Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

This was a great book.  Not as complex at Margaret Atwood's THE BLIND ASSASSIN, of which I am still terribly enamored, or the works of Toni Morrison, Amy Tan's THE HUNDRED SECRET SENSES is still deserving of being in discussion with those novels.  I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading this book. 




Set in mid-90s San Francisco, the story is about Olivia, a Chinese-American woman, and her half-sister, Kwan, who came to America at the age of eighteen to live with Olivia's family, when Olivia was only four.  Their relationship is fraught by the fact that Olivia, as a child, felt embarrassed by her new sister, whose lack of understanding with regard to American customs and limited ability to speak the language made her the butt of jokes, which the younger Olivia took as a reflection on herself.  Kwan also shared with Olivia, secretly, that she could see ghosts and would share stories of these "yin people," many, if not all, of whom lived in the previous century.  Olivia eventually came to indulge her older sister, telling her she believed the stories, and even said, as a child, that she could occasionally see the ghost, as well. 



In the narrative's present, Olivia and Kwan, who calls her sister "Libby-ah," their relationship is still strained, though only from the perspective of Olivia, who finds her older sibling's continued adherence to an ability to see ghosts, troubling.  Kwan, on the other hand, has nothing but unconditional love for her younger sister.  This, due to Olivia's guilt at how she treats her sister, only exacerbates the frustration she feels with this relationship.  Add to this, her recent separation from her husband of seventeen years, Simon, and Olivia is having a bad time of things. 



Kwan plans a trip home, to China, and Olivia and Simon, who have an assignment to write an article about the native food scene of China, join her--though separated, they still have a joint business they run, are still friendly with one another, and are trying to figure out what their relationship should be and whether they will get back together or not; they are searching (or, more to the point, Olivia is searching) for something that went missing in their marriage long ago.  In the tiny village of Changmian, far off the beaten path, with no electricity and no modern conveniences anywhere, the village where Kwan grew up, Olivia and Kwan's common, family history feels very close.  Being here unlocks something, not only in the connection between siblings but also between husband and wife, and the stories that Kwan has told, over the years, about the yin people and their lives in the mid-1800s come to have new meaning.  It's a profound discovery for Olivia, one that changes the course of her life forever, and one that does not come without consequences. 




I cannot get more deeply into this change that occurs, because it would ruin the novel.  Suffice to say, a dramatic shift happens, in their and our understanding of these ghost stories, and though it's a surprise, it's also something that was laid out from the very beginning, by Ms. Tan.  As with any great story, the end is unexpected and predestined, all at once.  It's an emotional culmination that works, and that is no easy task to accomplish. 




Like Atwood's Assassin, and everything I've read by Ms. Morrison, Amy Tan writes with a confidence that is captivating.  She takes her readers by the hand, leads them where they need to go, parsing out information methodically, in a manner that, at times, is confusing, but which, in the end, allows one to look back at what came before and see how all the pieces fit neatly into the culmination of the story.  Tan feels no need to tip her hand too early or spoon feed her audience.  This is something I appreciate greatly.  It appears I will need to include more works from Tan, in my reading diet, going forward. 

-chris

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Nonfiction read in 2018 (BLTN; better later than never)

It's been interesting for me, in just these recent handful of years, to find myself more engaged and excited about reading nonfiction, which was not the case for most of my life.  I had a prejudice against nonfiction -- it was too much like homework, its prose couldn't possibly be magical like the fantasy novels I read, it would probably put me to sleep.  That has definitely changed.  I couldn't pinpoint when or why, but I do remember the first nonfiction book I read that was as dramatic -- every page laced with propulsive, elegant prose -- as any novel I'd ever read.  That book was David Simon's "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets."




This past year I read 11 nonfiction books, one down from last year (surprisingly).  Sadly, though the subjects covered were wide, my breadth of authors was not as diverse as I would have liked:

COMPANERO by Jorge Castaneda
EUREKA by Edgar Allan Poe
HOME IS THE HUNTER by Hans Carlson
IN OTHER WORDS by Jhumpa Lahiri
LOST CONNECTIONS: UNCOVERING THE REAL CAUSES OF DEPRESSION by Johann Hari
PROPHETS OF THE HOOD by Imani Perry
SLEEPLESS NIGHTS IN THE PROCRUSTEAN BED by Harlan Ellison
STRANGE JUSTICE by Jane Mayer & Jill Abramson
THE COMPLETE ART OF WAR by Sun Tzu
THE STRANGER IN THE WOODS by Michael Finkel
THE TURQUOISE LEDGE by Leslie Marmon Silko


Only four of the nonfiction books were written by women, though each woman, or pair of women in the case of "Strange Justice," came from a different background:  one of Indian descent, one African-American, one pair was white, and one Native American.  Each of these authors offered a distinct perspective on the world that was new to me, which I found exhilarating as well as enlightening.  One thing that has come from reading more nonfiction, and trying reach farther afield with regard to the authors I read, has been the new eyes through which I can view the world and view humanity.  Sure, that can sound trite or cliched or overly simplistic, but it does not make it any less true.  Every one of these four books written by the above female authors stayed with me, long after I finished them.


 
With "Strange Justice," Jane Mayer & Jill Abramson wrote about the Clarence Thomas hearings, doing the reporting contemporaneously, as well as in the time shortly after, laying out the evidence that was not shared with the public, revealing the multiple other women willing to testify alongside Anita Hill, who were not offered that opportunity, all contemporaneously to the divisive hearings. 



Leslie Marmon Silko's "The Turquoise Ledge" was a memoir, wherein you not only learned about her writing, but also her art, and her spirituality.  It was a wonderful story about an important Native American author and the harmonious way in which she approaches living in the American southwest, with snakes, scorpions, and drought, among other hardships.



Imani Perry wrote about rap, dissecting and examining it in a way that was not only academic but also very real.  She made it relatable for everyone, delving deeper into the societal realities that helped birth this American artform, while also discussing the problematic aspects of rap.



Jhumpa Lahiri's "In Other Words" was magnificent.  She is an author whose work I have come to quickly revere, in recent years.  In this memoir, she wrote of diving headfirst into learning Italian -- of moving to Italy, bringing her family along, of speaking and writing only in Italian -- revealing her uncompromising will and intellect, through a dual-language book, wherein she wrote the Italian manuscript and then had someone else translate it.  Even in a second language, her prose sings with a beauty that few can match.  Possibly my favorite book I read last year.



Among the other nonfiction books, there were many enjoyable and engaging reads, but few as memorable as the four above.  One such book would be Harlan Ellison's "Sleepless Nights..."  Noted for his short fiction, and more likely for his television work, Ellison was a noted essayist, winning the Silver PEN award for journalism in 1982.  The essays in this work cover a wide range of topics and the electricity of Ellison's prose is always a guarantee for one to be entertained and engaged.

Others of Note:



"Companero" was an interesting look at the life of Che Guevara.  I only knew the broadest, simplest strokes about Guevara's life.  This book certainly filled in the life of this revolutionary.  I think it's fair to say that Guevara was an idealist, who worked hard for what he believed in.  But he was more complicated than that, eventually coming to believe, to a certain extent, the myths surrounding him, while failing many of those who loved him most because of his human failings, most prominently revealed in this book his appeal for beautiful women and the resultant infidelity that came of this.  This was a well done and even-handed book about an important figure in 20th-century world politics.



"Home is the Hunter" was a fabulously propulsive book looking at the James Bay Cree of northern Quebec, looking at their legacy and the manner in which their culture has been changed by modernity and the need for energy, in the form of a series of large dams for a giant hydroelectric project beginning in 1971, for the whole world and the compromises that come from the schism between cultural and governmental needs.  Living in Maine, I found this to be a fascinating book that revealed a reality I was unaware of, previously.  Hans Carlson's facility with language, as well as his open-minded approach to reporting on this topic, helped make this a memorable book.



"Stranger in the Woods" told the story of a man, Christopher Knight, who hid out in the woods of Maine for more than a quarter century, with nobody being the wiser.  Living alone, he braved Maine winters with nothing but his wits and what he could procure, doing so in as little an intrusive manner as possible.  It's an extraordinary story that many believed, and still believe, to be not wholly accurate.  How could a human, in this modern age, live for almost 27 years without contact with another human being, and survive?  It can't be done.  Except it was.  Though it manages to tell Knight's story in a comprehensive manner, this book breezes along at a breakneck clip, pulling you from chapter to chapter, until you reach the end, wondering how you managed to get through it so quickly.  A great read!


All right.  We haven't quite reached the middle of February, and I'm two-thirds of the way through my reading recap of 2018.  Next, all the rest of the books I read.


-chris

Sunday, February 10, 2019

WHAT IT IS, week ending February 9, 2019

It's been a while, a few years at least, but let's see if I can do this weekly roundup thing more than once . . . in a row.  Here we go:






My wife and I started watching the final season of THE AMERICANS.  Without spoiling, the writers managed to bring separated characters together, in a natural way, while also setting up an interesting dynamic between Elizabeth and Philip.  We're two episodes in, and already the tension is ratcheting up.  Looking forward to seeing how it all ends.



I've also been watching season 3 of BETTER CALL SAUL.  Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould continue to head a stellar writers room that continually manages to drive Jimmy McGill into a corner that seems impossible for him to extricate himself from, only to watch his wizardry with words and emotional manipulation do just that.  The characters, the settings, the reintroduction of characters from BREAKING BAD are all seamless and wonderful.  A master class in television writing.



I finished reading ZAMI: A NEW SPELLING OF MY NAME this past week.  You need to read this book.  My quick review of it leans heavily into hyperbole, and it's all warranted.  Audre Lorde's memoir, or biomythography as she calls it, is direct, unflinching, heartbreaking, and heartwarming, detailing her early childhood up through her early 20s, in the NYC of the 1940s-50s.  Essential!



