Where Have All The FlowersGone?

by Margaret Davis


Burnished copper tresses formed an aureolearound the pale slender face--wisps and tendrils curled free of theclip at the base of her neck that restrained the rest of the gleamingmass. It was not a fashionably beautiful face, more the classicalface of a da Vinci or Bottecelli dominated by pale blue-gray eyes.The shape of her lips suggested lullabies to contented babies ordeclarations of undying eternal love, a mouth that should choke onthe 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 hissuffering--now the agony, the spurting of blood is the only way toget it up..."

There was convulsive swallowing from the othermembers of the 210. It was positively uncanny when her voice droppedinto that uninflected tone and recited horrors beyond imagining--thekinds of things that kept them up nights after being discovered. Butthey had learned, in the year since their special division wasformed, that the illogical leaps and the theories that made completestructures from a nail and two bricks or complete descriptions fromhalf a fingerprint, three hairs and some clothing fibers, were oftenso close to the end result to make them believe she could get insidethe head of the perpetrator.

Diana twisted the silver ring on her indexfinger as she looked around at them sensing their fascination andtheir revulsion. It was always the same--since she was just a littlegirl, before she learned to be silent about what she felt or knewwould happen...

* * * * *

"Dee? DeeDeeeeeeeeeee!"

From her secret place between the lilac bushesand the fence, five year old Diana Elizabeth Bennett listened as hermother called her name. She was in trouble again, the tone of thatvoice was woefully familiar. She winced at the crack of the screendoor slamming shut, she'd get a licking for not coming when Momcalled her.

Instinctively she knew her visit with Beverly'sGrandma this afternoon was the cause of her disgrace. Beverly was herbest friend and lived down the block and around the corner. She wasalways excited when her Texas Grandma came to visit--she talked sofunny and brought nice presents and told the best stories. Deeremembered her visit last summer and was excited when Beverly saidshe 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 hermanners. Dee had skipped down the street trailing her favorite dollby one arm. Beverly's Grandma was on the porch in the big swing whenDee arrived.

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

Dee thought she must not sit in the sun verymuch--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 huggedthe woman.

pain... sadness... dying

Dee jerked away from the old woman in frightfrom the overwhelming jolts of emotion that blasted into her mindwhen she touched her. She began to cry and skittered away whenGrandma Ann tried to touch her. Beverly's mother, drawn by thecommotion, sent Dee into the kitchen for cookies withBeverly.

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

"She's not sick," Beverly declared.

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

* * * * *

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

Sometimes she was ageless and he shared hishopes and dreams with her as he could with no other. But she was onlyfive and that fact was no more clear than in her fall from gracetoday. He'd arrived home after his flying lesson to find Mom in tearsand Dee hiding out. The only explanation he received was that she hadmade up more stories.

Her favorite place to hide was near the backfence in the corner by the alley and it was there he found her. She'dcried herself to sleep and was clutching her doll in one arm, herhead pillowed on the other. One cheek was smudged where she had wipedaway the tears and he could see her eyes were swollen fromcrying.

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

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

"Beverly hates me 'cause I didn'tlie."

Her eyes still swam with tears but they beggedhim to understand. Tim knew Dee had special abilities, he'd readscience fiction books that talked about empathic, telepathic andtelekinetic traits. It was just a bit unnerving to find his sisterdisplaying some of the talents he thought only existed in theimaginations of writers of fiction.

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

"I said her Grandma is sick and... and... wasgonna 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'sworld still revolved around her family and her little friends and theexcitement of kindergarten in the fall. Estrangement from her bestfriend was traumatic and frightening to her.

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

"You can always tell me, but other people don'tunderstand. 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 otherpeople who understand. Promise me you'll try to remember this time."It felt awful to put such restrictions on her, but until she was oldenough to evaluate the consequences of her behavior, he knew of noother way to protect her.

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

Half an hour later, Diana exited the buildingand headed for the subway. It was easier than driving a car andhunting for a parking space and she didn't want to advertise herpresence by signing out a patrol car that could be left in a loadingzone.

