The Japanese Masseuse – Chapter 49 & Epilogue

    

Ngoc Hoai Tran (Albert Ding’s fiancee)

Albert ding (Poet and musician)

Ivy Kim (Detective, Austin Police Department)

     

Valerie Tyson (Police officer, Austin Police Department)

Connie Ding (Japanese masseuse)

Leonardo D’Almagro (CEO, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

     

Rob Bonner (Software programmer, D’Almagro Fasion and Talents)

Waltraud Contratto (Housekeeper fro Leonardo D’Almagro)

Katherine Foster (Gary Kent’s neighbor)

     

Gary Warner Kent (Actor, director, producer)

Cile Cook (Model, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

Tiffany Kammer (Cile Cook’s friend)

     

Karsten Bering Blok (Boy Scout leader)

Chad Randlett (Coroner, Austin Police Department)

Princess (Chad Randlett’s daughter)

 

Derick James (Police officer, Austin Police Department)

David and Amy Brossette.

CHAPTER 49

“Honey! What was it?” The Asian-looking girl stepped out from the kitchen.

“Ngoc Hoai, this is Detective Kim and Officer Tyson.”

“How do you do?” She smiled. “Ngoc Hoai Tran.”

“They have some questions for me.” Albert looked distant. His eyes glazed over.

His fiancée noticed it. She had seen this look before and didn’t want him to act that way again. It worried her when he would change that way. Often it happened right before he would leave town. She believed it was a reaction to his dislike of his business trips. “Are you okay, Honey?”

Albert massaged his temples, maintaining a distant, almost terrified expression. “I have a headache. It hurts!”

“I’m sorry, Babe. Do you want a painkiller?”

Albert looked at his fiancée. His loving eyes now stern. “Painkiller! That’s a great name.”

Puzzled by her fiancé’s reaction, she led the way to the family room. “Please, make yourself at home.”

The room was furnished as if nothing had been touched in the last 20 years. They all sat down, Albert and his fiancée on the couch, the detective and officer each in deep chairs with soft, fluffy cushions.

Ivy didn’t like sinking so low in a chair. She wanted to be situated so she could react if needed. She didn’t change her choice of seats, deeming the current one necessary to establish a semblance of trust.

Ngoc Hoai noticed that Albert still looked pale. She reached for his hand and remembered it was the one he had cut. She kissed the cut. She would do anything to make him feel good.

He quickly withdrew his hand, then pulled his sleeve down in an attempt to cover it.

The detective followed the loving couple’s little scene. “We have some questions about your sister, Connie Ding.”

Ngoc Hoai looked from the detective to her fiancée. “What sister, Babe?”

Albert shushed her and directed his conversation to Ivy. “I’m glad you came, Detective Kim. I’m very worried about Connie. She hasn’t been herself lately. So many bad things are happening. I don’t know how to stop it.”

“How would you know? I thought you never saw each other.”

“We don’t! We communicate. I know how she’s doing.”

“How?”

“She’s my twin!” Albert didn’t have eye contact with anyone in the room. His black hair framed his pale face. His slim body was slightly shaking.

“I’ve met Connie. She doesn’t seem to think she has any problems.” Ivy recalled their meeting with the Japanese masseuse, a powerful woman.

“But she does! I know when people have problems. I help them solve them.” He beamed for a split second. “I’m a painkiller! So many people are evil. They don’t treat people right. They hurt other people!”

“What should we do to those people?” The detective leaned forward. “Albert, what should we do to those people?”

He still stared ahead. “Punish them! Make them feel the pain themselves.”

Ngoc Hoai was listening but didn’t understand a word of what her fiancé was saying. She didn’t recognize him. “Albert,” she said in an attempt to awaken him. “Albert! Who’s Connie?”

He turned his head, looked at her, shook his head.

Ivy kept looking at Albert’s face, checking every tiny move and expression. “Could I talk to Connie?”

“You can! She’s here. If you give me five minutes, I’ll try to convince her to talk to you.” He rose from the couch.

“She’s here?” Ngoc Hoai had totally lost any understanding of what was going on.

Albert left the room.

The three of them sat quietly as if they held their breath.

Finally, the door opened.

Connie Ding walked in. Her hair was still gathered in a ponytail, and she wore the jeans and white T-shirt she had arrived in. She stopped in the doorway as if posing for a picture, showed a confident smirk, then continued into the room.

Ivy smiled, too, now intensely focused on Connie. She was taking in every detail of the young woman’s features and movements. “Nice to see you again, Miss Ding. We had no idea you’d be here at your brother’s home. This is quite a surprise.”

Miss Ding sat next to Albert’s fiancée. She didn’t look at her, didn’t acknowledge her existence.

Ngoc Hoai’s eyes were silently running over with tears. She didn’t even dare to look at who she assumed was her soon-to-be sister-in-law.

“So, Detective, tell me. Have you found answers to all your questions?”

The detective smiled contentedly. “I think I have.”

Valerie sent her a questioning look.

“Did you hurt your hand?” Ivy nodded toward Connie’s hand where there was a recognizable cut. “That’s not good for a masseuse. It looks like a deep wound.”

A gasp left Ngoc Hoai. Frightened, she tilted her head to look at the cut. Abruptly, she got up from her seat and quickly moved to the door. She stopped. Looked at Connie. Tears streamed down her face. “Where’s Albert, Connie?”

“He left. I don’t think he’ll be back. I’ll clean up after him.”

“Why did he leave?” She caught herself watching to see if he would come back through the door.

“Because I said I was going to tell you everything.”

Ivy interrupted, “Are you?”

“Yes! I know what’s best. Somebody needs to be in control. You must be in touch with your inner feelings. Good or bad. Be honest to them. Be honest to yourself.”

Ivy recovered a small tape recorder from her pocket. She placed it on the coffee table. “Who killed Leonardo D’Almagro?”

Nobody said anything.

“Go ahead, Miss Ding.”

“Albert killed D’Almagro,” she said in a low voice. “He sure did! He always wants justice.”

Ngoc Hoai was still waiting in the doorway.

Valerie got up, stepped closer to Miss Ding.

“I should have known better than to tell Albert about everybody. I relied on his keeping a confidence. It’s my call to empower people. To awaken their body, mind, and soul. Help them be truthful to their feelings and not fear them, not reject fear.” She looked up at the police officer. “Fear is excitement’s twin.”

The young woman looked away again. “Albert and I talked a lot about my clients; I chose them carefully. They needed to be ready to face themselves. I let Albert know how D’Almagro treated Rob Bonner. How he had kicked him out! Stepped on him! Why wouldn’t he give Rob what he had promised him? A promotion! Rob’s a nice man! I know he gambles and has lost a lot of money, but he would never harm anybody. He’s such a good husband, too. It wasn’t fair. I worked hard on Rob. Sometimes you need to feel pain to rise and move on.”

“So what happened?” Valerie was ready to take part in the interview.

“Albert was invited to dinner that night after he and D’Almagro met in The Rain Bar. D’Almagro had asked his housekeeper to get Gray Goose for his friend, so Albert knew they would be alone for a while. He arrived early and sneaked in before the housekeeper returned.” She looked directly at the detective. “The Japanese dagger was convenient. A present from Albert. He’s never really found his identity. Japanese or Chinese. I’m sure he chose the murder weapon wisely. Lots of blood. Nasty. But he showered and dressed in clean clothes. It’s important to be clean!”

Connie smiled at Ngoc Hoai. “Who’re you? You’re very pretty.”

Albert’s fiancée shook her head in fear. Her silent crying turned into sobbing.

“He killed Katherine Foster, too. Not sure he really wanted to kill her. Teach her a lesson perhaps. That woman was evil. No respect for anybody else. You gotta respect other people. Nobody has ever respected Albert. People say he’s so delicate and yet so strong. It somehow doesn’t fit. His music is gentle. Beautiful. Soft. I like him like that! Other people don’t!”

She paused, licked her lips, and continued, “Mrs. Foster poisoned her neighbor’s dog. Poor Gary. I like him. He loves his dogs. He despised his neighbor. Albert said it was so easy. Gary couldn’t do it, of course. He’s a decent man. Albert caught the snake here, in his yard. How can you tell how poisonous a snake is?”

Connie paused again, turned to look at Valerie, then spaced out again. “Cile Cook. What a unique portrait in black and white.” Connie almost piously observed, “Beautiful outside, but what about inside? Someone had to teach her a lesson. There’s more to a person than the outer surface. It’s nothing but a shell. Albert is beautiful inside. He really is!”

She shifted her focus to Ngoc Hoai. ”Are you beautiful inside, too, dear?”

Albert’s fiancée anxiously nodded her head, not certain she gave the right answer.

Connie tilted her head to one side, looked the young woman up and down. “Well, what is your dark side, Sweetie?” She waved her fingers, then nodded as if in silent agreement.

Again, she turned to the detective. “You see, now that Miss Cook doesn’t have a beautiful outside, she’ll have to focus on her inside. I know, Detective. A tough way to learn.

“Focus! Focus! Focus! That’s how Albert learned to play. His father took away everything that would distract him…even the memory of his sister.

“Dear Tiffany wouldn’t harm her friend. She adores Cile. They have found their ying-and-yang balance the tough way.

“Albert was a straight-A student, even in chemistry. He always worked hard, but never hard enough to please his father.

“Pretty clever idea with the facial mask. Whenever Miss Cook faces herself, she’ll always be reminded of inner beauty.”

Ngoc Hoai now spun around and ran. The door slammed as she left the house. Valerie followed to let her know she was needed inside. They returned to the room.

“Go on!” Ivy said.

“Nothing more.”

“And Karsten Blok. What about him?” The detective made sure the recorder was still running.

“Oh, yes…Karsten Blok. What a nasty guy. How does a person end up that way?”

“Maybe he copied what other people had done to him?” The thought hadn’t occurred to Ivy before. “Maybe someone abused him when he was a child?”

It was obvious from her expression that the question hit Connie in an unpleasant way.

“Isn’t that what Albert does? Give back the same medicine?” Ivy questioned.

Connie looked away. “Albert really doesn’t wanna talk about that one.” She turned again and smiled. “He said I had to figure that out for myself. Poor Chad and his little Princess. Poor, poor Chad!”

“What about Chad?” Ivy felt her heart beat a drum rhythm as if for a thriller movie sequence.

“So Albert didn’t tell you anything?”

She shook her head while she kept close eye contact with the detective.

“What about Derick? Derick James?” Ivy wasn’t even sure if Connie knew him.

“What a great example he is. An example of what not to do! You should never punish yourself for how other people see you! People never notice Albert. They still see his sister, even though she’s been dead for a long time.”

“What do you see in the mirror, Connie?”

“I don’t like mirrors! I look into them, and I can’t reach what I see.”

Ngoc Hoai, who had followed the dialog without interrupting, at last found strength to break in. “Does Albert love me?”

“I don’t know, Sweetie. What is love?”

“Love is…” Her voice was cutting in and out as if she lacked sufficient air to carry her thoughts into words.

Valerie wanted to comfort the young woman, but any disruption on her part could put the interview with Connie at risk.