And I started reading my first Amy Tan novel, THE HUNDRED SECRET SENSES.  I'm 200 pages in, in four days, and it's wonderful.  Her use of language and the way she connects up disparate scenes in a natural and poetic manner is laudable.  I know I can learn a lot from reading this, the only trouble will be how well I'm able to put those lessons into practice.



Most importantly, I figured out how the latest story I've been writing would end, you can learn a bit of that at the end of this post on writing I shared a couple of days ago.  This should allow me to wrap up this story in the next day or so.  After that, I can finally get to work on the second draft of my latest novel.  It's been percolating for well over a year, so I'm anxious to get to it and see what I wrote.  Then, it'll be onto the next thing.

Since I haven't updated here in a couple years, after revising my first novel to as high a polish as I could manage (note: the 5th novel I started, and the 2nd one I completed), followed by writing the first draft of the second novel (the one noted in the paragraph above, waiting for a heavy revision), I began querying literary agents in the spring of last year.  I got no bites with my initial efforts, so I revised my introductory letter with an emphasis on infusing more personality into the letter.  From that, an agent has asked for the full manuscript.  That was a number of weeks ago, and I'm still waiting.  But it feels like I'm on the right track with this writing thing.  So, onward and upward.

Also of note, I had a new short story recently accepted for publication as well, having gotten back into that game after focusing on novel writing.  It felt good, and the journal is available for purchase through the publisher, both digital and physical editions, in the sidebar.  It's the one titled "A Stone Wall Between Us," in MEAT FOR TEA.  Thanks!

-chris

Friday, February 8, 2019

Writing is how you learn to Write (TM dept. of the obvious)

The best advice published authors give to aspiring writers -- write!  (also read, a lot, but the writing's the thing.) 


Truth, from Neil Gaiman.


Now, it may seem obvious, but there are many writers who are just talkers, or dreamers, wishing they had the time, the energy, the inspiration to write, but they just can't make time in their busy schedules. 

Don't get too pretentious, it's unbecoming.


There are also those who wonder how the mere act of writing can help one become a better writer.  I mean, don't you have to take college courses?  Or shouldn't you join a writing group?  Or, better yet, shouldn't you buy one of those "How to Write..." books?  Don't you need to learn how to write before you start to write? 

It's not a sprint, it's a marathon, and you might need those sweatbands.

Well, a basic knowledge of language is essential.  And if you've ever told a story, whether relating an anecdote from your past or conjuring up some horror around a campfire, that's a plus.  Certainly, as noted in the parenthetical above, having read a goodly number of books and stories can only help -- I think Neil Gaiman has said, on many occasions, that humans are storytellers, that it's something that sets us apart from other animals.  All of these are good building blocks for writing your own stories.  But if you don't write, you'll be stuck in first gear. 

Ellison.

So much goes into crafting a good story, worthy of publication, and there's much you learned in school that you can discard, but you'll never realize that until you start getting your own stories written and start submitting.  I admit, though it seemed obvious that one needed to write in order to become published, I did not truly understand how this could help my growth as a writer, in a general sense.  Now, I have a far better appreciation for this bit of intuitive advice.  

Sometimes, you do a pretty good job.


I've been writing for a number of years now, as a lark for the first part of those, seriously, now, for at least a decade.  In that time, I've managed to get some of my short stories published [see sidebar for where you can find some of those stories].  But even the stories that were not accepted for publication, along with the three abandoned novels and the first draft YA novel that I realize is a story better suited to a different medium, were beneficial.  Because in the writing of all these stories, and essays and comic scripts, I have slowly ingrained facets of the writing process that were "outside of myself" before, things that I needed to be reminded of, that did not come naturally--or more naturally--in the way they do now.  This would never have happened if not for my writing and revising and writing and revising and submitting and revising and writing and submitting, etc. etc. [cue dynamic writing montage]. 

Don't forget to revise, heavily, as well.

Two examples:  

1)
The first aspect of my writing that, at some point, I became cognizant of was the fact that I was writing in a passive voice.  Stephen King stated in his memoir, "On Writing," that he felt newer writers wrote in the passive voice out of a sense of fear and timidity.

Check.

The thing was, for the longest time, I did not realize I was doing this.  I don't think I was even fully aware of the difference between active and passive voice.  I must have had this as a topic of discussion in my language arts classes (we called it English...dating myself, here) in high school.  But if we did, I don't remember, and I certainly didn't retain it.

When I realized the difference between active and passive voice -- arrived at, on my own, through hundreds and thousands of pages of writing -- it was a revelation.  At that point, I would always make a note at the top of a manuscript to do a revision looking specifically for passive voice transgressions to fix them.  I had learned it, but I still needed to be made conscious of it.  Now, many years after this realization, it's something that sticks out, immediately, upon a re-read. It's become a part of my writing brain in the way that capitalizing the opening of a sentence and using a question mark for interrogatives, and I no longer need a reminder to look for it.  (caveat: if I use the passive voice in this post, it's either intentional or because I rarely do a hard revision on these; apologies if I fail to walk my talk)

In the end, you have a stack of paper that's a story.


2)
A second aspect, and one that I was aware of as a bigger hurdle for me as a storyteller, was the fact that I find it difficult to throw roadblocks in the way of my characters and, more importantly, am prone to a resolving any dramatic obstacles too quickly and too tidily.  It is something, as a writer, that I struggle with, but even knowing this about myself, it was a challenge to infuse this necessary dramatic tension into my stories, at least at a level I was pleased with. 

But, with the latest story I am writing, it feels like I've finally broken through.  Without giving too much away (and if the vagueness just makes things too obscure, I apologize):  I had introduced a character into the story that it had been intimated was dead, the ex-wife of my protagonist.  It seemed obvious, with the setting and the main character's state of mind, that they might end up in bed together, even though he's having feelings for an old friend he just reconnected with.  Since my protagonist and this reconnected friend lived an hour away, I knew he could get away with sleeping with his ex-wife but not get caught.  There would be the guilt he would have to deal with, but there would be no ugly confrontations because his ex-wife didn't want to get back with him, she did it to ease some of her own tension--easy-peezy.

EXCEPT, that would be too easy (the narrative road I feel I walk down too often).  Laying in bed, thinking this over, I realized I needed to have this quick tryst insinuate itself into this new relationship my protagonist was hoping for.  So, I have added a few other bits to the previous scenes that will spur this reconnected friend to surprise my main character, and she will catch him having breakfast with his ex-wife, whom she knows, and it will not be pretty.

It may seem a little thing, but being able to recognize that this was what was needed to heighten the drama of the narrative, while also finding a simple way to bring these three all together in a naturalistic manner, was another important revelation for me, as a growing writer.  Now, the hope is this lesson is another one I can add to my writer brain, in order to move onto whatever is next in my arsenal.  We'll see.  Either way, it was terribly exciting.  


-chris

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Audre Lorde's ZAMI: A New Spelling of My Name

While a young child, Audre Lorde didn't like the way the "y" at the end of her first name fell below the line on the paper, so she changed how she spelled her name.  Unsurprisingly, Lorde grew to be a strong, intelligent woman who fought for what was right and refused to be pigeon-holed or disrespected.



Zami: A New Spelling of My Name is an amazing book.  A memoir covering Lorde's early childhood up through her early to mid-20s.  Her facility with language pulls you in, as a reader, to 1930s, 40s, and 50s New York (with a quick aside to Mexico), filling your senses with her words, allowing you to picture the place that birthed her.


Self-described as a "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," Lorde shares the heartache of growing up black in america through the Depression and WWII and into the nascent Civil Rights Movement, while also revealing what it meant to be a lesbian during this time, as well.  When asked how long she'd been "in the life," Lorde didn't know how to answer, because she only had one life and only knew one way to live:  honestly, but with an invisible wall erected around her, to try and protect her against the prejudices threatening her from all sides.



Lorde's prose is direct, harsh, and also poetic without being too flowery.  She propels you along, even as you wish to remain and linger in certain sections -- the discovery of a new lover, or the enjoyment of a gathering of friends.  I can't remember where I first heard Audre Lorde's name, probably from one of W. Kamau Bell's podcasts, but I'm sure glad I did.  Otherwise, I would not have had the opportunity to experience this powerful biomythography of Lorde's.  And that would have been a shame.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Novels read in 2018 (better later than never)

 

As stated in the prologue, I've been working to "read harder."  This translated into fewer novels read by me than probably any time since I turned five and is definitely the fewest novels I've read in the handful of years I've been keeping track.  8 novels, only two of which you might easily categorize as science fiction or fantasy, my go-to genre for so long.  (I've already read "God Emperor of Dune" in 2019, so the sci-fi could be rising in this new[ish] year)  Holding with my credo of branching out, I managed to split it right down the middle as far as male to female authors:


 


                                                     Male Authors     Female Authors
                                                    Harlan Ellison     Sayaka Murata
                                                     Stephen King     Charlotte Bronte
                                                      Neil Gaiman     Banana Yoshimoto
                                             Colson Whitehead     Margaret Atwood


Being a Maine resident (tried and true, from birth to now), it's an unofficial law that we must read and regale our favored son, Mr. Stephen King, so having him on the list is unsurprising.  Too bad I didn't enjoy this year's offering, "Elevation," as much as many of his other works, but, hey, they can't all be grand slams.  



Neil Gaiman has been a favorite author of mine ever since I discovered his comic series, "The Sandman," one of the all-time best long-form series in the medium, in my opinion.  This year, I finally pulled down his "Norse Mythology," after my 11-year-old son read it for a second time.  Certainly, one could argue it's not a novel, but each short story builds toward the climax of the book with Ragnarok, so I include it here.  It was pretty great, by the way.