* * * * *

From the back of the storage closet, Dianapulled the cedar box that had belonged to her grandmother. In it werethe treasures of a lifetime, collected from childhood. Items withsentimental value and little else. A faint scent of the wood came toher as she carried the box to the counter where she worked. Perchedon a tall stool, she opened the lid and removed each itemcarefully.

There was an amethyst colored stone, a tinashtray 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 fromthe Air Force Academy, and in the bottom--her diaries and journals.The oldest was drawn and written on a Big Chief tablet and she turnedthe fragile pages, remembering. The first drawing was a narrow facecolored white and another face with violent red hair and big bluetears dripping from the eyes.

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

There were other pictures in that first journaland gradually a few words printed in large letters in a childishhand. The day Beverly's grandmother died was represented by more ofthe sad faces with blue tears. Her first flight with Timmy hadproduced a pictures of little trees and houses--how they looked fromhigh in the air.

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

* * * * *

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

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

"There's some mail addressed toyou."

"Thanks, Mom. What's for dinner?" he asked andpadded over to the table in stocking feet to collect the envelopes.His heart began to pound when he saw the envelope from SenatorRaymond'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'mgoing!" he shouted and whirled her around the kitchen while Deewatched.

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

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

    * * * * *

    Diana picked up the second journal--the earlypages contained more pictures then gradually less as more writtenthoughts had been added. High points over the next several years hadbeen Timmy's visits home on leave and their trip to hisgraduation.

    The openness around the Academy had been a bigsurprise. They had flown into Denver then rented a car and driven theseventy miles south on a highway that paralleled the mountains. Thesky was brilliant blue without a cloud anywhere and it wassurprisingly hot.

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

    But far more spectacular than the chapel or thenearby mountains was the sight of the Academy assembling and marchingto meals. Thousands of identically clad legs stepped out in rhythm,it was military tradition and patriotic pride rolled into one. Tenyear old Diana was aware, though, of the worries that nibbled at thecollective consciousness assembled--war, increasingly more deadlyregardless of the name they gave it, hovered over themall.

    The next morning in the clear light of theColorado morning, Diana, Susan and their mother, joined hundreds ofother families in the stadium to observe the graduation. The threelower classes marched in, dress uniforms gleaming in the sunshine andfinally it was time for the graduating seniors. Every step wasprecisely executed, corners were turned as if each row was connectedby invisible wires.

    An enormous black limousine pulled onto thefield announcing the arrival of the Vice-President to address theassemblage. He was surrounded by Secret Service and it was only yearslater that Diana contemplated the fact that anti-war protestors hadthreatened to disrupt the proceedings and garner some of thetelevision and newspaper coverage of the event.

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

    * * * * *

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

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

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

    * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

    * * * * *

    Diana picked up another journal and it fellopen to the page she'd read so often, the page that she'd memorizedover the years.

     

    October 22, 1969Timmy's plane was shot down yesterday. He ejected and another pilotsaw his parachute and they heard him on his radio, but now they can'tfind him. They called it missing in action. They only saw onechute.

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

     

    * * * * *

    Dee saw the car when she turned the corner onher 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 carobvious to her in those first few seconds. She wanted to walkbackwards and retreat around the corner, to reverse the terriblecertainty that unfolded in her mind. Then the numbness wore off andshe raced down the street and through the front door.

    Two officers sat on the edge of chairs in theliving room facing her mother on the sofa. Dee stood in the doorwaybreathing hard from running, images and feelings bombardedher.

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

    "Mom? What happened?" She was afraid to putforth any speculation, lest by the very fact of naming the cause thatbrought these strangers into their home turn it into fact. Dee hadnever seen the kind of agony that filled her mother's eyes when shelifted her head and Dee took a half step backward and involuntarilyraised her hand to ward off the gush of emotions pouringforth.

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

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

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

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

    "How long before you'll hear something?" Deeasked. Her mother seemed incapable of asking more questions and weptinto her handkerchief.

