The Butterfly Dragon: Three For Women (Happy International Women's Day) (Finished)

This content is produced artists indicated on the site, and by me, Brian Joseph Johns. 

I, under no circumstance will trade, barter or otherwise swap my own identity for that of another person and I protect the same right for those who've contributed their artwork to the various projects under my management at Shhhh! Digital Media, my own company. These rights are protected by law under the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms under section 7.

Updates: Finished with new additions (March 29, 2023) to the Once. Twice. Third. Thrice. Epilogue.

Shhhh! Digital Media presents:

The Butterfly Dragon: Three For Women

by Brian Joseph Johns

Korea has had a very positive influence upon my life, even through some of the most turbulent times and have been close friends with me ever since. This first of three stories is dedicated to women, and to the Korean people.

It sees the return of some familiar Butterfly Dragon characters, though from a much earlier time in their lives.

She Made Me Sneeze

June 1996

"Where the heck did I put my tape measure?" the repairman cursed under his breath.

From the top of the folding ladder, he checked the other side of his tool belt, as sometimes he'd placed the lost tool in one of those pouches in a hurry. However, on this day he was certain that it wasn't there, and with a quick check a moment later, he'd confirmed just that.

He recalled that he'd used it last two days previously, when he was measuring for a replacement piece of baseboard for the fourth floor hall, just outside of the hobby room. Knowing that there were no nearby surfaces upon which to have placed it, he would have returned it directly into his tool belt. He climbed down the ladder carefully and scratched his head, suddenly perplexed by its absence.

Three floors up from where he was currently, in the room of one of the senior's home clients, a young girl sixteen years of age, with shoulder length blonde hair, two ocean blue eyes and a pair of opulent pink pearl lips measured out from one corner of the wall to the center of the room with the very same tape. She dotted the point on the wall with a marker from her pocket, and then grabbed a hook and fastener from the nearby coffee table, before which sat an elderly man in his comfy chair sipping from a mug of tea.

"That photograph was taken twenty-five years ago to this day," he said to the young girl, who while holding the fastener to the wall attempted to reach for the hammer, which she'd left on the coffee table just out of reach.

An elderly lady in a worn lab coat with a thick New Delhi accent, returned to the same room from the hall, and upon seeing the young girl reaching for the hammer, she quickly picked it up and handed it to her.

"Here you go Alicia," Sylvia held the hammer out to her.

"Thamks..." the young girl mumbled, pulling the nail out of her mouth and lining it up with the hook and fastener.

Then with the hammer in hand, she began to drive the nail into the fastener and hook, which tightened securely into the surrounding drywall. She then retrieved the delicately framed eight by ten inch portrait photograph from under her arm and hung it on the yield of her handy work carefully.

She took a step back to admire it, stepping to the side so that its owner could also enjoy its new home on the wall. She smiled, and awaited his approval.

"Absolutely lovely!" he said, holding the tea cup in his hand shakily as a tear welled up in his eye.

"Thank you," Alicia responded, thinking that he was referring to her handy work.

He was far too polite and considerate to correct her, and considered that he might have been referring to both her handy work and his long gone wife.

"Would either of you like to stay for a tea?" he asked Sylvia and then Alicia, shakily getting to his feet from the chair.

Alicia still have much to do that day at the senior's home, but she'd lived by an unspoken rule that when the opportunity came to lend an ear, she'd always try to accommodate such opportunity. Sylvia herself a resident of the home had become good friends with Alicia over the summer, the two sharing a common interest. Sylvia had been a recognized researcher and pioneer in the field of Quantum Biology, and the two had spent many hours talking at length on the subject.

On this day however, Sylvia had offered to lend her youthful friend a hand over the course of her day. She'd said that she preferred it to sitting idle in her unit absent of good company. Sylvia also saw it as the opportunity to become more familiar with the rest of the senior's home. Perhaps even to exert her unique perspective upon those within, for Sylvia truly understood the complexity of the fine thread that had become woven into the complex tapestry of the interconnectedness of all people, and the time and space they'd occupied.

The tea that Jolly had offered them was the entry point into another connection of some form, or at the very least the awareness thereof. Her and Alicia had discussed the matter a great deal and the concept had become a foundation to Alicia's understanding of the Quantum nature of reality. The topic had certainly sparked her interest in the connection between the brute force of numbers involved in evolutionary biology, while its Quantum nature had an implicit defiance of brute force alone. As if some probability derived implicit order was under the influence of conscious perception that eventually led to the complexity of life itself. We all were just threads weaving through time and space, made up of information and awareness that sometimes at key moments, became entwined with the weaving threads of the lives of others.

The next tea was just the beginning of the weaving of another such thread into theirs.

"I would be thrilled to enjoy a hot cup of tea with you," Sylvia, the younger of the two elderly residents responded enthusiastically.

"Care to join us Alicia?" asked Jolly once again.

"I can't think of a better way to enjoy our handy work," Alicia smiled, helping Jolly to get the kettle on and the tea cups in their saucers.

March 1953

Lance Corporal Melvin J. Laughton moved quietly, maintaining a tight coupling with the brick wall beside him. The sun was on its way down and the darkness crept closer as the night approached. At the corner of a rural intersection he stayed behind the brick wall, looking in either direction, first north and then east as far as his vision would allow him to see.

The silence was deafening, yet the destruction around him seemed peaceful and even serene in much the same way as a graveyard might seem to the living. Amidst the fallen buildings were structures that had miraculously gone unscathed. They stood defiant, like beacons of hope amidst the fallen. It was against one such building that Lance Corporal Laughton currently leaned, unsure of whether he should proceed further east, or stay put in wait of the advance of the 6th Regiment Of Korea, whom he knew would be moving in within the next forty eight hours.

Laughton had become separated from the rest of his regiment during a violent ambush they'd stumbled into. They had been approaching the eastern flank of hill 175 and were about to enter into rural Seoul, when they were shelled by regulars of the Korean People's Army 10th Battalion and elements of the People's Volunteer Army. He was isolated during the attack, running for cover in the opposite direction. Several 80mm shells detonated near his position, deafening him for a half hour as the rest of his regiment mounted a counter attack on the opposite side. By the time he was able to circle around to the right flank of the OPPFOR (opposing forces), the rest of his regiment had routed to the north west, while he remained cut-off by an enemy machine gun emplacement.

When he attempted to withdraw to the south so he could circle around to the west and regroup with his regiment, the OPPFOR had sent a forward observation team (assumedly for their 80mm Mortar crew) that cut off his route. He remained hidden for the better part of an hour, and used his map to plan a new route where he would rendezvous with the advancing Republic Of Korea's 6th Regiment. Through them, he could arrange for transport to reunite with his own regiment.

He'd kept a close eye on the KPA forward observation team for the better part of three hours before his opportunity to move came. It occurred when a fire fight broke out some three clicks to the west, possibly his own regiment encountering more resistance in the southern Seoul region. Using the cover provided by small arms fire and the OPPFOR's distraction, he pressed eastward for the remaining four hours of daylight, moving further north into the city for shelter and cover.

The city of Seoul had been, since the fighting first started in June of 1950, reduced from one and a half million to just over three hundred thousand people. During Lance Corporal Laughton's journey through the apparently derelict city, he'd only encountered one civilian thus far. An older woman very obviously scavenging the destruction for food and medicine. He'd watched her for some time with fascination, as she methodically scoured a nearby office building whose outer walls were a pile of rubble. She expertly moved from office to office, rummaging through wooden desks and cabinets for anything she could find. When he'd accidently knocked over a metal rod from a concrete pillar, making an intense racket, she barely looked at him, instead focused upon her salvage. She'd disappeared a little over two hours before, and his thoughts once again returned to his current dilemma.

He sat leaned against the corner of a solid structure amidst a sea of nearby rubble, across which he saw another larger building that might offer substantially better shelter for the evening, for it appeared to be residential. His eyes searched the path between his current location and the apparent entrance to this residence, when he noticed a little girl. She couldn't have been more than five years old, her face was tiny and pink, dirtied with several patches of dust from the surrounding debris. She watched him from across the way, unmoving and unsmiling.

To Corporal Laughton's right, he heard the sound of running paws on grass as a small dog, perhaps a Shih Tzu or Terrier of some breed approached him, its tail wagging as it closed on him. He reached out to offer his hand for the pooch to smell first. A sort of formal introduction he'd garnered. The dog immediately jumped back cautiously upon the offering, then stepped forward to sniff his hand. The dog's tail remained motionless for a moment, and then slowly it began wagging with enthusiasm. Corporal Laughton returned his glance to the little girl, whose glum face now harbored a curious smile. Corporal Laughton returned it and then some as he pet the dog.

The little girl's curiosity peaked and she began to run towards Corporal Laughton and the pooch. That was when something struck the Corporal as being wrong. There was some detail somewhere that he'd missed, that was practically screaming his name. Crying out to be known before it was too late, and only then did he see it.

It was far too obvious and blatant to miss, and perhaps that was the horrific genius of it. It was a grenade, on the end of a stick perhaps two feet tall, pried between two rocks on the lawn between himself and the little girl. His eyes traced the grenade and a thin wire, perhaps fishing line which was wrapped around the grenade several times, and followed a path just barely visible, eventually connecting to a concrete hook in the wall. By the time his mind had made the connection, his body was already in motion and he was up on his feet, his hands reaching out frantically for the little girl before she could reach the tripwire.

Just as her foot was about to cross the line, Corporal Laughton grasped her, flinging her upwards and away from the improvised trap. She flew backwards through the air as Corporal Laughton lost his balance, falling into the tripwire himself. Time stood still as he watched the wire pull on the grenade's pin, and a metal clip spring flew outward away from the device as smoke started to emerge from it. He recalled smelling the scent of sulphur or magnesium, as if someone had lit a match directly under his nose. Its fumes burning his nostrils and sinuses, making his eyes water. He watched for a moment in slow motion as this cloud of magnesium spiraled in the air from the grenade before he twisted his body, spinning as quickly as he could to put distance between himself and the now armed grenade.

With a final push, he was on his feet again and leaping in the direction of the little girl, though he couldn't remember if he'd done so to protect her, or to follow her. That was when he'd suddenly gone deaf. He felt a sharp stinging pain in his left shin, while his left shoulder blade was suddenly dislocated as if someone had hit him in it with a baseball bat. He tumbled to the ground on the other side of the street, just a few feet from the dirt that had once been the lawn. There beyond him the little girl lay on her back.

He lay still there for a moment, unable to move and not even sure if he was still alive. He watched the little girl for what seemed an eternity. She lay still, and then by some miracle of the heavens, she leaned forward, her face compressed as a stream of tears fell. She had no visible injuries and was for all intense purposes, very frightened. She got up and onto her feet, turning to run for the door to the residence which lay beyond Corporal Laughton's view. He watched her disappear behind the doorway, still unable to move.

He felt peaceful. A sudden warmth overcame him and what little evening daylight remained quickly faded into complete darkness.

The first time he woke up, it was the tongue of the little dog cleaning his face that had stirred him from the land of nod. It was dark and quiet. The sound of North Korean psy-ops could be heard in the distance as they repeated their perpetual oration in praise of the glorious Korean Empire somewhere in the northern part of the derelict city. In other circumstances it might have been aggravating, even maddening, but in this situation it had somehow become calming. As if he were simply in a hospital bed, hearing a radio in the nurse's area.

Corporal Laughton tried to lift his frozen face from the mixture of stone and dirt upon which it rested, but he found that it had become glued there by his own dried blood. He mustered the strength to try again, and screamed out in pain as he succeeded. His left shoulder was numb with pain, while his left shin felt shattered. Broken. Perhaps even twisted. For the life of him he dared not look at it yet for he feared what he might see. He knew that if he remained on his shoulder, that it would never heal properly and if he lived, that he would be horribly disfigured if he didn't correct his posture.

Once again, giving it every ounce of strength and will he had, he rolled over onto his back. As he twisted, another immense pain shot up through his left side, all the way to his shoulder and he once again returned to the land of nod. Quickly and silently.

The second time he awoke, it was the early morning sunlight warming his nose that had got his attention. The discomfort he'd felt before was now all but gone. He was on his back but not on the dirt and stone rubble of the road, but on the dirt and dried grass of the lawn outside of the residence. A rolled up pair of pants sat beneath his head as a pillow, and a pair of real wool blankets had been draped over him to keep him warm. He lifted his head attempting to get a glance at his left shin, and was greeted with the tip of a makeshift splint that adorned his lower leg, holding the two pieces of his bone together so they could mend.

When he returned his head to the rolled up pants, he felt the dog's nose tickle the side of his face and his ear.

Corporal Laughton laughed as the dog sniffed him, and then worked its way around to his other ear.

A shadow suddenly blocked the sunlight, and the face of a woman slowly took form. She had in her hand a pair of bowls. The first one filled with water and saline she'd made with sea salt. The second was filled with food. A sharp and pungent smelling mixture of red cabbage and other vegetables not unlike sauerkraut.

He saw the little girl from the corner of his eye, and then the lady spoke in harsh tones.

"안에 있으라고 했잖아!" she said firmly to the little girl, who immediately turned and ran to the doorway into the residence.

The little dog followed her.

The lady then squatted down on her feet, not quite sitting down, but resting on them nonetheless. She then began cleaning the left side of his face with a cloth soaked in the saline. Corporal Laughton could smell the stench of iron from his dried blood, though he could feel nothing from the left side of his face, nor could he hear anything from his left ear.

He tried to open his mouth, if for nothing else but to thank her, but he'd found that it was dried shut. She saw him making the effort, and she scolded him though her intensity was lost to him, for he could not understand her.

"움직이지 마! 상황을 더 나쁘게 만들고 있어요!" her eyebrows furrowed as she spoke.

She then gently but firmly began wiping his mouth, letting it soak in the saline for some time before wiping away the dried blood. He tried to open his mouth a second time, this time successfully, but nothing came out but air. He was dehydrated, as was the inside of his mouth nearly dry.

"매점을 가져와!" she yelled to someone inside of the residence.

A moment later, little feet and their tiny shoes could be heard quickly running towards them. The little girl stopped beside the lady and handed her a canteen.

"안으로 돌아가서 거기 있어!" the lady scowled and then returned her attention to his mouth.

She unscrewed the lid to a military canteen, though Corporal Laughton couldn't tell from whose military it had come.

She whet his lips only slightly at first with a little water, waiting to see if it caused a revulsive reflex in him. When he didn't gag, she poured a little bit more into his mouth. He quickly swallowed it, feeling his vocal cords regain their flexibility as if they'd been dried into edible rinds that had become lodged in his throat. 

"hhhhhank hhhhank thhhhhank yoooou..." Corporal Laughton tried his best to speak, but found it difficult to make any meaningful sounds.

"말하지 마! 나머지! 나중에 말할 시간입니다!" she scolded him again.

"I cand unnerstan yooo..." Corporal Laughton responded, struggling again to speak.

"Don't speak! Rest! Time for speak later!" she spoke barely legibly with her thick accent.

With jeosgalag (chopsticks), she began feeding him the red cabbage carefully and in small pieces.

The spice and saltiness of the food made his eyes water, and his stomach creaked upon the first arrival of food in his body in nearly thirty hours.

The dog had returned, perhaps checking to see if the lady had accidentally (or intentionally) dropped any of the food. It apparently found a tidbit of the red cabbage, but alas it was not to the dog's tastes. As most dogs the world over, it favored meat and in this part of the world, sometimes salty dried fish or river carp. Recently however, it had taken to eating small rodents and whatever other critters it could find amidst the rubble.

She spent all of ten minutes feeding Corporal Loughton the entire bowl of food in tiny bits to ensure that he ate it all and didn't choke on it. After she'd wiped his face, she adjusted the pants beneath his head, and the wool blankets to cover him and left him in the sun to sleep.

There he remained for a long time, how long he truly had no idea of knowing. During his sleep, he heard the sound of other people arriving in the residence, and then an argument ensued in heated Korean language that he was certain must have involved at least some cussing. A few moments of tension ensued as he half expected to hear the report of a hand gun or possibly other small arms as whomever it was may have felt they had authority to do so. Thankfully though, nothing of that ilk occurred and whomever it was left without so much as a glance towards him.

The next day, he awoke to find the little girl hovering over him, a piece of grass in her hand which she was twisting and turning, at the base of his nostrils, tickling his nostril hairs. She laughed and giggled when he awoke to see her, and when he sneezed, she broke out into hysterics that ended with the older lady coming out of the house and chasing her back inside. He struggled to withhold another sneeze, only to have it backfire on him with twice the pressure. He sneezed in a fit several times, once again triggering the little girl into fits of laughter inside of doors. The sound of the older lady's footsteps could be heard inside, as the little girl ran from her, still laughing.

He fell asleep comfortably warmed by the sun, and the day passed quickly into night. Surprisingly, nobody had turned up to feed him and he wondered if he might have overstayed his welcome. Perhaps the lady had run out of food keeping him fed. Regardless, he didn't make a peep, nor did he try to get her attention that night. Instead, he practiced moving his limbs. Slowly at first, and then more and more, strengthening them for the time when he would surely have to leave.

His stomach filled with butterflies when he heard the sound of tracked vehicles nearby. Column after column of tanks drove into the city, as he waited intensely for the sound of gunfire and explosions. Much further in the distance, he heard what sounded like the thunder of large bombs, two-thousand pounders impacting the lines just south of Pyongyang. Then, a little closer, he heard small arms. A GPMG emplacement maybe? His mind returned to his unit the day he was separated from them. He envisioned them walking into a blind corner, and being cut down one by one by a fixed emplacement. That night he shivered in the cold air, the sounds of metal machinery continuing into the night.

By the next morning, he woke to hear the sounds of vehicles and then nearby footsteps. The Republic Of Korea 6th Regiment had arrived and were checking houses and buildings, one by one. Corporal Laughton awoke to find a Republic Of Korea Officer, a Captain standing over him.

"다쳤어?" the Captain asked Corporal Laughton.

Corporal Laughton reached for his tags, showing them to the Captain, who examined them, nodding affirmatively.

"번역기를 가져와!" the Captain yelled to one of the conscripted men.

Two minutes later, another Korean man arrived and greeted Corporal Laughton in English.

"Are you fine? We are with the Sixth Regiment. Were you being held prisoner?" asked the conscripted man.

"I'm fine thank you. No. Not a POW. I was rescued by a lady, with a little girl," Corporal Laughton explained.

"그녀를 여기로 데려와!" the Captain ordered another man.

"Is everything alright?" asked Corporal Laughton of the translator.

"Everything is fine. We just need to ask you some questions," the translator responded.

They brought the lady out in handcuffs. A piece of tape had been placed across her mouth.

"그에게 도움을 준 여성인지 물어보십시오." the Captain addressed the translator.

"Is this the lady that helped you?" asked the translator of Corporal Laughton.

"Yes. That's her. She saved my life! Where's her little girl?" Corporal Laughton found the strength to sit up.

"그에게 무엇을 먹였습니까? 당신은 그를 독살 했습니까?!" asked the Captain, who'd now pulled his service pistol from its holster.

"나는 그에게 내 음식의 마지막을 먹였다! 내가 당신 같은 사람에게 먹이지 않았을 음식!" she yelled at the Captain, spitting on the ground between the Captain's feet.

Inside of the residence, Corporal Laughton could hear the little girl crying. It sounded eerily familiar. Like the evening she'd averted death at the hands of the grenade trap. He struggled to figure out what the confusion was about and the thought occurred to him that this might be another kind of trap.

"미국인에 대한 정보를 그들에게 팔았습니까?!" he asked the lady, putting his pistol to her head.

"그로부터? 아니. 절대. 내 딸을 구해준 남자다! 지금 날 죽일 셈이야?!" she exclaimed, spitting again.

"Wait! Don't hurt her! She's..." Corporal Laughton pleaded with the Captain.

"Tell him! Tell him not to hurt her!" Corporal Laughton yelled at the translator.

"그는 그녀를 해치지 말라고 말한다. 그녀는 좋은 어머니입니다." the translator quickly said to the Captain.

"우리는 그녀가 북한의 동조자라는 정보를 가지고 있습니다. 그녀는 인민 지원군에 정보를 제공하고 있습니다!" the Captain accused her.

For a moment the tension became so thick, that time itself seemed to stop.

Then, Corporal Laughton did what he had to do. He stepped in from of the Captain's pistol, placing himself between it and the lady that had nursed him back to health.

The Captain then slowly withdrew his service pistol and returned it to his holster.

"그녀는 갈 수 있습니다." the Captain calmly.

"Why did that happen? Why did they ask like that?" asked Corporal Laughton.

"전날 밤, 당신이 전선에 배치되고 있을 때, 북한군이 와서 당신에 대해 물었습니다." the Captain exclaimed.

"A night ago, when you were laying out front, a group of men from the Korean People's Army, the forces of North Korea came and questioned her about you," the translator explained what the Captain had said.

"What did she say?" asked Corporal Laughton of the translator, though he looked to the Captain.

"그녀는 당신을 고문하기 위해 당신의 상처를 사용하여 당신을 심문했다고 그들에게 말했습니다. 그녀는 그들에게 연합군의 움직임에 대한 잘못된 정보를 제공했습니다. 그들은 그녀가 거짓말을 하고 있다는 사실을 알게 되면 다시 돌아와 그녀와 그녀의 딸을 죽이겠다고 말했습니다. 그녀는 당신이 그녀의 딸의 생명을 구했고 그녀는 당신을 위해 더 이상 할 수 없다고 말했습니다." the Captain responded passionately as he spoke, looking at Corporal Laughton.

"She said she told them that she interrogated you, using your wounds to torture you. She gave them false intelligence about the movements of local troops and about you. They said that if they found out that she was lying, they'd be back to kill her and her daughter. She said you saved her daughter's life, and she could do no less for you," the translator explained to him.

"전쟁의 열기 속에서 많은 말이 나옵니다. 전투의 열기 속에서 많은 일들이 이루어집니다. 얼마나 많은 사람들이 말로 죽었고 얼마나 많은 사람들이 행동으로 죽었습니까? 사실 많은 사람들이 행동으로 구원받을 수 있듯이 말로도 구원받을 수 있습니다. 그것이 말의 힘입니다. 더욱이 여성의 연민과 신뢰." the Captain looked at Corporal Laughton intensely. 

