Marital Duplicity; chapter five

“Lee. Taiwanese Evangelical Church in the Twin Cities.” I groan as the results come back to me. My sister and her husband belong to has over 200 members, and Lee is a very common last name for Taiwanese people. This isn’t going to work. Instead, I search for their online directory. Once I have it, I isolate it to 14 people with ‘L’ first names. They only show the initial and not the whole first name, which makes my job harder. Without thinking of it, I pick up the phone and start calling. When someone answers, I say, “Hello, may I speak to Lee, please?” Eight people actually answer their phones and tell me there’s no Lee there. I leave messages on the other five people’s VMs. Two call me back within an hour to say there’s no Lee there. And then there are three. I don’t hold out any hope, but at least it’s another checkmark in my notes.

Next, I Google Matthew Brewer, Minneapolis, and attorney. The results are astronomical. That might not even be his last name. I quickly email Jordan, and he emails me back immediately. Michael Bowman. Attorney to the rich and not-so-famous in Edina, which is just how they like it. Michael Bowman. What am I going to say to him? I can’t just ask him to betray the confidence of his clients, can I? That has to be against the law. Then again, it can’t hurt to try. I pick up the phone once again and call the number Jordan gave me.

“Michael Bowman. How may I help you?” I blink because his rich, plummy, British voice isn’t what I was expecting.

“Hi, Mr. Bowman. My name is Megan Liang. Jordan Cheng is my nephew. He gave me your name and number. Please hear me out.” I say it all in a rush so he won’t hang up on me.

“You have five minutes, Ms. Liang. Go.” I imagine him starting a timer, then dismiss the image from my mind.

“Jordan’s father is missing. Jordan said he asked about divorce laws, so Jordan referred him to you. Is there anything you can tell me about that?” I count to ten, slowly, before he answers.

“You know I can’t break confidentiality, Ms. Liang, but I can tell you that I did talk to Mr. Robert Cheng for quite some time about divorce lawyers. That’s really all I say. Goodbye, Ms. Liang.” Mr. Bowman hangs up without saying anything else. I make a note of it, though it doesn’t tell me much more than I knew before. Rather, it confirms what I’ve been told. Bob was talking about divorce. Jasmine is adamant that it’s not about their marriage. What if it was, though? What would Jasmine do if Bob told her he wanted a divorce? I stop, appalled. Am I really having this thought about my sister? I can’t help but remember the time she got into a fight with her best friend when they were sixteen. Over a boy, if I remember correctly. Jasmine started punching Sandy repeatedly in the gut until Sandy started spitting up blood. Goddamn it. My sister is not a killer or anything like that. I am ashamed for even thinking it. Still. The way her eyes go from warm to deadly in less than ten seconds. The way her body goes rigid when she’s trying to hold in her temper. The way she goes preternaturally still when she’s upset.

“Jasmine didn’t kill anyone.” I say it out loud, and I’m know I’m trying to reassure myself. Feeling like a shit, I start Googling my sister. Jasmine Liang. There’s not much under her maiden name, so I try Jasmine Cheng instead. Unfortunately, there’s a porn star with that name, so I have to filter out all those results. When I’m done, I start reading. There is tons about her voluntary work with the church, but I can’t seem to find anything negative about her. Granted, she has minimal digital footprints because she only uses Facebook to post pictures of her grandchildren. I keep reading, and I find one interesting tidbit. She called the police once on Bob about six months ago. Apparently, Bob was drunk and started yelling at Jasmine over some perceived slight. He actually raised a hand to her, and that’s when she called the police. He spent the night in the drink tank and then was let go without a warning. I sit back, stunned. Why didn’t Jasmine tell me? Was she ashamed about it? I pick up the phone and call Jasmine.

“What, Megan?” Jasmine asks, her voice taut. I brace myself for yet another confrontation.

“You called the cops on Bob six months ago,” I say without preamble.

“How did you find that out?” Jasmine asks, appalled. “It was a mistake, and I didn’t press charges.”

“He almost hit you?” I ask, ignoring her question. I don’t want to be sidetracked from my investigation.

“He didn’t mean to. He was drunk, and we got into a spat.” Sadness washed over me as I hear her excuse. I’ve heard it from friends before as excuses for why their boyfriends hit them. “He hasn’t done it since, Megs. He was mortified the next morning.” There’s nothing else to say, so we hang up. I know I have to go back to my research, but I’m not sure I want to uncover any more of Jasmine’s dirty secrets. I have to, though, so I steel myself and turn back to my laptop.

