The Jasmine Trade

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"Everything was set. Seventeen-year-old Marina Lu had even ordered custom-made gowns for the ten bridesmaids who, in several months' time, would have preceded her down the aisle at her storybook wedding." "There isn't going to be a wedding. Marina lies dead, alone in her shiny status car in a suburban shopping center parking lot, her two-carat diamond engagement ring refracting another abruptly shattered Los Angeles dream. Was her death merely a carjacking gone bad? Or is there more to the story?" "Marina's murder introduces Los Angeles Times
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The Jasmine Trade: A Novel of Suspense Introducing Eve Diamond

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Overview

"Everything was set. Seventeen-year-old Marina Lu had even ordered custom-made gowns for the ten bridesmaids who, in several months' time, would have preceded her down the aisle at her storybook wedding." "There isn't going to be a wedding. Marina lies dead, alone in her shiny status car in a suburban shopping center parking lot, her two-carat diamond engagement ring refracting another abruptly shattered Los Angeles dream. Was her death merely a carjacking gone bad? Or is there more to the story?" "Marina's murder introduces Los Angeles Times reporter Eve Diamond to a subculture of "parachute kids," the rich Asian teens who are left to their own devices in California while their parents live and work in Hong Kong. Seeking American education and political stability for their children, the affluent parents often leave only an elderly housekeeper in charge of their vulnerable offspring." "What was Marina's story? Why was she, at such a young age, marrying twenty-four-year-old Michael Ho? Why is Marina's father, banker Reginald Lu, so reluctant to provide information? As Eve delves deeper into the mysteries surrounding Marina's life and death, she stumbles upon a troubled world of unmoored youth and parental neglect." "But Marina, in many ways, would seem to have been among the fortunate. She had money and her parents had power. Eve soon discovers a dramatically more tragic subculture, where destitute young Asian immigrants live in virtual sexual slavery. The story of May-li and her journey from a poor farming home in Fujian, China, to a brothel in Los Angeles is one that Eve will fight to tell and will never forget."--BOOK JACKET.
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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Among the million stories, from drive-by shootings to education initiatives, battle-hardened Los Angeles Times reporter Eve Diamond has to file every year, the carjacking murder of Marina Lu doesn't stand out at first. It's not until an unrelated story about "parachute kids"-the latchkey teens whose wealthy Asian parents sometimes live thousands of miles away-encourages Eve to dig deeper that she decides the death of the Harvard-bound high-school senior isn't just another human-interest story. Word is that the Golden Pacific Bank, which Marina's father Reginald Lu founded and still heads, has unusually direct ways of dealing with delinquent creditors; word is also that Marina's fiance Michael Ho is the man in charge of Golden Pacific's goon squad. And when thieves break into her car, ignoring the stereo but making off with Marina's diary, Eve is convinced that she's onto something. It's her feature on parachute kid Tony Hsu, however, that puts her in touch with the really nasty stuff on L.A.'s Asian-American community, from mentoring programs that are fronting youth gangs to the sexual slavery of young immigrants. To follow all the leads she's dug up, and stay one step ahead of the villains who drug and shoot at her, Eve needs hands-on help from youth counselor Mark Furukawa. But can she trust this attractive man she barely knows? L.A. Times alum Hamilton's first novel is a furiously boiling stew of familiar ingredients: it lacks Edna Buchanan's eye for the offbeat story but is spiced by an unflinching look at dysfunctional families, upscale-Asian-American style.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786015238
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 12/28/2002
  • Series: Eve Diamond Series , #1
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 4.30 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Denise Hamilton is a writer-journalist whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Cosmopolitan, and The New York Times and is the author of five acclaimed Eve Diamond crime novels, Prisoner of Memory, Savage Garden, Last Lullaby, Sugar Skull, and The Jasmine Trade, all of which have been Los Angeles Times bestsellers. She is also the editor of and a contributor to the short story anthology Los Angeles Noir, winner of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Award for Best Mystery of 2007. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young children. Visit her at denisehamilton.com.
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Read an Excerpt


Chapter 1

I heard the ring through fuzzy sleep. Groaning, I opened one eye and groped for the receiver. "Hello?"

"Hel-lo, Eve Diamond," said a cheerful voice on other line. "Miller here."

My editor was oblivious to, or else ignoring, my sleep-logged voice at ten in the morning, a time when most reporters were already at their desks, rustling through the daily paper and midway through a second cup of coffee. I swallowed, and tasted chardonnay, now a sour reminder of last night's excess.

"...slumped in her new Lexus, blood all over the place, right there in the parking lot of Fabric World in San Gabriel," Miller was saying. "Guess the bridesmaids won't be wearing those dresses any time soon."

I cleared my throat.

"Can I have that address again, my pen stopped working."

"Why, suuure," he said. "Hold on, let me see what the wires are saying."

I would hold forever for Matt Miller. He was my hero, known and loved throughout the paper as a decent human being, a trait the Los Angeles Times rarely bred anymore in its editors. Most of the real characters had long ago been pushed out of the profession or early-retired to pickle themselves slowly and decorously in hillside moderne homes. They had been replaced by gray-faced accountants with more hidden vices. Funny thing was, Matt didn't seem to drink too much, and he was happily married.

After a quick shower, I was out the door of my apartment. I lived in a funky hillside community ten minutes northwest of downtown. Silverlake's California bungalows and Spanish-style homes harkened back to an earlier era when the neighborhood had bustled with some of Hollywood's original movie studios. And though the studios had long ago given way to the same public storage facilities and mini-malls that infested the rest of the city, a whiff of 1920s glamour still clung to our hills and attracted one of the city's most eclectic populations -- lately it had been a wave of boho hipsters. They settled down, living cheek by pierced jowl alongside multigenerational Latino families, third-generation Asian-Americans, Eastern European refugees from communism, 1930s-era Hollywood communists, and a smattering of liberal white yuppies, all of whom somehow managed to get along. Plus it was freeway close.

Within moments I was chugging along the ten-lane expanse of asphalt, looping around downtown Los Angeles and heading east on Interstate 10. Steering with one hand, I flipped the pages of my Thomas Guide with the other, looking for Valley Boulevard and Del Mar. Out my window, the bony spines of the San Gabriel Mountains were already obscured by a thick haze. The San Gabes were a scrubby desolate range northeast of the city, from which bears and mountain lions emerged with regularity to attack the inhabitants of tract houses gouged from the hills. Each year, flash floods and icy ridges claimed a dozen or so hikers. You wouldn't think that could happen so close to the city, but it did. The way I saw it, nature, too, demanded its pound of flesh. It was only we who called it accidents.

The cars ahead of me shimmered in the heat. The forecast was for 102 degrees in the Inland Valleys, with a Stage 1 Smog Alert. Already, perspiration pooled in the hollows of my body, and I cursed the fact that the A/C was out again in my nine-year-old Acura Integra.

Oh, it happened at that place, I thought, as the mammoth shopping center loomed into view. It was an anomaly that only the Pacific Rim fantasy aesthetic of Los Angeles could have produced. Built in a Spanish Mission style, with dusky earth tones, the three-story shopping center catered exclusively to the exploding Chinese immigrant community, although on occasion, a looky-loo gringo would wander through, bug-eyed at the panorama of this Asian Disneyland.

At San Gabriel Village Square, a name developers clearly hoped would evoke a more bucolic time, you could gorge on Islamic Chinese food, buy designer suits from Hong Kong, pick out live lobsters for dinner and $700 bottles of French cognac for dessert, or take out a $1 million insurance policy on your cheating spouse.

Or, as seventeen-year-old Marina Lu had done, you could order custom dresses for the ten bridesmaids who would precede you down the aisle the following June, the wedding day Marina had planned for years with the boy she had known since junior high.

Except on this stultifying morning, fate had backed up and pulled a U-turn, and now Marina Lu lay dead, brains splattered all over the buttery leather seats of her status car, the two-carat rock on her manicured engagement finger refracting only shattered hope.