The Captain's years remained hidden within his eyes, a fierce thumos powering the man. The Captain left, heading for his command personnel carrier.

Corporal Melvin Jolly Laughton stayed with his regiment until the end of the Korean war. When the war was over, he found the lady and her little girl, introducing himself for the first time. Later that same year, Lan-Soo and he were married.

He quickly began a career in Seoul, where they lived for twenty years until 1971, when they moved together to Canada and remarried.

Return To June 1996

"That photograph was taken during the photo session for our second marriage," Jolly sat admiring Lan-Soo, rekindling his memories of a lifetime together before she passed away three years earlier.

Alicia wiped a tear from her cheek, Jolly leaning forward with a tissue for her which she accepted graciously, still gushing.

"What's a Lance Corporal, Jolly?" asked Sylvia.

"Well, it means a different thing in different traditions. For instance, in the United States a Lance Corporal would be called a Master Corporal or Section Corporal. In Canada, in places in Europe and the Commonwealth, the tradition of Lance Corporal goes back to the Mounted Cavalry and Foot Soldiers of the day. You see, the Lance Corporal was the Cavalier or Lance Footman charged with carrying the regiment's banner into battle, and he'd carry that colourful banner on a Lance for all to see, hence the rank Lance Corporal," Jolly reminisced about his days in the Armed forces and the Korean War.

"What about your daughter-in-law?" asked Sylvia, whose eyes were dampening.

"Wen-Lee? When we moved to Canada, she kept the house and stayed in Seoul, and started her own company. She makes natural medicines for colds, coughs and... you guessed it! SNEEZES!" Jolly began laughing to the point of tears coming from his eyes, as he recalled that day that his daughter-in-law to be had tickled his nostrils with bits of twisted grass to make him sneeze.

Alicia and Sylvia had a good laugh about it, and when all had calmed back down, Alicia asked him the question that had stayed with her all along.

"So what did the Captain finally say to you?" Alicia asked Jolly about the Captain's last words to him.

"I'll never forget what he said to me, that day. Its stuck with me for the rest of my life, as vivid as every day of the war itself," Jolly recalled.

Jolly recalled the words of the translator, though as if they'd been spoken by the Captain himself:

Many things are said in the heat of war. 

Many things are done in the heat of battle. 

How many have died by words? 

How many have died by actions? 

In truth, as many can be saved by words, as can be saved by actions. 

That is the power of words.

Even more so though, the power of the compassion and trust of a woman.

Alicia was caught in the power of a moment. In the moment of the realization of yet another epiphany on her journey from a girl to a young woman. She sat pondering the Captain's words, along with Jolly, and at that moment they might have come to an understanding simultaneously.

"Oh my gosh, the time flies. I've got to get going or I'll be late for supper! Jolly, would you mind if I shared this story with my parents?" Alicia caught sight of the clock on Jolly's wall.

"Not at all. The more people who remember these moments, the better off we all might be," Jolly nodded the two women who made up his company.

Alicia picked up the measuring tape and the hammer as she got up to leave.

"Thank you so much Alicia, Sylvia. It really means a lot to me," Jolly stood and walked them to the door.

He means the compassion and trust of a woman. It truly means a lot to him, Alicia thought.

They both bid Jolly a good night, and Alicia walked Sylvia back to her room.

"Thank you for all the help, and for such a wonderful day!" Alicia gave Sylvia a hug.

"Thank you my dear. We both had fun today," Sylvia said gratefully.

"And learned a lot too. Oh, can you give the hammer back to Max?" Alicia gave the hammer to Sylvia, forgetting completely about the tape measure she'd put in her pocket.

"Of course I will. You get home safe and have a good meal. I'll see you next week," Sylvia said to Alicia as she closed her door.

Alicia quickly made her way downstairs on the elevator and grabbed her backpack from the office. After she said her goodbyes, she made her way out the front door and began the walk home.

When she was about three quarters of the way there, she couldn't remember if she'd brought her biology textbook with her or not, so she quickly stopped and checked her backpack for it. In the process, she accidentally dropped the tape measure onto the walkway of the house outside of which she'd stopped. 

When she finally found her textbook, she continued on her way home.

However, the tape measure lay on the walkway just outside of a modest home in the midst of suburbia, where it lay for the entire night.

Until it was found by someone else...

Further Content

Playing: Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Mount And Blade II: Bannerlord (Lance Corporal role pertinent aspect to plot)

Torman's Girl

Introduction: This story, the second of three for International Women's Day is a much more intense story that sees the return of two familiar characters from the original Butterfly Dragon story line, though we've never seen them in the original material at this age, as they're introduced much further along in the story.

You could consider that this short tale fills in the blanks that lead up to the introduction of these two characters into the first book: The Butterfly Dragon I: Heroes Of Our Own. At the point this story starts, Valerie is the girlfriend of a small time crook who by the time Heroes Of Our Own rolls around, has become one of the top figures in the criminal underworld. Valerie however, is completely unaware of this side of his life, in both this story, and Heroes Of Our Own. As a twenty-two year old career minded woman at this point, she's focused on creating a future that includes her less than virtuous boyfriend. Seeing her fantasies about life and their future come to fruition. Things however, don't exactly work out that way.

This story does not refer to specific real life people and should not be interpreted as singling out any specific person or persons to indicate any aspect of their life and being. Its a story, and though it does have elements that lend a great deal of knowledge attained from life experience and similar situations, any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. 

If you can read between the lines, it might save you a great deal of trouble, and help you to see trouble coming long before it arrives.

This story is dedicated to the innocence of every woman's ideal fantasy of their life and future. Be carefully aware of extremity, timing and those who might use those ideas to indebt you.

June 1996

The Mustang pulled up and into the driveway, its engine chugging deeply with the power of 8 gas guzzling big bore cylinders. The driver was barely visible behind the tinted glass, as much so as the rumbling electronic house music could barely be heard.

Inside of the car was a different matter altogether. If one had closed their eyes, they might have been easily convinced they were in a popular 1990s night club. The Guvernment maybe? Joker Club? The Big Bop?

The audio within the car was crystal clear and the bass wasn't heard so much as it was felt. The driver reached for the the glove box, opening it and pulling a comb and a bottle of Azzaro from within. He sprayed some of the cologne on his slightly exposed hairy chest, and then sprayed it on the hair up top, which he then began to comb, slicking it back tightly to his head.

He double checked his look in the rearview mirror, nodding to himself in approval.

"Way to be Torman! The only way to be!" he said to himself in the mirror, perhaps seeing himself as an Andrew Dice Clay rerun.

He turned the keys on the ignition, carefully shutting down the engine as he stepped out and onto the driveway. Some distance on, near the end of the front walkway, he sighted something square and metallic laying on the path. He lowered his sunglasses enough to get a better look, but he still couldn't make heads or tails of it.

"Should I, or shouldn't I?" he asked himself.

"Maybe later," he said in a purposely deep voice.

He then turned and made his way casually up to the front door, where he rang the doorbell and got into position, leaning his frame against the doorway so as to appear supercool to whomever answered the door. In all honesty though, he knew who that would be: his girl. 

His twenty-two year old Valerie Aspen

His prime of her life business college major.

The door opened ten seconds after he'd rang the doorbell, and she greeted him with starry eyes, all focused on him.

"So how's my girl?" he asked, leaning into the question.

"How's my guy?" Valerie responded.

"I asked you first," he replied, as he did every day.

"Ladies first," she replied as she did every day.

"I'd prefer to answer with my lips..." he said, moving in for the kiss.

"My parents are still here..." she lied, backing away from him diplomatically.

"I thought they left for work already?" he moved in, pursuing her through the open door.

"They're upstairs. They slept in..." she continued her ruse.

"Then where's their car?" he called her bluff, hanging his keys on the hook by the front door.

"Its in the shop, they're taking the bus," she recycled it.

"I'll drive them then..." he offered, backing her into the sofa.

"You can only take one passenger at a time, remember?" she reminded him, finding that she had nowhere left to run.

"I'll do two trips..." he pressed himself against her.

"You win. They're in the Bahamas on vacation, but I'll be late for business college..." she cartwheeled flexibly backwards over the sofa, her feet landing on the coffee table from where she casually stepped down. All thanks to her daily yoga.

"I'll hire you for more than you'll ever make with a degree," he stepped over the sofa, nearly tripping on one of the legs of the coffee table.

"Who will manage your business for you then?" she grabbed her school bag from the shelf beside the door.

"I will," he pursued her back towards the front door.

"I've gotta get to business school!" she quickly grabbed her casual heels with her free hand.

"In whose car?" he asked her now chasing to the door.

"Sorry lover boy, yours!" she replied as she grabbed his keys from the hook and closed the front door before he could get to it.

By the time he'd gotten the door open, she was already in the driver's seat of the Mustang.

She hung her low-rise heels on the rearview mirror and unlocked the passenger door for Torman.

He ran around to the side and got in.

"Sorry babe, but I can't let you drive my girl!" he told her.

"But you said!" she responded firmly.

"I said maybe!" he reminded her.

"You promised me I could," she stood her ground as she shifted the stick into reverse and put her foot on the gas.

The car leapt backwards fiercely, even with her delicate touch.

"I ain't kidding. I don't want you drivin' her!" he said to her with a look approaching panic.

She turned to face him intensely, but she backed down at the last minute.

He took advantage of the balance of power and got out of the passenger side door and walked around to the driver's side.

She opened the door casually and stepped out in her bare feet.

"No drive. No touch," she said to him, pulling a long strand of her hair from the side of her head down into her mouth seductively as she circled to the passenger door.

He shook his head, disappointed with her, feeling that something was wrong. It was then that out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the metallic box again. The one that had been laying at the end of the front walkway. It sat there looking at him, perhaps even mocking him as much so as Valerie had. He quickly stepped over to the walkway and picked up the square object, which turned out to be a measuring tape. The kind of measuring tape that tradesmen wore on their tool belts.

Upon having the simple device in his hand, his overly active imagination immediately went into overdrive.

"No drive. No touch," he heard Valerie repeat in his head, over and over again.

In his daydream, he imagined himself confronting her:

"Babe, its been far too long! Something's up," he told her accusingly.

"Then maybe you should go!" Valerie said to him confidently, in a tone that he didn't like.

She spoke as if she'd developed some kind of independence of him. As if she didn't need him, as for Torman, it simply wasn't enough just to want him.

"Fine. I'll go," he said, slicking his hair back again to perfection and then returning to his car and the driver's seat.

He put the car in reverse and quickly pulled out, driving around the block once before parking in a hiding spot from where he could spy on her.

A minute later, and the plumber's service van pulled up, angling itself carefully into the driveway, which from Torman's perspective had seemed a sexual act in and of itself.

He watched as the van stopped, and out stepped the man that he'd idolized himself to be. The one he wanted others to see him as. The one with perfect hair, and a sculpted physique to match. A perfectly stable ego upon which was propped an impeccable and infallible confidence. A man for whom everything fell into place and always went his way. Everything that Torman wanted to be, and everything he feared Valerie secretly lusted after.

The plumber rang the doorbell, standing confidently in front of the door. When Valerie answered the door, she was wearing a revealing pink negligee, toying with a strand of silken lace between her fingers.

"Hello Ma'am. I understand you have a problem with your plumbing?" the plumber asked politely and professionally, which Torman interpreted as a secret plumber innuendo for: lets have hot sex baby.

"I think my plumbing needs a man's touch. The only problem with my plumbing, is neglect!" Valerie said seductively.

The plumber remained perfectly naive, which Torman's fragile ego took hold of, twisting and turning the plumber's innocence looking for an angle from which to elevate himself over the hard working man.

After he'd stepped in, Valerie closed and locked the door, leaving Torman with nothing but his imagination to fill in the blanks.

He ran for the front door and was about to pound on it, when he looked down and saw the tape measure laying there. Drawn to it, he bent over and picked it up in his hand, and all at once it became clear to him, as he returned from his daydream, standing once again beside the open driver's door of his Mustang.

She was having an affair. An affair with one of the local tradesmen.

He turned back to the car, and opened the driver's door and got in.

"Everything alright?" she asked him sincerely, which he interpreted as her guilty conscience.

"I'm fine. Everything's just fine," he said without looking at her.

He then put the car in gear and pulled out onto the street. A moment later he was speeding towards her college and raring to drop her off.

"Are you sure everything's alright?" she asked him, still enamored of him but completely oblivious as to what was going through his mind.

"Fine. Just fine. I'll pick you up at three?" he confirmed with her.

"Alright. Do I get a kiss?" she asked him, closing her eyes and puckering her lips for what she hoped was a long, wet kiss.

Instead, he turned and gave her a quick peck on the cheek, not even taking a second look at her.

She frowned slightly at his sudden restraint, but continued on as if nothing were wrong because from her perspective, nothing had changed.

"See you at three," she said, disappointed yet innocently aloof.

She got out of the passenger seat and put on her lowrise heels, walking magnetically to the eyes of male onlookers in through the front doors of the college, fully intent at making the most of her education, whether he liked it or not.

As she walked through the hall, she could could feel the eyes of other men, many of whose attention was focused upon her and of them all, most of them looked at her. Not at an objectification or idealization of a fantasy image of her. They really seemed to look at her. As if they were interested in what she had to say. As if she were a person that others might want to get to know. To network with. To do business, and maybe even to do pleasure. Valerie however, despite the fact that they were not engaged or married, was an entirely committed woman. What she fantasized could happen, and what happened in reality were two very different things. The future she was building for herself was centered around Torman, and she would never seek intimate attention outside of their sometimes troubling relationship.

Yet she had the right to expect more. She wasn't simply an object he kept behind a glass bubble for others to gawk at in order to admire him. Bling, in the form of a woman, worn by a man as a symbol of his status. Much the same way his other possessions might impress upon others the nature of his stature.

Valerie knew there was something big in store for her. She could feel it, but she wanted to share it and with the right man. Despite her intense passion for Grier (Torman), the further into their relationship she ventured, the more she felt that she was losing herself. As if she were being sculpted into something purely for his needs. An accessory for his life, rather than a partner in their lives. She surmised on her way to class, that it was time that she did something about it.

Trick Or Cheat

"I think she's havin' an affair," Torman said as he took a sip from his soda.

"You mean like she's seeing someone else? I thought you two were just dating?" asked Lloyd.

"No. We're in a relationship," Torman replied.

"So what's that mean? You're engaged?" Lloyd asked Torman.

"No. We're not engaged," Torman responded, looking away from Lloyd.

"You're married then?" confirmed Lloyd.

"Nope. We're not married, either," Torman replied.

"So you hang out together. You're not married. You're not engaged. What's the problem?" asked Lloyd.

"I think she's bangin' someone else on the side," Torman said, taking another sip of his soda.

"And if you did the same thing, it would be...?" asked Lloyd.

"Me. It would be me. The stud thing to do," Torman responded.

"And if she does it, she'd be...?" asked Lloyd again.

"A slut! A whore! What else?" Torman responded, offended that one of his friends would even ask him such a question.

"I see. You've got a problem then," Lloyd comforted his friend.

"That's what I was trying to tell you. It ain't right," Torman took one long last haul on his soda, finishing it.

"So what would you like the boys to do?" Lloyd asked Torman.

"We've got a lot of coverage here in suburbia. We've got a lot downtown too. I'd like the boys to keep a close eye on her. Today. Tonight. Tell me if they see anything suspicious. Specifically, I want you guys lookin' out for stray tradesmen that might be fixin. Her parents are out of town, so she's in the house by herself,' her plumbing if you know what I mean," Torman said uneasily.

"Why don't you just charm her into letting you stay overnight for a few nights?" asked Lloyd.

"'Cause if I do, then I won't catch him, if there's another guy. So I'm going to pick her up and drop her off, from there, we can keep an eye on her," Torman's logic seemed simple enough to follow.

"Fair enough. I'll round up the boys and we'll setup a regular hunting party. Do you want me to rough anyone up that gets too close?" asked Lloyd.

"Naaa. Just let me know, and I'll have it taken care of," Torman turned to the waitress, his eyes hovering over her sizeable buxom momentarily before he looked at her face.

"Could I get one more soda, honey?" he asked her, glancing back down at her chest once more.

"Sure thing," she responded, barely affected by his glance.

She'd been living with it for her entire life, and every time she'd run into a man that took in her breasts before her face, she took it as a heads up, letting her know she'd met someone that might not be as sincere as they appear. In Torman's case, he was the last of an old school generation of thugs, with the ambitions of a modern hostile businessman. She knew that at some point down the road, that he'd be running the show and that it was better not to take anything personally. After all, it was just business in the end and that was the way that women like her, so close to the hornet's nest had to look at it in order to maintain their innocence. No matter how close you were to the viper pit as a woman, it always paid to turn a blind eye. Whether you did it knowingly, like Torman's waitress, or you were completely oblivious of it altogether, like Valerie, in Torman's business, ignorance was most definitely the safest bliss.

Torman had already kept so much of his real life hidden from Valerie, because he knew that she was a class act. She was one in a million and the one that no guy should ever let get away. He'd kept the details and dealings of his seedy underworld business life all but hidden from Valerie. From her perspective, he was just a wealthy Mediterranean thoroughbred at the starting gates of success. He was confident. Good looking. Bold. Ambitious and determined. He was everything she wanted in a man, but he wasn't everything she wanted.

For one, it all seemed to be about him. Everything that happened between them in some way was about appeasing him, and often at the sacrifice of her ambitions. It was rarely him looking at her, as his attention was mostly focused on himself and how he appeared to others. She was never the center stage in his life. It was him all the way, and she was just off stage waiting for him after the day's show like everyone else that was a symbol of his status.

She was however, young and well aware of this fact. She had the world of time before her, and he had plenty of time to change. Time over which she could shape and mould him into the man of her dreams, rather than playing the singles game all over again from the start. She knew him inside and out (or at least so she thought). She knew that what she could know, she could change, and if she couldn't change him, then at least she could change her mind.

As the day crept slowly towards three, their plans converged. While the one prepared to change her man, the other prepared to find what had changed her. Torman intended to find out for certain if she was true to him or not, though with a man like Torman, truth was a four letter word.

He spent the rest of the day collecting debts from the local small businesses that paid him and his thugs protection money, though of course the protection they offered was simply the fact that they wouldn't sabotage their business. Most of the businesses saw it as a case of it being better to have Torman on their side, than it was to have him against you. A growing complacency that had already given Torman a considerable amount of power in the underworld, though his dream was to eventually take his gig to the legitimate world of big business. Something he knew that was ripe for the taking.

Torman's life was simple and before he returned to pick up his one in a million girl from her business school education, he was simply a lost thug, collecting loose change from the honest struggling businesses around him. That small change though, added up, and with it he was able to dazzle Valerie into believing the extravagance of their future together.

Timing Converges

Torman sat in his car a little over a block away from the front walkway of the college, which was clearly visible from his vantage point. It seemed fair enough in his mind that every day, he not show up early to pickup Valerie for that would throw off the power in his favour. Instead, he'd wait hidden in a spot and watch for her to come outside to wait for him, at which point he'd drive over and act as if he'd just got there. Usually he'd tell her something about how busy his day was and how he'd finagled a new deal, using his business instinct to come out on top against the competition. In fact he'd just usually spend the day at Lloydies Bar And Grill, drinking sodas in the morning until he made the daily rounds later that day collecting his extortion money.

He pulled up in front of the college and stopped the passenger side door perfectly at Valerie. She didn't even have to move to grab the handle to open the door. She opened it, getting into the car with her backpack on her lap, and leaned over to kiss Torman.

"Hi babe," she said, puckering up again for him.

"Busy day again. Sorry I'm late..." he said, leaning over to give her a better kiss than the peck he'd laid upon her that morning.

Not much better though.

"Honey?" Valerie asked him as he pulled out into traffic.

"What is it babe?" he asked her, checking his mirror and his hair.

"I was thinking, you know, that because my parents are out of town that maybe we could... play house?" she asked him.

"Play house? What do you mean?" he asked her as if he was completely at a loss as to what she meant.

Naïve. Innocent. Like the plumber he'd imagined her with that morning.

"Well... we're getting close to that time when we... you know. Get a house together. We could play. You could come in after a hard day's work, and we could sit on the sofa and talk about our day with each other. You might say that you're sore and I could give you a back rub, and then... I could go out to the kitchen and cook a nice candle lit meal for us. Pour a glass of Chablis," she spoke seductively about the substance of the fantasy about which she'd dreamt for the whole day.

In truth, the idea had come to her about half way through her business finance class. She'd envisioned that they could play as if they were older. Perhaps just coming into their thirties and having lived together for some time already. She envisioned him in a power suit, perhaps an Armani, complete with a blue yellow tie and a briefcase in hand. He'd walk in the door and she'd just have gotten her shoes off having arrived herself only moments earlier. Her attaché case still sitting in the front hall beside the shoe mat. She'd be wearing a feminine yet affirmative business suit, with an accompanying skirt that was cut ever so slightly above the knees, her pantyhose a light shade of pink.

She would initially be startled by his arrival, and turn to face him. He wouldn't say a word, but instead would gently place his briefcase on the floor beside him and immediately wrap his arms around her waist, grasping at her hips and pulling her closer in towards him with the strength she imagined of him. Their faces would slowly meet as their wet lips converged for a kiss...

At that point her business finance instructor would attempt to get her attention in order to answer one of the questions and just to make sure she was paying attention. She'd suddenly realize that she'd been day dreaming and focus on her class once again. As they drifted towards the end of the day, her visions became more and more refined into her fantasy of their ideal life together. A life that would combine the skills she'd learned in business school, with her impression of Torman and his future, and finally their intimate moments between the business life fast lane of earning a living.

Those moments for which one could never make plans. Moments that just happened amidst the chaos, that seemed to affirm a stable commitment worthy of pursuit between two people. The innocent fantasy of an ambitious and confident young woman. A fantasy that experience hadn't yet taught her that premeditated plans could never create as much. That it could only happen when completely unexpected. Unanticipated, for they were moments created by the pursuit of life itself and extensions thereof. Moments that only happened between those who were capable of treasuring them.

