After a few weeks, the initial shock started to wear off. Life began to go back to normal at the school and we all resumed our usual routines. A detective, Lt. Chung, was assigned to the case. He was a youngish man, very sincere, who spoke very good English. I spoke to him on more than one occasion. He was soft-spoken, unassuming and dressed in regular grey/black street clothes. He reminded me the the Columbo actor on TV.
Apparently, he had some resources on the police force that allowed him to do some ‘digging’ into the Brain’s pass in the States. Some years earlier the Brain had been involved in a very serious auto accident where he was almost killed. Instead, he was left with several very deep scars on his body. When anyone asked about the accident he’d simply say, “I don’t remember what happened.”
Instinctively I knew there was something wrong with that story.
Lt. Chung, a personable young guy of about forty, had however, a permanently sorrowful look on his face. The Lt. looked like he was about to say “I’m sorry to tell you this, but….” Point of fact, he probably did have to say that kind of thing to people. Maybe he subconsciously arranged his face to project the message first.
Anyway, Lt. Chung had taken to stopping by the apartment house and hanging out in the office with the two old duffers who owned the place. On my way home from school, I could see them in the office, talking and laughing about whatever or outside having a smoke.
Lt. Chung found out in his own detective-style way that I was from California. He shared with me from time to time that his greatest aspiration in life was to take his wife and three-year-old daughter to Disneyland. Apparently, they had been saving money for some time but still were a little short. He loved to have me give him more details about Southern California and what to expect when they got there.
“Well, there’s Gladstone’s for Fish in Malibu, and the beach. Oh, and you might see some movie stars; then there’s Las Vegas.” The Chung would sit there mesmerized, drinking in every word. “Yah, it’s worth it, go!” He nodded his head sagely and with a little heave of the shoulders let out a little sigh.
Man, I thought, this guy is killing me.
Anyway, in between getting tourist tips for his trip, the Lieutenant would divulge bits of information to me regarding his investigation. Why he felt like he should share this stuff with me, I didn’t know. Maybe he trusted me because I was older and had worked with the police in my prior life as an insurance investigator. One day when we were discussing the merits of Medieval Times Restaurant and the jousting show versus Knott’s Berry Farm he got somber.
“You know that accident that Mr. Clifton was in back in the States?” Clif Webb was the Brain’s real name. Chung always called him Mr. Clifton.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Did he ever say there was someone else with him then?”
I sucked in air from surprise. “No, he would never talk about it.” I told him.
“Hum,” he replied. “There was another person, a man with him.”
“Oh,” I replied not knowing where this was going.
“Yes, younger man. Much younger, only 19 years old at the time,” said Chung shaking his head sadly.
This was not sounding so good. “What happened?” I was forced to ask.
“Young man died,” was the response.
My mouth formed a little ‘O’ shape.
“Mr. Clifton, he had been drinking, a little. He pulled in front of a very large truck, on the highway, at night. Maybe, no lights. The truck no sees the car and hit it very, very hard. Young man on passenger side, killed.” Chung finished. He cleared his throat.
I was shocked. Not only to find out how the accident that had left the Brain with so many scars had occurred but that someone had died too. Wow!
“The police, they investigate and want to charge Mr. Clifton with murder. But they finally decided he not legally drunk and called it manslaughter instead.” He shook his head again. “These Americans, they such fools,” he concluded.
I couldn’t disagree.
“So, then when Mr. Clifton get out of hospital and pay fines, he leave the United States and come here.” He looked at me seeking to find the logic in the whole thing. I couldn’t think of a thing to say.
“I talk to my captain. I want go to United States myself and see the records of the accident. Maybe take wife and daughter on little vacation.” He winked at me.
I gaped; I had never had an Asian wink at me before. I think Lt. Chung had been watching reruns of TV detectives.
A few weeks went by after this conversation and I was so busy with classes all thoughts about Lt. Chung escaped from my head. I was therefore, a little surprised to see him hanging around in front of the apartment again, this time alone, having a smoke. It was, coincidentally, the same time I got home off the bus from school.