I picked my way past the yellow police tape that cordoned off the murder scene, waving my notepad and press pass and standing close enough to a burly cop so that my perfume-spiked perspiration got his attention.

"Looks like an attempted carjacking that went bad," the cop said, squinting into the sun as he recited the facts. "Witness in the parking lot heard the shot, then saw an Asian kid, about fifteen, take off in a late-model Honda with two accomplices. Fifth carjacking here this month, and the first time they flubbed it. She must have resisted." The policeman punctuated his commentary with a huge yawn that bared his fleshy pink palate.

"And there's why," his partner said, watching the homicide detective retrieve a Chanel bag and pull out a matching wallet stuffed with hundred-dollar bills. "She was gonna pay cash for those dresses. Those immigrants don't believe in credit."

Nudging the Acura back onto the freeway, I headed for my office in Monrovia, a formerly white WASPy town at the foot of the San Gabriels, where the Times had established a bureau in the halcyon years when it was busy stretching great inky tentacles into every Southland cul-de-sac. The Valley was gritty and industrial, filled with the vitality of colliding immigrant sensibilities that were slowly squeezing out the blue- and white-collar old-timers. All the big Rim cities were morphing into Third World millennial capitals. But in the San Gabriel Valley, the future was already here. I made a mental note to ask the police reporter from the Chinese Daily News out for lunch on the Times Mirror tab. I had seen him again today at the mall carjacking, interviewing madly. Skinny, with bad teeth, he looked like he could use a good meal. And I could use some fresh story ideas.

"Metro wants twelve inches," Miller called out when I stepped inside the fluorescent light of the office, letting the cool air blast my hot skin.

I wrote it up, then dawdled at my desk. Until there were some arrests, it would be just another murder in the City of Angels, which on prickly summer days averaged more than one each hour. Sure, there was the sob factor about the bride mowed down as she planned her wedding, and I milked it for all it was worth. But it was more from habit than any vestigial hope that I would shock readers into doing something about it. The story of the dead woman in the car was no more gripping than that of the two-year-old toddler killed by a stray bullet in South-Central L.A. as he played in the living room. The elderly widow clubbed to death in Long Beach by the transient she hired to weed her lawn. Or the seventeen-year-old honor student in El Sereno whose single mother had changed neighborhoods to escape the gangs, only to have her son shot when his car broke down on the freeway. For reporters and cops alike, a sort of battle fatigue had set in. We had lost our ability to be shocked. My brain flickered to the next story as I ate cold sesame noodles from the plastic bento box I packed each morning. Then it was back in the sweltering car to interview a man named Mark Furukawa for an education story.

In a small bureau, everyone wore several hats. I also covered the schools. Frankly, the education beat didn't thrill me. Single, without kids, I couldn't relate to the obsession with SAT scores and dress codes. Now a teacher had referred me to Furukawa, hinting that the youth counselor for troubled kids at the Rainbow Coalition Center could dish up something more spicy.

Their offices were in a decaying mini-mall in El Monte, a small municipality twenty minutes away. A scattering of Asians sat in the waiting room, resignation and boredom etched across their faces. Some filled out forms, while others stared out through the grimy venetian blinds into the parking lot, ignoring the dust that clung to the metal slats and balled in the corners of the room.

Soon, I was ushered into a functional cube of an office. A framed photo of an Asian woman stood on the desk. She was clad in a vintage forties cocktail dress, with a string of pearls and a low-cut décolletage. Her hair was done up in long curly waves and her eyes were big and limpid.

Behind the desk were bookshelves crammed with medical journals and psychology texts and a guidebook to Los Angeles County gangs. Wedged in between was a blue-and-white can of something called "Pocari Sweat" whose cursive lettering evoked the Coca-Cola logo.

I checked it out for a while, then glanced at my watch, wondering when Furukawa would show, until a man appeared in the door. He was in his early thirties, exuding an attitude that started with his Doc Martens, traveled north up the jeans to a jutting hip, and ended with ponytailed hair tied back in a colorful Guatemalan scrunchy. A little too street for his own good, I thought, and probably a recovered drug addict or gangbanger to boot.

"Be with you in a sec," the man said, and disappeared. I had been expecting a middle-aged guy with a paunch, not some hipster near my own age. Well. I made my way back to the other side of the desk and settled into a plastic chair, feeling the fabric stick to the back of my skirt. Now I took a closer look at the girl on his desk. She smiled into the camera, her eyes shiny with love. It figured he would have a stunning girlfriend. Nobody displayed a picture like that without intending to telegraph something.

He came back into the room and we shook hands and traded business cards. I told him my predicament and asked whether he was seeing any trends with kids in the San Gabriel Valley.

"There are a million good stories out there, but the real interesting ones, I can't talk about." Furukawa lit up a cigarette. In the San Gabriel Valley, everybody still smoked, and no one asked you to put it out. That would have been going against the culture.

He bit down on a pen and thought for a moment. "I do see a lot more straight-A kids living a double life in gangs."

"In the Asian community, hhmmm. I wouldn't have thought."

"Yeah, that's the problem with us, the model minority myth."

"I didn't mean..."

"You're not the first. But dig, most of the kids I see are immigrants. Mom and Dad may live here now but their brains are hard-wired to the old country."

Furukawa leaned back in his chair and described kids caught between traditional Asian values and permissive American culture, and fully at home in neither. The schools sent him all their problem cases and he jive-talked them into listening, which was always the first step, he said. He spoke their language. It didn't matter that he was a Sansei and they were Overseas Chinese and Southeast Asian.

"No offense, but I thought the Chinese didn't like the Japanese on account of World War Two."

He appraised me anew.

"This is the New World. We all get along. They'd like Hirohito himself if he paid attention to them."

I scribbled as he spoke, filling page after page in my notebook. He saw I was lagging and stopped, puffing on his cigarette and staring out the window until I caught up. In another, more quiet corner of my mind, I wondered how often he gave this spiel to ignorant whites and how he felt about it.

Soon he seemed to grow impatient and ambled over to the bookshelf to pull something down. Now he turned and lobbed it at me.

"Catch."

I dropped my pen, extended my hands, and found myself holding the blue-and-white can of Pocari Sweat I had been staring at earlier.

"Nice reflexes. You'd be good in a pinch."

He walked back to his chair and sat down, and I wondered what kind of game we were playing.

"What the hell is Pocari Sweat?" I asked. "Do you squirt it under your arms?"

"Japanese sports drink. Think Gatorade. The name is supposed to evoke a thirst-quenching drink for top athletes."

"Who's going to want to drink something called 'sweat'?"

"Exactly." He looked pleased with himself. "No one in America. But it's only marketed in Asia. Lots of stuff has English names. Asians don't get the negative cultural connotation of the English words, so you end up with something that doesn't quite translate."

"I see." I wasn't sure where this digression was going.

"A lot of the immigrant kids I counsel are like Pocari Sweat. Caught in a culture warp they don't know how to decode. The parents are even worse off. They expect their children to show filial piety, excel in school, and come straight home when classes let out. Meanwhile the kids want to date, hang out at the mall, and yak on the phone. They want all the nice consumer things they see on American TV. So they find ways to get them. The parents only wise up when a police officer lands on their door."

"And they're not collecting for the police benevolent fund."

"You got it." Furukawa stubbed out the emphysema stick. "The kids get beaten or grounded for six months. So they run away. To a friend's house to cool off, if they're lucky. If not, to a motel room rented by some older pals from school, maybe a dai lo. Where they can drink and party with their girlfriends. And when the money runs out, it's easy to get more. The dai los always have work."

"A dai what?"

"That's Chinese for older brother. It's a gang term. The dai lo recruits younger kids into gangs. Shows them a good time. Takes them out to a karaoke bar when they're underage and buys 'em drinks. Drives them around in a fast car. The good life. It's very seductive when you're fifteen. And these kids feel that once they've left home and disgraced their parents, they can never go back."