Yet, they were the stuff of the fantasy of every woman, and to each, uniquely theirs alone.

While Torman had been fantasizing in terror and jealousy about her extra-sexual escapades, she'd been fantasizing about their future together and the most intimate moments yet to arrive. Even the very thought that she'd invested so much of her day's energy into the possibility only served to entice her further.

It was at this moment that Torman realized that he was at the peak of his power over her, for he had the power to turn her down. To turn her away when she was at the peak of own want of him.

"I'm sorry Valerie, I'm not feeling so good. I think I'm just going to drop you off, and head home and get some rest," he lied to her.

All at once, her hopes of their evening and future life together were dashed. Everything she'd invested over the course of her day in creating the ideal night together was gone.

When she'd said no that morning, Valerie had no ulterior motive behind her response other than the wish to be on time for her education. The playful banter they'd enjoyed before leaving for school was purely fantasy. She'd even felt a tinge of guilt, though in truth that was simply not justifiable, for it was Torman who'd planted the seed by creating the situation where she'd have to deny him, if only to preserve the sanctity of her education. He'd created the implied debt that she'd nurture throughout the day, to the point that she felt she had to make it all up to him that night. Yet, she did not realize this to be the case.

When she'd gone through all of the work and creativity of envisioning their fantasy night together, after her having presented it to him, he'd thrown it all back in her face. Simply for the power he'd hold over her, and for the revenge he'd have for her having said no.

What she didn't realize though, was that this was part of an even bigger attempt to entrench her, by making her feel like it was justified and that it was all her fault. By his denying her the chance to make it up to him, he'd only proceeded to grow the pot even further.

Though he didn't consciously plan it, he knew that in the power struggle of their see-saw that timing was everything. That he had the upper hand against her. That she would spend the night trying to figure out another way to make it up to him, while he spent the night trying to find proof that she was cheating on him. If he found such proof, she'd be indebted to him for life so long as Torman played his cards right. He didn't want to scare her off into running away with the lover he'd imagined she'd taken. He wanted her to declare her undying devotion to him, and to remain in his debt for the rest of her life.

She suspected no such intentions because her life experience had only exposed her to people whose minds simply did not operate that way. Those who'd never been exposed to a tug of war of truth and lies. Of romantic debt and indebtedness. She'd never had experience with people that organized methods for playing others in a premeditated fashion to achieve such ends, using extremity and timing as their primary weapons.

If she recalled that only moments ago, she was at the height of possibility and potential. That her mind was focused on a romantic evening together with her true love. That she was ready to let him stay the entire night with her and in her bed. But now that she was at the lowest of lows, once again unworthy of his attention and affection. By these facts it was that she might have pieced it all together as some grand design by a cruel and malevolent force in her life.

Instead she blamed herself, for saying no that morning, and gave the whole cycle the power to grow that much further against her.

Torman slowed the Mustang, and turned up the driveway stopping just under the car port beside the front door.

"Have a good night, babe," he said to her, barely looking at her.

"Good night. Call me tonight?" she asked him with a glimmer of hope.

"I'm probably going to sleep," he responded.

"One kiss?" she leaned over to him.

"Better not. I might be sick with something," he lied again.

She opened the door and quietly slipped out of Torman's Mustang. After finding the keys in her purse, she unlocked the front door to her parent's home and stepped inside as Torman pulled out of the driveway. He turned the Mustang around and drove three blocks away to another of his local hangouts.

From there, the plan was that he'd watch her for the entire night and if she had any guests, secret or otherwise, his men would be ready.

The Prowler And The Prey

Valerie initially sat at her father's oak desk, the big one in the family study and finished her assignments before the clock struck six post meridiem. From there she took her books and notes and placed them into her backpack, which she hung from a hook near the front door. Though it was only Thursday night, she'd have Friday off and she preferred to have everything ready for Monday morning.

At exactly six, she managed to put together enough fresh vegetables from the fridge, and some pre-cooked chicken to make a wicked chicken salad, which she garnished with hot peppers, slices of lime and cantaloupe shavings. Grabbing herself a salad bowl of the concoction and a glass of wine, she went out to the living room and placed her ad-hoc meal before her on the glass coffee table. Using the remote beside her place setting, she powered on the family's sixty-inch flat screen television. A gargantuan marvel of 1996 technology (and price), the rear-projection beast was clearly a symbol of her parents' wealth and success. One of the many comforts Valerie had enjoyed growing up in a wealthy suburban community.

By seven o'clock, Valerie was stretched out on the sofa, a fluffy cashmere blanket pulled over her shapely form. The first of the Thursday night timeslot was on, with Valerie catching glimpses of Melrose Place over its hour rerun slot. The sun was still fairly high in the sky but on its way down, large tree out front of her family home shielding her from the last of the daylight.

In the back office of Forks And Knives, a pricy greasy spoon on one of the major roads near Valerie's suburban community, Torman sat watching a series of six black and white security screens stacked atop of one another, each of which had a hidden camera view of Valerie's family home. Both the exterior and the interior.

The first camera was setup in the car port, facing down the driveway with the side door to the home directly in view. The second camera had been nailed to one of the branches of the large tree and was focused on the main door and bay window of the front of the home. Through the bay window Torman could barely make out Valerie's form on the sofa, illuminated by the image of the projection television.

The third camera was focused in the backyard and keeping watch over the back patio, its sliding doors and the utility door which led to the basement. 

The fourth camera was placed in the interior of the home just above the front door and kept watch over the front foyer area, tracking any movement between the living room, kitchen, study, main floor bathroom and the stairs to the second floor.

The fifth camera had been placed in the hall outside of Valerie's room, with a slight glimpse in that also took in any access to the master bedroom and second floor bathroom.

The sixth and final camera had been placed in the kitchen, just above the sliding doors to the patio and was focused along the length of the room facing both the hall entry and the adjoining living room and dining room.

"Good job with the camera rigging Tonesy," Torman complimented their camera tech, who sat at a nearby CRT monitor playing an underground slot machine computer game that was part of an underground country-wide gambling network.

"Its what I do..." Tonesy said, tapping the numeric keypad enter key in place of the one armed bandit's virtual arm.

"How many guys we got in position?" asked Torman of Chucky Boy, a large hulk of a man who ran security for most of their rackets.

"About six... should be enough," Chucky Boy responded, filing his nails carefully through his beady eyes and bushy eyebrows.

"Lloyd?" asked Torman.

"What is it boss?" Lloyd responded from his chair near the door, a half empty stub nosed bottle of beer in his hand.

"Have Ed make the guys a platter of food. Its on me. Throw in a few drinks too," Torman showed his appreciation in bizarre ways and often to the wrong people in his life.

Meanwhile, the woman he'd claimed was *his*, lay on a sofa in front of the television, Torman watching her through a hidden camera in a tree outside of her family home as the show began.


Somewhere off camera just outside of her family home and on the street, an unmarked van pulled up and parked. A moment later, its driver stepped out wearing a baseball cap and coveralls, a clipboard in his hand. He began his walk over to the driveway and onto the walkway leading up to the front door. As he passed the large tree on the front lawn, he came into view on the camera in the lower left corner of the screen.

"Who's that?!" Torman immediately jumped up, leaning in closer to the screen in order to get a better look.

"I was hoping you'd know," Lloyd responded.

The man pressed the doorbell button on the front door, startling Valerie who'd been drifting in and out of sleep.

She quickly got up, still fully clothed thankfully and made her way to the front door, which she readily opened for the stranger.

"Can I help you?" she asked him.

"You sure can. I'm wondering if I can take a few moments of your time to ask you about your furnace?" he asked her.

"That's something in my parent's hands and they're in the Bahamas for a week," Valerie said innocently, wiping the sleep from her eyes.

"Would it be alright if I came in and took a look at your furnace?" he asked her.

"Could you come back a week this coming Monday?" Valerie asked him politely.

"Is that when your parents will be back?" he asked her.

"Yeah, at about noon should be alright," she responded innocently.

He marked it down on his clipboard and smiled at her.

"Thank you for your time," he said politely, turning to leave.

"Bye," she said blandly, returning to the sofa where she sat and finished the remainder of her glass of wine as the end credits of Melrose Place scrolled down the screen.

"Who is this guy?" Torman asked of the man in the coveralls.

"He's from Fred's Furnaces. Like it says on his van," Lloyd told him.

"Who are they? What are they doing sending a service guy out at this time?" Torman asked, his jealous streak once again stoked.

"I want to know who this guy is. Somebody find out!" Torman ordered his men.

Chucky Boy got up and went over to one of the landline pay phones in the hall and began making some calls.

"Did anyone see if he touched her?" Torman asked everyone in the room.

"No, we didn't see," Lloyd answered honestly.

"Is somebody playing with me here?" Torman asked, now pacing the room, his eyes returning to the monitor every few seconds.


In the Fred's Furnaces van, the driver picked up the handset of the encrypted CB radio.

"I just made contact with the resident. She's in her early twenties. Compact. Fit. Her parents are away for the week, they'll be back a week from this coming Monday, over," he spoke into the radio.

"Any alarms?" asked a voice on the other end.

"Didn't see any signs of an alarm system, but I can tell you this. They've got money coming out of their ears. There was easily over two hundred grand of stuff in the living room alone," he said over the radio.

"What about the girl?" asked the voice on the other end of the radio.

"She's a small peep, that one. Thin and gorgeous. Could barely hurt a fly, if that. If we took her instead, we could make some real doh re mi on this, forget the goods. Just her. Her friggin' parents are in the Bahamas for crying out loud. If we get her, they'll pay through the teeth to get her back," the van driver advised.

"You're sure of this?" asked the voice on the other end of the radio.

"I'm sure. This is the real deal. We'll be able to sit tight for years on this one," he assured the man on the radio.

"Alright. I'll get the guys ready, and I'll even bring in the *Prowler*," the voice on the radio replied.

"The Prowler? The Prowler?" confirmed the man driving the van.

"You heard me right. Told you I have connections. Just go home, park the van and stay put until I tell you to," the man on the radio told the driver of the van.

He didn't waste any time driving to the other side of the city to his home. From there, he simply waited, having done his part in their scheme.


"So Fred's Furnaces is a small business operating in the west end of the city. Here's the thing, the company has ties to the Vinnler family," Chucky Boy informed Torman.

"So they're protected, are they?" confirmed Torman.

"Sort of. I wasn't able to get anything about them being involved in actual dealings of the Vinnler family. They've just got an association with them. An employee who's married to one of the brothers. The older one," Chucky Boy told Torman, whose expression intensified.

"Alright. Lets make sure my girl's not already in bed with someone else. Uhhhh... send her a delivery. A box of chocolates with a card. Put some romantic spiel on it, like: You're my girl, with luv from your man, Torman. Make sure you spell love with L U V, got it?" Torman asserted to Lloyd, who wrote it down on a scrap of paper to make it happen.

"On my way boss," Lloyd disappeared through the door into the restaurant section which had just closed. 

"Chucky Boy, make sure the guys on the ground are all all in sync. In case we have to get physical?" Torman ordered his chief of security.

"I'm on it, boss," Chucky Boy stepped out the back door and relayed the message to the rest of the men.

Torman in the meantime returned to his seat in front of the camera screens, watching them intensely as the dusk was replaced by night.


It was nine forty-five by that time and Valerie, now well rested was getting her second wind for the evening. She regretted that Torman had turned her down, as this was essentially their Friday night together, albeit on a Thursday. She turned the volume down on the television and turned on the stereo, deciding that she'd make her own party.

There was still a full bottle of Chablis in the fridge, and a bottle of sparkling Rosé as backup. She decided that she'd take responsibility for her own fun. She took her empty salad bowl to the kitchen and put it in the dishwasher. She then poured herself a full glass of wine, immediately drinking it half way before refilling her glass again.

"Let's get this party started!" she said, dancing her way back to the living room, as the darkness closed in outside.


At that moment, Torman caught sight of Valerie through the front lawn camera, seeing her with a glass of wine in hand, dancing in front of the bay window.

"What's she doin'? Does she got somebody in there with her?" he asked himself aloud, though he was now alone.

He then noticed something that he'd missed earlier. The camera in the backyard, the one watching the sliding doors was no longer visible. The screen was black as if there were no image at all. Then, as if by some sick pattern of fate, the car port camera suddenly went out as well. The only external camera was the one in the front yard tree. The only camera upon her.

Meanwhile, none of his guys had returned yet from their errands. He quickly ran out the door into the restaurant area and found that he was alone. They were all gone.

He ran for the back door, into the parking lot behind the restaurant and found Tonesy finishing a slice of pizza, leaning against the wall.

"Everything alright boss?" he asked.

"Where is everyone?" Torman asked, still panicked.

"They're out carrying out your orders, I think," Tonesy said, still chewing the last piece of crust.

"Dammit! Why hasn't somebody invented a phone you can take everywhere with you!" Torman yelled.

"You mean portable phones boss? They have 'em. They weigh about five kilos and cost about five grand each," Tonesy responded, knowing full well they were beyond their budget and still a long way from being portable.

"Two of the cameras are down. I'm driving over there to make sure she's still my girl. If anyone gets back, you tell them to stay put until I return! Got it!?" Torman ordered Tonesy.

"Sure thing boss," Tonesy said, returning to the virtual one armed bandit in the back office.

Meanwhile, Torman jumped into his Mustang, and sped out of the parking lot in the direction of Valerie's home.

As Tonesy arrived in the office, he saw the last exterior camera, the one in the tree focused on Valerie in the living room, go out. Only three cameras remained, all of them in the interior of the home.


Valerie bopped to her heart's delight, The Cardigans' Lovefool played on the station as she sang into her air microphone, her wine glass in the other hand. Her private party well under way as someone watched her through the bay window unbeknownst to her.

A block away, Torman pulled up to where the first guy should have been keeping an eye on things. He got out of the car, and found his man unconscious with clear signs of a concussion where he lay in the bushes nearby.

Torman looked around, suddenly panicked and afraid as he ducked and ran for the safety of his Mustang.

He got in the driver's side door and sped away towards Valerie's street.

Meanwhile, Valerie had made her way back to the kitchen where she poured herself another glass of wine, grabbing an apple in hand from the fridge and taking a sizeable bite. She chewed it to pulp and washed it down with a mouthful of Chablis, when the front doorbell rang.

She stopped chewing, swallowing everything at once and looked curiously towards the front door.

"What's with all the company?" she asked herself.

She made her way to the front door, unlocked it and opened it for a pimply delivery guy, who handed her a gift wrapped box and a card.

"For me?" she said in complete shock.

"Sign here..." he said quickly in an unassuming voice.

She signed as he'd asked, and he turned and ran for his car at the end of the driveway and sped away.

She closed the door, returning to the kitchen to grab her apple and the glass of wine, taking all of her booty to the coffee table from where she began to open her gift.

It was as she suspected by shaking it, a box of chocolates. She quickly opened it and popped one in her mouth, chewing it slowly, adding to the sugary flavours still bathing her senses.

She then opened the card and was pleasantly surprised to see Torman's name on it:

You're my girl,

LUVE from your man,


"Awww" the frost around her heart suddenly melted away as she fantasized about her man, who at this moment was only a block away, speeding towards her street in a crazed lust he'd deluded himself into believing about catching her with another man.

At that moment, the lights in the house, and the entire property went out.

Valerie was so terrified by the sudden darkness and silence, she let out a scream.

She got up from the sofa, and carefully found her way back to the kitchen, where she went through the drawers for a flashlight.


Torman's car tore down the street and he didn't slow as he came to a skidding halt in Valerie's driveway, the property and several of the other properties now pitch black.

He left the headlights on, closing the door to his Mustang as he snuck over to the house, checking his back with every step.

As he got closer to the front door, he realized that it was slightly open, no sounds coming from within.

"Why do women have to screw around on their guys!" he said to himself, still lost in his jealousy as he approached the door.

He grabbed the door, and slowly opened it, stepping into the house, trying the light switch instinctively before doing so. No light came on in response, so he tried the next thing on his list.

"Valerie?! Babe?! It's me! Where is he!" he asked her, yelling at the top of his lungs.

"He can't hide! I'll find him! You know it!" he said, enraged at the thought of another man touching his girl.

She heard Torman from her hiding place, thinking he was speaking about her assailant and how he was going to stop him. She swooned with affection that he'd come to her rescue against such insurmountable odds.

He heard something rolling across the counter from the inside of the kitchen. There was a half second of silence and then the sound of smashing glass.

Torman looked around for a weapon, grabbing a giant foam hand on a stick, with the index finger pointed up as if to say: "we're number one". It was from a baseball game Valerie's parents had attended the month before. He wielded it much like King Arthur likely wielded Excalibur, its business end (the pointed finger) just over his right shoulder, ready to swing the foam hand weapon on a moment's notice.

"I've got a weapon now! I'm coming to get you! You better not have laid a finger on my girl!" Torman said, still caught in the throes of jealousy.

Valerie flushed with excitement that her man had come to save her, thinking he was there to smite her assailant.

Torman stepped into the kitchen, feeling the crunch of glass under his shoes but barely able to see a thing. He realized that what had happened in the kitchen only moments ago was now long gone. He turned and started making his way to the stairs in the front hall foyer, his mind somehow focused on the idea that he was going to catch the guy in the act. Torman imagined Valerie's secret lover atop of her in the height of passion, at which point he'd pummel the man with his new found (nerf) weapon.

Torman made his way to the bottom of the staircase and was about to make his way up when he caught sight of someone at the top of the stairs. He charged up them ready to swing the foam hand down upon the skull of the philanderer, but before he made it up the stairs, something came down hard upon his own.

Torman fell with a thud, rolling backwards down the stairs nearly from the top, landing on his back at the bottom. His foam weapon lay across his chest, the finger pointed up, clearly indicating that he was number one.

"Who the hell is he?" asked the man at the top of the stairs.

The one who'd just knocked Torman unconscious knew better than to say anything at all. He was a real pro. In fact, pro was the first three letters of his nickname. His handle, for he was the Prowler.

"We need to find the girl! She's the money ticket!" the same man added, though he was already once again alone as the Prowler had faded into the background.

As the man descended the stairs, looking at the stupefied expression on Torman's face, the foam hand still on his chest, something hard came down upon his head, and he fell forward, rolling to a landing beside Torman. They lay side by side on their backs, on the floor at the base of the stairs. The foam finger on Torman's improvised weapon was digging into the other man's left nostril.

Valerie made sure the man she'd just taken down with her flashlight remained unmoving before proceeding. Then she saw her hero laying beside her fallen prey.

"Torman!" Valerie screamed upon seeing her man on the floor.

She quickly got down on her knees beside him and began shaking him, trying to rouse him. To ensure that he wasn't dead.

She cried in vain as he remained silent and unmoving, when the shadow of the Prowler, the Prowler fell upon her.

She looked up to see the form of a man. Tightly covered head to foot in a black suit. A suit worn historically by the Japanese assassins known as Ninjas, of the Japanese Feudal era, though the man wearing this one was neither Japanese nor honour bound. His sword was for hire to the highest bidder and in this situation, he was simply a business man, while she was the product. 

She suddenly realized the complex economics of what had happened. Her being the daughter of a reasonably wealthy family, had somehow become a target of those who'd seek to kidnap her. To charge a ransom for her safe return to her parents who would undoubtedly have paid everything just to have their daughter back.

Her heroic and brave boyfriend must have figured this out at the last minute, and done everything he could in his power to rescue her. But he fell trying to protect her, leaving Valerie to face the most deadly adversary of her life all by her lonesome. As if it were the plot of some cheap dime store paperback, or an episode of Beverly Hills 90210.

It was ironic, that her, a business major, was now fighting against a martial artist and master of business to prevent herself from becoming the product of his business. She instead had to outdo this man whose sword could be purchased by the highest bidder. She somehow had to beat him at his own business.

She looked down at Torman, and began to weep. She let her shoulders droop. She slumped and to the approaching man, she was already defeated as he readied his blackjack to bludgeon her into the land of nod.

Valerie remained unmoving, though her senses were focused on something she'd seen earlier. Something that had fallen on the floor beside Torman. Perhaps fallen from his pocket. It looked heavy. Like a tool. Like something crafted well. Like a weapon.

As the Prowler approached the clearly defeated Valerie, with a speed and agility not unlike that of her opponent, she grabbed at the weapon, and threw it as hard as she could.

It flew through the air quickly and precisely, hitting the Prowler square in the center of his covered forehead where no armour protected him. And in the blink of an eye, he was bested by a superior business woman.

He lay flat on his back, unmoving. The measuring tape that had rendered him unconscious lay beside him on the floor.


Torman's eyes fluttered and he awoke, his head bandaged and a catheter up his nose. His first sight was the face of his girl.

"How's my hero doing?" Valerie asked him, still smiling at the heroics he'd displayed for her that night.

"Alright, I guess. Did he touch you?" Torman's crazed jealousy could not be put to rest and he had to know if she'd slept with another man.

"No babe. We got him. You saved us. You saved me," Valerie saw nothing but courageous heroism in the man she loved.

They were both completely unaware of the fact that they were referring to the same situation from two completely different perspectives, whose end result had somehow worked out for both of them.

Though for Valerie, her conscience was clean and her heart wall full of purity and love. She simply saw the courage and bravery of her man.

From her perspective he was a real hero.

Yet, from his side of the same story, he saw her as the cheater. As being the slut in his debt. He'd been wronged by his girl, though no proof of such an occurrence had yet arisen to confirm his suspicions.

His zealous fervor wasn't directed at protecting Valerie at all. It was directed at finding the man he suspected had slept with her. From her perspective, he was smitten with the love and devotion to protect her. 

He couldn't understand how she could hide her guilt so easily until he suddenly realized the truth.

He pieced it together from what she'd just said.

"No babe. We got him. You saved us. You saved me," she had said.

The Police stepped into the hospital room, and Torman's stomach churned and his temperature rose.

Did they know what he knew, or were they just as clueless as she was?