“This Mrs. Brosette,” Ivy continued, “tell me about her.”

Connie straightened up on the couch. Stretched her hands and fingers. Folded her fingers, turned her hands around. Stretched her arms. “Mrs. Brosette was really the beginning. An inspiration for Albert, but not his work. God, charity—all empty words and deeds. Mrs Brosette didn’t do good deeds to help anybody but herself. A selfish marketing campaign. There wasn’t much love left for anybody else but her.

“Mr. Brosette was worn out and tired of his demanding, dissatisfied wife. Nothing was ever good enough for her. So he ran her over. All by himself! He had found love and acceptance somewhere else.”

Connie had a contented look. “Albert has never felt accepted or loved. They loved his twin. I tell him he’s fine. Good. Almost perfect. He never believes me.

“Mr. Brosette’s a nice man. We always have such interesting talks. I remember once he joked about running his wife over with his new car. I laughed.”

“Where did Mr. Brosette find love and acceptance?”

A smile at having secret knowledge emerged on Connie’s face. She was excited about her next revelation, “Katherine Foster.”

“W-w-what?” Ivy dropped her composure.

“I know. Who would have thought?”

Ivy pulled herself together. “Why did Albert do all this, Connie?”

“Albert is, in truth, a good person. He’s been through so many things in his life. He’s not evil. He takes care of people who hurt other people.”

“Has Albert been hurt by other people?”

“His twin sister was killed by a drunk driver.” She paused. “They never punished him! Nobody helped Albert. He was left alone with his grief, with an empty space. What do you do with an empty space you can’t fill? You call and you cry. The only thing you hear is your own echo.”

“Are you Albert’s twin?”

Connie turned her head, now looking directly at the detective. “How could I be? She’s dead!”

“Who are you then, Connie?”

“I’m the Japanese Masseuse.”

     

Ivy Kim (Detective, Austin Police Department)

Valerie Tyson (Police officer, Austin Police Department)

Wendy Salome (Waitress)

     

Albert Ding (Poet and musician)

Connie Ding (Japanese masseuse)

Karsten Bering Blok (Boy Scout leader)

     

Chad Randlett (Coroner, Austin Police Department)

Derick James (Police officer, Austin Police Department)

Rob Bonner (Software programmer, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

     

Tiffany Kammer (Cile cook’s friend)

Cile Cook (Model, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

David J. Hernandez (Partnet, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

     

Brianna Fleet (Business owner and model)

Kerry Gallagher (Receptionist, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

Nick Ranly (Manager of IT department, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

  

Abby Brosette (Daughter of Amy and David Brosette)

Gena Foster (Daughter of Katherine Foster and Collin Hurlocker)

EPILOGUE

Not a word was spoken. Ivy and Valerie were relaxing at the Mission, a warm and cozy restaurant in Old Town Scottsdale. It had been two long days.

They sat at the bar, both enjoying a glass of wine. The light from the chandeliers played in the wine’s dark, red color. It reminded Ivy of blood. It didn’t bother her. Somehow blood and wine were closely linked together.

The waitress put down a small bowl of warm cashews.

Valerie couldn’t take her eyes away from the bowl. “Have you ever thought about how they resemble little, frozen fetuses?”

Ivy picked one up. Turned it around between her fingers. “You’re right. A whole bowl of small, frozen fetuses. Who do you think they are?”

“Little souls who somehow have been abandoned.”

“That many?” Ivy poured out all the nuts. “They look the same.”

“We all do at the first glance.”

“So what makes them unique?”

“The time they stay in the shell and what cracks them open.”

The waitress, a young woman in black pants, sleeveless T-shirt, with a big tattoo on her arm, placed a menu card on the table. “Let me know if you’re hungry. I’m Wendy.”

The two women enviously followed as muscles moved under her huge tattoo.

“Do you have a last name?” Ivy said, still fascinated by the tattoo.

“Why?”

“Because I’ve just learned that nobody has only one persona.”

“Salome.”

“The daughter of Herodias,” Valerie added. “The Christian traditions depict her as an icon of dangerous female seductiveness.”

Both the waitress and Ivy were mystified.

“Where the…?” Ivy began.

“Crosswords,” Valerie cut her short.

“Where’re you from?” the waitress asked.

“Austin, Texas,” Valerie answered with pride in her voice.

“Cool! I live in Austin. This is a summer job.”

“What do you do in Austin?”

“I do roller derby. A kick-ass activity. My team name is Obi Mom Kenobi. There you go; another persona. And I do kick boxing. I’m a member of The Awesome Academy. Our motto is We strive for mediocrity.”

“Sounds like diversity.” Ivy opened the menu card, then closed it again. “What kind of soul food do you have?”

“We don’t. No food for lost souls.” She giggled. “Sorry. This is Scottsdale, not New Orleans.”

Ivy returned the menu card to the waitress. “We’ll just stir some life into this bowl of these small, frozen fetuses.”

The waitress wrinkled her forehead, not knowing what the detective was talking about, and left the table.

“What do you make of all this, Ivy?”

“Everything from chaos to order.” She sipped her wine. “Who would have thought Albert and Connie were one and the same person?” Ivy shook her head.

“He sure fooled me. The change in makeup, the wig Connie wore. Even female features he had taken care of. Breasts, hips. But his hands…he couldn’t hide them. And still we were blinded by everything else.”

“We see what we want to see,” Valerie said.

“Guess you’re right.”

“Somehow, I feel sorry for him,” Valerie said, about to put a cashew in her mouth, then halted and returned it to the bowl. “The death of his twin sister totally screwed up his life.”

“Pretty sad. Just think of it. All these people who have been affected by the real Connie Ding’s death. A young, beautiful girl and one drunk driver!” She looked at their wine glasses. “So easy to be that one drunk driver. Glad we’re going to the airport by taxi.”

“How did you know that Albert killed Blok?” It still puzzled Valerie.

“When we first arrived at his home, he said Chad had told him Blok had been killed. Chad didn’t know that at that point.”

“It makes me feel so much better knowing neither Derick nor Chad was involved in Blok’s death. Not that I ever thought they were.”

The detective felt bad even talking about it. It still bothered her that he had spent the night with that woman he had met in The Rain Bar. What is happening to me? Am I falling for Chad?

Valerie pushed the bowl of nuts away and reached out for a bread basket a previous guest had left at the neighboring table. “Why do you think Rob Bonner and Tiffany Kammer don’t remember anything?” She chewed on a piece of bread.

“I’m not sure. Perhaps they really thought they did it, were afraid that deep, dark desires of revenge had been awakened. Or perhaps Miss Ding knows hypnosis or can do strange things. How much do we in truth know about body, mind, and soul? Some people may know more about it than we do. Perhaps we’re merely little chess pieces that get involuntarily moved around. I don’t know. But I do believe we all have multiple personalities. Light and dark ones. And we choose which one to live by.”

“Oh, gosh! Do I have to choose?” Valerie gave her colleague a friendly push. “I wanna be light outside…and inside, too…with a hint of the dark.”

“Inside and outside. Miss Cook. The D’Almagro agency, David J. Hernandez, and Brianna Fleet, they will need a new model for sure. Let’s see if they really can make this work, or if it’s just empty words.”

“Kerry Gallagher?”

“Nope! They need a role model!” Ivy smiled. “I heard Rob Bonner has been asked to come back to the IT department.”

“Who offered him that?”

“Nick Ranly. The guy who got promoted instead of Bonner.” The detective looked away. “You know what really worries me in this mess?”

“No!”

“Abby Brosette and Gena Foster. Those two sweet girls need all the support they can get. Abby lost her mom, and her dad will be in prison for a very long time. Gena has lost her mom.” She had tears in her eyes. “I’m just asking, but what was it that Albert solved?”

Ivy swiftly emptied her wine glass and stood. “Okay, that’s it! I’m out of here.” She headed towards the door.

“Hey wait! Where you going?”

Ivy stopped, then looked back at Valerie. “I’m going to attend The National Schizophrenia Convention. Anyone who’s everyone will be there!”

“Going back to Austin? What about our flight?”

“Yep! We’ll make it. It’s started raining in Austin…and I have a date!

Connie and Albert Ding

8th grade, Tempe Middle School

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The Japanese Masseuse – Chapter 48

   

Ivy Kim (Detective, Austin Police Department)

Valerie Tyson (Police officer, Austin Police Department)

Albert Ding (Poet and musician)

     

Connie Ding (Japanese masseuse)

Chuck Robinson (Radio talk host)

Ngoc Hoai Tran

    

Leonardo D’Almagro (CEO, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

Chad Randlett (Coroner, Austin Police Department)

Karsten Bering Blok (Boy Scout leader)

Princess (Chad Randlett’s daughter)

 

CHAPTER 48

 

They had already waited close to an hour in the rental car parked at the curb across from Albert Ding’s home. The engine was running in case they had to leave fast. The air conditioner was making an annoying sound, but Ivy and Valerie needed it. They were hot and sweaty. The Arizona heat was different from the type they were used to in Austin. It was challenging to be patient under these conditions.

The home was quiet. A man and woman from Jehovah’s Witness had been the only activity. They had walked away with unaccomplished business. Nobody seemed to be there, ready to receive the message of Armageddon and God’s Kingdom on Earth.

Valerie checked her to-go cup for iced tea even though she knew it was empty. “How long are we going to sit here?”

“As long as it takes.”

“As long as what takes? What exactly are we waiting for? Albert’s in Austin, and so is his sister Connie…or whoever she is. I agree with you it was probably not Connie Ding I saw at the airport. Because if it was, she would have been here by now. But why would she? They never see each other.”

“That’s what they say! Here. Drink,” Ivy offered her colleague some of her iced tea. “You get grumpy when you’re thirsty.”

Valerie glanced at the cup. “Any diseases I should know about?”

The detective shook her head, then disappeared into her thoughts. Who was that woman people saw in Albert Ding’s home? If Connie is dead, then who is this Japanese masseuse? She turned to Valerie. “Do you think Mr. Robison could be wrong?”

“I don’t see how. Unless Connie never died or there, in truth, is a second sister nobody ever heard about.”

Ivy took the cup from Valerie and emptied it, squeezed it, and threw it over her shoulder into the back seat of the car.

“Can I get out and stretch my legs?” Valerie was about to freak out in the hot car. “I’m concerned I’ll build up a blood clot if I don’t.”

“No.”

“Come on. We’ve been waiting for an hour in this microwave oven. I know how much you hate hospitals. You don’t wanna take me there!”

“Okay.”

Valerie had the door open and was about to step out when Ivy hissed, “Get in here! Now!”

“What the…?” Then she noticed a taxi driving up the street and slipped back into the car.

The taxi stopped in the driveway at the white house, and a woman stepped out.

Her long, black hair was tied in a ponytail. She wore jeans and a white T-shirt. The woman turned around, scanned her surroundings. She appeared agitated.

The detective and officer scrunched down in the front seat to stay out of sight.

“Oh my God! You were right, Valerie.”

