“Ms. Liang,” the inspector nods at my mother, then frowns. There is the apparent problem of confusion of address with two Ms. Liangs in the room.
“You can call me Songbird,” my mother says helpfully, drawing a raised eyebrow from the inspector and a giggle from me. “Or Susannah,” my mother adds, anxious to make Inspector Robinson more comfortable.
“How about Mrs. Liang,” Inspector Robinson says cautiously. In this day and age, it’s more common than not to offend women by offering to call them ‘Mrs.’.
“That’s fine, too,” my mother says cheerfully. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
“Um, no, thank you, ma’am,” Inspector Robinson says, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. My mother has that effect on people. “Ms. Liang, would you please show me the mailbox??” Inspector Robinson is so bewitched by my mother that she doesn’t even protest when my mother trails behind us as we retreat downstairs again. I remember to lock the door.
“Here it is,” I say, stepping aside to let the good inspector view the remains of my mail box, which she probably saw on her way in. She keeps her hands in her pockets as she examines the box—there isn’t much to see.
“Did you touch anything?” She asks, her voice laced with weariness. My mother looks at her sympathetically, which doesn’t escape the inspector’s attention. There’s a rap on the door which startles my mother and me. “There’s the team. Why don’t you take your mother upstairs and wait for me there?”
“I didn’t touch anything,” I say rapidly. “But upstairs, the front door, there are scratches. I touched that, obviously.” She nods, smiles briefly, then goes to let her people in. I can hear one of them bitching loudly, probably raising his voice on purpose for my benefit.
“Christ, Inspector, this is fucking ridiculous. Why the special treatment? This chick your girlfriend or something?” Inspector Robinson’s response is immediate and scathing.
“If you object to doing your job, Donaldson, let me know, and I’ll be sure to inform your supervisor of your distaste.” Donaldson glowers at the inspector, but stops complaining.
“I like her,” my mother said admiringly as we reentered the apartment. I don’t bother to answer as I head for the coffee table where I keep the mail. I leaf through it, but don’t find anything other than bills and advertisements. “Do you think she’s a lesbian?” My mother continues speculating. “That comment her coworker made gives me hope.”
“Or else she’s like any other strong woman in a male-dominated profession—automatically labeled.” I shrug, giving up on the mail. I can’t tell what’s important and what’s not. My mother and I wait in silence until Inspector Robinson returns. She has today’s mail which she hands to me. I assume there’s nothing of interest in it and place it on the table. I point out the note to Inspector Robinson so she can’t say I keep things from her. She has her team dust and fingerprint it, but doesn’t hold out much hope. Only when they tag it and bag it will she touch it. She reads it with a frown on her face. My mother disappears into the kitchen.
“Any idea who this ‘B’ is or what he or she is looking for?” Inspector Robinson asks once she’s finished reading the note. Her team files out, leaving just Inspector Robinson and me in the room.
“No,” I say. Something is glimmering in the back of my brain, but I’m not sure what it is. I shelf it for now to think about it later. The inspector sighs. I wish I could make her job easier for her, but I would have to fabricate evidence in order to do so, and something tells me she wouldn’t appreciate that. I watch her out of the corner of my eye as she fingers the baggie containing the note. For a minute, she has let down her guard and resembles nothing more than a balloon with the air leaking out. She looks younger with her face softened, and I know she would be uncomfortable if she caught me staring at her in this particular moment, but I cannot look away. No matter the circumstances of our acquaintance, there is a tremor of electricity passing between us. If the crack her colleague made is any indication, she plays for my team. Of course, a strong woman on the police force is going to be called a dyke whether she is one or not, so his comment isn’t conclusive evidence.
“That’s all for now, Ms. Liang,” Inspector Robinson says, exhaustion lacing her voice. I will go into the station tomorrow or the next day to make my statement, but neither of us is sanguine about the possibility of a positive result. On cue, my mom materializes out of the kitchen, a large Styrofoam cup with a lid in one hand and a plastic baggie of brownies in the other. I devoutly hope the brownies are not from her special batch, but I trust that my mother would not give pot brownies to a cop.