Was she the only one fooled by this whole situation?

"Let's start this out simple. Did you get a good look at your assailant?" asked the Police Officer gently.

From that moment, Torman knew that they'd been fooled by this whole ruse too.

"No. I didn't get a good look, as guy who gave me the lump came from behind," Torman said honestly.

"Did you know either of the two men?" asked the Police Officer.

"No. I only know that they broke into the home of my girl. And that I was going to stop them from carrying out their plans..." Torman lied, still burning inside with the possibility that his girl might have been touched by another man.

"What about the others. They had a whole gang of guys keeping watch on her house. We found cameras. Surveillance equipment. We took a bunch of guys into custody. Would you testify in open court against them?" asked the Police Officer.

"They were watching my girl!?" Torman feigned an intense rage.

"They had the place wired so the poor girl didn't have any privacy. We're guessing that it was part of their plan to kidnap her and to extort her parents," the Police Officer explained to Valerie and Torman.

"Those bastards!" Torman added, though he didn't confirm he'd testify.

"They're pretty tight lipped about the whole thing, but we have a pretty strong case against them. Its a good thing the two of you are healthy. And happy. You're a nice couple," the Police Officer smiled at them sincerely, Valerie returning the same sentiment of pure goodness, while Torman boiled and churned inside.

"We'll be in contact with you in the near future. Get some rest hero," the Police Officer left the two love birds alone.

"You never doubted us for a moment. Did you? Us I mean. Together," Valerie looked at him lovingly.

"Not for one second," Torman lied yet again, the weight accumulating upon his soul.

"Oh, the company that makes your car? They called, and they were so touched by our story and your heroics, that they're giving me my very own Mustang. A white one. We'll have his and hers Mustangs honey," Valerie gushed her love and goodness, while Torman toiled in his own mirth.

"Not only that, but... let me see if I can remember all of this... a Japanese engineering company that makes high performance parts for motorcycles has adapted their Yoshimura Header, used in racing bikes to offer a version of their exhaust system for the Mustang automobile. They've offered to install it in my Mustang for free. How awesome is that!" Valerie jumped a few times excitedly, while Torman's frustration grew.

Though he'd regarded Valerie and the Police as being fools for being fooled by the whole ruse, he was quickly coming to the realization that the entirety of the weight was all his. Where their essence was free of burden and conscience, the entirety of it all fell upon him. It was then that he knew that they were truly free, and that it was he that was the real fool.

Where she thought he'd tried to save her from kidnappers, he knew that he was driven by a jealous rage suspecting she'd been bedding someone else. 

Where she thought he'd acted alone, coming to her rescue like a knight in shining armour, he knew that he'd kept her under surveillance just to appease his distrust of her, and sold everyone else out, expecting them to keep his secret along with him. 

Where she thought he was obsessed with stopping the man who would hurt her, he knew he was obsessed with any man other than himself who would bed her.

She left him when the nurses came in and administered sedatives to help him sleep, though in truth it wasn't as a result of his injuries that he was having such trouble. It was the result of the accumulating weight upon his conscience. Perhaps the nurses saw it as their opportunity to dispense mercy in the form of a quick way out via the revels of modern medicine.

When Valerie got home, the Police had finished cleaning up the crime scene, and for the first time in two days, she had some peace. Some time alone.

She realized in her solitude, that she liked herself. She'd become comfortable with her. When faced with a difficult situation involving a far more experienced adversary and business competitor, she'd come out on top.

She'd learned to see things in a new light. A light that had freed her from distrust and self doubt.

On the week when her parents got back, she decided that she'd sign up for an additional year at business school, adding Corporate Analysis to her growing portfolio of business expertise.

As she sipped her night cap, she thought: why not aim for the top?

After all, she was Valerie Aspen first, and Torman's girl second.

Further Content:

This is the final tale of the three and sees the return of more familiar characters from the Butterfly Dragon at a much earlier stage in their lives. I hope you enjoy this year's finale for International Women's Day.

Once. Twice. Third. Thrice.

June 1997

Walton dragged his wheeled luggage by a thin strap, pulling it for the remainder of his sojourn to the pickup area of the Airport.

The air was warm and the smell and feel of summer was in the air. Most importantly though, his school term had ended and the summer had begun.

He continued along casually amongst the crowd in terminal B, his sports jacket slung over his shoulder. His tie dangling losely from his collared neck. He felt like a man of the world, for it was his first trip abroad despite the fact that his tuition and a scholarship bursary had paid for it. 

He'd just returned from the final year of Yale's Business Management Strategy. A one year course offered to local and exchange students, the latter under which he'd qualified as a student of Ryerson's Business Futures Program, though Norler was far from being a prodigy that opportunity afforded him.

Many of his grade school teachers had called him reckless, while his counselors had called him distracted. Yet, amongst the few who hadn't discarded him in favour of statistically more viable bets, he was a natural when it came to the show. Making it seem like he heard and understood everything, yet truthfully, he was only dancing.

Norler far too enjoyed the enjoyed the rewards of his natural charisma, while taking for granted the trust afforded him by those so enthralled by his presence. To him, life was the pursuit of candy. The better you were at it, the more candy you got. It was as simple as that, and oh how he wanted candy. And lots of it too. To him, if you were born with the ability to get it, then why not go for it all.

As he approached the pickup area doors, he spied one of his school mates from Yale. A partier like him, yet much more technically minded and with an almost seemingly endless energy. A Japanese juvenile named Yasoto Takamore.

"Norler! I thought you were headed to Scarborough?" asked Yasoto.

"Naaa. My parents are still away in Geneva. They set me up with a nice hotel room downtown at the Marriott," Norler admitted to Yasoto.

"The Marrionette? Bah! I'm across the street from you at the Hilton. My parents are always running around all over the globe with their righteous political save the world nonsense. I'm telling ya, the world is going to be run by computer admins by the year 2020. I'm damned serious!" Yasoto patted the back of Norler's white shirt.

"And who will be signing their paycheques but the biz admins?" Norler responded accurately.

"Ha ha ha! Possibly, but you can't sign what you can't access, and computer admins will control what everyone accesses," Yasoto replied, unperterbed by Norler's bravado.

"Then I guess I might as well suck up while I can, Yasoto," Norler held out his hand for a mid-five, which essentially was indicating a draw.

Yasoto held up his fist to Norler's. Norler punched Yasoto's back in return.

"Be thankful we're not in a Japanese bar, because if we were, we wouldn't be punching fists. We'd be slapping faces - and hard! No holds barred," Yasoto told Norler.

"Whatcha doin tonight? Its like Friday and we're back from the Big Apple. There are bars raring to go, music to be moved to, and women to be loved! Are you up to it?" Norler had become infected with the juvenile Tengu of summer, as Yasoto himself might have said.

"Norler, I got moves that'll take us all the way into our retirement, if partying is your game," Yasoto tempted him, though Norler was already well into that territory.

"Then lets. I'll call you in three, by that time we should be approaching eight in the pm. That translates to the Witching hour in Toronto you know..." Norler winked at Yasoto.

"Great! I'm in for that brother," Yasoto held up his fist once again.

Norler punched it back, and their two fists met knuckle to knuckle, after which their pinkies unfolded, hooking each other's, as they extended their thumbs directing them at their foreheads.

"That's how they do it in Yale!" Yasoto reponded.

"Then we'll have to come up with one for Yasoto and Norler," Norler responded as he spotted the driver with his name on a sign.

"Share the ride?" asked Yasoto.

"Why not. Hop in," Norler wheeled his luggage around to the trunk, leaving it for the elderly driver to heft into the trunk.

Yasoto left his luggage beside Norler's, and the elderly man barely made a sound as he struggled to load their suitcases into the car while Norler and Yasoto loaded into the back seat waiting for him to finish.

The driver returned to his seat, having loaded their luggage and began his predetermined trip to the Marriotte.

"We're dropping my friend here at the Hilton first," Norler asserted to the driver, who nodded affirmatively after which he turned on the radio.

"So what was your final score?" asked Yasoto of Norler, about his course.

"I aced it. I got 89 average. 87 low and 91 high, Norler boasted to Yasoto proudly.

"Not bad," Yasoto replied, stopping their conversation there.

Norler sat quietly for a moment, before he couldn't resist pressing Yasoto for his score.

"So what'd you get?" asked Norler impatiently.

"Low? 94," Yasoto responded.

"What!? Like what was your average then?!" Norler sat forward in his seat.

"98," Yasoto replied calmly.

"Are you telling me that your high was 100?" asked Norler in complete shock.

"No. It was 99.8," Yasoto replied, remaining silent for a moment before he could no longer contain his laughter.

"You mean to tell me that your instructor couldn't raise your high by point two so you'd get perfect? What an arse!" Norler said in disgust.

"I guess that's the difference between how you see it, and how it is," Yasoto replied.

"I guess, but that sucks!" Norler answered, not entirely sure about what he was talking.

"We're here," the driver stepped out of the car and opened the trunk.

Yasoto held up his hand to Norler.

Instead of tapping fists, they shook hands like business men.

"I will call you at eight, Fair?" asked Yasoto.

"Look, if you called me at seven fifty-eight, I'd be fine with that too," Norler replied, perhaps mocking Yasoto's teacher for not simply raising his score.

"I'll call you at eight," Yasoto nodded, getting out of the car and waiting for the driver to finish retreiving his luggage from the trunk.

When he had the wheeled trunk, Yasoto pulled it up onto the curb and along the walkway to the Hilton front door as the driver returned to the car.

"Would you prefer me to take you all the way to the front door of the hotel? Or should I stop in the middle of the street and let you out there?" asked the driver of Norler.

Norler stopped and pondered what the driver had just said, and the brilliance of it eventually hit him.

"Point well made. I'd prefer a hundred percent effort rather than ninety-nine point eight percent. Take me to the front door," Norler grasped the concept quickly, yet it still didn't quite click with him entirely.

"If you hadn't have told me, I might not have known that I could have done better," the driver responded to him.

The driver pulled the car up to the front doors of the Marriotte, and got out to retrieve Norler's luggage from the trunk.

"Can I get your bags sir?" asked an attentive bellhop.

Norler looked the bellhop, his nametag and then to the driver.

"Thanks Trent. You could help the driver get them out of the trunk," Norler said somewhat arrogantly.

The bellhop wasted no time assisting the driver, and once they were upon the paved walkway, Norler turned to the driver and dropped some cash in his palm.

"Oh. Thank you! Next time I remember not to drop you in middle of street!" the driver reminded Norler of their moment, and then disappeared into his car.

Seconds later, the driver was gone somewhere into Norler's distant future.

Meanwhile, Trent had loaded Norler's luggage onto a trolley and was hauling it into the hotel like a star.

"Your driver told me you have reservations here. He even said you're a good guy, if not a bit off kilter," Trent told Norler.

"He said all that? I didn't hear you guys discuss anything? Some kind of secret hotel/bellhop code or something?" Norler asked Trent skeptically.

Trent looked to Norler, judging that the young man had no sense of mystery or intrigue. So he opted for the second response.

"You caught me. I was pushing for the tip, but you're obviously too on the ball for that. However, he did share your client info with me and because I have this good feeling about you, despite my better judgement, I'm going to fast track you through the check-in process," Trent assured Norler, still edging for the tip.

"Get me to my room, and I'll give you what you what you've earned," Norler responded, no slouch himself when it came to money management and dealing with the labour.

They approached the front desk, and a pretty young face greeted Norler's.

"I'm Laina. I understand you've a reservation sir?" asked Laina, fixing her hair as she looked up his reservation on their booking system based upon the client id Trent had secretly provided her.

"You're quick for the evening staff. Yes, I do have a reservation, but honestly, I was wondering what you might be doing in twenty minutes, when your shift ends?" Norler spoke, always thinking ahead.

"My shift ends in an hour and twenty minutes, but I never engage flirts during my hours," she responded, examining his file.

"And afterwards?" he asked her.

"I guess you'll just have to try then," she said to him, handing his room key to Trent, possibly to whom her comments were really directed.

"Nice meeting you, Laina," Norler smiled and began his journey to the elevator after leaving a crisp twenty for Laina.

"I think she likes you," Trent said as they approached the elevators.

"That's exactly what I was going to say about her of you," Norler responded adeptly.

"I guess I'm busted then," Trent replied.

"Yep. I'd say," Norler agreed as they stepped into the elevator.

"Care to consider giving me enough for a date with her?" Trent played another angle.

"Trent. Honestly. How many times have you asked that same question to your guests?" Norler asked him.

"Two. Three maybe?" Trent replied as the elevator ascended.

"I doubt it. Probably more like forty or fifty times. When your script got to that point," Norler said skeptically.

"What if I wasn't running on a script? What if what I was saying was true? Would you stand in the way of love?" asked Trent, appealing to his wallet in the guise of his conscience.

The elevator door opened and Trent went to pull Norler's luggage trolley towards his room, however Norler stopped him.

"Its alright. I've got it from here," Norler responded grabbing hold of the trolley, thinking to Yasoto's comment, and what the driver had said about dropping him in the middle of the road.

"Laina is it? She has your date money," Norler added, pulling the trolley out of the elevator.

"That way. Your room's that way," Trent pointed left.

Norler looked to the wall, and saw that his room number was the other way.

"Can I have my key?" Norler looked to him, disappointed.

Trent handed it to him, backing up in the elevator to hide as Norler pulled the trolley to his room.

Cousins Will Be Cousins

Viviane, twenty-one, sat in a reclining lawn chair on the front porch of her rental home off Spadina Avenue, north or Queen Street West. Like a corresponding book end on the other side of the porch, sat Monique, nineteen, in a similar lawn chair. On the glass coffee table between them, empty wine coolers sat. In their hands they each nursed their drinks under the night sky.

"So, what would you like to do tonight?" asked Viviane.

"This is your turf, Mademoiselle. You pick. Besides, you're the one who needs the break," Monique took a sip of her drink.

"Yeah... This past school year was pretty tough, but I'd bet being a waitress isn't much easier, if at all," Viviane saved face for her cousin.

Monique speaks with her cousin Viviane
"Its tough, but it keeps me busy," Monique replied.

"Too busy to give your parents a call?" asked Viviane.

"I thought you promised we weren't going to talk about this?" Monique became defensive.

"You can't blame a girl for trying, and don't forget that your father is my mother's brother," Viviane reminded Monique.

"Look. I came here because I needed some time away from them, they're too... how you say? Se mêler de ma vie," Monique asserted firmly.

"Meddling in your life? They're your parents. You're nineteen. When I was nineteen my parents nagged me too. Besides, they would surely say you're too stubborn. Something about which I might remind you that I'd have to agree, having lived with you now for nearly a year," Viviane looked to Monique with a friendly yet affirmative look in her eyes.

"And now that you're twenty-one, you've accumulated a mountain of wisdom in the two years you have over me? Look, cousin, let's just talk about this some other time. This is your first night in the summer without having to worry about university for another two months. Let's do a bit more than just sit here all night arguing about family," Monique worked quickly to change the topic.

"Alright. Fair enough.  So what would you like to do?" asked Viviane again.

"I don't know. What's the big fuss about Queen Street anyway?" asked Monique.

"On this side? You've got CityTV, Much Music and Speaker's Corner. You've got Active Surplus. You've got Steve's Music, Long And McQuade's other book end and competition. You got your knick-knack shops. You got your fashion district, not strictly designer, though there is a lot of that, but a sort of fashion underground. You've got a thousand avant-gardes places to have a coffee or tea and a thousand ways to have them. You've got a diversity of good restaurants. You've got your bars and night clubs," Viviane explained to Monique who listened intently.

"Why don't we just flâner et improviser?" asked Monique who'd just finished her drink and was getting to her feet.

"Stroll and improvise? Sounds good to me," Viviane got up, gathering her wine cooler can and her cup.

"Let me get that. You get our purses. We're already made up. We just get our shoes and go," Monique took Viviane's cup and can, as Viviane gathered their purses.

They left the house together, Viviane locking the front door as Monique fixed her shoulder length hair and giving herself a quick once over in a hand mirror.

"I'm telling you as your cousin, you're going places girl. You have that look," Viviane encouraged Monique.

"I'll take that as a compliment coming from the first one in the family most likely to get a degree," Monique folded up her kit and returned it to her purse as the two of them began their journey on foot to the streetcar stop.

One Ad Meridiem

The thumping grind of the night club could still be heard behind them as they stumbled into the night.

"Didja see that one by the bar? The blonde haired chick with the legs up to there..." Norler stumbled as he spoke.

"I saw her first..." Yasoto exclaimed as if they were the competing astronauts of two different nations stepping out onto the moon in a race to get their flag down before the other.

"I got her number..." Norler responded, looking through his pockets for the scrap piece of paper she'd handed him.

"See?" Norler handed Yasoto a folded up note.

Yasoto opened it up and read it aloud:

You're cute and all, but I don't give out my number

Yasoto began laughing, bumping into a nearby wall as he did.

"Noooooo! Give me that!" Norler stumbled after him trying to reclaim the note she'd written for him.

Yasoto was laughing so hard he could barely stand up. With his eyes closed, he extended his hand with the note, and Norler snatched it from him and began reading it.

"What? I thought we had something?" Norler drunkenly ruminated over what he'd read on the note as he thought about her.

"We've gotta get some grub man..." Yasoto responded, finally having calmed down enough to talk.

"I know the perrrfect place. They serve up the best food at this time... but we've gotta walk there," Norler urged Yasoto forward as the struggled along Queen Street West just after one AM.

"Why can't we just flag a cab?" asked Yasoto.

"No. No. We've gotta walk there. Its like an adventure!" Norler urged him, clearly inebriated.

"That sounds awesome. I like adventures," Yasoto responded, suddenly running from street lamp to street lamp, hiding behind them each and using them as cover.

A group of three women walked by masking their laughter, apparently amused by Yasoto's and Norler's antics.

"We're going on an adventure. Wanna come with us?" Norler asked fearlessly, his words slurred.

"No thanks," all three of the women nodded negatively and kept walking, still laughing.

"I have to admit, you have an eye for opportunity," Yasoto assured him.

"Really? You think so? Man, that means so much coming from you! A guy with a 99.8 grade point average," Norler gushed, throwing one arm around his drunken buddy.

"No. Really. You got that knack. You see it, you go for it. None of that self doubt stuff or anything the rest of us are conditioned to have. Programmed to have," Yasoto told him, already beginning with another one of his social theories.

"No, man. You just have to keep your eye on the goal, not the stuff in the way," Norler said, now holding onto Yasoto to prevent himself from falling over.

"What about that guy over there?" Yasoto pointed to a man who was clearly living on the streets, his sleeping back beside him as he dragged it into a nearby alley.

"Maybe he got lost in the stuff in the way. Didn't focus on the goal or something?" Norler suggested.

"You know what I think?" Yasoto said.

"No. What do you think?" Norler slurred again.

"I think half of it is what you said, and the other half is people letting you get there. You know? Not getting in your way, or making your way a lot harder?" Yasoto suggested to Norler, who pondered what Yasoto had to say on the matter.

Norler looked over to the homeless man, just getting ready to curl up in his sleeping bag on the cold pavement just inside of an alley. The look in his eye was that he'd been utterly defeated by life. No contest. He then recalled Yale and the look in the eyes of every student he'd seen. That determination. That sense that they were going to get there no matter what. He then wondered what the homeless man and the Yale graduates might have to teach each other about life.

They crossed at the lights and cut down a much darker side street. They took a few more turns through small residential community and up towards a large distinguished building of some kind.

Out front, they saw two strangely colourful, majestic lions on either side of stairs and a path leading up to the front door. All along the sides of the building was writing that Norler couldn't quite make out. Like the lions, it was very colourful yet not artistic at all. As if someone had quickly etched it onto the walls in a hurry.

Norler looked at the building carefully, squinting as he did.

"That's Japanese, isn't it?" asked Norler, still staggering.

"What?!" Yasoto looked over to the building Norler had seen, examining it carefully.

"No! That's not Japanese man! That's Chinese! Way different architecture. Now I suppose you're going to tell me that all Asians look the same too, are you?" Yasoto responded.

"No man. I wasn't going to do that at all. I guess you learn something new every day," Norler said, admiring the building one last time before they continued on.

As they walked a bit further, Norler, still staggering, tripped and fell onto a porcelain planter outside of the Chinese building, Yasoto falling as he tried to catch Norler. When they had landed in something gooey, Norler immediately began checking it by smelling his hands and shirt.

"Its wet paint! It's all over my clothes!" Norler got up, attempting to brush off the paint.

Yasoto examined himself, he too covered in several colours of the wet paint. On the sidewalk beside them, they noticed three cannisters of paint, two of which were tipped over. One red. One blue. The other flourescent green. Within each were several paint brushes.

"We'll have to wait 'til tomorrow and see if they can't get this off at the cleaners," Norler said, still very much focused on the stains on his clothing.

"I just paid like a hundred and fifty bucks for this shirt you know!" Yasoto scolded Norler.

"Come on man. Lets get some food and deal with this tomorrow," Norler began staggering a little quicker, as they made their way out of the side street and towards Spadina Avenue.

They immediately attracted attention when they arrived, with people giving them mean looks as they walked.

"That's them!" someone exclaimed as they passed.

"What's up? Its like we're pariahs or something?" Norler said, looking back at the people as he passed them.

"Are we close to this food place yet?" asked Yasoto impatiently, starting to feel a little wary.

"Its up just here," Norler pointed to the next set of traffic lights.

From beside them, they heard the sound of a Police car, which pulled up along the curb, the two officers getting out quickly and approaching them.

"Could we see some ID please?" the first Officer, the taller of a two asked as the second stood in a strategic position ready for anything.

Both Norler and Yasoto searched their pockets for the wallets, handing them over to the first Officer.

The second Officer then spoke.

"How'd you get this paint on your clothes?" she asked.

"We were like walking back from a night club..." Yasoto began.

"Which night club?" the first Officer asked.

"The Big Bop, sir," Norler responded.

"When did you leave?" asked the second Officer.

"Just after last call," Norler replied.

"How'd you get here?" asked the first Officer.