Connie Ding looked nervously around as she paid the driver, grabbed her suitcase, and hurried to the front door. Once again she looked around before she unlocked the door and almost sneaked inside.

“She has a key! What’s she doing in her brother’s home? I thought they didn’t see each other?” Valerie’s whisper turned into normal speech as she emerged from her hide out and started to get out of the car. “Should we ring the doorbell?”

“No,” the detective opened her door and stepped out. “Let’s explore a little before we do that.”

They crossed the street, waited, pretended they were in a dialog. Then Ivy made a quick move and disappeared into the front yard. Valerie continued on her imaginary neighborhood stroll.

It wasn’t easy for the detective to get around in the yard without being noticed. Flowerbeds with large cacti prohibited her from getting close to the windows. It doesn’t really matter, she concluded when she was halfway around the home. Every window opening is covered with closed blinds.

She punctured her finger on a cactus and was about to walk back to the street when she heard music. Music from a cello. The same soft music she and Valerie had heard coming from Connie Ding’s massage parlor the day they had visited her.

It’s beautiful and so sad. Ivy felt drawn to the music. The music stopped. Concerned that she had been noticed, she hurried back.

Valerie was impatiently waiting in the car. “What did you see?”

Ivy quickly rejoined her colleague in the car. “Nothing. But I heard music. Cello. And it didn’t sound like a CD. More like someone practicing. It was beautiful, though.”

“Albert plays the cello! Do you think he’s in there?”

“I’m not sure what I think,” Ivy answered with mixed feelings.

“Look!” Valerie pointed to a red KIA that had arrived at the home’s driveway while they had been talking.

After the driver honked the horn, she stepped out. A pretty, Asian-looking woman in her mid-twenties. Long dark hair. Dressed in a pink shirt, short black skirt, and shoes with high heels. She leaned in the window and honked the horn once more.

In their rental car, the detective and officer resembled guests in a drive-in theater. This time, the idea of staying out of view didn’t occur to them.

“Who’s she?” Valerie murmured.

The front door opened, and Albert Ding walked out and toward the gate. He stretched out his arms as he approached the young woman. She giggled and took a few steps to meet him.

“Now what?” Valerie said.

“They’re freaking kissing!” Ivy sputtered. “Albert’s gay! Who the hell is she?”

Albert took the woman’s hand in his to lead her to the door. With his other hand, he re-arranged hair that was partially covering her eyes.

Valerie and Ivy saw there was definitely love in his eyes.

Returning his loving look, then with concern on her face, the young girl traced a cut on his hand. Gently, she lifted his hand to get a better look at it.

He pulled his hand back, shaking his head. Instead, he took her hand, kissed it, and made an obviously loving comment.

She was smiling again as she replied and wiggled her left hand to make a diamond ring sparkle.

The couple walked hand-in-hand through the front door and closed it behind them.

“Jam-bam! This is freaking bizarre!” the detective mumbled. “It looks like they both are in the house…Albert and Connie…and Albert is engaged to be married to the woman we just saw.”

“It looks like it. I think she was showing him her engagement ring.”

“I’m ready!” Ivy opened the door and stepped out into the heat. Briskly, she walked towards the Ding home.

Not ready for this quick move on her partner’s part, Valerie came skipping to catch up with the detective, jolting to a stop beside the car. “Ivy, would you have look here?” She knelt.

“What’s that?”

Valerie looked up, her eyes screaming, Don’t you see it?

Someone had stepped in oil leaking from a car. The footprint was nice and clear.

Valerie reached for her pocket and recovered a photo. With excitement, she unfolded it and compared the footprint on the photo with the one on the concrete driveway. “Ivy, it’s exactly the same as the one we found in D’Almagro’s house.”

They both noticed that the footprints faded on a route up the steps and into the house.

Ivy felt a slight trembling when she pushed the doorbell. They waited. How many people are inside this house?

Nothing.

She pushed it again.

Still nothing.

They exchanged a look, and Valerie knocked on the door.

Someone was turning the lock.

The door opened.

“Miss Kim?” He looked unpleasantly surprised. His face was bare. With no makeup, he looked different. “Nice to see you again.”

“Albert Ding.” Ivy tried to smile, but her lips wouldn’t move. “This is Officer Tyson.” The detective nodded towards the officer.

Albert acknowledged the officer with a swift nod.

“We would like to talk to you. We have some questions concerning D’Almagro’s homicide. Can we come in?”

Albert stepped aside to let them in.

“What can I do for you…Detective?…Chad told me. I’m so glad they finished that guy who killed his daughter. Please don’t say anything to Ngoc Hoai.” He glanced over his shoulder.

“Your fiancée?”

“Yes.”

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The Japanese Masseuse – Chapter 47

   

Ivy Kim (Detective, Austin Police Department)

Valerie Tyson (Police Officer, Austin Police Department)

Connie Ding (Japanese masseuse)

     

Albert Ding (Poet and musician)

Destiny Joy Conatser  (Neighbor)

Ed Lehman (Neighbor)

Chuck Robison (Radio host)

CHAPTER 47

The flight left the runway. Ivy had always enjoyed this exhilarating feeling, this sensation of being pushed back into the chair while the plane under enormous power took off into the sky. Every time, she would be impressed that they managed to do it once more.

Valerie on the other hand had closed, almost sealed her eyes with a sleeping mask while she dug her hands into the armrests. Every time, she would be thankful she didn’t pee in her pants.

The estimated flight time was 2 hours and 25 minutes. It was another hot and humid day; and not deterred by any clouds in the sky, Ivy enjoyed the astounding view from her seat 30,000 feet above ground. Shortly after nine, the plane touched down at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

Even on a Sunday morning, the flight was full. With their last-minute flight reservations, the two women had ended up in the back of the plane. With frustration Ivy observed how slowly people left the plane. “I’m sorry. I don’t have patience for this.”

“Slow down,” Valerie said, folding her sleep mask, so it would be ready for the return flight. “It’s Sunday.”

“I don’t care. It could be Christmas morning. I still wanna get out of here. I’ve been breathing people’s Saturday-party-farts for two and a half hours now. I would consider that enough!”

Finally, they stepped onto the ramp leading to the gate. Since each of them had only brought a small carry-on bag, their time spent at the airport would be considerably shorter.

The doors to the outside opened, and a wall of hot air met them.

“Would there be any place on this world that isn’t hot?” Ivy put down her small bag looking for directions to the rental cars. “You see any signs, Valerie?”

She shook her head. “Ivy. Look there!” She pointed in the opposite direction. “Did you see what I just saw?”

“If you mean a rental car sign, then ‘No!’ is the answer.”

“No, I mean in the taxi that just drove by.” The slightly annoyed look on Valerie’s face clearly illustrated that the detective had missed something important. “I tell you, I’m sure I saw Connie Ding.”

Ivy cocked her head. “Are you making this up to make our blood run faster?” She picked up her bag and pointed in the other direction. “Rental cars, this way!”

“But, Ivy—”

“You do know there is more than one Asian woman in the U.S., right?”

“I think you’re hungry.” Valerie was tired of Ivy’s grumpy mood.

“Yes, I am! And that makes me cranky.” She smiled. “First stop The Breakfast Bar at Stetson Drive. Not a direct route to Tempe, but certainly to my stomach. I’m told this is the place for Sunday brunch.”

Twenty minutes later the two women were seated at a table in a rather simple restaurant with a fabulous brunch. Eggs Benedict with crab, asparagus, and Choron Sauce was Ivy’s choice. Her mouth was watering. She could hardly wait.

“Buckwheat waffles, with syrup and butter, for me.” Valerie had already had a small breakfast.

The waiter took their order and left the table.

The restaurant was packed, and groups of people were outside, waiting for tables to be available.

The food brought in on big plates was enough to serve a family.

“Are you sure it was Connie Ding you saw?” Ivy at last said.

“The lion has been fed.” Valerie swallowed the last of her coffee. “I’m pretty sure.”

“Well in that case, she must have been on the same flight with us. I wonder if she saw us? And I wonder what she’s doing here.”

They paid their waiter and made the table available for the next in line from the hungry crowd.

“Before we do anything, I wanna drive by Albert Ding’s home. Thank God for the GPS.” Ivy took the driver’s seat, didn’t even discuss it, but Valerie didn’t mind. When she could pass that job on to somebody else, she happily did.

“East Virginia Avenue, Tempe,” Ivy said, expecting her colleague to key it in.

It didn’t take them long to reach their destination, especially on a Sunday.

“This must be it!” There was excitement in her voice. “That one. The older white one.” She stopped the car two houses further down the street.

It was a nice, middle-class neighborhood with mostly one-story homes. A low, wooden fence enclosed the house. Cactus and large bushes with orange flowers in gravel beds decorated the front of the home.

“Are you sure this is it?”

“That’s the address.” The detective loosened her seatbelt and opened the door. “Let’s pay the neighbors a visit.”

The doorbell sent out a crying sound.

Nothing happened.

Ivy ran the bell again.

Finally, they heard footsteps. A teenage girl in a striped gray blouse opened the door just enough for her to see who was outside.

Ivy flashed her badge. “I’m Detective Kim, and this is Officer Tyson. Are your parents home?”

The young girl shook her head.

“What’s your name?”

“Destiny Joy Conatser.” She opened the door a little more. “My dad is a police officer.”

Two small boys around six years old had been hiding behind the door. They popped their little heads out around their big sister.

“They are my baby brothers.”

“Cute! Do you know who lives next door?” Ivy pointed to the white house.”

“A man and a woman, I think. We haven’t lived here for so long.”

“Do they look alike?”

“Yes, they have black hair.”

The two women were expecting more detailed descriptions, but the girl added nothing more.

“Do you know their names?”

“No.”

Ivy found her business card and gave it to the girl. “Please give this to your parents.”

Destiny nodded, then closed the door behind her and her brothers.

“Now, that was very informative.” Valerie tried not to laugh.

A long gravel path from the sidewalk led to the other neighbor’s front door. A new door mat had the name Lehman written on it and under that it said Welcome.

“Sure hope we are.” Valerie rang the doorbell.

Somebody pulled the door open while he at the same time reprimanded, “When will you remember to bring your key?” He disappeared again before Ivy or Valerie could say anything.

They waited for a moment, then rang the doorbell again.

“Idiot! What is wrong with…” A man in his late thirties, tall, with short dark hair stared at them in confusion.

The detective and police officer flashed their badges at the same time.

“Obviously, I thought you were somebody else. I really didn’t…” He pulled out his wallet from his back pocket. “I’m terrible sorry I haven’t paid that ticket yet.”

“We are…” Valerie tried to stop the man.

“I know. I should have taken care of that a long time ago. He reached into his wallet, pulling out four 20-dollar bills. “This is what I have right here.”

“Mr. Lehman.”

“Yes, Ed Lehman.”

“We’re here to ask you some questions about one of your neighbors.”

“So you’re not after my money?” He smiled and relaxed. “Well, fire away! I’m ready for as many questions as you like.”

“How well do you know you neighbors in the white home?”

“Not really. A man lives there, and perhaps a woman, too. Don’t see her so often. I think they’re Chinese. They keep to themselves. There can go many days in between I see one of them.”

