Monday, April 21, 2014
The Sapphire Astonishment by Edward C Patterson
The Sapphire Astonishment - a Nick Firestone Mystery - is a work in progress by Edward C Patterson. Part of the Jade Owl Legacy family of novels, The Sapphire Astonishment is a stand-alone novel, the first of several volumes centered around the career of Nick Firestone (who in the 4th and 5th books of The Jade Owl series is a five year old hero). Little Nicky is now all grown up and thriving in the year 2021. This work is a fast paced mystery and does not require having read the preceding five Jade Owl books. But as many of the San Francisco characters from that series show up in this work, those who have read that series will get an extra jolt.
The Sapphire Astonishment
The Break-in at Han Ch’i-wang’s
Chinatown, San Francisco had seen better days — days ablaze in neighborhood life and tourism, but since the 2016 quake, any structure not converted to withstand the shock had either crumbled or burned. This was not the first time a catastrophe had struck the area and, since most of the neighborhood abutting Grant Avenue had been slowly consumed by rising glass and metal buildings, all in the shadow of that monstrous tower, Meridian One, only the remaining below-code buildings were affected. Most were gone now, the streets looking much like any other place in San Francisco from the Castro to SOMA. But the aroma of rotting cabbage still lingered in the morning air along with a pagoda sloped roof — here and there. Mandarin was spoken less, replaced with the riffs which buzzed between the glimmer glass windows, as they now say. But it still could be called Chinatown, although the much of the ethnic portion had drifted away along the former BART routes into the suburbs. The Chinese architecture was particularly dilapidated — quaint in that respect and visited by some tourists who read on their guide tablets that there were things to be seen and had, for those who still liked to explore the exotic beyond-the-glimmer-glass purchase. There was plenty of glimmer glass in Chinatown, hawking restaurants and trips to the People’s Republic. But for those who rode the only remaining Cable Car line along California Street to Grant Avenue, they could be rewarded handsomely from the past.
Tucked between a dance palace called The Ging Gong Club and a zip suit boutique, Sony Circuit Fashions, stood a lopsided shop with an unconverted display window, smoked with age. Those who peered through it could see a riot of Chinese bric-a-brac — touristy hoopla, but also a promise for hours in a true bazaar of unique specimens from a time beyond the glimmer glass information bombardment and the shadow of Meridian One. Here stood Han-ch’i-wang’s Chinese Antiques, owned in absentia by a Chinese antique himself, Xiao Win-t’o, and run by two gay men, whose specialty went beyond the ordinary.
When Grant Avenue was in its prime — the glory days of the Twentieth Century, there was little to distinguish it from a street in Shang-hai or Hong Kong. Neighborhood folk choked the vegetable markets, calling for live eel and bitter melon. Bicycles clogged the lanes with laundry baskets filled with uptown wash. Children begged for steam cakes and almond cookies, and the clash of old country music crashed over happy tourists, who snapped old-style cameras to record their trip to the City by the Bay. Now, even the cats were safe from the butcher block so little was the call for fresh wok-helper; and the old Apothecary Shop only opened twice weekly to serve up remedies to a few drifters from Oakland or San Carlos. But Han-ch’i-wang’s could still bustle on a Sunday afternoon, because both the fashionable and downtrodden sought a happy forgery to grace their coffee tables. Or they longed to don a silk dragon robe for those chilly summer mornings, which, despite the drift of time, never seemed to change in San Francisco. So between the warped beats of new style horse-dancing at the Ging Gong Club and the hi-tech apparel at Sony Circuit Fashions, the proprietorship of the old Chinatown don, Xiao Win-to (in absentia) thrived both in fact and fiction.
Warren Ch’u sat bolt upright in bed. He was a light sleeper. He twitched about, waking his partner, Marsh Eliot.
“Did you hear that?” Warren whispered, anxiously.
“It’s just a rat or something. Go back to sleep.”
“No, Silky. Something’s in the shop.”