Harlan Ellison is, perhaps, my favorite author, ever...full stop.  He passed away last year, after suffering a stroke a few years prior, but one of his long-delayed books was finally published, shortly after his death:  "Blood's A Rover."  A hybrid-novel, consisting of previously published (and newly polished) short stories and a novella that comprised the story of Vic & Blood, to that point, woven with revised and retrofitted bits from a teleplay Ellison wrote in the eighties for an aborted TV-movie of the adventures of Vic & Blood, and Spike.  It was a tour-de-force that only solidified Ellison as an all-time great writer, and it was a wonderful exclamation point to a storied career.  [note: Ellison will show up later, with four or five more entries in other categories]



Colson Whitehead . . . damn.  "The Underground Railroad" was a tour-de-force book.  Amazing.  It felt so real, was so full of emotion, and just hit you in the gut.  I am so happy I read this book.  Now I need to hunt down more of his work.  Just effing brilliant!

 


Sayaka Murata & Banana Yoshimoto are Japanese authors whose work I found in the main reading room of Fogler Library at the University of Maine, where I work (library work has its privileges, like walking around on break and discovering new books to read).  Both of the books I read of theirs, "Convenience Store Woman" and "Moshi Moshi," respectively, were engaging, layered stories that offered me a chance to walk in another's shoes.  Murata's novel was breezy, but not shallow, following the life of a woman who found it difficult to interact socially, leading to her becoming a long-time convenience store worker, while the other followed a protagonist coming to grips with her father's death, a suicide pact with another woman, while trying to comfort her mother as she searches for her own identity.  Both of these novels were touching and heartfelt, beautifully written with distinct premises that kept me wanting to turn the page.  Highly recommended.



"Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte.  Damn . . .
I have an aversion to Victorian literature, a direct result of High-School-Literaryitis, an affliction caused by your high school reading (or literature) teacher overwhelming you with minutiae and insignificant assignments meant to illuminate the work of Dickens, which, in the end, only makes his long, ponderous prose even more lugubrious.  For thirty years, I've steered clear of most novels from this era (surprisingly, the one exception that comes to mind is Dickens's "A Christmas Carol," which is a wonderfully amazing story), but after hearing an episode of the BBC Radio's In Our Time examining the novel, I was compelled to read it.  And it was a great experience.  I will definitely be seeking out more of Bronte's work.  Hopefully, it will treat me better than Dickens (apologies to my youngest sister).



With all the praise heaped upon the above novels, I have to say the best novel I read this year was Margaret Atwood's "Blind Assassin."  This was an amazing bit of writing wizardry, with an elderly woman in the present, the late 1990s, relating the story of her family throughout the late 19th century up through the end of the 20th, with particular attention paid to her scandalous sister, who died at a young age, an apparent suicide, after publishing a shocking roman a clef, that left all of those in their hometown, where their father was once a wealthy manufacturer of buttons, wagging their tongues.  And, as an added bonus, Atwood includes chapters of the fictional novel in questions, interweaving the various narrative threads with an ease and agility that was wonderful to experience.  Not unlike the works of Toni Morrison, Atwood's command of her story, with "The Blind Assassin," was laudable and impressive.  She never worried about whether her readers understood what was happening or how it all connected, because she was steering the boat and knew exactly where she was heading.  This is a novel you have to read!  Check it out.

-chris

Thursday, January 24, 2019

2018 Reading Assessment, the past is prologue, pretty much literally

A few years back, I began tracking my reading--both prose and comics--and the following year I added movies watched to the list, as well.  I was interested not only in seeing how many books I read in a given year, but also curious about any trends and tendencies within my reading habits, in order to see where I could improve with regard to reading more broadly--in topic and genre and, most importantly, in authors read, i.e. writers other than white men.



It was interesting and informative, and my expectation of a bias toward authors who look like me was born out in the data.  It makes sense, especially if you're not thinking too consciously about what books you're choosing to read, which are mainly based on what you've read and enjoyed before.  And there is nothing wrong with that, you should read what you like, obviously.  But, if you only stick with what you've read before, you are cutting yourself off from a wealth of new, imaginative, brilliant, moving works of fiction and nonfiction that you might otherwise never realize are even out there.



With that all in mind, I have worked to broaden the range of books I read.  In the few years I've kept a log (through an excel spreadsheet, which allows me to quickly tally the books read in three categories:  novels, non-fiction, other (encompassing poetry, plays, short story collections, and whatever else doesn't fall easily under the first two), I have found myself moving away from the comfortable reading niche where I'd lain my head.  I have read more non-fiction, more work by female authors, more work by authors of color, more plays, more poetry, more of most everything, and it's been amazing.  I've "discovered" the likes of Colson Whitehead, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amiri Baraka, Leslie Marmon Silko, Margaret Atwood, Banana Yoshimoto, and Toni Morrison (Wow! Morrison is a writing God), among many others.  It's been eye-opening, and I'm glad I did this.



Before embarking on this, much of what I read were novels (and occasionally short story collections), and a good chunk of that was science fiction, and much, if not all, of that was written by the giants of the field (primarily men).  This past year I read more non-fiction than novels, and only one fewer book in the "other" category than in the combined novels and non-fiction.  It was a good year, and rather than feeling as if I missed out on something, I felt like I'd gained so much more.  I would encourage anyone reading this to do the same, read harder by reading outside your own self-proscribed box.  I don't how you would regret it.

-chris

next:  I will actually write about the books I read last year.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

All Hallow's Read - a short horror story for your enjoyment



It's All Hallow's Read (aka Halloween...with scary books).  So here's a piece of flash fiction I had published in issue #2 of Firewords Quarterly, a literary magazine out of the United Kingdom.  

Enjoy, and a have a spooky Halloween.
-chris


I GOTTA GET OUTTA HERE
By C. M. Beckett

I need to get outta here.  Winter ain’t even here an’ it’s already too effin’ cold even with the friggin’ global warming.

Sorry, but I won’t curse in front of my Ma, don’t matter how old I get.  A mom takes care o’ you, provides for ya, keeps food on your plate.  You gotta appreciate that and show some respect. 

Of course, things changed with the Little Big One.  We could feel it all the way over here.  Some folks didn’t believe me.  Little tremors, like a shiver runnin’ through your boots.  And then when it hit the news sites.  Nobody knew what to do.  Sittin’ at home watchin’ crazies freakin’ out, killin’ their neighbors, drownin’ their kids.  What the heck?! 

We did what we do best up here – hunker down and cut ourselves off from everything else.  It wasn’t too hard, livin’ on a farm an’ all.  Generations before us had done all right with it, and with the government goin’ ta hell (sorry, Mom) it seemed the best thing to do.  Most people never knew what to make of us up here anyway – ninety percent woods and nothin’ much ta do ‘cept drink and terrorize. 

At first, things were good.  We didn’t need for much, just had ta be smart, use what we found and not waste nothin’.  Things’d be back to normal soon enough and then we’d get back to headin’ down to the mall and such. 

That was a pipe dream.

Goin’ on twenty years now since it all went to crap, and still no end in sight.  Most o’ the woods is gone now.  At least around here.  When the oil prices spiked durin’ the War, poachers swept in like huge vultures, layin’ waste to practically the whole state.  Now we got no resources ta speak of.  No forests.  No topsoil.  No birds, no animals.  Nothin’ worth a damn.  Not here anyway.

So I need to move.  No way to survive another winter here.

Tonight’s my last night.  I managed to gather a few saplings for one last meal before I hit the road.  They’re still raw an’ smoke more than burn, so I didn’t even bother with a pan, just threw it on the fire.  I like the skin blackened anyway, gives it more flavor.

Should be done soon.  It was hard the first time, with Gramps.  Everybody squeamish, not wantin’ to partake an’ all.  My sister – she was always a bitch (sorry, Ma) – got up and walked outside.  Wouldn’t eat nothin’ and upset my Ma no end. 

It’s how Gramps woulda wanted it.  He’d lived a good life and died o’ natural causes.  He would'na wanted us to waste away too just because o’ some old-school civilities.  The rules had changed and we did what we had to do to live.

My sister was next o’ course, but that wasn’t for quite a few months.  I dug right in that night.  She’d fallen and hurt herself somethin’ fierce.  Not much we could do.  No doctors left, and little in the way o’ supplies.  We did what we could.  Made her comfortable.  Said some words over her from the Good Book.  But it wasn’t long before she was gone too. 

That was last winter, which was pretty tough on all of us.  Not many made it to summer.  We all knew what was comin’ but didn’t talk much about it.  How could we?  We had to look each other in the eye every day. 

Now I’m it.  The last one.  I put that off as long as I could.  It was too hard.  I mean, she’s my Ma.  She brought me into this shitfuck (sorry, Ma) world.  But in the end, she understood which one of us had a better chance o’ makin’ it. 


And she knew that a mom takes care o’ ya, provides for ya, keeps food on your plate.




Thursday, July 20, 2017

"SILENCE" -- a short crime story

The main conceit of this story began as a science fiction idea.  When that ended up going nowhere, I shifted it over to a contemporary crime setting.  The first iteration of this clocked in at around 5,000 words, and when the editor of NEEDLE, Steve Weddle, came back with a "no," he stated that there were some great things in the story, but that it might benefit from being longer.  So, I nearly doubled it (to roughly 9,000 words), sent it back to NEEDLE, when submissions opened again, and had it published in the Winter, 2014-15 edition of the magazine.  Later in 2015, it was selected as an honorable mention for The Best American Mystery Stories, 2015.

I'm really proud of this story and have meant to share it here for a while, now.  Hopefully you'll appreciate it--enjoyment just doesn't feel like the proper word, here, considering the subject matter--and if you'd prefer a scan of its original publication, hit the LINK.

Thanks!