“Do you know anything about their interests? Where they go when they go out?”

He shook his head. “That is, except from music. One of them knows how to play…what is that instrument called?”

“Cello.”

“Yes! I’m sorry. I’m not of much help. Perhaps you should talk to the minister I bought this home from. He’s lived here for many years. I understand the Ding family has lived here for many years as well. Chuck Robison. He has his own radio program now called What If It Really Works?”

The detective and officer returned to the rental car with an address for the radio studio where Chuck Robison recorded his programs.

The white home didn’t show any signs of activity inside.

“Should we go over there and ring the doorbell?” Valerie didn’t think they were making any progress.

“I wanna meet with this retired minister. Somebody’s gotta know something, and ministers normally do.” Ivy started the car as Valerie keyed in the address in the GPS.

The radio studio was located downtown Tempe in an older renovated building. A big sign on the façade simply said What if?

Ivy found a parking spot almost right outside the building. The two women kept staring at the big sign.

“What if…” Valerie whispered.

“What if what?”

“What if we never find out who’s responsible?”

Ivy rubbed her forehead, then let go of a sigh. “We won’t! We’ll never find out who’s responsible.”

“What do you mean?”

“Who’s responsible and who did it isn’t necessarily the same. Responsibility is, in truth, the most important thing. What I’m looking for right now is however who did it.”

They entered the door to the radio studio.

An impressive man in his sixties with a cowboy hat sat behind his recording desk at the end of the room, which was divided by a glass wall. He looked up as the two women entered.

A woman inquired about their visit. They were asked to wait a little because the program was about to end.

Shortly after, Chuck Robinson signaled that he was available to talk. They sat across from each other. Mr. Robison had been a minister for many years, and the Ding Family had been part of his congregation.

“Very nice family. In so many ways, they seemed perfect. Mom and dad, and then the lovely twins, Albert and…I’m sorry…it’s too embarrassing…I don’t remember her name. Nobody ever mentioned this beautiful girl after she passed away.”

“What happened?” Ivy found her notebook and scribbled as fast as she could.

“It was a hit-and-run. A drunk driver they said. They never arrested him. He never paid for it.”

“I’m sure the entire town showed up at the funeral.” Valerie said.

“Everyone was there but me, I’m afraid. I was in the hospital with kidney stones. They were so close, the twins. I was told everything was very clean, or should I say correct. Closed casket. The parents didn’t want anyone to see her.”

“And Albert, how did he react?”

“You see, that was the peculiar thing. We never saw any signs of grief. I don’t think it was okay to show too much emotion in that family. I imagine he survived by turning his back to the world. Worked hard in school. Honor student. A very talented musician.”

“What about the other sister?”

Mr. Robison wringed his forehead. “What other sister? I’m not aware of another sister.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive! I lived next to the family for many years.”

“Thank you, Mr. Robison. You have certainly provided us with interesting information.” Ivy dropped her business card on his desk. “In case you remember anything else. I don’t think we’ll be back.”

The detective and police officer stood to leave.

“Connie! That was her name.” Mr. Robinson sent them a beaming smile. He was very satisfied he had remembered the girl’s name.

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Filed under The Japanese Masseuse

The Japanese Masseuse – Chapter 46

   

Ivy Kim (Detective, Austin Police Department)

Valerie Tyson (Police officer, Austin Police Department)

Chad Randlett (Coroner, Austin Police Department)

     

Karsten Beering Blok (Boy Scout leader)

Albert Ding (Poet and musician)

Leonardo D’Almagro (CEO, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

     

Waltraud Contratto (Housekeeper, Leonardo D’Almagro mansion)

Connie Ding (Japanese masseuse)

Kimberly Cockrill (Captain Miller’s secretary)

     

Derick James (Police officer, Austin Police Department)

Kathrine Foster (Gary Kent’s neighbor)

David Brosette (Resident of West Rim Estates)

     

Amy Brosette (Resident of West Rim Estates, married to David Brosette)

Cile Cook (Model, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

Arturo (Cile Cook’s dog)

     

Brianna Fleet (Model and business owner)

Kerry Gallagher (Receptionist, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

Tiffany Kammer (Cile Cook’s friend)

     

Rob Bonner (Software programmer, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

David J Hernandez (Business partner, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

Eric Saqui (Model, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

     

Gary Kent (Actor, stuntman, producer, director, neighbor to Katherine Foster)

Helene Ballings (Gary Kent’s girlfriend)

Elsa Lipschitz (neighbor to Detective Ivy Kim)

     

Lilly Olesen (Karsten Blok’s ex-mother-in-law)

Marianne Bondebjerg (Karsten Blok’s girlfriend)

Princess (Chad Randlett’s daughter)

Pool Boy

CHAPTER 46

 

“Pack an extra pair of thongs and socks. We’re leaving tomorrow morning for Arizona.” Ivy was still at the police department, comfortably sitting with her legs propped up on her desk. Her weekend plans had once again been destroyed. Nobody’s waiting for me anyway at home. I can just as well bury myself in work.

It had been painful to deliver the information to Chad about Blok. Hopefully, it’ll give him some kind of closure. I have no idea how anybody survives a thing like that.

“I hate thongs,” Valerie said as if she truly had an aversion towards that kind of underwear. Attending a family luncheon in her parents’ backyard, she found a quiet spot under a tree. There, she could sit on the grass while talking to the detective.

“Then white cotton grannies if you prefer. Who cares? It’s not our honeymoon.”

Valerie chuckled. “In this unbearable humidity, it might be an idea to wear thongs and nothing else.”

“Wear whatever you want, as long as you show up!”

Ivy had earlier the same day updated Valerie about what Chad had learned during his visit to The Rain Bar. “It’s time to schedule an official interview with Albert Ding,” Ivy continued.

“You wanna do that now? Then we better postpone our trip to Scottsdale.”

“No! No! Right now I feel we need to check out everything we can about his sister. I’m glad we didn’t question him immediately. He’s not exactly very talkative. I’m sure we wouldn’t have gotten all the information about his sister that we have now.

“Kind of weird. They never see each other, but still he’s very protective of her. Another thing. I wanna know more about the dagger Mr. D’Almagro was killed with. I’ll call his housekeeper Mrs. Contratto. Then it’s onward to Scottsdale.”

With the early morning flight leaving from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, they would arrive around 9 a.m. in Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. They would find a place for some late breakfast, then continue to Tempe in South Scottsdale. She had Googled the address Chad had given her. It wasn’t more than 20 minutes away. Kimberly had booked a rental car for them when she made the flight arrangements.

“So what’s our plan? What exactly do you expect to find there?”

“I’m not sure, Valerie. Perhaps some of the neighbors can tell us about Connie and Albert Ding and what exactly happened to his twin. Old friends from high school perhaps. Who knows? This Miss Ding must have some kind of special power if she can make people do such horrifying things.”

If…that’s the word, Ivy. We have lots of indications and theories, but we know nothing. Just because these people go to the same massage therapist doesn’t mean she’s involved. All my mom’s girlfriends use the same hairstylist. It doesn’t make him responsible for all the stupid things they do.”

“Agreed! We need proof. We have nothing to put any suspects behind bars right now. This is so freaking bizarre!” So many people involved, and we can’t nail one down.

“I’ll be there early and sharp. Kimberly emailed me the itinerary. Any news about Derick?” Valerie waved to her mother to indicate she would rejoin the luncheon party shortly.

“I talked to him earlier today. I’m worried about him. He’s so distant. In his own world. He keeps talking about how wrong it is to abuse people. As a matter of fact, he was pretty content that Blok had been taken care of. He’s totally letting things out now that have been bothering him for years. He talks a lot about that priest who abused him as a kid. I’m listening, and happy to do so if that will help him. Anyway, I’m out of here. Need to pack my cotton grannies, and I’m thirsty.”

Ivy counted five to-go coffee cups scattered on her desk. I’m always on the go. Need to slow down.

“Great idea! Go home and have a life. Watch a movie! Take off that Sherlock hat for rest of the day.”

“You’re right.”

“We’re dealing with so many loose ends. I’m afraid the answers aren’t gonna show up overnight. We can decorate an entire wall with names, questions, draw connections for weeks before we get any useful answers. Everybody in Austin is totally going nuts in this heat.”

“What did you just say?”

“I said everybody in Austin is going nuts in this heat.”

“Before that.”

“We could decorate an entire wall, draw…”

“That’s it! Valerie, are you doing anything important right now?”

“I’m at a family luncheon at my parents’.”

“Good! Then get over here. Now. We need to go over this before tomorrow.”

“But you…Okay, I can be there in 15.”

“Perfect! Bye!”

“Ivy!” Valerie kept her demanding colleague on the line. “Just for the record, family is important. Bye!”

The detective pulled her feet off the desk and went to the big whiteboard on the wall. She picked up a blue marker and started writing.

Who killed:

Leonardo D’Almagro?

Karsten Blok?

Katherine Foster?

She stepped back, looked at the words, then continued writing.

Did David Brosette run over his wife, Amy Brosette?

Who wanted to harm Cile Cook? Why?

Connections?

Ivy bit her lip, pulled her ear, and scratched her head. Finally, she sat down again. There’s so freaking many people involved. Where the heck do we start? She kept going over in her mind what had happened since the day she first learned about the D’Almagro’s homicide. So many people were involved, even her own colleagues.

“It sure smells like a serial killer. But is it?” Valerie was standing in the doorway, dressed up, with a brown paper bag in her hand. “My mom insisted I bring you some food.” She placed the bag on Ivy’s desk.

“Nice! Family is important!” She dug into the homemade lunch packed in an array of small containers. “What makes you say serial killer?”

“Don’t you see it? All the hidden messages. Eat that, you bastard. Go fuck yourself. Beautiful. Try your own poison. My turn to run you over.” Valerie snatched a huge pickle that Ivy was about to get. “That’s a special Tyson pickle,” she explained when Ivy’s surprised stare met her.

“I do see it, but then again I don’t. We came up with these messages. The only written one was Beautiful, and we don’t even have that note. Cile Cook’s dog, most likely, ate that piece of paper. A man left it for her. That’s what the receptionist said, unless she made that up to cover up for herself or someone else. Brianna Fleet certainly doesn’t like Miss Cook, but she and the receptionist Kerry Gallagher like each other.”

“D’Almagro and Miss Cook knew each other,” Valerie continued. “Is that a coincidence or what?”

“It might be. So where does her girlfriend Tiffany Kammer fit in? They were friends, but Tiffany certainly felt inferior.”

Ivy now took over. “Blok, Mrs. Foster, and Mrs. Brosette have nothing to do with them. To me, it looks like individual killings. Who has a motive?”

The blue marker lay next to Ivy’s homemade lunch; and, noting no indications that her friend was ready to use it just yet, Valerie started writing while Ivy kept eating.

Who has a motive?

Rob Bonner – kicked out

David J. Hernandez – wanted to be CEO

Albert Ding – weapon came from him

Brianna Fleet – wanted to be business partner and is openly jealous of Cile

Eric Saqui – his modeling career destroyed

Waltraud Contratto – ?????