He might have been talking about the weather, or how his car needed gas. To him, this was mundane, everyday stuff. To me it was a glimpse into a suburban badland I hadn't considered before.

"What do you mean, there's always work to do?"

"Muscle at the local brothels. Drug runners. Carjackings. You name it," Furukawa shrugged. "One homie told me he gets a thousand for each Mercedes he delivers."

"Carjackings? I was out on one of those today. But it got messy," I spoke slowly. "Young bride who'll never see her honeymoon night. It'll be on the news tonight."

Furukawa winced.

"Can you introduce me to some of these kids?" I tried to keep the hope out of my voice.

"Afraid not, darling."

"Why not? Now that you've told me." I was miffed.

"They're minors. There are all sorts of privacy issues. And these are fucked-up kids. They don't need any more distraction in their lives."

"Yeah, well."

It was a tantalizing lead, but I needed his help to pursue it.

"Wait a minute," I said, "I thought the Vietnamese were the ones who joined gangs. A society brutalized by war, years in internment camps, families torn apart and killed..."

"Yeah, they sure do. But they ain't flying solo. You got Cambodians, Filipinos, Samoans, Overseas Chinese. It's the Chinese usually call the shots. Local offshoots of the Hong Kong triads: White Crane, Dragon Claw, Black Hand. They're equal-opportunity employers," he grinned. "And unlike your black and Latino gangs, they don't advertise it with baggy clothing or shaved heads. Your typical Asian gang member dresses preppy. Neat and clean-cut. Sometimes they're even A-students. Total double life, like I was saying. But sooner or later something cracks."

Yeah, like today in the shopping center, I thought. I looked out the window, where the sky was streaked with red and purple.

"This could be a really good story," I told him. "But I would need to meet some kids, then use their stories to illustrate the larger trend."

His eyes swiveled from me to the manila files piled atop his desk, then back to me. He put his hand on the top file, then shook his head.

"I just finished telling you that these are screwed-up kids. And I know that ultimately, Eve Diamond, you don't give a rat's ass about the slash marks on their wrists or the gang rape they suffered at age thirteen. You just want the lurid details. Then after you've gotten them all heated up reliving it, you'll toss the mess back into my lap and expect me to fix it."

"That's why you're a totally simpatico counselor and I'm a heartless reporter." I tossed back the can of Pocari Sweat. With an almost imperceptible flick of the wrist, he extended one hand and caught it.

"Of course we'd change their names. We're not intrusive like TV. Think how a Times story would get people talking. The Board of Supes might even cough up extra funding." I leaned forward and locked eyes with him. "I can see you're protective about your kids, Mark. They're lucky to have you on their side. But for the record, we're not all automatons."

I stood up.

He stared at me with a look I couldn't decipher.

"Drink?" he said finally. "I know a great Italian place."

"Italian?" I said in mock-horror. "The least you could do after insulting me is offer to take me to a sushi bar you know tucked away in one of these awful strip malls."

"Not too many of those left on this side of town," he sighed. "They've all moved west and gone uptown. Besides, what you got against Italian?"

"Nothing. I just have this thing for sake."

He considered this.

Suddenly nervous, I rushed in to break the silence.

"Maybe some other time. You probably have to meet your girlfriend."

"My girlfriend?"

"I pointed to the photo on his desk. "I couldn't help noticing. She looks just like Gong Li."

He laughed. "My mother, who is Japanese, by the way, not Chinese, will be flattered."

"That's your mother?" I hoped my voice didn't show relief.

"Yes. Right after she got married. My father took the photo."

"Sorry," I stuttered. "I just assumed that since it was on your desk..."

He was staring at me again. I knew I was turning crimson. I hadn't meant to get all personal. Now he would think I was nosy as well as a heartless exploiter of damaged kids.

"Don't be," he said. "It's there for a reason. There's a lot of transference in my line of work. Some of these teenage girls, they're really searching for their lost daddies but they'll settle for me. So I put Mom here to keep an eye on things. I've found she wards off the weirder stuff."

Now I was doubly intrigued. And oddly ecstatic that he didn't have a girlfriend. At least not one whose picture he put on his desk.

He was all business as he showed me the door.

Copyright © 2001 by Denise Hamilton

Chapter 2

Unlocking the security gate to my apartment, I could already hear Violetta's dog bounding up the back stairs. I walked through the long hallway and opened the screen door in back. The collie trotted in and began cavorting around the room, whinnying in ecstatic canine song.

"Bon Jovi," I said, as the animal wagged its plume of a tail. "What a goofy name for a dog."

But he was good company and didn't ask for much in return, except for an occasional walk. Strolling past the ramshackle bungalows and crumbling Spanish duplexes of my neighborhood, I always hesitated to call for Bon Jovi when he strayed, lest my neighbors hear and shudder at my bad musical taste, when in reality the fault lay with Violetta, my Hungarian landlady who lived downstairs. Having escaped from communism, Violetta was enamored of all things American.

I poured a glass of red wine into a tumbler with dried sediment at the bottom and walked back out to the porch, where I dropped into the easy chair and surveyed downtown Los Angeles. In the velvety summer air, the towers of downtown sparkled in brilliant reds, blues, and yellows, set off against the black sky like a computer circuit board. It was a million-buck view for $650 a month. So what if you heard gunshots every night and then twenty minutes later, the malevolent buzzsaw of police helicopters swooping down with searchlights, so loud that it seemed they would burst through your window. Guns and choppers, that was just L.A. Or my slice of it, anyway.

Drifting back into the kitchen, I tore open a bag of chips, opened some black bean dip, and poured another glass of wine. I ate and drank at the counter, leaning my belly against the rough Mexican tile, thinking absentmindedly that it was time to start eating healthy.

In the bathroom mirror, I peered at my face. I thought I spied a wrinkle. Big pores, that was for sure. A pale, washed-out face framed by unruly red hair. But not bad for twenty-nine. That poor young bride today, she wasn't even twenty, and now her life was over, snuffed out in a random moment. In that parking lot, victim and assailant had moved toward each other in a macabre dance, one unwitting, her mind on place settings and airline tickets, the other calculating and predatory, intent on the car, the two drawing closer and closer until they collided in explosive violence. Was it preordained? What if Marina Lu had stopped to fill up with gas first? Or sent her sister on the errand, a sister who drove a less flashy car? If I thought about it too much, I'd take to my bed for good. I pictured myself with books scattered across the comforter, face down with their spines open the way the nuns told me never to do. They would walk around, picking them up and closing them with a disapproving snap. Well, I was a big girl now. I would read as I damn well pleased.

With a third glass of wine in hand, I grabbed my book and walked back out onto the porch, stretching out on the chaise lounge. Finally, thank God, a breeze. Summer didn't really start in Los Angeles until August and then often lingered into October. Angling my paperback so the light from the porch lamp fell onto the typed page, I was soon engrossed in Red Azalea, a novel about the Chinese Cultural Revolution that I had picked up at the secondhand bookstore. By ten o'clock, when the fat full moon shone luminous overhead, I was doing backbreaking labor on the South China Sea with Anchee Min, singing Madame Mao's revolutionary operas. By eleven, I was asleep.

The alarm woke me up 5:30 A.M. I pulled on a T-shirt and shorts, then boiled water for a cup of instant coffee. With milk. Squinting, I wriggled a Fig Newton free of its plastic casing and bit down, savoring how it yielded to my teeth and dissolved on my tongue amid pools of hot coffee. I took a few more gulps. There. An almost imperceptible adjustment of mood. A quiet flow of wakefulness. I opened my eyes. Much better.