Silence
            by C.M. Beckett


Harry Dolan spied the dead body through his windshield.  Covered in a stained sheet – some bullshit metaphor that would end up in the local paper’s write-up.  Dolan slammed the car into park and got out, snapping on latex gloves as he stepped under the police tape. 
“What do we got?” 
Sam Henderson – short, balding, with a lazy eye that made the skells underestimate him – turned to greet Dolan.  “Didn’t realize the lieutenant let you out this late.” 
“Got a special dispensation to work past my bedtime, asshole,” Dolan said.  “Just fill me in.” 
“Female vic, shot three times in the chest.  No purse, no jewelry, no ID.  Robbery gone bad by the looks of it.” 
Dolan bent down and lifted the sheet.  The woman appeared to be in her mid-twenties – dark complexion, pretty face, utter tragedy.  He scanned the body, caught the bruising on her neck and a sharp pain stabbed the backs of his eyes; memory flashed; Dolan stuffed it back down and took a breath. 
“Quite a looker, ain’t she?” Henderson asked.  “Wouldn’ta minded stickin’ it to her while she was still talkin’.” 
Dolan stood up and walked over to Henderson, urged the shorter detective back with his bulk.  His voice was low, even:  “You don’t disrespect a woman can’t defend herself no more.  I’d prefer not to have to include that shit in my report.” 
Henderson snapped his heels together and gave a high salute.  “Jawohl, Herr Commandant!” 
Dolan turned away.  “Start canvassing.  I’ll take the lead, since you seem unable to treat this with any seriousness.” 
“Yes sir!”  Henderson gave a second salute, turned and slunk away. 
Two hours later, Dolan was back at his desk, on the phone with the coroner.  “Yeah, okay,” he said into the receiver.  “Thanks a lot, Brightman; you’re a peach.”  Dolan winced at the reply and hung up the phone.  He could feel the knot growing in the pit of his stomach.  This was gonna be a bad case. 
“So, whaddawegot, big man?” Henderson asked from the unused desk behind Dolan. 
The other detective swiveled his chair around.  “Victim’s a reporter with the Herald.  Marcía Vasquez.  And the gunshots were either a message or a cover-up.  Cause of death was asphyxiation caused by strangulation.” 
“On the bright side, she don’t have to wallow in a profession ain’t gonna be around in ten years,” Henderson said. 
Dolan glared at the detective, then turned and called across the room, “Hey, Jilly, get me a coffee, willya?” 
Jillian Tamaki looked up from her latest case file – double homicide, two pre-teen boys, a block up from her own apartment.  Half-Irish and half-Korean, Tamaki was all cop.  At only twenty-nine years old, she had more than acquitted herself in the six months since being promoted to detective.  She expected it was a combination of her age and heritage that rubbed Dolan the wrong way.  “I’m not your comfort woman, Dolan.  Get it yourself.  You could use the exercise.” 
“Give me a goddamn break,” Dolan said.  “You’re two feet from the damn thing.  Just grab me a mug.” 
Tamaki stared at Dolan, but he’d turned back to his own case file.  She got up and moved toward the coffee maker. 
“That feminist streak sure evaporates once we’re back in-house,” Henderson chuckled. 
Dolan was approaching fifty, but he was still quick.  Henderson had no time to get his feet off the desk before the larger detective had his collar and threw him to the ground. Dolan got two punches into the squat detective’s face before the rest of the night shift dragged him off. 
“I’m gonna sue your ass,” Henderson barked, as he stood and straightened his jacket.  “You’re a fuckin’ maniac.”  He wiped at his mouth, noticed blood on his knuckle, marched for the hall and the bathroom. 
“Dolan!”  Lieutenant Wallace’s voice silenced the squad.  “In my office.”
Fifteen minutes later, Dolan stepped out. 
“Coffee’s on your desk, Dolan.  Probably cold by now, though,” Tamaki called. 
“Shut up, ya damn slope.”  Dolan grabbed his hat and coat and swept out of the office. 

###

Dolan rapped on the weathered oak door of the modest brownstone, then pulled his collar up against the breeze and the possibility of being recognized.  He pulled out the business card again.  Chinese characters covered the front of the card (Dolan thought of them as Oriental).  The address, in English, was the only inscription on the back. 
The door opened and a short, Asian woman with the blackest hair Dolan had ever seen greeted him.  She wore a blue kimono with a light-colored sash, and her round face had a broad smile on it. 
“Greetings.  How may I help you?”  Her accent was thick, the words stilted as she struggled over them. 
“A friend recommended you,” Dolan said. 
“I sorry.  No understand,” the woman said. 
“I think you understand fine.”  Dolan pulled out his detective’s badge.  “I’m not here in an official capacity,” he said, “as long as you don’t give me the runaround.” 
The woman shook her head, her mouth puckered in a silent no as she stepped back into the darkened entry. 
“Good.”  Dolan pushed against the wooden door and stepped past the tiny woman.  “Now, let’s see what you got.” 
Lace curtains hung in every doorway, like some ancient harem.  The woman offered Dolan a seat in the front room.  He stood. 
She bowed and slipped through one of the curtains. 
Dolan barely had time to scan the room before she returned with three young ladies in tow.  Each wore a long dress with a high slit up one leg.  They were all beautiful, all Asian, and all unable to look Dolan in the eye. 
“We have special girls,” the woman said.  “Very special.” 
“That’s what I was told,” Dolan said. 
“We no want irritate guests, so we bring girls over who have tongue removed.  Very common in China, but no talk about.  Once happen, they no have chance at real life.  That why bring here.  Give them chance at real life.”  She looked up at him, her eyes sliding away behind that broad smile.  “You no here for talk, just sex, yes?” 
Dolan muttered an assent. 
“Which one you like?” the woman asked. 
They all looked the same to Dolan.  He walked over and took the closest one by the arm. 
“She take you to room.  You leave money on table after.  Here prices.”  The woman handed Dolan another business card – smaller than the other, and square.  On the front, in flowery script, was her name:  Madame Fāng.  On the back were two columns – thirty-minute increments on the left and a rising collection of numbers, from 125 to 750, on the right. 
“They all like rough.  Rougher, better,” Mrs. Fāng said, and she chuckled nervously. 
Dolan nodded and pointed for the girl to lead the way. 

###

The wooden stairs creaked as the detectives ascended to the third floor of Marcía Vasquez’s apartment building.  Dolan labored to catch his breath at the top, before taking a final drag off his cigarette. 
Tamaki watched him, hands on her hips.  “Why did the lieutenant stick me with you?” 
Dolan blew smoke in Tamaki’s direction, dropped the cancer stick and ground it beneath his heel, imagining his young partner in its place.  “Experience.  Role model.  Teach you somethin’.  Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.”  He turned and headed toward the end of the hall.  “Ask me, I don’t know that I can teach you much.  You’d need the capacity ta learn for that.” 
“Not being a prick might go a long way to helping impart knowledge,” Tamaki said, pushing past him to knock on the door of 3B.  Dolan smiled. 
A young woman in her twenties, with short blond hair, a couple piercings in her nose and more in her ears, and a soft, round face opened the door to greet them.  She forced a smile.  “You’re the detectives?” she asked. 
“Yes,” Dolan said, producing his badge.  “Rachel Deering?” 
The woman nodded. 
“May we come in?” Tamaki asked. 
Rachel opened the door wider and stepped back. 
The apartment was small, a kitchen-slash-dining area led directly into the main room, which had a large window looking out at the brick edifice of the neighboring building.  Photos covered the walls; plants, potted and hanging, filled the room with the scent of the outdoors better than some plug-in thing; and the furniture was all modern and, as Dolan like to put it, skeletal.  What stood out most to Tamaki, though, was how clean the place was. 
Rachel directed the detectives to the couch – a thin, black frame with beige cushions tied down to it.  She sat in a matching rocker next to them. 
“We’re sorry for your loss,” Dolan said, leaning forward.  “It’s a terrible thing to lose a mother.” 
Tamaki looked up, saw the confusion in Rachel’s eyes, then turned to Dolan, who gave no indication he realized what he’d said.  She considered interjecting, but Dolan was already talking again, “We just want to ask you a few questions,” and the moment had passed.
“Can you tell us a bit about Ms. Vasquez?  What she was like.  Habits, comings and goings,” Dolan said.  “Anything that might help us find who did this to her.” 
“I don’t know,” Rachel said.  “She was real determined.  Inspiring almost.” 
“What do you mean?” Tamaki asked. 
“Marcía was always working,” Rachel said.  “Even if she didn’t have her laptop open, you could see she was still focused on her stories.  Like, she could be sitting there watching TV, and you might think she was into whatever was on, but if you looked closer, you could see she wasn’t even looking at what was on the screen.  I wish I had that drive.” 
“What do you do?” Dolan asked. 
“I’m a receptionist with Sithe Global.”  Rachel stood up quickly.  “Can I get you a drink or something?” 
“Thanks, no,” Tamaki said.  Dolan just shook his head. 
“Well, I need something.  Just a sec.”  Rachel walked back to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of Evian from the fridge, then returned to the rocker.  “Sorry.” 
“Not a problem,” Dolan said.  “So, did Ms. Vasquez ever discuss her work?” 
“Not really.  She was, like, real secretive about that stuff.” 
“Secretive?” Tamaki asked. 
“You know,” Rachel said.  “I guess that’s not the best word.  She just, she never brought it up.  And the few times I asked, Marcía told me she didn’t want to bore me.  I don’t know, maybe that’s how she really felt.” 
“Could be,” Dolan said.  “I realize her job wasn’t exactly a banker’s, but did she keep regular hours, have any type of routine?” 
“She liked working at night,” Rachel said.  “Or maybe she just liked sleeping in.  Not that she could do that too much.”  Rachel tugged at a nail with her teeth, caught herself.  “I didn’t really see her that much.  My job’s pretty regular, nine-to-five and all that, so we didn’t cross paths a lot except late at night or on weekends.  But when she did take a night off, she never left without inviting me.  Marcía was real…” 
Rachel began to cry.  “Real good like that.” 
Dolan got up, rested a hand on the woman’s shoulder.  “It’s okay,” he said.  “This is hard.  I know.  And it’s a pain in the ass there’s nothin’ we can do about it. 
“Just let it out.” 
Tamaki didn’t know what to think. 
Forty minutes later, the two detectives left, with little to go on.  Rachel had been unable to offer anything useful, and a search of Marcía’s room turned up nothing, not even a laptop or a thumb drive, which meant all her work was stored somewhere else. 
Or it had been taken by the murderer. 