“Waltraud Contratto? Why do you put her on the board?” Ivy checked the five to-go cups on her desk for leftovers. They were all empty.

“It’s always the housekeeper! They have a secret love child together.”

“His name is D’Almagro, not Schwarzenegger.”

They both burst into laughter.

“What about Amy Brosette? That seems so straightforward, that her husband did it,” Valerie said.

“Straightforward? It may seem like that…but really? He doesn’t remember anything. What’s the motive? It could be one of her unhappy illegal employees.”

“So now we’re back to a housekeeper?” Valerie shook her head. “She lived in the same neighborhood as D’Almagro.” She continued to write on the board.

Katherine Foster.

“I’m afraid everything points to her neighbor Gary Kent. Too bad! I like that man.” Ivy didn’t like the idea of this nice man being a suspect.

“If you’re passionate about animals the way he is, I guess you could kill the person who poisoned your dog,” Valerie mused.

“Hey wait! What about his girlfriend, Helene Ballings?” The detective had a moment of relief although it didn’t work for her since she really liked Miss Ballings, too. “She could have done it. Miss Ballings didn’t like her neighbor, or she her. She talked about Gary Kent and her.”

“I don’t like my neighbor, but that’s not the same as to say I would kill him.”

I’ve been pretty close to killing Mrs. Lipschitz and her cats. She smiled to herself. I actually like that woman. She was right about Karsten Blok.

Valerie had put up on the board the names of the two suspects.

Gary Kent

Helene Ballings

She continued writing.

Karsten Blok? Why? Who?

“I think you can skip why. I think the question is, who had the guts to finish him?” Ivy said.

Valerie dangled the blue marker right in front of Ivy’s nose. “Go ahead!”

Ivy started listing names.

Lilly Olesen

Marianne Bondebjerg

“This one really puzzles me,” Ivy started. “If the Danish ladies are involved, then I think they did it together. Mrs. Olesen may have the mental power to deal with a man like Blok, but she is too fragile to do what was done to him. Miss Bondebjerg, on the other hand, is physically strong but does not possess the mental strength to followed through with such a plan alone.”

“They both dropped their cases against him. Why would they do that?” Valerie checked the bag for more food, found a banana, and started peeling it.

“To get him back on the street where they could get at him. We all know that there wasn’t enough proof to convict him for the murder of…”

“Chad’s daughter,” Ivy finished the sentence.

Their eyes locked. They knew that Chad, if anyone, had a motive; but turning him into a suspect hadn’t occurred to them.

Ivy hesitantly put down his name on the board, then turned to her colleague. “But he was already dead when Chad saw him.” In her eyes was some kind of plea for agreement with her observation.

“We really don’t know. Do we? Chad, if anything, wanted his daughter’s abuser and murderer deleted from earth.”

A gasp left Ivy. It can’t be. He’s already a suspect in the D’Almagro case. “Child abuser.” She paused. “What about Derick? It was he who brought Blok in.”

The expression on Valerie’s face told everything about her mixed feelings. “Derick?” She kept swallowing as if the question wouldn’t go away. “That makes him the lead suspect with motives for two of the homicides.” With shaking hand, she added his name to their list.

Serial killer?

“No way!” Ivy rubbed away the marker letters with her hand. “You were right. We can spend weeks on this puzzle.” Chewing on an apple, she read over everything they had written on the whiteboard. With a slam, the apple core hit the trash can. “Enough for today! I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

Her colleague had hardly left when Ivy’s inquisitive mind wanted more answers. In her small notebook, she looked up a phone number.

“Mrs. Contratto, I was wondering if you had a moment or two? I have a few questions. I wouldn’t mind stopping by your house.”

The housekeeper was in the process of emptying the fridge for food, since there wouldn’t be anyone dining there for a long time. “You can stop by Mr. D’Almagro’s residence. I’m cleaning up. I wish I had been allowed to do that before. It’s not a nice sight with all that old food.”

Twenty minutes later the detective once again, as she had done on her first visit, watched the imposing, wrought-iron gates gradually unfold into the exclusive neighborhood of West Rim Estates. Her silver-gray Honda Civic sped up. This time, she knew her way around in the neighborhood.

The side door to the kitchen was open.

The detective stepped in.

Containers, cartons, food, and bottles filled up most of the kitchen counter. Mrs. Contratto was on her knees with her head halfway inside the enormous fridge.

“Mrs. Contratto! Maggie?”

Startled by another person’s presence, she bonked her head against the fridge.

“Detective Kim.” She pulled her skirt down and picked up the small cushion she had rested her knees on.

“It must be nice having your head in the fridge in this weather.” Ivy stepped closer. “I may do that when I get home.”

“What can I do for you, Detective?”

“Just a few questions.”

Mrs. Contratto opened a large, black plastic bag and started to discard what she had emptied out of the fridge.

“Hey, wait!” Ivy called out. “Don’t throw that out!” She rescued a box of Godiva chocolate truffles.

“That’s stealing!” Mrs. Contratto said, then continued.

The housekeeper noticed the gushy whisper from the chocolate box when Ivy opened it. She had apparently given up on the detective and didn’t even raise her eyebrows.

The chocolate melted in Ivy’s mouth. “Mrs. Contratto, you have stated that the dagger used in the homicide of your boss was normally hidden away in a cabinet.”

One plastic bag was already filled. She tied a knot near its top. “That’s true. The top cabinet to the right in the living room.”

“Who knew about this? Apart from you and your boss?”

Mrs. Contratto pushed the bag to one side, then selected a chocolate truffle from the box. She dropped it into her mouth.

“That’s stealing!” Ivy half-grinned.

“Albert Ding and Derick James.” She licked her lips, then picked out one more chocolate. “But I’m honestly not sure if it was in the cabinet that day.”

“Thanks. That’s all I wanted to know.” Ready to leave, she grabbed the chocolate box but hesitated a moment. “Who do you think did it, Mrs. Contratto?”

The housekeeper opened another black plastic bag and threw a few items into it before she turned to the young woman. Her stare was clear and cold. “I think you did it, Detective!”

Before leaving the D’Almagro residence, the detective decided to take a quick walk through the garden. Everything was still kept beautifully maintained, even though the owner never would return to admire it.

A slim, handsome man, maybe in his thirties and only dressed in jeans, was cleaning the pool with a net on a long pole. Ivy admired him from a distance. I should have brought my bikini.

She approached the man. “I’m Detective Kim. We haven’t met. Who’re you?”

“I’m just the pool boy.” He pulled the net in and emptied it into a bucket.

“I didn’t think D’Almagro had a pool boy.”

“He doesn’t. I work for the neighbors.” He pointed to the next house over. “I’ve meet D’Almagro several times. Nice man. He enjoyed cleaning the pool himself.”

“So why are you doing it now?”

“Nobody’s used it. I know what happens in here. The water gets green if you don’t keep an eye on it. I don’t mind doing it.”

“That’s nice of you.”

“I always wondered why he had this pool constructed. He never used it. Derick did. All the time.”

“Derick?”

“Yeah. Nice guy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I talk to everybody in here. I slipped on the edge of the neighbor’s pool one time. Derick was over here swimming. He heard me call for help. I had dislocated something in my arm, so he suggested that I see a massage therapist.”

“A massage therapist?” The detective could hardly keep the surprise out of her voice.

“Some Japanese masseuse. I never went. Probably should have.” He moved his one arm around in circles. “Still have problems with the arm. I really like Derick. Not so sure about this Albert. He never uses the pool. They obviously don’t like each other. At first, I thought Albert was okay; but he’s not friendly. Nothing’s really what it looks like. Right?

“You know something. You’re so right.” She handed him the box of chocolates. “This is for you!”

She hurried back to her car. We answer one question, and another one pops up.

Ivy left West Rim Estates.

 

***

 

The massage bench almost seemed naked and lonely. It was stripped of the clean, white sheets that normally would have covered it. The music and sounds from a water feature were no longer there. The room was empty except for the massage table and the sweet smell of incense that still hung in the air.

A small suitcase guarded the doorway to the small kitchen.

Time to move on.

Connie Ding looked back at her reflection in the mirror on the wall. “I don’t like what’s happening. I’m scared. We need to stop this.”

The masseuse started humming. At the same time she twisted and turned her body to the sound of her own music.

She looked back into the mirror, slapped her hands across her face.

She began howling, “It hurts! Stop it! Please, stop it! I hear you! I hear you! I don’t know who my reflection is! Stop it!”

She screamed, then hammered her fist into the mirror so that it splintered into hundreds of knife-sharp pieces.

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Filed under The Japanese Masseuse

The Japanese Masseuse – Chapter 45

   

Ivy Kim (Detective, Austin Police Department)

Chad  Randlett (Coroner, Austin Police Department)

Scott Miller (Captain, Austin Police Department)

    

Lou Taylor (Doctor, Seton Hospital)

Cile Cook (Model, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

Bee (Homeless woman)

     

David Barclay (Customer, Starbucks)

Jeremiah Newton  (Customer, Starbucks)

Karsten Bering Blok (Boy Scout leader)

       

Derick James Wagle (Police officer, Austin Police Department)

Lilly Olesen (Karsten Blok’s ex-mother-in-law)

Marianne Bondebjerg (Karsten Blok’s girlfriend)

     

Kimberly Cockrill (Captain Miller’s secretary)

Amy Brosette ( Housewife)

Albert Ding (Poet and musician)

  

Valerie Tyson (Police officer, Austin Police Department)

Princess (Chad Randlett’s daughter)

CHAPTER 45

It didn’t matter what day of the week it was; Austin’s streets were always busy. Ivy rounded the corner at 1st Street, turning onto Congress Avenue. This was another Saturday workday, but she was excited. The information Chad had provided was outstanding. I gotta make sure I get in touch with Captain Miller. He hardly ever works on a Saturday. I better call him.

“Miller!” He sounded like a drill sergeant.

“Boss, it’s Ivy.”

“Sweet Ivy. What can I do for you on this annoying, humid Saturday?”

“I really need to talk to you. I can stop by your house.”

“No need to. I’m in the office. I have assigned a special job for myself today.”

“Great! I’ll be there ASAP.”

She dialed another number. “Could I talk to Doctor Taylor?” She waited while her call was transferred.

“This is Doctor Taylor.”

“Detective Kim here. I’m checking in on Cile Cook. How’s she doing?”

“Detective. Thanks for calling. You know, Miss Cook is doing great. It’s not as bad as we first anticipated. I’m surprised what a fighting spirit this young woman has. It makes such a difference. It’s almost as if her positive attitude works miracles. Even her visitors tell us it’s like she’s a different person now. I’m sure she’s always been nice, but that spirit…”

“I’m glad to hear that.” She stopped outside Starbucks.

“You know, she said to me that in some way it is a relief that she no longer has to be the pretty girl. Who would have thought? She studies biology, thinks about being a doctor. I’m so proud of her!”

Are you proud or in love with her, doctor? “That’s all good news. Tell her I said hello.”