When I swung open the back door, Bon Jovi was waiting to go. He knew the drill, even if I forgot it half the mornings and left him peering mournfully through the window, smudging the pane with his wet nose. The cool air seeped through the folds of my clothes. I liked running in the dawn, clasping tight to Bon Jovi's leash as he trotted alongside me. In summer too, but especially in the winter, when it was so cold I had to go at a fast clip just to get warm. By the time my body started generating heat, I was already into the rhythm, pumping on cruise control. At those times, I lapsed into a fugue state, my mind thousands of miles away, sailing serenely along as my legs traversed steep hills, snapping back into consciousness only when I hit an intersection and saw cars coming at me.

Now, my old tennis shoes slap-slapping the asphalt with each step, I was hyper-aware. I swore I could smell figs ripening on a gnarled tree at the empty corner lot. The anise plants stood like pale green feathers at attention, infusing the air with the tantalizing aroma of licorice. It made me think of Macao, that island off the China coast, near bustling Hong Kong but its sleepy opposite. I had been there with Tim. We would sit in a cafe and pour Pernod into tall glasses of iced water. The water would turn milky when you added the clear, colorless liquid. One could pretend it was absinthe. Tim Waters was a tall boy with curly brown hair and a Southern drawl. Later, we would make love in a hotel room on the top floor that was barely big enough for a double bed, where the eaves came down to the floor and a church bell pealed out the hours we lay entwined.

There was no more Macao. There was no more boy with curly hair. I saw a skunk nosing in the trash. It waddled off as I approached, and I bellowed out a stern "no" to take my mind off Tim and remind Bon Jovi that skunks were off limits. Crossing Glendale Boulevard, I turned to face downtown. The morning freeway traffic was starting, a dull white wall of noise as the city's workers began their daily pilgrimage to the downtown hives. Commodity brokers were already at their desks, scanning their tickers as the New York stock markets opened. Yawning Japanese businessmen on the West Coast were taking advantage of the Tokyo slumber to send memos and faxes to their counterparts across the Pacific. The flower and produce markets were halfway through their day, while the garment workers in the decayed tenements south of downtown hadn't started theirs yet. Bon Jovi whined anxiously. I spun on my rubber toe and skipped down the stone staircase that led to the Silverlake Reservoir. It was a man-made lake that dated to the 1920s, when the growing population of Los Angeles had needed new supplies of drinking water. Surrounded by green parkland and old houses, the lake was calm at this hour, a glistening surface you could almost skate across. The sky was purple and orange now, the sun rising like a ball of fire behind the eucalyptus trees. It soothed me to look down at the lake. I never tired of its depths, which changed color with the light, at times cerulean, then dark green, violet in the dusk, or violently black before a storm. Westsiders had the beach and better air, but over here on the Eastside, folks had their own little patch of blue, and it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars less per lot. The Silverlake Reservoir was the poor man's ocean. It even drew the occasional seagull that circled in confusion, looking for flying fish. A pity they had put a chain-link fence around it in the 1970s, but people had started throwing in trash and wading in on hot days. So now all the joggers and strollers had to hug the fence or take their chances on the cracked sidewalks, whose ancient concrete had long ago ruptured and split as tree roots pushed relentlessly through the soil.

The exercise hounds were doing their three-mile treadmill around the lake. Elderly Japanese couples walked briskly. A wiry Latino with a gang tattoo on his neck sprinted with head held high, bobbing to the beat of his Walkman. A blonde with a fluorescent running bra jiggled past, matching scalloped shorts riding way up her thigh. They walked, jogged, and ran, in pairs or alone. They pushed baby strollers and held tight to leashes. They carried weights, plastic water bottles, and cotton towels to mop up the excess sweat. For some, this was a daily routine. Others looked as though they had just rolled out of bed that morning and vowed to get in shape. I fit neither of these categories. I ran when I felt like it.

On the freeway two hours later, I felt the blood surge through my veins, felt it delivered in hot, sharp jolts to my brain. I breathed in deeply. Freshly showered and fed, I was alert to all possibilities, yet serene like the lake. Whatever mayhem happened in the city today, I could take it.

Copyright © 2001 by Denise Hamilton

Chapter 3

The office was full when I arrived and the coffee was gone. My good mood evaporated as I thought about what lay ahead -- visiting Marina Lu's grieving parents. In J-school, they had taught me that distraught families found it cathartic to bare their souls to a complete stranger. It was modern-day therapy for our violent age. Wouldn't Mom and Dad like to tell the public what a good kid Johnny was, to haul out his school yearbook and awards, to elaborate on the tragedy of his being gunned down/drowned/blown up before his life had barely started?

As a rookie I had risen to the challenge, relishing my skill at getting families to open up, a stealth psychologist who won their trust with my ponytail and freckle-faced demeanor. I had lost the stomach for it. But the more I loathed it, the better I got, sitting primly on some suburban floral sofa, knees and ankles together, scribbling into a notebook on my lap and cooing condolence at the appropriate moments while thinking how in their place, I would have shouted "Go fuck yourself!" and slammed the door hard. But they never did. Instead, they opened the door and murmured 'Please come in' and I did, fastening like a vampire on the sad details of their personal lives.

The Lus lived at 327 Elm Street in San Marino. That wasn't surprising. A bastion of old-money WASPdom, San Marino's leafy exclusivity was now drawing wealthy Chinese who chased the American dream of big homes, good schools, and low crime with as much fervor as any native. In the last decade, the city had gone from all white to half Asian. For years they had refused to let in Catholics, Jews, blacks, and people with accents. Now they were reaping the harvest of their own conservative social politics.

As I neared my destination, the homes grew bigger, the yards more lush with mature trees whose names adorned the streets: Maple, Elm, and Chestnut. I saw Mediterranean Revival homes, Tudor, California Craftsman, and 1950s moderne, all in exquisite repair unlike my own neighborhood. I didn't see anyone playing ball or tag on those lawns green as AstroTurf, hushed as a church. There was only the occasional Latino gardener, genuflecting over a flowering shrub.

The Lu family had opted for Tudor. In the driveway of their mansion stood a white, late-model Mercedes with gold trim. I bet it had a working air-conditioner. I parked on the deserted street and walked up the long brick pathway. I took my time, letting my surroundings wash over me, and noticing a huge elm tree near the front door that someone had hacked to a barren stump. Its trunk was wide as my car and gnarled like an elephant. From the clumps of earth and spade marks around its base, it looked like the workers would be back soon to finish the job.

So the family believed in feng shui, I thought. That means Overseas Chinese, not Chinese-American. I had written about pitched cultural battles between old-time whites and Chinese immigrants here. Because feng shui placed great importance on the alignment of objects to create a positive energy flow, or chi, the first thing the immigrants often did after moving in was to uproot gracious, 100-year-old trees near the front door because they blocked the beneficial chi that brought health and prosperity to the family. This butchery of the local flora incensed the lily-white brigade, who hadn't wanted a bunch of Asians moving into their neighborhood in the first place.

At the front door, I grasped the heavy iron clapper and brought it down hard on the wood, then stepped back to wait, making sure my notebook nestled in my purse. I didn't want to scare them off right away by waving it in their teary faces.

From the corner of my eye, I saw a curtain flutter in the nearby window. A moment later, the door was opened by a tall Chinese man in a sleek, double-breasted charcoal suit. His broad shoulders filled the frame.

"Yes?"

I introduced myself and told him I was working on a story about the tragedy. "We've already spoken with the police, but I'd like to talk to some family members. Would you be her father?"

I smiled tremulously, trying to convey the proper blend of sorrow for the most unfortunate tragedy and duty that compelled me to stand stuttering like an idiot on their doorstep. It occurred to me that Mr. Lu might not speak English.

Behind his gold-rimmed glasses, the man didn't blink. I pegged him at about fifty-five. Smooth-shaven, with graying streaks in his thick black hair that he combed straight back from a high forehead. Rolex on a hairless wrist. I averted my eyes so as not to stare, using the opportunity to check out his shoes. Smooth, supple ebony leather with tiny, detailed stitching marked them as expensive.

"I'm her father."