###

Lieutenant Wallace looked a lot like Sam Elliott – big, wavy hair stuck in the eighties, bushy mustache, rugged but lean build, and eyes that seemed able to shoot right through you.  Dolan found it distracting.  Tamaki didn’t know who Elliott was. 
The lieutenant stood behind his desk.  A woman, thumbs jumping across the face of her phone, stood in the corner.  She looked to be in her twenties, with intense eyes, her dark hair pulled back in a tight ponytail.  She wore a skirt that hugged her hips, but came below the knee, with a matching button-up blazer.  This woman expected to be taken seriously.  Tamaki appreciated that. 
“Things are working out,” Wallace said, more a statement than a question. 
Neither replied. 
“Good.”  Wallace smiled, took his seat.  “So…”  He shuffled through some papers on his desk, then looked up.  “How’s the Vasquez case coming?” 
“Slow,” Dolan said. 
“That’s an erudite response.  Would you care to elaborate on this slowness?” 
“We got shit-all to go on,” Dolan said.  “Sir.” 
Wallace leaned back in his chair, scratched his chin.  “Sounds like every other murder case we’ve taken the last twenty years.” 
“Yes, sir,” Tamaki said.  “That is true.” 
“You telling me you’re not up to the job?” Wallace asked. 
Tamaki leaned forward.  “No, sir.” 
“Then I’m confused.” 
Tamaki glanced at the woman, looked back to Wallace.  “We just haven’t found the right witness--"  Dolan interrupted.  “What Tamaki is trying to say, Lieutenant, is that a lot of people are refusing to talk.” 
“Or don’t have anything to say,” Tamaki said. 
Dolan’s jaw clenched; he looked sidewise at his partner.  “Same thing.  Anyway, this is troubling on a number of levels.  Obviously.  Doesn’t mean we won’t crack the case.  Just gonna take more time.” 
“I put you two together because I thought you could enhance each other’s strengths,” Wallace said. 
“Yes, sir,” Tamaki said. 
“I’m not usually wrong about these things,” Wallace said.  “Don’t make me regret this decision.” 
“No, sir.”
“Okay,” Wallace said.  “Back to work.” 
The detectives stood up from their chairs and exited the office.  The woman remained. 
For the next few minutes, Tamaki watched through the glass as the lieutenant and the woman talked.  She couldn’t figure what it was all about – was that Wallace’s wife?  His daughter?  What was she tapping out on her phone? 
“Quit worryin’,” Dolan said. 
Tamaki looked at her partner, but his eyes were fixed on the file in front of him.  “About what?” she asked.
“That lady,” he said.  “Unless it’s pertinent to the case, drop it.” 
Tamaki leaned forward to argue, lost her train of thought as the lieutenant’s door banged open.  Wallace approached her and Dolan, with the woman pacing him, still tapping her phone.
“This is Renee Franco,” Wallace said.  “She works for the Times and is doing a piece on human trafficking.  Ms. Franco will be riding with you today.” 
Dolan swiveled his chair around.  “Why are you ditchin’ her with us?” 
The muscles in Wallace’s jaw flexed, and Tamaki could see the blood rise in his face.  “Because it’s your job,” he said.  “And because Bivens is scheduled for court today and Potvin and McIntyre are already out on another case.”  He turned to Franco.  “I apologize for the detective’s behavior, but we don’t let him out to play with others too often.  That’s probably my error.  If you have any trouble, do not hesitate to let me know.”  Wallace turned back to his detectives.  “And unless you have a worthwhile question, I’d suggest you keep it to yourself.  Am I clear?” 
Dolan grunted and returned to the file on his desk.  Wallace marched back to his office, and Franco took a seat at Tamaki’s desk. 
“So.  Where’d you want us to taxi you?” Dolan asked. 
Franco paused.  “Well,” she said.  “The focus of the piece is human trafficking, specifically the rise in Asian women being brought to America in this manner.  A topic this big, my editor’s envisioning a series of articles.  But I don’t want to take you from any pressing business.  I’m just here to observe, capture your daily routine, and if I can question you about my focus during any down time, that works for me.  So, I guess wherever you want to start.” 
“Docks are always a good place to hit first,” Dolan said, and stood up from his chair.  Tamaki and Franco followed.

A half hour later, Dolan pulled the car in front of an old children’s park, the rusted skeletons of play equipment leaning raggedly behind a chain link fence that had long ago succumbed to age.  Franco and Tamaki both wondered about the wisdom of a playground so near the docks, so far away from anything resembling a residential area.  Dolan had only ever accepted the anomaly. 
The three stepped out of the car.  Dolan lit a cigarette while the women scanned the area – weary trees sagged against a hazy sky as the black water lapped against the shore, a succession of warehouses, square behemoths with despondent paint scarred by streaks of rust, trailed off toward the deeper end of the harbor where large container ships sat in the water.  He waited a moment, took a long drag off the cancer stick, then began walking.  “Come on.” 
Soon, they were rounding a giant pylon – one of many – that supported the six-lane bridge connecting the city’s business district with its older, residential area.  “They don’t make the best witnesses, for official purposes,” Dolan said.  “But if you’re lookin’ for information from the street, someone here’ll have what ya need.” 
Franco’s attention turned from the overwhelming architecture rising above them to the gathering of human detritus now in front of her.  People – all kinds, all colors, with eyes hollow and suspicious, all hope extinguished from their faces – dotted the landscape.  Some sat in front of makeshift tents, others just lay on the hard ground beneath a couple sheets of cardboard.  She felt her skin prickle, unsure if it was a result of guilt or sympathy or disgust. 
“’Course, you might consider doin’ a piece on them, if it weren’t something people’d rather ignore,” Dolan said.  Tamaki’s ears burned, as much at this hard truth as the derision in her partner’s voice.  “Wait here,” he said, and waded into the crowd. 
The two women watched as Dolan moved from body to body, his demeanor almost affectionate.  Most wouldn’t look at the detective, unable or unwilling to match his gaze, and a few tried to hit him, attacks easily swept aside by the large man.  Finally, one of them stood up, his head nodding like a bobble-head doll.  Dolan slipped him a couple of bills, and the two walked back toward Tamaki and Franco. 
“This is Jimmy Two-Feet,” he said to Franco.  “He’s seen some Asians comin’ in.  That’s what you were lookin’ for, right?” 
“Yes,” Franco said. 
“Well,” Dolan said.  “Get yer notepad out and start askin’ questions.” 
Tamaki saw the spark in Franco’s eyes as she nodded and moved over to Jimmy.  They sat on a huge block of concrete lodged in the ground nearby.  “Keep an eye on ‘em,” Dolan said, from behind Tamaki.  “Pay attention, make a note of anything we might be able to use. I got someone to find.”  And he walked off.

Most of an hour passed before Dolan resurfaced.  “You get anything we can use?” he called, from the edge of the homeless camp. 
Tamaki, seated on the hood of the car, shook her head “no.” 
“Goddammit.”  Dolan pulled out a cigarette and lit it, tugged on it a few times, then spat out a cloud of smoke.  “What the hell you been doin’?  Enjoyin’ the view?” 
Tamaki slid off the hood.  “Didn’t find the guy you went looking for, did you?” 
“Fuck off.”  Dolan took another haul off his cigarette. 
Tamaki ripped it from his mouth, threw it in the dirt.  “No.  You fuck off.  Just because you’re a sour old fuck who didn’t get what he came down here for doesn’t mean you get to take it out on me.” 
Dolan looked down at the smoldering cigarette, then past Tamaki to the reporter, who was standing on the opposite side of the car, trying hard to look like she wasn’t listening.  Dolan cursed under his breath.  “What did you get?” he asked.
Tension slipped from Tamaki’s shoulders, but her face remained stern.  She pointed a thumb toward Franco.  “She seemed to get a lot from that guy, but I couldn’t follow half what he said, which doesn’t take into account how many times she had to pull him back into their conversation.” 
Dolan nodded.  “Sounds like Jimmy.” 
“He apparently confirmed that women have been coming through the docks.  A lot of Asian, but dark girls too.” 
Dolan looked across the harbor, then bent down to retrieve his cigarette. 
“Also.  You ever heard of Jedna?” Tamaki asked. 
The ridges stood out on Dolan’s brow.  “That some kinda computer bullshit or somethin’?” 
“It’s a person,” Franco said.  She walked toward the detectives.  “The one trafficking these girls from Asia.” 
“What the hell kinda name is that?” Dolan asked. 
“Slavic,” Franco said. 
“Don’t recognize it.”  Dolan turned to Tamaki.  “But make sure you write it down, and note Jimmy on it too.”  He walked toward the car.  “I’m gonna drop you two back at the station.  You can grab a car and do a re-canvas at the apartment.  Or go do woman stuff, if that floats yer boat.” 
“Where are you going?” Tamaki asked. 
“Got somethin’ pressing to take care of,” Dolan said, without turning. 