    He looked into the piercing eyes that were fartoo intelligent to believe platitudes. "It's hard to say, perhaps aday or two. Sometimes jungle searches take a littlelonger."

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

    * * * * *

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

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

    It became a daily ritual to read the newspapercover to cover and clip out articles on Vietnam especially if theymentioned pilots or men missing. Dee watched the evening news withoutfail 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 aTexas business man to obtain the release of the POW's. Six monthslater another abortive attempt failed to rescue men from a campoutside of Hanoi, and eight weeks after that they read about a raidin Cambodia where POW's were thought to be held found the campempty.

    The emotional roller coaster took its toll ontheir family. Dee's mother became thin and silent, but the sounds ofsobbing could often be heard behind her bedroom door. Perhaps if herhusband had been alive to share the burden, she might have copedbetter 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 springwith honors. She had always been a good student and had taken refugein her classes and books after Timmy was reported missing. She wassecond in her class and won a full four year scholarship to thecollege of her choice. She had hoped to attend the University ofColorado where she had visited when they attended Tim's graduation.She had loved the feel of Boulder, the nearness of the mountains andthe odd looking Flatirons. Now she chose a school closer to home soshe could keep an eye on Dee as their mother seemed incapable ofdoing.

    Dee wrote in her journal faithfully, determinedthat when Timmy came home she would be able to fill in the details ofthe years since his capture. She firmly squashed down her empathicabilities, ignored feelings and emotions that sometimes threatened tooverwhelm her.

    Middle School should have been a time offorging new friendships, meeting boys, football games, dances, datesfor the movies on Friday night. Instead Dee spent hours at thelibrary reading the major national papers, gleaning information onthe war and the peace talks in Paris. One of the few things she hadin common with many of her peers was a mouthful of shinybraces.

    That fall a ray of hope entered the Bennetthouse. Three POW's had escaped in North Vietnam and over weeks hadmade their way mile after agonizing mile into the South. Very littlehad been printed in the newspapers, but Dee had seen the littlearticle. She recognized one of the names from the list of POW's thathad been printed and knew he lived in a small town in Upstate NewYork. Dee got the address and phone number from Information. Shewrote a letter and her timing was perfect, because the returnedsoldier opened the mail the day her letter arrived.

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

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

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

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

    * * * * *

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

    * * * * *

    They waited, hoped and prayed then watched theTV coverage of the release of the first group of POW's on February12. The thin, haggard men who emerged from the plane raised thecollective hope of the Bennett women for although Tim was not amongthe first group they were certain he would be returned to them. Hisname had never appeared on any of the lists of POW's, but neither hadmany others. There were only 582 on the list Hanoi had released andover 2500 on the list the Americans maintained.

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

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

     

    I will go andsearch for him myself.

     

    * * * * *

    Dee grew three inches the summer between hersophomore and junior year of high school and her braces were removed.The lissome beauty who approached the school steps clad in snug jeansthat accentuated the long legs was the focus of all the unattachedmale population gathered to see and be seen. Her hair caught thesunlight and threw it back in glints of gold and fire; but what drewthem was the aura of strength and fragility, of purpose andindecision--they wanted to bask in the assurance and offer a hand incomfort. And most maddening of all, she seemed unaware ofthem.

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

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

    A consultation with her guidance counselor thatfirst day had produced a change in schedule as more math and sciencewere added. The first steps to her goal were in place as she honedher mental skills. Extra curricular skills were not ignored--therewas not a more willing assistant behind the scenes for the all-schoolmusical or on the decorating committee for the prom. She learned howto fit in with the group, to become nearly invisible because she wasprecisely what they expected to see and hear. And in the process, shehad a good time.