"We walked... stumbled?" Yasoto replied, now a little cautious but still trying some levity.

"You were saying about the paint?" asked the second Officer.

"We were walking back from the..." Norler began before he was cut off by the first Officer.

"Back? Where were you before the Big Bop?" asked the first Officer.

"We were at our hotel rooms," Norler replied.

"You're staying in the same room?" asked the second Officer.

"No, we have separate hotel rooms in separate hotels," Norler replied.

"Do you both live in Toronto?" asked the first Officer.

"Yes sir. Kind of..." Norler replied.

"What's that supposed to mean?" asked the second Officer.

"We... our parents live in different places all the time," Norler replied.

"Where were you going from the Big Bop?" asked the first Officer.

"To a restaurant just up ahead. They're open until the wee hours. Three AM I think," Norler told the Officer.

"So finish telling us how you got the paint on your clothing," the second Officer asked.

"We were taking a short cut from the Bop up to Spadina here and we fell into a cannister of paint," Norler explained to them as the second Officer wrote notes.

"Where was this cannister of paint?" asked the first Officer.

"Just back down this street here, and just outside of a big Chinese building with two lions outside?" Norler explained as another squad car pulled up.

Both Norler and Yasoto began to feel very nervous, if not uncomfortable.

"You understand that you're being taken into Police custody?" asked the first Officer.

"For what?" asked Norler.

"Could you stand facing the wall, hands behind your back," the first Officer asked them.

He then proceeded to handcuff each of them, and they knew their night was over from that point on.


The auction had just finished as Mingzhi Zhidao received the large box of goods she'd bid on, and consequently, had won. One of the orderlies brought out a wrapped bundle of gardening tools that went along with her lot.

[Get the box and take it to the car. Come back for the bundle of tools.]
"拿到盒子,把它带到车上。 回来拿工具包。" she told her son.

"好吧" her son replied, doing as she instructed.

"Wait! Wait! Mrs. Zhidao?" a man in his late twenties, possibly early thirties came running from behind the office door dressed in slacks, a tie and a sports jacket.

Mrs. Zhidao
"What is it Officer?" asked Mrs. Zhidao.

"I'm Detective Farnham. Two things. First, they forgot to put this in that lot you just bought from the Police Auction. It might come in handy. Regardless, you paid for it, so here," Detective Farnham handed her a rugged looking measuring tape.

She held it in her hand, examining it, and then put it in her purse.

"The second thing?" she prompted Detective Farnham.

"The second thing is that the perpetrators, those doing the community service for their crime against the Chinese Community Center are showing up today on your grounds. They should be there just before noon, so make sure you put them to good use," Detective Farnham informed her.

"Detective Farnham. I attended the orientation session hosted by your Policing service, and I understand how to deal with them. Nonetheless, I thank you, but I must go," Mrs. Zhidao began walking to catch up with her son, who was down the hall about to exit the Police auction building with the box, having left the bundle of gardening tools leaning against the wall.

"One last thing Mrs. Zhidao. The two claimed their innocence right until the end, and could have avoided community service had they plead guilty. They chose to forego that option and got the harsher of the sentences, both community service and two years probation. I'm on the fence about this case, but I'm leaning in their favour. If you hear anything from them about the case, especially involving other people besides themselves, could you at least give me a call?" Detective Farnham handed her a business card.

Much like the measuring tape, she accepted it, examined it and added it to her purse.

"I will call you if need be, Detective. Good day. Now if you will excuse me, I have a busy day today. Too busy," Mrs. Zhidao nodded to Detective Farnham and then turned and followed after her son.

Breakfast Shift

"Would you like another coffee Jim?" asked Monique as she collected her customer's plate.

"Sure, I'll take another, and the morning paper if you have it," the customer, one of her regulars and a city sanitation engineer accepted her offer politely.

Monique grabbed the freshly brewed pot of coffee and poured Jim a cup. She then found a copy of the morning edition and placed it in front of him.

"Thanks dear," he responded.

"Looks like the Jays have a fighting chance," Monique added, stirring up light conversation with him as some more customers arrived for their first meal of the day.

"Possibly, if they can squeeze a better pitching game out of Roger Clemens," he replied.

"I thought Huck Flener was pitching last night?" confirmed Monique.

"He was the finisher. It was Clemens up until the seventh," her customer replied, checking the time on his watch.

"Thanks honey. I'm short of time. Keep the change," Jim placed thirty on the counter, leaving Monique a healthy thirty-three percent tip as he got up and left.

"Thanks Jim. See you tomorrow," she echoed as he disappeared out the door.

Monique quickly reset his place setting and checked his order out at the cash register. She then went out from behind the counter to clear and reset some of the other tables.

When she returned, a pair of men sat at the counter beside each other. One of them sitting in Jim's old seat.

"Welcome to the Sunny Side Grill. Care to start with a coffee?" asked Monique, not having seen their faces yet.

"That will do," one of them said in a husky voice.

Monique poured them each a cup of coffee and brought them a menu, their faces still remaining hidden beneath their baseball caps, though she thought nothing of it.

She continued cleaning the last of the tables and returned to the counter once she'd finished.

"Would you like more time to decide?" Monique asked politely.

"You've got a thick French accent," the other man commented.

"I'm from Quebec City. Born and raised," Monique responded.

"What's a fine girl like you doing coming all the way from Quebec to Toronto?" asked the other.

"I just needed to stretch my wings and fly. To see a more than just the place I grew up," Monique replied politely.

"Must be expensive living here for you on the wages of a waitress?" asked the same one.

"I'm living with my cousin, Viviane. She's in her last year of University," Monique told them.

They remained silent for a moment, making Monique suddenly uncomfortable.

"Did I get your names?" she asked them.

"No," the one closest to her replied.

"But you're Monique, right?" asked the other.

"So what's it going to be?" asked Monique impatiently.

"You still don't remember us, do you?" asked the first one as he removed his baseball cap.

She suddenly recognized him, backing away in horror.

"The best way to walk away from this without you or your cousin getting hurt, is to unsee what you saw last night, little lady. To forget you ever saw it. You do that, and you're both safe. Understand me?" asked the first man.

He was a short thick man, with a heavy beard and moustache and a shaven bald head. He had home made tattoos all up and down his forearms, as if he'd gotten drunk one night and allowed his other drunken friends to doodle on his arms with permanent ink. No artistic merit or effort was put into his tattoos. They were just the scrawling of an impromptu drunken impulse.

The other man was tall and thin, yet muscular. Possibly upwards of six feet two inches. If he was any other man, Monique might have even found him cute. Attractive possibly. However, she only found him repulsive due to circumstances that had revealed his true character.

He had a thin chiseled nose, and a square angular jaw. His shoulders were like a long two-by-four, wide and straight all the way across. He too had similar tattoos on his forearms, and a particularly nasty scar on the back of his right hand. As if someone had slashed him there.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Monique played it as if she failed to recognize them.

"Don't be stupid, lady. Just forget what you saw last night, and be done with it," the bearded man said to Monique just as the door opened and a customer came in.

Monique remained terrified of them, until she'd seen who her customer was.

"Hi Miss. We're in a bit of a hurry. Could you give us two to go? Sugar and cream on the side," asked a uniformed Police Officer, his partner waiting in a cruiser outside.

Monique was frozen in shock, and for a moment, she had the urge to turn the two men in given the crime they'd committed the previous night. Then the thought occurred to her what if they were let go. If they couldn't be charged due to lack of evidence? They would be free to hurt Viviane or herself in any number of ways, and from the look of them, they'd possibly had experience in that department.

Not only that, but she'd unknowingly given them enough information with which they could easily track down their place of residence. Inside, she kicked herself again and again for having done so. Then she reasoned that her trusting nature was a good quality, that it was their fault, not hers. If she didn't do something, then she'd essentially be trapped in their world. Almost as much a part of it as were they.

"Miss?" the Police Officer addressed her politely.

"Sorry? Oh. Coffee. Right. Uhhhh, yeah. Two coffees, sugar and cream on the side. Coming right up," Monique responded to the Police Officer, smiling uneasily, aware that both of the men seated at the counter were watching her every move.

They had both returned the baseball caps to their heads, perhaps to remain incognito.

As Monique poured the coffee, the Police Officer reached over one of them, grabbing the newspaper and checking the sports section.

"Oh good. They won. Surprise, surprise," the Police Officer responded cheerfully.

"It was a good game," the tall thin nosed man lied, not having seen it at all.

"Clemens opened the game and Flener closed it," Monique added, having learned from Jim earlier.

"Yeah I heard. Clemens is a good pitcher, but in the long haul he gets tired quickly. Flener was a good choice for the closer though," the Police Officer responded.

"Here you go Officer. You'd like a receipt too, right?" Monique handed the Police Officer a tray with two coffees and a bag for the sugar and cream.

"Yes I would. Keep the change, but put it on the receipt," the Police Officer replied, handing Monique a five dollar bill.

Monique rang the order into the cash register and handed the receipt to the Police Officer.

"Thanks again Miss. You fellas have a good day," he turned and walked out the door and returned to the cruiser as the bearded man turned to watch them in the car.

"If you wrote a note or anything to them, I'll put a knife in your throat right here and now," he said to Monique firmly, brandishing one of the breakfast knives.

He watched as the Officers went through the bag, retrieving their sugar and cream. When they'd pulled it from the bag, they discarded it into a trash receptacle they had in the car and prepared their coffee. When they were done, they pulled out into traffic.

"Smart lady. Let's hope your cousin is as smart, though I'd urge you not to mention a word of this to her at all. Go it?" the bearded man asked Monique, his knuckles whitening as he gripped the knife in his hand.

Monique nodded, without saying a word. Almost at the point of tears as the Police Officers drove off.

The two men then got up and left without ordering a thing.

When they were gone, she went into the kitchen and told the cook that she was going on break. 

"fifteen minutes," He said curtly, nodding as he spoke.

Monique found her way into the back office and broke down crying in her lap as she sat at the desk.

Once: The Courtyard

Walton Norler and Yasoto Takamori sat on a bench outside of an office within the Chinese Cultural Center, dressed in their best work clothes.

"My father won't even talk to me. My mother only says exactly what she needs to say and nothing more. I'm like a total disgrace now. An embarrassment to my entire family," Yasoto explained to Norler intensely.

"Man, I'm so sorry. I wish I could change things. My old man gave me the talk of a lifetime. He pulled me aside into the garage and gave me the third degree. A total lecture that lasted for two hours, while my mother cried inside the house. It was like I destroyed their lives," Norler responded empathically.

"Why do things happen this way? We didn't even do anything?!" Yasoto became frustrated again, lowering his head to show only the top of his black hair.

"I know, man. I was sitting in bed last night thinking about it, and I had this urge to hit the wall as hard as I could. It only lasted for a second, but I've never felt so frustrated in my life, and I've never felt that... helpless," Norler added to Yasoto's testimony.

They both lifted their heads at the same time when they heard two pairs of foot steps walking down the hall from the front entrance.

The first person walked in their direction, brandishing a large box in his arms. He looked to be not much older than they were. He was clearly Chinese, and his face was easy going and stress free. He seemed to possess a inner calmness. His eyes were large and captivating, his nose rounded and blended with his slightly work tanned facial tone. He wore a black t-shirt and blue jeans, and pair of soil stained white runners on his feet.

He passed them, continuing along the hall and out through the back door with the big box. By that time, they caught sight of the second person. She was an older lady, perhaps in her late forties, though she could easily pass as being in her mid thirties. She was both thin and shapely, and walked with poise, grace and determination.

She too was Chinese, her brows immaculately sculpted to frame two perfect almond eyes. Her cheeks were etched pink, round and colourful while her lips, were tight and pursed. In fact they didn't know if the redness in her lips was the result of makeup, or pressure. Her face was caught in a perpetual battle between a smile and a frown, yet it was impossible to tell which was winning.

Both Yasoto and Norler stood up simultaneously as she arrived.

"Mrs. Zhidao? We're here f... for our..." Norler began nervously, each of them showing her a time card they'd needed signed to turn in to their Parole Officer.

"Come... We go there," she pointed to the door the man had just walked out with the box as she began walking.

They followed behind her, trying not to look at her.

As they walked, Yasoto took notice of the walls, both of which were covered in various poems and literature, though all of it was written in Chinese. He could pick out some of it, but not enough to make any real sense of it.

"This stuff's real old," Yasoto pointed out to Norler.

"I thought you were Japanese?" confirmed Norler.

"I can't read it. I can just tell," Yasoto replied.

"Its written in the old language. Most of it from Song Dynasty," Mrs Zhidao responded as she approached the door.

Yasoto quickly ran to the door and opened it for her. She went through without even so much as looking at him.

Yasoto looked to Norler, mimicking the look on her face, nearly causing Norler to burst out laughing, though uneasily.

They arrived in what appeared to be a courtyard, which was mostly in disrepair and overgrowth. An ornate stone path wound its way through the ground, passing close to several basins and planters along the route. Most of the planters contained nothing but dry soil and struggling weeds, while the basins were filled with years of accumulated dried leaves and twigs.

In the center of the courtyard, was a stone fountain, long since dried up. Three large statues of golden fish, sat upright on their bellies, their mouths pointing into the air as they formed a circle between them. One of the statues was broken, its fins long since disappeared and the top of its head all but gone. A large copper pipe remained where its head once was, clearly the throat through which water once flowed.

The entire courtyard could have fit twenty or thirty people comfortably, and was framed with these basins and planters which were interspersed around the border. Mrs. Zhidao examined the state of disrepair as her son put the large box down carefully.

"Go to the car and get the bundle of tools so we can start work. Work, work, work!" she said three times in succession, as if her son was a mule that she was trying to coax to move faster.

She then turned to face Yasoto and Norler, who kept their heads down when she looked.

"Ahhh. Nice clothes. Too nice. You go to the nice restaurant and drink a tea? You not here to work," she said to them, a comical scowl on her face.

"These are our work clothes!" Yasoto responded defensively.

"You wear the perfume to work too. Want to smell too good! You need to think more about the work, not the look good!" Mrs. Zhidao said to them, though they had no idea if she was being sarcastic or not.

"We'll work hard. Don't worry," Norler assured her.

"I'm not worry. I never worry. You are going to make this backyard nice. Like your clothes nice," Mrs. Zhidao explained to them.

"Uhhhh, Miss? We can't fix that fountain. We're not qualified," Yasoto stepped forward, pointing to the broken fish.

"You fix fish. We show you how to fix fish. Plumber fix the water for the fish. You fix fish," Mrs. Zhidao assured them as her son arrived with the bundle of tools.

"Here you go mom," her son set the bundle of tools down beside the box.

"You see. He dressed to work. You? Not dressed to work. You dressed to go to party!" Mrs. Zhidao affronted them once again.

"Can we just get to work then?" Norler asked becoming impatient with her antics.

"You want to work? Ok. You work. You, dig hole. Here, and here, and here. Three feet down. two feet each side," after her son had untaped the bundle of tools, she bent over and picked up the spade, handing it to Norler.

Then she pulled the measuring tape from her purse and began marking off the boundaries of the holes she wanted Norler to dig with sticks she found nearby.

"What about me?" asked Yasoto.

"You? You get leaves from basins. All put in this basin here. Big pile," Mrs. Zhidao showed him, grabbing the rake and a shovel from the bundle of tools and handing them to Yasoto.

"Alright," Yasoto accepted the tools, beginning work on the basins immediately.

Norler by that time had already begun digging where Mrs. Zhidao had indicated.

"Why are we digging these holes?" asked Norler, now curious to know what the overall plan was.

"Because we need the earth!" she responded, in a half smirk.

"Can't you just buy some soil?" asked Yasoto.

"You the smart one. We go buy the earth. Dig another hole somewhere else. Leave the hole, take the earth!" she shared the smirk equally with Yasoto as well.

"It makes sense though," Norler replied, backing up Yasoto's idea.

"We buy the earth, leave the hole. The hole another people's problem. No fix. We dig the hole here, take the earth, our hole. Our problem. We fix. We take the earth, always a hole. We need to not make hole for other people. We make our hole, we fix our hole," Mrs. Zhidao's face returned to the midway point between optimism and skepticism.

"What about when we grow the plants? We need good soil," Yasoto reasoned with her.

"Now you think. When we need the good earth to grow, and we don't have the good earth, we buy. They use hole to make more the earth for growing. No leave problem. If we can't buy, we make here. Now you get too busy!" Mrs. Zhidao scolded them.

"Ok. Whatever you say," Norler said, looking back over to Yasoto.

"Makes sense," Yasoto agreed after thinking about what she'd said.

Norler gave it thought while he struggled digging the hole and found that he came to the same conclusion.

Mrs. Zhidao and her son in the meantime had begun pulling up the remaining derelict plants and weeds in the planters bordering the courtyard. Like Yasoto and Norler, she too worked up a sweat in the hot daytime sun. 

They continued their work for the day, and by the day's end their hands were blistered and swollen, and their thin muscles sore beyond imagination. Not only had they a good day's community service, they also had a good day's exercise.

That night though, they'd have the best sleep they'd had in months since their ordeal began.

Day Follows Night Follows

They pulled the car into the two car driveway and then made their way into their suburban home in Agincourt. Mrs. Zhidao quickly made her way to the master bedroom shower, cleaning herself up so she could prepare their dinner.

Her son in the meantime unloaded the other items they'd procured from the auction earlier that day that didn't quite fit remaining at the Chinese Cultural Center. He stored them in the garage and made his way inside to clean himself up.

By that time, Mrs. Zhidao was dressed and on her way down the stairs to the kitchen. Without so much as sitting down, she spent the next forty five minutes preparing a family meal, as she'd done every night for as long as she could remember. Her son prepared the table as she turned off the stove and gathered the meal into a variety of serving bowls and dish ware. She then brought each to the dining room table when the front door opened and her husband arrived.

She heard the sound of his briefcase touching the ceramic tile flooring of the foyer as he removed his shoes, replacing them with nearby slippers. He passed the dining room, nodding to Mrs. Zhidao once before heading upstairs to get cleaned up himself.

[Bó Chéng, come sit down for dinner.]
"Bó Chéng, 过来坐下吃晚饭," Mrs. Zhidao urged her son.

Bó Chéng put down the computer magazine he'd been reading in the living room and went to the dining room to take a seat at the side of the table. Mrs. Zhidao continued bringing out the courses of the meal and accompanying sauces until her husband arrived. She then brought out the dumplings, which she'd kept warm in the oven and took her seat at the opposite end of the table from her husband.

[Jùn Dé, The boys came for the community service today. They're very different from what I expected.]
"Jùn Dé, 孩子们今天来参加社区服务。 它们与我的预期大不相同。" Mrs. Zhidao said.

"They're young. Like me," her son, Bó Chéng responded.

[Bó Chéng, They're not like you. You'd never do such a thing, would you?]
"Bó Chéng, 他们不像你。 你永远不会做这样的事,对吗?" his father, Jùn Dé, said firmly.

"Maybe?" Bó Chéng smiled, causing his mother to laugh sarcastically.

[You stay away from them. I don't want you to joke around with those people. They need to learn from you. From your example. Not the other way around.]
"你离他们远点。 我不想让你和那些人开玩笑。 他们需要向你学习。 从你的例子。 不是相反。" his father added, his tone more pronounced as he shoveled more food into his mouth with a pair of chopsticks.

[He's just being smart. Funny. He worked hard today.]
"他只是很聪明。 有趣的。 他今天很努力。" Mrs. Zhidao responded, intervening on her son's behalf.

[Have you mailed your application for University yet?]
"你寄出大学申请了吗?" asked his father.

"We put it in the mailbox on the way to the auction," Bó Chéng answered his father.

There was an awkward moment of silence at the table as the trio consumed their food.

"Can I go out with my friends this weekend?" Bó Chéng asked his parents.

Mrs. Zhidao looked to her husband, their eyes communicating in a few moments more than words ever could have said.

[If you can be an example to those boys. The ones who put the paint all over the Cultural Center and be a good example for the rest of the week. All the while remaining like yourself, then you are strong enough to be yourself amongst your friends and can go out this weekend with them.]
"如果你能成为那些男孩的榜样。 那些把油漆涂满文化中心并成为本周剩下的好榜样的人。 一直保持像你自己,那么你就足够强大,可以在你的朋友中做你自己,并且可以在这个周末和他们一起出去。" his father said sternly.

[Listen to your father. He's wise. But you must get all your work done this week. Your home chores too!]
"听你父亲的话。 他很聪明。 但你必须在本周完成所有工作。 你的家务也一样!" Mrs. Zhidao added, her tone a little more aggressive with him.

They finished the rest of their dinner in relative silence and when they were done, it was Mrs. Zhidao who broke the silence.

[Bó Chéng, go finish your remaining chores. You can start by organizing items from the auction in your garage.]
"Bó Chéng, 去完成你剩下的杂务。 您可以先在车库中整理拍卖的物品。" Mrs. Zhidao ordered her son.

"But I was going to play some Playstation!" Bó Chéng responded sharply.

[After your chores. Finish them all before it's too late.]
"在你的家务之后。 在为时已晚之前完成所有这些。" Mrs. Zhidao gave him a firm look.

"Alright," he got up from his chair and immediately made his way to the garage as Mrs. Zhidao began taking dishes to the dishwasher as her husband went out to the backyard to do some repairs to the back deck.

With everyone gone, Mrs. Zhidao took a moment as she cleaned up the remainder of dishes to feel satisfied at how the sum of her daily effort was the gravity about which her family revolved.

She then thought about the two boys who'd come to do the community service at the Cultural Center, and how they just didn't seem like the kind of people who'd have vandalized the building. They were not what she'd expected at all, and the thought occurred to her that they really weren't much different from her son at all. Perhaps a little misguided, but certainly not the kind of people who harboured malice intent.

She retrieved Detective Farnham's business card from her purse and looked at it for a moment, debating whether she should call or not. Eventually she returned it to her purse, preferring the idea that she'd give it another day and see how things went.

Evening News

"Viviane, I'm home!" Monique said as she stepped in the door.

"Viviane?" Monique stepped out of her waitress' sneakers and made her way through the house.

