|A Year and Change|
|A Mismatched Woman|
As he got out in the rain, and waited for the girls to scoot out under his umbrella, he saw a woman with a girl about Brandy's age and an infant. They were getting out of a car with some custom work, in the next row over. The woman didn't seem to match anything. She didn't really match the car. She didn't match her youthful clothes, though she was not farcical in them. And, she didn't match her children--she was white. She noticed him staring at her. He smiled, and nodded. She nodded back; he couldn't really guage her reaction, except that it wasn't particularly guarded. Brandy and Doris finally got out, and they more or less followed the woman into the mall.
Once inside, Shaw discovered he was at the far end from the theaters. Brandy whined that they would be late. Shaw had a painful forced march to the ticket line. He didn't remember passing the woman, but she got in line behind him and the girls. She smiled courteously to him. Brandy struck up a conversation with the girl because they had the same pendant.
Soon they were up to the ticket booth. Shaw shoved his card through and said, "One adult, two children."
The pimply boy behind the window said, "I'm sorry, cash only." He shoved the card out.
"Cash?" said Shaw.
"Our card readers are down," said pimple-face.
"D . . ." Shaw caught himself. He turned to his girls. "I'm going to have to go to the ATM."
"But we'll be la-a-a-te," said Brandy.
"I'll cover it," said the woman, pressing up to the window. "Here. For me and Jarma, and them. Enough?"
"Yeah, sure," said pimple-face.
Shaw wanted to protest, but the girls were so anxious to get in . . .
The movie the girls wanted to see was another of the "magic girl" movies. The theater was full of screaming kids, mostly girls, and it was not surprising that the woman took her baby back out after a fairly short interval. Shaw followed her out, but she went straight to the Ladie's room. He ducked out of the theater to visit the ATM. When he returned, he found the woman seated on a bench in the lobby, feeding the infant from a bottle. He went up to her, and offered her money. "Here."
"Oh . . . thank you . . . uh, just a second." She freed a hand to take the bill. "I'll get your change in a minute." She had a nasal twang to her voice, not severe, but noticiable.
"No, that's fine." Shaw felt himself warming toward the woman, not something that happened that often. "Let me guess, New York?"
"Guilty as charged," said the woman, grinning. "Want to sit?" She moved to one side of the bench.
"Yes, thanks." He settled down, and reached down to rub his sore knee and calf.
"Are you OK?" asked the woman.
"Oh, sure," Shaw answered, not liking her tone. <I'm not that old!> he thought. Sitting up, he said, "What do you think of the movie?"
The woman said, "The movie? Not much. I'm here because of Jarma."
"Same here." He shook his head. "Laura's out of town. I would probably be here if she was, though. She hates these matinees."
"No, my daughter . . . I'm a widower."
"Oh, I'm sorry," said the woman, with real sympathy in her voice.
Shaw said, "No need, Jean's been gone close to ten years now . . . I suppose your husband wouldn't come?"
"I'm not married."
"Oh . . . Sorry, I didn't mean--"
The woman shrugged. "Divorced. Jarma isn't mine; her mother's working today. And Persephone here, her mother's working too. Out of town; she won't be back until tomorrow."
Shaw felt awkward. Then he said, "My name's John Shaw . . . "
John Shaw spent the rest of that afternoon getting to know Lorraine Tiggs. It would be weeks before he admitted to himself that he was attracted to her, though.
By the end of May, it was routine: Every Saturday, Shaw would drive Lorraine's Suburban over to Lorraine's and pick her up for an afternoon at the movies, usually with the infant she minded and Jarma and one to three other kids belonging to Laura's friends or Lorraine's. Otherwise, Lorraine was a voice on the phone. Once she met the infant's mother, an absolutely gorgeous woman who was married to (but apparently separated from) Lorraine's ex-husband. Lorraine did not explain that arrangement much, though it was apparent she admired the woman--she was a pilot, flying mostly charters. But mostly what Lorraine liked to hear were anecdotes from his years on the Oakland PD. Shaw had an abundant store of them. He had nothing to hide, except for the last couple of years . . . and, while he could never forget that part of his life, he recalled it less and less.
One evening after the kids were in bed, Laura asked, "When are you going to have your girlfriend over for dinner?"
"Girlfriend?" Shaw protested. "Lorraine's no such thing!"
"Uh-huh," replied Laura, in exactly the same tone her mother would have used.
With that thought in mind, Shaw decided to give in gracefully.
When John Shaw came to pick up Lorraine at the apartment she shared with the other Mrs. Tiggs, Lorraine wasn't ready yet. Shaw found himself alone with the woman. She was polite, but she was absorbed in sewing something--a dress. With time and silence on his hands, Shaw took his first close look at the place. Inevitably, his eyes were drawn to the pictures scattered around. Picking up one, he said, "Do you mind?"