    She was invited to parties sometimes it wasdancing and groping games in a darkened basement family room; andthen there were the times when two or three people brought guitarsand they sang. Diana's voice was adequate for group singing and sheloved the interweaving harmonies of the songs they sang: 500Miles, Michael Rowed The Boat Ashore; The Boxer, and the one thatalways made her sad because it reminded her of Timmy... Where HaveAll 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 hermother were once again glued to the television as the frantic flightto escape Vietnam was seared across the nation on the nightly news.The sight of parents begging for their children to be allowed onto aplane to freedom was heartbreaking.

    Refugees poured out of Vietnam by everyavailable means. Diana and her classmates raised money for basicnecessities for people who literally had escaped with nothing but theclothes on their backs. Every time Diana packed a box, she breathed alittle prayer that perhaps a stranger would help Timmy, wherever hewas.

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

    * * * * *

    Graduation passed by in a blur, with twonotable exceptions--the announcement that Diana had won a prestigiousscholarship for a year at the university of her choice with arenewable option for four years and Todd Burnham asked her to theprom.

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

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

    "Be serious!" Diana told her and thumped her onthe shoulder. "We have just one problem--what am I going towear?"

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

    With the perfect dress she needed the perfecthaircut. Long billowing hair was decidedly out of fashion, but Dianahad been loathe to part with her nearly waist length tresses. Beverlywent along to lend her moral support, even so she cringed when thefirst snip of the scissors cut through the eight inch braid. When hefinished, Diana's head was covered with short curls and longer onescascaded down her neck. The shag cut accentuated her long slenderneck and made her eyes enormous.

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

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

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

    "You're mighty pretty, baby," she whispered andwas rewarded with the tightening of the slender arms around hershoulders.

    * * * * *

    Diana flipped through the journal pages fromcollege. 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 anddiscovered how good she was at reconstructing. It had led to a changein major to Criminology. The course work was grueling and she lovedit.

    * * * * *

    The backpack slung over her shoulder bouncedagainst her back as Diana hurried down the stairs. She needed tochange clothes--the anatomy lab with its permanent stench offormaldehyde and preserved tissue imbued one with an odor that waspungent. She left her lab coat in her locker and always wore heroldest jeans and tee shirts. Only after a shampoo and shower and ajudicious application of lotion did she feel able to mingle with theliving again.

    She glanced hurriedly at her watch, it wasgoing to be close. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons Diana tutoredVietnamese refugees in English As a Second Language class. The tutorsworked one on one with the students and Diana had volunteered one dayafter reading of the need for people to augment the teachingstaff.

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

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

    Phuong Le voiced his opinion that there wereAmericans still in Vietnam which precipitated a lively discussion inthe group. Diana sat silent as the conversation raged around her. Itwas only later that she was able to speak privately to Phuong andquestion him carefully about his beliefs in reference to POW's andMIA's.

    "Forgive me for asking so many questions," shesaid, finally. "My brother has been missing since 1969 and was seenby several POW's who were returned in 1973. Since then, we've triedto gather information, but have nothing concrete that would make thegovernment listen."

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

    "Someday, I'd like to go and lookmyself."

    "It would be very dangerous for you," he wasagitated at her stated intention. "Even I would be suspected forasking questions. They would not even let you into the countrynow."

    He was kind and sympathetic and gradually overthe following months they became good friends. She recommended him tospeak in one of her classes when they discussed investigationprocedures with respect to ethnicity. He had made quite animpression, but afterward she was appalled at the emotional toll ittook on him. Reliving the memories and talking about his escapebrought painful memories to the fore, his voice had cracked and,finally, tears poured down his face as he'd described the horrors heand many other refugees had experienced. Those memories made theirreactions to a police presence different from that of other ethnicgroups..

    * * * * *

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

    There were moments during the summer when Dianadespaired that the assignment would never end--most notably during anautopsy of a floater found in the East River. She clamped her teethdown on the inside of her lip and focused on the pain, anything waspreferable to spewing up her breakfast. Afterwards, one of thetechnicians took her aside for some advice, well-meaning if a bitlate.

