“Hello?” I barked, not pleased to be talking and cooking at the same time. However, I was physically unable to let a ringing phone ring, much to my chagrin. More than one salesperson had been on the receiving end of a tongue-lashing by me for interrupting whatever it was I had been doing. Anu Dosh, the finance person—including fundraising—in my theater group, screened her calls without fail, and while I admired her, there was no way I could emulate her. Bobby Lee, our PR person, on the other hand, started questioning the telemarketer the minute he picked up the phone which usually caused the caller to hang up first. Bobby derived great satisfaction from making a caller cry, something that happened with surprising regularity.
“You bitch! What did you do with it!” The voice on the other hand was slurred, and I had trouble deciphering what she was saying. “I knew you took it, you Chink. You were the only one there. Give it back!”
“Kayla? Is that you?” I asked cautiously. “What do you want?”
“You were always jealous because I was fucking Matt, and you wished you could. All you Chinks are sly like that. That’s why you took it, you bitch!”
“Goodbye, Kayla.” I hung up the phone without further ado, turning back to my wrapping. I was glad she didn’t have my cell phone number as that would seriously piss me off. Only a handful of people plus the theater gang had that number, and I preferred to keep it that way. I hated the idea of people being able to reach me 24/7, but as a member of the Fabulous Five, I often needed to be available to the other members at odd hours of the day. The landline rang again, but I managed to ignore it this time.
The dumplings were coming along so nicely, I decided to also make some egg rolls. I had the skins for those as well, and they would make a nice complement to the dumplings. I was planning to fry everything, throw it in the freezer, thaw it in the morning, then heat it up when I got to Julia’s place. While I was making the egg rolls, I fumed over Kayla’s audacity. No doubt she’d discovered that I’d found her hidey-hole and took her stuff, but that was no reason for her to be so mean about it. I was doing her a fucking favor, and all she could do was berate me and call me names. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stomach working with her on account of her being such an unmitigated bitch—no matter how much I owed Matt. There had to be some other way to repay him, preferably one which included getting naked, and he’d understand my pulling out—wouldn’t he? Speak of the devil, I heard the front door slam.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Matt burst into the kitchen where I was still rolling up the egg rolls. “Aw, snap. You have one of your potlucks tomorrow. It’s so not fair that I have to eat caf food when you get to nosh on homemade goodies.” Matt gave me the puppy dog face meant to soften me up. I knew perfectly well that he had a million of restaurants to go to near the JDC, but I fell for it, anyway.
“I’ll make you some. And I have some extra dumplings, too,” I said with a smile.
“You are the best,” Matt said, his eyes lighting up. “Though I’m kind of hungry right now. Didn’t get enough to eat for dinner.”
“You can have them now or save them for your lunch tomorrow,” I shrugged. “It’s your choice. My advice is to eat them now because they won’t taste as good if you have to microwave them tomorrow. Then again, you can make your coworkers jealous that you have homemade Taiwanese food while they have to go to Leeann Chin’s. Then again, they probably prefer Leann Chin.” For some unfathomable reason, Leanne Chin was named the best Chinese restaurant in the Twin Cities by City Pages’ readers year after year. It was enough to make me question my decision to stay in Minnesota.
“I’ll have them now!” Matt sat down, grabbing the spare pair of chopsticks I had on the table. He looked so funny waiting expectantly for his food, I had to laugh.
“Have a good time with your boys?” I asked, getting up to fry him some dumplings and egg rolls. First, though, I started cooking some rice in the rice cooker because what was an Asian meal without rice?
“Yeah, I guess,” Matt said, shrugging his shoulders. “It seems like every time we get together, we have less and less in common.” Matt’s ‘boys’ were his teammates from his Gopher days. As most of them were married with children, it was understandable that Matt didn’t have much in common with them any more. The ones who were single tended to be pretty immature, unlike Matt. “I wanted to go to a Thai restaurant, but they wanted to go to Hooters. Hooters! When we got there, they all ogled every waitress there. I felt like I was back in fucking college or something. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Good thing I drove my own car. Even the married guys were making comments. Fucking disgusting.”
“Matt, that’s typical male behavior for you,” I said, shaking my head. “I can’t tell you how many comments I get from guys when I walk around downtown. Most guys think with their dicks, you know.”
“Hey, I got nothing against sex,” Matt said in what was probably the understatement of the year. “I just don’t understand the need to be so crude about it. Are those dumplings and egg rolls done yet?” I checked the product, declaring the first batch done. Of course, the rice wasn’t cooked yet, but Matt didn’t care about that. He wasn’t a big rice fan especially as he tried to adhere to a low-carb diet—though he still ate fruits and vegetables, thankfully for him. If he completely forwent those, I’d have to smack him upside the head. Oh, and pasta didn’t count for some reason.
“Here you go, your majesty,” I said, sliding a plate stacked with dumplings and egg rolls in front of Matt. They looked so damn good, I began frying myself some as well. “Oh, by the way—Kayla called. She was drunk or strung out and cursed me for taking her stuff. I hung up on her.” I said it casually, but I still felt angry.
