Saturday, January 25, 2014

Generation 2: A new house, a new fight

Like most children, Étienne Shin Yi thought that his family was weird. Unlike most children, he was absolutely right. And he could prove it. They lived near an ancient cemetery (weird), his dad was from way far away and often lapsed into French when reading bedtime stories (weird), both his granddad and grandma grew up in overseas countries and ate food that he couldn't even pronounce (really weird), his aunt didn't have any kids and liked pillow fighting him (not so weird on its own, but all of his friends had old aunts and uncles, so maybe kind of weird), they didn't have any pets (SUPER weird), and even though they owned more land than anyone in school, they were still really poor somehow. (Weren't you supposed to be rich if you had a lot of land? Weird.) 

But the weirdest thing of all was that even though they were so poor, his mom didn't work.

"No, honey," Xiu protested. "I do work, I sell my paintings."

That didn't make any sense, either. His mom was probably the best painter in town! She was definitely way, way better than his art teacher. And yet she still went to the second-hand store to beg them to accept her work.

"Oh, Étienne, honey, you don't understand." Xiu took a tiny bite of her french toast.  "I used to work in an art gallery, but something went wrong there. No one here will buy my paintings, I have to sell them to people in other countries now." 


Xiu shrugged. "I think I have cooties." 

She smiled, but Étienne wasn't fooled. Grown-ups couldn't get the cooties! "Mama, 'm serious! Why?" 

His mother sighed at the persistent tone in his voice. She heard it all the time lately. "Finish eating, and I'll take you somewhere, okay?"

She took him back to the art gallery, which stood lonely and locked. "Do you remember this place, sweetheart? Mama used to work here, and you used to play here every day. But the man who owned it got in trouble, and it's closed now."

"Did you get in trouble, too, Mama?" Étienne tried to imagine grown-up trouble. Did they have to stand in the corner in front of all of their friends?

Xiu nodded. "Not as much as he did, of course, but trouble is trouble." She heard the distant chime of the popiscle truck, and saw a possible way out of this unexpected, uncomfortable conversation.  "Hey, the ice cream is coming. Do you want a cup of ice cream?"

As they walked towards the truck, Étienne thought about how unfair that was. How come his mama got in trouble for what someone else did? His papa had the same problem—other people had done bad things in France, and now his father couldn't get a job. Once Étienne had borrowed a dollar from his best friend, and it had taken him a whole month to pay it back to her. How long would it take Papa to pay back §230,000? Probably a whole lot of months. He'd bet he couldn't even count how many months.

Quite suddenly he ran up to his mother and caught her hand. "It's okay, Mama. We can't really afford it."

The words stung Xiu, especially when she recollected that Étienne had probably learned that very phrase from hearing her say it so much. 


Gaston Dutiel slowly wheeled Layla Shin Yi's chair up to a shady corner of the public cemetery, where a small stone plate sat next to an elaborate marble headstone. He moved to leave her alone, but she stopped him with a word. "Wait."

He stayed, maintaining a respectful distance. Layla sat in silence for some time before murmuring, "Bury me next to my husband when I die." 

"… of course, madam."

"The house must be enlarged. He was always so ridiculously stubborn about that—but I am not so." 

She turned the chair to face him. "You will take care of the family, won't you?" 

"Of course."

"Good. We cannot allow your talent for wine-making to languish, you must begin afresh here."

"Alas, madam … my equipment remains in France."

"Not for long," Layla purred, and pushed the wheelchair with purpose. 

Gaston stared at her back, wondering what kind of wife she must have been. Obviously she enjoyed being in charge, but as her wishes seemed to have gone unfulfilled during her husband's life, the man must have had a will of his own. Still, no need to look a gift horse in the mouth. If Layla wanted him to begin building a larger home with a wine-making facility, he had no problem getting started on that.

Once they returned to the house, Layla pointed Gaston towards the two ancient chests that sat neglected in the hallways, and told him that the items were his to sell as he saw fit. 

"Did you know that there are diamonds in here?" Gaston asked as he sifted through the contents of the crates.

Layla shrugged. "They are just rocks to me. I never pay any attention to rocks, you cannot eat a rock." 

