A Holiday Treat Just for you!
The following short story appeared in The Yin Book, an anthology published on October 10, 2010. It was a connected and sequential anthology with stories all focusing on the aftermath of an airline shutting down. Some parts of this story would make more sense if you had read the stories that preceded it, however it still stands well on its own.
There was a great culture of experimentation with the Chinese Whisperings Anthologies. So much so that I even auctioned off a character in the short story for a fundraiser.
The Rare Diseases Foundation (RDF) in British Columbia (BC), Canada, put on a fundraiser called “Rare Finds: A Unique Event Benefiting Extraordinary Children” All the items in the auction were “unique”, and all proceeds went to benefit the RDF, allowing them to foster vital rare disease research at the BC Children’s Hospital, expand their parent support groups and raise awareness. I was approached and accepted the opportunity to auction off a major character in my story – the partner of my police officer heroine. The winner got to discuss with me the character name, physical features and favourite saying(s), which I then wrote into the story. It was harder than it looked, but not so difficult that it couldn’t be done, and both the editors were extremely supportive of the entire thing.
This anthology is no longer in print so you get to read the story here. (Language Warning).
Where the Heart Is
The airport parking lot was overflowing but flashing my badge secured me a spot near Neets’ green Toyota. I parked and sat there.
I shouldn’t have come back to work yet.
I looked out my window and saw Neets staring at me. I waved half-heartedly before stepping out of the car.
“You took your merry time,” Neets called out. “Did he tell you anything else about the luggage?”
She nodded. We had one dead baggage handler, another who looked good for it, but swore an anonymous caller shot his friend for a painting. This whole thing was a mess.
“Just that it looked old-fashioned and had women’s clothes inside. His dead friend swiped a pink thong from inside.”
Neets led me inside the terminal. It was a zoo. Five hours since the airline shut down and you were lucky if you had a spot to stand without brushing up against someone else.
“Rex, this is Detective Tori Young,” Neets said to a young man standing in front of us, sweating bullets. “Detective Young, this is Pangaean’s Operations Manager.”
“Detective Patel said we’d be expecting you,” he said, holding out his hand. I ignored it and stared at him. Rex swallowed hard. Normally that would have given me a boost, but not today. I couldn’t get Eddy out of my head.
Rex led Neets and I away from the crowds and ‘behind the counter’. The baggage area was a mess, luggage all over the place. Some of it appeared to be opened and rifled through already.
“You already started to search the luggage, Anita?” Neets shook her head.
“Found them that way. Funny thing though, they’re all ‘old-fashioned’.”
I looked around the room. It was obvious someone else was interested in our suitcase? But was it because of the painting, or something else?
“Is this just the luggage for the Pangaean flight to Paris?” I asked Rex.
“Sort of,” he said with a shiver. “It wasn’t the only flight cancelled but most of the other luggage has been removed.”
“Most? Then you should get someone in here remove ALL of the other luggage.”
“Y-yes, of course,” he stammered and then stood there, as if unsure what to do next.
“Rex? Did someone tell you to keep an eye on me?”
“No. Of course not Detective, it’s just… we’re all very busy.”
I walked up to him, getting inside his comfort zone.
“Then get busy.”
He tripped over himself trying to leave. Again, I felt nothing. Why couldn’t I get any joy out of intimidating people?
“You’re moody today,” Neets said, following me over to the opened suitcases. “He’s not that horrid.”
“I’m always moody.” I tried to sound nonchalant. I didn’t want Neets to worry about me. She was my partner and I actually liked her.
“You know what I mean. You’ve been acting funny. Like you’d rather be somewhere else.” Neets stepped in front of me and looked me in the eye. “Where have you been this last week?”
I stepped around her and grabbed the first opened case.
“What? I’m not allowed a vacation?”
Just because I liked Neets didn’t mean I wanted to tell her about Eddy. I didn’t want to become her next charity case. Neets would find a way to help, there was no stopping the woman. She bent down and started going through another case.
“I was just asking if you’d rather be wherever you were last week.”
“Who wouldn’t rather be on vacation?” I tossed aside the suitcase when I found a man’s suit.
“You’re the only person I know who would rather be working than be anywhere else.” She sighed and put the suitcase aside. “But I can tell you don’t want to talk about it, so I won’t push.”
I was blessed with silence for four more suitcases.
“By Jove,” Neets said, “found it.”
“You’re sure?” I asked.
She pushed the suitcase in front of me. The camisole from a matching pink lingerie set was smushed up against a running shoe. The underwear half was missing.
My Blackberry went off, a special marching band tune I had programmed in this morning. The hospital.