“Scar, listen to me,” Matt said, setting down his chopsticks to look at me earnestly. Unfortunately for him, I was still cooking and resolutely ignoring him so I wasn’t as affected by his sincerity. “I know she’s being a royal pain in the ass, and I know you have every right to hate her. I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to drop this like a bad habit, but I’m begging you to hang in there. For my sake. For Danny’s sake. For both our sakes. Please?” Even though I wasn’t looking at Matt, his desperation penetrated my thick skin. As much as I wanted to kiss this case goodbye, I knew I couldn’t let Matt down.
“All right,” I said reluctantly. I told him what I’d planned to do before Kayla had pissed me off by calling me names. He agreed that a little blackmail might do the trick, and it was strangely apropos given how much blackmailing she was doing herself. Or call it payback as I thought of it. I pushed it to the back of my mind as I finished cooking my dumplings and egg rolls. I needed respite from thinking about the case in order to get a fresh look at it. Matt and I agreed to call a moratorium on discussing the case the rest of the night. Neither of us answered the phone when Kayla called. I was glad for the silence.
“Scar, what the hell is wrong with you?” Jet demanded, waving a hand in front of my face. “Anu’s telling the greatest story about how she finagled money out of Asian American Renaissance, and you don’t even give a rip.”
“I’m sorry, guys,” I said, setting down my chopsticks with a sigh. We were at Julia’s, per usual, and the food and company was grand as was usual, but all I could think about was Danny. I had snuck away from the group to check my cell twice already, and I knew the others would lynch me if I checked again in the next half hour. I looked down at my bowl and saw that half my rice was gone as were healthy amounts of bulgogi—Jet’s contribution; lo po gau (radish cakes)—Bobby’s dish; tempura vegetables—compliments of Julia; curried chicken—thanks to Anu; jiao-szes and egg rolls that I had brought. I had no memory of eating them, but the cramping in my stomach was a telling indicator that I had, indeed.
“What is the problem?” Anu asked in her soft, lilting voice. Though she had lived in America for most of her life, she still had remnants of an Indian accent. “You have not been with us all afternoon.” She was a small woman—barely five feet tall with flowing black hair, opaque eyes, and a discreet piercing in her right nostril. She tended to blend into the background until she had something important to say, then she grabbed everyone’s attention.
“It’s the missing boy,” I said, slumping over in my chair. It was one of those chic plastic things that resembled modern art more than furniture, and it was giving me a backache. All of Julia’s furniture was more decorative than functional, which could also be said of her clothing. “I keep thinking of how scared he must be. Also, I want to know if Kayla has received the package yet.”
“You sure she’s going to get one?” Bobby asked, reaching for more bulgogi. He was the stone-cold fox of the group, looking like the late, great Brandon Lee—son of Bruce Lee, though Bobby was no relation—but he was also the doubter of our group, which was one reason we had broken up. Yes, we had briefly dated, but I wanted to smack him upside the head every time he questioned something I said—which was often. I didn’t know how he was able to put that part of his personality aside to do PR, but he was great at it. He was also great in bed, but that was another story.
“Yes, Bobby, I’m sure,” I said patiently, as if he had a learning disability. “I have the second sight, remember?” He was the one I had the precog dream about, the one whose clothes I threw out the window when I caught him with his personal trainer. Bobby had the grace to look abashed, though remorse was low on his list of acceptable emotions.
“What do the police say about it?” Julia jumped in. She’d heard about Bobby’s perfidy ad nauseam from me back when it happened, and she wasn’t up for another round.
“Ma! I’m hungry!” Banana bellowed, popping up from the floor where she’d been scribbling to her heart’s content. I could make out the letters of her name—albeit shakily—and I was duly impressed. Banana was chubby, but quick, with an engaging smile.
“You just ate, hon,” Julia said, smiling fondly down at her daughter. Banana had a strong will, so Julia had to stand firm with her otherwise Banana would be staying up until three in the morning, doing whatever it was three-year-olds did.
“Auntie, I’m hungry,” Banana whimpered, pulling herself up and crowding me at my right elbow. Girl wasn’t stupid—she knew if she impeded my ability to eat, I’d most likely give her something to go away. “You’re my favorite auntie, you know.” As Julia was an only child and not married, that didn’t mean much. Still, I could never resist those big, brown eyes beseeching me, so I popped a dumpling into her waiting mouth. It reminded me of a bird feeding its baby, which was not an unpleasant association.
“There you go, babe,” I said, patting Banana on the shoulder. I refused to pat her on the head the way most adults do to little kids because I think it’s insulting.
“More!” Banana said, opening her mouth again. Before I could give in again, Julia scooped Banana up and shook her playfully.
“What have I told you about begging at the table?” Julia demanded, shaking a finger at Banana in mock-warning. “You’re not a dog, you know, so stop behaving like one.” Even though Julia was joking, there was an edge to her voice that wasn’t usually there. I looked her way, but she didn’t look back.
“But I’m hungry!” Banana bawled, tears springing up in her eyes. “I want some tempa.”
“Ok, baby,” Julia said, sighing loudly. Banana hadn’t really eaten much when we started eating a half hour ago, so it wouldn’t kill her to have a few pieces of tempura. Besides, the way she raced around the house, she would burn it off in an hour. Julia sat back down, settling Banana on her lap. Banana grabbed her mother’s chopsticks and tried to snatch a piece of tempura with them, but she didn’t quite have the motor dexterity to complete the task. She picked up a fork instead.