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. 


  1. Wonderful chapter. I love how Xiu showed a bit of courage (at last)... even if it only was towards her own sister. Wonderful pics and new hope for a future with Remy and Etiènne. I miss the girls' father who died in the previous chapter.... *snicker*

  2. Hahaha! Good ol' Kim Chong, it was probably best. Layla only grew more cantankerous as the years went on. And dear Xiu ... maybe I should have given her the "coward" trait ;) She's definitely NOT like Mei. :)