Kim Chong had been the vase collector, but as far as Layla was concerned, they were just some old pots that her husband had hoarded for years upon years. She had no interest in keeping them, displaying them, or finding out what they were worth. If anything, she hated them, and would be glad for the day that took them out of the house. 

The next morning, Xiu awoke to the sound of crockery being set on concrete, a sound she knew all too well. She put on the first thing she could find and rushed outside, staring, shaking, stunned. 

"Mr. Dutiel, what … what are you doing?"

"I am cleaning the vases, I will sell them today." 

"What? Sell them? … but these are my father's, you can't do that!"

The older man looked up at her, puzzled, but still smiling. "Your mother gave them to me …" At the look on his future daughter-in-law's face, he continued, "... I believed that this was a mutual family decision. You seem upset. Perhaps the two of you should have a discussion?"

"Mr. Dutiel …" Xiu's voice shook; she controlled it with an effort. "Could you please … not sell those. Please. We're not that deep in debt. I know that Rémy just began work at the hospital, but I have several interested buyers for one of my best paintings, and I'm just waiting—" 

"Xiu, my sweet. I am not selling the vases to pay debts."

"Then why?" Xiu said, more mystified than ever.

For answer, Mr. Dutiel pulled a wrinkled photo from his wallet.  He offered it to her to look at; she didn't accept.

"This is my home in France, Xiu. Rémy grew up there, my vineyards and all of my best wines are there, my dear wife died there. Once Rémy could no longer attend university and could not get a job, our debts and taxes became overwhelming. The house was taken from us and sold. All I had to show for a lifetime of work was my recipe book.

"Your mother has already offered me the use of her garden, but as I explained to her, even with the proper grapes and the proper equipment, wine must be stored in a basement and aged properly. There is no use in making it otherwise. But to do that, I would need a proper house, monitoring equipment, a true cellar. That is, of course, quite expensive. That is why I am cleaning the vases. I will sell them to collectors, so that there will be money to build a new house for the family."

The more of this Xiu heard, the angrier she became. Wasn't this her home? Wasn't she the family heir, for heaven's sake? Why was her mother going behind her back to do such a thing? 

… but as soon as that last thought crossed her mind she thought she might already know why. Layla had been lonely for years now, and Gaston was noticeably younger than she. And he, too, was alone.

She didn't want to believe it. But she knew her mother too well.

She swallowed hard, struggling with the bile rising in her throat. "Mr. Dutiel … please wait, just a few more days, and let's discuss this decision as a family. If everyone else is okay with it, then I'll have nothing else to say." 

"Of course, my dear," Gaston agreed readily, and went back to cleaning.

Xiu wanted to talk the situation over with Rémy first, but she'd just missed him. He had been called into the hospital. She couldn't talk to Mei right now either because Mei, also, was at work. So she did the next best thing—she headed over to the cowboy bar to get a mid-morning cocktail. She couldn't paint right now, and the alcohol might help her temper level out. 

It did, though not at all how she’d expected. The drink was potent but so sweet that she didn’t feel the alcohol until it was much too late. She called Mei, completely forgetting that Mei was on-duty, so all of the other bar-goers got to see her stumble out of the joint on the arm of a uniformed police officer. “You’re an idiot,” Mei laughed, and pulled the squad car up to the curb so her sister could crawl into the back seat. "At least you didn't try to drive."  


  “Why … why is the room spinning so fast?”

“Cherie, you are hungover and you have a fever. You must lie very quietly.”

“No … Rémy, I need to talk to everyone …” She tore herself from his arms and stumbled out of bed, but dizziness brought her straight to the floor. 

Rémy caught her and kept her from hitting her head. “You are so stubborn. I love you for it, but you belong in bed." He picked up her and lay her down again. "Stay in bed, Xiu. Doctor’s orders,” he said, only half-joking. 

As it turned out, she had strep throat, which meant not only was she seriously fatigued, but she needed to stay quiet. There were no talks with anyone; even if she could have talked, no one came in the room with her. The illness was too contagious.

When she finally emerged from her seclusion nearly a week later, the first thing she did was go outside and look all around the porch for any sign of her father’s cherished vases. But of course they weren’t there. 

“What the hell are you doing?” Mei drawled. Even though it was 6 a.m. and she had coffee in hand, she was clearly not dressed for bed. She was probably just coming home from somewhere. “What’d you lose?”

