Authors: Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
Tags: #detective, #mystery, #female protagonist, #Japanese-American, #Russian-American
TINKERBELL ON WALKABOUT
Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
Book View Café Edition
September 15, 2015
Copyright © 2015 Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
“Take varm clothes, Gina,” Mom says. “Is cold at night.”
She’s said the same thing in
the same moose-and-squirrel accent since I was twelve and going off to summer
“Mom,” I say, “it’s May.”
“Sveater veather,” she says, pulls the aforementioned
garment out of my dresser, and lays it atop my duffel.
It’s the bulkiest sweater I own, bright red, and makes me
look like a big, fuzzy chili pepper. It also takes up half the duffel, but it
was her gift to me. Need I say more?
We have this conversation every time I leave home for more
than a day and I always leave with extra sweaters, extra sox, vitamins of all
“You have your
This literally means “protector” in The Mother’s Tongue and, like the sweater and vitamins, is something Mom will
not let me leave home without. Not that she’d admit to being superstitious. But with a PhD in Russian folklore,
a fascination with arcana, and a vast collection of
all over the world, she views packing an amulet as a practical consideration.
Better safe than sorry, after all.
I reach into my jeans pocket and retrieve the
obereg du jour
—the smallest of
a set of nesting
dolls that have spent some time under the
altar at Our Lady of Kazan.
“See? I’m all
“Good,” she says. “Don’t vorget to say goodbye to Edmund.”
I never forget to say goodbye to Dad, who never says word
one about sweaters, vitamins, or amulets. My down-to-earth Japanese-American
father only ever asks: “Did you pack your sidearm?”
I sometimes think people with dysfunctional families have it
easy. Okay, not really. My odd but stubbornly functional family is what got me
through my teens, my epic washout from the police academy, my broken
engagement, my ex-fiancé’s trial for attempted murder, and my current meanders.
They don’t seem to mind that at twenty-four I’m still trying to decide what I
want to be when I grow up.
Now, as I speed my Harley northeast on Interstate 80 toward
the picture postcard capitol of Northern California, I reflect that I have
always and only wanted to be a cop. I still do, notwithstanding I’ve proven I’m
not cop material.
with the idea of becoming a P.I., but I have reservations. Not because the work
is hard and dangerous—no problem, I have an
occasion—but I mean, honestly, how seriously would you take a detective who’s five-foot-one and weighs ninety
pounds in a soggy trench coat?
Hence, I am heading upstate for a Gold Country walkabout,
thanks to my high school buddy, July Petersen, who insists I come up and check
out the California Forestry Department.
Gina Miyoko, Forest R-r-ranger. Right.
The drive takes three hours and I reach Grass Valley
depressed and strung out on Starbucks. No fewer than three large men—also
mounted on Harleys—observed that my hog is “a lot of bike for a little girl.”
That’s one chauvinist pig-dog per hour.
July lives with her parents. This is not because she’s a
deadbeat, but because she likes living with them. July’s parents are nearly as
odd as my own. As evidence of this, I offer the fact that she has a brother
named March and a sister named October. One wonders what would have happened if
March had been a twin. Or had been born in May or June.
July is a cop—California Highway Patrol. She is also my
hero, and has been since high school when she assumed the full time job of
protecting our little quartet of social misfits. We were misfits for reasons of
stature: Rose Martinez was too chubby; July was too tall and buff; Lee Preston
and I were too small. We were the Spratts, Mutt ’n’ Jeff, Abbott and Costello,
Laurel and Hardy—all rolled into one much-maligned group.
None of us dated much, including July, notwithstanding she
was statuesque and blonde. In the years since, she hadn’t sprouted any
significant others, so I am understandably floored when, over lunch, she asks
casually: “So, you want to help me plan my wedding?”
She smiles into her Thai coffee. “Wedding. You know the
thing where you stand in front of a minister and trade poetry?”
I’d be standing in front of a Buddhist monk and a Russian
Orthodox priest, but whatever. “When?”
“July, of course.”
“Wouldn’t miss it, but I’m not sure how much help I’ll be.
You may recall that I flunked Wedding 101.”
Her smile fades and she gives me a glance screened by long,
coppery lashes. She’s about
to apologize for something she couldn’t possibly have saved me from.
I spare her the awkward moment. “I didn’t know you were
“I wasn’t. I don’t do dating.”
“So, who’s the lucky guy? Do I know him?”
“Yeah, pretty well, as a matter of fact. Lee Preston.”
“Lee? Criminy, July, you’ve known Lee
She shrugs. “You think of someone as a friend long enough,
sometimes you don’t know there’s more there until something happens, and you
realize things can change. You know what I mean.”
I do. Dad had nearly died when I was thirteen. He’d been on
the Grass Valley PD then, and a drunk driver had nearly taken him out during a
routine traffic stop. I still can’t drive through the intersection of Sutton
and Brunswick without sweating.
