He paused on the last metal step, cold gray eyes quartering the misty runway from under his snapbrim. He stepped down, turning up the collar of his trenchcoat against the wind that rippled the oil-slicked rainwater on the tarmac. Behind him the engines of the big Trimotor kept turning, staying warmed-up for the jump into the altitudes of oblivion. Was she going to show? Or would he climb back up those steps and disappear into the dark, dank blankness that should have been their future? Denny Mercer looked around, took a last pull on a rumpled Lucky Strike and tossed it into an oily puddle. One thing you could count on about dames: you can’t count on one thing about dames. No, wait, that must be her now. And, whattaya know, mighty easy on the eyes. Heading right over towards him with a great big smile. Looks like trouble. The usual kind. Female.

Lluvia had no trouble spotting Mr. Mercer in the Chetumal bus station. He was the only gringo climbing down out of the bus from Cancun. But he didn’t seem to see her. Looked a little dazed, in fact. She walked up to him and said, “Denny Mercer?”

Denny did his usual slip-shift out of his fantasizing (aided this time by a joint shared in the washroom of the ADO bus with two shaggy kids fresh out of the Israeli Army and cruising Mexico for thrills). He’d spoken to Lluvia once, calling the museum from the CUN airport to give her an arrival time.

The museum staff had arranged for an English-speaking secretary to pick him up and assist him in his inquiries into the Dr. Chiang situation, which they clearly saw as potentially embarrassing. And who else but Lluvia, who’d been very concerned about Doctora Chiang and uneasy over the way she just vanished three weeks ago.

She stood looking at Denny, waiting for his response, while he looked her over. Both liked what they were looking at, but neither thought of it that way. Some guy passing through on business, some skirt who’d be there when he strode off into the sunset. He said, “A guy on the bus told me Lluvia means ‘rain’.”

Not the sort of opener she was used to, but then she wasn’t used to seeing men walk around in the tropical summer wearing belted raincoats and felt fedoras, either. Maybe reporters from the United States always dressed like that. “Yes,” she said, flustered that there seemed little to add. “Do you have luggage?”

Denny hefted the pre-war leather satchel he’d carried on. “This is it. I’m a man who travels light.”

She nodded then, for lack of any further conversational ideas, pointed to the wide front portal. “I have my car out front.”

Denny headed for the door beside her, swinging his bag. “Nice of you to come pick me up. I guess it beats sitting around the office, huh?”

“I voluntaried to come,” she told him. “I liked Dra. Chiang. And yes, to getting out from the office.”

“So you’re going to help me out? Translate for me?”

“Yes, it’s my assignment this week. Help you investigate.”

“Sounds good. Can we go where she was last seen?”

“I booked a room for you in the Ucum hotel. It is cheap and near Museum. If you don’t like it, I can…”

“Great, great. Thanks a lot. But…”

She wasn’t there. He looked back and she was unlocking a jaunty little red Tsuru. He came back and got in, immediately breaking a sweat all over. He took off his fedora and wiped his brow as she backed out and headed out of the parking lot. It looked like quite a way into town. Kind of weird for a bus station. He said, “I was thinking I’d go straight to the museum, maybe get some leads. Where she was last seen, that stuff. Detective kind of stuff, you understand.”

She cut her eyes at him. “You’re not a reporter?”

Oops. He’d forgotten about that. Either the heat or the strangeness of Mexico or this cute interpreter was taking the edge off his usually razor-stropped brain. He looked at her and lowered his voice so nobody else in the car could hear. “I’m an investigator,” he told her. “Helping people who are concerned about Ms. Chiang. I have my suspicions, you see what I mean? It’s what I do.”

It actually impressed her. She was a fairly simple girl, all told, and an addict of American films. Had seen Casablanca seven times; not that easy in Mexico. She paused, then plunged. “I have also my suspicious. Please can we go somewhere first, talk. I want you to know the Museum… situation… before you go there.”

“Sounds good to me. I can see you’re going to be a big help.”

“I know a really nice coffee place?”

“Perfect. I’ll knock off for a cuppa java any place on earth.”

Lluvia giggled. “But this place is not on earth.”

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Denny Mercer sized up the Worthy Oriental Gentleman who’d moved stealthily into his office. If the tattoos peeking out at the cuffs and throat of the bespoke Nathan Road suit, the two missing fingers, and the Dragon Lady slinking in behind him hadn’t been a clue to this being a major Triad warrior, the outline of the oh-so-concealed hatchet under his burly arm would have been the big tip-off. Denny looked up at him coolly, if not actually coolie, and spoke around the crumpled unfiltered Camel, “I suppose you’re the longest dong in the Hong Kong tong?”