I do a little more digging, but nothing jumps out at me. I inhale deeply and plug in MPowerment Marketing Firm and ‘online directory’. Once I find it, I search the directory for ‘Lee.’ There are four with the first name Lee. One is a guy, and three are women. As I’m scanning, I get two more phone calls from the church people with ‘L’ names. Neither are Lee. There’s only one left, and I don’t hold out much hope for that person, either. I glance at the Lees from the marketing form. Lee Tomlinson. A VP in PR. Been with the firm three years. Woah. That’s an up-and-comer for you. Lee Saunders. Works in Human Resources and has for ten years. Lee Rokers. Payroll. Fifteen years. That’s about the same time as when Bob was hired. I wonder if it’s just a coincidence. Lastly, Lee Bradley. Oh, shit. She works on Bob’s team. Has only been with the firm for a year and a half. Is a very attractive young black woman with cornrows, Pam Grier curves, and a mouth that is begging to be kissed. I sift through some pictures of the team, and I notice that she’s gazing in adoration at Bob in more than one of them. I sigh, suddenly feeling weary. If I had to bet, she’s my pick for the ‘Lee’ Bob was talking to that night. I call her, and she picks up on the second ring.

“Hello? Lee Bradley. We’re here to empower you! How may I help you?” Lee’s voice is brisk, almost peppy.

“Ms. Bradley. Hi. My name is Megan Liang. I’m Bob’s sister-in-law.” I barely get that out before she interrupts me with a loud gasp.

“Omigod! Bob! How is he? He didn’t show up for work today!” Lee’s carefully cultivated modulated tones go right out the window. “I’m working late, obviously. You caught me just before I was going to head out.”

“That’s why I’m calling you. About Bob, I mean. Is there anything you can tell me about his behavior yesterday?”

“He was fine! He had a doctor’s appointment and left early. Geoff didn’t like that, but what could Bob do? He couldn’t just miss the appointment.” Her tone is defensive while also protective. It’s clear she’s in love with Bob, but whether he returned the feeling is yet to be known.

“Ms. Bradley. Is there anything you can tell me about Bob?” I keep my question vague so as to not rouse suspicion.

“Please. Call me Lee. Bob has been a mentor to me. He took me under his wing when I got here, and he’s the only one I completely trust.” Lee hesitates, then adds, “You don’t know how it is around places like this. Everybody needs to watch their backs. Bob always has mine.”

“What do you mean by that? Why do people have to watch their backs?” I hold my breath because there’s no reason for her to talk to me, not really. I’m hoping she’ll keep talking, but who knows for how long?

“It’s cutthroat, Megan. I didn’t realize. When I first got here, another girl, Penny, got axed for being ‘too uppity’. That’s white people talk for black women getting above their station.” Lee lowers her voice. “Us PoC have to stick together. That’s what I always told Bob.” She’s boggling my mind. Maybe she’s the reason he claimed racism when he was passed over for a promotion. I do a little more probing.

“I understand. The last time I worked in an office, people kept mixing me up with the other Asian woman there. She was Vietnamese, five feet tall in her dreams, and not even a hundred pounds soaking wet. I’m Taiwanese, five-five, and I haven’t seen a hundred pounds since I was ten.” I laugh, and she laughs with me.

“Girl. You’re telling me. I was born plus-sized, and I’ve stayed that way ever since.” We share a comfortable laugh.

“You seem to know Bob well.” I say, keeping my voice neutral.

“He went out of his way to talk to me, to give me tips. It’s only because of him I’m still here.” Lee’s voice is wavering, and it seems she’s close to tears. She hesitates, then adds, “He’s been distracted the past few months. I’ve had to cover for him several times. Geoff gave him warnings about leaving early.” Lee’s voice changes abruptly. “I have to go. Thank you for calling.” She hangs up on me, and I just stare at my phone. It’s clear she has feelings for him, but it’s less clear how he felt about her in return. He’s mentored her and took care of her at work, but was it anything more? It’s hard to tell from her recounting because her bias colors the story, but it’ll have to do for now. I write down as much as I can remember before throwing my pen across the room. It seems like a whole lot of nothing to me, but I can’t afford to get frustrated. I get a call from the last ‘L’ name at Jasmine’s church, and to no surprise, it’s not a Lee. So, that’s a bust. Not that I thought there’d be much to find there, anyway. Still. Reverend Yang was counseling Bob for his alcoholism, and speaking of that, I Google Reverend Yang. Reverend Marcus Yang. Thirty-two years old, plays tennis four times a week, into reggae music. He’s six feet tall, has a square, chiseled jaw with a dimple in it, and a boyish grin. In other words, he’s a stone cold fox.

