I had hoped Ta would make it back by Christmas. I had bought
a small tree, decorated it, and placed it next to the fish tank.
I got Jenny to join me for a trip to the San Bernadino Mall. I
looked. Jenny suggested. I bought. I wrapped and placed the
presents under the tree. I waited. I waited for Ta's footsteps
outside my window. I waited for a phone call. Christmas passed.
I threw the tree out over the balcony into the brush. I put the
presents still wrapped on the top shelf in my closet. I concentrated
Bobby walked into my ofice and sat in the customer chair next
to my desk, "TJ you won."
"Won what?" I didn't really care if I had won anything. Ta
wasn't home and I hadn't heard from her in over a month.
Bobby shuffled up to his knees on the chair. "The trip to
Las Vegas. You beat out everybody."
"You take it. I don't want it."
"Bobby. You in Las Vegas? I'd buy you a camera just to see
"Don't push your luck instamatic boy."
"No word from Ta, heh?"
"TJ , international call line 2," Angie said.
I looked at Bobby. He looked at me. He grabbed my head with
both hands and gave me a big kiss on the lips, "Good luck, bro."
and went running out of my office laughing.
I was so annoyed I almost didn't want to pick up the phone.
I wasn't mad at Bobby. I was mad at Ta. "Tommy, did you hear me.
International call, line 2," Angie said again.
I nodded and took a few deep breaths. "Angie, take a message."
I walked out on the lot. Bobby was leaning up against an old
Chevy on the used car lot. I went up and leaned next to him.
"Didn't talk to her, did you?" he said.
"Want a smoke?" I said as I lit two.
It was on my desk. It was a pink message. Northwest-Orient
flight 10, arriving in two days at 11:10am at the LAX international
terminal, gate 7. ***106
I was at the airport by 10am.
I hadn't been able to sleep at all the night before. My car
rolled out of the car wash soaking wet just as the sun came up
making the paint glitter like white gold. I waited while the
Chicano staff wiped behind her racing mirror ears and massaged
her vinyl red seats with a scented spray. The Santana cassette
I'd left playing in the deck induced a Spanish towel wiping dance.
The workers were fun to watch. They earned that tip.
I was too hyper to eat. I didn't want a cigarette. I just
wanted to drive and listen to music. I wanted to push my car to
its limits around the hills of Mulholland Drive and down onto the
curves of the Pacific Coast Highway to the cliffs of Malibu. Some
of my friends used to resort to a candle and meditation to find
peace. Some were happy with a shrink's couch. Me? The long walk
down to the Malibu surf watching the gulls with their wings
outstreched not even working at it-just floating in the wind
currents-the sound of the surf-the smell of the salt water-
feeling the wind in my face as my hair tickled my ears-walking
barefoot down by the water's edge, the cold sand curling up between
my toes sending a chill up my legs as the sun baked my shirtless
back-my legs burning as I struggled back up the cliff-my heart
beating faster as I wondered when I'd finally get back to the top-
my hands tormented by grains of sand that wouldn't let go-floating
gulls seeming to smile and shriek,"You should have been a bird."-
that was my peace.
My eyes were starting to feel grainy. But I was too excited
too feel tired. I sat down in my car and rolled down all the
windows and cracked open the moon roof. I cranked up all six
speakers. I wonder if gulls float to Santana? I walked over to
the surfers shower to wash off all the sand.
"Hey bro. Are you heading out? You heading south? I'm looking
for a ride down to Venice Beach." I looked over. Damn. Bobby material.
She was blonde blue-eyed short and even in a full wet suit looked
I pointed at her board.
"Come on guy. The waves suck here. It's a short board. It'll
fit easy through your moon roof. I promise. I won't let it scratch
"Are you here alone? I thought you surfers worked on the
"I'm here with my girl friend. But she's still down on the ***107
beach. See that's her down there." she pointed to a girl down on
the beach just slipping out of the top of her wet suit, adjusting
her top and squeezing the water out of her hair. "She's going to
wait for another ride and meet me down at Venice Beach later,"
"I've got an adjustable roof rack in my trunk. If you want
to run down there and get her I'll give you both a ride. But
there is no way you are going to put that board throught my moon
"Really?" she said.
"Really. But hurry I have to be at the airport soon to pick
up a very precious cargo."
"Watch my board, Okay? I'll be right back." and she ran down
the cliff to get her friend.
By the time she got back I had the rack and her board secure.
Her friend was dark skinned, dark haired and seemed to be wearing
water proof green eye shadow over her big brown eyes. She
looked back at her friend and asked, "Is this the guy?"
"He looks like Bobby, doesn't he?" the girl with dark hair
"Yeah." blondie said as I grabbed and secured the other
"Okay. One more thing. I don't give rides to anyone I don't
know. My name is TJ."
"I'm Ginger. This is Chloe," blondie said.
I had just pulled out from the car park on to the Pacific
Coast Highway when Chloe who was sitting in the front seat gave
me a long look. She turned back to Ginger, "They look like brothers."
Ginger nodded as she tried to push her wind blown hair away
from her face.