When she couldn't find Viviane in the small attached home, she stepped out the backdoor and into the backyard.

She was relieved to see Viviane picking some of the green apples from the tree at the far end of the yard. She'd collected a small bowl full of them. She plucked one from the bowl, polished it on her shirt and gave it a bite.

"Everything alright?" asked Monique.

"...Fine. How was your day?" asked Viviane, just barely able to talk with the taste of sour apple in her mouth.

"It was alright. How about yours?" asked Monique cautiously.

"Good. Want a sour apple, quite possibly with worms?" Viviane asked her cousin.

"No thanks, but my stomach's ready to go out on its own and find something if I don't eat soon. Wanna get some takeout tonight?" asked Monique.

"Let's! My treat! I have some good news. A good reason to celebrate," Viviane stood with the bowl of apples and began walking with Monique to the back door.

They stepped inside the door, into the tiny kitchen where Viviane deposited the bowl of apples on the counter. She then retrieved an open piece of mail from a pile and handed it to Monique.

"What's this?" asked Monique.

"Read it. What do you feel like tonight?" Viviane thumbed through the takeout menus.

"How about a pizza? Or maybe Souvlaki?" Monique replied as she began reading the letter Viviane had handed her.

"How about both? There's a little restaurant down the street that delivers. They make pretty good pizza, and awesome Mediterranean food," Viviane checked the menu of the place she'd mentioned.

"Get a side of falafels, dolmades and tabbouleh for me, will ya?" asked Monique as she got to the nitty gritty of the letter.

"Coming right up," Viviane began writing down their order on a notepad she kept on the fridge.

"Congratulations! When do you start? When do you leave?" asked Monique.

"After graduation. Next year, in early January I'll be leaving," Viviane told Monique, as Monique gave her cousin a big hug.

"I'm so proud of you cuz! Imagine that. My own cousin working for a big law firm! And on the west coast to boot!" Monique patted Viviane's back.

"Well, I have to admit that I couldn't have done the last year without you. You should at least get some University credits for all the input you gave me," Viviane replied.

"That was just my usual self yammering away. Glad I could help," Monique smiled.

"Then lets order in," Viviane put the pen down and picked up the cordless phone.

"Now we've got a reason to celebrate. Let's get some good food and chill out. I've gotta have a shower. I'm just a mess. Let me get that done and I'll be back down in a jiffy," Monique said, quickly making her way to the stairs and up to the second floor bathroom.

A moment later a towel wrapped Monique yelled down to Viviane.

"Chicken, anchovies and pineapple on my pizza and don't forget the tahini sauce for the falafels!" Monique backed into the bathroom and began her shower.

As the water flowed over her body, the events of that morning disappeared from her, along with the stress it had caused her. In the back of her mind though, the two men still secretly haunted her every moment.

The feast they'd ordered arrived thirty-minutes later, and by that time Monique and Viviane were in their housecoats and on the sofa watching the early evening television.

Viviane accepted the food while Monique cleared the coffee table, putting the magazines and clutter on the end table beside her. Viviane brought the food to the table and then returned to the kitchen.

"Want a wine cooler?" asked Viviane of Monique as she grabbed the plates.

"Thanks. Could you?" replied Monique.

A moment later Viviane returned with plates, cutlery and a pair of wine coolers, one for each of them.

"Bon Appetit," Viviane said as she opened her wine cooler.

"C'est Bon," Monique and Viviane tapped cans together, each taking a sip.

They then began helping themselves to the food just as the evening edition of the news had started.

"Good evening on this May 27, 1997. Top stories tonight: Russian President Boris Yeltsin signs an agreement with NATO. Prime Minister Chretien and President Clinton meet for the first time in Ottawa. The first all woman team of twenty women have reached the North Pole, and maybe even found Santa Claus. Recent graduates Stan Cicero and Gabriel Asnon have broken the strong encryption and compression barrier with a cutting edge computer algorithm that could change everything about the internet. A district Judge has found Pamela Lee not guilty of breaking a contract and in sports, Arie Luyendyk wins the Indy 500..." the anchor began the news.

"What's the internet?" asked Monique of Viviane.

"Its a network that nerds at our University are really into. I'm not really sure, but its supposed to be everywhere," Viviane answered as best she could.

They consumed nearly half of the food they'd ordered before their momentum was finally haulted.

"My gosh that was so good. Thank you Viviane," Monique said gratefully.

"N'est pas. My treat. Want another wine cooler?" Viviane asked, taking their plates to the kitchen.

"Thank you," Monique replied, almost ready to stretch out on the sofa and pass out.

Viviane returned with a pair of ice cold wine coolers, handing one of them to Monique who sat up on the sofa to accept it.

"...and in other news, Police are looking into a recent rash of vandalism targeting the Asian community across the GTA. Mike Ruthers has more..." the anchor cued the story as the videographer came on.

"We're at the site of the Chinese Cultural Center in Downtown Toronto, where a month ago two men were caught shortly after spray painting the entire front of the building and many ornamental statues surrounding it. Twenty-two year old Walton Norler and Twenty-one year old Yasoto Takemori were charged in the incident..." the story began as both women felt their stomachs plunge.

The news showed the faces of the two men, and Monique felt herself break out in a cold sweat as she realized that they were not the men they'd seen that night. Not the same men who'd come to her work that morning to intimidate her.

"Those aren't the same men..." Viviane said to Monique.

"I know. The men we saw came to my work this morning... and threatened me... us..." Monique spoke horrified, not sure of what to do next.

"You mean the same men that we saw walking with the cans of paint...?" Viviane recalled what happened that night a month previously.

Sudden Memory

"That was awesome fun, cousin!" Monique said, slightly staggering and still a bit under the effects of the drinks she'd had at the night club.

"Yes, this downtown can be a fun time. Especially further into the summer. My ears are still pounding from the music," Viviane agreed.

"We should get a couple of slices. There's a pizza shop just over here," Viviane added, suddenly feeling slightly hungry herself.

They stopped in at the pizza shop and ordered a couple of slices, which they ate in the store itself. Shortly after, they left, taking a short cut back to Viviane's rental home.

They cut up a side street, that appeared to be quiet, mostly residential. As they walked along, they heard footsteps from behind them.

Monique turned to face the unknown and upon seeing two men, she began to giggle.

"Sorry, you scared us. Just had to check," Monique smiled and resumed walking, catching up with her cousin.

"Not a problem little lady. Are you two looking for a date?" asked the taller one of the two.

"Not really," Viviane said abruptly.

"I could use some company," Monique contradicted to which Viviane responded by nudging her with her elbow.

"Let's just get home. I have a bad feeling," Viviane said, picking up her pace.

"No really, if you want some company, here I am little lady. Come and get it," the tall one said once again, as the bearded one laughed.

"I could use some too," the bearded one added.

Monique caught on to Viviane's intuition and picked up her step as well.

"So what do you say?" asked the taller man.

"I changed my mind," Monique responded assertively.

"Come on, you can't just me dangling here, after that enthusiasm," the taller man said, this time a bit less patiently.

Viviane then turned to face them.

"Don't you talk to her like that! If she says no. It means no!" Viviane took up the ground between Monique and the approaching men.

"I don't think she knows what she wants. One minute its yes. The next its no. I think she needs a man to take charge," the two of them arrived as the taller one spoke.

They both appeared to be carrying cans of paint, one in each hand for four in total.

"Are you guys artists?" asked Monique.

"Yeah. That's right. We're artists. We're going to paint this town red. We're going to do some Chinese painting. Wanna come?" asked the bearded man.

"No. We're not interest," Viviane stood her ground.

"But me and my friend here are," the taller one spoke this time.

A short distance away, they suddenly heard a dog barking and saw a man taking his Husky for walk. The dog barked and even pulled at the leash to get at the men across the street. Viviane wasted no time. She grabbed Monique's hand and began to run with her cousin in tow. Monique did her best to keep up.

"We'll be seeing you again. I'll be lookin' for you little lady," the taller spoke up over the sound of the dog's barking.

They ran all the way to Spadina Avenue and found their way back to Viviane's house from there, sticking to the main roads all the way.


"...there have been two additional acts of vandalism targeting the Asian community, though these were very different in method from the painting attack used by the two men who've already been through the court system. We're definitely looking for help from the public on this," Detective Farnham spoke into the microphone as the Videographer interviewed him.

"Have you spoken with the previous perpetrators?" asked the Videographer.

"We've confirmed that they were in a different place and with witnesses when these other two crimes were committed, so they are not being sought for these additional crimes," Detective Farnham explained.

"If you have any information that might help Police with this investigation, we urge you to call the crime stoppers number shown on the screen. Mike Ruthers reporting," the Videographer lowered the camera.

"Thanks for your time Detective Farnham," he said to the Detective.

"Glad to help. Gotta get the public's help on this one," Detective Farnham shook hands with the Videographer and then headed back to his car.

He got in the driver's seat and checked his watch.

"Awww, crap. Lori's gonna kill me," he said, seeing that it was after six already.

His car two-way radio suddenly came to life.

"You there Detective?" asked a voice on the other end.

"Yeah. What is it dispatch?" asked Detective Farnham as he started the car.

"We just got a call you might want to look into. A tip about the vandalism case," the radio room operator told him.

"Where's it at?" Detective Farnham asked routinely.

"Just around the corner from you. Near Spadina Avenue and College," the radio room operator then gave him the exact address.

"Alright. On my way, and then I've got to call it a day," Detective Farnham responded, pulling the car out into traffic as he got turned around to head over to the address dispatch had indicated.

"You mean night. You've got to call it a night. Have a good one. Ten four over and out," the radio room operator.

"Night. You got that right," he said to himself as he turned down a side street and began looking for the indicated address.

When he'd found the house, he put on his four ways and stepped out of the car, walking up to the front door where he knocked a few times.

Behind the door, a large dog began barking.

The door suddenly opened a smidgen and a face peeked out.

"I'm Detective Farnham. I'm here to ask you some questions," Detective Farnham introduced himself, as a large husky managed to slip out from behind the door

It approached Detective Farnham, wagging its tail.

"Nice puppy you got here," Detective Farnham said stroking the dog's head.

"Yeah, his bark's bigger than his bite. So you want to know about tip I called in?" asked the man quietly.

"If you could?" Detective Farnham asked.

"Why don't you step inside and we'll talk," the man invited the Detective into the house, closing the door behind him.

"The reason I called was because about a month ago, I saw an altercation between two men, both of whom were carrying paint cans, and a pair of younger women who appeared to be in their early twenties," the man explained as the husky watched them both expectantly, as if they were about to go for a walk.

He explained what he'd seen that night a month ago, with the two girls being affronted by two men carrying paint cans. He described how their sleeves were rolled up and the poorly drawn tattoos on their forearms were visible under the street lights. How the women had suddenly fled from the men. He gave the Detective a description of the two men and before long, the Detective left.

The late evening traffic was minimal and Detective Farnham was able to make his way east across town in no time.

The Detective pulled in the driveway of his Scarborough home and got out of the car and made his way inside.

"Honey. I'm sorry. I didn't know I was..." Detective Farnham already had his shoes off when his wife Lori approached him from the living room.

She wrapped her arms around the back of his neck and spoke.

"Shut up and kiss me," she said to him, kissing him tenderly.

They stood in the doorway like newlyweds for about three minutes, their lips locked before they broke the kiss at roughly the same time, Edward Farnham still running his hands through her long reddish-blonde hair.

"Our dinner's in the fridge. I didn't eat yet. Why don't you go sit down and I'll warm them up and we can eat together," Lori said to him.

"Thanks so much honey," he kissed the top of her head and smacked her bum playfully as she went off to the kitchen to warm up their dinner.

"So how was your day?" Edward asked his wife.

"It was good. Our presentation went well and we got the ad contract for Healthy Home Ventures, who as you probably already know own the Healthy Home Department store chain," Lori said proudly as she prepped their plates for the microwave.

"Congratulations honey! So can we expect a bonus? Maybe enough to cover our next vacation?" Edward asked his wife.

"Hold onto your pants. I've got a week coming in July and another week in September, in case you were thinking of booking our next holiday," Lori hinted to him.

"I can't do July, but I can definitely get September. Where'd you like to go this time?" asked Edward.

"I was thinking that with my bonus, we could go a little more upscale, or if you'd prefer, adventurous?" she asked him as she waited for the microwave to finish.

"I'd just like to relax, but with something to do," Edward told her.

"We could try one of the cruise lines. I hear they have a lot to do onboard, and there's a lot of time for relaxation too," Lori suggested.

"That sounds like a plan. I can look into it tomorrow night if you'd like?" asked Edward.

"Why don't I figure it out on my lunch break tomorrow. I'll let you know the date and you can just book it off in advance?" asked Lori.

"That would be perfect honey," Edward responded enthusiastically as Lori walked into the dining room with both their plates ready to go.

"Glazed chicken. Awesome honey. Thank you so much," Edward waited until she was seated before he began to eat.

"How was your day?" asked Lori, already aware that he couldn't tell her much.

"Good. Making headway in a case, which is always good. Oh I also ran into Tim, you remember him don't you?" asked Edward.

"Tim Kierson? How's he doing?" Lori asked between nibbles.

"Good. He moved in with Diane, got married and they're expecting their first child within two months," Edward told her.

"If you see him again, tell him I say hi and congrats to them both," Lori responded.

There was a moment of silence between them as they ate.

"Honey, you didn't bring that up because you want to..." Lori asked him.

"Oh. No, honey. I thought we talked about that," Edward quickly clarified his intent.

"We did. I just thought you might have had reservations with what we decided," she cut a piece of her grilled carrot and put it into her mouth.

"When you're ready honey. We can't rush a good thing," Edward said to her exactly what she'd said to him when they had the conversation the first time.

They finished the rest of their meal together in comfortable silence.

"Why don't you go get a shower while I clean up?" Lori asked him.

"Sure, that sounds like a plan. So what's on the tube tonight?" asked Edward.

"I don't know, I'll check it out while you're in the shower," Lori said as she gathered the dishes and quickly dispensed them into the dishwasher.

Edward went up stairs and took a nice long hot shower. When he was done, he opened the door to the bathroom and found Lori standing in front of him, in a sexy neglige and stockings. She slowly moved in for the kiss. They stood tenderly interlocked as she grabbed for the belt of his housecoat. When she broke the kiss, she pulled him by the belt all the way to their bedroom and finally their bed.

When he went to remove his housecoat, she stopped him.

"Hold on a second. We can't rush a good thing," she said as she gently kissed his neck, her hands slowly working their way down to his belt before untying it.

Twice: The Fish

Yasoto and Norler had been working in the courtyard of the Cultural Center for nearly a week. They'd become so comfortable with their work that they had started going directly to the back, often arriving before Mrs. Zhidao and her son.

Their second day was a lesson in pain and soreness as their young bodies attempted to adjust to the harsh work required to restore the courtyard to its former glory. Norler had barely been able to walk, while Yasoto couldn't bend over if his life depended upon it. Norler's arms felt like jelly, while Yasoto's legs were like unwieldy springs. Over the next two days, their bodies had healed remarkably and they both felt a renewed vigor. Much stronger and healthier than they'd been before. Over that time they'd learned to enjoy working with their bodies rather than shy away from it.

A week in, to the day, they were practically at home in the Cultural Center. They'd abandoned the feeling that they were merely doing a prisoner's chores, and began to feel a sense of pride and dignity in their work.

Over their time there, they'd even gotten to know Mrs. Zhidao's son, whom they simply knew as Bo. He was a bright kid who'd managed to retain his naivety and innocence in the face of an ever changing world and city. His parents, both being natives of Xiamen, China, had raised their son in the traditional ways, though even they couldn't stop the western influences he'd run into in school and his social life. Bo did his best to keep the peace between these two very different worlds, though for him, fitting in at school was difficult. He mostly remained quiet and discrete, while focusing on his studies, though as he got older he'd found himself more and more amongst a circle of friends with whom he'd become familiar.

His parents had let him go out with his friends on the previous weekend, and when he did, he'd met a girl. A girl that had over the course of that weekend, changed him to the core. 

The thing was that he'd not told his own mother or his father, but he'd told both Yasoto and Norler. Not boasting about it, nor did he reveal any details about their relationship and interactions. He merely mentioned that he'd met a girl and that he felt so different. Like his eyes had been opened up to a whole new world. A world of which he desperately wanted to be a part, and with her. The thing was, that she was a Vietnamese girl, which he'd already know would be off limits, for his parents wanted him to meet and settle down with a Chinese girl. Preferably one whose ancestry could be traced to the Xiamen region, though they'd have settled for a traditional girl from just about any part of mainland China.

Bo on the other hand was very happy with the idea of being with Huong Lin, despite her difference in nationality and culture. He was old enough to know these differences well, especially given their experiences in the midst of western culture. It was 1997 after all, and the world had come a long way from the ways of the old. It was a new world, and people the world over were beginning to mingle more and more.

"So I suppose you're going to settle down and marry this girl, are you, Bo?" asked Yasoto of the older man of the two.

"If and when the time is right, yes. That's exactly what I'm going to do," Bo responded as he helped Norler dig out a section for another planter.

"How does... Huang Lin feel about this?" asked Norler, as he took a spade full of earth.

"Its Huong Lin!" Bo responded, breaking down the side walls of the hole.

"Don't you think it might be better to wait and see how things play out first?" asked Yasoto, who was now working with a metal snake took to ensure that the pipes of the fountain and basins were clear.

"The one without plans is the one who wanders without direction. She wants the same thing as I do," Bo admitted to them.

"So you have discussed this," Norler continued.

"Yes. We did as a matter of fact," Bo replied, working the shovel to remove the dirt from the hole that he and Norler had finished digging.

"This guy works fast! I can't find a girlfriend and I've been looking for the last six years. He goes out and finds a wife in one weekend!" Yasoto yanked on the metal snake, pulling clear a compressed section of dirt and leaves from the pipe.

"Regardless Bo, I hope you and Huong Lin have a good life together. Just be careful. That's all we're saying," Norler paused to catch his breath.

Mrs. Zhidao suddenly emerged from the Cultural Center back door. In her hands she held what appeared to be a crude plaster mold.

"Bó Chéng, go to my car and get the bag of concrete mix," she told her son, handing him the keys to her car.

Bo disappeared through the back door to get the concrete mix as his mother had instructed.

"You need to less talking! More working! No to my son you speak!" Mrs. Zhidao scolded Yasoto and Norler.

"If he doesn't get it from us, he'll get it from school..." Yasoto responded.

There was a long intense pause and Mrs. Zhidao's eyes narrowed.

"...Ma'am. I meant to say what he doesn't learn from us, he'll learn at school, Ma'am," Yasoto's tone became more formal and Mrs. Zhidao's intensity eased.

"You filling my son with nonsense. Want him like you to be. Oh, you know so everything. You know to paint building when nobody wants paint. You know to be nuisance when need to be working! You no talk my son. You working!" Mrs. Zhidao then scolded both Yasoto and Norler, who immediately figured out that she'd overheard them.

"Poor Bo," Yasoto shook his head, speaking quietly under his breath to Norler, already knowing what was in store for her son.

Bo emerged from the backdoor with a bag of concrete mix slung over his shoulder, and a bucket he'd grabbed from the back seat of her car.

"Oh, you bring bucket too. Good boy. We need to talk later. We need!" Mrs. Zhidao confronted Bo.

"Yes mom," Bo responded, already knowing full well that he'd been caught.

"Take bucket to faucet and mix concrete. One bag half," Mrs. Zhidao said to Bo, who immediately hauled the concrete and the bucket to the nearby gardening faucet.

"When finished, you come watch," Mrs. Zhidao told Yasoto and Norler.

She put the mold down and ran back inside to get some more supplies as Yasoto and Norler continued to work in silence.

A few minutes later, she returned with a roll of duct tape and a pair of scissors, by which time Bo had brought the bucket of mixed concrete to the fish fountain.

"You come over here and look. We fix fish," Mrs. Zhidao said to Yasoto and Norler, her voice somewhat calmed now.

Norler dropped his spade in the hole and Yasoto wound up the snake and left it in the last basin. They both walked casually over to the fountain, still looking distraught over the situation.

"I told you, I show you to fix fish. We fix fish. We take pressure print of other fix..." she began.

"You mean mold, mom. Its called a mold," Bo corrected her for the first time.

"Oh. This called mold? Now I know. Thank you," Mrs. Zhidao thanked Bo.

"We take mold and put it over broken fish. Two sides of mold, and tape together," she held the mold in place as Norler took the initiative and grabbed the duct tape.

He wrapped it many times, both sealing the sides and fasting it to the fountain, using the existing pipe (the fish's throat) to ensure it remained lined up.

"Put tape on pipe. No concrete go into fish," Mrs. Zhidao added.

Norler put a piece of tape over the opening in the pipe as Mrs. Zhidao had instructed.

"Now my son, he pour the concrete into pressure mold," she directed Bo to do as she instructed.

Bo lifted the bucket and carefully guided the concrete into the opening on the top of the mold. The concrete quickly filled the mold without leaking from anywhere.

"Good working! Now we let to dry," Mrs. Zhidao said, happy that her plan had worked so well thus far.

"Now to work! We check later," Mrs. Zhidao finished with Yasoto and Norler.

[Come with me now! We need to talk!]
"Bó Chéng! 马上跟我来! 我们要谈谈!" Mrs. Zhidao's intensity flared once again as she directed her son to join her inside.

Yasoto and Norler looked to each other again uneasily and then returned to work. They remained silent for the the better part of the day.

Mrs. Zhidao led her son into her office and bid him to sit down in one of the guest's chairs. She took an authoritative seat behind the desk and confronted him.

[What happened on your weekend with your friends? Don't lie to me!]
"你和朋友周末发生了什么事? 别骗我!" she asked him.

[I just went out with them. We went to a pub together to catch up.]
"我刚和他们出去了。 我们一起去了一家酒吧追赶。" "Bó Chéng tried, but he couldn't look directly at her.

[What else?]
"还有什么?" she grilled him further, though he knew he was already caught red handed.

[I met a girl, mom.]
"我认识了一个女孩,妈妈。" he admitted to her.

