I had my own computer. I had it with me. It was a kid's computer, though, I guess that much different from every kid's schoolcomp these days except it was heavier and easier to break. The "safeguards" to keep us little ones from the really good stuff were a snap for Big Al to get past (or even non-computer-geniuses) but Al, of course, had brought her own computer, a prototype which made my Dad drool a bit when he saw it.
Anyway, the weather for Thursday was more rain, and I hung out with Al surfing the web. I was getting pretty curious about Reverend Swainson by then, and I asked Alcyone Umino. The Big Al version of the Reverend's story went like this:
"Johnny Boy started making trouble for us last year. Auntie Mako had to go back to Japan to keep Philip and Tammy. So then Johnny Boy sent his flock to smother us. Pickets outside our house every day, and his born-again people went after us in school . Plus he pulled strings to tie up our money. Not just Auntie Mako's, all of us. He actually got a probate judge to block Dad's estate! And he sent Betty to spy on us."
"Jeez," was all I could say.
"Well, that was a big mistake. I think you can figure out why."
"Yeah. She really hates him. Why?"
"Lots of reasons, I guess," said Alcyone, sounding a little vague--not like the Big Al I had got to know by then, or later.
"So what's he like? I mean, does he have women, stuff like that?"
"Well," she said, drawing out the word into a preamble, "Women, no. Maybe he's sleeping with his housekeeper; that's all. He makes a lot of money, of course, and he has to be hiding a lot of it, but any rich guy with brains does that, even Dad a little. He doesn't live rich. What he wants is to run things, maybe even be President. He runs a lot of stuff already, and he has gotten to a lot of people you would never guess. The President will do just about anything Auntie Usagi thinks needs to be done, but she hasn't helped us that much with Johnny Boy. She can't. He's just too big now. And too smart, and too f--too lucky, so far."
"How does he know about you guys? I mean, how much?"
"A lot. Not everything, but it's pretty clear he's figured out some of us are bishoujo senshi." Al started surfing again at high speed and showed me some things about Swainson and his family. "This is George, Betty's bro. He flies planes in the Navy. Probably he's a normal--no powers, I mean--or the Rev would have made something else out of him. Nice guy, from what Betty tells us . . . Here's Betty all made up."
"She looks about twelve!"
"That's from like a year ago, just a few months before Johnny Boy sent her to us. B.S. for her Dad's people, of course . . . Hey, here's some of the Christmas video! Look, there's Sarah and Lilly and Lil and Mim . . . Kinda spooky how much Lily looks like Betty, isn't it? They didn't get that nose from Mamoru."
"Mamoru?" I asked. "But Betty is--"
I didn't get to finish my question because Al had moved on. "Hmmm. This is interesting. What's the name of your mom's boyfriend? Fortescu?"
"Yes," I said, and she highlighted the name on the screen. "Johnny Boy is pretty damn smart, like I said, and I usually can't hack him. But his Atlanta house has some stuff that uses programs pirated from Mercurius, and the pirates put the back door in along with the stuff they stole. And so I can get a little stuff from Atlanta. Johnny Boy was there last week, and guess who else was? This is Johnny Boy's appointment book."
"Do you think it was about you?"
"I can pretty much guarantee it."
"Why don't you just take care of him?" I said.
"What, kill Johnny Boy? We're the good guys!"
"No, I mean, tell him to lay off or you'll turn him into a frog or something."
"Maybe a badger?" Alcyone chuckled, but got more serious after. "It's not that easy."
"Why? He doesn't have magic."
"Not magic magic like Mom, but he has powers. He can read minds like Betty. And he's a precog, he can see into the future sometimes. And he has a lot of ways to get back at us, and has to have at least one lawyer we don't know about who has instructions 'In the event of my death or disappearance.' And even more stuff, probably." Alcyone sighed. "And he's Betty's dad. Family counts, even creepy family."
"I guess," I said dubiously.
Alcyone pulled up something that she held on the screen for longer than an instant. "Hmm, this is somewhat interesting . . . this is from Johnny Boy's system in Atlanta. I can't hack his stuff in Dallas, but this system is running an older operating system."
"That's nice," I said, waiting for her to say something I could understand.
"Hmmm," said Alcyone. "What was the name of that Major you were talking to?"
"Quintley," I said.
"Know how to spell it?"
I told her, and then asked, "Why do you want to know? They aren't famous or—"
Major Quintley's service record came up. "Hmmm. Air Police, a professional snoop." Al went on to get a lot of stuff on the Quintleys, including a report written by Dad about the Major. I asked her if she was hacking into my dad's computer and Al said, "No, I've tried. This is the President's. Her password I can figure out."