“I need to take this,” I said quickly glancing at the tag. “Put out a call that we want to talk to… Medae Newman about her luggage.”
I’ve always hated hospitals. The smells. The sounds.
Eddy wasn’t my responsibility. So I didn’t have to be here.
Did that mean I wanted to be here?
“Nurse,” I flagged over the girl closest to the triage desk, “Is Edward Melendez out of surgery yet?”
The girl looked me up and down and must have decided I was important enough to stop and help. I wanted to slap her. I took a deep breath instead.
“Not yet but you can wait. Waiting room 4, about halfway down the hallway.”
“Thank you.” I hated the sound of relief in my voice. I was risking my job being here. I shouldn’t have abandoned Neets to find that Newman woman. Yet here I was rushing to a hospital waiting room to sit on my ass and do nothing.
Damn it. They told me he was stable.
A nurse I recognised was talking to a doctor and another man when I entered the waiting room. She recognised me too.
“Ms. Young,” she called me over, “Doctor Gibbons, this is the Detective who has taken an interest in the boy.”
I shook hands with the doctor, meaning it, wanting to make a good impression on the man.
“Ms. Young. I’m afraid the stitching holding his intestines together is tearing. Now because Eddy is a ward of the state, Mr Waldor is here to listen to my suggestions about other methods.”
Waldor held out his hand with a bureaucratic smile that made my skin crawl. “I’m here acting in the best interest of the child,” he said. Like hell you are, I thought. I left his hand hanging.
“Wonderful. So what’s been decided then?” I asked the Doctor.
He looked at the nurse in a way I did not like.
“Mr Waldor here believes we should try the conventional stitches again.”
“After they didn’t work?” I looked at Waldor hard, the way I looked at a criminal in the interrogation room. Waldor cleared his throat but otherwise didn’t flinch. I think that bothered me more than what he said.
“It’s the most cost effective solution. Now I know what you’re thinking–”
“You have no idea what I’m thinking.”
“–but I’m not a heartless man. If the conventional treatment fails a second time then we will move on to something else.”
“And what is this something else?” I asked Doctor Gibbons.
“It’s more like a plastic staple which–”
“And what are the consequences if the conventional stitches fail again?”
“Nothing life threatening. However, there may be long term digestive complications.”
“May.” Waldor stressed, “It’s an acceptable risk.”
This was it. If I went where I was going there was no turning back. I had to know for sure this was what I wanted, that it was more important than everything else in my world.
There was a window from Sun Tint on the side of the waiting room. I walked to it and looked into the theatre. Nurses and doctors where milling about doing things I didn’t understand, or care to. All I saw was three year old Eddy, his dark skin in contrast with the green sheet over his tiny body.
He had no-one.
His parents were dead; there was nothing anyone could have done. I couldn’t bring them back, make his life whole again. But I couldn’t do that for any of the victims I met.
Why, whenever I saw him, did I want to gather him up in my arms and carry him away? Protect him. Save him.
Was that all this was? Wanting to save him?
One of the nurses moved out of the way and I could see Eddy’s small face, nearly obscured by the nose tubes. He looked so peaceful. Not the scared little boy I’d spoken to every day since the murder—the little boy who couldn’t find the voice to respond.
It didn’t really matter why; I just had to do something.
“Mr Waldor,” I called over my shoulder, “If I were to pay, would you agree to the plastic staples?”
“Now Ms. Young, we all want what is best for–”
I spun around and shouted.
“I said, if I pay will you agree? Yes or No?”
Finally he reacted, stepping backwards as if I had hit him, stuttering his response.
“I… uh… I believe so, Ms. Young.”
“Good. Doctor Gibbons you have your answer.”
The doctor nodded and entered the theatre. I turned back to look through the window at my Eddy.
Where the hell did that come from?
I was so lost in thought I didn’t notice Waldor had left until I needed to take a seat. The nurse was still there, reading a magazine. I sat next to her.
“You better be sure about what you’re doing,” she said quietly.
I slumped further into my chair. She laughed, and put the magazine down.
“That’s good. If you aren’t sure, it means you’re actually thinking. Children are not puppies, Miss Young.”
“I am aware of that. Thank you.” I said, “Aren’t you supposed to be working or something?” I pointed harshly at the magazine. She just smiled.
“Until Eddy’s guardianship issues are worked out, a member of the staff has to be with him at all times. I knew you had taken a personal interest in Eddy so I figured I should phone you when his vitals started to crash.”