Narrowing his already narrowed eyes, the sinister Celestial nodded with understated menace and pushed his calling card across the desk. Of course his real calling card would be one of the shirikin stars in the glove leather sheath up his sleeve. Denny got ready to bust a move.

Meanwhile, in real time: Denny slouched in his chair concealing the still-smoldering roach of the spliff he’d just obliterated, staring through glazed pupils at the slightly-built, middle-aged Chinese guy in work clothes and his dumpy, shuffling wife. It’s not like he really owes you any explanations, but it’s a boring job and Denny is prone towards a rich fantasy life. It’s why he become a Confidential Investigator in the first place and doing the computer skip-tracing and photo peeps that Seattle offers to freelance snoops hadn’t slaked that impulse toward the melodramatic, so he trips out a lot. The weed just aggravates the situation.

He picked up the card. Roosevelt Chiang, Landscape Consultant. He eyed Chiang and his wife, who immediately dropped her eyes and shrank a few inches. “Let me guess,” he said slowly. “You want me to find something or somebody?”

Both nodded, Chiang keeping modest eye contact. “My daughter.”

“I do that,” Denny said wearily. “But I gotta tell you a few things up front.”

The two Chinese stood motionless and expressionless, staring. Denny motioned towards the two rather beat-up wooden straight chairs in front of his dilapidated desk. He had shopped carefully for banged-around furniture he felt reflected a proper P.I. office. The hatrack had been the hardest to find. “Please, take a seat,” he said in his professional tones. “Can I offer you coffee? Water?” Lapsong Souchon tea in a paper-thin porcelain cup, perhaps?

The couple shook heads in unison, but sat and continued to regard him blankly. Fresh off the sampan, was Denny’s offhand estimation. “Number one: I can give you three addresses right now. A donut shop on Capital Hill, a coffee shop–slash crackhouse–in the U. District and this weird sort of tea and mp3/anime joint behind Uwajimaya in the I.D. You cruise those places every night for a week and I bet you spot your kid.”

Not a peep or blink out of PapaSan and MamaSan.

“Two: if I take the file, first thing I’m going to do is turn you inside-out for any child abuse reports. If you see what I’m carefully not implying here. Sorry to put that out in front of your wife.”

“She not speak English.”

Oh, not as eloquently as you? There’s a surprise. “So are you new in town?” Town, in the sense of The Occident.

“No. Twenty five year here. Just not talk much to…”

Roundeye demons. “I understand. What I meant, though, where’d you come up with my name? It’s not like I run bilingual ads in the International Observer. Turns out the characters for my name are some smutty pun.”

“Oh, same almost everybody. Chinese very fun language.”

A raff a minute, all light. “So, were you referred?”

“No need. I already know you, great master. You smart, figure things out.”

Whoa, great master. Cooooool. “Uh, sorry, but are you kidding me a little there?”

“Not joke. You same Dennis Mercer, best Guest Guesser.”

That one ground Denny’s wheels to a halt. Yes, he was an avid player of the Post Intelligencer’s football prognostication contest. And he’d exceled, having played it every year since the Seahawks cranked up with Largent and Zorn and Smilin’ Jack. He did well calling the college games, but was murder on the pros, especially AFC. In fact. betting on the NFL in the Frigate Tavern made him more money each year than his P.I. business. He’d been in the Top Five fourteen times and had won three of the grand prize trips to Superbowls, more than any other guesser in King County. Well, actually tied for first with some guy named…WHOA!

He snatched the card up and looked at again. Omigod. He regarded the inscrutable client and said, “There’s an R. Chiang here in town, you know. He’s the top guesser, drives me nuts.”

“Not top,” Chiang replied modestly, even bowing slightly. “Your humble student.”

“Holy Cannoli! Amazing!” Denny slammed his chair down and ran around the desk with his hand sticking out, then changed his mind and gave the same deep bow that he’d gotten from the pair when they came in. “Man, this is great. Hey, how do you do that, anyway?”

“Game very interesting. I study.”

“I hope to shout, you study. But how can you barely speak English… due respect… and manage to read the Raiders upsetting the Chargers last month?”

“Charger linebackers very low morale following arrest. Opportunity for new tight end. Need prove himself fast or back to selling cars. He play for same college as JaMarcus for two years.”

“But he wasn’t supposed to suit up for that game.”

“He clear waiver very fast. Dolphins need salary cap. Groundskeepers at McAfee Stadium know things, tell me.”

Gawd, the lawnmower spy network, no less. “But how’d you get the Giants over the Patriots? Nobody saw that coming.”

“You saw coming.”

“Yeah, but I… and hey, you were three points closer calling the score. Come on, how’d you do it?”