"No," replied the woman in her soft, crystal-clear voice. "Pictures are to be looked at." She had hardly glanced up from her work.
Shaw did not think he had recieved approval, exactly, but he continued to examine the pictures. Many were of children; there were also some of adults, often with children. There was one that struck him, for some reason: a blond woman with dark-skinned children. He thought, <I've met her somewhere, but . . . where? When?>
Shaw had been so lost in thought that he did not notice that the sewing machine had stopped. The woman was standing beside him, holding the dress she had been working on. He showed her the picture and said, "I think I've seen her before. Family?"
The woman replied, "Aino-san is an old friend, almost like family. You were a policeman in Oakland?"
Shaw nodded. "You heard that from Lorraine?"
"Yes . . . Aino-san is a nurse there. Perhaps you met her when you were at a hospital."
Shaw frowned as he set the picture down. "I was in and out there . . ." He saw she did not understand. "In and out of consciousness . . . You don't know about that, do you?" The woman shook her head. Shaw told the tale of how he had gotten caught in a shootout when the druglord Marvell Jones had been assassinated in Oakland's Highland Hospital. It was a familiar spiel to him; he was telling the short, sardonic version to the woman. But she interupted him.
"So, you were there when Aino-san was made a widow," said the woman.
"I was?" blurted Shaw, not understanding.
"Aino-san was married to the brother of your gang leader. He was killed there, too. And his sister, who had done no wrong." She cast her eyes down. After a silent moment, she said, "The dress is ready. I will give it to Lorraine, and you can go in a little while."
The dinner went off well enough--in fact, better than Shaw had expected. Lorraine answered Laura's grilling without resentment, winning sympathy for her losing fight to have children of her own. Lorraine, in fact, was quite talkative on her own as the evening went on, revealing more about her ex-husband than she ever had to Shaw.
The children were in bed when Laura asked the question Shaw had never allowed himself to ask Lorraine, heretofore so sensitive about her ex. "So, why did Mr. Tiggs leave the FBI? If I may ask."
Lorraine glanced at John in a way she rarely did, and took a long sip of her drink. Then she turned back to Laura and said, "Something went wrong in that big undercover assignment I told you about."
"Went wrong?" Laura bored in. "What went wrong? Do you know?"
Lorraine drained her glass and set it down, shaking her head. "I don't really know anything for sure. Martin will never talk about it. But what I think happened is that someone ratted on Martin. And instead of killing him, Mr. Jones figured out a way to frame Martin. Make it look like he was really working for Mr. Jones instead of the FBI."
"Mr. Jones?" asked Shaw.
"Yeah, the same Mr. Jones you knew. Knew about, I mean." Lorraine poured another drink, and drank some of it. "All I really know about him is that he ruined Martin." She drank a little more, and turned to Shaw. "John, you never told me much about Marvell Jones. Is it because he got you all shot up?"
After a moment, Shaw shrugged. "Maybe so . . . I spent a lot of time following him around when I was in the OPD the last couple of years." He shook his head. "Never got anything out of it. He was maybe the smartest drug boss we ever had. Lucky, too, until the end." Shaw took a drink of his own.
There was silence. Laura looked at Shaw, then at Lorraine, and drained her glass. Then she said, "It's late for me. I need to get an early start tomorrow . . . Lorraine, would you like to stay over?" Laura picked up the nearly-empty bottle, subtly suggesting that driving was not a good option.
Lorraine set down her drink, without finishing it. "You are so kind, but I should go home. Setsuna has to leave early. I need to be home to look after Perry . . . I'll take a cab home."
Laura picked up the tray, and, with a glance, got her father to set down his glass. "Can I get you anything else?"
Lorraine said, "Well . . . do you have tea? The green stuff?"
Laura said, "I think so . . . yes. I'll leave it out in the kitchen for you. Do you want me to put a kettle on?"
"No, I'll do it," said Lorraine, getting up. "I'd better call for the cab now."
John Shaw let them leave the living room and sat alone for a few minutes, thinking about something he would never speak of. Laura came back, kissed him, and said, "I'm really going to bed now, Daddy."
"So, what do you think, is she a keeper?" he said lowly.
Laura nodded slowly. She leaned down, and whispered, "I like her. But you'll have to work to get her. She's really not over her ex." She shook her head, and said in a more normal voice, "Have you ever met Mr. Tiggs?"
"No . . ." He shook his head, and chuckled, inappropriately.
Shaw said, "I'm sure I saw him when he was with Jones. But I don't know who he was. Didn't know he was FBI, of course. Feds don't tell local cops anything they don't have to."