The voice spoke in British English. I waited. Most people fear silence more than anything and will rush to fill the vacuum, saying things they don't mean or will later regret, valuable things for my newspaper.

But Mr. Lu wasn't biting.

After forty-five seconds, I cleared my throat and continued.

"I know this is a very difficult time for you right now. And you have my deepest condolences. But I would like to ask you a few questions."

Mr. Lu hesitated and gripped the door handle more tightly, as if fighting a private battle with himself. Then his big shoulders rolled back and relaxed. I waited to see which side had won.

"Come in," he said finally, stepping back from the door.

He ushered me through a marble foyer and into a sunken living room laid with white Berber carpet. I sat at the edge of a white brocade sofa and pulled out my notepad and Bic pen while I took inventory. On one wall hung an antique Chinese scroll behind glass. An Impressionist seascape in gilt frame stood watch over the formal dining room and I wondered whether I ought to recognize the artist's name. The coffee table was cut from a single slab of etched glass, delicately balanced over carved Greek pillars. Atop it stood a pale green vase from which a single flower drooped blood-orange petals. The place was decorated with taste and money, but it had the sterile feel of a model home, I thought, one that was meant to be photographed, not lived in.

"Will Mrs. Lu be joining us?" I asked brightly.

"Unfortunately, Mrs. Lu was visiting her parents in Hong Kong when the news came. She is en route now."

I knew he wasn't taken in by my tactics. While I had been surveying his home, Mr. Lu had been studying me, observing the hammered silver earrings, vintage skirt, natural leather purse, sensible shoes. Perhaps he was reassured that I posed no threat to him, with my designerless clothes and rough-hewn jewelry. My smiles and hesitancy. He was a power broker, used to wielding control. I yielded it to him.

"What do you want to know?" Mr. Lu asked, so quietly that I had to lean forward.

I started with general questions, working my way methodically to the specifics. That was another journalism trick. First throw them some softballs. Then, when they're all relaxed and opened up, smile sweetly and go for the kill. Mr. Lu's first name was Reginald. He was a Hong Kong banker who had come to California ten years ago to scout out new business opportunities for his employer. After criss-crossing the Pacific for several years, Reginald Lu had brought his family over with him. He consulted with friends and relatives already in the United States, then bought in San Marino, whose bucolic wealth and spaciousness beckoned as the antithesis of Hong Kong's vertical claustrophobia.

The Lus wanted their two children to attend high school here because they liked the U.S. educational system and had heard that San Marino students scored high on standardized tests. Plus 98 percent of the district graduates went on to college. Mr. Lu wasn't a perfectionist who wanted success for its own sake though. He knew American high schools were less cutthroat than back home. The children would have a better chance of getting into a good American university. Marina had already been accepted into UC Berkeley, Mr. Lu said proudly. She had been a quiet, intense girl who played the violin and had scored a perfect 800 on her English SAT. Yet she was equally fluent in Cantonese and wrote classical poetry she copied into a journal she rarely showed anybody.

"Did the police ask to see the journal?" I asked.

An imperceptible pause. Then, "No, I'm not aware that they did. Why would they?"

"You're right. There would be no reason." I moved quickly onto another topic, making a mental note about the journal.

"Tell me about her fiancé."

Michael Ho was twenty-four, a friend of the family. The parents had known each other for decades. Michael worked for Lu's bank.

"What's he like?"

Reginald Lu flexed his long, blunt fingers.

"I'd rather not get into that," he said. "I don't see what such personal details have to do with your story. He is a fine young man we would have welcomed into our family."

"Well, it just seems so tragic that she was killed while planning her wedding. I wanted to know a little more about him."

Again, "I don't see how that's relevant."

Segueing into something less threatening, I asked about his business in America. Early on, he had realized that all those new immigrants would need somewhere to put their money but that they wouldn't trust American banks. So he started his own. I later learned that Golden Pacific Bank catered almost exclusively to the Overseas Chinese, offering Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking tellers, weekend service, and flexible loans. It drew new business quickly through word of mouth in the insular Chinese community. Lu also exploited a gap in knowledge between American and Chinese culture. Where U.S. banks were loathe to make business loans to Asian immigrants who lacked equity or collateral, Lu loaned like crazy, knowing his customers would work three times as hard as a Westerner to pay off the loans, since defaulting would mean a loss of face. He was right.

Today, Golden Pacific Bank had $800 million in deposits and was a heavy hitter in the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. Lu himself judged the Chinatown Beauty Pageant each year.

Nose in my notebook, I wondered if he took his pick of the prettiest contestants. I didn't doubt he had mistresses. Rich, powerful men usually did. Nothing serious. Very discreet. Exquisite, porcelain-skinned Chinese women younger than his dead daughter. Afternoons at anonymous hotels, between board meetings. Precious tokens of affection that fit easily into scented female palms. I imagined that beneath the proper exterior hid a man who licked mounds of black caviar off the tan, flat tummies of his girls. I wondered how it would feel to have him spoon out cold caviar as I lay outstretched. I glanced up, afraid he had divined my thoughts, but he was explaining details about global financing. This is the way my mind works after eight months of sleeping alone, I thought with chagrin. And I don't even like older men.

"Mr. Lu, is it usual in Chinese culture for girls to get married at such a young age? I was under the impression that most young women finish college first."

"That's true, but it was a love match and we wanted our daughter to be happy. We were also greatly pleased when she and Michael drew closer, as our families were already linked by commerce. Michael would have made a fine son-in-law. Age is not always important. And now, Miss Diamond, if you're through..."

Mr. Lu stood up. The interview was over.

As he shut the door behind me, I felt Mr. Lu watching again from the window but didn't look back. I had his business card and a promise that I could call him if I had any more questions. It was time to find out what Marina Lu, A-student, was like once she left her parents' house each morning.

But I had timed it wrong. Classes were still in session at San Marino High and no students loitered outside. It must be weird to get married barely out of high school, I thought.

As I drove back to the office, I had another idea. If Marina Lu was picking out bridesmaid dresses and making all those wedding arrangements you have to do months ahead of time, why wasn't her mother at home helping her? What could she be doing in Hong Kong that was so important? Or was Mrs. Lu perhaps cloistered in an upstairs bedroom, too red-eyed to come down and talk to a reporter? Was Mr. Lu trying to save face with a little white lie? Perhaps that's all there was to it.

The Lavender Latina was at her desk, delicately forking in mouthfuls of smoked salmon penne from a Tupperware container as she flipped through the latest issue of the Advocate. Luz Beltran was one of the few openly gay female journalists in the newsroom.

"Hot enough out there for you?" she grinned, exposing a mouthful of big, straight white teeth like you see in a toothpaste commercial. Except that right now, she had a fleck of basil stuck on her eyetooth.

"Luz, go like this," I pantomimed, scraping my tooth with my nail. "You have hierbas in your dientes."

Luz grimaced and complied.

"Now that I've saved you from ridicule for the rest of the afternoon, will you do me a favor? I need a ride home one day this week. I have to get the A/C fixed in my car or I'm gonna go postal and you'll end up writing about me. They want to keep the car overnight."

"Sure," said Luz, who passed just blocks from my house on her way home to the Fairfax District. We often did each other commuting favors; it was common courtesy in this city where cars were more important than apartments and often served as one in a pinch.

"So. How's your love life?" she asked. "Finally getting over Tim?"

"Maybe. You know Mark Furukawa? He counsels delinquents at the Rainbow Coalition Center. He kind of flips my skirt. I'm thinking of having a drink with him. This morning, I found myself fantasizing about a fifty-five-year-old guy I was interviewing, for God's sake. Very inappropriate considering his daughter just got offed in that carjacking. If he only knew what I was thinking."

I giggled. I wondered if other people were able to compartmentalize their lives so that things didn't seep from one dimension to another at the most disconcerting times.

Luz stabbed at her penne.