Nereid was back by then, and she said, "Alcyone, someday your mother is going to catch you."
"Only if somebody rats me out," said Alcyone, changing the screen with a single keystroke. Then she turned back to me and said, "Shall we see what Auntie Alcyone can find out about your mom's boyfriend?"
"Yeah, okay," I said. "Why not?" Al dived in again, working with her usual jaw-dropping speed when she was interested in something. "Hah-vuhd. Hey, I wonder if he knew Hotaru's dad? Looks like they were there at the same time, I think . . . Hmmm, not that money that shows. But that could just make our Freddie boy smart, not necessarily a bad guy . . . No criminal record, but . . . " She trailed off, and then she made the screen change again.
"What is it?" I demanded.
Alcyone said in a very different way from everything she had said before, "Leon, get your dad. But not Besu, OK?"
"Why? What did you find?"
"Get your dad, Leon. I'm not joking now. But try not to let your stepmom know anything is wrong. Look, if I do it, Besu will—just do it, OK?"
I just did it. Nereid stayed behind, for once.
I could tell that Besu knew something was wrong, but she didn't say anything, not then, not when I said to Dad: "Al found something on the web she wants you to explain."
"Really?" he asked.
"Yeah, something. Anyway, you want to come? She's kinda all worked up about it. Whatever it is."
Dad nodded, and sort of chewed on that—he really would move his jaw like he was chewing sometimes when he was thinking. Then he got up and said to Besu, "Probably won't take too long" and followed me out.
When I got back to Al's room, the one she was sharing with her other siblings but had mostly had to herself that morning, she had more company: Her mom and both her older sisters, and Sarah and her mom, and Ishtar. Nereid and I were promptly shooed out, along with Sarah and Ishi.
"What's going on?" I asked. "What did Al find out?"
Nereid started to speak, but Sarah said, "You'd better not listen, Neri-chan."
"I'm not trying!" protested Nereid. "And they aren't saying anything much, anyway."
"Let's go ride the monorail, OK?" insisted Sarah, sounding a lot older than before.
The hotel was on the Disney monorail line. It rain to all their parks. Monorails were "futuristic" trains that were mostly built before I was born. That's all they really were, trains with wheels hidden by skirts, using a big concrete rail instead of two steel rails. Not maglev, or airfilm suspension. Not even very fast. But they did look good, I will have to admit. On the inside, they were pretty much like city buses, except being Disney property, they were clean.
While we were waiting for the train at our hotel, I heard Sarah argue with her mother over her mobile phone. I didn't understand a word of it; it was all in Japanese. Nereid wasn't too happy, either, but she wasn't using her phone. I had already guessed that very few people won arguments with Michiru.
We almost had the train to ourself, at least before the first stop. I asked once again, "What is it that Al found out?"
This time Neried wouldn't let Sarah or Ishtar shut her up. "His daughter filed a lawsuit against him."
"For what?" I asked. Then I realized: "You mean—"
"That's what it must be," said Nereid. "She didn't go on with it, but I think because he paid her or said he could hurt her."
"You don't know that, Neri-chan," said Ishtar.
"Maybe I'm too little to go hunting, but I know what men like that do."
"But you don't know that this man did this," insisted Ishtar.
"Leon knew he was a bad man right away. He had magic." Nereid turned to me. "You have magic, and you are smart, too. You should know."
Ishtar sighed and said, "Maybe you should."
Sarah said something in Japanese, but Ishtar's reply countered it, whatever it was. Then Sarah said, "All right, Leon. Ishi's right, we don't know for sure, but . . . even if he is innocent, he must have very good protection. Your dad is cleared for a lot of secrets, and I don't mean just about us. Good Old Fred would have been looked at. And don't think your dad didn't check out this guy."
"So my dad didn't know before?"
"No. No f&mdashNo."
We were at the next stop before I was ready to ask any more questions, and then it was too late. A lot of passengers got on. One of them heard Ishtar trying to calm me down again, saying, "There still might be nothing to it."
"Nothing to what" asked a girl who was now standing next to us. The train was now crowded enough so that all the seats seemed to be filled.
"Just something about someone we know," said Sarah quickly. "Hey, is that a Yamagi you're wearing?"
"No, it's a knockoff. But a good one, don't you think?"
"Yeah. You want to wear that today?"
"Yeah, why not?"
"Well, it's supposed to rain later."
"I got an umbrella. You guys don't even have one."