Marsh, whom the world called Silky for his flaxen hair — hair less flaxen since his thirtieth birthday, rolled over trying to ignore his husband. Warren tossed off the sheets and swung his legs over the bed’s edge, groping for his glasses. There was a time when those glasses made him the picture of a Chinese geek boy, but since his adventures in China, he had fleshed out into something that would scare most people in a dark alley. He leaped to his feet.
“Shit,” Silky said, sitting up. “Must we do this now?”
“The new shipment.”
Silky grumbled, but reached for something to cover his ass. A silk shift would do. Then a distinct rattle of glass came from the shop below, followed by the creaks of the ancient floorboards.
“Fuck,” Silky groaned. “Grab your gizmo. We might need to call the cops.”
“Why didn’t the alarm go off?”
“How should I know? I’m a battle scarred warrior not a fucking grid jockey.”
He rarely referred to himself as a battle scarred warrior since that day thirteen years ago when he helped save the world in China — an event never discussed by its participants by mutual agreement and by cash arrangement. But occasionally Silky tipped his hand when speaking to those in the know — those who shared in the settlement.
Warren didn’t bother with clothes, except a pair of slippers to protect his feet from broken glass, which he assumed was already somewhere. He appeared odd — a naked brawny specimen with pink fluffy slippers, a gift from Silky’s adoptive mother — a drag queen of renown.
“That’s a picture,” Silky said, peering through the dim light in the hallway. “Any rat seeing you like that will run back to the trash can.”
“I don’t see you running,” Warren whispered, and then handed Silky the gizmo, not having a pocket to put it in.
Silky, still half-asleep, managed a chuckle, but then another noise came from the lower floor — this time metallic, followed by a distinct rumble.
“I hope that was one of the fakes,” Warren said, moving steadily to the top of the stairs.
“Now’s not the time for the Tsa-la-gi way,” Silky remarked, referring to a code taught to Warren by a dedicated local artist, who happened to be Cherokee and sworn to a distinct martial arts code. “If it’s someone in the shop, he could have a gun. I’m in no mood to mop up your blood.”
“You have a sword you could use.”
“Then we’ll rely on Griffen’s code.” He punched his fist. “Be ready to jump in.”
As they descended into the shop, groping the banister, the noise increased — certainly not a rat. In fact, Warren saw a shadow — briefly, but definitely human.
“He’s in the back room,” he whispered.
“The new shipment.”
“Maybe it’s the real owner come to collect.”
Silky clicked his tongue.
“We have regular business hours.”
Warren halted, raising his right hand high and putting his left index finger to his lips. The shadow appeared again, and then a shape — a man in a hoodie and, no doubt nimble to be navigating in the dark Han Ch’i-wang’s considerable clutter. Warren saw light from the street, flooding through a circular cut in the front door’s glass. It had been some time since any light penetrated the window’s smoky surface. The door was ajar.
“We’ll do this the Tsa-la-gi way,” Warren grunted, and then hopped forward to the light switch.
Suddenly, the place was bathed in incandescent light as the overhead bulbs lit, startling both the intruder and Silky.
“Take it easy,” Silky warned, but to no avail.
“Stop right there,” Warren shouted.
He bolted forward, the thief twisting about, rushing to the door, but Warren caught him by the shoulder, pulling him into a shelf of marked-down vases and plates. These crashed to the floor, sending shards in all directions. The intruder was quick — not as powerful as Warren, but quicker. Warren tried to pull the hoodie off, but only succeeded in tearing part of the sleeve, and just enough to lose his grip.
Silky threw himself into the fray, but the thief reached for a shard, only to be pushed aside, clasping a small brown parcel in his other hand — a parcel Warren recognized. He lurched for it, but too late. The thief slipped it into the hoodie’s belly pouch, and then seized a round silk-covered box from a table nearest the door. He whipped around, slamming the box into Warren’s head, glasses flying off.
“Shit,” Warren shouted, covering his face.