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

    Most intriguing were the cases where the causeof death was unknown and the homicide cases where the exact causecould only be determined by an autopsy and exhaustive tests of theblood and tissues for toxic elements. Cases that looked like foulplay 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 burnhere and on the fingers--definitely suicide. Who's going to letsomeone that close with a gun and not put up a struggle?" AbeGutierrez, the encyclopedic mind of the Medical Examiner's Office,was a fountain of knowledge once he understood that his summerwork/study helper was interested, sometimes even fascinated with theprocess of determining the cause of death. He found she had animmense capacity for details and never forgot anything he toldher.

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

    "Abe, can you see me in a classroom for anotherfour years, then internship, residency--it goes on and on. I want tobe 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 mismatchof facts versus her looks made it a puzzle worthy of his bestdetective work and bit by bit he'd pried a word or two, here andthere, until he thought he had the picture. He presented it to he,fait accompli and had been crushed when she laughed... laugheduntil she cried and suffered a horrendous case of hiccups.

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

    He had to laugh, it did sound pretty silly...now. But how else to explain her interest in Southeast Asian peopleand politics and their government structure, her ability to speaksome of the language and her desire to visit the country. It soundedlike a perfect set up for espionage as far as he wasconcerned.

    * * * * *

    Diana was reminded of Abe the following springwhen she was approached by a Company man. He extolled the virtues andsatisfaction to be gained from working for the CIA, but Dianapolitely declined to be interviewed. Her goal was to get into Vietnamand facilitate her search for her brother, but exchanging her entirelife for the company's assistance seemed like a very high price,indeed.

    More and more she was drawn to police work. Thedaily grind of a beat had limited appeal, far more compelling was theidea of investigating and piecing things together until a conclusioncould be formed and motives identified. Since childhood Diana hadread mystery books the way some women read romance novels--forrelaxation. She found it great fun to figure out the villain longbefore the author began to drop the first hints. She toyed with thethought of writing a mystery novel of her own... perhapssomeday.

    Finally, one fine spring morning, Diana cutclass and went to visit Abe Gutierrez again. She found him finishingan autopsy yet another John Doe fished out of the river the nightbefore.

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

    She was heartily grateful she'd planned topersuade him to have breakfast with her and thus hadn't eaten. Shedidn'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 thewater and focused instead on the indentation around the base of theneck.

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

    "The obvious cause of death appears to bestrangulation, but that will depend on if there is water in thelungs. Was he dead before he hit the water? Lack of identificationmay indicate a mob hit or a drug deal gone sour." She waitedpatiently for his evaluation of her statements.

    "Right on the money!" He grinned at her, fullywilling to take credit for her deductive abilities. "Fingerprintstell us this is Edward Buckley, he has three priors for drugpossession--a dealer not a user. Lungs are clear--he was dead when hewent into the water. Looks like a garrote to me--a nasty piece ofwork, 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 wantthat's worth the price of feeding me."

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

    During the course of breakfast she had pickedhis brain and shared her ambitions. He was so pleased with herchoices 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 aprovisional appointment dependent on her successful completion of theclassroom and physical requirements.

    * * * * *

    She wrote her share of speeding tickets, madecountless arrests, and delivered one baby in her first three years atNYPD. Much of her course work at the university had been applicableto her new career so she was able to finish the additional requiredtraining in less than six months and had been on patrolsince.

    Tutoring the students of English As a SecondLanguage took up part of her evenings. She cooked occasionally, ateout more frequently, attended an aerobics class on a semi-regularbasis and read everything she could find on Vietnam, POW's and MIA's.She joined the National League of Families of American Prisoners andMissing in Southeast Asia--much of their work involved writingletters and keeping the issue before Congress.

    She lived alone in a tiny studio apartment. Itwas a dark and sometimes dreary place, but it was all she couldafford on her salary. Sometimes Diana held long conversations withherself about her living arrangements. She really didn't spend muchtime at home, rotating shifts took care of that plus tutoring and alittle social life now and then. When she was playing Devil'sadvocate, she put forth the idea that if she had a more pleasantplace to live, she might stay home more.

