Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

by Margaret Davis


Burnished copper tresses formed an aureole around the pale slender face--wisps and tendrils curled free of the clip at the base of her neck that restrained the rest of the gleaming mass. It was not a fashionably beautiful face, more the classical face of a da Vinci or Bottecelli dominated by pale blue-gray eyes. The shape of her lips suggested lullabies to contented babies or declarations of undying eternal love, a mouth that should choke on the words she dropped into the silence.

"He gets off on the pain, it's the only way, now. This is beyond retribution for an abusive childhood, beyond his suffering--now the agony, the spurting of blood is the only way to get it up..."

There was convulsive swallowing from the other members of the 210. It was positively uncanny when her voice dropped into that uninflected tone and recited horrors beyond imagining--the kinds of things that kept them up nights after being discovered. But they had learned, in the year since their special division was formed, that the illogical leaps and the theories that made complete structures from a nail and two bricks or complete descriptions from half a fingerprint, three hairs and some clothing fibers, were often so close to the end result to make them believe she could get inside the head of the perpetrator.

Diana twisted the silver ring on her index finger as she looked around at them sensing their fascination and their revulsion. It was always the same--since she was just a little girl, before she learned to be silent about what she felt or knew would happen...

* * * * *

"Dee? DeeDeeeeeeeeeee!"

From her secret place between the lilac bushes and the fence, five year old Diana Elizabeth Bennett listened as her mother called her name. She was in trouble again, the tone of that voice was woefully familiar. She winced at the crack of the screen door slamming shut, she'd get a licking for not coming when Mom called her.

Instinctively she knew her visit with Beverly's Grandma this afternoon was the cause of her disgrace. Beverly was her best friend and lived down the block and around the corner. She was always excited when her Texas Grandma came to visit--she talked so funny and brought nice presents and told the best stories. Dee remembered her visit last summer and was excited when Beverly said she had arrived.

Mom said it was okay to go for a little while, but made her promise to come home after an hour and to mind her manners. Dee had skipped down the street trailing her favorite doll by one arm. Beverly's Grandma was on the porch in the big swing when Dee arrived.

"Hello, Dee, come up here and give me a hug, darlin'," Grandma Ann said. She smiled at Dee and held her arms open.

Dee thought she must not sit in the sun very much--her face was real white. And she must have been on a diet 'cause her face was sorta thin, too. Dee ran up the stairs and hugged the woman.

pain... sadness... dying

Dee jerked away from the old woman in fright from the overwhelming jolts of emotion that blasted into her mind when she touched her. She began to cry and skittered away when Grandma Ann tried to touch her. Beverly's mother, drawn by the commotion, sent Dee into the kitchen for cookies with Beverly.

"Why is your Grandma sick?" Dee asked around a mouthful of oatmeal cookie.

"She's not sick," Beverly declared.

"Is too, and she's going to die soon." It hurt Dee to tell the truth, but she knew it was wrong to lie. Beverly started to cry and that made Dee feel worse. She grabbed her doll and ran out the back door and all the way home. She'd been hiding in her special place since.

* * * * *

Seventeen year old Timothy James Bennett stepped out the back door of the kitchen in search of his sister. The sunlight gleamed on his auburn hair, legacy from his mother's side of the family. Both his younger sisters, Susan and Dee, had the fiery hair and the temper to match, but Dee was... different. Born when he was twelve, she was the light of his life.

Sometimes she was ageless and he shared his hopes and dreams with her as he could with no other. But she was only five and that fact was no more clear than in her fall from grace today. He'd arrived home after his flying lesson to find Mom in tears and Dee hiding out. The only explanation he received was that she had made up more stories.

Her favorite place to hide was near the back fence in the corner by the alley and it was there he found her. She'd cried herself to sleep and was clutching her doll in one arm, her head pillowed on the other. One cheek was smudged where she had wiped away the tears and he could see her eyes were swollen from crying.

Tim gathered her into his arms and pulled her out of the hiding place and onto his lap. She was not startled when she opened her eyes, it was as if she already knew who held her. Her eyes widened and filled with tears then she tried to burrow her way into his neck.

"Shh, Dee, I'm here," he murmured and rocked gently back and forth to soothe her. "Can you tell me what happened, Punkin?" He didn't continue to press her with questions, just held her close to him and waited.

"Beverly hates me 'cause I didn't lie."

Her eyes still swam with tears but they begged him to understand. Tim knew Dee had special abilities, he'd read science fiction books that talked about empathic, telepathic and telekinetic traits. It was just a bit unnerving to find his sister displaying some of the talents he thought only existed in the imaginations of writers of fiction.

"Can you tell me what you said to Beverly?" he inquired gently.

"I said her Grandma is sick and... and... was gonna die soon." The last words came out in a rush.

"You felt it?"

"Uh-huh. Why doesn't she believe me, Timmy?"

For all the things she felt or knew, Dee's world still revolved around her family and her little friends and the excitement of kindergarten in the fall. Estrangement from her best friend was traumatic and frightening to her.

"Do you remember when I told you before that you have a special talent?" At her nod, Tim continued. "Punkin, you sometimes feel things and know things and it's special because other people can't do that. And when you tell people, they don't understand because they can't do it. It makes them afraid.

"You can always tell me, but other people don't understand. I know it's hard to know something and not tell, but Dee, this is very important. Someday, when you're older you'll meet other people who understand. Promise me you'll try to remember this time." It felt awful to put such restrictions on her, but until she was old enough to evaluate the consequences of her behavior, he knew of no other way to protect her.

"But what if you're not here?" He was gone a lot--school, flying lessons, baseball practice.

Tim hadn't thought that far, but then a brilliant idea popped into his head. "You can make a diary and show it to me when I come home," he told her. "You can draw pictures and when you get older you can write words about what you see and how you feel."

* * * * *

Diana snapped back to the present to find she had drawn a large Bowie knife on the tablet in front of her. Tim and his pictures--what a long road it had been. She listened to the rest of the case summations presented by each member of the 210. They had these meetings once a week and occasionally the case someone else had dovetailed neatly into your own. The captain always had a list of the current complaints and investigations by the detective bureau and the men on the street. One item on today's list grabbed her attention.

"Burglary, hardware store, owner severely beaten, items missing--miscellaneous tools, wire and hunting knives." She committed the address to memory, she'd go by and check the scene as soon as the meeting was over.

Half an hour later, Diana exited the building and headed for the subway. It was easier than driving a car and hunting for a parking space and she didn't want to advertise her presence by signing out a patrol car that could be left in a loading zone.

* * * * *

From the back of the storage closet, Diana pulled the cedar box that had belonged to her grandmother. In it were the treasures of a lifetime, collected from childhood. Items with sentimental value and little else. A faint scent of the wood came to her as she carried the box to the counter where she worked. Perched on a tall stool, she opened the lid and removed each item carefully.