“China Doll,” Silky gasped, a nickname he hadn’t used in years.
Warren felt like a China Doll, cracked in the head and bleeding, consciousness escaping to the shop’s ceiling. He tried to concentrate on finishing the job — to get the parcel or to grab a shard and catch the thief’s leg. He glimpsed the thief’s face, but was too woozy to recognize him and, without his glasses, it was useless. The thief looked like a blonde teenager, and he had a mark on his inner right arm, but every teen had tats and this tat wasn’t clear to Warren’s dazed eyes. The thief fled.
Warren tried to remain standing, Silky helping, but then the ground gave way and the lights went out, in China Doll’s mind, at least.
“Warren,” Silky whispered, shaking him.
Warren was suddenly awake — fuzzy, but as lucid as he could be with a throbbing head that had been hit by a brick, or whatever that shithead used to conk him. He touched his head expecting a crater, but instead felt an egg-sized bump. There may have been blood, but he couldn’t tell. It was just wet. Then he realized it was ice residue from a compress Silky applied.
“I’m okay, Yellow Hair Boy. Where’s my specs?”
He groped the air, Silky fitting the glassed over his ears.
“There, and you’re not okay and you haven’t called me Yellow Hair Boy in years.”
“Well, I thought I heard you call me China Doll, and in front of the enemy.”
“The enemy? You’ve got too much Griffen Jones in your fucking head. This isn’t warfare. It was a break-in by some dumb-ass teenager, probably looking for drug money.”
“Then he’s cleaned out the register?”
Silky appeared stunned, and then puzzled.
“Here, keep this pressed to your head.”
He darted away.
“You mean you didn’t even check to see if he took the cash?”
Silky shouted back something, and then returned, shaking his head.
“That’s strange,” he replied. “He didn’t take anything. I mean, since GlimmerCards, there wasn’t much in there — just a few Hyperbucks and GovCoupies, but . . . you must have turned the lights on before he had a chance to raid the till.”
“Shit on that,” Warren said, stirring unsteadily to his feet. He kicked aside some glass, and then reached for Silky’s shoulder. “He was leaving when I surprised him. He’d finished taking what he’d come for and I saw it. He took the brown packet. You know which one.”
“If that’s all, we’re in the clear.”
“I don’t get it. From what I saw, he got away with something rare.”
“Possibly rare,” Silky replied. “But he got nothing, because I wasn’t sure about that thing, so I asked John to have it checked out with his uncle.”
“John’s got it?”
Warren laughed, and then squinted with pain.
“Then the little shit head got nothing for his pain.”
“Looks like you got the pain,” Silky said. He stooped, retrieving the silk covered box which had played the deuce with Warren’s forehead.
“That thing,” Warren exclaimed. “That’s been here since . . .”
“Since the shop opened back in whenever. Back before the Old Grandmother bought the place.”
Warren took the box, examining it. It was a round container, discus size and covered in crimson silk, a lake scene embroidered on one side and a phoenix on the other. It had been on every shelf in the shop as a hard to sell what-not, because as a box it was a failure, with no visible way to open it. A paper weight? A doorstop, if the Chinese ever started using western style doors? In any case, Xiao Win-t’o had tempted many a browser with the prospects of having a conversation piece on their coffee table or desk, but he had no takers. Old lady Ching had expressed an interest just last week, but when she wanted to see the inside, she turned away disappointed, because there was no inside, apparently.
Warren examined the box as if it had been the final insult in the assault. Then he turned it over and saw that the silk cover had been torn.
“It’s ripped,” Silky observed. “Now we’ll never sell the damn thing.”
“Ripped or not, we never had much chance of . . .” He paused, cocking his head.
Warren’s fingers poked through the tear. A silvery shimmer danced beneath his middle finger. He raised the tear to his eye.
“No one has ever thought to remove the cover?”
“Obviously not. Let me see.”
Warren passed the box to his husband.
“Could be silver. Could be . . .”
Warren winced, his head throbbing with pain.