“… a bunch of vases.”

“Vases? You mean those old things Gaston took to the consignment shop the other day?”

Xiu stopped short. When she’d been looking for the vases, it was easier not to acknowledge what she already knew—that they were gone. She tried to catch her unsteady breath. “I asked him not to do that until I could talk to everyone!”

“Yeah, he held on to them until yesterday. Then Mom told him to get ‘em outta here, so he did.”

 “I can’t … I can’t believe this! I told him they were important to me—“

“Really, sis? You’re mad about this?”

“Those belonged to our father! Doesn't that mean something to you?"

“Yes, our father,” Mei repeated with a sigh, “who has been dead for seven years and whose property belongs to our mother. Not us. Remember?”

“You’re okay with this? Really?”

Mei gave her a tired look. “Xiu, get a grip. They’re just some old vases, they weren't holding Dad’s ashes or something! Besides, if they were so damn special, why didn’t he put them on display instead of keeping them buried in a box? He didn’t even clean them, they couldn’t have been that important.”

By now everyone was awake and crowding onto the porch, drawn by the sound of the argument. 

They waited until Xiu stopped bawling and got control of herself. It took a while. The sun was rising by the time she finally dried her face. She looked at them: her annoyed sister, her bemused boyfriend and his nonplussed father, her sleepy son, and last of all, her treacherous mother, who stared at her with an unmistakable expression of triumph. 

“So all of you agreed on this,” she finally managed. "And apparently without me."

“Look, I’m grown, damn it,” Mei shrugged. “If I gotta live at home and be broke constantly, I at least want my own room.” Everyone nodded in agreement. Even little Étienne.

“My darling, your mother's condition requires more space.” Rémy's voice was level, and obnoxiously reasonable. “This home is not made for her. She should not have to run into the walls simply to come out of her own room. And surely you cannot be so obstinate as to not see that there is not room for all of us in such a small space.” 

Of course. What kind of heartless person would deny a crippled widow? Xiu was smart enough to see that this argument was lost. She sighed and mumbled, “Of course not. Sorry for waking you all up.” 

"It's okay," they all mumbled back, and slowly drifted away to mind their own business. Everyone, that is, except Layla, who remained there in quiet smugness. As soon as the last person was in the house, Xiu turned to her in impotent fury. “I'm sure everyone's change of heart was all your doing," she choked out. "Mom, how could you?”

“How could I?” Layla repeated. “How could I? You dare criticize me? Over some old pots?” 

 “They belonged to my father! And you’re selling them because—“

“Because I wanted something better for my children and grandchildren than to live in this horrible cheap trailer while your father spent his money flying overseas to dig yet more old pots out of the ground? And somehow this offends you? Don’t be ridiculous. I did not leave behind everything I knew to come to this place so that my children could wear cast-off clothing and live like vagabonds!” 

She looked with Xiu with a fierce gaze.  

“Do you realize how much money your father has been hoarding all of these years, Xiu? All this time that we scrimped and sacrificed just to make ends meet, and there was money in this house all along? And for what? It did us no good, he would not even spend it. 

"I still remember the time that I had to sell my own clothing just to feed you and your sister. Do you have the first idea how humiliating that is to do? Of course not, because you have always been provided for and never wanted for anything. Do not dare look down your nose at me now. All I am doing is making use of the property he left behind, the same way he did when he first came here. 

"If you want to buy those horrible vases back from the consignment store, be my guest. Much good may they do you. Just keep them out of my sight.” And she wheeled away. 

In the end, Xiu could only afford to redeem two of the antique vases. No one, probably not even Kim Chong himself, had known how much they were really worth, and within days of their arrival on the market, bidding wars erupted for several pieces. The consignment owner took pity on Xiu, though, and returned two of them for well under cost.

The money the family received for the other ten was more than enough to begin construction on the new house, which made most of the family very happy. Layla was insistent that the floor plan mirror Gaston's former residence exactly, right down to the wine cellar and six separate bedrooms.

"Would you stop pouting about it, already?" Mei asked her sister as they waited outside of the school building for Étienne to come out. "You act like it's some kind of personal insult directed at you that Mom wants a bigger place to live in. You're being petty." 

Xiu didn't answer.