There was an amethyst colored stone, a tin ashtray from San Francisco, a poem torn from The Reader's Digest, several diplomas, pictures of friends at all ages, an autograph book, Timmy's wings from jump school, the program from his graduation from the Air Force Academy, and in the bottom--her diaries and journals. The oldest was drawn and written on a Big Chief tablet and she turned the fragile pages, remembering. The first drawing was a narrow face colored white and another face with violent red hair and big blue tears dripping from the eyes.

* * * * *

Timmy gave her the new tablet and new crayons the day after her disastrous visit with Beverly's Grandma. It was, he explained, for her to draw what she felt or saw and then she could share it with him when he came home everyday. Dee had labored over the drawing of the two faces, tongue stuck out between her teeth in unconscious imitation of her mother.

"See, her face is white 'cause she's sick and sad 'cause she's going away--to Heaven."

"And this one?" Tim asked, pointing to the red-haired face with the blue tears.

"Me, I'm sad 'cause Beverly hates me," she told him wistfully.

* * * * *

There were other pictures in that first journal and gradually a few words printed in large letters in a childish hand. The day Beverly's grandmother died was represented by more of the sad faces with blue tears. Her first flight with Timmy had produced a pictures of little trees and houses--how they looked from high in the air.

Diana smiled as she turned the pages. He had been so wise at seventeen--journals had helped retain her sanity over the years. How she missed him! The picture of mountains reminded her of the day Timmy told her he was going away.

* * * * *

He bounded in the door his books tucked inside his jacket to protect them from the snow.

"Hi, Mom, Dee," he called stomping his feet to knock the snow loose onto the rug inside the kitchen door. "Here, Punkin, put these on the table, please." He handed his books to Dee and turned to hang his damp coat over a nearby chair.

"There's some mail addressed to you."

"Thanks, Mom. What's for dinner?" he asked and padded over to the table in stocking feet to collect the envelopes. His heart began to pound when he saw the envelope from Senator Raymond's office. He ripped open the letter:

  • Dear Timothy,

    I am pleased to announce that my recommendation for your appointment to the Air Force Academy has been approved. Further information will be mailed to you directly from the Academy. I wish you the very best in your endeavors...

  •  

    "Mom, Mom--it's the Air Force Academy! I'm going!" he shouted and whirled her around the kitchen while Dee watched.

    Later that evening he had explained to Dee that he was going away to school and while he would miss her, he was excited to go. He told her what an honor it was to be chosen and that he'd learn to fly jets, too.

    All Dee understood was that he wouldn't be home everyday and she couldn't go with him.

    * * * * *

    Diana picked up the second journal--the early pages contained more pictures then gradually less as more written thoughts had been added. High points over the next several years had been Timmy's visits home on leave and their trip to his graduation.

    The openness around the Academy had been a big surprise. They had flown into Denver then rented a car and driven the seventy miles south on a highway that paralleled the mountains. The sky was brilliant blue without a cloud anywhere and it was surprisingly hot.

    The Air Force Academy was at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. There were huge flat parade grounds, dormitories, classrooms, a large mess hall and the chapel--as crisp and shining as airplane wings, the silver colored buttresses pointed skyward separated by stained glass windows. There was a Protestant sanctuary on the upper level; a Catholic one and a Jewish synagogue were housed on the lower floor of the structure.

    But far more spectacular than the chapel or the nearby mountains was the sight of the Academy assembling and marching to meals. Thousands of identically clad legs stepped out in rhythm, it was military tradition and patriotic pride rolled into one. Ten year old Diana was aware, though, of the worries that nibbled at the collective consciousness assembled--war, increasingly more deadly regardless of the name they gave it, hovered over them all.

    The next morning in the clear light of the Colorado morning, Diana, Susan and their mother, joined hundreds of other families in the stadium to observe the graduation. The three lower classes marched in, dress uniforms gleaming in the sunshine and finally it was time for the graduating seniors. Every step was precisely executed, corners were turned as if each row was connected by invisible wires.

    An enormous black limousine pulled onto the field announcing the arrival of the Vice-President to address the assemblage. He was surrounded by Secret Service and it was only years later that Diana contemplated the fact that anti-war protestors had threatened to disrupt the proceedings and garner some of the television and newspaper coverage of the event.

    For Dee the best part of the day occurred when from the podium it was announced, "Gentlemen, you are dismissed." With a resounding cheer, the newly commissioned officers tossed their hats in the air--it was as if a flock of six hundred birds had suddenly appeared white against the deep blue sky.

    * * * * *

    Diana remembered how disappointed she'd been when Timmy told her he wasn't able to come home for the summer. She had looked forward to having him home as in the past. But he shipped out immediately for his first duty station at Shepard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas where he would go to flight school.

    Flight school, jump school and survival training all seemed to lead an inexorable march toward the black maw of Vietnam where more and more military were needed. Diana knew her mother was worried but her concerns were seldom voiced. It was as if by not speaking of it, the fear did not exist.

    Diana picked up another journal, on the cover was the beginning date--June 1968. She was hesitant to open it for it contained memories of the last time she'd seen her brother.

    * * * * *

    He'd had thirty days leave that summer and had come home and brought his friend, Jeff, with him. Jeff was Timmy's other crew member in the F-111's he flew. He had tried to explain to her how much they relied on each other, how their effectiveness was heightened by a sense that each understood how the other's mind worked and often reached the same answer at the same time.

    "It's like he's a part of me, Dee," he explained. "I can concentrate on what I do best, knowing he's behind me."

    Dee nodded, someone who understood you was a gift as she well knew. She touched his arm. "I have to tell you something,"

    "What is it?" He could tell by the tone, it was something serious.

    "I see a parachute and big green trees. Promise me you'll always wear your parachute when you fly."

    Her fear for him was so plain, but Tim didn't want to talk about it. He already had his orders--back to Shepard then Thailand. What Dee didn't know was that he would be flying many missions in places where planes sometimes went down. He couldn't stifle her empathic ability, but he could wait until the leave time was nearly over to openly speak about the his orders.

    * * * * *

    Diana picked up another journal and it fell open to the page she'd read so often, the page that she'd memorized over the years.

     

    October 22, 1969 Timmy's plane was shot down yesterday. He ejected and another pilot saw his parachute and they heard him on his radio, but now they can't find him. They called it missing in action. They only saw one chute.

    I know he's alive, I would feel it if he were dead. I think...

     

    * * * * *

    Dee saw the car when she turned the corner on her way home from school--a dark sedan right in front of their house. For a moment she couldn't move, the purpose of the strange car obvious to her in those first few seconds. She wanted to walk backwards and retreat around the corner, to reverse the terrible certainty that unfolded in her mind. Then the numbness wore off and she raced down the street and through the front door.