“Have brack belt in guess-fu from Monastery in Chou Wei mountain province.”

Denny rocked back, his butt hitting the desk, and stared.

Chiang gave a sliver smile and said, “Now I make joke. We from Taiwan. Fortune smile on me one day, on you some other day.”

Denny laughed. “Look we should get together sometime, talk…”

“Yes, very nice, you come to my house. But my daughter. Hard concentrate with baby girl lost.”

“Well don’t you worry about that, Mr. Chiang. I’m on it like white on lice.”

“Good. Tell me how much, I give check now. Fortune smiling on you now, find my girl.”

“You bet. She’s as good as found Mr. Chiang.”

“Friends call Rosie. My wife, Emily.”

“An honor to meet you both.” Denny moved behind the desk and poised at his keyboard. “Your daughter’s name?”

“May Flower Chiang. But everyone call her MeiMei.”

Imagine that, Denny thought as he typed in the name. “Age?”

“Twenty five.”

Baby girl. Okay. “When did you last see her?”

“Three weeks she not call. She always call twice a week when she out of country.”

Out of country. Aw shit. He looked up and said, “We might have to discuss some prepayment of expenses.”

Chiang nodded. “I understand. Last call from Mexico. State of Quintana Roo. Place Che Tu Mal.”

Wherever the hell that was. They must have planes that go there. “Why is she in Mexico?”

“She study Mayan pyramids. She expert. Doctor.” His wife understood that word for sure, started nodding and beaming.

“She investigate something there,” Chiang went on with continued pride. “Twenty twelve.”

“Twenty twelve? Oh, wait, that crap. Really? Do you know anything about it?”

Chiang gave a minimalist shrug. “Superbowl Forty Six. Indianapolis. Year of Dragon.”

“Indianapolis in February. Ridiculous. Anyway, let’s get through the information here and I’ll book a flight. Your girl is as good as found, Mr. Chiang. I guarantee it.”

“Life has no guarantee. Nothing but guess. You good guesser.”

“Thanks, ‘sensei’. Listen, I’m sure your daughter is fine. Just having too much fun to remember her folks. Probably frolicking around the ocean right now, safe and sound.”

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Denny Mercer sized up the Worthy Oriental Gentleman who’d moved stealthily into his office. If the tattoos peeking out at the cuffs and throat of the bespoke Nathan Road suit, the two missing fingers, and the Dragon Lady slinking in behind him hadn’t been a clue to this being a major Triad warrior, the outline of the oh-so-concealed hatchet under his burly arm would have been the big tip-off. Denny looked up at him coolly, if not actually coolie, and spoke around the crumpled unfiltered Camel, “I suppose you’re the longest dong in the Hong Kong tong?”

Narrowing his already narrowed eyes, the sinister Celestial nodded with understated menace and pushed his calling card across the desk. Of course his real calling card would be one of the shirikin stars in the glove leather sheath up his sleeve. Denny got ready to bust a move.

Meanwhile, in real time: Denny slouched in his chair concealing the still-smoldering roach of the spliff he’d just obliterated, staring through glazed pupils at the slightly-built, middle-aged Chinese guy in work clothes and his dumpy, shuffling wife. It’s not like he really owes you any explanations, but it’s a boring job and Denny is prone towards a rich fantasy life. It’s why he become a Confidential Investigator in the first place and doing the computer skip-tracing and photo peeps that Seattle offers to freelance snoops hadn’t slaked that impulse toward the melodramatic, so he trips out a lot. The weed doesn’t help.

He picked up the card. Roosevelt Chiang, Landscape Consultant. He eyed Chiang and his wife, who immediately dropped her eyes and shrank a few inches. “Let me guess,” he said slowly. “You want me to find something or somebody?”

Both nodded, Chiang keeping modest eye contact. “My daughter.”

“I do that,” Denny said wearily. “But I gotta tell you a few things up front.”

The two Chinese stood motionless and expressionless, staring. Denny motioned towards the two rather banged up wooden straight chairs in front of his dilapidated desk. He had shopped carefully for beatup furniture he felt reflected a proper P.I. office. The hatrack had been the hardest to find. “Please, take a seat,” he said in his professional tones. “Can I offer you coffee? Water?” Lapsong Souchon tea in a paper-thin porcelain cup, perhaps?

The couple shook heads in unison, but sat and continued to regard him blankly. Fresh off the sampan, was Denny’s offhand estimation. “Number one: I can give you three addresses right now. A donut shop on Capital Hill, a coffee shop–slash crackhouse–in the U. District and this weird sort of tea and mp3/anime joint behind Uwajimaya in the I.D. You cruise those places every night for a week and I bet you spot your kid.”