"Sis, seriously … you've got to let it go. Yes, Dad was frugal, we all know that—"

"Don't you mean cheap?" Xiu snarled.

Mei tactfully ignored the bait. "All we're saying is, you don't necessarily owe it to his memory to buy furniture second-hand and refuse to purchase any new clothes until you've worn your current ones to total rags. It's your life, live it how you choose." 

"This is what I'm choosing," Xiu snapped.

"Then at least let Mom choose for herself too, without judging her so much."

"That's my problem," Xiu insisted. "She's not choosing for herself, she's choosing for all of us. She's going to be dead before she can even enjoy the house that she's spending all of this money to build!" 

 "Well, you have a point there, but still, think about it. Maybe she's more far-sighted than you give her credit for. That little trailer isn't going to hold together forever, you know. Did it occur to you that she's doing this for Étienne? And his kids? And his grandkids?" 

Once again, Xiu didn't answer.


Construction on the new house continued. 

The time soon came when the builders had to decide what to do about the current house. While everyone else gladly moved their belongings into the new lot, Xiu hung back to talk with the contractors. Yes, she knew that the old house was decrepit and old, and yes, she knew that it looked even more out of place now. But she had been born there, and she wanted to keep it if she could.

In the end, she compromised as usual. The builders located the original footprint of the two-room trailer and restored it to its original state. They moved the tiny trailer to the back of the lot, where it rested under the freshly-planted oak tree. Then they promptly bulldozed what remained behind. Layla sat and watched. Xiu turned away. The knot in her stomach was almost too much to stand. 

 She walked away from the half-finished chateau and went inside the dusty trailer. Its floors were warped now, its walls sagging inward. The door to her old nursery wouldn't close anymore. The remaining sunlight was weak through the single window.

She sat alone in her discarded childhood home, holding on to the two pots that she had been able to save, and cried until long after the sun set. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Generation 2: A beginning and an ending

Xiu started a fire in the ancient firepit and listened patiently as Rémy explained what had become of him since they last met. He had returned to France and to university, but the professors had gone on strike, and the strike had lasted for a week, then two, then stretched out into a month. More than one person found themselves in jail over the whole fiasco—among them, Rémy’s academic advisor and department chair.  The student body became restless in the absence of classes, eventually rioting. 

“It was horrible,” he murmured, staring into the flames as he spoke. “It was not safe to be outside, you could be injured or arrested at any time. You could not go to school, you could not go to work. All you could do is sit at home and wait.”

“Wait for what?” 

“For something, anything … to change. I have never known such desperation.”

He sighed and looked away. “It was nearly six months before anything could be resolved. I could not finish my degree, and I could not transfer to another school. There was no money, no hope, nothing. In the meantime, my mother died. There was only my father left, and he is old. I was afraid to leave him alone. 

“I have been working in a supermarket for some time now. One of my former classmates found me there. She could not get a job with her degree, either. She became a detective instead. She saw that a police officer in the United States was trying to reach me, that the officer had been looking for me for nearly a year. At first I did not understand why. Then she told me the officer’s name and I could not believe it. It was your sister.

“I was afraid that it was a set-up, someone from the fertilizer company trying to find me for … heaven knows. It was months before I could bring myself to respond. But it was true. It really was your sister trying to find me. So I finally called her. She told me that if I cared anything about you at all, I would come back. And so I came back. Because I do care.”

He looked at Xiu seriously. “Now it is my turn to ask a favor of you. My father is too old to live alone. If I am to stay with you forever, you must accept him as well. “ 

Xiu accepted this arrangement without hesitation. Perhaps she should have talked it over with her family first, or at least inquired about Mr. Dutiel’s disposition … but it was such a little thing to stand in the way of her (and more importantly, her son’s) happiness. Of course Mr. Dutiel was welcome. 

And with that obstacle overcome, she and Rémy went out on a long-overdue second date that ultimately ended just like the first one had. 

The next morning, she left Rémy sleeping in her bed and went out front to talk the whole thing over with her mother and sister. Actually, she didn’t so much “talk” as inform them that the Dutiels would be moving in shortly. 

Yes, there were only three bedrooms in the house—it didn’t matter. Yes, no one really had a job besides Mei—they’d make do somehow. But Étienne needed a father, and Xiu wasn’t about to let this second chance go to waste. If that meant transplanting Gaston Dutiel to Riverfront Meadows, so be it.  