    Two officers sat on the edge of chairs in the living room facing her mother on the sofa. Dee stood in the doorway breathing hard from running, images and feelings bombarded her.

    pain... sorrow... fear...

    "Mom? What happened?" She was afraid to put forth any speculation, lest by the very fact of naming the cause that brought these strangers into their home turn it into fact. Dee had never seen the kind of agony that filled her mother's eyes when she lifted her head and Dee took a half step backward and involuntarily raised her hand to ward off the gush of emotions pouring forth.

    "Your brother's plane has been shot down. He ejected and they had contact with him from the ground, but the rescue team hasn't found him yet."

    "They will find him, right?" Dee addressed the older of the two men.

    "They are making every effort," he replied, but he couldn't meet her eyes.

    Both men rose and the older man spoke to her mother again. "We'll keep in touch, Mrs. Bennett. As soon as we have any further information, we'll contact you. If you have any questions, please call me." He gave her his card and the two turned to leave.

    "How long before you'll hear something?" Dee asked. Her mother seemed incapable of asking more questions and wept into her handkerchief.

    He looked into the piercing eyes that were far too intelligent to believe platitudes. "It's hard to say, perhaps a day or two. Sometimes jungle searches take a little longer."

    She was afraid to pin him down any further, uncertain she could stand to hear any more hollow conciliatory phrases. She saw them out the door and then braced herself, Susan had just turned the corner.

    * * * * *

    They mailed letters every week and packages once a month. For the first six months Dee haunted the mailbox, certain every day that a letter would come. She didn't know her mother and older sister worried about her compulsive need to be the one who picked up the mail until many years later.

    Those first few days they had called every day to the officer who had visited their home. It was an exercise in frustration for there was no new information. It was not that he was unkind or impatient, he simply had nothing to tell them. None of the patrols had found any trace of Tim although they had found the wreckage of his plane. Gradually the length of time between calls increased. Now they called twice a month--none of them could bear to let more than two weeks go by without calling because it felt like they were giving up when they didn't call.

    It became a daily ritual to read the newspaper cover to cover and clip out articles on Vietnam especially if they mentioned pilots or men missing. Dee watched the evening news without fail no matter how horrifying the words or images.

    About six months after Timmy's plane went down, the news shows and papers were full of an unsuccessful attempt by a Texas business man to obtain the release of the POW's. Six months later another abortive attempt failed to rescue men from a camp outside of Hanoi, and eight weeks after that they read about a raid in Cambodia where POW's were thought to be held found the camp empty.

    The emotional roller coaster took its toll on their family. Dee's mother became thin and silent, but the sounds of sobbing could often be heard behind her bedroom door. Perhaps if her husband had been alive to share the burden, she might have coped better with the trauma of her firstborn in limbo in a faraway jungle, never certain if he was dead or alive.

    Susan graduated from high school that spring with honors. She had always been a good student and had taken refuge in her classes and books after Timmy was reported missing. She was second in her class and won a full four year scholarship to the college of her choice. She had hoped to attend the University of Colorado where she had visited when they attended Tim's graduation. She had loved the feel of Boulder, the nearness of the mountains and the odd looking Flatirons. Now she chose a school closer to home so she could keep an eye on Dee as their mother seemed incapable of doing.

    Dee wrote in her journal faithfully, determined that when Timmy came home she would be able to fill in the details of the years since his capture. She firmly squashed down her empathic abilities, ignored feelings and emotions that sometimes threatened to overwhelm her.

    Middle School should have been a time of forging new friendships, meeting boys, football games, dances, dates for the movies on Friday night. Instead Dee spent hours at the library reading the major national papers, gleaning information on the war and the peace talks in Paris. One of the few things she had in common with many of her peers was a mouthful of shiny braces.

    That fall a ray of hope entered the Bennett house. Three POW's had escaped in North Vietnam and over weeks had made their way mile after agonizing mile into the South. Very little had been printed in the newspapers, but Dee had seen the little article. She recognized one of the names from the list of POW's that had been printed and knew he lived in a small town in Upstate New York. Dee got the address and phone number from Information. She wrote a letter and her timing was perfect, because the returned soldier opened the mail the day her letter arrived.

    The telephone rang one afternoon and a male voice asked for Mrs. Bennett. When she hung up the phone a few minutes later, her face was pale and her hands shook.

    "Dee, that man says he saw Tim. He's alive!"

    Bruce Woodson came to visit them the following weekend and told them what he could about Tim. He and a number of others had been moved from the prison camp the week before Bruce had escaped. That had been nearly six months ago. Tim had a limp from a poorly healed broken leg and he was thin, as they all were, but he was alive.

    Bruce left behind a renewed sense of purpose, a reward for all the months of uncertainty, but above all he had left them with hope. He had not painted a false hope, conditions in the camps were bad, but just knowing that Tim had been seen alive was knowledge beyond price.

    * * * * *

    Diana looked up to find her loft shadowy--it was not yet full dark and she turned on the lamp that illuminated the counter. She continued to flip through the journal pages, now and then stopping to read a headline until she came across the one dated January 28, 1973. CEASEFIRE! it declared and the terms of the peace were listed. Circled in red were the words Return of the POW'S.

    * * * * *

    They waited, hoped and prayed then watched the TV coverage of the release of the first group of POW's on February 12. The thin, haggard men who emerged from the plane raised the collective hope of the Bennett women for although Tim was not among the first group they were certain he would be returned to them. His name had never appeared on any of the lists of POW's, but neither had many others. There were only 582 on the list Hanoi had released and over 2500 on the list the Americans maintained.

    A second group of Americans were released on March 4, Tim was not in that group, either. The positive attitude in the Bennett household faltered in spite of their best efforts. The last group to be released was delayed and tension nationwide built to a fever pitch. Finally on March 29 the last troops left Vietnam and the last group of POW's were released. Tim was not among them.

    Articles and editorials followed raising the question--where were the rest of the POW's and MIA's? Dee was consumed by the question and wrote in her journal for the first time what would become an obsession.

     

    I will go and search for him myself.

     

    * * * * *

    Dee grew three inches the summer between her sophomore and junior year of high school and her braces were removed. The lissome beauty who approached the school steps clad in snug jeans that accentuated the long legs was the focus of all the unattached male population gathered to see and be seen. Her hair caught the sunlight and threw it back in glints of gold and fire; but what drew them was the aura of strength and fragility, of purpose and indecision--they wanted to bask in the assurance and offer a hand in comfort. And most maddening of all, she seemed unaware of them.

