else does she know about my family?
“That’s right. Do you know why I’m calling?” I ask carefully, keeping my voice gentle.
“Because of George’s deception,” she says candidly. I blink because I didn’t think she’d tell me the truth. “I told him it was a bad idea, but he wouldn’t listen to me.” She starts crying, and I wish I could say something to comfort her. I still don’t know if she knows about her husband or not, and I’m strangely reluctant to ask her.
“Did you call him when you weren’t supposed to?” I ask.
“Yes. He ordered me not to call him and to wait for him to call me, but that didn’t seem to fair to me.” There’s a bit of fight in her voice, and I’m heartened to hear it. “He got so mad, though, I only did it once or twice.”
“Why did he do it? Pretend to be my father, I mean,” I ask, fiddling with my hair. Onyx and Jet nuzzle my chest, and I pet them both.
“It’s a long story,” she sighs, and I settle back in the couch as I wait.
It all started when George was called by the UCSF Medical Center after Henry’s heart attack. George rushed to the medical center, but Henry was in surgery by the time he got there. He stayed at the medical center, waiting to hear about the outcome. It was five in the morning when the doctor finally came out to talk to him. The doctor’s eyes were blood-shot, and his handshake was brisk.
“Mr. Tsai? You’re here about Henry Liang?”
“Yes, I am.” George had been dozing, but he snapped awake at the sound of the doctor’s voice calling his name. “How is he?” He noticed the darkening of the doctor’s eyes, and he braced himself for the worst.
“Are you family? I’m not allowed to discuss his condition with anyone who’s not.”
“He has no family,” George replied. “I’m the closest thing. I’m the executor of his will if that helps.”
“Mr. Liang didn’t make it through surgery. I’m sorry.” The doctor gestured to a woman who was hovering behind him, although George hadn’t noticed her at first. “This is Ms. Wilson, our grief counselor. Would you like to talk to her?”
“No, I’m OK,” George said automatically.
“Here are his belongings. Again. I’m so sorry.” The doctor shook George’s hand, handed him a bag, then walked away. George clutched the bag to his chest as he walked back to his car, numb. He and Henry had been friends for thirty-three years, and he couldn’t believe Henry was dead. He drove home on automatic, grateful that traffic was relatively light for San Francisco.
“George?” Rowena called out as George walked into the house, her voice scared. She appeared in the hallway in her nightgown, her white hair braided all the way down her back. “Is he….?” Her voice trailed away because she couldn’t bear to ask the question. She was speaking Taiwanese, of course, as that was all they spoke at home.
“Dead,” George said bluntly, thumping the bag of Henry’s belongings on the ground. “How can he be dead?”
“I’m so sorry, George,” Rowena said, throwing her arms around George. He remained stiff in them, but allowed her to hug him.
“It was such a shock because Henry was so virile,” Mrs. Tsai says. There’s a bit of lust in her voice, and I wonder if George knew his wife had a crush on his best friend. “He worked out four times a week and went salsa dancing every Friday with his husband until Larry died. Larry was a very lucky man.” She doesn’t bother to cover her envy, and I feel a bit sorry for George. She returns to her story, and I’m all ears.
“George? Are you OK?” Rowena poked her head into her husband’s home office, only to find him staring at the wall across from his desk. He was supposed to be working on their bills, but he obviously wasn’t. It had been three days since Henry’s death, and George hadn’t been able to do much other than eat and sleep.
“Yes, Rowena. I’m fine,” George said shortly. After a second he added, “That’s a lie. I’m not fine at all. I still can’t believe Henry is dead.”
“I made you tea.” Rowena set a mug of black tea, George’s favorite, on the desk in front of him.
“Thank you, Ro. I really appreciate it.” George squeezed Rowena’s hand, and she squeezed his in return. He picked up the mug and sipped from it, but he didn’t seem to taste it.
“I’m telling you this just because you need the background,” Mrs. Tsai informs me. “I don’t want you to think I’m wasting your time.”
“Don’t worry about it, Mrs. Tsai,” I say in a soothing tone. “Take all the time you need.” Onyx stretches across my lap, and Jet plunks his face on my thigh. I make sure he’s breathing before turning my attention back to Mrs. Tsai.