“I’m eight, ya know. I should be able to ride in the front and not sit in the back like a baby.”
Jia Chung braked to a stop. Their estate, which overlooked the ocean, was about a one-hour drive from Vancouver and she paused to look in the rear-view mirror. It was mid-May and the afternoon sun had broken through the clouds and shone on the Japanese plum trees lining the driveway behind her. The trees were in full blossom and petals were falling, giving the appearance of pink snow swirling down.
Out on the main road she drove slower than the limit. Her car was a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which her husband, David, had purchased for her last month.
“Mom … did you hear me?”
She glanced in the rear-view mirror again and focused on her son. “Tommy, we’ve talked about this. It’s safer in the back. Maybe when you’re ten.”
“My friends ride in the front with their moms and dads and they’re eight.”
Jia thought it funny that his voice sounded so matter-of-fact, almost mature. She hid her smile. “You’re still a little smaller than your friends.”
Tommy was silent for a moment. “Yeah … I know.”
“Children don’t always grow at the same time. I bet you’ll have a real growth spurt soon.”
“Do you think so?” He paused. “That’d be good. The boys tease me at school.”
“What do they say?”
“That I look like an elf. That I got elf’s ears and have hands like a girl.”
Why are children so cruel?
“I know Chinese are smaller, but none of my Chinese friends are as small as me.”
She looked in the mirror and saw the forlorn look on his face. Poor little guy.
He appeared to read her thoughts. “It’s okay, Mom. I don’t let it bother me.”
Jia hid her concern. “Your time will come. As far as your hands go, none of your friends can play a piano as well as you.” His face brightened. She turned off onto a residential lane that meandered through the neighbourhood, then added, “You’re really good.”
“You have to say that. You’re my mom.”
“It’s true. Ask Mrs. Finch. She told me you’re her favourite student.”
“She said that? Her favourite? Really?”
“Yes, but don’t tell any of the other students. It would be unkind.”
Jia braked for a stop sign, but the jolt of her car being bumped from behind ended the conversation. She glimpsed in her rear-view mirror at a white van. Damn it. Wonder if there’s any damage?
An old man pounded the van’s steering wheel with his fist in apparent self-recrimination before getting out. Briefly he stood holding the open door. Grey hair stuck out from his fedora. It, like the long dark top-coat he wore, had seen better days. His eyes peered at her from behind glasses with thick black frames and his legs were wobbly as he clutched the door, seemingly afraid to let go.
“Stay in the car,” Jia ordered. “I’ll be right back.”
She glanced at her rear bumper as she passed. Is that a ding? Or just dirt? The old man bent over the driver’s seat. Probably looking for insurance papers.
She tapped him on the shoulder. “Are you okay?”
He turned, grabbing her wrist with one hand while jabbing something into her stomach with the other. “Keep quiet and get inside. If you make any noise, we’ll kill you and your kid.”
Jia gasped when she saw the pistol. His voice was much younger than he looked. He’s wearing a mask! She was startled further when the side door of the van slid open and another man, wearing an identical mask peered out at her.
“My purse is in the car,” she replied in panic.
“We don’t want your fucking purse,” said the man from inside the van. “Get in here or you’ll never see your kid again.”
She glanced at Tommy peering out her car’s back window, unaware of what was happening, then swallowed nervously and looked inside the van. It was made for hauling cargo and the only seats were up front. She put one foot inside, but was then shoved. Seconds later, she was face down on the floor with the man’s knee on her back.
“Stay still and keep quiet,” one of her attackers ordered.
“Please, don’t hurt me,” she begged in a whisper. “Go ahead. Take my car. The keys are still in the ignition. I’ll get my son out and you can have it.”
“I’ll get your kid,” the man who’d been driving said. “You stay put. I’ll tell Tommy you want to see him.”
Oh, my God! “How do you know his name?”
“We know everything about you. Now shut the fuck up while I go get your kid.”
Jia’s worst fears were confirmed. The men had something much more horrific in mind than stealing her car.