    What they saw the result of being tested by the refining fire of hopes and dreams gone awry. The flames had eaten away the protective cocoon that had been her refuge for eight years--the certainty that one day Timmy would come home and life would return to normal. The harsh reality was knowing that even if he was found, things would never be the same, ever.

    Her focus had changed from gazing backward to looking forward to the future, a near instantaneous restructuring of her goals and ambitions. In short, she was a new person. And with her new persona, came a change in name. Dee became Diana--it was, she confided to Beverly, time to be a grownup.

    A consultation with her guidance counselor that first day had produced a change in schedule as more math and science were added. The first steps to her goal were in place as she honed her mental skills. Extra curricular skills were not ignored--there was not a more willing assistant behind the scenes for the all-school musical or on the decorating committee for the prom. She learned how to fit in with the group, to become nearly invisible because she was precisely what they expected to see and hear. And in the process, she had a good time.

    She was invited to parties sometimes it was dancing and groping games in a darkened basement family room; and then there were the times when two or three people brought guitars and they sang. Diana's voice was adequate for group singing and she loved the interweaving harmonies of the songs they sang: 500 Miles, Michael Rowed The Boat Ashore; The Boxer, and the one that always made her sad because it reminded her of Timmy... Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

  • Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?

    Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?

    Where have all the flowers gone, gone to soldiers every one,

    When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?

  • * * * * *

    Two months before graduation, Diana and her mother were once again glued to the television as the frantic flight to escape Vietnam was seared across the nation on the nightly news. The sight of parents begging for their children to be allowed onto a plane to freedom was heartbreaking.

    Refugees poured out of Vietnam by every available means. Diana and her classmates raised money for basic necessities for people who literally had escaped with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Every time Diana packed a box, she breathed a little prayer that perhaps a stranger would help Timmy, wherever he was.

    It was so painful to watch the televised terror, but like others who were riveted by the awful images, Diana was unable to tear herself away. Their need was to bear witness, to be able to say, yes, I saw.. I watched your struggle... I was there for you. They wept with the mother who had left a five day old infant behind, for the husband who got out with two of his children but without his wife and three other children.

    * * * * *

    Graduation passed by in a blur, with two notable exceptions--the announcement that Diana had won a prestigious scholarship for a year at the university of her choice with a renewable option for four years and Todd Burnham asked her to the prom.

    Beverly's eyes were the size of saucers when Diana told her of Todd's invitation.

    "Be still my heart!" Beverly gasped, clutching at the front of her tee shirt. "Now you can die happy!"

    "Be serious!" Diana told her and thumped her on the shoulder. "We have just one problem--what am I going to wear?"

    They terrorized the department stores for just the right dress for dinner and the dance. Beverly thought the strapless showed the creamy skin of Diana's shoulders to advantage. Diana agreed but was unwilling to worry about her dress falling down for an entire evening. She finally settled on an ivory Gunne Saxe gown trimmed with wide lace bands that accented her tiny waist.

    With the perfect dress she needed the perfect haircut. Long billowing hair was decidedly out of fashion, but Diana had been loathe to part with her nearly waist length tresses. Beverly went along to lend her moral support, even so she cringed when the first snip of the scissors cut through the eight inch braid. When he finished, Diana's head was covered with short curls and longer ones cascaded down her neck. The shag cut accentuated her long slender neck and made her eyes enormous.

    Diana's mother took one look at her new haircut and burst into tears.

    "Mom, it'll grow, I promise," Diana said in an attempt to soothe her. She'd had no idea her mother was so attached to her long hair.

    When she could speak, Marilyn Bennett hastened to reassure her daughter that the hairdo wasn't the cause of her tears. "For a moment you looked so much like Timmy when he was younger. It just startled me, that's all." Her voice still shook and was full of anguish. She held her arms out in mute apology for the hurt she saw in Diana's eyes.

    "You're mighty pretty, baby," she whispered and was rewarded with the tightening of the slender arms around her shoulders.

    * * * * *

    Diana flipped through the journal pages from college. She'd thought a pre-law program would best suit her goal, Timmy might have need of an international lawyer when she found him. But during her junior year, she took a course in forensics and discovered how good she was at reconstructing. It had led to a change in major to Criminology. The course work was grueling and she loved it.

    * * * * *

    The backpack slung over her shoulder bounced against her back as Diana hurried down the stairs. She needed to change clothes--the anatomy lab with its permanent stench of formaldehyde and preserved tissue imbued one with an odor that was pungent. She left her lab coat in her locker and always wore her oldest jeans and tee shirts. Only after a shampoo and shower and a judicious application of lotion did she feel able to mingle with the living again.

    She glanced hurriedly at her watch, it was going to be close. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons Diana tutored Vietnamese refugees in English As a Second Language class. The tutors worked one on one with the students and Diana had volunteered one day after reading of the need for people to augment the teaching staff.

    It was only natural that Diana should begin to learn some Vietnamese words in the process. She was so proud of her current student, Ba Nguyen. Ba had fled in 1975 to Thailand and had only arrived six months ago when she obtained a sponsor, one of the local churches. She worked hard now to learn English and be able to get a job.

    At the end of the term, families were invited to join the class members for a reception. It was that evening that Diana met Phuong Le. He was a practicing physician forced to flee the country when the Americans departed and without the papers to certify his education. The two of them happened to be seated close together in a group embroiled in a discussion about MIA's and POW's. Only that day the headlines of the newspaper blared that the remains of one of the former POW's that had been recently turned over to U.S. officials was not a Caucasian.

    Phuong Le voiced his opinion that there were Americans still in Vietnam which precipitated a lively discussion in the group. Diana sat silent as the conversation raged around her. It was only later that she was able to speak privately to Phuong and question him carefully about his beliefs in reference to POW's and MIA's.

    "Forgive me for asking so many questions," she said, finally. "My brother has been missing since 1969 and was seen by several POW's who were returned in 1973. Since then, we've tried to gather information, but have nothing concrete that would make the government listen."

    "There have been many reports of sightings of Americans--some from years past," he told her.

    "Someday, I'd like to go and look myself."

    "It would be very dangerous for you," he was agitated at her stated intention. "Even I would be suspected for asking questions. They would not even let you into the country now."

    He was kind and sympathetic and gradually over the following months they became good friends. She recommended him to speak in one of her classes when they discussed investigation procedures with respect to ethnicity. He had made quite an impression, but afterward she was appalled at the emotional toll it took on him. Reliving the memories and talking about his escape brought painful memories to the fore, his voice had cracked and, finally, tears poured down his face as he'd described the horrors he and many other refugees had experienced. Those memories made their reactions to a police presence different from that of other ethnic groups..

    * * * * *

    Work/study programs were an option for students in many majors. Diana opted to work with the Coroner's office for three months between her junior and senior year. It was important to study the end of life, to know the destructive force of violence or crime, the ravages of disease and old age, the horrors of overdose and desperation that led someone to take their own life.

