“Then Scooter said ‘This is the second time this has happened, hasn’t it?’, like he’s the doctor’s personal assistant or something. And the doctor just shakes his head and agrees.” Rion wrung the sweater in his lap.
Tuesday nodded as she made a left turn. The streets of downtown were a mess–misnamed signs, funny angles, crossroads that ended and began again three miles later. She needed to pay close attention.
“He wouldn’t even search his room,” Rion continued, “I know he still had the stuff. Why would he think I’m lying to him?”
“Well, he probably didn’t want to violate his privacy. Or the trust of the others.”
“I made up weird stuff like coffee filters and cough medicine?”
“You know, all that stuff you said sounds like ingredients for a meth lab.”
“Meth lab? Scooter was a meth addict?”
“Maybe, or he was just selling. Sounds like this ‘pharmy’ would be a perfect place to start a side business.”
Rion sighed, “I thought he was my friend. My first friend. He tried to help me.”
She clucked her tongue. “Just goes to show you. Never trust someone named after a muppet.”
“What’s a muppet?”
Tuesday’s jaw dropped. “You don’t know what a muppet is?” She shook her head. “What are they teaching kids these days?”
Rion was about to say something regarding his lost memory when he spotted a square, yellow sign with a anthropomorphic bull in a chef’s outfit. The phrase “King Bull’s Spicy Asian Cuisine” encircled the figure.
Rion pointed and before he even said anything, Tuesday was switching lanes. They parked along the curb in front of the store. Tuesday put a few coins in the parking meter. “I don’t really need to do this, but I’d feel funny otherwise, since this isn’t official police business.”
Rion nodded and noticed the other people walking the street were staring at them. Someone were speed-walking away. This didn’t look like a bad neighborhood, so why was everyone shying away from a parked police car.
The two of them entered a small dining hall draped in luscious red velvet. Tacky gold dragon statues with cartoonish eyes loomed around every corner as the smell of salty, savory cooking infused the air.
A creased Asian woman looked up from her podium. Her tight mouth sagged at the sight of Tuesday’s belt.
“Hello. How many?”
“None, sorry. We’re not here to eat tonight.”
Before Tuesday could continue, the hostess ducked under the podium and pulled out a small red envelope. She slid it across the counter. “Yes, yes. Thank you.”
“What?” Tuesday pinched the envelope’s sides so it opened. A thick pile of money sat inside. “What’s this for? Did I win the lottery.”
“Yes, take it. You go now. Another year, yes? You help?”
“Another year? No, no,” Tuesday slid it back. “I’m not here for any money. I just have some questions.”
“Oh,” the woman took back the money, as Rion realized it was some kind of bribe.
“What, do you think we’re from the health inspector?” Tuesday said.
“No…” she muttered, “Is not good neighborhood.”
“No, no. I’m not like that. I’m not here for a shakedown. We just want to ask you some questions. Although,” Tuesday sniffed the air, “I’m a sucker for good sesame chicken.”
The woman turned back to the kitchen at the other end of the empty restaurant. She barked out orders in a harsh, fast language, making Rion shirk back.
Tuesday held up her hands, “Just if you’re not busy.” She nodded to Rion.
“Do you remember me?” Rion said.
The hostess frowned.
“I never came in here to pick up food, or worked here, or anything like that?”
“How about this?” Rion held up the pink sweater. “Do you recognize this?”
The hostess cocked her head. “No.”
“There was a girl who wore this. She was… uh, American. She had brown hair. Probably twenty-something, a little older than me. Not oriental.”
“Oriental?” the hostess said.
“Or… Asian, I mean. Like you.”
“I’m not Asian, I’m from Indonesia. We got people from Malaysia who work here. Another’s Filipino.”
“Wait a minute,” Rion said, “You work at a Chinese restaurant and none of you is Chinese?”
The hostess laughed. Tuesday joined in. “Kid, the Chinese food isn’t even Chinese. They never heard of moo goo gai pan over there. This is what they came up with when they were working on the railroads. It’s just chunks of meat deep fried in MSG with a few vegetables. Cause that’s all they had in the camps to throw together.”
The hostess smiled. “Very good. You know history well.”
“Thanks. It’s a lot like my cooking strategy, now that I think about it,” Tuesday beamed. “Say is there anyone working back there you could maybe bring out, and take a look at this sweater?”
The hostess nodded. “Follow, please.” They walked back toward the kitchen.
Tuesday asided to Rion, “Remind me to tell you about Taco Bell sometime.”
They entered into a white room, crowded with stainless steel cabinets and kitchen appliances. A set of Asian men, some young and thin, some old and fat slid past each other in spaces too small for one person to walk through. The hostess snapped at them in another series of nonsense syllables.
The men looked up. Rion held up the sweater like he was trying to sell it to tourists.
“Any of you gents recognize this sweater?” Tuesday said.