    But in any case it was a moot point unless shewon the Lottery or a long lost relative left her a bundle. Everyspare dollar went into The Trip fund. When the government of Vietnamallowed foreigners into the country, Diana would be ready. Herpassport was current and she had a bag outfitted with tropical needsstowed in the back of the closet.

    Diana knew a patrol career of four or fiveyears was common before promotion to a specialty was permitted. Therewere exceptions, of course, but it was frustrating to be unable topursue a case beyond the initial report especially when the detailswere as tantalizing as the Hooker/Slasher case. She had been in thefirst car to arrive at the second in the series ofhomicides.

    She recognized the M.O. immediately aftersliding through the door, weapon drawn. Blood was everywhere and thevictim had been hacked to death and the pieces dumped in the middleof the bed. Her backup gagged on the coppery stink of walls thatlooked as though an attempt had been made to paint them in blood. Shetook advantage of his distraction to look in each tiny room. Thebathroom showed evidence that the killer had washed his hands toremove the blood, she found it odd that the toilet had been used, butthe seat was down and it hadn't been flushed.

    They approached Diana to work undercover on thecase after the third victim was found, and she accepted. A short darkbrown wig and a liberal application of cosmetics altered herappearance so drastically that not even her own mother would haverecognized the woman who loitered on the corner. The impossibly shortdress and three inch stiletto heels proclaimed her purpose in a loudvoice--her obvious purpose, anyway. Undercover was dangerous businessand not at all what was portrayed on television. They hadn't dared towire her, and relied instead on backup and surveillance teamsscattered around the area.

    Girls on the street were wary; but nothingshort of nuclear holocaust kept them off the streets--after all therewas rent to pay and a pimp to placate. They thought Diana the newacquisition of Dudley, one of the more flashy men who ran a string ofgirls. She knew he had been working undercover for the past twoyears.

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

    "Well, darlin', we're getting nothin' here butsore feet. I sure could use something hot to drink." The woman whospoke to Diana had introduced herself earlier as Denise. She wasacquainted with everyone in the area and called them all, male orfemale, darlin'.

    Black, tall and slender in the requisite highheels, she was dressed in a short leather skirt and long sleevedsheer blouse; her perfectly groomed long hair was obviously a wig--anexpensive one. She was past dewy youthfulness and was in thatindeterminate age range--somewhere between twenty-five andforty.

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

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

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

    * * * * *

    "Cinderella's leaving the party early, you'reit."

    "Got it."

    * * * * *

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

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

    "Girl, we're gonna freeze to death if you don'tfind that key."

    Diana finally produced the errant key and movedtoward 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 thedouble bed against the far left wall, a closet and bathroom took upthe rest of the wall space and the other side of the room had a smallkitchenette. A table and two chairs were opposite the door next tothe one window in the room.

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

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

    "Hey, girl, I'll help. You don't have to waiton me." Denise reached past Diana for the mugs on the counter and thejar 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 hersides. Before she could scream the prick of a knife under her earsilenced her.

    "Horning in on my territory. Catching my manDudley's eye when I nearly had him convinced to take care of me." Thevenomous 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 thesituation worse and forced herself to be limp and compliant as Deniseshoved her across the room, the blade of the knife still pressedagainst her neck.

    The door splintered open and a bellow ofPolice, gave Diana the opportunity she needed. With all her strengthshe drove her elbow into the ribcage behind her. She didn't feel theknife slice into her throat as she whirled away from her attacker andthrew a chopping blow at the upper lip and nose. Denise went downlike she'd been shot.

    "Bennett, you okay?"

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

    * * * * *

    Diana woke with raindrops falling on her faceas they carried her stretcher to the back of the ambulance. AlexGardner, one of the surveillance team members, walked along besideand when he saw her eyes open, leaned down to reassureher.

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

    Her mouth was dry and she struggled to get thewords out. "Alex... be careful. Denise is... a man." She knew heheard and understood by the way his eyes popped open. Satisfied hermessage had been delivered, she let herself drift awayagain.