I shake the lascivious thoughts from my head and forge on. Marcus is married to Sharon Chu now Yang, who is a dead ringer for a young Michelle Yeoh. Slim, yet curvy, with a wide smile and smoldering eyes. She’s twenty-nine, went to Wellesley, matriculated with honors with a degree in social work. They have two children, Sarah, and Benjamin, aged three and one. The good reverend went to Harvard Divinity. They met in Boston, courted for six months, then got married. Marcus interviewed for the job here, and they moved here three years ago. I dig deeper, but there doesn’t seem to be anything there. The parishioners are over-the-moon about the reverend and his wife. More than one of the female parishioners gush about how strong and manly Reverend Yang is. How he’s such a man of God and such a good listener. I roll my eyes because it’s just lust wrapped up in a sanctimonious blanket. I know they have to justify it somehow, but it’s just sad to me that something so base and physical has to be covered up and prevaricated over.

I Google a bit more, and I find out that Marcus recently received a reprimand for being too close to a female parishioner. He was counseling her for marital problems for three months, then she claimed it went from counseling sessions to sex. She said every Thursday night, they would meet in his office at the church at seven-thirty, then they would have sex on his desk for a half hour. Reverend Yang denied it, of course, and Mrs. Yang defended her husband vigorously. The parishioners rallied behind the reverend and his wife, but the Taiwanese elders in the Los Angeles branch, the parent branch, reprimanded Reverend Yang and informed him that he was not to counsel female parishioners alone. He agreed, so his wife/secretary now sits in on all those sessions. The fact that he was so quick to agree to the conditions leads me to believe that he’s innocent. Then again, if he’s guilty, it would be a good way to make it seem like he’s innocent. Just great. I’ve talked myself into thinking he’s both guilty and innocent at the same time.

I check my computer clock. It’s after nine o’clock, which means it’s probably too late for me to call Donald Zhang. I send him an email instead, asking him about the Revolutionary Christians. I don’t think it has anything to do with Bob’s disappearance, but it might help me figure out what the hell is going on. I don’t know Bob very well as we talk mostly about superficial things whenever I’m over at their place for dinner. He’s a hardcore rightwinger, though he’s not necessarily against social justice—as long as it doesn’t interfere with capitalism and Christianity. He’s not a bad man, but we have absolutely nothing in common. As I’m ruminating on Bob’s nature, I get an email back from Donald Zhang. He invites me to call him and includes his phone number. I’m surprised, but I do as he requests.

“Hello. Ms. Liang?” Donald Zhang’s voice is husky and surprisingly robust for a man his age.

“Yes. Please call me Megan, Mr. Zhang,” I say, typing his name into Google.

“You must call me Don, Megan. Mr. Zhang makes me feel old.”

“OK, Don,” I say. I click on ‘images’, and I blink at how virile Don is. He’s over six feet tall and has a full head of black hair with a touch of white at the temples. He has a dimple in his left cheek and a winsome grin. I would bang him in a heartbeat.

“You wanted to know about Bob?” Don’s voice makes it difficult for me to concentrate on what he’s saying, but I try my best.

“Yes. It’s complicated, but he’s my brother-in-law, and he’s missing. I’m hoping that knowing more about him will help me find him.” I blush at how stupid my explanation sounds, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

“Missing! That’s terrible.” Don’s voice is sufficed with warmth. “I don’t know how much help I’ll be, though. We all went our separate ways after the Revolutionary Christians was disbanded. I will tell you that I liked Bob the best out of the whole sorry lot.” He pauses, and I make encouraging noises. “The rest of the guys were self-righteous assholes. Bob was very down-to-earth, and we had several thoughtful discussions about philosophy and theology.”

“Really?” I’m surprised as Bob is more apt to pontificate than discuss. Then again, I’m a mere woman, so he probably doesn’t consider me a worthy dialogue partner.

“Yes. We’d hang out in his living room long after the rest of the guys had gone home. Even during the meetings, he was different. Most of the others were real rabble-rouser types. They wanted to burn down the secular world, and they didn’t particularly care who got hurt in the process. Bob, on the other hand, was adamant that no person should be hurt.” Don’s voice comes alive, and I have a hunch he’s more staid now than he was in his youth. I bet he misses his salad days.