“Ah, Mrs. McGinney!” he said as though he were actually surprised to see me. “You are here.”
I had to smile.
“I wanted to talk to you a little. But,” he added, looking around, “not here.”
Reluctantly, I invited him up to my tiny little apartment. Lucky for me, I had a tinsee little living room with a couch that he could sit on. I closed the slider to my bedroom. I knew that Lt. Chung was a very happily married man, but still, I kept getting these vibes from him. I couldn’t tell if he was being friendly or what. I dumped my heavy bags down, made a run for the bathroom, came out, and put the teakettle on.
“Coffee?” I asked. Always the ceremonials.
“Thank you so much,” he replied and I got out two cups. He seemed brimming with good news as I handed him his cup.
“It is all okay,” he announced. “We go!”
I was lost.
“United States,” he said gleefully. “My wife, I and baby girl, we go to California.”
The light dawned. “Ah, yes,” I replied. “Your vacation!”
“Yes, yes vacation,” but added somberly, “a little work too.” I looked at him.
“I will go to Arizona to talk to the family of the young man killed in the accident with Mr. Clifton. There is, as you Americans say, something not right here.”
I nodded, surprised by his astuteness and the amount of TV this guy must be watching to be picking up on these phrases.
“May I write you the email if something ‘interesting’ comes up?” he asked.
Again, I was a uneasy. Somehow, I was feeling like a boundary was being crossed here into my personal life. I struggled with my answer. Finally, he did seem so sincere, I finally agreed to let him have my school email. I gave him a business card.
“Thank you, thank you,” he said so enthusiastically I felt ashamed to have distrusted him.
“I must go now,” he said standing up abruptly. “We be in touch.” He thanked me again for the coffee, we shook hands and he left.
I couldn’t but wonder about this guy and how much he was like Colombo; particularly that dogged persistence.
Another two weeks went by and although I hurried home every day looking for something from the Lieutenant, nothing.
Life had gone on, as they say. Pinkie had gotten over her near hysterics from the day of the murder. Blondie had finally gotten over the sniffles but still looked very sad, like her brother had been taken. I guess the Brain was, in a sense, her brother.
Finally, as the spring was upon us and the never-ending Asian winter was ending, I got a clipped one-line message from the Lieutenant.
“The young man, he had a sister. Younger, maybe fifteen years,” signed “Very Goodly Yours, Lt. Chung.”
What the hell was that supposed to mean? I thought. I racked my brain and could come up with nothing. The young man had a sister? Ok, and? I was forced to be patient because there no other answers were forthcoming from the Chung.
I wrote him back asking what he meant and he replied by telling me how great Disneyland was and maybe they move to USA. Great!
About ten days after that, when I was yet again making the trek to the apartment from the bus, laden with bags. I pulled up short in front of the apartment building.
What I saw first were two cop cars flashing their wigwags in front of the building.The door to the manager’s office was wide open. I stared and looked around and spotted the Chung auto-car off to the corner. I hit the elevator to go upstairs and as the doors opened, Lt. Chung was looking at me.
“Mrs. McGinney,” he cried and gave me a hug. “You gave me such good advice for my trip and we have wonderful time!!” He beamed at me.
My mouth hung open.
He said “One minute, please,” and leaned back to talk to the beefy cop behind him. I stepped aside as the two moved into the foyer babbling to each other in Korean.
Finally, the Chung turned to me and said, “I see you in your apartment in few minutes, yes?” He immediately turned around to the cop again and they walked off together. Having been thus dismissed, I got into the elevator and rode up to my floor. What else?
Thirty minutes later, I was sipping a diet-coke, in my jeans and slippers with my hair pulled up in a pony when there was a knock on the door. I opened to see Lt. Chung.
“I come in?” he asked as he started to walk in the door.
“Ah, sure, “I replied stumbling backwards. I went through the same coffee drill but today he didn’t seem interested.