    * * * * *

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

    The incident had changed life considerably. Thecaptain had visited her studio apartment while she recuperated andoffered his brother-in-law's services after he'd seen the tiny, darkplace. The brother-in-law, a realtor, found the loft and helped hernegotiate a long term lease at a most reasonable rate. The Captainhad also offered her a choice of assignments, and at her request, shehad been transferred to the detective bureau. But more important thanall these, that same month travel restrictions to Vietnam had beenlifted.

    * * * * *

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

    One evening when he arrived at her loft, shestartled him into speechlessness when she appeared in a black wig andthe black pajama-like clothing he'd purchased for her. With her hairhidden, the change was profound. No one would mistake her asOriental, but it was better than the red hair that fairly screamedCaucasian.

    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 beplenty of time to be unhappy. She did tell Susan who made a trip intothe city two days before departure to wish her sisterluck.

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

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

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

    * * * * *

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

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

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

    Word spread of the visitors and they werebesieged by those wanting to tell their story and ask for help. Theywere surrounded by people who answered their questions in perfectEnglish. Tales they told were horrifying and nearly beyondcomprehension. Their conditions and problems made the streets of NewYork at their worst look like havens of peace andprosperity.

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

    Diana pulled several pictures and drawings fromher purse and showed them to some of the people clustered aroundher.

    "This is my brother. He is a pilot and has redhair like me." She gave them the pictures. She was careful to saynothing else, Phuong Le had been most insistent about that. Do notask if they saw him. Say only he is a pilot and is your brother andhas red hair like you.

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

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

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

    The enormity of the task she had set forherself loomed over Diana. She had thought to come, observe, look forTimmy and then return home--either successful or not. She had readnewspaper and magazine articles about the conditions for those who'dfled Vietnam, the ones who were caught between governments and armieswith nowhere to go. Nothing she had read had in any way prepared herfor the squalor and the frustration of seeing the needs and beingunable to do enough to make a significant difference; nothing hadprepared her for the pain.

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

    * * * * *

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

    The last plates were removed from the dinnertable and Phuong Le stood up. He bowed to her with the grave courtesyhe had always shown.

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

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

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

    "I received the word today. We will flytomorrow afternoon. When I came here before, I gave your brother'spicture and the information about him to a person I trust with mylife. He searched and found village where they say a GI with hair offire was seen. A woman from the village says she will talk toyou."

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

    The flight was turbulent but short. Afterclearing customs and checking into the hotel, they took a pedicab fora ride through the city. Ravages of war and the aftermath wereevident everywhere.

    Two days later they traveled north from thecity to a small village 40 kilometers away. Ostensibly their purposewas to view temple ruins, in reality Phuong's contact hoped to havethe village woman there.

    Diana emerged from the dilapidated car with acamera slung around her neck. A trickle of perspiration rolled downbehind her ear, the heat of the wig nearly unbearable in the sultryhumid air. Phuong handed her a woven hat and remembering his cautionsabout sunstroke, she put it on. It seemed to help some.

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

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

    Diana sipped the sweet tea. It was hard to bepatient with the hurry up and wait philosophy of the East.They had just a few more days before their return to New York. Phuonghad warned her how it might be; but to have come this far and havethe 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 itand Diana realized he was signaling her. She did not look around andcontinued to sip her tea. Presently she heard the slap of sandalsbehind her and several pajama clad figures passed by their impromptupicnic without a word. In the shade of one of the remaining walls,the group paused to rest. Several squatted down and rummaged in theirbundles for something to eat, others lit cigarettes. After a time oneof the men wandered over to speak with Phuong Le.

    Some minutes later another figure from thegroup approached the two men and offered cups to them. When they hadbeen served the stranger waved the woman away and pointed in Diana'sdirection. 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 Englishwas heavily accented, but understandable.

    "Yes, he is a pilot."

    "I care for GI one time, long ago. He escapefrom the North. My young brother find him near our village. He thinkGI is a ghost, but I think he soldier. He have bad leg, tell me notfix 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 aboutUSA," she broke off abruptly and scurried over to refill the cups ofthe two men, then returned.