[You met a girl? Why didn't you tell me? Why did you tell your criminal friends out there first?!]
"你遇到一个女孩? 你为什么不告诉我? 你为什么先告诉你的犯罪朋友?!" his mother's full intensity hit him as she spoke.

[They aren't family! You don't share things like this with strangers, criminals you just met! Why did you share this with them, and not me, or your father?]
"他们不是一家人! 你不要和陌生人分享这样的东西,你刚认识的罪犯! 为什么你要和他们分享这个,而不是我或你父亲?" asked his mother, looking and feeling very much betrayed.
"他们不是一家人! 你不要和陌生人分享这样的东西,你刚认识的罪犯! 为什么你要和他们分享这个,而不是我或你父亲?" his mother continued, her eyes barely misted with the first fall of tears.

[Because you make me feel like I can't! Like I have to keep everything secret from you because it will displease you! Your plans for me and my future!]
"因为你让我觉得我做不到! 就像我必须对你保密一切,因为它会让你不高兴! 你对我和我的未来的计划!" Bó Chéng knew he had to confront her directly.

[Your plans are our plans. Your future is our future. Don't you see?]
"您的计划就是我们的计划。 你的未来就是我们的未来。 你不明白吗?" his mother reasoned with him, instead moving to a more calm and founded argument.

[Our future is the horse atop which I am perched. The reigns are in my hands, not yours! Can you not trust me for even a second?!]
"我们的未来是我所骑的马。 统治权在我手中,不是你的! 你连一秒钟都不相信我吗?!" Bó Chéng spoke the resounding truth, rather than just his own.

[Who is she? Where is she from? Who are her parents? Does she have a good upbringing?]
"她是谁? 她从哪里来的? 她的父母是谁? 她有良好的教养吗?" his mother changed the subject to avoid the current clash.

[Her name is Huong Lin.]
"她叫红琳。" Bó Chéng answered her first question, ignoring the remainder of questions.

[She's Vietnamese?]
"她是越南人?" confirmed his mother.

[Yes. She's Vietnamese.]
"是的。 她是越南人。" Bó Chéng replied, refusing to elaborate any further.

[I want you to stop seeing her. You're going to find a proper Chinese girl. Your father and I will find one for you. Do you understand?]
"我要你别再见她了。 你会找到一个合适的中国女孩。 你父亲和我会为你找一个。 你明白吗?" his mother's intensity suddenly returned, like a hungry tiger roused from a long sleep.

[No. I refuse! I am going to stay with Huong Lin, whether you agree or not.]
"不,我拒绝! 不管你同意与否,我都要留在洪琳身边。" Bó Chéng risked defying his mother for the first time.

[What is it that you'd see in a girl you only just met that would cause you to defy your own family?!]
"你在一个刚刚认识的女孩身上看到了什么会让你违抗自己的家人?!" asked his mother, the tiger lurking in the shadows waiting for the opportunity to pounce.

[In our whole lives, have you and my father even just once embraced affectionately? To rub noses? For a kiss?]
"一辈子,你和我父亲有没有深情拥抱过一次? 擦鼻子? 为了一个吻?" he asked her, suddenly putting her on the defensive.

The tiger retreated further into the jungle.

[What did you say?!]
"你说什么?!" she looked at him in shock.

[Have you ever lived for the passion of the moment? Felt so strongly for someone that you just can't think about anything else?]
"你曾经为当下的激情而活吗? 对某人的感觉如此强烈,以至于您无法考虑其他任何事情?" he continued forward fearlessly.

[This is not you talking to me! Where is my son?]
"这不是你在跟我说话! 我的儿子在哪里?" she finally spoke in utter shock.

[I'm right here, mom. I always have been. You and father just never took the time to truly know me.]
"我就在这里,妈妈。 我一直都是。 你和父亲从来没有真正花时间了解我。" Bó Chéng stood his ground.

The silence was pocked by the sound of Yasoto's and Norler's digging outside.

[Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to get to work with those people you think are criminals. Between you and me, I don't think they did it.]
"现在请原谅我,我得去和那些你认为是罪犯的人一起工作。 在你我之间,我不认为他们做到了。" Bó Chéng didn't wait for his mother's reply.

He got up and left through the office door, and was out in the courtyard moments later.

Mrs. Zhidao sat silently, tears perched precariously on the brink of her bottom eye lids as she realized that her son was no longer a boy.

He had become a man.

She sat silently in her office, finding things to do to keep her from having to return to the courtyard. She designed a schedule for some of the upcoming programs offered by the Cultural Center, and redesigned the Cultural Center's letterhead. The whole time she couldn't keep her mind from her son's words.

She thought back to her time with her husband, Jùn Dé, trying to recall when the last time it was that they'd embraced or even touched. Had they ever kissed? Within, she felt a longing, suddenly realizing that maybe she'd been denying herself of her due from their relationship. Had their marriage been for show? A cardboard cutout propped up to look like full and enriched lives to everyone else, but were just in fact flat cardboard. Full of dogma and tradition and absent of the passion that she'd seen her own son muster to defend his love of a girl he'd just met.

At four thirty in the afternoon, she finally emerged from her office and went to the courtyard to find the trio still hard at work. The basins were all but ready for the plumbing, for which she'd arranged the following day. The planters were cleared and ready for re-soiling and planting. The trees that her son and Norler had planted in the holes she'd instructed them to dig were now in place, with nutrients added to the earth and even watered. The courtyard was coming along splendidly, and she thought that maybe it was time her life truly found its way to the abundance that she deserved.

"Day finished. Clean up and put tools away. You need to go home," she said to them, urging them to stop.

"Can't we just take a peek at the fish?" asked Yasoto, now curious about the fish they'd fixed.

"Come on. It wouldn't hurt. Its quick dry epoxy cement. It was dry an hour ago," Norler told her.

She looked to her son, who looked away momentarily, but then his eyes returned.

"We can remove the mold now. It should be firmly dry," he said, even mustering a smile.

She looked to the mold and finally found a smile lurking within her.

"Alright. We take the mold," she said excitedly.

Bo didn't hesitate to unwrap the duct tape from the molds, struggling with a few pieces until he'd completely unwrapped it all. He then grabbed a hammer and used the claws to pry the mold apart. It snapped cleanly and easily with the hammer, as Bo took the two halves away.

There, looking back at them was the third fish, who'd been missing for the whole time and had now returned. There was grinding work to be done on the surface itself and the seal between the original statue and the new piece had to be filled, but all in all it looked immaculate.

Mrs. Zhidao was over joyed at their success.

"Good! Good! I see you tomorrow. We get the water and basins fixed," she said to them as they cleaned up the tools and put them inside.

Yasoto and Norler left soon thereafter, while Mrs. Zhidao and Bo went to her car.

The drive home was silent, yet the tension between them was mostly gone. She had other issues to take up with someone else, after which, the future was all there would be left for the three of them. Her family.

Detective's Work

Yasoto and Norler had met up that morning. They sat and had a coffee together in Kensington Market before they arrived at the Cultural Center. Despite the ongoing politics between themselves and Mrs. Zhidao, they were very much enjoying their community service. The fact that it was a punishment meant little to them, for it had introduced them to something they were very much enjoying. Inside they both knew themselves to be innocent, and they persevered holding onto that truth. When they'd finished, they walked directly to the Cultural Center, each buying an additional coffee to go.

When they arrived, they were surprised to see that Mrs. Zhidao's car was already in the driveway and that the plumber's van was pulled up in the driveway beside it. Across the street however was a man of stature, who wore a sports jacket, tie and slacks standing leaned against a car. His hands in his pockets. He immediately saw them and watched their approach carefully. When they stepped onto the driveway of the Cultural Center, he flagged them down.

"Excuse me? You boys wouldn't happen to be working for the Chinese Cultural Center, would you?" he asked them.

"Uhhhh. Yeah?" Yasoto responded.

"I'm Detective Farnham. You must be Yasoto Takemori and that would make you Walton Norler, right?" he confirmed with them.

"That's correct," Yasoto changed his demeanor slightly.

"Are we in more trouble?" asked Norler.

"No. Not at all. In fact, you're probably not in any trouble at all, but that doesn't mean that trouble didn't somehow find you in the first place. I just need to ask you guys some questions about the night you were arrested. Could you indulge me?" Detective Farnham asked them.

"Sure, ask away," Norler agreed.

"I'm two thirds ear and one third mouth," Yasoto replied.

"Do either of you have baseball and or regularly wear baseball caps?" asked the Detective.

"My father picked up one for me in Japan, but I don't think I've ever worn it," Yasoto answered.

"No. I don't have any," Norler responded.

"Ok. How about tattoos? You guys have any tattoos on your body? Have you ever worn temporary tattoos?" the Detective asked them.

"I think once when I was like seven or eight. I got a lick 'em stick 'em tattoo in a pack of bubble gum. I think it was a bunny or something. Took like three days to wash off of my wrist. My father was very upset about it," Yasoto tried to recall.

"And you?" asked Detective Farnham of Norler.

"I think I wore temporary tattoos for a school play in public school once, but beyond that never," Norler answered the Detective's question.

"What about the night you were arrested? Neither of you were wearing black pullovers were you?" he asked them.

"No. I think I was wearing pink, and he was wearing white. Button down shirts. Like yours,"  Norler answered for them.

"That's on record with your file photo as well, but I just had to check. So how's the gig going?" he then asked them.

"Good. We're making good progress. Its actually pretty awesome working like this in the sun, with the good weather and all," Yasoto nodded his head.

"I'd definitely have to agree. My body has never felt better," Norler added.

"Glad to hear it. If you recall anything about that night that you think I should be made aware of, I want you to give me a call. Any time at all," Detective Farnham had made up his mind about the boys, handing them each a business card.

"Let's go to where you're working. I've got to quickly meet with Mrs. Zhidao. Perhaps you could show me the way?" asked Detective Farnham.

"Sure Detective. Follow us," Yasoto insisted, with a bit of pep in his step.

The three of them stepped into the Cultural Center and walked down the long corridor to the back door, exiting into the courtyard. There they found Mrs. Zhidao overseeing the work of the Plumber with her son.

"We come too early. You bring Detective with you. Maybe arrest again?" Mrs. Zhidao joked sarcastically.

"Hi again Mrs. Zhidao. I'd like to talk with you in private if we could?" asked the Detective.

[We go to office. Bó Chéng! Get them working on something.]
"We go to office. Bó Chéng! 让他们做点什么。" Mrs. Zhidao first addressed Detective Farnham, and then her son in Chinese.

Mrs. Zhidao and Detective Farnham walked to her office where she sat behind the desk and he took one of the guest chairs.

"Drink a tea?" she asked her guest politely, standing and going over to a tea maker appliance that sat on a credenza in the office.

Nearby were several tea cups on resting on their lips, ready for use.

"Thank you Mrs. Zhidao, but I just ate breakfast and I'm packed full, thank you," Detective Farnham answered honestly.

"Ok. No tea. Talk," she sat back down at the desk waiting for the first question.

"Mrs. Zhidao. Have you seen any indication that these two boys working for you might have any sort of inclination towards... has anything gone missing for instance? Has anything been mysteriously damaged? Has anyone scrawled things on the men's bathroom walls or the stalls since they arrived?" asked Detective Farnham.

"No. Nothing. No problems, except sometimes talk too much. Need to be working more," Mrs. Zhidao told him.

"None of them have been belligerent or hostile towards you, have they?" asked Detective Farnham.

"No. Not one," Mrs. Zhidao confirmed.

"Have they had any friends or associates show up to meet them during their work hours?" asked Detective Farnham.

"Never," Mrs. Farnham responded.

"In your opinion, do you think that these boys are guilty of the crime with which they've been found so in a court of law?" asked the Detective.

Mrs. Zhidao paused at the Detective's question. She thought to her son discussing his personal life with them, and how betrayed she'd felt about it. However, when she truly thought about it, she felt inside that these boys would never exploit that information for their own personal gain. Now or later. They seemed to be genuine. However, that didn't mean that they might not divulge the information to someone else who would. Or that they might be manipulated into exploiting it without even knowing.

When she'd attended the Police Service's Community Service Orientation Program, they'd indicated that under no circumstances should you share any personal details with those ordered to work under the community service program. That even little bits of information could be used for malicious purposes. They underlined the fact that not all offenders were so inclined and in fact, many wouldn't even think about it if presented with it. Their point was that they shouldn't take the chance. Keep a strict boundary between those ordered to work under the program, and those for whom that work was provided.

She considered all these factors, but also how Yasoto and Norler  had been entrusted by her son with family information, about her son's personal relationships. She still thought it a foolish decision on his part, but maybe he truly knew they were innocent. He however, was still young. Sometimes he was even foolish, as recent events had indicated. He was however, a good judge of character. In the end, it was her own conscience that had ultimately decided.

"I think they too innocent. Too good. No could damage my building. No could damage people," she responded after a long pause of thought.

"Mrs. Zhidao, thank you very much for your hospitality. Once again, if you notice anything that affects your assessment of the two boys could you please give me a call?" he requested of her.

"I call if I remember. Good day to you Detective," Mrs. Zhidao let the Detective out.

"Good day, Mrs. Zhidao," the Detective turned left down the hall and towards the front entrance.

When he got to his car, he got in the driver's seat and picked up his handset.

"Dispatch?" he said, clicking the send button.

"Go ahead Detective," the radio room operator waited.

"Could you let my partner know we're reopening the Vandalism Case. File number 103593885VA, copy?" the Detective asked.

"Roger wilco. You'd like Detective Matthews to reopen case file number ONE-ZERO-THREE-FIVE-NINER-THREE-EIGHT-EIGHT-FIVE-VICTOR-ALPHA, over," the radio room operator confirmed that they'd received the correct case file number.

"Let Detective Matthews know I'm going to sync my notes up from here, and that if he finds anyone in the suspect database that he should have you radio me at once, over and out," Detective Farnham hung up the handset.

"Copy that Detective. Over and out," the radio room responded and then there was silence.

"Now, if I could just find those girls, we might be able to bring this whole thing together," Detective Farnham brainstormed how he could do just that as he started transcribing his notes through the CPIC system in his car.

Third: Like Water

Mrs. Zhidao continued her part of the work at hand in the courtyard by putting new filters in the water pumps for each of the basins. She then had her son put the top soil into the planters so she could begin transferring the seedlings from the collection of flowers she'd started inside.

The plumber in the meantime was back and forth between the utility room and the fountain, as he finalized his last bits of the plumbing for the basins and the fountain. When he was done, he took Mrs. Zhidao aside to inspect his work as they tested the water.

They all watched as the basins began to flow, slowly filling with water, each with their own padlocked valve. The pumps began cycling and filtering the water so that their soon to arrive inhabitants would be able to breath freely and easily. Mrs. Zhidao applauded when the fountain was turned on, and each of the fish began to spray water out through their mouths, creating a mist through which a mid afternoon rainbow was cast. The courtyard had truly gone from being a place of neglect and desolation to one of an ever present potential from which soon would spring multitudes of plant and water based life.

Yasoto and Norler both felt a pride and dignity from their work and effort, seeing it all come together, though there was still much to do. They knew however that their time at the Chinese Cultural Center would soon come to an end, and their lives would resume from where they'd left off. The summer would end and Yasoto would return to his last year of Computer Science and Business Integration, while Norler would return for his last year of Business College, before heading out to make his way in the world of business and finance.

They watched as the water dropped into the fountain's basin, splashing and foaming as bubbles spread away from the chaos, slowly moving towards the outer ledge only to fall off of that shelf and onto the one below. In a sense, Norler thought, he and Yasoto were just like those bubbles. Stirred by the chaos and then drifting back into peace and stability. Then falling over the ledge to where they'd be cycled back into the same drama, over and over again.

"We just came out of the chaos..." Yasoto said first.

"I was just thinking the same thing. I guess that means we're drifting into the calm and resolve then, doesn't it?" posed Norler.

"I guess it does," Yasoto nodded in agreement.

Mrs. Zhidao's inner peace didn't last, and it wasn't long before she was pushing them back to work.

"Work! Work! Work!" she said impatiently to them with one of her scolding frowns, only to look back at the fountain as her face relapsed back into a joyous smile.

Unwanted Visitors

Monique was still at work as Viviane kept herself busy with chores around the house. Between spurts of motivation, she'd occasionally stop and watch the daytime soaps on the television. She would jump around between watching General Hospital and Days Of Our Lives, sitting on the sofa nibbling celery sticks and drinking soda water.

She had just gone upstairs to continue her chores up there when she heard a heavy handed knock at the door. She stepped down three of the steps to take a peek through the glass top of the front door. When she saw the faces of the two men from that night, she quickly ducked back up the stairs, hoping they hadn't seen her. She quickly ran to the bedroom, hiding herself in the closet, even pulling down a pile of clothing from the hangers to cover herself.

"I know she's in there. I think I just saw someone on the stairs," the bearded man said as he continued pounding on the door.

"She's hiding from us. Waiting until we go away," the taller one said, checking the street twice to make sure that nobody was watching them.

He then nodded to the bearded man, who began throwing his considerable weight at the door.

Viviane heard the pounding on the door as it echoed up the stairs and throughout the mostly uncarpeted second floor. She began to cry with fear as the pounding continued, hoping that the lock would hold. She couldn't recall if she'd latched the big lock in addition to the lock on the doorknob, and feared that at any moment, the lock would break.

"Come on! Open the door!" the bearded man pounded the door a few times more with his fist, and then checked the street again for anyone.

When he saw the coast was clear, he began shouldering the door with his full weight. The door frame cracked slightly, but miraculously held as Viviane pressed clothing to her face to muffle her cries. The pounding continued for another minute and then suddenly stopped.

A Police cruiser drove by the house quickly on its way out the other end of the street and onto Spadina Avenue. By the time the cruiser was near the house, both men were gone and running through backyards to get away despite the fact that the Police did not see them.

Viviane lay in the closet terrified, until she fell asleep exhausted. When she woke up, she checked the time on the wall. Nearly an hour had passed. From her position in the closet, she could see the wireless phone on the night table beside the bed.

It was then that she knew without pause what she had to do.

A moment later, the phone at the restaurant rang, and Monique picked it up.

"Sunny Side Grill, Monique speaking?" she said into the phone, ready to give out directions as that was the most frequent call they'd received.

"Monique, its Viviane," Viviane said, out of breath.

"Hi! How's your day going?" Monique said enthused by her cousin's voice.

"Monique! They came to the house!" she told Monique.

"Are you alright?! I'm coming home right now!" Monique said, already removing her apron.

"No. They're gone! They tried to break the door down, but they're gone! The neighbours are watching. They must be. I'm safe. I just wanted to warn you in case they come to the restaurant," Viviane told her cousin.

"You're not leaving! You've still got an hour and a half to go!" the cook said angrily.

"Right. Look, I've got to go. He's not in a good mood today. Make sure the door is double locked and the back door too. I'll be home in an hour and forty-five minutes. We'll solve this problem then," Monique assured her.

"Alright. I'm checking the doors now. The neighbour is out on his front porch. I should be alright. Good bye," Viviane said as she hung up.

"Bye cuz," Monique replied, feeling a sense of fury building in her.

"Why can't I just fly down there at the speed of light and... and... save her!" Monique cursed, pounding her fist on the counter.

"What was that?!" the cook asked having barely heard her.

"I'm staying, alright!" Monique yelled to him as she had an idea.

Thrice: Resolve

The morning light passed between the fish, though the water was not flowing. Yasoto had prepared the concrete mix this time and was pasting it on with a spatula around the seam between the old fish parts and the new.  He carefully applied it, shaping it so as to minimize the amount of grinding and sanding they'd have to do.

They'd both arrived very early that morning and had gained access to the supplies from the custodian, who usually worked from seven until three. He let them in to the utility room to gather the tools and the concrete and they began work immediately, almost two and a half hours before Mrs. Zhidao and her son would arrive.

Norler started nailing the lattice work for the creeping vines to the surrounding fence posts of the courtyard, even framing the planters with half height cuts of lattice they'd made the day earlier for effect. As he did, he noticed that the plants in the planters had grown significantly, and we all facing directly at the morning sun.

"Its amazing how something that moves slower than the eye can see, can line itself up with the sun every day so quickly," Norler marveled at the flowers and plants Mrs. Zhidao had cultivated.

"They're pretty neat. I used to have a Venus Flytrap when I was a kid. That thing could move quickly, let me tell you. Especially when it was hungry," Yasoto told Norler.

"Kind of like you," Norler joked.

"Ha! Exactly like me," Yasoto smiled.

"Do you think they'll let us into this place once its finished? You know, when its open," Norler asked Yasoto.

"Maybe. Why not? I think we've proven through our fastidiousness that we're alright," Yasoto shaped the last of his repairs to perfection before putting the palette and spatula down to grab a drink of his coffee.

"It might be nice to come here. You know? Show our kids? Tell them: we made this. Well, we fixed it up anyway," Norler smiled, still looking at the plants.

"You're going to have kids?" asked Yasoto, taking another sip of his coffee.

"I'd like to at some point. I'm not sure when," Norler replied.

"Not me. I'm going to live a bit first. See the world. Then, I'm going to settle down and find myself a fine woman, and build a life with her. Then maybe, only maybe, we'll have a family," Yasoto put his coffee down and began cleaning up.

"Want some advice?" Norler asked Yasoto, looking to him, squinting in the hot sun.

"Sure, if it free," Yasoto agreed.

"At the rate you meet women, start looking now," Norler joked with his friend.

"When it comes to advice, you get what you pay for," Yasoto came back.

"Nice! But sometimes it pays to know when you're getting the wisdom of sages for nothing," Norler laughed.

"My friend, there's always a price. Always," Yasoto grabbed the spatula and palette and took them over to the faucet and began cleaning them.

An hour later, and they were taking turns with the grinder, removing the rough parts from the mold they'd cast and crafting the shape of the fish. The fins had turned out great, but even they paled in comparison to the job they did with the fish's eyes and face. It turned out nearly identical to the other two fish, and could only be distinguished upon close examination by shape alone.