“Inspector Robinson, I must insist you take some tea and brownies for the road. I know you’re nowhere near the end of your day.” My mother holds out the goodies to Inspector Robinson who has a bemused expression on her face as she stares at the Styrofoam cup. I know she wants to ask why my mother has gas station cups, but is too polite to do so. If she had, she would have found out that my mother stocks them as policy, both at her place and at mine.
“I don’t think—” Inspector Robinson begins, her eyes glued to the brownies.
“Look,” my mother breaks in, handing the tea to me. She takes a brownie out of the baggie and starts eating it. “The tea is ginseng tea. It’ll give you energy. Rainbow will take a sip if you want her to.”
“Ginseng tastes like crap,” I protest, earning a dirty look from my mother.
“I put honey in it. It’s good. Besides, it’s revitalizing, and that’s what Inspector Robinson needs right now,” my mother retorts. She pops the last of her brownie in her mouth, then shows the inspector her empty hand. She beams affably.
“I—ok,” Inspector Robinson capitulates, as if she has a choice. Nobody says no to my mother. “Thank you.” She looks absurdly grateful for such a small act of kindness. My mother hands the brownies over while I carefully transfer the Styrofoam cup to her other hand.
“Hold your nose while you drink it,” I advise, earning another dirty look from my mother.
“Would you like me to fix you sandwich?” Mom asks anxiously. “I’d bet my last dollar you skipped dinner.”
“No, this is fine,” Inspector Robinson smiles, clearly won over. After she leaves, I burst into laughter.
“What’s so funny?” My mother asks indignantly.
“Once a mother, always a mother,” I say good-humoredly. “You like her a lot, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do. Much better than Vashti,” my mother says unexpectedly. I lift an eyebrow; she hasn’t even met Vashti yet. “She almost got you killed,” my mother says simply. “The inspector will keep you out of trouble.” She pauses and sighs a private sigh.
My mother and I chat about the email, but to no avail. Too bad there isn’t a signature on it or some other identifying mark. If it had been a handwritten missive, that would have been given me something to work with, but as it is, there’s nothing. We decide that whatever was sent had to be fairly recent, otherwise Paris would have told me about it. I don’t mention that there are few important things Paris has been keeping from me because it’s too painful to discuss, even with my mother. If whatever the person who broke in was after was delivered in the last few days, then he or she found it because there’s mostly bills in the mail pile. If, on the other hand, the person who sent it did so yesterday or the day before, then it might not be here yet. Or if the person is from out of town, it would take longer to reach here. The problem is, I don’t know what I’m looking for or if the intruder found it. I vow to pay special attention to the mail for the next few days. We decide to talk about it further when we go back to the hospital. In other words, with Lyle.
We take turns in the shower. Cleaning up had made us both dirty, and neither of us relish spending the night in the hospital being grimy. I change into fresh jeans and a black sweatshirt, then throw an extra set of clothing in my backpack for work tomorrow. I have a hunch that this is going to be a night I spend in the hospital before heading straight to work. While my mother showers, I call Lyle to let him know what happened. I let him know about the will as well, which he hadn’t known about. He agrees that we need to brainstorm when my mother and I return to the hospital. My mother finishes her shower and changes as well. At some point, she must have made a trip across the bay because she has extra clothes which she stores in my closet. After a bracing cup of ginger tea—not ginseng—we return to the hospital. Mr. and Mrs. Jenson have retired to their hotel for the night, whereas Lyle is in the waiting room.
“What the hell happened?” He asks, jumping up at the sight of us. His black curls are limp and greasy—his blue eyes dull. There is an unhealthy pallor to his skin which bespeaks of sleepless nights and too much caffeine and cigarettes. The skin under his eyes are blackened as if he’s been punched. We update him on the situation.
“Did Paris tell you about receiving anything unusual in the mail,” I ask a bit stiffly.