Layla was fairly enthusiastic about the prospect—she had wanted Xiu to remarry for quite some time. Mei took a slightly dimmer view of the whole thing. 

“So, where, exactly, are these guys gonna sleep? In case you hadn’t noticed, there are only two beds and a crib in here.”

“I’ll buy bunk beds.”

“You expect me to sleep in a bunk bed?” Mei smirked.

“No, I expect you to sleep with Mom.”

“… what?


Gaston Dutiel became a permanent resident of the house just in time for his grandson’s birthday. A good-humored, intelligent man, he quickly won Étienne over. 

Layla was a harder sell, but he managed to surprise her by presenting her with a well-worn copy of one of her first novels. He was a big fan, he said—he had read almost everything she’d published. Stunned, Layla could do little besides thank him. As soon as she found out that he was an avid fisherman, any lingering coldness on her part vanished. 

For the first time in a while, every seat at the table was filled as Xiu served a full dinner. Layla was listening to Gaston talk about the vineyard he’d owned as a younger man, and Étienne was happily telling Rémy about every toy in his box. Mei, by contrast, looked particularly sullen.

“Everything okay?” Xiu asked.

“Peachy,” Mei snapped. Xiu very carefully set a plate of steak in front of her and gave her a worried look.

The food was delicious, as expected (Layla was especially pleased with her vegetarian version; Étienne tried a bite and decided he liked it), and conversation flowed easily. It seemed as though things might finally be getting back to normal … at least, until Mei threw her napkin down, kicked her chair back, screamed, "I hate you all," and stormed out, leaving untouched food and a shocked silence in the wake of her departure. 

“More wine?” Gaston interjected into the awkward silence.


Philip Melvin rarely complained about his job. Being a bartender was easy money and the customers usually kept him amused. Occasionally, though, he’d get an obnoxious drunk that wouldn’t shut up and wouldn’t leave, someone who made such a pest of themselves that they literally drove everyone else out of the door. His current drunk had been rambling non-stop for nearly twenty minutes about god-knew-what, and he was beginning to lose patience. “Look … um … Mei, was it? I gotta get back to work.”

“Like hell you do,” Mei slurred, “there ain’t nobody else in this whole joint.”

“Yeah, now there ain't. You ran ‘em off.”

“Like hell,” Mei growled again. “Gimme another one.” 

He sighed irritably and slammed another glass of whisky in front of her, hoping it'd shut her up. But no such luck. She'd drained it completely within five minutes and began pounding the bar with the glass. She wanted more. 

Philip finally drew the line. “… no.”

“Whaddya mean ‘no?’ I’m payin’, ain’t I? … gimme another one!”

“Forget it, girl.” Philip walked away and began to clean the bar tables, leaving Mei to rant to herself. He didn’t want to force her to go, and he wouldn’t, as long as she stayed calm.

She stayed calm—so calm, that after a while he began to wonder what she was up to. She wasn’t at the bar anymore, but she hadn’t left. “Oh shit,” he muttered, “I bet she's on the floor.” 

Sure enough, she was in a heap on the ground, singing a nursery rhyme. Philip sighed. “Alright, this ain’t cute anymore. Go home, Mei.”

“Home,” Mei mumbled. “Yeah, okay, I’ll go home with you … where’s your place?”

"Yeah, no. Go to your house, okay?"

"What, I'm not good enough to fuck?"

Thanks but no thanks. I'm sure you're fine when you're sober, but you don't even know which way is up. And I don't fuck girls who are gonna puke on me at the end. Shove off, okay?” 

“Go to hell, I can’t drive.”

“No, guess you can’t,” he muttered. And he shoved her hands away again.

She wasn’t coherent enough to tell him where she lived. In the end, he called a number on her phone and said tersely, “I’m locking up in 10 minutes.  If you don’t come get her by then, she’ll be sitting in the dark.”

Xiu came as quickly as she could, but the caller hadn't lied. By the time she got to the Watering Hole, Mei was slumped against a post, growling obscenities.

Neither woman said a word on the ride home. They rode in silence, Xiu driving carefully, Mei pouting, until they pulled into the grass by the dark house. Xiu waited until it became obvious that Mei wasn't leaving the car without help. Then she slowly pulled Mei to her feet and helped her sister up the stairs. 

