Art by Ron Bucalo
by S.J. Rozan
Lan Li should have known better, of course.
Sitting opposite her in my living room, I sipped some tea in order to prevent myself from pointing that out. I am not the sort of person who likes to draw attention to the obvious. Besides, scolding Lan Li would have done no good. I had no doubt she would be on guard against this same trick—I believe the word my daughter, the detective, uses in English is “scam”—should it present itself again in the future. But Lan Li is on the whole a fool. To try to make her wise would be to hurl eggs against a rock. The eggs would be wasted, the rock unchanged.
“I’m sorry, Daije,” she said as she ended her sad tale. Lan Li is older than I am. We are in no way related. Yet it was right that she should call me “Big Sister.” She had come to ask for help. A supplicant must show the proper respect. “I know I’m a fool.” I was surprised she was aware of this—most fools aren’t—but as it was not new information to me, I didn’t respond. She went on, however, as though I had. “But it was my son! My unmarried son! How could I not do everything in my power to save him?”
“I have five children myself. Four of them are sons,” I replied, in case Lan Li had forgotten my detective daughter was not my only child. I did not mention that two of my sons are unmarried, as Lan Li also has an unmarried daughter. I did not want her to have any sudden thoughts. Although Lan Li’s daughter seems to be a sensible young woman, she is the only person in her family of whom I could say that. Better for both of my sons to remain bachelors than for either of them to marry into a family of fools. “I understand a mother’s desire to help her son,” I continued. “But a curse you never knew about until you were told by a stranger on the street? Truly, Lan Li, did you not have a moment’s pause?”
She hung her head. “My daughter is quite angry with me.”
“I do not need to be told that. I heard it in her voice over the telephone.” It was Lan Li’s daughter who had called for this appointment, Lan Li herself being too embarrassed by her actions to admit them.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated. I was pleased to see that at least she was penitent. Then she sighed. “That such a thing should happen on Mulberry Street.” Looking up, she added, “After I left the fortuneteller, the first woman approached me on the corner where Plum Garden used to be.”
Plum Garden was the restaurant owned by my late husband. I suppose by mentioning it Lan Li hoped to soften my heart. Because I considered that a devious ploy, I didn’t respond. Lan Li continued, “That corner, of course, is in the center of Old Jun’s domain. But Old Jun has grown so . . . old.” Really, I was starting to lose patience with her. It is true that many years ago, when the people in that area of Chinatown began referring to Jun Da as “Old Jun,” the title was a sign of respect, not an indicator of actual age. However, it is incorrect to attribute Old Jun’s current decline to age alone. Many older persons are quite capable.
“Or,” Lan Li said forlornly, “if, instead of daughters, Old Jun had had sons.” READ MORE
Art by Jason C. Eckhardt
by Twist Phelan
On what passed for a clear morning in Los Angeles, Finn Teller veered off the sidewalk into an alley. The entrance to the coffee shop was unencouraging. Cracked asphalt led to a thick wooden door with a hand-painted sign over it that read CAFÉ. It wasn’t artistic lettering, like you saw on boutiques that spelled shop with an extra pe at the end. It was bad graffiti, a scrawl of red on a scrap of raw board.
Finn didn’t care. It was the only place within two blocks of the office serving strong coffee sans employees whose upbeat, tightly scripted manner stemmed from an awareness of cameras angled toward the service counter.
She pushed open the door. There were no windows, and several of the overhead fixtures were out, making the light dim and occasional. Patrons, all male, either leaned against the bar or hunched over one of the scarred wooden tables. Several glanced up, pausing in their conversations, to see what the world had brought in. Short, squat men with Hispanic features showing indifference, superiority, and—a few—hostility. The smell of grease and hair oil hung in the air.
Finn paused on the threshold. Today a familiar face was missing. The one that always looked up interested, making Finn feel welcome.
She approached the cashier behind the register at the end of the bar.
“¿Dónde está Eduardo?”
“Se ha ido.”
Finn was surprised. “¿Dónde?”
The cashier shrugged, but his eyes veered toward the rear of the café, where another wooden door, closed, was cut into the wall.
“Un café con leche, por favor,” Finn said. “To go.” She lowered her voice. “Seriously, where did he go?”
“Mexico,” the cashier said, the whir of the coffee grinder almost swallowing the word.
Finn frowned. “¿Por qué?”
She’d gotten to know Eduardo a bit during the three weeks she’d been on assignment in L.A. During her morning coffee run, the teenager entertained her with his cheery good humor. He’d shared his favorite spot for fish tacos and she’d become addicted to the grilled shrimp and chunky tomato-and-pepper salsa dolloped onto freshly patted tortillas. She liked his politeness to the mostly surly customers, and his interest in astronomy. She’d given him copies of Sagan’s Cosmos and Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. More than once she’d asked him about his plans after high school. He’d smiled and told her Café was the right spot for him. “No college for me,” he’d said.
The cashier loaded the ground coffee into the coffee maker. Thirty seconds later, a small amount of very strong espresso was dribbling into a large paper cup.
“He didn’t say anything to me about going to Mexico,” Finn said as the cashier topped the drink with a shot of hot, frothy milk. She never drank decaf. Why drink coffee if not for the caffeine? And decaf never tasted any good. READ MORE