    There were moments during the summer when Diana despaired that the assignment would never end--most notably during an autopsy of a floater found in the East River. She clamped her teeth down on the inside of her lip and focused on the pain, anything was preferable to spewing up her breakfast. Afterwards, one of the technicians took her aside for some advice, well-meaning if a bit late.

    "Never eat when a floater's on the schedule," he said kindly. "None of us are immune to that." He smiled at her slightly green tinged face. "Why don't you take thirty minutes and lie down in the lounge, I'll tell 'em it's cramps," he said with a leer designed to make her laugh. It worked.

    Most intriguing were the cases where the cause of death was unknown and the homicide cases where the exact cause could only be determined by an autopsy and exhaustive tests of the blood and tissues for toxic elements. Cases that looked like foul play turned out to be suicide and sometimes obvious suicides, complete with notes to the family, were murder.

    "See the angle here, the shading of powder burn here and on the fingers--definitely suicide. Who's going to let someone that close with a gun and not put up a struggle?" Abe Gutierrez, the encyclopedic mind of the Medical Examiner's Office, was a fountain of knowledge once he understood that his summer work/study helper was interested, sometimes even fascinated with the process of determining the cause of death. He found she had an immense capacity for details and never forgot anything he told her.

    "You know, Diana, medical school's the place for you. Research--with your mind, you'd probably find a cure for the cold!"

    "Abe, can you see me in a classroom for another four years, then internship, residency--it goes on and on. I want to be out working and doing things... "

    "Yeah, like earning money for a trip, huh?" He'd wheedled it out of her early in the summer. Such an odd mismatch of facts versus her looks made it a puzzle worthy of his best detective work and bit by bit he'd pried a word or two, here and there, until he thought he had the picture. He presented it to he, fait accompli and had been crushed when she laughed... laughed until she cried and suffered a horrendous case of hiccups.

    When she could finally talk, she asked, "Where did you get an imagination like that and how did you keep it in a place like this?" It set her off again with whoops of laughter and she pointed a finger at him. "A spy, Diana wants to be a spy!"

    He had to laugh, it did sound pretty silly... now. But how else to explain her interest in Southeast Asian people and politics and their government structure, her ability to speak some of the language and her desire to visit the country. It sounded like a perfect set up for espionage as far as he was concerned.

    * * * * *

    Diana was reminded of Abe the following spring when she was approached by a Company man. He extolled the virtues and satisfaction to be gained from working for the CIA, but Diana politely declined to be interviewed. Her goal was to get into Vietnam and facilitate her search for her brother, but exchanging her entire life for the company's assistance seemed like a very high price, indeed.

    More and more she was drawn to police work. The daily grind of a beat had limited appeal, far more compelling was the idea of investigating and piecing things together until a conclusion could be formed and motives identified. Since childhood Diana had read mystery books the way some women read romance novels--for relaxation. She found it great fun to figure out the villain long before the author began to drop the first hints. She toyed with the thought of writing a mystery novel of her own... perhaps someday.

    Finally, one fine spring morning, Diana cut class and went to visit Abe Gutierrez again. She found him finishing an autopsy yet another John Doe fished out of the river the night before.

    "Come over here and look at this, Bennett," he urged, "tell me what you think."

    She was heartily grateful she'd planned to persuade him to have breakfast with her and thus hadn't eaten. She didn't have to deal with the queasies. She pulled on a scrub suit, stepped over to the table where she ignored the damage done by the water and focused instead on the indentation around the base of the neck.

    "Any identification?" she asked. He shook his head and she continued her observations. The body appeared to be a well muscled male, between thirty and forty. It was unclear if drugs or other substances had been in use at the time of death.

    "The obvious cause of death appears to be strangulation, but that will depend on if there is water in the lungs. Was he dead before he hit the water? Lack of identification may indicate a mob hit or a drug deal gone sour." She waited patiently for his evaluation of her statements.

    "Right on the money!" He grinned at her, fully willing to take credit for her deductive abilities. "Fingerprints tell us this is Edward Buckley, he has three priors for drug possession--a dealer not a user. Lungs are clear--he was dead when he went into the water. Looks like a garrote to me--a nasty piece of work, but mighty effective.

    "Why don't you wait in my office, coffee's on. I'll be another half hour or so. Then you can tell me what you want that's worth the price of feeding me."

    Diana laughed, stuffing the scrub suit in the disposal bin. Abe's size and appetite were legendary--his standard order was always two of everything. Yet the scalpel clutched in a ham-like fist was wielded with precision and dexterity.

    During the course of breakfast she had picked his brain and shared her ambitions. He was so pleased with her choices that he promised to recommend her to the Police Commissioner. True to his word, he had made the call and she had been accepted on a provisional appointment dependent on her successful completion of the classroom and physical requirements.

    * * * * *

    She wrote her share of speeding tickets, made countless arrests, and delivered one baby in her first three years at NYPD. Much of her course work at the university had been applicable to her new career so she was able to finish the additional required training in less than six months and had been on patrol since.

    Tutoring the students of English As a Second Language took up part of her evenings. She cooked occasionally, ate out more frequently, attended an aerobics class on a semi-regular basis and read everything she could find on Vietnam, POW's and MIA's. She joined the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia--much of their work involved writing letters and keeping the issue before Congress.

    She lived alone in a tiny studio apartment. It was a dark and sometimes dreary place, but it was all she could afford on her salary. Sometimes Diana held long conversations with herself about her living arrangements. She really didn't spend much time at home, rotating shifts took care of that plus tutoring and a little social life now and then. When she was playing Devil's advocate, she put forth the idea that if she had a more pleasant place to live, she might stay home more.

    But in any case it was a moot point unless she won the Lottery or a long lost relative left her a bundle. Every spare dollar went into The Trip fund. When the government of Vietnam allowed foreigners into the country, Diana would be ready. Her passport was current and she had a bag outfitted with tropical needs stowed in the back of the closet.

    Diana knew a patrol career of four or five years was common before promotion to a specialty was permitted. There were exceptions, of course, but it was frustrating to be unable to pursue a case beyond the initial report especially when the details were as tantalizing as the Hooker/Slasher case. She had been in the first car to arrive at the second in the series of homicides.

    She recognized the M.O. immediately after sliding through the door, weapon drawn. Blood was everywhere and the victim had been hacked to death and the pieces dumped in the middle of the bed. Her backup gagged on the coppery stink of walls that looked as though an attempt had been made to paint them in blood. She took advantage of his distraction to look in each tiny room. The bathroom showed evidence that the killer had washed his hands to remove the blood, she found it odd that the toilet had been used, but the seat was down and it hadn't been flushed.