"I've run into Mark on stories, and I have one word for you on that action. Player. He's a little too cool for his own good."

"But everyone says the kids worship him."

"Great, so he's got a fan club of fifteen-year-old hoodlums who think he's God. What happens when you don't worship his hipster ass like they do?"

"I would hope he could differentiate between his clients and a woman he sees after hours," I said stiffly.

"You would hope," Luz echoed.

A jingle of keys interrupted us. Then an angry sputtering.

"What do you mean he's not in his office yet? He's a city employee, isn't he? I'm going to call back in fifteen minutes, and in the meantime, please leave a message on his desk that Trevor Fingerhaven of the Los Angeles Times is looking for him. F-I-N-G-E-R-H-A-V-E-N. That's right."

Slapping his cell phone shut in a dramatic gesture, Trevor Fingerhaven swept imperiously past and eased into his desk with a soft grunt.

"It's a fuckin' scandal, if they think they can get away with that," Trevor muttered. "Because they can't. I'm on to them. Right."

Luz stuck her tongue out at me. I made a quick gagging motion. So much for any kind of personal conversation. Trevor was a former New York Post reporter who had recently transferred into the bureau. Supposedly he had won some big muckraking prize that had been his passport into the Times. Weaned on the scandal sheets of his hometown, Trevor saw conspiracies everywhere he looked and interrogated sources at full volume so none of us could concentrate on our own stories. He was tall and stooped and cadaverous, which gave him the look of a municipal streetlight, and he was messy in a schoolboy fashion that was extremely unbecoming as he approached middle age. Despite having a wife and two kids, he appeared to spend all his free time snouting around the edges of corruption, attending council meetings on his own time, lugging home stacks of government documents, and warning us that he was very, very close to cracking a huge and far-reaching "fuckin' scandal."

It rarely came to pass. But occasionally Trevor's subterranean rootings paid off and he unearthed a modest journalistic truffle. Then, to his great dismay, the story would be pried out of his jaws and handed to a Metro hotshot to pursue. Trevor accepted this indignity with little grumbling, as if he knew his limitations. He certainly knew everyone else's, because he was a notorious eavesdropper, sopping up tidbits of intelligence to stash for later use. He also inserted himself into every conversation. No matter what the subject, Trevor was an expert or knew exactly whom to call for the real story.

"Hey, I've been meaning to tell you about this piece I read in Psychology Today," Luz said and winked.

"It describes the different ways men and women process language. Linguists say that when a woman doesn't know the answer to a question, she'll say so. But men have an answer for everything. They might know nothing about the mating rituals of Saharan camels, but they'll hold forth for hours. The author says it's because men perceive questions as challenges, whereas women see them as straight inquiries for information."

I inclined my head to the back of the room. "I know a few men like that."

Trevor, who had grown quiet in his cubicle and was obviously eavesdropping, couldn't resist. Soon he ambled over, coffee cup in hand, on the pretext of visiting the kitchen. He stopped before us.

"I'll tell you something about that theory," Trevor smirked. "It's absolutely without merit. A good friend of mine has researched the subject. He teaches psychology at the University of Florida. We've had long discussions on the topic. If you want, I can give you his number and you can call him."

Luz turned to me and burst into laughter.

"What did I tell you."

"Ladies, I'm just trying to help." He gave us a hurt look, then ambled off.

We looked at each other. To muffle the belly laugh that was coming, I grabbed a tissue and blew my nose hard. Luz stuffed her mouth with penne. At 6 P.M., when we left, Trevor was still braying into the phone.

That evening, I cleared off a week's worth of dishes from my kitchen table while Bon Jovi peered in from the back porch, drawn by the scraping sounds of silverware against ceramic plates. "Come on in, boy," I said, and he rustled past my legs and settled with a soft moan onto the kitchen tile, placing himself strategically between table and sink. Still standing in the doorway, I watched an owl wing its way across the night sky then settle into a nearby tree and hoot, mournful and solitary. I listened, perched on the edge of a wilderness within sight of downtown.

Much later, after I had fed the dog all the stale cheese and crackers and spinach quiche in my fridge and let him out, I was jolted awake by another noise, one that always unnerved me. The coyotes were hunting again. By day they burrowed into steep hillside lots, biding their time in the bleached landscape. But at night they came down and loped along the asphalt streets, reclaiming their turf as the town slept. Driving home late once after an interminable city council meeting, I had surprised a big brute in my headlights. He stared solemnly at me, then disappeared into thin air. The first time I dismissed it as a hallucination brought on by lack of sleep. But another night while jogging, I had seen a car approach and a dun thing on four legs that raced madly ahead of the light, diving into a hedge just as the car crested the hill. It looked like a beige dog, but no dog moved that fast or was that silent.

The howls grew louder and more urgent now. The coyotes yipped excitedly and my heart raced. I pulled up the blankets and shivered, despite the heat. Somewhere in the dark, a small animal howled in terror, gave a few yelps and then was still. I imagined a dog caught unawares, or a cat slinking along nocturnally in pursuit of mice, only to find itself cornered by gleaming eyes, slathering jaws. What terror must grip any animal at such a sight.

Copyright © 2001 by Denise Hamilton

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Chapter 1

I heard the ring through fuzzy sleep. Groaning, I opened one eye and groped for the receiver. "Hello?"

"Hel-lo, Eve Diamond," said a cheerful voice on other line. "Miller here."

My editor was oblivious to, or else ignoring, my sleep-logged voice at ten in the morning, a time when most reporters were already at their desks, rustling through the daily paper and midway through a second cup of coffee. I swallowed, and tasted chardonnay, now a sour reminder of last night's excess.

"...slumped in her new Lexus, blood all over the place, right there in the parking lot of Fabric World in San Gabriel," Miller was saying. "Guess the bridesmaids won't be wearing those dresses any time soon."

I cleared my throat.

"Can I have that address again, my pen stopped working."

"Why, suuure," he said. "Hold on, let me see what the wires are saying."

I would hold forever for Matt Miller. He was my hero, known and loved throughout the paper as a decent human being, a trait the Los Angeles Times rarely bred anymore in its editors. Most of the real characters had long ago been pushed out of the profession or early-retired to pickle themselves slowly and decorously in hillside moderne homes. They had been replaced by gray-faced accountants with more hidden vices. Funny thing was, Matt didn't seem to drink too much, and he was happily married.

After a quick shower, I was out the door of my apartment. I lived in a funky hillside community ten minutes northwest of downtown. Silverlake's California bungalows and Spanish-style homes harkened back to an earlier era when the neighborhood had bustled with some of Hollywood's original movie studios. And though the studios had long ago given way to the same public storage facilities and mini-malls that infested the rest of the city, a whiff of 1920s glamour still clung to our hills and attracted one of the city's most eclectic populations — lately it had been a wave of boho hipsters. They settled down, living cheek by pierced jowl alongside multigenerational Latino families, third-generation Asian-Americans, Eastern European refugees from communism, 1930s-era Hollywood communists, and a smattering of liberal white yuppies, all of whom somehow managed to get along. Plus it was freeway close.

Within moments I was chugging along the ten-lane expanse of asphalt, looping around downtown Los Angeles and heading east on Interstate 10. Steering with one hand, I flipped the pages of my Thomas Guide with the other, looking for Valley Boulevard and Del Mar. Out my window, the bony spines of the San Gabriel Mountains were already obscured by a thick haze. The San Gabes were a scrubby desolate range northeast of the city, from which bears and mountain lions emerged with regularity to attack the inhabitants of tract houses gouged from the hills. Each year, flash floods and icy ridges claimed a dozen or so hikers. You wouldn't think that could happen so close to the city, but it did. The way I saw it, nature, too, demanded its pound of flesh. It was only we who called it accidents.

The cars ahead of me shimmered in the heat. The forecast was for 102 degrees in the Inland Valleys, with a Stage 1 Smog Alert. Already, perspiration pooled in the hollows of my body, and I cursed the fact that the A/C was out again in my nine-year-old Acura Integra.