“When’s the last time you talked to him?” I ask. While it’s interesting to learn about Bob as a young man, it’s not particularly helpful now.

“Not since then,” Don replies. “We went our separate ways after the Revolutionary Christians disbanded. I became disillusioned with the church, and I renounced Christianity several decades ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I say sincerely.

“Are you a believer, Megan?”

“No, but I know it brings comfort to many people.”

“I started asking questions for which I found no answers,” Don explains, sadness in his voice. “I realized that Christianity wasn’t for me, and I moved on with my life. Understandably, the Revolutionary Christians who remained Christians didn’t want to have much to do with me.”

Don and I talk for a few more minutes, and I’m in no hurry to hang up. While I’m tempted to ask him to coffee, I know better than to go down that road. The only reason I’d ask him to coffee is because I want to fuck him. He’s not friend material, and I’m not about to pretend otherwise. I can tell from the tone of his voice that he’s intrigued by me as well, but he doesn’t make an overture, either. After five more minutes, we say our goodbyes. I think about what he told me, but I realize that while it fleshes Bob out, it’s not very relevant to my current problem. I need someone who knows Bob now, and to that end, I call Jasmine. She answers on the fourth ring.

“Megan, it’s late. I was about to go to bed. Can this wait?” Her voice is weary as if she’s about to fall asleep.

“I just need a few minutes, Jasmine.” I pause and ask, “Who are Bob’s best friends?”

“Samuel Wong and Doug Lee,” Jasmine says. “They’re both from our church, and the three of them have been best friends for two decades.” She gives me their emails and their phone numbers without prompting.

“Thanks. That’s all I need.” I hang up after assuring her that I’ll call her if I learn anything new. I send emails to Samuel and Doug, asking them if they’re willing to talk to me about Bob.

“Mrrreow!” Onyx hops up on my lap, blocks my screen, and yowls at me.

“Onyx! Bad kitty.” I waggle my finger in her face, but she just gnaws on it.

“Meow meow meow,” Onyx sings as Jet hops up and head-butts my thigh.

“OK, treats.” I carefully set my laptop on the couch, lift Onyx off me and put her on the floor, then stand up and stretch. I walk to the kitchen and grab the bag of Temptations. I give them each four, then close the bag again. I watch as they munch side-by-side companionably. I’ve had them for eight years ever since they were six months old. They were littermates, and they came to me with their personalities already intact. Onyx was inquisitive and ready to explore the world, whereas Jet retreated into a box and wouldn’t come out for a whole day except to go to the bathroom.

I go upstairs and shower, my body aching. I’m tired. I need to sleep, but I’m not sure I can. Every time I close my eyes, I see Julianna’s body, her throat slashed and her tongue missing. I wake up screaming, my body sheathed in sweat, and scaring the shit out of my cats. They’ve taken to sleeping at my feet so they’ll be less disturbed if I jerk awake in the middle of the night. I take a cool shower after the nightmares because it’s the only thing that calms me. I take up to four quick showers a day, which is not great for my skin, but helpful to my nerves. This time, I make the shower warm so I might have a chance of falling asleep. I go back down to the couch and flop on it. Onyx and Jet join me, and I welcome their warmth. I close my eyes, but sleep refuses to come. I sigh loudly. I need to sleep. My brain is foggy, and I’m close to tears. I can’t keep living like this. I just can’t. I know I should see a therapist, but the idea of finding one is too daunting. Taiji is helping some, but not much. I don’t know what to do. Time is supposed to heal everything, but I think that’s bullshit. It’s been two weeks, and I don’t feel any better than I did right after it happened. I know that’s not how it works, but I still think I should feel better, even if it’s only a hair.

I cry, my tears snaking down my cheeks. I stuff my fist in my mouth so I don’t make a sound. I don’t know why that’s important to me, but it is. I cry for what seems like eternity until my tear ducts run dry. I wipe the tears away with my sleeve, then let my arm fall limply to my side. I methodically pet Onyx and Jet, hoping it’ll soothe the pain in my heart. It doesn’t, but it helps. I close my eyes and try desperately to sleep. I can’t force myself, however, and sleep eludes me. I turn on my side, causing Onyx and Jet to roll with me. I cuddle with them and let my brain veg for twenty minutes. It’s the best I can do right now.

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