“Could be the fucking Queen of Chinatown for all I care now.”
The silk box was set aside. Silky raised the gizmo.
“You should go to the ER. You could have a concussion. And we should call this in.”
“No,” Warren said, swiping the ice pack and pressing it to his head again. “If the bastard got an empty packing box and we only lost a bunch of crap we were only throwing out, I’d say it would be a waste of time. We’re out only the front door glass. And as for my head, I’m the apothecary’s son. Let’s wake my father up and get one of Magoo’s mystery seaweed poultices shoved up my nose.”
Warren opened the door and started out.
“Hey,” Silky called.
Warren stopped, shrugged and then remembered he had nothing on but an ice pack, his glasses and Simone DeFleurry’s pink fluffy slippers. He chuckled.
“I see what you mean.”
“I don’t think I’d get far either in my fashion statement.”
He twirled about, the silk robe revealing a similar display. So they retreated over the glass, back to the stairs, where Warren flipped off the lights.
“No sense inviting him back,” he said.
Suddenly, the burglar alarm sounded.
“It’s about fucking time,” Warren snapped.
They laughed — two naked gods of irony.
At the Painted Ladies
For a century and a half, San Francisco’s Painted Ladies peppered the streets of Haight-Ashbury in various states of disarray. At times these glorious Victorian structures were the pride of the rich and, at other times, the suffragettes of depression, their wondrous pastel walls dabbed in battleship gray, paint begged from the navy — convenient and affordable. Gradually these wooden landmarks fell to earthquakes or to weather, but a few marvelous examples were gussied up and sold for small fortunes, especially the suite which climbed Steiner Street across from Alamo Park. Not so fashionable were the survivors of the last quake in Haight-Ashbury — a crowded remnant of high-shouldered ladies, paint fading, each sporting a steep stairway into the doorway’s open gawp — a startling welcome to those apartment dwellers who could afford the rent. Among these tenants at 456 Ashbury Street were two bachelors starting out their young adventurous lives, although one of them had had more adventures when a child than the majority of citizens in San Francisco.
John Gray and Nick Firestone rented the second floor two bedroom apartment in this old painted lady — not as luxurious as the Steiner Street suite, but still a spacious flat with morning sun and a glimpse of Buena Vista Park between the buildings across the street. John had a good job with Ruggers Inc., a financial analysis group. He also had part-time work for his uncle Xiao Win-to, the owner of Han Chi-wang’s Chinese Antiques. However, despite meeting his share of the expenses, John Gray could never afford the full bull. Nick Firestone, on the other hand, could, if he kept a steady fist on his trust fund, a task which always seemed to elude him. Nick had shared in an unusual settlement from his childhood along with his mother, father, and John’s father — Rowden Gray (and among others, all referred to as The China Hands). It seems this group had saved the world . . . not figuratively, but literally and . . . the world didn’t know about it, nor would they. The People’s Republic of China was manifestly clear that the so-called Jade Owl affair was never to go beyond the small circle of those in the know. So, the Chinese government did what they did best. They snowed the peoples of the world, claiming that the unusual activity in Western China was caused by weather inversions and earth tremors. Anyone who guessed the truth was invited into a private cell. But that wouldn’t due for the heroes of the event. So they were sworn to secrecy, sealed with fat annuities, pensions and, in little Nicky Firestone’s case, a trust fund. The hush money didn’t necessarily squelch conversations between the China Hands, but Rowden Gray had advised the recipients to take care. They never knew who was listening or when the money would be replaced by an invitation to an all-expense paid trip to a Bei-jing detention center.
“Get your ass out of bed.”
Nick Firestone stretched under the satiny sheets, mashing his face into his pillow. He tried to hold onto the last vestiges of his dream — an image of a sweet feminine face that often visited him at the edge of slumber — a happy relief from another sort of dream — one filled with dragons and green hulky monster men and a host of bizarre creatures that belonged more to his own brand of reality than to the realm of dreams. Many nights Nick awoke sweating from his childhood terrors — the bravery of his past. He found no comfort in it. But now the sweet lovely feminine face was disturbed by the wake-up call from that face’s brother.
