[If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
Revenge Should Have No Bounds 083
Chapter 16 (9 of 10): Investigation
Phoebe did not think they were holding back on anything. They probably did know nothing more.
“When was the last time you saw your daughter?”
“Friday afternoon. Maybe around three o’clock. She went in to the university to do some work. At least that is what she said. Saturday morning she has not come back, and not slept in her bed. We call the police, but they say we must wait forty-eight hours to report a person missing. So we call again Sunday afternoon when she is still not back.”
He shook his head in disbelief.
Ulla flipped a page in her note book.
“Can you tell us more about Trinh?” She had qualms, but went on. “Anything that might help us find out what happened? Find out who killed Trinh?”
“Well,” Phoebe suggested, “please don’t take offense, but I notice that you both speak English with an accent. I assume you were brought up in Viet Nam.”
“That is correct,” Mr. Cao said. “We are not offended. What you say is true.”
“How long have you been in this country?”
“I came here in 1974,” Mr. Cao expained, “and Kieu-My in the same year. But we did not know each other then. We met here, in this country. And got married here. Two years later, in 1976.”
“According to the report you filed yesterday about your missing daughter, she was born in 1979.”
There was a hint of hesitation in his voice. Phoebe decided to circle back to it in a minute.
“In the city?”
“In Viet Nam.”
Both detectives stopped writing and looked up.
“Viet Nam? Did you return to Viet Nam.”
Both Caos shook their heads in vigorous denial.
“No. Trinh was adopted.”
“I see,” Phoebe said lamely, not seeing fully what was up.
“We … I … could… could not have children,” Mrs. Cao said meekly. Motivating this verbal flailing, Phoebe now suddenly intuited, were nightmarish narratives of sexual coercion and a monstrous methodology of interrogation by soulless compatriots. A distant era in a far land, a land of lushness whose unsurpassing beauty, like that of Mrs. Cao herself, had been serially violated, first by Chinese intruders bent on military subjugation, then by French colonizers avid with commercial greed, and finally by American liberators armed with good intentions that paved a road to hell. Phoebe elected to probe this dark and depressing personal history no further.
Mr. Cao came nimbly to his wife’s rescue. “We made contact with a Catholic agency in Viet Nam that places orphans, and in 1983 little Trinh came to us.”
“From God, I believe,” Mrs. Cao added quietly. Her husband took her hand, and Phoebe noticed his eyes getting shiny.
“Yes, from God,” he said. “And now God has taken back our beautiful little girl from us.”
Mrs. Cao’s self-discipline failed her at this point, and her eyes brimmed.
But they both quickly got themselves under control.
“What else, Detective?” Mr. Cao asked after blowing his nose in a large handkerchief he pulled from the side pocket of the vest he was wearing.
“I noticed that you hesitated briefly about Trinh’s year of birth.”
“Yes,” he said, half embarrassed, “nobody knew exactly when she was born, but at the time she was found they thought she might be three years old. So they said 1979.”
“And we made it July fourth when she came to this country and got citizenship. We love America and we are patriots. It seemed the right birth date.” Mrs. Cao said this with simple pride, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“Do you know anything about any other friends she had?”
“She did not confide so much in us, except about this man. She was very American. She spoke Vietnamese but her English had no accent. Like ours. She was very American,” Mrs. Cao repeated.
“Why do you think she made an exception with this man?”
“I think she was worried. And she trusted me. I have always been open with her,” Mrs. Cao stated.
“Worried about the man, about her boyfriend?”
“Maybe. Maybe not.” Mrs. Cao gave the matter some thought. “I am not certain. Maybe about the man’s wife. I think she would have told me … in time … but now …” She trailed off, clasping her hands across her knees. “Now we will never know.”
Phoebe asked Ulla if there was anything else they should cover at this point. Ulla shook her head.
“I think we have what we need for now, Mr. and Mrs. Cao,” Phoebe said, turning off the Panasonic and making ready to leave.
As they were about to open the door, Mrs. Cao’s face lit up in recollection. “There was one other thing,” she said.
“Yes?” Ulla encouraged.
“Trinh used odd words about the man. She said he had ‘yellow fever’.”
Mrs. Cao blushed. “Yes, I am sorry. She meant that he liked Oriental women. Trinh told me his wife was also Asian. It is a small point, but it may be useful to you in your work. Please find out what happened to our Trinh.”
“I can promise you that we will work very hard on this case. And we will stay in touch with you.”
“There is one more thing. I’m sorry to have to ask you about this. We need a formal identification of the … of your daughter. Could one of you come to the morgue tomorrow? We can send a car.”
“We will both come,” the father said quickly. “A car would be appreciated. You are very kind.”
He looked at his wife, and she shook her head.
“Thank you for coming,” Mr. Cao said. “And thank you that you care about just a Vietnamese girl. We are very much in your debt.”
“She is not ‘just’ a Vietnamese girl, Mr. Cao,” Phoebe said evenly. “She is a human being who was killed. It is our duty to do our utmost to see justice done. That is personal for me.
“Again, I am deeply sorry for your loss.”
Phoebe and Ulla each gave Mr. Cao their cards and shook hands with both parents before walking out into the chill night and clambering into the car.
Ulla was driving. She was quiet, clearly reflecting on their final, sad interview with the Caos.
TO BE CONTINUED