She hung up and stepped out of the car. Starbucks on Congress Boulevard was packed with people, the most diverse group she had seen in a long time. Impatiently, she lined up with everybody else. She knew she could get in front of everybody because of her occupation but never did.

“Did you find him?”

Startled, Ivy looked over her shoulder. “Bee!” Her street friend was in line behind her. She didn’t look as energetic as she usually did. Her clothes were dirty and even stank. “Find who?” She looked Bee up and down. She looks miserable. “Can I get you a cup of coffee?”

“Yes, please, and a piece of that banana cake.” She pointed to a big piece in the glass counter. Her mouth was watering; food had been scarce the last day or two. She didn’t feel well.

A man dressed for his business day and waiting for his coffee was bothered by Bee’s appearance and disgusted with the fact that she was asking for food. A small golden name tag on his shirt said David Barcley. “Why don’t you find a job, so you can pay for your own living like the rest of us?”

Tired but still prepared to defend herself, Bee addressed him. “Excuse me?”

“I said, get yourself a life.”

Some of the other customers listening in recognized Bee from their previous Starbucks visits.

Bee looked the man straight in the eye. “What do you know about me? I was given this life because I am the only one strong enough to live it. So don’t judge me because if you were in my place, you wouldn’t survive.”

A few people cheered her. Some even started clapping.

A man reached out his hand to Bee. “Well said. I’m Jeremiah Newton.” He was dressed as if he had just stepped out of The Pirates of the Caribbean, white shirt, a black leather vest, and black pants. He was tall, slim, with shoulder-length curly hair, a beard, and an elegantly curled mustache.

“Thanks! I’m Bee, and I’m hungry!”

“Where’s home?”

“Everywhere.” She looked at Ivy, who pretended not to listen.

“Have you heard about The Homeless Coach?” Jeremiah gave her a business card.

She shook her head.

“If you wanna get a job and a home, this may be a solution for you. They will coach and support you, but you gotta do your part.”

“What’s my part?”

“The desire to get back on your feet, and the effort to follow the coaching.”

“How’ll I do that?”

“You need a sponsor. I’ll sponsor you.”

“You will?”

Ivy noticed how Bee’s eyes teared up.

“Contact them. I have written my name on the card.” He got his coffee. “Gotta go. See you there!”

Ivy and Bee found a table in a corner and sat down.

“Not that I wanted to listen, but I am a detective. That Homeless Coach thing sounds really great. Perhaps you should check it out. Oh, and what guy were you referring to when you asked me if we had found him?”

“The dead guy outside the morgue.” Bee spoke as if she was used to bodies appearing at doorsteps.

Ivy almost choked on her coffee. “What do you know? The coroner and my colleagues said it looked like someone had dropped him off.”

“I would say put outside the house like any other garbage bag.” The banana cake hastily disappeared into Bee’s mouth. She took a few sips of her hot coffee. “He’s off the streets now.”

“Who? Who is, Bee?”

“Didn’t you recognize him?”

Ivy remembered Helene’s words, Even with your eyes closed, you can see, and shut out every image around her. The bloody face she had seen the day before in the morgue appeared in her mind’s eye. The blood gradually disappeared, revealing more and more of the corpse’s face. Oh, dear Lord, why didn’t I see that?

“I can tell you know.” Bee stood with the cup in her hand. “Gotta go. I have an appointment with my coach.” She smiled.

“But, Bee. Wait! Who did it?”

“You know better than asking me that. Thanks for coffee and cake.” Bee made her way through the many people and disappeared.

Back in her car, Ivy thought about Derick. Someone has to tell him.

Officer James had still not returned to his job. His counselor found him too emotional, out of balance, and was worried he would relapse.

I owe it to Derick to tell him that Karsten Blok is dead. She found his number and keyed it in. I gotta stop doing this while driving. One day, I’ll end up in Chad’s morgue if I keep on.

She didn’t take time for chitchat and went directly to the reason for her call. “You don’t have to worry about Blok anymore.”

“And why is that?” Derick was taking a walk around Lady Bird Lake.

“He’s dead. Killed.”

“He was a child abuser. A pedophile. A murderer!”

He doesn’t seem too upset about this. I wonder if he’s on some kind of medication. “What is going through your mind, Derick?”

“You don’t wanna know that. Anyway, I’m taking a long walk. Can we talk later?”

“No worries. Just wanted you to know.”

Ivy rushed the rest of the way to the office.

At her desk, she immediately grabbed the phone to call Chad. It would have been better to bring this news to him in person.

When she had called Captain Miller from Starbucks, he had asked her to deliver the message over the phone and then show up in his office. He wanted an update on all the new information Ivy and the team had collected. Also he was anxious to know how it could happen that Lilly Olesen and Marianne Bondebjerg had disappeared from the surface of the earth. Those two women were certainly of interest in relation to Karsten Blok’s death.

How am I going to open up this subject? He’s probably sleeping right now and will be hung over; and the way he reacted last time, I have no idea what he’ll do. Blok is already dead, so he can’t kill him. Thank God. Kill him. Oh no! Oh no! It couldn’t be!

“Chad, I know who he is.” She started after he answered. The detective’s voice shook. “Are you awake? I know who the guy is.”

“I am. Tired though. I was in a nice dream—when they called me from the morgue, they had brought in a homeless guy with an oddly shaped stomach. Most likely something bad he ate from a dumpster.”

“Pretty good chance he’s a veteran. A hungry and lonely one, too!” How can I break this news to Chad? How will he react? “I know. Damn sad so many of them end up this way.”

“Is that a way to thank our heroes?”

“Don’t get me started, Chad. You know how I feel about that. After he had spent his youth in Vietnam, my own dad rotted in the streets until the day when he shot himself. The only time anyone will help pick them up from the street is when they start to smell.”

“Sorry, Ivy. I didn’t mean to…Forget I mentioned it. Who’s the guy? I take it we’re talking about the one with his penis in his rectum.”

“Yep, that’s him. I suddenly remembered why his face looked so familiar. Chad, I really don’t know how to present this to you.” She stopped.

“Just do!”

“It’s Blok.” She paused in anticipation of some kind of strong reaction from Chad.

“Karsten Blok?”

It all came back to him. The moment he was told his daughter Princess had disappeared. The picture of her tiny, abused, dead body lying in the dirt. The very last day, when he said goodbye to her and made the promise to find the one responsible for her pain and punish him.

“I’m happy the bastard is dead!” he said in a clear voice. His breathing was heavy, sounded like he could burst into tears any moment.

“You okay? I wanted to let you know before it leaked out. I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. I can’t imagine. Do you want me to come over later? Go somewhere? I’m meeting with Miller shortly to talk about the next step. Especially, based upon your information from last night.”

Chad straightened up. “I don’t know how I feel. Empty.”

“Call me. Okay?”

Chad disconnected the call before Ivy removed her phone from her ear.

I hate this! Would there be anything in this world that would ease his pain? Putting aside her concern for her friend as best she could, she hurried to the meeting with her boss.

Miller’s office looked very different. It was clean and tidy in a way Ivy had never seen before. As a matter of fact, nobody had seen it like this before. His work space had always been a mess.

His long-deceased mother would worry herself sick wondering if her only son Scott would find a job. Not one single day during school had he managed to submit his homework without some kind of unwanted personal touch. Strawberry marmalade, egg salad, and Coca-Cola had been his favorite personal marks. His classmates had already in first grade nicknamed him Sticky Scott. Ivy knew about her boss’s previous life as Sticky Scott, something he had revealed to her in confidence during a holiday party.

I’m sure Kimberly has had a lot to do with this, but I better give the German shepherd the credit.

Two nice chairs in front of her boss’s desk were ready to be broken in. Miller waited for her to take her pick.

This is confusing. Does he actually want me to sit in a chair when I talk to him?

Her boss noticed Ivy’s confusion and secretly enjoyed it. “For heaven’s sake! Have a seat, Ivy!”

With both hands reaching palms-up into the air above her head, she said, “Which one? Why did you have to bring two chairs in?”

Miller demonstrated his best Santa Claus laugh while he leaned back in his new, black leather recliner.

“Jam-bam! One step at a time, okay?” The detective looked around in the totally redecorated office. “Remember,” she said with a smile, “for years we have been sitting on cardboard boxes and lawnmowers. The other day I had an interview in an impossible yoga pose on a purple mat on the floor. I don’t even know how to use a chair anymore!”

“Do you care to show me that pose, detective? Did your feet touch your ears?” Miller’s laughter was loud, and the few people outside his office stopped for a moment to ponder if their boss was all right. Rarely did they hear this much laughter at one time from him. “Sit down in that chair!” He pointed to one of the chairs.

Ivy sat. “It feels awkward,” she said.

“You look awkward!”

Ivy felt the armrest with her hands. The fabric was soft, and she liked the feel.

Miller noticed and was pleased with her reaction. Kimberly had done well.

“Well, I’m introducing chairs again. You gotta admit they are pretty comfortable.” Miller pressed a small button on the armrest, which immediately made the chair lean back almost in a sleeping position. He sent out a loud-pitched scream.

Now it was Ivy’s turn to laugh.

He managed to pull the chair back into a more presentable position and put on his bossy face. “Well, this isn’t a furniture fair, so get to the point, Detective.” He would always use her title whenever he needed to manifest his own position.

The detective updated the captain about the developments in the different cases and, in particular, the fact that several of the people involved had a connection to this Japanese masseuse.

Her boss slowly leaned back, not wanting another unexpected experience with his new chair while he listened.

“That’s the whole story so far. I’m sorry, but I just have this feeling…”

“Female intuition?” He couldn’t help but smile. “Okay, continue.”

“I’m just saying, it can’t be a coincidence that the entire town is going nuts.”

“It’s the time of year. It’s hot—freaking hot—and no rain for the longest time. And to tell the truth, this city houses its fair share of nuts. Time to build a wall and keep them out. Just like they do in Arizona where this Albert Ding has this house.”

“I’m sure this Mrs. Brosette from West Rim Estates would have agreed with you, Sir.” She put on a determined face. “The one who was run over by her husband.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, apparently this Mrs. Brosette totally supported this huge Berlin Wall we built to keep the illegal South Americans out of our wonderful land of opportunity.”

“Berlin Wall? That’s in Germany.”

“I know, and so should you.”

“Why?”

“You’re German!”

“I’m American. My parents left Germany during World War II. I was born here!” He sat up ramrod straight in the chair. “I’m an American!” He paused. “That wall was built to stop people from leaving the country. By the way, the wall is torn down.”

“There you go; that’s exactly my point. It doesn’t work.”

“Illegal immigrants are illegal. That’s why we use that word.” Miller felt clever.

“Right or wrong—now tell me, boss, what would you do if your family, your kids were starving? No bright future, only a repetition of your own pathetic story of a life in poverty? I tell you, you wouldn’t be able to see my ass for my shoe leather getting me out of that shit hole.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Yes, that’s exactly how simple it is! Just think how many children and young people we could help get a better start in life if we spent the money on educating the kids in South America rather than buttering bricks on top of bricks. The illegal immigrants are not running away from their country. They are running towards finding a way to survive.”