    They approached Diana to work undercover on the case after the third victim was found, and she accepted. A short dark brown wig and a liberal application of cosmetics altered her appearance so drastically that not even her own mother would have recognized the woman who loitered on the corner. The impossibly short dress and three inch stiletto heels proclaimed her purpose in a loud voice--her obvious purpose, anyway. Undercover was dangerous business and not at all what was portrayed on television. They hadn't dared to wire her, and relied instead on backup and surveillance teams scattered around the area.

    Girls on the street were wary; but nothing short of nuclear holocaust kept them off the streets--after all there was rent to pay and a pimp to placate. They thought Diana the new acquisition of Dudley, one of the more flashy men who ran a string of girls. She knew he had been working undercover for the past two years.

    She leaned against a No Parking sign seemingly waiting for a customer. Marching through her mind were the facts from all the material she'd read about the case and the previous three victims. Something nagged at her, didn't fit and she sifted over the details searching for the elusive item that alerted her subconscious. A brisk breeze drew a shiver from her just as the first raindrop hit her nose.

    "Well, darlin', we're getting nothin' here but sore feet. I sure could use something hot to drink." The woman who spoke to Diana had introduced herself earlier as Denise. She was acquainted with everyone in the area and called them all, male or female, darlin'.

    Black, tall and slender in the requisite high heels, she was dressed in a short leather skirt and long sleeved sheer blouse; her perfectly groomed long hair was obviously a wig--an expensive one. She was past dewy youthfulness and was in that indeterminate age range--somewhere between twenty-five and forty.

    "Dudley ain't gonna want his new prize to get damp," she said with a smile.

    "I've got instant coffee," Diana offered. Perhaps a friendly gesture would be rewarded with some useful tidbits dropped into casual conversation.

    "Well, move it, girl! Don't want no water spots on this leather."

    * * * * *

    "Cinderella's leaving the party early, you're it."

    "Got it."

    * * * * *

    It began to rain in earnest and they dashed the last twenty feet to the door of the building where Diana had a room. They laughed and mopped at Denise's skirt before it stained.

    The old elevator creaked to a stop and the doors slid open. There was no one in the hall and Diana stood under the one lightbulb to fumble in her purse for the key. Denise watched her with an indulgent smile on her face.

    "Girl, we're gonna freeze to death if you don't find that key."

    Diana finally produced the errant key and moved toward the door to her room. She unlocked the door and opened it, reached in to flip on the lights. Tiny, the room was dominated by the double bed against the far left wall, a closet and bathroom took up the rest of the wall space and the other side of the room had a small kitchenette. A table and two chairs were opposite the door next to the one window in the room.

    "Ooh, it's cold in here. I forgot and left the window open." Diana moved ahead of her guest to the window and slammed down the pane. She twitched the shade down to shut out the sight of the rain sliding down the grimy window.

    "I'll put the kettle on. Have a seat," she waved her guest toward the table.

    "Hey, girl, I'll help. You don't have to wait on me." Denise reached past Diana for the mugs on the counter and the jar of instant coffee next to them.

    With the lightening speed of a cobra strike, the long thin arms wrapped around Diana pinning her arms to her sides. Before she could scream the prick of a knife under her ear silenced her.

    "Horning in on my territory. Catching my man Dudley's eye when I nearly had him convinced to take care of me." The venomous words hissed in Diana's ear.

    "Too bad his new girl's gonna walk on him. Disappear her very first night on the street, too bad."

    Diana knew to struggle would only make the situation worse and forced herself to be limp and compliant as Denise shoved her across the room, the blade of the knife still pressed against her neck.

    The door splintered open and a bellow of Police, gave Diana the opportunity she needed. With all her strength she drove her elbow into the ribcage behind her. She didn't feel the knife slice into her throat as she whirled away from her attacker and threw a chopping blow at the upper lip and nose. Denise went down like she'd been shot.

    "Bennett, you okay?"

    "Yeah, I'm fine," Diana replied, then things went black.

    * * * * *

    Diana woke with raindrops falling on her face as they carried her stretcher to the back of the ambulance. Alex Gardner, one of the surveillance team members, walked along beside and when he saw her eyes open, leaned down to reassure her.

    "You're going to be fine, Diana. She missed the jugular, you'll need some stitches, but you're alright."

    Her mouth was dry and she struggled to get the words out. "Alex... be careful. Denise is... a man." She knew he heard and understood by the way his eyes popped open. Satisfied her message had been delivered, she let herself drift away again.

    * * * * *

    Diana flipped through the clippings. She'd made page two that first day: Undercover Cop Nabs Transvestite Slasher. There had been endless questions to which she had less than adequate answers as far as the reporters were concerned. How to explain the certainty that descended on her? Had it been the walk or was it just one of those things that had simmered in the background of her subconscious and suddenly moved to the fore? Whatever the answer, she had sent an urgent message for help when she had pulled the shade on the window and the fast-action of the surveillance team had saved her life.

    The incident had changed life considerably. The captain had visited her studio apartment while she recuperated and offered his brother-in-law's services after he'd seen the tiny, dark place. The brother-in-law, a realtor, found the loft and helped her negotiate a long term lease at a most reasonable rate. The Captain had also offered her a choice of assignments, and at her request, she had been transferred to the detective bureau. But more important than all these, that same month travel restrictions to Vietnam had been lifted.

    * * * * *

    Phuong Le made one trip to Hong Kong and Thailand before he would allow Diana to accompany him. Every night for the two weeks preceding the trip he drilled her in the behavior expected and how to avoid attracting attention. A foreign woman, especially a redhead, was such an unexpected sight that she would cause a stir without speaking a word.

    One evening when he arrived at her loft, she startled him into speechlessness when she appeared in a black wig and the black pajama-like clothing he'd purchased for her. With her hair hidden, the change was profound. No one would mistake her as Oriental, but it was better than the red hair that fairly screamed Caucasian.

    Reluctant to cause her mother any more grief, Diana decided not to tell her about her trip. If she was successful, it would be a wonderful surprise; and if she was not, there would be plenty of time to be unhappy. She did tell Susan who made a trip into the city two days before departure to wish her sister luck.

    "Are you sure you want to do this, Dee?" It was an indication of her fear and concern that Susan used the nickname from their childhood.

    "Susan, I have to do this. If I don't, I'll always wonder if I could have made a difference, if I could have found Timmy or discovered his fate."

    Susan nodded and hugged her sister. "Be safe," she whispered.

    * * * * *

    Thailand, mysterious and brooding, was a study in contrasts--teeming metropolitan Bangkok with areas similar to any large city and a few kilometers away, dense steaming jungle filled the horizon as far as the eye could see. There were flowers, beggars, street vendors, snakes and over all the stench of raw sewage combined with the smoky essence of cooking oil and incense.