“Thank you.” I rubbed the heels of my palms into my eyes. It was just past 1:00pm but I felt like I’d been up for days. Why didn’t anything make sense anymore?
“You know your Blackberry is blinking.” Sure enough it was.
I took my phone out of the hip case. 5 missed calls, 2 emails. One of them was from my boss. I shouldn’t be doing this. I could lose my job.
“I can phone you when he’s out of surgery if you’d like?”
“Yeah. I’ll just take a few of these calls out in the lobby.” I stood up to leave but turned back to her. “Could you phone me if Child Services show up again?”
No one could find Medae Newman. Passenger calls were unanswered and the check-in clerk couldn’t remember a thing about her. And then there was the email I received from an anonymous curator at the Louvre.
“There’s something else,” Neets said over the phone, “There have been rumours going around about the ‘missing luggage’ we have in custody as evidence. They’re saying a disgruntled employee stole thousands from Pangaean and the company is really just confiscating luggage that might belong to this employee.”
“Maybe our Ms. Newman is the former employee with a grudge and that’s why she stole the painting?”
“I don’t think so,” Neets said.
It sounded like Neets was moving, then she spoke in a whisper. “I was looking through her luggage. All the clothes are brand new and there isn’t a single personal item in the entire case. Nothing. I also ran a search for Medae Newman. There’s nobody by that name living here, or in Paris.”
“You think it’s an alias?”
“I do. I think she’s a pro and would go out of her way to make sure she isn’t caught; why tempt fate by going through the luggage to try and find the painting?”
“True… so someone else went through the luggage?”
“That’s what I was thinking,” Neets said, “And what if they were looking for Medae’s suitcase?”
I picked up her train of thought, “And when they found out two baggage handlers had beat them to it, they followed them and shot one in the head. But they didn’t search the house to recover the painting for some reason.” I sighed, “It’s got flaws but it’s a theory.” A messed up one, but it kind of worked. And if I knew Anita Patel, she’d leave no stone unturned until she found all the pieces that made up this puzzle. It’s why I loved working with her.
“The painting’s the only plausible motive. Did you hear anything else about it? Auctions? Collectors?”
“Actually a stolen property report came in from a John Hildebrand Junior.”
“The Pangaean owner? S’truth?!”
I laughed. “What are the chances his airline crashes and a prized possession gets stolen on the same day?”
“You know I don’t like coincidences,” she laughed. “Is there anything else I should know?”
I hesitated. The email about the painting and who its rightful owners were could just be a hoax. “No, nothing else.”
Neets laughed. “Liar! But I won’t include that in my check-in. Have you phoned the boss yet?”
“That’s my next call.”
Not that I wanted to make it. George was not a man who understood personal time, and up until now I had never needed him to.
I found a comfortable seat in the far corner of the lobby and made the call.
“You want to explain where the hell you’ve been? Your first day back and already you’re taking time away from the case?”
“I had a personal mat–”
“Personal my ass. I don’t care who you’ve been fucking on your own time, but that crap has no place on my time. You. My office. One hour.” Click.
That went well.
“Sit.” George’s face was red, a sure sign he was ready to explode. I shut the door behind me and sat across from him, ready to update him on the case.
“Detective Patel has probably filled you in on most of the details–”
“I want your impression of the case, Young.”
“Right,” I clasped my hands together tightly. I hadn’t felt so nervous in a long time. “I think this Medae woman is a pro, likely hired by someone in the art world.”
“Oh?” he actually looked interested.
“Yes. This wasn’t a theft born of opportunity. She used an alias, had an escape route worked out. These are markings of a premeditated crime. And it’s possible when the airline went under, Medae contacted her employer–”
“Who sent someone after our victim?” George leaned back in his chair. “Makes sense.”
“Actually sir, I don’t think Medae and whoever she works for are responsible for our murder.”
“They have motive.”
“Yeah, but,” I struggled to find the right words, “Why kill someone when you’re on the right side? I got an email from someone claiming to work at the Louvre, identifying our painting as one stolen from them in the 1940s. Medae was retrieving it, not stealing it. It’s still wrong but… it doesn’t add up to murder.”
“Alright,” George and put his feet up on the desk between us. “Let’s say for a moment you’re right. So who did kill our baggage handler?”
I couldn’t help but smirk. “I’d look hard at the owners of Pangaean, particularly a John Hildebrand who reported the painting stolen.”
“Now that was stupid. He should have known we would do our research on the painting. What did he have to say for himself?”
“I haven’t questioned him yet.”
George’s feet hit the ground.
“Well… you know… I was away for a bit this afternoon…”
“Damn it, Tori.” George got up and shut the blinds on his office door. I was going to get fired. Fuck.