“Not that I remember,” Lyle says, wrinkling his forehead. I feel a small flash of relief followed by a bigger flash of guilt. What kind of friend am I to put my own ego in front of Paris’s well-being?
“Shit, this is getting us nowhere,” I mutter. “I’m going to see Paris.”
I stride towards the door, daring anyone to stop me. I don’t even want to give my name at the door, and I don’t have to because it’s one of the cops who know me. He merely nods as I enter before returning to his magazine. I plop down next to Paris, my face set. I touch his hand with mine.
“Listen to me,” I say urgently. “I know you’re in there, so listen up, Frantz.” Sweet-talking him hasn’t worked, so I go for angry. “I know you like it just lying around being lazy, making us all worry about you, but it’s getting old. Lyle and I are running around trying to figure out who tried to kill you, but we need your help. Who is the blond? Why is your boss mad at you? Did you and Billy Bob fight because of steroids? What exactly did Ursula say to you? Most importantly, who tried to run you over?” I lean forward, watching his face intently. Hours seem to pass as I watch him. “Please, Paris, you have to wake up.” Tears slip down my cheeks despite my best intention not to give in to them. I brush them way angrily, ashamed to be so weak. As I stir in my seat, Paris’s hand moves in mine. I go completely still, holding my breath. Sure enough, it moves again. “Paris! It’s me, Rayne! Can you hear me?” I haven’t taken my eyes off Paris’s face so I catch it when his eyes flash open, even though they close just as quickly.
“Trader…” he says hoarsely before falling silent again. It all happens so fast, I almost think I imagine it. Then I realize the enormity of what’s occurred, and I bolt from the room.
“Oh, please, come quick,” I say to the first nurse I see. “He moved! Paris moved!” I am clutching her arm, grinning like a madwoman. “He talked! He did, for real.”
“Please, Ma’am, calm down. I’ll get the doctor.” To her credit, she doesn’t waste time trying to decipher what I’m saying and hurries to fetch a doctor who listens carefully to what I have to say. I describe what happened, but leave out what I thought I heard. I just said he mumbled something I couldn’t make out. After the doctor hurries to Paris’s room, I float back to my mother and Lyle.
“He, he, he,” I say, all choked-up. Now I’m sure Paris will be ok, no matter how long he’s comatose.
“Oh my god,” Lyle moaned, wrapping his arms around his body. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
“Oh, no! No, no, no!” I say, horrified to cause him pain, even if it’s unintentional. “He moved his hand in mine! He opened his eyes. He talked.” My mother and Lyle stare at me, not saying a word. “What, you guys catch the coma?” Black humor, but highly appropriate to the moment, I think.
“My baby is awake?” Lyle jumps up, looking ten times better than a minute ago. “I have to go to him.”
“Wait, Lyle,” I say, catching him by the arm. I curse myself for fucking up twice in a minute. “He lapsed back into the coma, and the doctors are with him now.”
“Oh,” Lyle says, dropping back into his seat. The animation drains from his face as easily as it had risen there in the first place.
“But he did all that,” I say earnestly. “That counts for something, doesn’t it?”
“Of course it does, honey,” my mom says, standing up and hugging me. “That’s great news. What did he say?”
“Something about a trader,” I say, frowning. I can see my mom and Lyle mouthing the word, trying to make sense of it. I have to admit that I wasn’t having much luck with it.
“How exactly did he say it?” My mother asks. I pause to think; it had happened so quickly.
“Tra..der.” I repeat it as closely as possible.
“He’s dreaming of shopping?” Lyle suggests, his mouth twitching.
“He wants to try day trading,” my mother chimes in.
“Or maybe he was trying to say he’d trade his soul for some real food,” is my contribution. We all laugh in sheer relief.
“Should we call the Jensons?” Lyle asks, looking to my mother for guidance.
“Why don’t we see what the doctor has to say first,” my mother replies. “We don’t want to bother the Jensons if it’s not for a good reason. It is after midnight.” We sit and wait, in the time-honored tradition of hospitals everywhere. After a half hour, the doctor comes over to us.