Laura kissed him again. "Don't stay up too late, Daddy." Then she left.
Shaw waited a few moments more before going to the kitchen. He found Lorraine standing up, sipping from a cup. She noticed he was there, and said, "Want some?"
He started to shake his head, but . . . "Yes."
She spooned loose tea into a strainer and poured hot water through it into a cup. Then she handed the cup to Shaw. "Setsuna uses powdered tea most of the time."
"Oh?" He was not terribly interested in tea.
"Not instant. Expensive stuff from Japan." She sipped, making a face. "I guess it's pretty gross at first, but you get to like it. Or you get used to it, anyway . . . "
Shaw sipped the hot liquid. It was no worse than half the bad coffee he had downed to stay awake, but its strangeness made him grimace for a moment. "I suppose you can get used to anything."
Lorraine got a faraway look, and a strange smile. Then she said, "I guess . . ." drawing out the phrase. Then she returned from whatever reverie she was in, and said, "I'm sorry I brought up Jones. I guess you don't like to think about that much. You never talk about it."
He took another sip. The tea was strong, and it seemed to clear his head. "I guess it had to come up sometime . . . did you ever meet any of Ms. Meiou's friends?"
Lorraine said, "Not yet, except for one of them . . . I've talked a little bit on the phone with a few of them. Do you mean the nurse? The one you recognized?"
<The Meiou woman told her.> "Yes. I suppose I do."
Lorraine said, "No, I've never spoken with her. Sarah thinks a lot of her. One of her kids is something like Sarah's half-sister."
Lorraine sipped some more. "Sarah's the daughter of one of Setsuna's friends. Setsuna used to fly her over here for a day sometimes when she had a San Francisco flight. Not for a long while, though . . . some creep almost killed her little sister. Sarah spends most of her time with her sister now, from what I hear." She finished the cup, and began to prepare another. "Nice kid. Pushy, but a nice kid. She's really got a touch with babies."
"What did she tell you about the nurse?" asked Shaw.
Lorraine said, "Sarah told me she's really broken up about losing her husband. He was some kind of cripple, I think."
Shaw said, "He was one of Marvell Jones' brothers. I did hear he married his nurse. But I didn't know who she was."
"Really? . . . Why do you want to know about her so much?"
Shaw took a long sip before answering. "I'm not sure . . . I almost remember something about her. I know I met her, but . . . that's all."
Lorraine didn't look entirely satisfied. "Well, I guess you can meet her if you really want to. Most of Setsuna's friends are supposed to be coming here to visit in a while."
"Really?" said Shaw.
"Yes . . . in July, I think. After school is out. Most of them have kids in school." Lorraine took a slow, perhaps contemplative sip. Her tone changed. "Did you see any angel girls in California? I heard a lot of stories. And I saw that French video. Wasn't that from Oakland? Supposed to be from there?" She wasn't serious now; Shaw thought she was trying to brighten the conversation up, and move on from an uncomfortable subject.
Shaw said, "Well, I suppose something really happened at the lake. I was miles away when it went down." That was true; he'd tailed Marvell Jones into the hills. "But there were a couple of times . . ."
"A couple of times?" Lorraine was really surprised.
"Yes . . . The first time I was working vice. We were working a sting, picking up Johns who were cruising San Pablo--that's one of the main streets there. We also had some hookers disappearing; found one dead . . . anyway, it was night, and I saw a couple of big things flying. Only for a second, but I saw them." He sipped, and smiled. "Didn't tell my partner. I think he saw them too, but we didn't tell anyone."
Lorraine reached out to hold his hand. "And the other time?"
He closed his eyes. "It was after I was shot. Maybe I was seeing things, but it seemed real . . . Three of them were over me, close, very close. One of them touched me, and I felt . . . something like nothing else . . . and there was another one further off. She was crying. She was kneeling down and crying . . . " He did not speak for a moment. "And that's it. The next thing I remember . . . that I really remember for sure was four days after I was shot."
Lorraine kissed him on the cheek. John Shaw opened his eyes--and saw not only Lorraine, but Laura, standing in her robe. Laura said, "I saw the taxi pull up."
"Thanks," said Lorraine. She turned to Shaw and said, "I'd stay, but I really need to take care of Perry. OK?"
"OK," replied Shaw, and watched her walk out.
Laura started to put away the tea, and said, "Do you want any more?"
She put away the tea, and said, "You never told me that, Daddy. About seeing angels at the hospital."
Shaw answered, "Like I told her, it probably didn't really happen."
Laura said, "But you told her. Why? Why now?"
"Damned if I know." And John Elder Shaw believed that wholeheartedly.
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