"We're just riding around.
"Oh? You guys at the resort?"
"You see the aliens there?"
"I think so," said Sarah like she wasn't quite sure. "Maybe."
"Cool. So, why are you just riding around?"
"Mom's kind of out of sorts now," said Sarah. "We wouldn't want to go without her."
"Oh. What are you guys, brothers and sisters?
"Yeah, except for dirtwad here," Sarah said, indicating me by slapping me on the top of my head. "He's sort of a cousin by marriage."
"Cool. I'm Jan, and this is Michelle. We're locals, you know. We work for the Mouse, but today we're using up our passes."
"How's the pay?"
"Not great but it's better than fast food."
"Has to better than babysitting," said Sarah. "Especially unpaid babysitting." She slapped my head again. "I'm Sarah, and this is Ishtar, and Nereid, and this one (head slap) is Leon."
"Cool. Where are you from?"
"California, cool! Like, Beverly Hills?"
"No, up by San Francisco."
They went on and on like that, with no one of us telling Jan and Michelle who we were—well, I mean, that we were staying with the aliens. They didn't pay much attention to me. After all, I was only eight, not even nine yet. These girls were old enough to have real jobs.
I was surprised that Sarah told them so much about herself—or that she made up such stories. I didn't know which, then.
"Boyfriend?" responded Sarah to one of Michelle's questions. "Well, not really, I guess. I've got this boy who worships me, but he's just that, a boy. Eleven years old and he's in high school. And then there's this guy I kind of like sometimes, but I can't stand most of the time. He took me to the prom. We had a pretty good time until a couple of the local Hitler Youth jumped him."
"Just because he was Jewish?" asked Jan.
"No, he's black," explained Sarah. "Anyway, I beat the crap out of Hans and Franz, and then Evan gets mad at me for interfering."
Both Jan and Michelle shook their heads knowingly, and told a few tales of male pride and idiocy. Then it was time for them to get off, but I saw a look on Sarah's face I didn't like. It wasn't an evil look, but one that forecast trouble. "Hey you guys," she said, "Want to see the aliens later?"
I wondered how Sarah would even get Jan and Michelle into the hotel, because no one was allowed past the lobby without passing through security and showing they belonged there. But it was simple: Princess Usami came down and said "They are my guests" and that was all. Jan and Michelle were awed wehen they heard the security people say, "Of course, Your Highness," and pinned badges on them.
Riding up in the elevator, I finally felt like saying something. I bragged a little about my dad being there to help with security, and that he was a Green Beret. But I didn't make much of an impression on Jan and Michelle. Usami was the star. I was so far down in the credits only the ushers cleaning up for the next show might know I was in the picture at all.
Soon enough they went one way with the princess and I went another, toward my room, and also toward the room I'd been chased from. Nereid followed. When we came to Naru's suite, Nereid said, "I don't hear anyone."
"I guess they've decided what to do," I speculated. Then we went to my room, and Dad's, and Besu's, and Hippy's. Hippolyta was asleep; Besu was talking quietly with Sere and Junjun; Dad was gone. "Where's Dad?" I asked.
"Gone for little while," said Besu.
"Gone for little while."
I couldn't hate Sarah for bringing Jan and Michelle. It was a very Sarah thing to do, and the two girls were nice people. But it sure got to me then. How could she act like that, with this thing about my mom's boyfriend, something she herself said was a big thing, an important thing?
Dad came back very late. I was in bed, but watching TV, waiting for him. Neri had come to wait with me, sitting on my bed in her jammies. Neri kissed me before she left. It was the very first time. I didn't really notice it, though, not then. I was waiting to hear what Dad would tell me. "What are you going to do about Fred?"
"That's not decided," he said.
"Did he do it? Did he really do something bad to his daughter?"
"Leon, I don't know."
"You think he did, don't you?"
Dad hesitated. Besu said something in Japanese, and after he'd chewed on it for a little while, he said to me: "Yes, I think he did. It looks like maybe the other girl . . . well, her mother says to talk with her lawyer."
I didn't know how to feel. I had been right all along about Good Old Fred. But there was still: "Mom. Dad, Mom really loves this guy. She's going to marry him."
Dad made a short sound that was about halfway cough, halfway laugh. "She did marry him, Leon. Your friend Al found out for us. They got married on Sunday, and they'll probably be here tomorrow. Actually, they should be in Orlando now."
"Probably planning to surprise you, son. Alcyone found all their reservations, too." Dad stopped for a moment, maybe waiting for an unsaid thought to pass. "Leon, we aren't supposed to know that. Do you think you can pretend it is all a surprise when your mother shows up with him?"