Oh, it happened at that place, I thought, as the mammoth shopping center loomed into view. It was an anomaly that only the Pacific Rim fantasy aesthetic of Los Angeles could have produced. Built in a Spanish Mission style, with dusky earth tones, the three-story shopping center catered exclusively to the exploding Chinese immigrant community, although on occasion, a looky-loo gringo would wander through, bug-eyed at the panorama of this Asian Disneyland.

At San Gabriel Village Square, a name developers clearly hoped would evoke a more bucolic time, you could gorge on Islamic Chinese food, buy designer suits from Hong Kong, pick out live lobsters for dinner and $700 bottles of French cognac for dessert, or take out a $1 million insurance policy on your cheating spouse.

Or, as seventeen-year-old Marina Lu had done, you could order custom dresses for the ten bridesmaids who would precede you down the aisle the following June, the wedding day Marina had planned for years with the boy she had known since junior high.

Except on this stultifying morning, fate had backed up and pulled a U-turn, and now Marina Lu lay dead, brains splattered all over the buttery leather seats of her status car, the two-carat rock on her manicured engagement finger refracting only shattered hope.

I picked my way past the yellow police tape that cordoned off the murder scene, waving my notepad and press pass and standing close enough to a burly cop so that my perfume-spiked perspiration got his attention.

"Looks like an attempted carjacking that went bad," the cop said, squinting into the sun as he recited the facts. "Witness in the parking lot heard the shot, then saw an Asian kid, about fifteen, take off in a late-model Honda with two accomplices. Fifth carjacking here this month, and the first time they flubbed it. She must have resisted." The policeman punctuated his commentary with a huge yawn that bared his fleshy pink palate.

"And there's why," his partner said, watching the homicide detective retrieve a Chanel bag and pull out a matching wallet stuffed with hundred-dollar bills. "She was gonna pay cash for those dresses. Those immigrants don't believe in credit."

Nudging the Acura back onto the freeway, I headed for my office in Monrovia, a formerly white WASPy town at the foot of the San Gabriels, where the Times had established a bureau in the halcyon years when it was busy stretching great inky tentacles into every Southland cul-de-sac. The Valley was gritty and industrial, filled with the vitality of colliding immigrant sensibilities that were slowly squeezing out the blue- and white-collar old-timers. All the big Rim cities were morphing into Third World millennial capitals. But in the San Gabriel Valley, the future was already here. I made a mental note to ask the police reporter from the Chinese Daily News out for lunch on the Times Mirror tab. I had seen him again today at the mall carjacking, interviewing madly. Skinny, with bad teeth, he looked like he could use a good meal. And I could use some fresh story ideas.

"Metro wants twelve inches," Miller called out when I stepped inside the fluorescent light of the office, letting the cool air blast my hot skin.

I wrote it up, then dawdled at my desk. Until there were some arrests, it would be just another murder in the City of Angels, which on prickly summer days averaged more than one each hour. Sure, there was the sob factor about the bride mowed down as she planned her wedding, and I milked it for all it was worth. But it was more from habit than any vestigial hope that I would shock readers into doing something about it. The story of the dead woman in the car was no more gripping than that of the two-year-old toddler killed by a stray bullet in South-Central L.A. as he played in the living room. The elderly widow clubbed to death in Long Beach by the transient she hired to weed her lawn. Or the seventeen-year-old honor student in El Sereno whose single mother had changed neighborhoods to escape the gangs, only to have her son shot when his car broke down on the freeway. For reporters and cops alike, a sort of battle fatigue had set in. We had lost our ability to be shocked. My brain flickered to the next story as I ate cold sesame noodles from the plastic bento box I packed each morning. Then it was back in the sweltering car to interview a man named Mark Furukawa for an education story.

In a small bureau, everyone wore several hats. I also covered the schools. Frankly, the education beat didn't thrill me. Single, without kids, I couldn't relate to the obsession with SAT scores and dress codes. Now a teacher had referred me to Furukawa, hinting that the youth counselor for troubled kids at the Rainbow Coalition Center could dish up something more spicy.

Their offices were in a decaying mini-mall in El Monte, a small municipality twenty minutes away. A scattering of Asians sat in the waiting room, resignation and boredom etched across their faces. Some filled out forms, while others stared out through the grimy venetian blinds into the parking lot, ignoring the dust that clung to the metal slats and balled in the corners of the room.

Soon, I was ushered into a functional cube of an office. A framed photo of an Asian woman stood on the desk. She was clad in a vintage forties cocktail dress, with a string of pearls and a low-cut décolletage. Her hair was done up in long curly waves and her eyes were big and limpid.

Behind the desk were bookshelves crammed with medical journals and psychology texts and a guidebook to Los Angeles County gangs. Wedged in between was a blue-and-white can of something called "Pocari Sweat" whose cursive lettering evoked the Coca-Cola logo.

I checked it out for a while, then glanced at my watch, wondering when Furukawa would show, until a man appeared in the door. He was in his early thirties, exuding an attitude that started with his Doc Martens, traveled north up the jeans to a jutting hip, and ended with ponytailed hair tied back in a colorful Guatemalan scrunchy. A little too street for his own good, I thought, and probably a recovered drug addict or gangbanger to boot.

"Be with you in a sec," the man said, and disappeared. I had been expecting a middle-aged guy with a paunch, not some hipster near my own age. Well. I made my way back to the other side of the desk and settled into a plastic chair, feeling the fabric stick to the back of my skirt. Now I took a closer look at the girl on his desk. She smiled into the camera, her eyes shiny with love. It figured he would have a stunning girlfriend. Nobody displayed a picture like that without intending to telegraph something.

He came back into the room and we shook hands and traded business cards. I told him my predicament and asked whether he was seeing any trends with kids in the San Gabriel Valley.

"There are a million good stories out there, but the real interesting ones, I can't talk about." Furukawa lit up a cigarette. In the San Gabriel Valley, everybody still smoked, and no one asked you to put it out. That would have been going against the culture.

He bit down on a pen and thought for a moment. "I do see a lot more straight-A kids living a double life in gangs."

"In the Asian community, hhmmm. I wouldn't have thought."

"Yeah, that's the problem with us, the model minority myth."

"I didn't mean..."

"You're not the first. But dig, most of the kids I see are immigrants. Mom and Dad may live here now but their brains are hard-wired to the old country."

Furukawa leaned back in his chair and described kids caught between traditional Asian values and permissive American culture, and fully at home in neither. The schools sent him all their problem cases and he jive-talked them into listening, which was always the first step, he said. He spoke their language. It didn't matter that he was a Sansei and they were Overseas Chinese and Southeast Asian.

"No offense, but I thought the Chinese didn't like the Japanese on account of World War Two."

He appraised me anew.

"This is the New World. We all get along. They'd like Hirohito himself if he paid attention to them."

I scribbled as he spoke, filling page after page in my notebook. He saw I was lagging and stopped, puffing on his cigarette and staring out the window until I caught up. In another, more quiet corner of my mind, I wondered how often he gave this spiel to ignorant whites and how he felt about it.

Soon he seemed to grow impatient and ambled over to the bookshelf to pull something down. Now he turned and lobbed it at me.

"Catch."

I dropped my pen, extended my hands, and found myself holding the blue-and-white can of Pocari Sweat I had been staring at earlier.

"Nice reflexes. You'd be good in a pinch."

He walked back to his chair and sat down, and I wondered what kind of game we were playing.

"What the hell is Pocari Sweat?" I asked. "Do you squirt it under your arms?"

"Japanese sports drink. Think Gatorade. The name is supposed to evoke a thirst-quenching drink for top athletes."

"Who's going to want to drink something called 'sweat'?"

"Exactly." He looked pleased with himself. "No one in America. But it's only marketed in Asia. Lots of stuff has English names. Asians don't get the negative cultural connotation of the English words, so you end up with something that doesn't quite translate."