Not a peep or blink out of PapaSan and MamaSan.

“Two: if I take the file, first thing I’m going to do is turn you inside-out for any child abuse reports. If you see what I’m carefully not implying here. Sorry to put that out in front of your wife.”

“She not speak English.”

Oh, not as eloquently as you? There’s a surprise. “So are you new in town?” Town, in the sense of The Occident.

“No. Twenty five year here. Just not talk much to…”

Roundeye demons. “I understand. What I meant, though, where’d you come up with my name? It’s not like I run bilingual ads in the International Observer. Turns out the characters for my name are some smutty pun.”

“Oh, same almost everybody. Chinese very fun language.”

A raff a minute, all light. “So, were you referred?”

“No need. I already know you, great master. You smart, figure things out.”

Whoa, great master. Cooooool. “Uh, sorry, but are you kidding me a little there?”

“Not joke. You same Dennis Mercer, best Guest Guesser.”

That one ground Denny’s wheels to a halt. Yes, he was an avid player of the Post Intelligencer’s football prognostication contest. And he’d exceled, having played it every year since the Seahawks cranked up with Largent and Zorn and Smilin’ Jack. He did well calling the college games, but was murder on the pros, especially AFC. In fact. betting on the NFL in the Frigate Tavern made him more money each year than his P.I. business. He’d been in the Top Five fourteen times and had won three of the grand prize trips to Superbowls, more than any other guesser in King County. Well, actually tied for first with some guy named…WHOA!

He snatched the card up and looked at again. Omigod. He regarded the inscrutable client and said, “There’s an R. Chiang here in town, you know. He’s the top guesser, drives me nuts.”

“Not top,” Chiang replied modestly, even bowing slightly. “Your humble student.”

“Holy Cannoli! Amazing!” Denny slammed his chair down and ran around the desk with his hand sticking out, then changed his mind and gave the same deep bow that he’d gotten from the pair when they came in. “Man, this is great. Hey, how do you do that, anyway?”

“Game very interesting. I study.”

“I hope to shout, you study. But how can you barely speak English… due respect… and manage to read the Raiders upsetting the Chargers last month?”

“Charger linebackers very low morale following arrest. Opportunity for new tight end. Need prove himself fast or back to selling cars. He play for same college as JaMarcus for two years.”

“But he wasn’t supposed to suit up for that game.”

“He clear waiver very fast. Dolphins need salary cap. Groundskeepers at McAfee Stadium know things, tell me.”

Gawd, the lawnmower spy network, no less. “But how’d you get the Giants over the Patriots? Nobody saw that coming.”

“You saw coming.”

“Yeah, but I… and hey, you were three points closer calling the score. Come on, how’d you do it?”

“Have brack belt in guess-fu from Monastery in Chou Wei mountain province.”

Denny rocked back, his butt hitting the desk, and stared.

Chiang gave a sliver smile and said, “Now I make joke. We from Taiwan. Fortune smile on me one day, on you some other day.”

Denny laughed. “Look we should get together sometime, talk…”

“Yes, very nice, you come to my house. But my daughter. Hard concentrate with baby girl lost.”

“Well don’t you worry about that, Mr. Chiang. I’m on it like white on lice.”

“Good. Tell me how much, I give check now. Fortune smiling on you now, find my girl.”

“You bet. She’s as good as found Mr. Chiang.”

“Friends call Rosie. My wife, Emily.”

“An honor to meet you both.” Denny moved behind the desk and poised at his keyboard. “Your daughter’s name?”

“May Flower Chiang. But everyone call her MeiMei.”

Imagine that, Denny thought as he typed in the name. “Age?”

“Twenty five.”

Baby girl. Okay. “When did you last see her?”

“Three weeks she not call. She always call twice a week when she out of country.”

Out of country. Aw shit. He looked up and said, “We might have to discuss some prepayment of expenses.”

Chiang nodded. “I understand. Last call from Mexico. State of Quintana Roo. Place Che Tu Mal.”

Wherever the hell that was. They must have planes that go there. “Why is she in Mexico?”

“She study Mayan pyramids. She expert. Doctor.” His wife understood that word for sure, started nodding and beaming.

“She investigate something there,” Chiang went on with continued pride. “Twenty twelve.”

“Twenty twelve? Oh, wait, that crap. Really? Do you know anything about it?”

Chiang gave a minimalist shrug. “Superbowl Forty Six. Indianapolis. Year of Dragon.”

“Indianapolis in February. Ridiculous. Anyway, let’s get through the information here and I’ll book a flight. Your girl is as good as found, Mr. Chiang. I guarantee it.”

“Life has no guarantee. Nothing but guess. You good guesser.”

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