“Lee got a job offer from a radio station in San Francisco.
As we discussed whether he’d
take it, we realized . . .” She shrugs eloquently.
“So he’s staying at KNCO?”
“Nope. He’s going to SF. I’m going to the SFPD.” She pauses
to give me an oblique glance. “Which your Dad has apparently not mentioned.”
“He helped set up the interviews.”
“I owe him one,” I say, not sure exactly what I owe him.
We spend the afternoon bumming around Grass Valley and its
über-touristy twin, Nevada City. That evening we dine with July’s parents and
Lee, who has grown from a geeky adolescent to a drop dead gorgeous man. All in
a compact 5-foot-7-inch frame.
“You’re too tall for him,” I tell July as we police the
kitchen after dinner.
“Height-ist are we? That’s one step away from sexism. You,
of all people, should be sensitive to issues of stature.”
saying,” I object, “that you could’ve
have him. He’s
a titan in my little universe.”
We sit on the Petersen’s deck, playing Gin Rummy by fragrant
citronella candles (which seemed to amuse the mosquitoes more than deter them),
and watching the breeze toss the treetops below the house. Further down the
hill, the security lights of the Petersen’s brickworks spill into the two lane
county road that separates it from Wray’s Wrecks.
The lights at the wrecking yard are dimmer, and I can make
out a row of trees on the opposite side of the long, two-story garage. I catch
the flash of car headlights from the highway beyond the lot. Good place for a
wrecking yard. Easy access for tow trucks, and Highway 49 does a bang-up job of
“July says you’re thinking about becoming a private eye,”
Lee says as he trounces us at Gin for the third time.
Jan Petersen—short for January—makes a tsk-ing sound.
“That’s a dangerous job,” says she whose only daughter went into law
enforcement right out of high school.
I’m not thinking about becoming anything at the moment, but
I rise to the bait. “Not with the proper training.”
Jan shakes her head. “It’s just hard to imagine you skulking
around alleys, carrying a gun.”
“Taurus Magnum,” I announce. “Lightweight, small, and a
pretty shade of blue. Recoil’s
a bitch, but I take target practice twice a week.”
Lee grins at me across the table. “I’d think you’d have an advantage not looking
like a textbook P.I. Who’d suspect Tinkerbell of casing them?”
July agrees absently. “Uh, huh . . . Now
what’s gotten into Bob?”
We all follow her gaze. Wray’s Wrecks is ablaze with light.
“Jiminy Christmas,” says July’s Dad (whose name is simply
and sensibly John), “he’s got every light in the place on.”
“Maybe he’s trying to flag down passing UFO’s,” I offer.
John Petersen chuckles. “Wouldn’t surprise me. Bob Wray is
an odd duck. A truly nice man, but odd.”
We watch as a trio of random-sized dogs fans out from the
garage that dominates the northeast corner of the long yard. The place is
several acres in size, but doesn’t look like any wrecking yard I’ve ever seen.
Not that I’m a junkyard aficionado, but anyone who owns a Harley is more than
passingly familiar with them. This one’s peculiar, even at first glance. There
are no dizzyingly vertical piles of car corpses or randomly scattered body
parts. Bob Wray’s junkyard is relentlessly horizontal and scrupulously tidy.
The wrecks, viewed from the Petersen’s front porch, are laid out in a grid of
neat, even rows.
“You suppose he has a Harley carburetor?” I muse.
“Who doesn’t?” Lee asks. “Question is: is it any better than
the one you’ve already got?”
“I have four. You can never have too many carburetors.”
The lights at Wray’s Wrecks dim as suddenly as they came on.
“Huh,” says July.
“Gin,” says Lee.
I rub the
in my pocket and reflect that
perhaps the old Church Fathers are right: card games are demonic.
Saturday we look up old friends and old haunts. The area
has changed radically since I lived here. Grass Valley has sprouted strip malls
and department stores while the downtown area has been tourist-ified. Where
there were once hardware stores and other such homely establishments there are
now trendy restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries. There are old-fashioned
street lamps, lots of cobblestone, planters and even a freestanding cast iron
clock stationed at the main intersection. The art deco theatre has been
Oddly and comfortingly, it is still the town I remember—a
nice place to have grown up, despite the fact that it’s still lacking in . . .
well, color, not to put too fine a point on it. I’d been one of only five
Asian-American kids in high school and the other four were Chinese from local
families who’d been here since their great-grandparents worked the mines and
laundries. Now they own restaurants.
I comment on this to July as we wander Nevada City after
“Still the whitest county in the state,” she admits,
grimacing. “In law enforcement circles we’re still a ‘white enclave.’ That’s changing though. More African American families are moving
in, and the Chinese and Maidu, who’ve been here forever, are coming out and getting
more involved in the community. The Maidu just opened a new cultural center.”