Miller’s eyebrows were raised as he took in the lecture from one of his detectives. “We do help people in South America.”

“And when has a wall ever built stronger connections?”

“Okay, enough, Ivy. You are not convincing me. Meeting adjourned.”

“But what about my trip to Arizona? I need to go there now. And Valerie, too. I’m sure we can get answers to many of our questions there. I just have this feel—”

“I have already approved it. Kimberly most likely has your tickets ready for you.”

“When did you do that?”

“After we talked on the phone.”

“What? So why did you put me through all this?”

“Who put who through what? I’m the one who has been listening to your political campaign speech. Run for office if you wanna change the world!”

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Filed under The Japanese Masseuse

The Japanese Masseuse – Chapter 44

   

Chad Randlett (Coroner, Austin Police Department)

Michael Breiy (Doorman, The Boys Club)

Albert Ding (Poet and musician)

      

Thomas Rayas (Bartender, The Boys Club)

Sherry Snow (Eric Saqui’s friend)

Connie Ding (Japanese masseuse)

  

Elizabeth Hannah (Albert Ding’s high school friend)

Ivy Kim (Detective, Austin Police Department)

CHAPTER 44

It was still early on Friday evening. The sidewalks were gradually turning into slithering snakes of men and woman ready to party. The humidity was unbearable, a condition Austin normally suffered under. With expectations of rain, the air was heavy and moist. Austin was longing for rain, but it didn’t seem that the humidity could muster enough strength to transform itself.

Chad had parked a few blocks away from The Rain Bar. This man, who was used to working in a cool environment, was soaked with sweat before he reached Lavaca Street close to the bar. Great! It looks like I have walked straight out of the shower. I’m not sure why I’m doing this. Then he remembered, I’m doing this for Ivy.

The doorman, Michael, was outside, bored and sweating. His light blue T-shirt had big, dark marks under his arms, and now and then he would dry his face and neck with a handkerchief to prevent the salty drops from running down his back and front.

Michael opened the door just enough to let some cool air out and show he had seen Chad but not enough to let him enter. “Damn muggy today!” Michael was in the mood for a conversation.

“Sure is. Hope it’s nice and cool inside.” Chad was ready to get inside and swallow a frosty, cold beer.

“People go crazy in this kind of weather. They get grumpy, nasty, and cruel to each other; but the second the sky opens with thunder and lightning, everyone cools down. After that everybody loves each other. Someone should figure out how to bag up thunderstorms and offer ’em to people in the stores.”

“Sounds like an idea.” Chad gazed at the door handle, speculating when he would be let inside and be fully surrounded by the air conditioning.

“You know, you could make a lot of money on that.”

“I’m sure!” Chad now placed his hand on the door handle next to Michael’s. “I…I think I…”

“Sorry!” He stepped aside and let Chad in.

More cool air met Chad’s sweaty body. He shivered. That’s a little too much! Almost as cold as the chambers we store the dead people in.

Several people, mostly men, had already taken seats at the bar. Some guests played pool or watched other people play.

Chad found a stool at the bar. How am I going to find Albert Ding? Even in here, they will think I’m creepy if I walk around checking out every man.

“What can I get you?” The bartender placed a small napkin in front of Chad.

“Bud Light, please.”

“Hey, it’s you! Remember me?” The bartender reached out his hand. “Thomas Rayas.”

Chad searched the bartender’s face while he shook hands.

“You were here with some woman with purple hair. Pretty woman but strange behavior.” He placed the cold beer in front of Chad.

“I remember you.” A touch of embarrassment hit him. The unpleasant feeling had no sooner left him than the bartender continued, “So did you and Albert hit it off together?”

The beer that Chad had filled his mouth with came out in a spray, like a water hose with a clog that had finally broken loose.

Thomas managed to get out of the way. “You okay?” He grabbed a cloth and wiped up the mess.

“Sorry. I’m fine. Just drinking too fast.” Chad wiped his mouth with the back of his hand while he made sure he hadn’t drawn the attention of too many spectators.

A woman in her forties with long dark hair had followed the incident from the end of the bar. She waved to Chad, smiled, picked up her martini glass, and started towards him.

“I’m Sherry…Sherry Snow,” she said in a way that made Chad think of sweet syrup. “I though you perhaps needed some snow in this hot weather.”

Chad’s eyes resembled those of a deer caught in headlights.

“You got it? Sherry Snow. Snow. Hot weather.” The rest of her drink disappeared in one sip. “I drink Cosmos.” She pushed the glass across the counter, still looking at Chad. “A Cosmo?”

“Arh…sure.” He signaled the bartender and ordered a drink for the woman.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you before. I come here several times a week. I like the men don’t hit on me. You see, they made their choice. I wanna be in control. I’ll do the hitting. If I feel like it.”

Thomas returned with a Cosmo and a Bud Light. “I thought you might need a fresh one.” He winked to Chad and nodded discreetly towards Sherry.

“Thanks! Sure do!”

Sherry took a good sip of her drink. “Do you think lesbians should be allowed to buy dildos?”

Chad nearly spit out his beer again.

“I mean they made their choice. Right?”

“I…”

Sherry wrinkled her face, stepped backwards to get a better look at Chad. “Are you retarded or something?”

“What?”

“You sure are retarded!“ Sherry swirled around and marched away.

“Don’t worry. Sherry is some challenge.” Thomas removed the empty martini glass. “I don’t know if you’re interested or not, but Albert just walked in. He’s down there in the area with the small couches.” He pointed to the other end of the room.

For a minute or two, Chad didn’t move an inch. What have I put myself into? I’m a coroner. A doctor. Not a detective. And definitely not an actor. He’ll see right through me. On a count of three, I’ll turn around and walk over there.

He left his stool.

Albert was alone. He was comfortably seated on a loveseat, looking in the other direction. The black suit and shirt he was wearing were very becoming to him.

“Albert!”

He turned his head and was openly surprised. His makeup was elegant, almost daring. Dark eyeliner and a hint of a glittering eye shadow.

“Chad!” He made room for his friend on the loveseat. “Glad to see you. I was afraid you had abandoned me.”

Chad sat on the edge.

For a long moment, not a word was exchanged.

“Are you afraid of me?” Albert finally said.

“Why would I be afraid of you? I hardly know you.”

“I’m afraid of my sister.”

The thrill Chad felt was indescribable. Albert had opened up the subject himself. “Why would you be afraid of your sister?”

“She scares me. She’s really a good person, but then there’s the other side.”

“What other side?” Chad was almost shaking.

“The dark one. It didn’t use to be there. I’m not sure when it started or exactly how.”

“What bad things does she do?” This is it! Tell me what your sister has done to her clients. How did she make them do things?

“Hurtful thing. Lots of pain. That’s what she told me. I wish I could help her. Ease her pain.” He smiled.

“Why don’t you?”

“I never see her. It’s too late.”

Chad leaned back into the couch, ready to hear the rest of the story.

“I need to leave. This is not a place for me. Thanks for coming back. I haven’t talked about my sister for a long time.” For a little while he gazed at his new acquaintance. Before Chad could react, Albert had pulled him into his arms and kissed him.

Albert stood and was about to leave when a young woman stopped him.

The coroner was still stunned from the kiss, but the attractive woman with her long, blonde hair and pretty smile made Chad forget all about what had happened a moment before.

“Albert! Remember me? I’m Elizabeth Hannah. We went to high school together. So funny we should meet here.”

Albert moved his head slightly to the side while he looked at the woman. He didn’t share her joy at their reunion.

“Very funny.” His voice was low and controlled. “I thought you married and moved to South Africa.”

She giggled. “You know, I did, but it didn’t work out. Are you married? What do you do these days?” Elizabeth was plainly excited.

“I’m a poet and a musician, and no, I’m not married.”

“Yes! Yes! Yes! I remember. You were amazing on that cello and the piano.” She paused waiting for Albert to inquire about her. When he didn’t, she rattled on, “I’m in social media. Chief Digital Strategy Officer.”

Albert looked like he could care less. “Sounds impressive.”

“Communication is key to everything. Good. Bad. Whatever comes your way.”

“It has never worked for me.”

“No? Hey!” She waved to acknowledge Chad.

He waved back.

“Do your parents still live in that same house in Scottsdale?”

“They died a few years ago. I own the house now.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. If you want to, we could…”

“I’m very busy.”

Elizabeth’s pretty and very energetic expression faded. “Oh…well. Just wanted to say hello. Good to see you again!” She nodded to Chad and walked back to the table where her friends were sitting.

Albert brushed his sleeves and parts of his suit, then addressed Chad. “I’m a musician and poet.” He headed towards the exit.

Chad sat paralyzed for quite some time. Never had he been kissed by a man before. Somehow, it hadn’t felt any different the very moment it happened. It wasn’t intense or passionate, just loving. It puzzled him.

Elizabeth kept an eye on Chad, and he noticed it. No doubt he was attracted to her. She sipped some kind of martini, and her glass was almost empty.

Thomas was ready to take Chad’s order when he at last made his way through the growing crowd of people. Balancing two glasses of a drink he never had tasted before, he somewhat fearfully approached this fascinating woman. She and her friends, three men and a woman, were having a good time. They laughed and danced. He hesitated, then took the final step. “I noticed your glass is empty. May I join you?”

“Sure. We can share my chair, or you can find one.” She reached for the drinks.

Chad captured a chair and moved it in between Elizabeth and the other woman. “I’m Chad,” he introduced himself to the woman he already seemed to know.

“Elizabeth.”

“I heard. I apologize for Albert. It appears he’s not the most communicative person.

“I noticed. He never was. I just somehow forgot. Cheers!” She raised her glass. The two glasses gently touched, so they didn’t spill over, just the way they had started their relationship.

“How well do you know Albert?”

“Not that well. We were in same high school. A huge high school. We didn’t really know each other that well, but I liked him. He would always perform, play his cello, whenever we had a school event. He was amazing. A real talent.” She sipped her drink.

“And his sister? She lives here in Austin as well.” Chad explained.

“She does?” She bit her lip. “His twin sister was killed by a drunk driver when they were in middle school. That was before I knew him, but people still talked about it when I joined the community in high school. They were very close…as twins are, I guess. It was devastating! His sister was left in the street, beaten up by the car. She was beautiful, young, and very talented. Albert and she used to play together at all these school and community events. The driver got away with it. Some people in town even knew who he was. A guy who was known to drive intoxicated.”

“Terrible experience for such a young boy!” Chad was brought back to his devastating memories of his young daughter’s death. “What was her name?”

“I don’t know.”

“And the other sister?”

“I don’t recall another sister; but then again, we weren’t close friends. All that happened before I got to know him. He kind of kept to himself after the accident I was told.”

She raised her glass. “Cheers! Tell me about you.”

They emptied their glasses and relaxed.

“Are you married?” she asked.

***

The clock on the kitchen wall showed 3:15 when Chad opened the fridge. Relieved to find a carton of orange juice, he pulled it out, opened it, and swallowed what was left.