“You got my email?” he asked. He knew I had. He looked at me as thought that one sentence should explain everything and only a dolt would not clearly understand.
“Yes, I did but….” I didn’t have a chance to finish before he was waving my comments away like the unimportant nats that they were.
“The young man, he had a sister, yes?” he looked at me expectantly. I stared at him. He cleared his throat and continued. “She was younger, maybe seventeen of your American years at the time of brother’s death. They were very close.”
I wasn’t getting it. I looked at him and nodded with what I hoped was an intelligent look on my face.
“The sister, she was very, very angry at brother’s death and the decision of police and legal system against Mr. Clifton. She not thinks it right, not fair,” he continued.
“Ok,” I said, “and?”
He gave me a condescending look.
“After the accident, arrest and hearing, they bury her brother. She graduated from high school and went to college there in hometown.” I was still not putting it together.
He looked at me triumphantly, like he had discovered the cure for cancer and leprosy all at the same time. “She studied to become a teacher!”
Dimly, the pieces started to shift into place.
“She got her teaching degree and applied to become teacher here in Asia!” I sucked in my breath in surprise
“She got a job at your school!”
“Who, who….? I started.
“Caroline Crisswell!” he said quietly.
I sat there stunned. I couldn’t believe it. Caroline Crisswell? Cute, little, blond bouncy, cheer-girl type from Arizona, Caroline?
“But, but…” I fumbled. “The name of the kid in the accident, you told me was different. It wasn’t the same name!”
Then he smiled that special smile at me. He tapped his head knowingly. Those Asians!!! “Different fathers, different names.”
I gaped some more. “Where, where…?”
“She is gone, the apartment is empty. Everything still there except for one large bag. Her mother, who I spoke to in Arizona when I was there, must have told her.” Lt Chung nodded almost as though he agreed with the mother’s decision.
“I still…” Don’t understand I was trying to say.
“Yes, yes.” said the Chung. “The young man, Dennis Cleary, he was having affair with Mr. Clifton and they went everywhere together. The sister she feel like the death was a murder not an accident. She never get over it. She graduated from school with the teacher’s degree and hunt down Mr. Clifton. Not too hard, they from same small town in Arizona know many same people. Mr. Clifton not hard to find.”
“She find out what school he working at, apply to same school, and in Asia not much experience needed, she get the job. Mr. Clifton not really know her as young man and girl not live in same household. He never saw her except at funeral. Girls, you know, they always change the hair.” He sighed.
“So,” I interjected, remembering seeing the Brain and this girl together, talking and laughing over some silly thing.
“She gets to know him here, gets into the same apartment complex and finds out from Clifton that he never locked his door. (“It’s Asia,” he would say, brightly, “what can happen?”)
“Exactly, so as you say,” replied Chung. “She ready with knife she took from school kitchen. She waits for bad weather when lots of noise outside and wind, so nobody be outside. She goes down to Mr. Clifton apartment, when she knows he is drinking, maybe she even gave it to him and when he lies down, she stabs him in heart. She goes up the backstairs that nobody takes and goes to her room. Next day, acts like nothing she knows.”
I thought back to that wild night; as a matter of fact, many of the teachers in the building had come down to the Brain’s apartment to see what was going on, except…. Caroline. She had not been there and the next day she said she was such a heavy sleeper she hadn’t heard a thing. . .
“Wow!” was all I could say. “But where is she now?”
Lt. Chung looked a little sad. “She has left by the airplane, but no doubt, we find her and bring her back.” He seemed to feel personally bad about that. He seemed conflicted by what was clearly his duty.
He pulled himself up a little officially and said, “We will start to look for her …first thing tomorrow. It is a little late.”
“Tomorrow!” I almost cried. My American sense of justice rose up. I stopped myself and shut my mouth. He looked at me, I looked at him.
“Hey, you want to see the pictures from my trip?” With delight he pulled out his brand new, bought in America camera. I went to put on the coffee.