###

Dolan had her bent over the side of the bed, slamming into her as hard as he could. 
“Come on,” he grunted, their slapping bodies echoing through the small room.  “You like that big dick, don’t you?  Tell me you like it.” 
She was one of Mrs. Fāng’s newer girls and took the vow of silence too seriously for Dolan’s tastes. 
“If you want me to cum, you better scream like the other girls.”  He took her wrists in one hand and pressed her face into the mattress with the other. 
“Come on!  Scream!”  Dolan pistoned faster, his breaths ragged as sweat dripped into his eyes. 
And she began to moan – long aching moans that brought a smile to Dolan’s face.  He came violently inside the young Asian, tears staining her cheeks as she lusted for air. 
Five minutes later Dolan stepped into the hall.  Shifting through the lace curtains, he heard the accented trill of Mrs. Fāng behind him. 
“You have good night, yes?” 
Dolan turned and bowed.  “Yes, very good,” he said.  “I left the money on the nightstand, like always.” 
“Oh yes.  I have here,” Mrs. Fāng said.  “You very good to us, Mr. Dolan.  Very good.  That why we wish give you discount.”  
“I don’t need that,” he said. 
“No.  Please, take money.”  Mrs. Fāng handed him one of the Franklins. 
“Are you sure?” 
Mrs. Fāng smiled and nodded. 
“All right,” Dolan said and pocketed the bill.  “I’ll see you soon.” 
“Very soon,” Mrs. Fāng said.  “We hope very soon.” 

###

Detective Tamaki knocked on the door of apartment 3H.  It was the last apartment on the floor – so far, no one had answered their door, even when the sounds of a television or children screeching could be heard within – and she hardly waited before looking at Franco and nodding for the stairs. 
They’d barely taken a step when the door opened behind them.  The women turned back to the door.  An old woman with silver hair blooming across her head and a sparkle in her eyes greeted them.  “Hello,” she said, her voice rattling a bit. 
“Ma’am.  I’m Detective Tamaki.”  She showed the woman her badge.  “And this is Renee Franco, who works for the Times.  We were curious if you knew Marcía Vasquez?  She lived down the hall from you.” 
“Oh,” the woman said.  “The Mexican girl.  I didn’t know her name.  But I guess she was nice enough.”  The woman leaned forward, as if imparting some secret knowledge.  “You know.” 
“I’m not sure I do,” Tamaki said, her voice cold. 
“She was different.  Not like the rest of them,” the old woman said.  “She would help me with my groceries.  And she always smiled when I saw her.” 
Tamaki could only nod. 
“She liked to stay out all hours of the night.  A young girl like that, she must have been a dancer somewhere or looking for a man who would take care of her.  I never did see her bring one home, though.  I think maybe she was a lesbian.”  The woman smiled broadly.  “Not that I’m one to pry.  I just feel it’s best to know what’s going on around you.  To keep safe.” 
“Right,” Tamaki said. 
“Did you feel unsafe here?” Franco asked.  Tamaki shot her a look, but the reporter ignored it. 
“Every day,” the old woman said.  “But I haven’t lived anywhere else since I was a child.  So what else can I do?” 
“What is it you fear the most?” Franco asked. 
“The gangs,” the old woman said.  “Punks with guns running around shooting up the neighborhood, raping old women so they can take their life savings.  It’s all those immigrants we let in.  Just look around.  The graffiti all over the place – it’s code for what they want to do.  All foreign signs and letters, so we don’t know what they’re planning.” 
Tamaki leaned forward.  “Could we get back to Ms. Vasquez?” she asked.  “You said you didn’t see her bring home any men, but did you ever see her with anyone?” 
“Yes,” the woman said.  “Sometimes, when I couldn’t sleep and I was up getting some warm milk, I would hear her coming home and look out to check on her.  I saw her with an Asian girl a few times.  I don’t know if it was always the same one or not, but she was young like her, and pretty.  I figured it might be someone from her work.” 
“Do you know if they were Chinese or Korean or another nationality?” Tamaki asked. 
“Please, dear,” the woman said, “you all look the same to me.” 
Tamaki felt her jaw clench.  She took a slow breath and allowed Franco to interject:  “Can you try a little harder?  Think about the women you saw with her.  Did they have different body types, different hair, anything that might signal whether this was a regular friend or maybe something more?” 
“You mean like an orgy?” the woman asked. 
“No,” Tamaki snapped, immediately regretting the loss of composure. 
The woman wrapped her nightcoat more closely around her shoulders.  “I don’t know,” she said softly.  “Like I said, I don’t like to stick my nose into other people’s business.  I’m just looking out for myself.” 
“Right,” Tamaki said.  “Is there anything else you can tell us about her?” 
“No.  I don’t think so,” the woman said. 
“Okay,” Tamaki said. 
“Thank you for your time.”  Franco shook the woman’s hand, then passed her a business card.  “If you remember anything else, please don’t hesitate to call me.” 
“I will,” the woman said. 
Tamaki and Franco turned for the stairs.  “Is she in some kind of trouble?” the woman asked.  “Something happen at the club where she works?” 
“No,” Tamaki said over her shoulder.  “Nothing like that.”  And they left.

###

Renee Franco rode along with the detectives for three more days.  Dolan couldn’t tell what she gained from the exercise, and he was not happy about what little they progress they made in that time.  Just proved his point that civilians interfering with police work, even when ostensibly staying out of the way, always fucked things up, and it put him in a pissy mood. 
A mood that was exacerbated when, not forty minutes after seeing Franco off, he and Tamaki caught a gang-related triple homicide (one victim the son of a state politician) that bumped Marcía Vasquez off the priority list.   

###

Dolan banged on Mrs. Fāng’s door as rain pelted down.  He cursed the city for not including awnings with the brownstones when they’d been built and pulled his hat down a little tighter. 
When the door opened, he didn’t wait, barreled through into the dry entryway. 
“Ah, Mr. Dolan.  You back sooner than normal,” Mrs. Fāng said. 
Dolan shook the water from his coat.  “Yeah,” he said.  “I know.” 
“We happy you here, but I afraid no girls available right now,” she said. 
“I can wait,” Dolan said and pulled a Budweiser from his jacket pocket. 
“No,” Mrs. Fāng said.  “They all booked up for day.” 
Dolan drained half the beer, then glared at the woman.  “What does that mean?” 
“Girls go to special party.  No one left for house.  Bad day today.  I so sorry.”  Mrs. Fāng bowed as she said this.  “Wish to help, but there just no way.” 
“I don’t believe this shit.”  Dolan stared down at the woman for a long moment, then walked past her into the sitting room. 
“Mr. Dolan.  Please, Mr. Dolan,” she called, heels clicking on the hardwood floor as she tried to catch him.  “I very sorry, but nothing can do.”  She grabbed his arm, and Dolan was surprised by the strength in her grip.  “Make up to you,” she said.  “You come back when girls not busy and we give you free fun.  How that?” 
“There’s no one here you can sneak me in with?” he asked. 
“Book all full today.  I tell you,” she said, as she released her grip. 
Dolan took another haul off the beer, cursed under his breath – “fuck” – then fell onto the couch. 
“You need drink?  Something to eat?” Mrs. Fāng asked. 
Dolan raised his Bud.  “Nope.  Got all I need right here.”  Finished the beer and chucked it across the room. 
Mrs. Fāng opened her mouth to say something, but the large detective gave her little opportunity as he stormed out of the brownstone, a string of profanities trailing in his wake.

###

Dolan scanned the front page of the Times.  The headline read:  HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN OUR OWN BACK YARD.  He knew the byline.  Renee Franco.  His eyes flitted to the top of the fold, and the date.  June seventeenth. 
“God.  Dammit.”  He crushed the paper and threw it into the wastebasket next to his desk. 
“Mets lose again?” Tamaki asked. 
“Two fucking months,” Dolan spat.  “Two months that girl’s been dead, and we haven’t done shit for her.” 
“What?” 
Dolan slammed open the bottom drawer of his desk and tossed over the case file from the top of the pile.  “That.” 
Tamaki looked at the name – Vasquez, Marcía – then opened it.  ‘April 5’ was written in the top right corner of the form, scrawl she recognized as Dolan’s.  She skimmed the file, already familiar with it but unsure how to close the folder without sending her partner into a bigger rage.  Tamaki allowed a minute to pass, then looked up.  “I don’t follow.” 
Dolan shut his eyes, rubbed at his temples.  “Girl deserved better,” he mumbled. 
“A lot of people do,” Tamaki said. 
Dolan felt a rawness in the back of his throat.  “We’re working this today.” 
“What about the Hammond case?” Tamaki asked. 
“We been bangin’ our heads against that one for days.  Nothin’ll shake loose when you’re clenchin’ so tight to it,” Dolan said.  “You need a new perspective.” 
“You aren’t getting Zen on me?” Tamaki asked. 
“Don’t act like a stupid rookie.” 
Tamaki bit her lip, sat back in her chair. 
“We haven’t been back to the mother’s, have we?” Dolan asked. 
Tamaki shook her head. 
“All right.  You grab a car.  Speak with the mother again; see if you can get a look around this time.  Maybe she left somethin’ there.” 
“You coming with?”
“I got other things need lookin’ after,” Dolan said. 
“What I thought,” Tamaki said.  “Stick me with the three-hour round trip, while you hit the donut shop.” 
Dolan glared at her.  Tamaki refused to look away.  “Lieutenant says I gotta do this?” she asked. 
“Me tellin’ you is the same thing,” Dolan said. 
Tamaki stood up.  “When I get back, maybe you can illuminate me to the finer points of this exercise.” 
“It’s called doing your job,” Dolan said. 
Tamaki gave him the finger as she marched out the door.