“Get your ass out of bed,” John Gray repeated, stripping off the top sheet, leaving Nick Firestone bare-ass naked in the morning sun’s filigree fingers.
“Too early,” Nick grumbled, snatching the covers and pulling them back.
“Tomorrow’s rent day,” John replied.
“I’ve got it,” Nick said.
“You’re tapped out. I know you are. So you’ve got to get over to Mr. and Mrs. Trust Fund and bring your begging pail.”
Nick knew this was so. He could afford the rent, but he was unemployed, or at least, employed at being Nick Firestone, who indulged in his own interests at his own pace. He’d run through his monthly allowance and the rent money was gone. He needed to pay a visit to his parents and plead for some of that Chinese hush money. With it would come a lecture from Mrs. Mei Lin Firestone, who spent most of her life controlling the household men — from her Chinese uncles to her own afflicted husband.
Nick sat up, puffing his checks. He reached for his glimmer glasses — not for vision, but for internet access.
“Damn,” he said. “There’s not much oomph left in them.”
John tossed something on the dressing bureau and continued his prep for work, tying a gray and red striped tie under the collar of a crisp white shirt.
“You have mail,” he chirped, laughing, and then leaving the room.
“I might. Your sister sometimes leaves me a good morning call.”
“Even after your battle royal?” came John’s voice from the bathroom.
Nick went to the bureau, opening the middle drawer and snatching a pair of tighty whities, slipping them on with a few tugs. He then reached for his glimmer shirt, slipping it on quickly, fitting the scaly sleeves about his arms — stretched over his fading tattoo on his inner forearm. Once secured, he looked into the mirror and grinned. He was not above admiring his sexy smile and his fetching wink. He had that alluring Eurasian appeal, much like John, who’s dearly departed mother also had been Chinese.
“Well,” John called. “Are you up? Because . . .”
“Yes, I’m up and trying to get my mail.”
Nick raised his arm, found the start button on his shirt and waited. It vibrated gently, and then he whisked his hand along the sleeve, a shimmer dancing beneath his palm. Once lifted, the text — green and glowing, breezed through the air and came to rest in the mirror. He leaned into the screen and read.
“Nothing much,” he mumbled, scanning for the one email he wanted — a good morning message from Amy Gray. But they had had words yesterday, a frequent occurrence when he disagreed with her. Two strong willed twenty-somethings should probably not date, but here they were or weren’t, as the cycle progressed.
He sighed, and then noticed the object that John had tossed on the bureau — a brown package, long and irregular, loosely taped with the remnants of string flopping around the edges. Nick touched it, curiosity being his middle name, but wondered if he should take a peek. It wasn’t his business after all.
“I bet you didn’t hear from her,” John called out.
“You’d bet right,” Nick mumbled, pawing the parcel. “Why not? What the hell?”
He breached the tape and tossed off the string. With two quick turns, the package was opened, the contents staring at him.
“What the fuck?” he mumbled.
Lying on its brown paper bed was an ornamental piece — a dark blue stone on a lighter blue enamel framework of leaves and mounted on a long golden spike. Nick slid his glasses down from his forehead hoping there’d be enough juice to magnify the piece. He tapped the spectacle’s rim, waiting for the familiar buzz. He grinned when it came and the ornament now became a gigantic piece for his exploration.
“So you’ve found it,” John said, suddenly beside him. “I knew you would. But you should know that hairpin’s hot.”
“Yep. There was a break in last night at Han Chi-wang’s.”
“No shit,” Nick said, turning, but becoming unbalanced as he now saw John Gray’s face magnified by ten. “Did they get much? I mean, the most anyone could steal from the antique dealer is a fake vase or Chang Kai-shek’s imitation chop sticks.”
