On Tuesday evening, Pearl and Mia’s doorbell rings, and someone knocks frantically at the door. Bebe Chow has arrived, having been turned away from the McCullough house. After knocking and ringing the doorbell there, Bebe saw Mrs. McCullough peeking out from behind the curtain. Mia tells Bebe she shouldn’t have gone over uninvited. Bebe explains, though, that she called first and spoke to Mrs. McCullough, who hung up on her. Bebe then took a long journey over to their home, and told Mrs. McCullough through the door that she just wanted to talk, but no one would answer. Eventually, a Lexus and a police car pulled up, and Mr. McCullough, along with two policemen, told Bebe to leave the property—“You have no right to be here,” Mr. McCullough told her. Bebe could hear May Ling crying as the policemen pulled her away from the house. Bebe asks Mia what she should do. Pearl suggests she gets a lawyer, but Bebe says she has no money. Mia, having thought long and hard about what she would do if she were in Bebe’s position, begins to tell her what she must do to “fight this fight.”
Bebe has begun to emerge as a disrupting force in Shaker Heights. Her visit to the McCulloughs perturbs the couple, and though Mr. McCullough tells her she has “no right” to attempt to see her child, the truth of this claim will soon become a major issue throughout the entire community. When Bebe seeks comfort and guidance from Mia, Mia continues to manipulate Bebe, though she is doing so for altruistic reasons-—she believes she is standing up for what is right. Now that she has taken action, Mia is inextricably bound to Bebe’s situation, and she uses her knowledge of how Shaker Heights operates to concoct a plan to help level the playing field for Bebe. Mia’s attachment to her own identity as a mother is a strong motivator in her actions as she helps Bebe to reestablish hers.
The following afternoon, during Jerry Springer, the Richardson children do not notice the commercials for the evening news. No one in the Richardson household or the McCullough family watches the news that evening but, the following morning, Mrs. McCullough answers the doorbell with May Ling on her hip only to find a news crew on her front steps. Mrs. McCullough quickly shuts the door, but the news team catches footage of a “slender white woman, looking angry and afraid, clutching [a] screaming Asian baby in her arms.” When Mr. McCullough arrives at work, one of his coworkers alerts him to the coverage on the news the night before. The news did an interview with Bebe, who told the team that she has her life together and that the McCulloughs have no right to her child—“a child belong with her mother,” she says. Mr. McCullough leaves work immediately.
The disturbance of the news stories about Bebe, May Ling, and the McCulloughs speaks to the wafting scent of the oncoming blaze Mia described in the previous chapter. The “little fire” of Bebe’s claim on May Ling has begun to ignite, and issues related to the themes of mother-daughter relationships, identity and assimilation, and the role of altruism are about to spark. The work Bebe has done—with Mia’s help—to raise these issues publicly demonstrates Mia’s altruistic endeavor—her aid in helping Bebe to manipulate public favor and tip the scales away from the McCulloughs—already at work.
Bebe stops at Mia’s house to tell her that the team who interviewed her believes her story is “a good story,” and that “people [will] really get behind [her.]” After Bebe’s segment aired, the station was indeed flooded with calls, and a follow-up was ordered. The next evening, Mrs. McCullough and Mrs. Richardson watch the news together and commiserate. Mrs. McCullough’s lawyer has told her that she is on “solid footing,” and that Bebe’s grievance is “with the state.” Mrs. Richardson tells Mrs. McCullough that the news will blow over soon—but it does not. News teams continue to hound the McCulloughs, and the story is featured each night. A local lawyer named Ed Lim offers to represent Bebe Chow pro bono.
The divisive nature of Bebe’s story, and the appeal it has as a piece of journalism which the public of Shaker Heights consumes, is completely unpredictable—much like a wildfire in this usually peaceful and orderly community. As Bebe begins to win over many people’s sympathy, she also wins the support of a lawyer—a tool that will help her “fight this fight,” which was one of Mia’s goals for her all along.
The Richardsons, gathered together for dinner, discuss the case. Mr. Richardson has agreed to work as the McCulloughs’ representation, telling his family that “they just want to do right by the baby.” Izzy calls her father a “baby stealer,” and is sent to her room. As she leaves the table, she suggests to her father that the McCulloughs “bargain” with Bebe and “pay her off.” Mrs. Richardson plans to confiscate Izzy’s beloved Doc Martens.
The divisive power of the Chow-McCullough case is on display right in the middle of the Richardsons’ seemingly idyllic home. Fault lines begin to form, dividing the members of the Richardson clan into camps, with Izzy, as usual, firmly on the side of the opposition.
The next morning, while reading an article in the newspaper about the McCullough case, Mrs. Richardson comes across a tidbit which describes how Bebe was informed of her daughter’s whereabouts by one of her coworkers at Lucky Palace—a coworker whom Mrs. Richardson suddenly realizes must be Mia. Mrs. Richardson thinks of Mia’s standoffishness and quietness about her past, even after the kindness Mrs. Richardson has shown her. Mia takes “perverse pleasure in flaunting the normal order,” she thinks.
The revelation that Mia has been Bebe’s champion from the get-go disturbs Mrs. Richardson for a number of reasons. Mrs. Richardson’s close friendship with Mrs. McCullough is a major one, but so too is her obsession with Mia’s lack of regard for order or authority. Unable to look at things from any perspective other than her own, Mrs. Richardson becomes quietly enraged.
The following morning, Mia arrives for work at the Richardsons’ house. Mrs. Richardson, who believes that Mia is “dangerous” because she doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, has waited to leave the house until Mia arrived so that she can look her “in the eyes.” Rather than confronting Mia about her involvement with Bebe, Mrs. Richardson privately resolves to intensify her own investigation into Mia’s past, though she refuses to admit to herself the truth: that she is doing so as retribution for Mia’s ruining Mrs. McCullough’s happiness.
Mrs. Richardson’s anger at Mia’s friendship with Bebe and her assistance in getting the case off the ground reveals her complete lack of tolerance for anyone other than her engaging in manipulative behavior. She believes that Mrs. McCullough, has the right to be May Ling’s mother, and decides to attack Mia’s identity as a mother in return.