###

The sky was heavy with clouds, dull gray stretching in all directions.  Tamaki could feel its weight pressing on her shoulders as she approached the Vasquez home – a small, ranch-style that mirrored the rest of the block, with yellow siding and black shutters, and a poor attempt at a garden on either side of the concrete steps leading to the front door.  Tamaki knocked twice, then turned and watched three kids – two boys and a girl – weave and hop along the rutted sidewalk on skateboards, and the thought of losing a daughter scraped at her heart with a surprising urgency. 
The detective jumped when the door opened.  She turned, forced a smile.  “I don’t know if you remember me…”  She didn’t get to finish her statement.  “I do,” Mrs. Vasquez said.  “You’re the quiet detective.” 
“Yes,” Tamaki said.  “May I come in?” 
Shorter than Tamaki, Mrs. Vasquez had skin dark and smooth, like a Caribbean beach, with hair as black as night.  She was petite and could easily be mistaken for a woman far younger than her fifty years.  Until one looked more closely – at eyes carved deep by sorrow.  A long sigh escaped the woman, and she stepped aside. 
It was dark inside, blinds drawn on all the windows, and the walls were bare, lacking even family photos, which struck Tamaki as sad.  An old couch, brown and orange plaid like one her parents had owned, sat against a low wall separating the front room from the kitchen.  A coffee table, scarred and stained, centered the room, stacks of celebrity magazines sliding across its surface.  The flat-screen TV was turned to Judge Judy, the volume affording anyone in the home opportunity to listen in.  Through the arch, the detective noticed a pile of dishes in the sink, while boxes of crackers and cereals were scattered across the counter like a devastated cityscape.  The ache of loss permeated the entire home, and Tamaki wanted to leave before she’d even begun. 
Mrs. Vasquez pushed past the detective.  “I was just making tea,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.  “Would you like some?”
“No, thank you,” Tamaki said. 
Mrs. Vasquez shrugged, lifted the teapot from the stove, poured steaming water into a large mug, dunked a tea bag four times, then pulled a vodka bottle from the refrigerator and filled the mug to its brim.  She blew across it and bent for a tentative sip, then added a bit more vodka and returned the bottle to the fridge.  Tamaki watched her walk back into the front room and sit amid the sprouting threads of the old couch.  “What do you want?” she asked.
“I was hoping I might look around, see if your daughter left anything behind that could help us with our investigation,” Tamaki said. 
“You know she moved out almost ten years ago,” Mrs. Vasquez said. 
“Yes, ma’am.  But she did visit for extended periods, to get work done?  Did she keep a room here?” 
Mrs. Vasquez stared hard at the detective.  “You won’t find who did this.” 
The silence was painful, but Tamaki knew any response would just increase the tension.  So she waited. 
Mrs. Vasquez took another sip of her tea.  “It’s the room at the end of the hall.” 
Tamaki thanked her and moved through the house.  The short hallway was even darker than the front room, all doors closed against prying eyes.  She stopped at Marcía’s room and pressed her hand against the thin wood of the door, counted to five. 
The room had not been touched in years – shelves filled with stuffed animals organized by size (biggest in back, smaller ones in their laps), a desk with only a boxed set of the ‘Green Gables’ books on one corner and a lamp at the other, the comforter, pink and white, pulled tight on the bed, photos and posters covering as much of the walls as possible, everything dusted so that surfaces shined.  The rest of the house might exhibit its languishment, but Mrs. Vasquez refused to allow the neglect to enter her daughter’s room.  A chill ran up Tamaki’s back.  She hesitated, then entered and closed the door behind her.  
There was little to discover.  Mementos from Marcía’s childhood.  A small basket of used cosmetics.  A bookshelf full of titles Tamaki recognized from her own youth.  Discarded notebooks of poetry.  The sum of a life that was missing a vital piece.  There was nothing from her time as a journalist.  No clippings.  No scribbled notes or thumb drives.  No indication of the profession she had pursued for almost a decade. 
Tamaki reached the desk, which was squeezed between the bed and the closet.  She pulled out a drawer, discovered a wireless keyboard there.  Kneeling down, she found an orphaned cable wire running in from the outer wall.  But there was no computer.  Which wasn’t necessarily strange.  It was possible Marcía had traveled with a tablet.  But it verified that she had most likely worked from here. 
Tamaki moved to the closet.  Buried in a back corner – in the one shoebox of twenty that did not hold shoes – were the notebooks she’d expected to find, along with a stack of business cards.  The notebooks were full of mostly indecipherable scratchings.  The few words Tamaki could read made little sense lacking proper context.  The cards were familiar – lawyers, academics, businesses from the city and surrounding area.  But there were a handful she didn’t recognize.  These she put on top. 
The rest of her search turned up nothing.  Ten minutes later, Tamaki stepped out to the front room.  Mrs. Vasquez was still watching Judge Judy, sipping at a refreshed mug of tea.  She didn’t look at Tamaki as she spoke.  “Don’t expect there was much you could find to help.” 
“No,” Tamaki said.  “But there was this box in her closet.”  She held it out to Mrs. Vasquez.  “Looks like notes from her work and some random business cards.  I think it could prove fruitful.” 
The woman turned and looked at Tamaki, then slipped back to the TV.  “I don’t want it,” she said, her voice distant. 
“Okay,” Tamaki said. 
A pause.  “I’ll just let myself out.” 
“Yeah,” Mrs. Vasquez said.  “You do that.” 

###

Two large coffees and too many blocks later, Dolan spied his C.I., Robbie Willis, hangin’ where he shouldn’ta been – deep in conversation with a handful of known felons.  Not that it was illegal for them to congregate.  It was just frowned upon by the local constabulary, in a sometimes-forceful manner. 
When Willis caught Dolan’s eye, the detective could see it in his face; he knew he was busted, and he was not feelin’ it that day.  The others turned to watch as Dolan approached.  None of them made a move to bolt.  Dolan appreciated that.  He also enjoyed watching Willis get twitchy. 
“You know there’s a warrant out, don’tcha?” Dolan asked, looking directly at Willis.  One of the toughs, went by the name of Rhino on the street, moved into his path, sneered down at the old, overweight detective from nearly a foot above his head.  Dolan glared up at Rhino.  “I’ve had a shit day.  And it ain’t even lunch,” he said. 
“What chu want the man for?” Rhino asked. 
“His business,” Dolan said.  “You want me announcing your shit when it comes down?  Cuz most of it is weak-ass.” 
“Don’t be disrespectin’, old man.” 
Dolan raised his arms, palms out.  “You’re right, you’re right.  I’m an ass,” and a hand darted out, bent back Rhino’s index finger, sent the behemoth to his knees before anyone could react.  Dolan stepped closer, gaining more leverage, and stared down at the thug.  “Now.  I would like to do my job without any more interest from your gang.  Is that acceptable?” 
“You askin’ for trouble,” Rhino said, his words labored. 
“Been doin’ that over twenty years,” Dolan said.  “And I’m still here.  So, do I need to call in back up and throw all you shits into cells for the night?  Or is Willis comin’ with me for questioning, after which he can be home in time for dinner?”  Rhino motioned with his head toward Willis.  “Take him.  This time.” 
Dolan let go of Rhino’s finger and took a step back. 
The large man stood up, rubbing at his hand.  “But next time, you better bring some more guys, or you gonna end up in a lot o’ pain.” 
“Fair enough,” Dolan said.  He reached out to Willis.  “Come on.  Quicker we go, quicker this gets done.” 
Ten minutes later they had crossed the Sawyer Bridge and parked beneath it.  Dolan sat on the hood of the car, watching the C.I. chuck rocks into the black water.  He was most interested in the shock of white on the man’s feet – new Air Force Ones that contrasted sharply with the rest of his attire.  Dolan took a sip of coffee.  “Hey,” he called.  Willis turned, arm mid-throw.  “You gonna waste my time or am I gaining somethin’ from this encounter?” 
Willis let the rock drop into the soft mud and shuffled toward the detective. 
“Nice kicks,” Dolan said. 
Willis stopped and looked down.  “No shit.”  He pulled up a pant leg, ragged and torn, to better view the sneakers.  “Got a old lady takin’ care o’ me now.  Sweet little sugar mama.  She cain’t get enough.” 
“Seems likely,” Dolan snorted.  “So.  Whaddayagot?” 
“About what?” Willis asked. 
Dolan swung, hit Willis’s face hard and sent the C.I. back a couple steps.  “What the hell?!” 
“Don’t bullshit me.”  Dolan was breathing heavy, but his voice was even.  “You said you’d look deeper.  But you never got back in touch.  I know you got info.” 
Willis rubbed at his cheek.  “I don’t know what the hell you’re barkin’ about, man.” 
Dolan punched him again.  Harder. 
“Fuuuuuuck.”  Willis was on one knee.  He pressed his palm against the throbbing at his temple. 
“The girl I was askin’ about a couple months back.  Vasquez.  Reporter.  Strangled then shot.  What’s the word on the street?”  There musta been somethin’.”  Dolan leaned back on the car, sipped at his coffee. 
“Goddammit!   Why you always gotta play that mystery man shit?”  Willis stood up, hand still against the side of his head. 
“It amuses me.” 
Willis glared at Dolan.  “Good ta know where I stand,” he said. 
“Could be standing behind bars,” Dolan said.  “Might consider that before you get wise.” 
“A’ight, a’ight.”  Willis looked at his hand.  No blood. 
“So.  Give.”  Dolan set down his coffee as he stood away from the car.  Willis took a few steps back, held up his hands in defeat.  “Yah.  Okay.  What I got, what I got.”  He scanned the area, his eyes running over a dead rat decomposing in the strangled grass before returning his gaze to the detective.  “Somethin’ about scratchin’ their ass.  Or somethin’.  I don’t know.”  He eyed Dolan. 
“Scratchin’ their ass?  What the hell is that?”  Dolan took another step forward. 
Willis’s eyes were wide.  “It’s what I got!”  He looked around for anything to use as a weapon, but there was nothing.  His mind raced, and he wished he hadn’t blown the last of his smack on that skank from the bar.  “Itchy bun.  Itchy bun,” he cried.  “I think it’s foreign, but that’s what I got.” 
“What does it mean?” Dolan asked. 
“Name o’ the new man in charge,” Willis said.  “Been consolidatin’ the dockwork for months.  Heard he’s the one put the hit out on that reporter.” 
“Why?”  
Willis’s words were a rapid staccato:  “S’what I tol’ ya before, too close with a story an’ all that shit, y’know?”  He was scared.  Or approximating a good facsimile. 
But Dolan’s sympathies lay elsewhere.  He moved in close on the C.I.  “Where are they set up?” 
“Movin’, always movin’,” Willis said.  “Can’t say where they be next.” 
“But you can say where they been most recent,” Dolan said. 
Willis looked up at the detective.  “Yeah,” he breathed.  “Warehouse ninety-four.  Last I heard, that was where they was doin’ business.” 
“Ninety-four.” 
Willis nodded. 
“You put this down on paper for me?”  Dolan asked.
“Then I get my cash?” 
“Then you get your cash.” 
Willis nodded.  Dolan went to get a legal pad. 