The gathered around and peered at it. An older mustached man shook his head. A younger man said, “You know who it’s from?”
“No,” Rion said. “That’s what we’re trying to find out. All I know is I saw a picture of a girl wearing it, and I think she’s got some connection to this place. Plus it smells like perfume.”
The boy held out his hand and Rion gave him the sweater. He took a deep breath of the knit wool. After a moment he shook his head. The man next to him offered his hand, wanting to smell it too.
“Can’t say I imagined I’d be doing this tonight,” Tuesday said. “You keep things interesting, Rion.”
The third gentleman took a deep breath, and his eyes sparkled. “Ah,” he exclaimed then spouted off a bunch of gibberish. The other men nodded. “Geri Baxter,” the young one said.
“She used to work here. Sweater smells like her perfume. Very flowery, very good. We all remember it.”
“Nice break to smell than food,” said one of the older, fatter men. They all laughed.
Tuesday laughed with them. “So you know who she is?”
“She used to work here. Make deliveries for us.”
“Do you know where Geri’s address is? Or a phone number?”
The young man shook his head. “Geri stopped coming into work three weeks ago. All phone numbers dead. Couldn’t find her. You know where she is?”
“No, I was hoping you would,” Tuesday said. “You have no way to contact her? Don’t know any of her friends?”
They shook their heads. The bunch of them stood around, looking at the floor, the ceiling, trying to figure out what to do next.
“You said she made deliveries,” Rion said. “Do you know where?”
“All places. Each had a different route. Different region.”
The hostess piped up. “You can see receipts if you want. That’s only way we keep track.”
“Yes, please,” Rion said. As she bent down into a filing cabinet, Rion said to Tuesday, “Maybe she delivered to the lab?”
“Good thinking, kid,” she said. “It’s a longshot, but I like your thinking.”
Moments later, they were sitting at a desk next to the wall in the kitchen, as the kitchen workers bustled around, yelling at each other, like they weren’t there. Paper receipts covered the table, all with “DELIVERY: Geri” scrawled somewhere. Tuesday had her PDA out, with a map application loaded and made notes as Rion called out the addresses.
Rion sighed, “You know we could be barking up the wrong tree. She might never have made a delivery to this place.”
“True, but it’s our only lead.”
“This doesn’t bother you? All this tedious address hunting?”
Tuesday laughed, “This is police work kid–it’s a lot of mind-numbing data collection. Sorting through files and paperwork. It’s just a day and a dollar for me. But at least I got a little munch out of it.” She scraped the last bits of sesame chicken out of her box.
“This is good stuff. I should start coming here for lunch.” She had tried to pay the hostess who gave it to her, but she wouldn’t accept anything. She was just thankful for the excitement, and the fact that Tuesday wasn’t looking for a bribe. “I wonder how their cold noodles are.”
“Focus, please,” Rion said, looking through the box of receipts. “I don’t want to be here all night.”
“Sorry.” Tuesday picked up her PDA again and fed it another address. “You know, we could make this a regular thing. We could be like a crime-solving duo. I’d be the worldwise, funny one, and you’re the focused, rational one. Which would be great, because in the police shows, it’s always the guy who’s funny and the girl’s the bitch.”
Before Rion could respond, a new face came in through the back door. He was holding a large knapsack cooler on his hip. He looked surprised to see a cop and a boy sitting in the kitchen.
“Ah, hello?” he said.
“Hi,” Tuesday said.
One of the tubby kitchen workers shouted out at him. He seemed to be explaining their presence. Then the new face caught sight of the pink sweater on Rion’s lap. “Ah, Geri. You’re trying to find her?”
“We’re trying to find many things,” Tuesday said.
“Not the least of which is where she was making deliveries. Do you know her routes?” Rion said.
“I took over her routes when she left.”
Rion brightened. “Did you ever go to a place like a lab? Like a neurology lab?”
He shook his head, confused.
“I’m trying to find that place. It’s like a medical center. I think it might be like some kind of secret lab. But Geri had some connection with the doctor who worked there.”
The boy’s face became serious. “I know. Last week, there was a call for delivery to a place. Old building. They specifically asked for Geri. I took my car, but there was many police outside. Many black suits. Looking around. Yellow tape all around the doors. Very scary. I feel they were looking for me.” He dropped his head. “I did not go in.”
“Did you say black suits?” Rion asked. “And caution tape?”
“Yes. With black glasses.”
“And they specifically asked for Geri?” Tuesday said. “Baiting for her, maybe?”
Rion asked the boy, “Do you know where it was?”
The boy dug in his pocket and handed them the receipt. “I keep it, so I remember not to go there. Feels cold there. Not had a call from there since.”
Rion took the receipt from him and read off the address. Tuesday looked it up. “Says it’s a medical center. Unlisted phone number. No owner. Most anonymous commercial building I’ve ever seen.” Tuesday grinned at him. “In other words, jackpot.”