“Just get me on the couch,” Mei began. “I don’t wanna …”

She reeled backwards into the railing. Xiu turned away to let her vomit in peace. Mei probably hadn’t eaten anything at the bar, the better to get wasted faster. She rushed to the sink and got a glass of water, waited for Mei to stumble inside. “You’re dehydrated.”

“Oh, shut up! Are you a goddamn doctor now? You gonna psychoanalyze me next?”


“Perfect little Xiu,” Mei sniped. “You always get what you want, things always work out for you, you always know everything, you’re just so—“

She collapsed in her sister’s arms, sobbing.

“They … they took Judson off life support today.”

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Generation 2: ... surprise?

"… alright, so the lithographs will be here by … 12 tomorrow. Great. And you'll have your own people setting up in the gallery. Works for me! … no, thank you, sir. Goodbye." 

Xiu hung up the phone, smiling broadly. She was going to be able to do this job right, from beginning to end!

Doing a good job had always been very important to her, even more so she received a raise—she felt a compulsive need to justify it, to continue to earn it. Not that this was new behavior, she'd been like this ever since she'd begun going to school. She'd always had a strong desire to please. 

Sometimes that desire got her into trouble. Like with her boss, for example. 

Day by day, Anton was making it clear that he was sweet on her, and she didn't want her actual work to be overshadowed by his personal feelings. But she couldn't bring herself to turn him away, either. So she waffled about it at the dinner table night after night, her indecision driving her mother and sister up the wall.

"So why not marry him if you like him so much?" Layla asked. Mei glared at Xiu, shaking her head no. 

"He's my boss, Mom … everyone will think that I only get promotions because we sleep together! It's a conflict of interest."

"Ask for a transfer, is he their only boss?"

"Mom, I was already fired from this corporate office once, remember? I can't just get another job there."

"So what? People quit jobs everyday, not like they have every position filled there …"

"Mom … are you even listening?”

Mei waited until dinner was done and Étienne was down for the night to speak her mind. She panted out in between push-ups, "I can't put a finger on it, sis, but I don't like Anton." 

"I know you don't."

"I'm not trying to tell you how to live your life—"

"No, Mei, I already understand." Xiu sighed and stared at the fish in the tank. "The truth is, I don’t feel nearly the same about him as he does about me. And the more he pushes, the worse I feel. He's a great guy, but I don't love him. At all."

"Then why do you keep bringing it up?"

"Because … when Étienne sees him, he says 'dada.'"

"Sis," Mei said very quietly, "Please … just wait, okay? In a couple  of days, you won't have to worry about any of that  anymore. I promise."

"Mei, what are you up to? Every day I see you on the phone, sneaking around the side of the house. Is something happening that I should know about?"
"You'll know everything in a couple of days," Mei insisted.

"Why can’t you just tell me now?"

"I just can't. I would if I could, but I can't. You gotta trust me. Please."

"Is it about Anton?"

"I don't know yet. And that's why I can't tell you anything."


"A couple of days, Xiu. That's all I need."


The 'couple of days' slowly passed by. 

Judson got his job at the warehouse and kept his eyes and ears open, but heard nothing related to the mystery shipment of lithographs from Oskar-Budro. According to the information he had received from Mei, though, the crate was scheduled to arrive Friday evening, which meant he needed to be working that night. He noted immediately that one worker seemed a bit nervous about working 'with the new guy.' 

"Stay close to that guy," Mei ordered. "Tell me everything he does, when he does it."

While they waited for the courier service to bring the artwork, Judson lounged on top of a bunch of crates. His coworker was in a dark corner, muttering to himself, occasionally shooting Judson an irritable look. The tension was sickening.

"What time do you think these guys are gonna come, man?" Judson called in a futile effort to break the ice. 

"It'll come when it comes," was the terse reply.

The man didn't say another word, regardless of Judson's attempts to speak to him. Judson gave up and began to play games on his phone. His attention was so absorbed in the game that he completely forgot to watch his coworker.  Which ultimately proved to be his undoing when he finally looked up from his phone to find the man right behind him. Before Judson could ping Mei, call for help, defend himself, blink, even ... he was on his back and taking heavy blows to the head.