###

Tamaki was reading one of Vasquez’s notebooks when Dolan came marching into the office.  She stood up, grabbed the one business card she couldn’t place – all white with Asian symbols in one corner, the word ‘Ichiban’ dead center, and no other distinguishing marks – from the shoebox and held it out to her partner.  “Recognize this?” 
“No time,” Dolan said, waving her off.  “We hafta get over to Judge Menken and get a warrant before he goes home for the day.” 
“What?” 
Dolan looked at Tamaki.  “My C.I. gave me somethin’.  But we gotta act quick, before they’re gone.” 
“Who?”  Tamaki dropped the card and followed Dolan.  He took four long strides, reached the lieutenant’s office, and slammed through the door without knocking. 
“What the hell?” 
“Sorry, Loo,” Dolan said.  “But we gotta act fast on this.  I gotta tip says we need to hit warehouse ninety-four, down at the docks.  The ones killed that reporter been holed up there, but they won’t be much longer.” 
“How does this pertain to the Hammond case?” Wallace asked. 
“We put it aside.  To readjust our heads,” Dolan said. 
“So, this is the Vasquez case,” Wallace said. 
“Yeah.  But there’s more to it than that.  Asian girls brought in against their will to work the sex clubs and brothels – it’s related to that too.  We need a TAC team and a warrant and we need it for tonight.” 
Tamaki had never seen Dolan so animated.  She didn’t know what to make of it. 
“Okay,” Wallace said.  “I’ll see what I can pull together.” 
“Right,” Dolan said, turning for the door. 
“But you better be right about this.” 
“Don’t worry, Loo.” 

Water slapped against the boats, shunting their hulls into one another, an oddly rhythmic beat that Tamaki found soothing as they knelt in the shadows scanning the warehouse.  They had been a couple hours scrunched down in the dark, the only sound the startled cry of a gull.  She could feel the tension seeping off her partner.  She wasn’t surprised when Dolan gave the signal, and they moved on the building. 
The place was huge.  And bare.  It took less than twenty minutes to search all the levels and pronounce the place clean. 
Which didn’t surprise Dolan.  He’d known as soon as they entered the side door.  All the dust they kicked up and the vast emptiness of the building.  Nobody’d been in this warehouse for a long time. 
Willis had sold him out.  Fucker.
Despite this, Dolan inspected every room personally, with Tamaki right beside him, hoping for anything that might offer a new path to follow.  But there was nothing. 
In the last room – on the fourth level, a large window looking down on the empty storage area of the ground floor – Dolan lost it.  Standing in the doorway, he watched Tamaki peer into the drawers of the cheap, metal desk in the far corner.  She examined the orphaned papers and office supplies, but it was all worthless shit, and Dolan knew it.  He took a sip of his coffee, dropped the cup onto the floor, and walked over to the desk. 
Tamaki saw him from the corner of her eye.  Even in the dim light, she could see his jaw muscles clenched.  She stepped away from the desk.  Dolan swept around it and grabbed the chair with both hands.  Lifting it above his head, he swung it against the window, the dull clang of thick glass echoing in Tamaki’s ears. 
Below, the officers heard the noise and looked up.  Moments later, a piercing crash prefaced the launch of the chair, arcing out the window four flights to the floor below, where it crumpled into a mass of metal and plastic, skipping across the concrete to land only feet away from the beat officers. 

###

“Don’t tell me the girls are all busy,” Dolan said.  “It’s been almost a month.” 
“Oh no,” Mrs. Fāng said.  “We take care of Big Detective.  New girl arrive just other day.  When I see, I say, ‘this girl just right for Mr. Dolan’.  You trust me, yes?” 
Dolan grunted. 
“Good,” Mrs. Fāng said.  “Give minute.  I be right back, take you to her.” 
Shortly, Mrs. Fāng led Dolan through the curtains and down the hallway to a door at the very end.  Mrs. Fāng opened it and showed the detective in. 
Dolan had never been to this room before.  The only illumination was a small night-light against one wall.  It cast everything in deep shadow.  Dolan closed his eyes, allowed them to adjust, then scanned the room. 
There was little in the way of furniture – a chair next to the door, bed on the opposite wall, and nothing else, unlike the other rooms that seemed decorated for a Better Homes & Gardens photo shoot.  On the bed was a young woman in a sheer negligee.  Her wrists and ankles were tied to the bedposts and she had a ball-gag in her mouth.  Slim, with small breasts, she writhed like a snake, her pelvis undulating rhythmically to a silent tune.  Something scratched at the back of Dolan’s mind, but he ignored it. 
“She like rough,” Mrs. Fāng said.  “No cum unless she get hard and fast.  See?” 
Dolan said nothing. 
Mrs. Fāng slipped from the room and closed the door. 
Dolan undressed and let his clothes fall to the floor.  He mounted the girl without preamble.  She was already wet (or previously lubricated).  Lust rippled through the detective as he slammed into her – the tension of the Vasquez case urging him on. 
Five minutes later, frustrations spent, Dolan rolled off the girl and worked to catch his breath.  ‘You’re too old to be fucking like a crazy teenager,’ he thought.  Beside him, the girl was silent.  That was expected.  Dolan appreciated the quiet, stared through the dimness at the ceiling, his mind clear for the first time in weeks. 
The click of the door made him sit up.  It was Mrs. Fāng.  Dolan reached down to cover his now-deflated prick. 
“Ah, Detective,” Mrs. Fāng said.  “How do you feel now?”  Her accent was gone, replaced with a slight Brooklyn one.  She stepped over to the bed, unclasped the ball-gag, pulled a damp rag from the girl’s mouth, and tossed it onto Dolan’s lap. 
Confusion masked his rising anxiety.  “What’s going on?” 
Mrs. Fāng laughed.  “Why, Detective.  You’re performing your sworn duty – to serve and protect.”  She ran her fingers through Dolan’s hair, flicked on a switch by the bed that turned on the ceiling light.  The worrying sensation at the back of the detective’s mind started to burn.  He looked down and recognized the woman next to him.  Renee Franco. 
She wasn’t breathing.  A knot twisted in Dolan’s gut, and he thought he’d be sick.  He turned away, tried to wipe the image from his mind. 
Mrs. Fāng leaned down, her lips brushed Dolan’s ear.  “Now you’re mine,” she whispered and put a business card into his hand.  “This is the card I share with my most special clients.” 
Dolan looked at the card – spare, simple, with Asian symbols in one corner and the word ‘Ichiban’ dead center.  It was familiar, but his mind couldn’t focus.   
“It’s a Japanese word, I know.  But we all look alike to you, anyway.  Don’t we, Detective?”  She kissed the top of his head.  “And please, call me Jedna.  All my closest associates do.”
Mrs. Fāng’s laughter rang in Dolan’s ears for long minutes after she exited down the hallway. 

###

It was a week later when Dolan caught a headline on the city page of the Times – REPORTER STILL MISSING.  Sweat beaded on his forehead and he turned the page quickly, but not before the name jumped out at him.  Renee Franco. 
Bile welled up in the back of his throat as he dropped the paper onto his desk and stood up, launching his chair back ten feet.  It didn’t matter.  Dolan ran from the office for the bathroom. 
Twenty minutes passed.  When Dolan returned to his desk his face was slack and devoid of color, eyes sunk deep in their sockets.  Tamaki watched as her partner sat down and reached into the bottom drawer.  He pulled out a file folder and set it in front of him. 
And stared at it while the rest of the squad worked around him. 
Tamaki brought him a coffee.  Dolan didn’t seem to notice. 
Finally, he picked up the file and tore it in half, then dumped it into the wastebasket beside his desk. 
“What the--”  Words caught in Tamaki’s mouth.
“The Vasquez case,” Dolan said, his voice hardly a whisper.  “That’s a cold case now.  We ain’t solvin’ it.” 
“What are you talking about?  We’ve worked our asses to close that case.  And now, because you say so, we’re just going to let it out to pasture?  No way.  No fucking way.  That is not your call.”  Tamaki reached into the wastebasket and pulled out the torn file.  “I’m going to Wallace.” 
Dolan looked up at her.  She could see he was about to cry.  “Please,” he breathed.  “Please.” 
Tamaki paused, but only for a second, then shook her head.  “No.  Putting us together was a mistake.  I knew that then.  This only confirms it.”  She marched toward the lieutenant’s office. 
Dolan watched her go.  Watched it all go.  Then he stood up.  Slowly.  And walked out of the station house.