“Well, you’d know more about it than me. I just help out when I can. And Silky said they didn’t get anything. Warren confronted a teenager, who got away clean, but got away with nothing. But they’re certain whoever it was looking for . . . looking for that hairpin.”
“It’s not a hairpin.”
Nick raised his glasses, and then lifted the piece, weighing it in his hand.
“How do you know that? Or should I ask, you and your obsession.”
“It’s not an obsession. My father’s the greatest conservator of Chinese antiquities in the business. Don’t you think his son would have the knack?”
“Well, it looks like a hairpin to me.”
Nick sat on the bed’s edge.
“Well, if this was a hairpin, the lady who used it would be deaf.”
“You’ve been around Chinese women enough to know that hairpins are also used to clean their ears.” He touched the end of the piece. “This one’s sharp and has some kind of hook at the end. It’d puncture an ear drum if used as a traditional hairpin. I’d say it was a hat ornament of some kind . . . and a fancy one at that.”
“It kind of gaudy.”
“Gaudy or not, the stone’s a sapphire, if I lay a bet on it and the setting’s gold and lapis lazuli.”
“And I’m supposed to be impressed?” John said, reaching for it. “The reason it wasn’t stolen last night is because it arrived at Han Chi-wang’s by mistake. It came through the mail slot and taken in with the usual bric-a-brac shipment. Silky thought it odd and asked me to take it Tangy Win. I mean, it is my uncle’s after all as the shop owner.”
“True, but I think your father should have a look.”
John rolled his eyes back.
“How about it if you see my father and I see yours — for the rent money?”
“I’ll go see Professor Rowdy,” Nick said, grasping the ornament closer. “My father isn’t the holder of the purse strings anyway.”
John Gray bowed.
“Mama Chen, eh?”
“You got it, and it takes a silver tongue to get around her.”
“Okay. I’m going to be late.” He stared into Nick’s ebony eyes. “But don’t lose it or hock it for the rent money. Warren would have my balls if I lost it. Okay?”
“Cool. Go. You’re late already and I’ll get to my parents sometime today.”
John nodded, and went for the door, grasping his jacket as he passed the chair. He reached inside the coat grabbing his own glimmer glasses, popping them on and tugging his shirt to activate his daily database of to-dos. He suddenly stopped.
“You know, my mother wore hats with fancy ornaments when she performed at the opera. I remember them. I was a kid then, but she did. She had them at the house at one point, but since . . . well, since she’s gone now, I don’t know if they’re still there.”
“Nice to know.”
“You might ask my father.”
Nick shook his head, and then continued his examination of the ornament.
Being the son of a former conservator of Chinese antiquities rubbed off on Nick Firestone. Although his father didn’t practice his craft now due to an uncommon affliction, the study of things Chinese gripped the son as much as it had the father. So when a puzzle of an ornament showed up on his dressing bureau, it beckoned for further study. It called to understand its time and place. Nick had no formal education in these matters, but having been a lynch pin in the events fifteen years ago — events sufficient enough for hush money, his exposure to China’s past was powerful and it matched his inquisitive nature, which went beyond the usual youthful assimilation of the grand into the mundane.
Nick sat by the window, the sun now optimal. He lifted the ornament into the rays, studying the blue stone carefully with his glimmer glasses down in magnifier mode.
“No scratches,” he mumbled. He turned the ornament about. “No bubbles either and . . .”
The sunlight penetrated the stone, reflecting a shimmering azure ray, which struck the opposite wall. Nick grinned.
“It reflects blue and no other color.” He bounced on the bed. “I’m no fucking gemologist, but it’s a good chance this thing is a genuine sapphire.”
He drew the piece closer, studying the setting, which could be painted enamel, but he suspected it was lapis lazuli, rare these days and generally faked — easily so. His eyes wandered through the magnification as he tilted the piece left and right until the light caught flecks of gold.
“Yes,” he shouted, to no one in particular. “Yes, yes. Flecks there be, Sonny Jim.” He giggled. “A genuine sapphire set on real lapis lazuli. Do I know my stuff or what?”