The beating was mercifully short, at least from his perspective. He lapsed into unconsciousness in under a minute.

Two blocks away, two officers loitered on the curb, one noticeably more jumpy than the other.

"Hey, Shin Yi. Shouldn't you have gotten a call by now?"

"Yup," Mei growled, and looked at her communicator impatiently. Judson was normally in the habit of sending five-minute updates. It'd been at least twenty minutes now with no word. It was pissing her off. And worrying her sick.

"Why dontcha go on over there, then? You're fast enough to sneak around and see what's what."

"I ain't trying to blow the whole thing if he just went to sleep."

"Well, if nothing's doing, I can always pick you up for suspected prostitution," the other officer suggested, and laughed.

Mei rolled her eyes. "Fuck you, Reynolds. Follow up on me in two minutes, tops!” She sprinted down the block towards the dockyards. Despite her earlier admonition of caution, she had a bad feeling in her stomach. And if Judson was in any way hurt by all of this

As she raced around the corner of the building, she saw the single dockworker shoving canvases into an unmarked crate. As soon as he saw her, he slammed the lid shut, kicked the box away into the darkness and spun around to face her. There was no need to confirm anything now. Judging by the glare in his eyes, this was her target beyond a doubt. Mei's eyes shot to the side and

No. No no no no.

Mei didn’t say a word. She didn't scream. She leapt towards him in silence, and he didn’t say a word as he caught her in the midsection with a knee and sent her to the ground. She bounced to her feet easily, and the fight was on. 

Mei was a good martial artist, but this guy outweighed her by at least 100 pounds.  She landed every single kick, but it didn't seem as though they did any damage. Plus, every time he hit her back, it hurt like hell. Only her police training was keeping her on her feet anymore.

Finally she got lucky. As he ran her down, she lashed out at just the right time and the big man walked right into a kick to the side of his head. His massive muscles couldn't protect his head after he ate that one. He went down like a sandbag. Panting, Mei darted up to the window of the car and flashed her badge at the driver.

"Police!" she barked. "You stay right there!" The driver nodded, petrified.

The police cruiser was just pulling up to the scene. Mei ordered Reynolds to call for more backup. Then, stumbling in pain, she limped back inside the warehouse. Boxes lay everywhere. She didn't have the first clue which one held the all-important lithographs.

But none of that mattered now, not with Judson lying face-down on the floor in a pool of blood, so much blood. He wasn't moving, he was barely breathing. She cradled his limp body and cried silently.


While the police swarmed over the warehouse like ants, Mei stood outside of a hospital room with her head in her hands. Xiu lingered next to her sister without saying anything. If the expression on Mei’s face was anything to go by, she didn’t want to talk. 

 “Shin Yi,” an officer called as she ran their way. Both women looked up.

"Um," the officer hesitated. "… is it okay to discuss this in front of a civilian?"

"Might as well," Mei sighed, "It's gonna be on the news by sunrise. What is it?"

“We caught a guy trying to sneak into the warehouse, he led us straight to the box of lithographs.”

Now Xiu looked surprised. “Lithographs? … there were lithographs coming to the gallery tonight.”

“You would have never gotten them,” Mei said shortly. “The originals never make it to gallery owners because they’re being stolen and sold on the black market. All you ever see are cheap reproductions. 

She turned back to the officer. “You got the guy under arrest yet?”

“He’s saying that he’s an account executive for the Fillmore Group and that he was protecting company property. He wants an attorney, of course. Won’t talk.”

“An … an account executive?” Xiu stammered. “For the Fillmore Group? Trying to claim lithographs? It’s …” Her voice shook. “… it’s Anton, isn’t it …”

“I … I suspected him, yeah.” Mei looked uncomfortable. “I didn’t want to tell you—“

“Are you kidding me?" Xiu interrupted. "You thought my boss was part of a criminal outfit, and you didn’t want to tell me?” 


“You … you … you let me work for a suspected criminal, and you didn’t want to tell me? So am I under suspicion too?”

“No, of course not!”