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

    "He say name is Teejay."

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

    "He in my village for three days before thesoldiers come. They hear about American GI and take him away. I neversee him again. My mother send me away, she say they kill American GIthen they kill me.

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

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

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

    * * * * *

    Beneath the mosquito netting that night, Dianagave way to her fears and desperation and wept--wept for Timmy, forthe woman whose family died because she was kind, for the people whowanted to leave but couldn't, and for her hope of finding her brotheralive, which grew more and more dim.

    The nickname seemed to fit--T.J. for TimothyJames, and the injured leg seemed to collaborate what Bruce had toldthem years before; but the reality was, there was no definitiveproof. She knew there was probably more than one MIA with red hairand Diana forced herself to acknowledge that the details the womanhad given her could not be verified and could have been a totalfabrication. But logic could not convince her heart.

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

    * * * * *

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

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

    Her superiors counseled her, tried to preachmoderation and she would attempt to comply until the next case toreat her heart and she was off again. They would have disciplined herif her methods had not been so successful. And finally the plans forthe 210 had been proposed and because she was good, Diana was thefirst to be offered the assignment. It took some time to work out thekinks, but she was allowed to work in the way that best used hertalents as were others. Eventually she was allowed to choose whichcases she worked on and her success rate continued.

    * * * * *

    One day nearly two years after her trip toVietnam, Phuong Le telephoned and asked Diana to meet him after work.Her assignment to the 210 had cut into her social life and she hadnot seen him for several months.

    "I've been in Thailand and Vietnam again. I sawmy friend and he gave this package for you. He said the woman in thevillage who cared for the American GI gave it to him. She died twomonths ago and sent for him before she died. He waited until he couldgive it to me--it was not safe to mail. There is a letter also." Hehanded 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 andthe harmless looking package seemed suddenly threatening. Shecarefully removed the string from the small package. There was anenvelope folded around an object wrapped in a piece of paper. Shepulled the wrappings apart and something tumbled out into herlap.

    She couldn't move for a moment and then withreverent hands she picked up the ring. He had admired it when he washome on leave the summer before graduation. Dee had been with him andafter Timmy had returned to school she had told her mother and Susanabout it. She had cajoled and reminded them about it, and the threeof them had purchased it for him just before they flew to Coloradofor his graduation from the Academy.

    She didn't realize she was crying until thetears dripped onto the letter and she scrubbed them away with a swipeof her hand. The ring had been recently polished and showed the careit had received. She put it on her index finger then opened theletter. It was written in Vietnamese and she handed it to Phuong Leto 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 sherode the subway to the weekly meeting of the 210. Re-reading thejournals brought back memories and she realized that it was notterribly sad to think of Tim, now. In a way it was if a piece of hisspirit had come to her with his ring, to let her know that he was atpeace and to encourage her to move forward with her own life. She hadlived so many years with every thought and action focused on her goalto travel to Vietnam, she had been dismayed at how her own hopes anddreams had been put aside.

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

    She bounded up the stairs, grabbed a cup ofcoffee and slid into her chair just as the commander entered thedoor. Jokes and sarcastic remarks flew back and forth as latecomersarrived. Finally the meeting was called to order and the case reviewbegan.

    Diana completed her update and answered onequestion from the commander. Then Max Bausman began his update and hespun 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 glossyblack and white photo. The woman's face had been slashed and the cutsstitched with black surgical thread, the look in her eyes said she'dbeen through a horrifying experience.

    "Where has she been?" Diana asked. She swungthe photo around where she could look at it. There was nothing sheloved more than being able to solve a mystery and this had all theearmarks of a rare one. But the reality was that not even one spareminute existed in her life to take on another case since she hadtaken on what had come to be known as the "pieces parts murders." Thevictims all had the unfortunate fate to be dismembered by Chinesecleaver and their various body parts dumped into trash containersaround the city.

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

    ****