His car was still downtown. He felt dizzy, tired, and disturbed at how the entire evening had turned out. He sat down on the floor. Why is it so freaking hard to be a human being? How can you betray a person who’s not even in your life?

He opened the fridge and grabbed a beer. He swallowed the entire contents, then found his cell phone and dialed a number.

“Hm…hm…”

“Ivy, I know it’s…early…I just needed to hear your voice…I’m so sorry…I didn’t mean…”

“Chad! Is that you? Are you drunk?” Ivy was all of a sudden awake.

“No…Yes…I guess I am!…And I hate myself…” He snuffled.

“What? It’s okay. You’re never drunk. Get over it! And stop calling me so early on a Saturday morning! I’m tired!”

“I know where Albert Ding lives. Scottsdale, Arizona.”

The detective pushed her body backwards so she could rest her back against the headboard and turned on the small lamp at her nightstand.

“How did you get that information?” Ivy was more than awake now. She jumped out of bed and walked to the window. There were quite a few cars on the freeway.

“I met this woman…”

“Woman?” Ivy detected an unusual feeling in her stomach. “Who was she?”

“Just a woman…just an ordinary woman…nothing special…”

“Jam-bam! Listen to yourself!” She paused. “Who’s that woman…you slept with?”

“I didn’t…”

“Who cares? It’s none of my business,” Ivy continued, noticing an unpleasant feeling in her stomach.

“I was too drunk…I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“You weren’t! Your blood had left your head. It was elsewhere.”

He snorted. “She used to know Albert Ding in high school. He did show up at the club.”

“He did?”

“He’s really worried about his sister. Told me she has a dark side, too. I think he said something like she would do bad things. Hurt people.”

Chad slowly got up from the floor. It was time for coffee. He got a coffee pod from a container, inserted it into the coffeemaker, and pushed the button. It buzzed as the water ran through the machine into a small, glass coffee mug.

“Albert has a house in Scottsdale, Arizona. He and his family have lived there at least since high school. He had a twin sister who was killed in a car accident, and his parents have passed away. He and his sister, Connie Ding, never see each other. They talk. He’s very worried about her, though.”

“Did you get the address?”

“I have it here.” He held a business card in his hand. An address was written on the back. “It’s in Tempe, South Scottsdale. East Virginia Avenue.” He turned it around. Blue Blazing Media. Elisabeth Hannah. Chief Digital Strategy Officer. With a blue pen was written. Call me, doctor. Followed by a tiny drawing of a happy face.

“Damn, you’re good!”

Ivy’s appreciation and the hot coffee reestablished Chad’s mood. “Thanks. Incredible what I’ll do for you.”

“Right! It sounds like you had some spin off, too.”

“Okay…Okay…”

“I need to pay this family home a visit. Somebody out there must know Connie Ding, Albert, and his twin sister. Thanks, Chad! You’re awesome! I better get moving on this, and you…get some sleep.”

“I will.”

Ivy was about to hang up. “Chad!”

“Yeah!”

“When I’m back from Scottsdale…perhaps we could have dinner someday…I mean, I make pretty good lasagna.” She giggled. “That’s really the only dish I know how to make.”

“Ivy, I can’t wait to taste it!”

They hung up.

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Filed under The Japanese Masseuse

The Japanese Masseuse – Chapter 43

   

Ivy Kim (Detective, Austin Police Department)

Chad Randlett (Coroner, Austin Police Department)

Beast (Ivy Kim’s turtle)

       

Leonardo D’Almagro (CEO, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

Cile Cook (Model, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

Katherine Foster (Gary Kent;s neighbor)

     

David and Amy Brosette

Rob Bonner (Software programmer, D’Almagro Fashion and Talents)

Tiffany Kammer (Cile Cook’s friend)

     

Gary Kent (Actor, director, producer)

Albert Ding (Poet and musician)

Connie Ding (Japanese Masseuse)

CHAPTER 43

The water was nice and cool. Through the noise of the running shower, Ivy could hear the phone. It kept ringing. Now, why the heck does everybody have to call me when I’m in the shower? It’s eight in the evening. It’s not like I hung a banner from my window announcing, “I’ll be showering for the next 10 minutes.”

The phone kept ringing.

“Okay! Okay! I’m coming.” Her voice was loud, as if she meant for the caller to hear her. “Jam-bam!” She turned the water off. Wrapped in a towel, with water running down her legs, she reached for the phone on her bed. “Yeah. Ivy here.”

“Ivy! You need to come down to the morgue. This town is really starting to freak me out!”

“Chad?”

“Yeah.”

“What is it?”

“I need you to come see this for yourself.” The coroner sounded as if he had experienced something creepy.

“I was actually showering, and after that I planned on taking Beast for a walk.”

“You can bring Beast, so long as he doesn’t start munching on any of my guests.”

Ivy looked toward the other end of her bedroom where Beast had disappeared into an old purse on the floor. His head poked out, as if he knew the conversation was about him.

“I’ll not bring him. Not that he would eat any of your guests. I’m more concerned I might lose him.”

“Why would you lose him?” Chad was confused and impatient for Ivy to show up.

“He tends to hide in the weirdest places.”

“What? What places? Oh, Lord…Stop that nonsense, Ivy. It’s ugly! Please come down here as fast as you can.”

***

Ivy walked to the front door of the building that housed the morgue. As always, she stepped closer with a secret fear of the dead people, that they really weren’t dead, that one day one of them would jump up and grab her by the neck. So why do I fear dead people? It’s not that you automatically become a nasty person because you die. I know! It’s the zombies!

She opened the door to the front office. There was nobody to be found. For a few minutes, she waited, kind of felt that she needed an invitation before she could step into the dead people’s world. Admit it, girl. You’re a minority here, and minorities are unfortunately not always treated nicely.

“Ivy.”

She jumped almost an inch, startled by Chad’s voice.

“Chad! You scared the heck out of me. I thought everybody was dead in here.”

“Even me?”

“Yes, even you.” Immediately, she clapped her hand over her mouth and made a funny face. “Gosh, no! I know you aren’t dead.” I just have to look at you, and it awakens the secret hideouts in me. You’re a sexy bastard, even though I won’t admit it.

“I can prove you wrong,” he said and immediately looked away.

“I’m sure,” she replied and also found it difficult to keep looking at him. Now what’s happening here? I thought I was past these feelings. “Okay, show me!”

“Show you?” Chad looked surprised but excited.

“Yes, show me what was so important that I had to show up here. I’m still planning on taking Beast for a walk.”

“Sorry. Take back a big juicy bone as an apology. It’s my treat, of course.”

“I’m sure you can come up with many interesting bones, but he really doesn’t like bones. You know that.” Ivy smiled.

“Oh well. Come with me. I’ll show you. This really freaks me out!” Chad motioned for her to follow him through a door leading into another room where the autopsies were performed.

“If it freaks you out, then it must be bad.” Ivy noticed a sheet-covered body on one of the three metal tables. “You know something, Chad. I’m not sure why, but dead people seem so much easier to deal with on the crime scene than down here.”

“You don’t have to deal with them down here. I do!” Chad uncovered the body of a middle-aged man.

About six feet tall, well-proportioned, golden blond hair. His face was bloody, as if someone had kicked it.

Ivy kept staring at the dead man’s face. “He doesn’t look dead. Just beaten up. Are you sure?”

“Trust me. He is.”

“Who is he?”

“Not sure yet. We’re running a fingerprint search.”

“How did he end up here?” There was something familiar about this man. She just couldn’t figure out what. “How long has he been here?”

“He showed up at our front door three hours ago.”

That statement made the detective recall where she was. “There you go! That’s what freaks me out. Dead people finding their own way to the morgue.”

“I think he had some assistance getting here. Especially in that condition.” The coroner turned the corpse’s head, so Ivy could get a better look at him.

It was almost as if the guy was staring at her.

“Please, don’t do that.” The distinct, reeking stench of death was bothering her.

“Why wasn’t I called to the scene?” Ivy speculated as to what she had been occupied with three hours earlier. Then she remembered that she had been figuring out why somebody would put a snake in a mailbox and how.

“I know you would like to, but you can’t take on all cases. In this instance, I tend to agree that this one belongs to you, too. This really starts to freak me out.”

“What freaks you out? He doesn’t even look dead to me.” Again she found herself staring at the dead man’s face, trying to think why he looked so familiar.

“Ivy, don’t disappoint me now. Do you think this man looks okay? Would there be anything catching your eyes as…lacking?” Chad took a step away from the table to make it easier for Ivy to study the body.

“He doesn’t seem to have any wounds. He looks intact, somehow. How did he die?”

Chad picked up a clear plastic bag with his latex-glove-covered hands. “He showed up with this over his head.”

“That explains it then.”

“Not quite.”

“No?” Ivy stepped a little closer to the body. “Oh no! How could I miss it?”

“Well, I was wondering about that, too.”

“His…oh my…His penis is cut off. I would understand why that would freak a man out.”

“What do you mean, freak a man out? It would freak anybody out.”

“I mean women can get a new one. Men can’t.” She noticed Chad’s lack of amusement. “Okay, that one was bad.”

“This is not what freaks me out, Ivy. I have seen cut-offs more than once. Unfortunately, I actually do think that some frustrated women agree with your statement. Now, what freaks me out is where we found the cut-off.”

“So where did you find the missing link?” This is starting to get interesting, she thought. Why would anybody cut off his penis and then hide it somewhere?

Chad paused for a moment. “In his rectum.”

The look on the detective’s face made him wonder if she finally had hit the limit of what her imagination could generate.

“And what made you look there?”

“Come on, Ivy…” Chad’s pale face color and his glasses hanging low on his nose made him resemble an older professor. “Go fuck yourself,” he said in strange, offensive voice.

A surprised look enveloped Ivy’s face. “What?”

“I said, Go fuck yourself. Don’t you get it? Remember? You were the one saying Eat that, you bitch when we found the employee contract in Mr. D’Almagro’s throat. And the model, Cile Cook, got a note saying Beautiful…which she isn’t anymore. And the snake in the mailbox…Poisonous snake, take your own poison. I think there’s a pattern here.”

Ivy continued Chad’s string of thoughts. “And Mrs. Brosette, her husband as far as we know, ran over her in their car…My turn to run you over.” Ivy spun around, kept rubbing her lips, then spit out, “Jam-bam! And what do they have in common?”

Chad searched his mind but came up with nothing. He shook his head.

“The Japanese masseuse! Rob Bonner, Tiffany Kammer, David Brosette, and…Gary Kent. I think you’re onto something here, Chad. I really think you are. This one belongs to me, too!” She pointed to the body of the man on the metal table.

“I told you,” Chad said and covered the body.

“Chad, you need to do me a favor. Would you go back to The Rain Bar tonight, find Albert Ding, and get all the information you can get about his sister? I need to figure out how this man ended up here and who he is.”

The eyes the coroner turned on his friend weren’t filled with excitement. He nodded and heaved a sigh. “I’ll do it. For you, Ivy.”

“Thanks. I knew I could count on you.”

Chad closed the door behind Ivy as she left the morgue.

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