Yeah, like today in the shopping center, I thought. I looked out the window, where the sky was streaked with red and purple.
"This could be a really good story," I told him. "But I would need to meet some kids, then use their stories to illustrate the larger trend."
His eyes swiveled from me to the manila files piled atop his desk, then back to me. He put his hand on the top file, then shook his head.
"I just finished telling you that these are screwed-up kids. And I know that ultimately, Eve Diamond, you don't give a rat's ass about the slash marks on their wrists or the gang rape they suffered at age thirteen. You just want the lurid details. Then after you've gotten them all heated up reliving it, you'll toss the mess back into my lap and expect me to fix it."
"That's why you're a totally simpatico counselor and I'm a heartless reporter." I tossed back the can of Pocari Sweat. With an almost imperceptible flick of the wrist, he extended one hand and caught it.
"Of course we'd change their names. We're not intrusive like TV. Think how a Times story would get people talking. The Board of Supes might even cough up extra funding." I leaned forward and locked eyes with him. "I can see you're protective about your kids, Mark. They're lucky to have you on their side. But for the record, we're not all automatons."
I stood up.
He stared at me with a look I couldn't decipher.
"Drink?" he said finally. "I know a great Italian place."
"Italian?" I said in mock-horror. "The least you could do after insulting me is offer to take me to a sushi bar you know tucked away in one of these awful strip malls."
"Not too many of those left on this side of town," he sighed. "They've all moved west and gone uptown. Besides, what you got against Italian?"
"Nothing. I just have this thing for sake."
He considered this.
Suddenly nervous, I rushed in to break the silence.
"Maybe some other time. You probably have to meet your girlfriend."
"I pointed to the photo on his desk. "I couldn't help noticing. She looks just like Gong Li."
He laughed. "My mother, who is Japanese, by the way, not Chinese, will be flattered."
"That's your mother?" I hoped my voice didn't show relief.
"Yes. Right after she got married. My father took the photo."
"Sorry," I stuttered. "I just assumed that since it was on your desk..."
He was staring at me again. I knew I was turning crimson. I hadn't meant to get all personal. Now he would think I was nosy as well as a heartless exploiter of damaged kids.
"Don't be," he said. "It's there for a reason. There's a lot of transference in my line of work. Some of these teenage girls, they're really searching for their lost daddies but they'll settle for me. So I put Mom here to keep an eye on things. I've found she wards off the weirder stuff."
Now I was doubly intrigued. And oddly ecstatic that he didn't have a girlfriend. At least not one whose picture he put on his desk.
He was all business as he showed me the door.
Copyright © 2001 by Denise Hamilton
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