They then worked together getting the rest of the lattice up, and by the time Mrs. Zhidao and her son had arrived, they were done.


"One last coffee Jim?" asked Monique, though she already had the coffee pot in hand.

"Sure thing sweetheart," Jim said, looking around the a discarded newspaper.

Monique poured him a fresh coffee and then retrieved the newspaper from beneath the counter, placing it before him.

"Have you got super powers or something? That's exactly what I was lookin' for my dear," Jim thank her.

"That was a very nice comment, but that doesn't mean you can skimp out on my tip," Monique joked with him, causing him to laugh considerably.

Monique then went around to the tables to clear and reset them in the absence of customers as the clock approached nine.

"Is that the time! I've gotta get goin' honey. Here. Keep the change," Jim got up in a hurry, and left, leaving her by herself except for the cook in the back, who by this time was already grabbing his morning senior's snooze.

Monique picked up the thirty dollars Jim had left and kept thirty-three percent of it for herself. She rang his order through the cash register and sat down for a coffee at the counter, her feet already sore.

She then wondered how Viviane was doing as the door to the restaurant opened and two men walked in.

The first one, the taller one continued straight over to Monique, as the second one locked the door.

By the time Monique realized who they were and what was happening, the taller already had his arm locked around her neck.

"Don't scream, or I'll do you right here and now. Do you understand?" he asked.

She nodded, barely able to breath through the pressure of his arm.

"I want you to clean out the cash from the register. You go it? No funny stuff either," he said to her, keeping hold of her arm as he led her over to the checkout.

She opened the cash register and fished out all the paper money and handed it to him.

"Now all of your tip money!" he ordered her.

She reached into her apron and pulled a small wad of cash from within and handed it to him.

"Now, I think its time you gave me and my friend here a good time. I mean you owe us right?" he said to her, reaching to undo his belt.

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said calmly.

As he began unbuckling his belt, she hit him once in the nose with the candy bowl, and then kicked him between the legs as hard as she could. He fell forward to his knees gasping in pain as his brother ran for Monique.

She ran for the other end of the counter as he reached for her. She quickly grabbed one of the pots of coffee, and threw it at him.

"Want some coffee with your order sir!" she yelled as she tossed it at him.

He screamed as the coffee scalded his arm.

That moment, the cook came out through the door.

"What the heck is going...?!" he barely had time to finish his sentence before he was dodging a flying chair, thrown in desperation by the man with the burnt arm.

"You're going to pay for that next time we come back!" he said, picking up his taller friend from the floor, who was still gasping for air from Monique's kick.

"You're not coming back!" Monique said to him.

"Oh yes we are!" they said as they rushed towards the door.

"Oh no you're not! Freeze! Toronto Police Service!" Detective Farnham ordered the men, his service pistol held before him.

"Down on the floor face down! Now!" he yelled as several other squad cars rolled up.

"Are you alright Miss?" asked Detective Farnham.

"I am now," Monique sighed in relief as the Police poured into the restaurant and apprehended the two men.

They were quickly dragged out to one of the cars and read their rights. When the coast was clear, Viviane stepped in through the front door, running for Monique with tears in her eyes.

The two met with a hug, holding each other for a long time.

"Don't worry about it cuz. I had everything under control," Monique joked with Viviane.

"You always were the brash one of the two of us, weren't you," Viviane laughed, wiping her eyes.

"Bright. I'm bright," Monique winked at Viviane.

"Nowhere near as bright as you're going to be someday," Viviane gave her vote of confidence to her cousin.

"That was quick thinking. You really can improvise in a tight situation. You should look into fighting crime with us," Detective Farnham checked her over to ensure that she wasn't injured.

"I think I'll stick with restaurants for now, thank you Detective," Monique replied.

"No. Thank you for talking with us about the situation. For finally having the courage to call us. I know that it isn't easy when you feel like you're alone in this world, to make a choice like that. But if you hadn't, things might have turned out much, much worse. Not just for yourselves, but for all the other people they might have hurt," Detective Farnham explained to them.

"Well it all worked out in the end," Monique said, relieved that it was over.

"Would you like a coffee Detective? On the house," Monique offered.

"As long as I can drink it and not wear it, sure," he agreed.

Just then, the door opened and the cook looked out.

"I sure hope that one of you is going to pay for that chair. And that coffee is coming out of your pay, missy," the cook said, slamming the door shut behind him as he returned to the kitchen.

They laughed about the cook's words as the ambulance arrived on the scene.


Mrs. Zhidao carefully applied the paint with her brush to the fish, putting the finishing touches of texture from a palette of waterproof paints. She examined her artistic work on all three of the fish, and found that it passed even her particular scrutiny. They'd only have to wait for it to dry so her son could spray it with a waterproof sealing compound, safe for flowing water.

The fish were golden, bright and vibrant, standing out amongst the rest of the emerging courtyard garden. Yasoto and Norler had lined each of the basins with Lotus plants and Nymphaeaceae (lily pads) in preparation for the real fish that soon would occupy them.

"You need to clean up courtyard, get all the tools and put them in utility room," she ordered Yasoto and Norler.

"Bó Chéng! 跟我来!" Mrs. Zhidao then summoned her son, and they went to her office for another talk.

When they were seated, Mrs. Zhidao began.

[You mean the world to us. We only want what is best for you, but even we don't know. We can only go by the experience of our lives.]
"你对我们来说意味着整个世界。 我们只想要最适合您的东西,但我们自己也不知道。 我们只能凭我们生活的经历。" Mrs. Zhidao explained to her son, and he listened.

[We live our lives and in the scheme of things, we aren't here for long. So it can only do us good to learn from those who've lived that much longer than us. Ultimately though, it is you that must live your life. We can only give you advice and hope that someday, it might save you trouble, or help you to prosper.]
"我们过着自己的生活,在事物的计划中,我们不会在这里待太久。 因此,向那些比我们活得长得多的人学习只会对我们有好处。 但归根结底,是你必须过你的生活。 我们只能给你建议,希望有一天,它可以为你省去麻烦,或者帮助你成功。" Mrs. Zhidao spoke with authority and wisdom.

She then withdrew a measuring tape from the desk. The same measuring tape that Alicia had used to center Jolly's photograph of his wife on the wall. The very same measuring tape that Valerie had used to incapacitate a man in a skilled attacker. Now it was in her hands, and with it, she grabbed the end and pulled out a section of it about a foot and a half long.

[You are born here, at this end of the measuring tape. You're a little baby through all of this, growing and learning to crawl. Then walk.]
"你出生在这里,在卷尺的这一端。 经历了这一切,你还是个小婴儿,在成长和学习爬行。 然后走路。" Mrs. Zhidao began, using spans of the measuring tape to describe his life.

She then pulled out another section of the measuring tape, grasping the end of the last section to become the next beginning.

[You go to kindergarten and then public school and before long, you're a teenager in high school.]
"你上幼儿园,然后上公立学校,不久之后,你就是一名高中生。" Mrs. Zhidao continued.

[Soon, you meet a girl. You fall for her and get married. You find a good job and start a family.]
"很快,你遇到了一个女孩。 你爱上她然后结婚。 你找到了一份好工作,开始了一个家庭。" Mrs. Zhidao pulled another section from the measuring tape.

[Your kids get older and go to school. Soon they're graduating and your life is slowing down.]
"你的孩子长大了,开始上学了。 很快他们就要毕业了,而你的生活正在放慢脚步。" Mrs. Zhidao continued.

[You see them coming to obstacles about which you are aware, but they don't listen. You're their parents up until a point, but ultimately its their life. You're much older now.]
"你看到他们遇到你知道的障碍,但他们不听。 在某种程度上,您是他们的父母,但最终是他们的生活。 你现在年纪大了。" Mrs. Zhidao ran her finger along the new section of tape.

[And then, one day, when you least expect it.]
"然后,有一天,在你最意想不到的时候。" Mrs. Zhidao pulled the tape, which yielded a small span and then suddenly stopped.

[Its over.]
"结束了。" Mrs. Zhidao pressed the button on the measuring tape, winding it all up back into the device.

[If you really care for this girl. Then take it slowly. Don't rush. You have your whole lives together if it happens that way.]
"如果你真的很在乎这个女孩。 然后慢慢来。 不要着急。 如果那样的话,你们的整个生活都会在一起。" Mrs. Zhidao appealed to her son's better sense.

[Does that mean you approve?]
"这是否意味着你赞成?" Bo asked his mother cautiously.

[I do. If she passes your scrutiny, then I trust that she's good enough for you. However, your father might not be so easy to convince. But I do have a plan.]
"我愿意。 如果她通过了你的审查,那么我相信她对你来说足够好。 不过,你父亲可能没那么容易说服。 但我确实有一个计划。" Mrs Zhidao's coy smile was apparent, as a plan had come to her mind.

The phone in her office suddenly rang. Startled she quickly picked it up.

"Hello?" she answered.

"Mrs. Zhidao?" asked a male voice on the other end.

"Yes?" she answered.

"This is Detective Farnham. This is about Yasoto Takemori and Walton Norler. The two boys working for you under the community service program?" Detective Farnham began.

"What about?" she asked.

"We just apprehended the real suspects in that case, and they confessed to the crime. Most of the evidence against those boys was circumstantial. I'm authorizing you to relieve them of their requirements, though they'll have to finalize that process with their lawyers and in court, where a formal apology will be given to each of them. They're free to go," Detective Farnham informed her.

"Good! I am happy to hear. I tell them good!" Mrs. Zhidao's face lit up and she looked to her son, smiling and relieved.

"I'll be in touch again soon. Good bye," Detective Farnham said his goodbyes.

"Good bye Detective," Mrs. Farnham hung up the phone.

[Come. We have some good news to tell those boys.]
"来。 我们有一些好消息要告诉那些男孩。" Mrs. Zhidao got up from her chair and her son followed her out to the courtyard.

"Are you done! You slow! Too slow! Need to be working faster!" she winked at her son, who struggled to contain his laughter.

The two of them picked up their pace before they became suspicious with Bo's laughter.

"What? What's going on?" asked Yasoto.

"I don't think I can move any faster," Norler agreed, though he suspected something was up.

"You bad. Very bad! So bad, you good! Too good! They let go!" she said to them excitedly, almost laughing herself.

"I'm sorry, I didn't quite get that. Could you repeat that?" asked Norler, cupping his hand over his ear.

"You go! No more service! You let go!" she said to them again.

"What my mother is trying to say is that you're free. The ruling against you has been nullified. The Detective called and the real perpetrators confessed to the crime," Bo told them, Mrs. Zhidao nodded enthusiastically a large smile on her face.

"Yes!" Yasoto and Norler tapped fists and began jumping in the air, their hands over their head.

The Butterfly Dragon: Three For Women - Epilogue


Yasoto and Norler still continued their work for her, voluntarily for another week until the courtyard was truly finished. It was a miracle of wonder and magnificence to behold as the flowers bloomed and the golden koi fish filled each of the three basins.

The fountain in all of its glory was the crowning achievement, bringing it all together with artistic merit and the colours of the nature surrounding them.

There was no evidence of their struggle and their hard work. Just the essence of peace and calm. Like heaven from the earth.

When they'd finished, Mrs. Zhidao had returned from a trip out, handing each of them an envelope.

When they opened them, they found them filled with cash.

"This money I would have paid to workers. You have. You innocent. You work when no need to. You earn," Mrs. Zhidao explained to them.

"There's like over two thousand dollars here! I can pay off a whole chunk of my student loan!" Yasoto exclaimed. 

"I could use this to buy course materials, and invest the rest," Norler remarked.

Yasoto and Norler huddled for a moment and then returned to speak with Mrs. Zhidao.

"We're both majoring in business management. Him on the IT side of things. Me on the investment and financing side. We've decided that we'd like to invest in the Cultural Center and we're willing to give you half of our earnings. That should cover what it cost to have the vandal's paint removed. I think it would be fair, and certainly tribute to the ways of the Chinese Community," Norler told Mrs. Zhidao, handing her back one of their envelopes.

"I need to say thank you," she replied.

"Its not like we didn't get something out of it either. I've got the body I've always dreamed of!" Yasoto said proudly, flexing his arm, drawing laughter from both Mrs. Zhidao and her son.

"Bo. You take care of yourself, and you make sure that Huang Lin..." Norler began.

"Huong Lin!" Bo corrected Norler.

"Sorry, Huong Lin treats you well. You're a good catch and you deserve it as much a she does," Norler shook Bo's hand firmly.

"Look me up in the future," Bo said to Norler.

"I'll take you up on that," Norler promised him.

"Bo. Its been a real slice. You're one of kind, and if Huong Lin and you don't work out, could you pass her my phone number?" Yasoto joked, though Bo played serious for a moment much to Yasoto's dismay.

Then Bo burst out laughing and the rest followed suit.

Morning Coffee

"Would you like a refill on that coffee Jim?" asked Monique of her favourite customer.

"Sure, if you could," Jim nodded, now looking for the newspaper.

"Here you go," Viviane, now in a waitress' uniform fished out the newspaper from behind the counter for him.

"So how long am I going to be seeing double?" asked Jim.

"Another half a year at least. Until I leave for the west coast and the big time," Viviane answered.

"Well then I must be in heaven, or at least one of them," Jim said as he checked his watch.

"I'm gonna be late! Here, keep the change," Jim tossed Monique thirty dollars before he left.

Monique ran his order through the register and handed Viviane her half of the tip.

At that moment the cook poked his head out of the kitchen through the door.

"Is it alright if I go on break now boss?" he asked Monique.

"What time it is?" Monique examined the clock on the wall.

"Sure. Fifteen minutes, old timer," she told him, secretly mouthing to Viviane that they'd give him thirty minutes.

In The Mood

Mrs. Zhidao accompanied her son to the front door of their home. 

[Quick. Go before your father gets suspicious.]
"快的。 在你父亲起疑之前走" Mrs Zhidao urged her son, giving him the keys to her car.

[Mom. Use the time well. You deserve it.]
"妈妈。 好好利用时间。 你应得的。" he replied to his mother, who gave him a quick hug and sent him on his way.

When Bó Chéng was gone, she quickly ran up stairs and into the master bedroom, where she slipped into a tight red silk Cheongsam. She then went into the bathroom and did her makeup with the touch of an artist.

[Jùn Dé! I need you upstairs! There's an emergency!]
"君德! 楼上需要你! 有紧急情况!" she yelled down the stairs to her husband in the living room.

He got up from the sofa, startled and awake. He then came running up the stairs and into the master bedroom in a panic.

[What is wrong? Where's the emergency?]
"怎么了? 哪里有急事?" he said excitedly.

He proceeded into the darkened room and when he was in far enough, she closed the doors and turned on the light.

From the other side of the doors his voice could be heard.

[What's this?]
"这是什么?" Jùn Dé asked.

Then the sound of giggles and pleasurable laughter as their night alone began. For the first time since they first met, they kissed like the teenagers they'd once been.

Yasoto's Flight

The taxi pulled up to the airport drop off center.

"Would you like me to get your bags?" asked the driver.

"No. That's alright. I'll get them if you open the trunk. It won't affect your tip at all," Yasoto offered.

"Feel free to take them," the driver encouraged the younger man.

Yasoto got out of the taxi and walked over to the trunk. He hefted all the luggage and placed it gently on the walkway with his fit body. He then went over to the other passenger door and opened it.

"There you go honey," he said, as a tall leggy woman stepped out of the taxi and up onto the walkway beside the luggage.

"Are we bringing our laptops on the flight?" she asked Yasoto.

"Its up to you, Beth. We could work on our project together," Yasoto suggested.

"Or we could do some coding too," Beth offered.

"Why don't we do that later. Lets enjoy the flight. We'll watch a movie together," Yasoto suggested.

"Fair enough," Beth kissed him on the lips, a quick and gentle peck.

"What's this?" he asked, seeing that she had something in her hand.

"I think its a tape measure. It was in the back seat," she answered, showing it to him.

"Oh, I forgot to give it back to Mrs. Zhidao! It must have fallen out of my bag," Yasoto said, slapping his forehead with the palm of his hand.

"What should I do with it?" Beth asked.

"Put it back in the cab. I can't use it," Yasoto told her.

She quickly opened the door and tossed the tape into the back seat as Yasoto paid the cab driver.

They then proceeded into the airport and to the boarding area of their flight.

Norler's Last Day Of Class

"...and because this is our last class Business, Math And Statistics class that we'll be spending together, we're going to have a refresher of that most exciting and daring of topics, statistics, data and graphs. The one thing all of you potential boardroom makers and breakers will need above all else, when you're plotting the bottom line..." Mr. Henry said as he readied the overhead projector and laptop for the presentation he had in mind.

"We begin with the most simple of tools in our toolkit, the average plot, which finds the line between two points of data simply by addition of two elements, and division by two..." he began, half the class already on the brink of sleep given the push they'd prepared themselves for the upcoming exams.

It was always at times like this that Norler's mind began to wander. He was already very familiar with all of the statistical tools he'd be required to know and understand. The Average mean, deviation from the standard mean, square median, ROI indicators, he was familiar with them all. And so it was that his mind began to wander, and he recalled his time with Mrs. Zhidao and Yasoto rebuilding the courtyard of the Cultural Center.

How she'd explained that when you need to fill a hole, that the earth has to come from somewhere. There was always a hidden cost, and her means of dealing with that was pure awareness and responsibility. To plan every time you needed to make a hole to extract something from the earth, to use what you extracted in a strategic way, that would eventually see the hole it caused get filled too.

He rolled the concept around in his head a few times before he realized that he was onto something. Something that business lacked, but desperately needed. Something that gave it a vision conducive to the future, not just of the business, but of the people who made up the organization, and their suppliers and their customers. An edict of some form he imagined. An edict of responsible progress. A set of ideals and ethics that should guide the people at the helm of every business.

He turned to his notebook and picked up the pen in front of him, and began writing the beginnings of a philosophy that would define his beginning career in the boardroom six years from that point in time:

The Responsible Business Edict by Walter Norler

" least someone has the where with all to take some notes on my incredibly exciting lecture here. Good job Norler," Mr. Henry stated upon seeing a young Norler fervently writing in his notepad.

Butterfly: The Meandering Path

The cab driver later that day searched his taxi and found the measuring tape laying in the back.

"Oh boy. Someone left this behind and I have no use for it, but I know someone that might," he said, thinking about whether he should drop it off.

He decided that it would be best given to someone that would use it, so he drove to that person's location around the corner from the garage.

He walked into the building and up to the front desk and asked them to page Harry.

"Harry Seevers, to the front desk please. Harry Seevers please," the receptionist paged him over the intercom.

A few moments later the repairman for the senior's home arrived.

"Chupta! How are you?" asked Harry of his old friend.

"I am doing well. How about you?" asked Chupta.

"Its a pretty busy day, but I'm still managing to keep up. What can I do for you?" Harry asked.

"I found this in the back of my taxi, and I thought you'd be the best person to have this," Chupta explained to him, handing him the measuring tape.

"I can't believe it. That's my old measuring tape! This one's great! Thanks old friend! Can I get you a coffee or a tea? Maybe something to eat?" Harry asked Chupta graciously.

"No, its alright. I must go. I just wanted to drop it off to you. I have to go now," Chupta said.

"Thanks again. We'll see you soon," Harry left and got back to his work upstairs.

Eighteen Years Later

In the offices of West Meet East International, Heylyn was at her design table, adjusting a skirt she'd recently crafted when Monique walked in the door.

"Hi Boss! Not to stress you out, I just thought you might like to know that the upcoming show, the Kawaī kao Summer Event, has been moved ahead a week," Monique explained to Heylyn as the click of her heels punctuated her arrival.

"Monique!" Warai exclaimed at her friend's arrival.

"How are you squeezy cheeks?" Monique lightly pinched Warai's pink cheeks causing her to giggle.

"We're making a dress!" Warai said enthusiastically.

"More like fixing a dress," Heylyn corrected her little helper.

"Gee, I thought you'd be a little more stressed out with that show having been moved," Monique commented to Heylyn.

"Its still too early to be stressed. Besides, what good will it do? Wait a second, did you say a week?" Heylyn stopped, a look of panic in her eyes.

"That's what I said," she confirmed.

"I've got to get this done quickly so we can, rush to get the rest of the line ready in time!" Heylyn said as Monique lifted Warai to sit on the design table.

"Warai, can you pass me that square thing beside you?" Heylyn asked Warai.

"This?" she pointed to a small box like object on the design table.

"Yes," Heylyn nodded, still eyeballing her measurements.

Warai handed her the object. Heylyn examined it carefully and then pulled on the tab and extended the measuring tape. She didn't know the distinct path that measuring tape had taken to end up in her hands, though she'd come to find it indispensible. But she also felt that there was something more to it, though she never suspected that it was something that connected her to many lives which were already a part of her own.

For it was the same measuring tape that Harry the repairman of the senior's home had lost.

The same measuring tape that Alicia Westin had used to center Jolly's photo and bring him much joy for the final years of his life.

The same measuring tape that a young and focused Valerie Aspen had used to incapacitate The Prowler, long before she'd liberated herself from the clutches of her ex-boyfriend Torman.

The same measuring tape that Mrs. Zhidao had used to explain the fragility and fleetingness of life to her own son.

The same measuring tape that had found its way back to Harry the repairman, who, when he died, had the contents of his estate donated to the United Way and hencely, Value Village, a second hand store.

Where a knick-knack shopping Kori Jonglyu had spotted it, thinking of her employer, Heylyn.

Maybe the universe is folded and twisted in ways we have yet to discover. One thing remains certain though. In some small way, we're connected by a thread that runs across time, breaking its boundaries. 

The very way that same measuring tape connected the lives of four extraordinary women. 

Much like the women in all of our lives.

The End

Dedicated to Helen Yi Chen and women the world over.

Credits and attribution:

Artwork: Amy WongWendy PuseyGhastly, Brian Joseph Johns, Daz3DUnreal Engine...

Tools: Daz3DCorel PainterAdobe PhotoshopLightwave 3DBlender, ProductionCrate, Borderline Obsession...

Historical information about the dates in this story courtesy of Wikipedia and On This Day.