Or, as seventeen-year-old Marina Lu had done, you could order custom dresses for the ten bridesmaids who would precede you down the aisle the following June, the wedding day Marina had planned for years with the boy she had known since junior high.
Except on this stultifying morning, fate had backed up and pulled a U-turn, and now Marina Lu lay dead, brains splattered all over the buttery leather seats of her status car, the two-carat rock on her manicured engagement finger refracting only shattered hope.
I picked my way past the yellow police tape that cordoned off the murder scene, waving my notepad and press pass and standing close enough to a burly cop so that my perfume-spiked perspiration got his attention.
"Looks like an attempted carjacking that went bad," the cop said, squinting into the sun as he recited the facts. "Witness in the parking lot heard the shot, then saw an Asian kid, about fifteen, take off in a late-model Honda with two accomplices. Fifth carjacking here this month, and the first time they flubbed it. She must have resisted." The policeman punctuated his commentary with a huge yawn that bared his fleshy pink palate.
"And there's why," his partner said, watching the homicide detective retrieve a Chanel bag and pull out a matching wallet stuffed with hundred-dollar bills. "She was gonna pay cash for those dresses. Those immigrants don't believe in credit."
Nudging the Acura back onto the freeway, I headed for my office in Monrovia, a formerly white WASPy town at the foot of the San Gabriels, where the Times had established a bureau in the halcyon years when it was busy stretching great inky tentacles into every Southland cul-de-sac. The Valley was gritty and industrial, filled with the vitality of colliding immigrant sensibilities that were slowly squeezing out the blue- and white-collar old-timers. All the big Rim cities were morphing into Third World millennial capitals. But in the San Gabriel Valley, the future was already here. I made a mental note to ask the police reporter from the Chinese Daily News out for lunch on the Times Mirror tab. I had seen him again today at the mall carjacking, interviewing madly. Skinny, with bad teeth, he looked like he could use a good meal. And I could use some fresh story ideas.
"Metro wants twelve inches," Miller called out when I stepped inside the fluorescent light of the office, letting the cool air blast my hot skin.
I wrote it up, then dawdled at my desk. Until there were some arrests, it would be just another murder in the City of Angels, which on prickly summer days averaged more than one each hour. Sure, there was the sob factor about the bride mowed down as she planned her wedding, and I milked it for all it was worth. But it was more from habit than any vestigial hope that I would shock readers into doing something about it. The story of the dead woman in the car was no more gripping than that of the two-year-old toddler killed by a stray bullet in South-Central L.A. as he played in the living room. The elderly widow clubbed to death in Long Beach by the transient she hired to weed her lawn. Or the seventeen-year-old honor student in El Sereno whose single mother had changed neighborhoods to escape the gangs, only to have her son shot when his car broke down on the freeway. For reporters and cops alike, a sort of battle fatigue had set in. We had lost our ability to be shocked. My brain flickered to the next story as I ate cold sesame noodles from the plastic bento box I packed each morning. Then it was back in the sweltering car to interview a man named Mark Furukawa for an education story.
In a small bureau, everyone wore several hats. I also covered the schools. Frankly, the education beat didn't thrill me. Single, without kids, I couldn't relate to the obsession with SAT scores and dress codes. Now a teacher had referred me to Furukawa, hinting that the youth counselor for troubled kids at the Rainbow Coalition Center could dish up something more spicy.
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