"TJ. How old are you?" Chloe ask.
"24," I said.
"Oh my God they are the same age. TJ do you have a twin brother
named Bobby?" Chloe said.
"I work with a guy named Bobby," I said.
"Do you sell cars and does he have an English accent?" Chloe
"Figures. Yeah," I said.
Chloe and Ginger started bouncing around, "No way. Are you
married? Do you know Bobby's telephone number? Would you like to go
out on a double date? I like your car? What's this music?" ***108
Geeze. Bobby has struck everywhere.
I waited. I heard the loudspeaker announce that the flight had
landed. I watched as passengers walked out into the terminal greeting
their loved ones with hugs pulling their bags in tow. I waited until
noone else walked out the door from immigration. It was almost 2pm
before a slender woman in a blue customs uniform walked out the door
holding a passport and a picture. She looked down at the photo again
before walking up to me. She showed me Ta's passport. "Do you know
this woman?" she asked.
"She's my wife," I said.
She looked at the white gold wedding ring on my finger. Ta
always wore hers around her neck. It conflicted with her finger
array of diamonds, sapphires, and rubies.
"May I see your drivers license please?" she asked.
She compared a picture I'd taken with Ta. "Do you have a copy
of your marriage certificate with you?" she asked.
"A copy of my marriage certificate? Who carries a copy of
their marriage certificate with them? What's going on? Is my wife
in there?" I asked.
"She's being detained. If you want to see her I need to
see a copy of your marriage certificate." she said.
"You want me to drive almost two hours to get home. Get my
marriage certificate and then drive back here? What's going on
"I'm sorry sir. If you want your wife to be released in your
custody I need to see a marriage certificate," she said.
I drove the two hours home. I drove the two hours back. I
banged on the customs door. A man answered. "I'm here to get my
wife," I said. He told me to wait as he resecured the door and
took my copy of our marriage certificate to his superiors.
A half hour later I heard the custom door bolts release.
Another man stepped out, "She's not here," he said. "You have
to go over to the Airport Hyatt Hotel. She is in room 2022. Show
them your marriage license with my notarised note and they will
release her in your custody pending a court appearance two days
hence," he explained.
"Court appearance for what?" I asked.
"I'm not at liberty to say sir," he said.
"Where are we in cold war Russia? Since when is someone detained
without cause. This is bullshit and you know it." I said. ***109
"I'm sorry sir..."
"Yeah, you're sorry and you can kiss my ass. You know this is
bullshit," I said.
I found the Hyatt. I found room 2022. I knocked. A Phillipino
woman coyly opened the door a crack. I put the paperwork to her
face, "Where is my wife?" I said.
She opened the door. "Yeah, you better open the door. Why
is my wife being held like this? And since when do I have to
spend all day running around to find our marriage certificate.
Her visa isn't based on being married. She has a student visa.
And since when do people get held without cause. Can you tell
me what's going on or are you like the rest of the sheep at
"Mr. Thomas, please come in." she said. I was still so mad
I almost didn't noticed Ta walking out of the bathroom drying
her hair after a shower. But I did. "Would you like to talk to
your wife first and then I can explain to you what happened?"
"No. I want you to tell me what's going on." I said.
"Your wife has been suspected of drug trafficing," she
"Did customs find any drugs in her possession?" I asked.
"No. But what. Either she's carrying drugs or not. What
did someone make a phone call saying that she was going to be
carrying drugs?" I asked.
"She was on a list sir." she said.
"A list. I can tell you who put her on a list. It was the
people that stole her mother's diamond earrings and don't want
her back in the states. Lucky for us they didn't know we're
married. How about if I tried to pick you up in a bar and you
blew me off. And just because I was an asshole and had a problem
with rejection and knew you didn't have an American passport I
called up immigration and said that I thought you were trafficking
drugs from the Phillipines? Would your bosses in customs believe
it without any credible evidence?"
"Mr. Tom, I am leaving now. Your wife is in your custody.
These papers require that your wife be in court on the specified
day. Good luck sir."
Monday morning, 9am, LA, First Street court house, fourth
floor, Immigration Division, room 107. The African-American woman
asked Ta a lot of questions and in the end assured her that her
name would be taken off any black list automatically in the near
It really didn't matter. We weren't going to be staying in
America that much longer. Pat and Boonthai's plan to discredit Ta
and keep her from reentering the states and potentially finding
them would have worked except that they didn't know that we had
secretly married. They didn't know that her own father would
eventually accomplish that task for them on his own. It wasn't
because he had Ta's name put on any list. It wasn't because he
had anything against me. It was because he had deserted Khun M.,
taken a mistress, and gone crazy spending the family money.
Now I understood why Ta had not called, why she had delayed
so long before coming home. Her brothers were both away in New
Hampshire at college. Her adopted sister who had graduated from
college the same year as us had other plans. Koi was engaged to
Sak whose parents owned the four star Montien Hotel chain in
Bangkok. Without Ta, Khun M. was all alone.
And so Ta came back to America to pick up a few things before
returning to Bangkok. One of those things was me.