“Even though Patel is your senior, you were put in charge of this case. I was giving you a chance. You can’t just take off in the middle of the day because your boyfriend calls.”
“Shut up, Detective. You and I had this discussion at the beginning of your term here. You don’t have family, for those that do I make a few exceptions, but you have no right to put your sex life ahead of this department.”
“Sir, I don’t know where you are getting this from but–”
“Christ, everyone in the office is talking about it! Constantly checking your phone before and after interrogation this morning? You couldn’t even walk into the station right now without checking in with ‘Eddy’. I don’t care if he can make you sing the fucking opera and tap dance at the same time–”
“That’s enough,” I said, slamming my hands down into the arms of the chair and forcing myself up. “If you’d spent two seconds thinking about it–”
“You watch your tone, Young!”
“–you might have realized there was a sole survivor from the Melendez murder-suicide named ‘Eddy’-”
“I don’t care where you two met–”
“–who is a three year old boy!”
The silence of those few moments was louder than anything I’ve ever heard.
I slumped into my seat again. I’d just had a yelling match with my boss, who had been about to fire me anyway. There was officially nothing I could do to save my job now.
“Eddy is Edward Melendez, the little boy from the case I took two weeks ago; the one who survived the bullet his father put in his gut. He’s been in and out of surgery since. Yesterday was the first day the doctors told me he was stable, which is why I came back to work today.”
George sat down in his chair like it might break underneath him. “So what happened this afternoon?”
“He was rushed in for emergency surgery, and Child Services was going to fuck it up so the nurse called me.”
I actually got a smile out of George.
“So let me get this straight,” he said quietly. “You took your first vacation time in over a year to watch over a three year old, in the hospital, that you have no personal connection to?”
“You make me sound like I’ve gone nuts.”
“Have you?” George said seriously. “I mean, why?”
“I don’t know,” I said quickly. Why did I go to the hospital when I knew I could lose my job? Why did I take vacation time to look after him? He had the hospital staff and Child Services, what did he need me for?
It didn’t matter what I asked myself, all I saw was his little face looking up at me. Smiling for the first time in days when I gave him that teddy bear. The way his face lit up.
“Actually,” I continued, “I think Detective Patel might have it right. I always fall for the unavailable guys.”
George leaned his head back and laughed, and I couldn’t help but join in.
I looked around and saw the nurse from earlier.
“Thank you for the phone call,” I said when she got near, “I’m sorry I couldn’t get here sooner. I had to clean out my desk.”
The nurse stopped dead in her tracks.
“You were fired?”
“No, I took a transfer into a department with a lighter caseload. Stolen Property actually. That way I’ll have more time for Eddy.”
A grin spread across the nurse’s face, “That’s good, because a lady from Child Services wants to talk to you.” She pointed down the hall and I could see a woman sitting in the chair beside his door.
“Well. Talk about timing.”
I should have felt nervous but I felt kind of relieved. It would be good to get this out of the way. I introduced myself as soon as I was close enough. I even shook the woman’s hand.
“I know you’re busy Detective, so I’ll get to the point. I believe you’ve taken an interest in young Edward’s life. While we’re grateful to have a continued police interest, I’m afraid I must ask you allow us to take things from here. I assure you, despite what you might think, the system will take care of Edward. Your interference is only detrimental.”
I could feel myself wanting to intimidate her. I wanted her to know who was really in control. That her stupid speech wasn’t going to stop me. But Eddy was close, and I didn’t need him to hear raised voices.
“Thank you… however, I’m not here on police business. I’m here because I want to be. And I will be speaking to a lawyer in the morning to start jumping through whatever legal hoops your department has created to begin the adoption process.” I smiled as sweetly as I could. “I will do everything I can to make sure Eddy never enters the system.”
“Very.” I looked over her shoulder into the room. I could just make out an Eddy sized lump on the bed.
“Well, I can only see one option here Ms. Young.” I looked back at her, ready to stand my ground if need be, but she looked… happy.
“I’ll bring round some paperwork for you to fill out later tonight and send an agent over to assess your home, to see if you meet the temporary residence requirements until the adoption is finalised. They take a while, you know that right?”
“Yes,” I said, knowing I had a stupid grin on my face. “I’m prepared to wait.”
“Good. You should go see him, he’s been asking for you.”
What? I didn’t bother saying thank you or goodbye, I just barrelled into the room. Eddy hadn’t spoken since the murder.
“Tor-weee,” a little voice called from the bed. Eddy put his arms out for a hug and I was happy to oblige.