    To be in the very land where Timmy had been based, to breathe the same smells seventeen years later produced in Diana a sense of a great circle turning, ever turning--endings followed beginnings which followed endings. It was unclear precisely where she stood in the circle.

    Phoung Le obtained permission for them to join a group of Americans and U.N. delegates who were to visit one of the huge camps for refugees. Diana knew those images would be with her for all time. Thousands of people crammed into hovels with dirt floors and a bit of cloth for a roof, if they were lucky. Everyone else slept in the open. Human waste ran in open ditches thick with flies. Hands clutched at her begging for food, for medicine, for anything to relieve the abject misery and hopelessness.

    Word spread of the visitors and they were besieged by those wanting to tell their story and ask for help. They were surrounded by people who answered their questions in perfect English. Tales they told were horrifying and nearly beyond comprehension. Their conditions and problems made the streets of New York at their worst look like havens of peace and prosperity.

    Diana had brought dozens of pictures of Timmy with her; in addition, she also had copies of a drawing made by one of Abe Gutierrez's staff members who specialized in reconstructive renderings. Usually he worked with skulls of victims they were unable to identify. In Timmy's case he projected how he would look today seventeen years after the photograph she carried. The Timmy in his picture was prematurely gray with a receding hairline and with lines in his face that would indicate lengthy exposure to sun and a subsistence diet.

    Diana pulled several pictures and drawings from her purse and showed them to some of the people clustered around her.

    "This is my brother. He is a pilot and has red hair like me." She gave them the pictures. She was careful to say nothing else, Phuong Le had been most insistent about that. Do not ask if they saw him. Say only he is a pilot and is your brother and has red hair like you.

    By the end four hours, Diana had passed out nearly one hundred photos. She had also emptied her purse of anything that could be used by the refugees--Kleenex, Wash 'n Dri's, a tin of twelve aspirin tablets. On the ride back to their hotel, she voiced the wish aloud that she should have brought a backpack full.

    "You would start a riot, they would fight to get to you," Phoung Le told her gently. She didn't reply.

    In the night she woke, crying out from the horror of the nightmare. There had been hands, thousands of hands begging, pulling at her. The mosquito netting blurred things in the room and it took a few moments to recognize her surroundings and remember where she was. Trembling from the after effects of the dream, she sank back against the pillows, fist pressed to her mouth to keep in the shriek that threatened to burst forth.

    The enormity of the task she had set for herself loomed over Diana. She had thought to come, observe, look for Timmy and then return home--either successful or not. She had read newspaper and magazine articles about the conditions for those who'd fled Vietnam, the ones who were caught between governments and armies with nowhere to go. Nothing she had read had in any way prepared her for the squalor and the frustration of seeing the needs and being unable to do enough to make a significant difference; nothing had prepared her for the pain.

    Dawn found her still awake, her eyes ached and burned. She was ready when Phuong Le knocked at her door. They were to go into the countryside again, this time on a tourist journey. Phuong Le explained that his contacts would find them, if it was safe

    * * * * *

    After three days of being a tourist, Diana was heartily sick of the deception. Phuong Le had spoken with a number of people each day, but in the evening when they walked through the hotel garden, he reported no success. Diana's despair grew, their visas were only good for the two week window of time. She wondered if she would even get to Vietnam.

    The last plates were removed from the dinner table and Phuong Le stood up. He bowed to her with the grave courtesy he had always shown.

    "Shall we walk in the garden?" he asked, as he had each night.

    His face was inscrutable and Diana had no hint if he had any news. She was tempted to refuse and return to her room, but rose, instead, and accompanied him from the dining room.

    They followed the pathway through the lush gardens and Diana found the peace soothing. After a few minutes of silent walking, Phuong Le led her to a bench set alongside the path. It was placed in such a way that they could see anyone approaching.

    "I received the word today. We will fly tomorrow afternoon. When I came here before, I gave your brother's picture and the information about him to a person I trust with my life. He searched and found village where they say a GI with hair of fire was seen. A woman from the village says she will talk to you."

    The Diana who emerged from the hotel room the following afternoon was a changed person. Gone was the red hair, hidden under the black wig; gone were the American clothes. She wore an outfit purchased that morning in a shop not far from the hotel. With her sunglasses on, Diana presented an innocuous appearance that allowed her to fade into the crowd. It was by this means they hoped to be able to move about in Vietnam without creating an incident.

    The flight was turbulent but short. After clearing customs and checking into the hotel, they took a pedicab for a ride through the city. Ravages of war and the aftermath were evident everywhere.

    Two days later they traveled north from the city to a small village 40 kilometers away. Ostensibly their purpose was to view temple ruins, in reality Phuong's contact hoped to have the village woman there.

    Diana emerged from the dilapidated car with a camera slung around her neck. A trickle of perspiration rolled down behind her ear, the heat of the wig nearly unbearable in the sultry humid air. Phuong handed her a woven hat and remembering his cautions about sunstroke, she put it on. It seemed to help some.

    She pretended interest in the ruins and found it surprising at how the jungle encroached on the stone and seemed to destroy it. Huge creeper vines wrapped around the stones and eventually pulled down what had been walls.

    From the back of the car, Phuong pulled a hamper that the hotel had packed for their lunch. They perched on one of the big stone blocks in the shade after a careful search for snakes and scorpions.

    Diana sipped the sweet tea. It was hard to be patient with the hurry up and wait philosophy of the East. They had just a few more days before their return to New York. Phuong had warned her how it might be; but to have come this far and have the end of the journey in sight and still no real sense of progress, was nearly more than she could bear.

    Phuong lightly touched her arm then squeezed it and Diana realized he was signaling her. She did not look around and continued to sip her tea. Presently she heard the slap of sandals behind her and several pajama clad figures passed by their impromptu picnic without a word. In the shade of one of the remaining walls, the group paused to rest. Several squatted down and rummaged in their bundles for something to eat, others lit cigarettes. After a time one of the men wandered over to speak with Phuong Le.

    Some minutes later another figure from the group approached the two men and offered cups to them. When they had been served the stranger waved the woman away and pointed in Diana's direction. She bowed to Diana and offered her a cup. Diana took it, but was unsure what to do when the woman looked up at her.

    "You have GI brother?" she asked. Her English was heavily accented, but understandable.

    "Yes, he is a pilot."

    "I care for GI one time, long ago. He escape from the North. My young brother find him near our village. He think GI is a ghost, but I think he soldier. He have bad leg, tell me not fix right, not heal right.

    "I take him to village, give little food, tea. I think he sick, say fall many times, leg swell up. He tell me about USA," she broke off abruptly and scurried over to refill the cups of the two men, then returned.