Then his attention turned to the pin itself — the framework and long line leading to the stem. Gold was a harder determination and without a number of tests, he probably couldn’t get that one on the nose. He knew the old bite test was bogus and proved nothing, and might damage the piece. The magnet test also proved nothing, only eliminating suspicious metals, never proofing gold as gold. So he examined the whole, looking for silver patches — wear and tear revealing baser metals beneath. He saw none, which also was inconclusive, except the ornament wasn’t necessarily ancient, as in thousands of years old.
“Probably mid-Nineteenth Century,” he reasoned. “Or later.”
He then looked for hallmarks or inscriptions. None appeared in the framework, but as he scanned the pin he saw something.
“What the . . .”
He pressed his shirt sleeve button to raise the magnification on the glimmer glass. There, just above the strange end shape was inscribed a symbol he knew. In fact, he had one tattooed on his inner forearm — an insignia shared by all the China Hands from those unspeakable days on the mainland. They all shared this mark and the hush money.
“Cutting the day from day,” he muttered, and then looked to his arm, shushing the sleeve to reveal the mark. He squinted. This character was similar to another — more common one — chung, which meant the middle or center. Chung-guo was the real name for that place the West calledChina, because the Chinese called their nation The Middle Kingdom.
“I bet it’s chung,” he said. “This tomb mark is much older, as I should know. This piece isn’t that old. So chung it is.”
Although he had no explanation why the character was inscribed there, nor a real reason to seek out John’s father, or even his own father, he could use this sinological inquiry as an entré excuse to approach his mother for some cash. He sighed, and then glanced down at the ornament.
“This’d fetch a fortune on the black market, I bet.”
But that was not his game, although no option was ever totally dismissed from the mind of Nick Firestone. Suddenly, he needed to know more, but he didn’t have enough juice to do a full net search. So he took a deep breath and tapped his elbow three times. His glimmer shirt vibrated.
“C’mon, Amy, pick-up.”
He went to the mirror and waited for a flash, which, when it came, revealed a beautiful, but scowling face.
“Hey, Fly,” it said.
He was glad to hear her. Amy had several names for him. Fly was a neutral one — indifference, but not the angry Firestone, but far from the flirty Nicky, dearest. So Fly it was.
“Hey, Babe,” he replied.
“Don’t Babe me, Firestone.”
“Sorry. I thought we were over that . . .”
“Not yet. I’m at work, so what’s up?”
Amy worked at the perfect place for this task — Simon Fischer & Moore, a computer and network firm, where she sold access licenses and time sharing. Unlimited juice.
“I need a favor.”
“If you’re nice.”
“I’m always nice.”
He held up the ornament. Her eyes bugged.
“Something your brother brought home from Han Chi-wang’s.”
“Oh, a fake gagoo for Chinese ladies with strong necks?”
“No. I believe it’s much more. Much much more. I’m thinking of bothering your Dad with it, but I’d like to do a net search first.”
“But you ran out of juice again. How many times have I told you that . . .”
“I know. I know. But after our little discussion last night I was so upset I forgot to . . .”
“That’s so much Chop Suey and you know it. So, Fly, what do you need?”
“Just see if this comes up anywhere and let me know. There’s a lunch in it for you.”
“Yeah. I’ll hold my breath. You’re tapped out.”
“Taking care of that.”
“That time of the month, eh?”
“Not looking forward to it. But will ya . . .”
“Send it over.”
Nick flipped his glimmer glasses down, focusing on the piece. He touched his right shoulder and snapped a digital picture, and then another covering the reverse.
“That should do it,” he said. “And thanks, Ba . . . Amy, dearest.”
“I’ll Amy Dearest you,” she said, not unkindly. “I got it. Let you know. Got to go.”
The mirror lost Amy Gray’s face, replaced now with Nick’s handsome image. He grinned, winked, and then departed for his first stop — the East Asian Art and Antiquities Museum.