“How could I possibly know that? How can I trust anything you say now? You know full well I've been involved with this entire lithograph project since day one! And you ‘didn’t want to tell me?’ My god, so I’ve been doing a criminal’s work for weeks? Months, even? So when were you planning to tell me, sis? The day you marched into a corporate meeting and cuffed him in front of everyone? Or were you going to bother to mention it after I accepted his proposal? Were you planning to arrest him at our wedding? You didn't want to tell me?

 With a furious effort, Xiu walked out of the door. All Mei could do was watch her go.


For days and weeks afterwards the house was under a frosty chill. Nobody was talking to anyone else. 

Layla stayed in her room, scribbling out a new novel in the solitude of her lonely bedroom. Mei continued to make her daily trips to the police station, the jail, or the hospital. And Xiu continued to raise Étienne alone, a task that became harder every day that her son sadly asked, "Where Dada?" 

"Dada's coming," Xiu said, but she didn't believe it herself. 

She'd gone to see Anton during visiting hours more than once, and he assured her that it was all a big misunderstanding and he'd be out soon, no problem. She smiled and nodded and hugged him through the jail bars, but in her heart she knew it was all wishful thinking, one big lie. 

With its primary financial backer behind bars, the art gallery was closed indefinitely, with no word on when it might reopen again. And that meant that once again, Xiu was out of a job. Back where she started, with no idea how to make anything in her life change for the better.

Mei poked her curly head in the living room. "Hey. Gotta go to the airport, taking the car." 

"Fine," Xiu muttered. "Take it."

"Didn't you have an interview or something today?"

"I canceled it." 

"You ... what the hell? Why are you wimping out of getting a job now? Are you still mad at me?"

"For arresting my boss and putting me out of a really job, and possibly involving me in a criminal prosecution? … now why would I be mad about that?"

"How many times do I have to tell you that you were never under any suspicion? We ruled you out forever ago." 

"Then why couldn't you just tell me what was going on?"

"Because when you're investigating a boss, you don't tell his flunkies, duh. Especially not flunkies like you, you don't even realize when you talk too much. If I was right about the guy, you'd have tipped him off. If I was wrong, you would have known too much. It would have ruined your whole working relationship with him."

"And it's not ruined now?"

Now Mei looked at her piercingly. "So you really did love him."

"My son needs a father, Mei."

Mei's face became hard with contempt. "If you're gonna whore yourself, at least have enough balls not to drag your kid into the middle of it," she yelled, and stormed off.

 Xiu wondered, too late, just why her sister was headed to the airport. It was too late to ask (Mei never answered the phone when she was angry), so Xiu spent the afternoon outside with Étienne, playing hide-and-seek with him as he crawled through the garden. Just as the little boy grew tired of the game and wanted to be held, she saw the red station wagon pulling into the yard again. 

A man got out of the car and took his bag out of the trunk. Then Mei drove away again, leaving Xiu to stare at the stranger on the lawn. It didn't take her long at all to run right back into Rémy Dutiel's arms, laughing and crying and kissing him all at the same time. 

She didn’t accuse him, didn’t bring up the fact that he hadn’t been around for nearly three years of her life, didn’t ask where the hell he’d been all this miserable time. She forgave him everything without a single word, and squeezed him hard and didn’t let go. He held her trembling body tightly and returned each one of her kisses. Behind them, Étienne watched with wide eyes and hung back.

“Rémy,” Xiu whispered, ecstatic.  Her tears fell on his lips and stained his shirt. “You came back.”

Oui, ma cherie.”

“Say you’ll never go again.”

“Je ne laisserai pas, Xiu.”

She hoped that was a confirmation, because she couldn’t understand a word he was saying. But it sounded wonderful in French. She leaned into him, pleased when he continued to squeeze her hard.

He seemed to see the little boy in the grass for the first time. “C’est que mon fils?” 

“Oh! … yes, that’s him. Étienne, sweetie, come here …” 

She swooped him up, offered him to Rémy. They stared at each other with solemn eyes before Étienne began to cry and cling to his mother’s neck. Xiu quieted the little boy and smiled sadly at her lover. “It’ll take time for him to get used to you, I think. He … he thinks that another man is his father.”

“Xiu,” Layla called. She was sitting on the porch, waiting to take her grandson.

As the wheelchair slowly moved toward the back of the house, Xiu finally found enough courage to look Rémy in the eyes. “I think we need to talk for a little bit.”

He nodded.