Rhea woke up in room twenty-seven at the Paradise Motel, a little before six on that same Christmas Eve. She turned on the tv and watched the news while she peed, washed, brushed her hair and ate the two packs of peanut butter stuffed cheese crackers that were in a little basket on the night stand. There was no news on tv of Aggie. She left her room and went to the payphone. She called home. Stel answered. “Mom!?” Rhea cried, so happy to hear her voice. “Did you find her?” Stel asked, her voice like a raspy knife. “No, but–” Rhea answered. Stel interrupted. “Call back when you do. I have to keep the line open.” She hung up. Rhea put the phone in its cradle and left the booth. She didn’t have a clue what to do or where to go. All she knew was that she was alone and she needed to find her sister. As she started to walk back to her room to get her case, someone shoved her from behind. Hard. She fell.
“Paradise is mine. You got ten seconds to get on outta here.” A girl’s voice spat at her. Rhea looked up at an eighteen-year-old in shorts short enough for half her cooze to squish out. Rhea wondered if she was cold.
“OK.” Rhea answered, not quite understanding, “I just gotta get my suitcase.”
As Rhea got up and headed to her room, the girl followed her, pushing into the room as Rhea opened the door.
The girl spotted the ballet case and tore into it, finding the one hundred and sixty-three dollars that Rhea had left. She took it and leaned against the doorway.
“Now get outta here.”
Rhea zipped up the case. As she walked past the girl, she showed her the picture of Aggie. “Can I ask you something? Have you seen this girl?” The girl looked at the picture. “Who’s that?”
“My sister.” Rhea told her, “She got kidnapped. I gotta find her.”
The hard girl kind of crumbled, “Aw, man… No.” she shook her head and gave Rhea back the money. “That’s bad.”
“Yeah.” Rhea agreed.
It was nearing seven and way past dark. The boulevard got quieter as Christmas Eve moved toward night. Rhea spent the next three hours walking the streets of Chinatown, asking every person who would stop if they’d seen Aggie. No one had. She asked twenty three waitresses in fourteen Chinese restaurants. She asked the night manager at Madam Wu’s. She asked thirty seven store clerks, three bus drivers and sixty four people driving cars who had stopped at the red light On Broadway and Cesar Chavez. She got nothing.
Rhea crossed back over Cesar Chavez and sat on the bus bench at Spring Street. The smell of frankincense floated by, reminding her of church. And God. And how much Aggie liked God. She took the smell as a sign and followed the ancient scent across Alameda street to old Olvera.