    Phuong Le had cautioned Diana about asking questions, but she was unable to avoid asking one. "Can you tell me the soldier's name?" she asked. It was so difficult not to bombard the woman with questions.

    "He say name is Teejay."

    Diana saw the woman watching her for a reaction. It was exactly as Phuong Le had described. Sometimes people told foreigners what they wanted to hear in an effort to please them, to obtain money or promises of help. Diana said nothing and tried to keep her face without expression. The woman continued.

    "He in my village for three days before the soldiers come. They hear about American GI and take him away. I never see him again. My mother send me away, she say they kill American GI then they kill me.

    "Soldiers burn our village, all my family die." She rocked back and forth and softly keened her misery. She looked up when Diana offered one of the photos.

    "Is this the GI?" Diana asked. Her heart pounded and she held her breath waiting for the answer.

    "Not sure, GI have this hair but very thin. He said not eat for many days. I keep?" she asked. At Diana's nod she tucked it into her bundle and rose to join the others of her group who prepared to leave.

    * * * * *

    Beneath the mosquito netting that night, Diana gave way to her fears and desperation and wept--wept for Timmy, for the woman whose family died because she was kind, for the people who wanted to leave but couldn't, and for her hope of finding her brother alive, which grew more and more dim.

    The nickname seemed to fit--T.J. for Timothy James, and the injured leg seemed to collaborate what Bruce had told them years before; but the reality was, there was no definitive proof. She knew there was probably more than one MIA with red hair and Diana forced herself to acknowledge that the details the woman had given her could not be verified and could have been a total fabrication. But logic could not convince her heart.

    If only she had been able to search for him herself when he first disappeared, or when the war was first over. Would it have made a difference? Seventeen years was a long time and information grows stale very quickly, and in the tropics, physical evidence deteriorates so fast that nothing is left after only a few years.

    * * * * *

    Diana and Phuong Le left the country four days later without any further contact with the woman. By the time they arrived in New York thirty hours later, they were exhausted. And that had seemed to be the end of the search. Diana shared with Susan and her mother the details of the trip and they agreed with her assessment. If the man had been Timmy, he had most likely been shot by the soldiers who had retrieved him.

    The pain of mourning was exaggerated by the loss of hope so carefully tended for seventeen years. But gradually, each of the three began to come to terms with the grief. For Diana the process left behind some attitudes that had a profound effect on her work. She became obsessed with following up on the tiniest of details and would get so wrapped up in each case that she worked nearly round the clock for days until she collapsed from exhaustion and slept for twelve hours or more.

    Her superiors counseled her, tried to preach moderation and she would attempt to comply until the next case tore at her heart and she was off again. They would have disciplined her if her methods had not been so successful. And finally the plans for the 210 had been proposed and because she was good, Diana was the first to be offered the assignment. It took some time to work out the kinks, but she was allowed to work in the way that best used her talents as were others. Eventually she was allowed to choose which cases she worked on and her success rate continued.

    * * * * *

    One day nearly two years after her trip to Vietnam, Phuong Le telephoned and asked Diana to meet him after work. Her assignment to the 210 had cut into her social life and she had not seen him for several months.

    "I've been in Thailand and Vietnam again. I saw my friend and he gave this package for you. He said the woman in the village who cared for the American GI gave it to him. She died two months ago and sent for him before she died. He waited until he could give it to me--it was not safe to mail. There is a letter also." He handed the tiny parcel to Diana.

    Her hands trembled as she accepted the package. She was absolutely certain that it had something to do with Timmy and the harmless looking package seemed suddenly threatening. She carefully removed the string from the small package. There was an envelope folded around an object wrapped in a piece of paper. She pulled the wrappings apart and something tumbled out into her lap.

    She couldn't move for a moment and then with reverent hands she picked up the ring. He had admired it when he was home on leave the summer before graduation. Dee had been with him and after Timmy had returned to school she had told her mother and Susan about it. She had cajoled and reminded them about it, and the three of them had purchased it for him just before they flew to Colorado for his graduation from the Academy.

    She didn't realize she was crying until the tears dripped onto the letter and she scrubbed them away with a swipe of her hand. The ring had been recently polished and showed the care it had received. She put it on her index finger then opened the letter. It was written in Vietnamese and she handed it to Phuong Le to translate.

  •  

    Young Sister:

    I wanted to write this letter for a long time. Now I have the coughing sickness and will go to the ancestors soon. The American GI gave me this ring to sell and pay for food for me and my family. He said we were kind to him and hid him and the ring was the only thing he had to give.

    He told me about his family, his mother and his two sisters. He said they all had red hair like him. The day at the temple when we talked, you did not have red hair and I thought you were not his sister. I learned later that you wore a wig to cover the red hair.

    I think this ring is the ring of your elder brother and I send it to you before I die. Perhaps in the land of the ancestors we will meet again.

    Your Elder Sister, Thi Van

  •  

    * * * * *

    The letter consumed Diana's thoughts as she rode the subway to the weekly meeting of the 210. Re-reading the journals brought back memories and she realized that it was not terribly sad to think of Tim, now. In a way it was if a piece of his spirit had come to her with his ring, to let her know that he was at peace and to encourage her to move forward with her own life. She had lived so many years with every thought and action focused on her goal to travel to Vietnam, she had been dismayed at how her own hopes and dreams had been put aside.

    The 210 had been good for her in some respects, it allowed her to develop her own methods of investigation and research. It had also provided her with some peers who appreciated her abilities and provided a support system--when she needed them they were there, yet they didn't try to smother her.

    She bounded up the stairs, grabbed a cup of coffee and slid into her chair just as the commander entered the door. Jokes and sarcastic remarks flew back and forth as latecomers arrived. Finally the meeting was called to order and the case review began.

    Diana completed her update and answered one question from the commander. Then Max Bausman began his update and he spun a photo across the table to Diana.

    "Now here's a case that ought to intrigue you, Bennett. The subject disappeared from a party eleven days ago. Yesterday she reappeared looking like that," he pointed to the glossy black and white photo. The woman's face had been slashed and the cuts stitched with black surgical thread, the look in her eyes said she'd been through a horrifying experience.

    "Where has she been?" Diana asked. She swung the photo around where she could look at it. There was nothing she loved more than being able to solve a mystery and this had all the earmarks of a rare one. But the reality was that not even one spare minute existed in her life to take on another case since she had taken on what had come to be known as the "pieces parts murders." The victims all had the unfortunate fate to be dismembered by Chinese cleaver and their various body parts dumped into trash containers around the city.

    "Well," she said, "you need to drag out that famous Max Bausman's charm kit and put it to work." The laughter rang out as Max turned bright red and sat down abruptly.

    ****