I heard a noise and hurriedly piled everything back into Flame’s purse, minus her driver’s license, and tried to approximate the position in which I had found it. I turned off her light and peered out into the hallway for a few tense moments to ensure she wasn’t coming. The hallway was empty, so I bustled back to my room. I stuffed Flame’s driver’s license into my purse, wanting to get changed into my night clothes quickly and turn off my light. The door didn’t have a lock on it but maybe Flame would leave me alone, if she thought that I was asleep. Laying there in the darkness, sleep refused to come. I kept waiting for Flame to crash through my door and pounce on me.
My thoughts were racing in confused circles. I still had no plan nor did I have idea what to do next. I was flying by the seat of my pants and that terrified me. It wouldn’t be long before Plum and Flame discovered what I had taken. Part of me wanted to leave right then and there, just grab my things and run away. That probably would have been the smart thing to do but I didn’t want to leave without the chit. I was going to need all the help I could get and as Plum’s sister, Hiromi seemed uniquely suited to help me if Plum came after me. The only way I could enlist Hiromi’s help was if I had something she wanted.
In the midst of these musings, I heard my doorknob turn and held my breath as the door opened. My back was to the doorway but the hall light projected her shadow onto the wall in front of me. She let go of the doorway and advanced into the room with something in her left hand. I freaked out, imagining that it was a knife. My muscles tensed, preparing to defend against an impending attack. Flame walked over to the dresser and then slipped back out of the room.
I lay completely still for a moment longer, before daring to exhale. Out of curiosity, I got up and walked over to the dresser. Flame had placed a slip of paper there with a time, name and address scribbled on it. It appeared to be my next work assignment. I had assumed I’d be working with Yul again and briefly wondered why I was being reassigned but shrugged it off. Plum had said I would be working with different squads.
I lay back down and thought about the chit. Hiromi had said her sister would not have put it in a safe and might be keeping it as part of an escape plan. So, I reasoned that Plum would most likely keep the chit near her. It wouldn’t pay to have someone else stumble across it. I had already searched her bedroom. The only other logical place would be her office, because it was off-limits to everyone else in the house.
I tried to envision her office but I had only been in it on the day I came to stay with her. Trying to conjure up a mental image of the office wasn’t working. I realized that I needed to get up and go search her office. Plum spent a lot of time in that office, so it would be inaccessible during the day. However at night, Flame tended to prowl around the house like a watchdog.
With Plum passed out and Flame hopefully off licking her wounds, there was no time like the present. I got up and opened my door a crack peering down the hall towards Flame’s room. There was no glow in the space between the bottom of the door and door frame, so I slipped into the hallway and moved quickly to the stairs before I had a chance to chicken out. At the head of the stairs, I flattened myself against the wall and peered around it before scuttling across the empty hallway into Plum’s office.
It was very dark inside but turning on a light didn’t seem like a good idea. Someone might see the light on and decide to investigate. I opened the curtains and immediately began rifling through her desk, taking care to put things back in order before closing each drawer. One drawer was locked and I contemplated using the letter opener I’d come across in the center drawer to try to pick the lock. Of course, I had never picked a lock before and was fearful that I might scratch up the lock trying unsuccessfully to open the drawer.
I leaned back in the seat trying to make a decision and couldn’t make up my mind. Idly, I looked across the expanse of the desk. What was it like to be Plum, to work in the beautifully appointed office day after day with no one to answer to but myself? No supervisors looking over my shoulder, no performance evaluations to sweat through, no back-stabbing co-workers trying to make me look bad at every turn.
Mentally, I put myself in her shoes and tried to see things through her eyes. Expanding on that, I thought about all the hiding places that someone like Plum might choose. I swiveled around in the leather office chair taking in my surroundings. My eyes lit on her bookcase. I walked over to it and read some of the spines, curious to see what kind of stuff someone like Plum would read.
I was surprised to see several gardening books in Chinese among business oriented tomes in English. She had a gardener who tended to her grounds. Why would she read gardening books? It didn’t make sense but then I reasoned that maybe she used them to select flowers for her landscaping. An idea struck me like a bolt of lightning. Hiromi said the chit was a picture of a flower. She said that Plum would hide the chit in plain view. A book full of pictures of flowers would be the perfect hiding place for that particular chit.
I grabbed the closest gardening book and began flipping slowly through the pages, looking for a folded piece of paper. There were seven gardening books on the shelf. I was looking through a fourth book when I noticed a page containing a purple flower bound into the book which was a different shade and had a different texture from the other pages. I quickly pushed together the remaining books on the shelf to disguise the gap and rushed back down to my room.
Heedless of the time, I grabbed my phone and called Hiromi. Her line rang several times and then went to voicemail. I was so let down that I wanted to scream out my frustration. Instead, I went ahead and left her a quick message letting her know I had the chit. She called back almost immediately sounding excited and had me describe it to her.
“That’s it, how did you find it so quickly?”
“Let’s just say I was extremely motivated. I need to get the hell out of here. I can call a cab and meet you wherever you want in like five minutes.”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea. If you try to walk out of there in the middle of the night they might search you.”
“What do you mean? I come and go all the time. I’ve never been searched before.”
“That’s because Plum let security know what your comings and goings should be like. If you jump up and try to leave in the middle of the night, at the very least, they will stop you long enough to call Plum or Flame.”
“I had no idea that Plum was watching me so closely.”
“Well then you probably also don’t realize that you’re followed every time you leave the grounds without her.”
“What? Why would Plum have anyone follow me?”
“Because she’s a control freak and until she’s sure that she can trust you, she wants to know where you are and what you’re up to at all times. I’m not saying you’re followed all day, just until you report to your work site. Then whoever you’re working with keeps an eye on you and reports what time you leave for the day. It’s easy to estimate about how long it would take for you to get back to her place. Believe me, if you take detour on the way back someone there is gonna ask you about it.”
“But I need to get out of here Hiromi. I took Plum’s cell phone and Flame’s driver’s license. I’m afraid of what they’ll do to me when they find out. Maybe I should just put the cell phone back. She’s passed out upstairs. I could probably just slip it back into her purse and she’d never know it was gone.”
“That’s the last thing you should do. That thing is a goldmine of information.”
“I don’t know Hiromi. What good is a few phone numbers?”
“Where did Plum find you? It never ceases to amaze me that she is able to find so many ingenuous people. Do you only use your cell phone to make calls?”
“Pretty much, I could never afford the plans that come with smart phones. I mean, my phone has the capability to send text messages but it doesn’t do much more than that.”
“Bring the phone to me. I’ll show you how valuable it is. If nothing else, you can hold the damn thing hostage. Her whole life is recorded on the SIM card in that phone. She’d probably pay a king’s ransom to get it back. Of course you’re as good as dead, once she finds out you’ve got it.”
“That’s why I want to leave tonight.”
“Sit tight Patricia, you said Plum is passed out upstairs, so she’s not gonna be using her phone tonight. Sounds to me like she had so much to drink that she probably won’t have any idea what happened to her phone. If I was Plum and woke up hung over, then I would assume that I left it in at whatever club I was in the night before.”
“Well, we did go to a bunch of clubs.”
“Good, then it will take her some time to retrace her steps. Just be cool. Get up in the morning, eat breakfast and leave for work just like you normally do. Work your assignment and then come meet me at the address I’m about to give you.”