"I see." I wasn't sure where this digression was going.

"A lot of the immigrant kids I counsel are like Pocari Sweat. Caught in a culture warp they don't know how to decode. The parents are even worse off. They expect their children to show filial piety, excel in school, and come straight home when classes let out. Meanwhile the kids want to date, hang out at the mall, and yak on the phone. They want all the nice consumer things they see on American TV. So they find ways to get them. The parents only wise up when a police officer lands on their door."

"And they're not collecting for the police benevolent fund."

"You got it." Furukawa stubbed out the emphysema stick. "The kids get beaten or grounded for six months. So they run away. To a friend's house to cool off, if they're lucky. If not, to a motel room rented by some older pals from school, maybe a dai lo. Where they can drink and party with their girlfriends. And when the money runs out, it's easy to get more. The dai los always have work."

"A dai what?"

"That's Chinese for older brother. It's a gang term. The dai lo recruits younger kids into gangs. Shows them a good time. Takes them out to a karaoke bar when they're underage and buys 'em drinks. Drives them around in a fast car. The good life. It's very seductive when you're fifteen. And these kids feel that once they've left home and disgraced their parents, they can never go back."

He might have been talking about the weather, or how his car needed gas. To him, this was mundane, everyday stuff. To me it was a glimpse into a suburban badland I hadn't considered before.

"What do you mean, there's always work to do?"

"Muscle at the local brothels. Drug runners. Carjackings. You name it," Furukawa shrugged. "One homie told me he gets a thousand for each Mercedes he delivers."

"Carjackings? I was out on one of those today. But it got messy," I spoke slowly. "Young bride who'll never see her honeymoon night. It'll be on the news tonight."

Furukawa winced.

"Can you introduce me to some of these kids?" I tried to keep the hope out of my voice.

"Afraid not, darling."

"Why not? Now that you've told me." I was miffed.

"They're minors. There are all sorts of privacy issues. And these are fucked-up kids. They don't need any more distraction in their lives."

"Yeah, well."

It was a tantalizing lead, but I needed his help to pursue it.

"Wait a minute," I said, "I thought the Vietnamese were the ones who joined gangs. A society brutalized by war, years in internment camps, families torn apart and killed..."

"Yeah, they sure do. But they ain't flying solo. You got Cambodians, Filipinos, Samoans, Overseas Chinese. It's the Chinese usually call the shots. Local offshoots of the Hong Kong triads: White Crane, Dragon Claw, Black Hand. They're equal-opportunity employers," he grinned. "And unlike your black and Latino gangs, they don't advertise it with baggy clothing or shaved heads. Your typical Asian gang member dresses preppy. Neat and clean-cut. Sometimes they're even A-students. Total double life, like I was saying. But sooner or later something cracks."

Yeah, like today in the shopping center, I thought. I looked out the window, where the sky was streaked with red and purple.

"This could be a really good story," I told him. "But I would need to meet some kids, then use their stories to illustrate the larger trend."

His eyes swiveled from me to the manila files piled atop his desk, then back to me. He put his hand on the top file, then shook his head.

"I just finished telling you that these are screwed-up kids. And I know that ultimately, Eve Diamond, you don't give a rat's ass about the slash marks on their wrists or the gang rape they suffered at age thirteen. You just want the lurid details. Then after you've gotten them all heated up reliving it, you'll toss the mess back into my lap and expect me to fix it."

"That's why you're a totally simpatico counselor and I'm a heartless reporter." I tossed back the can of Pocari Sweat. With an almost imperceptible flick of the wrist, he extended one hand and caught it.

"Of course we'd change their names. We're not intrusive like TV. Think how a Times story would get people talking. The Board of Supes might even cough up extra funding." I leaned forward and locked eyes with him. "I can see you're protective about your kids, Mark. They're lucky to have you on their side. But for the record, we're not all automatons."

I stood up.

He stared at me with a look I couldn't decipher.

"Drink?" he said finally. "I know a great Italian place."

"Italian?" I said in mock-horror. "The least you could do after insulting me is offer to take me to a sushi bar you know tucked away in one of these awful strip malls."

"Not too many of those left on this side of town," he sighed. "They've all moved west and gone uptown. Besides, what you got against Italian?"

"Nothing. I just have this thing for sake."

He considered this.

Suddenly nervous, I rushed in to break the silence.

"Maybe some other time. You probably have to meet your girlfriend."

"My girlfriend?"

"I pointed to the photo on his desk. "I couldn't help noticing. She looks just like Gong Li."

He laughed. "My mother, who is Japanese, by the way, not Chinese, will be flattered."

"That's your mother?" I hoped my voice didn't show relief.

"Yes. Right after she got married. My father took the photo."

"Sorry," I stuttered. "I just assumed that since it was on your desk..."

He was staring at me again. I knew I was turning crimson. I hadn't meant to get all personal. Now he would think I was nosy as well as a heartless exploiter of damaged kids.

"Don't be," he said. "It's there for a reason. There's a lot of transference in my line of work. Some of these teenage girls, they're really searching for their lost daddies but they'll settle for me. So I put Mom here to keep an eye on things. I've found she wards off the weirder stuff."

Now I was doubly intrigued. And oddly ecstatic that he didn't have a girlfriend. At least not one whose picture he put on his desk.

He was all business as he showed me the door.

Copyright © 2001 by Denise Hamilton

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    AMAZING BOOK!!!!!!!!!!

    I love this book! it is sooo captiviting!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2005

    Great Suspense & Informative True Life Issues!

    I loved this book, not only for the Suspense, Eve investigates a so-called car jacking gone array where a bride to be is left dead,strangely enough, with her diamond rign still on & her bridesmaids designer dresses still in the car. Eve searches for the truth amongst the 'parachute kids',an Elite group of Asian kids living & studying in the States, while their parents live abroad. I'm looking forward to buying & reading more books by this author. It's a fast paced story that you can't put down until you finish it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2002

    An enjoyable and informative read

    This was a fairly engrossing story into a world that is often seen and not quite understood. The realm of parachute kids was informative and touching as you grow to understand and sometimes pity the loss of innocence the kids experience when they are dropped into America, once thought of as the Promised Land. The mystery element was above average as it hinted at the hidden world of Asian crime, but the main character did come off as a bit naive. While there were a few points that would become apparent to the reader but completely skip the heroine, it wasn't quite clear if it was intentional for character development for future stories or if it just wasn't grasped by the author. The ethnic cultures described within the realistic environment of Los Angeles did a great job to pull the reader into the story as if we were uncovering the mystery ourselves and becoming more knowledgeable at the same time.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent investigative tale

    Though still in high school, Marina Lu seems to have it all. She is engaged to Michael Ho with their wedding set for two weeks and has earned admission to Berkley. However, her idyllic life ends in a San Gabriel, California parking lot where she had just ordered ten designer dresses for her bridesmaids. The police think this homicide is a carjacking that turned ugly, but Los Angeles Times reporter Eve Diamond wonders why the Lexus and Marina¿s diamond ring were not stolen. <P>Eve begins her investigation by talking with the counselor to teenage Asian expatriates Mark Furakama and follows that discussion with asking questions of students at Marina¿s school. She soon learns about a subculture involving ¿parachute kids¿ whose wealthy parents remain in Asia while the children live in America. Marina was one of the displaced children who was also responsible for her younger brother while her parents worked the Pacific Rim. The more Eve learns, the nastier the information turns as she uncovers an apparent slave whore trade, which places her life in danger. <P> THE JASMINE TRADE is an exciting investigative tale that will shock the reader who will want to deny the truth of ¿parachute kids¿. The story line is exciting and the cast seems real, which add to the terror of a subculture caught between two worlds and afloat on its own. <P>Harriet Klausner

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    Posted December 3, 2011

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    Posted June 19, 2009

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    Posted December 27, 2011

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