I thought about my answer. "I think so." After all, I had been doing a pretty good job of pretending I didn't hate him.
Friday's weather was as glorious as my mood wasn't. I had appetite, though. I eat more when I'm moody, or at least I want to. Aunt Makoto must have been briefed because my steak and eggs were waiting as soon as I dressed.
However, our potential get-together with my mom and Good Old Fred was to be postponed. Some time while I slept, Dr. Huntaromo, who had frolicked with Jan and Michelle only the night before, came to the end of his years. The Queen cancelled her plans to visit Disneyland Florida that day, and, of course, so did we all.
Queen Kakyuu's instructions about the arrangements for the docotor were not what I expected. Instead of putting the bugbear into a coffin, they put him in a box made of open latticework, kind of like a really big strawberry basket. They put him in the lounge, and they let the tots run wild there, and even gave them noisemakers: whistles, toy horns, and (shudder) drums. People complained from three floors down. When I asked my dad about it, he said, "It's sort of like a wake." I didn't ask anyone else.
So we spent the day inside, despite the wonderful weather. Queen Kakyuu told stories about Dr. Huntaromo from when she was young, which was apparently a long time ago. No one else remembered living in those days. Kakyuu-sama did not seem to mind when I kept interrupting her narrative to ask about things I did not understand. She had class beyond class beyond class, treating my questions as if they came from someone important.
I didn't think Good Old Fred was stupid enough or so clueless he would approach us that day, because the death of Dr. Huntaromo was pretty big news, at least in Orlando and the demesnes of Disney. But I was wrong. I found out just how anxious he was to get close to the people I now new when my Mom called. Nereid "leant me her ears," sharing her supernatural hearing.. She hadn't told me she could do that, but I handled it while I was talkingto Mom, and hearing Good Old Fred coach her. Mom didn't guess, of course; she must have expected me to be a bit upset. Dad didn't catch on until Besu told him.
I didn't want to let on that I knew, because of what Dad had told me, and also because I didn't want to do anything that might start another fight between Dad and Mom, or Dad and Besu. I did well, better than I thought I could have. But I was very glad to turn the phone over to Dad.
Mom didn't have much to say to Dad; soon Good Old Fred was on, and thanks to Neri, I could hear him. Dad didn't let Fred catch on, either, though he broke a pencil in half while he talked, one of those extra-thick kind, and he did it one-handed. I remember Good Old Fred saying: "Is there anyone else you'd like to bring along? Anyone, I mean anyone! I love to see Farahad's eyes bulge. He's our auditor. I haven't had a disallowed expense yet! So, the more the merrier!"
Even at eight, not even nine, I knew that what Good Old Fred was really after: A chance to meet more important people. "Let's make those eyes pop right out," said my dad, forcing a laugh. "Can you stretch it to two tables? One for the kids?"
"Hey, why not? Nine too late?"
"No. Leon's a night owl, and nwe can get a sitter, no problem."
Then it was my turn to talk to my mom again, and I said I was glad she had come. That part, at least, was the truth.
Kakyuu-sama was class beyond class beyond class, as I've said. Good Old Fred was crass beyond crass beyond crass, and he went even further that night, and right away. When the Queen suggested that my mom might want to sit with me and the other children, Fred practically fell over himself agreeing with and reinforcing this suggestion. Mom didn't notice; she was glad to see me, and not really interested in much else.
We had a big room, set up in two tables: one very long one with Kakyuu at the head, of course, and a shorter one for the older kids like me who would be sharing the experience. They sat Fred near the head of the long table, between Sarah the mind reader and the Reverend's daughter, who I knew by then was a teep like her dad. And across from Usagi, the Rabbit Queen as she was occasionally called from a misinterpreted remark Kakyuu's husband had made when the refugee fleet arrived. Three people to read him. I guess they really wanted to be sure.
Good Old Fred was very happy to discover the Reverend's daughter there. Another valuable contact, he must have thought.
Nereid was with me, lending her ears, but so was Mom. I couldn't keep track of what both Fred and Mom were saying at the same time, so I stopped trying. "Auntie" Naru was with us at the children's table, just on the other side of my mom, and she soon started talking about being a mother and did not stop.
After the first course, Dr. Alvarson arrived. Good Old Fred's eyes practically lit up with dollar signs at this. I could see Dr. Alvarson's barbed tail twitching, something I would later confirm was never a good sign.
We were waiting for dessert when my mom got up and excused herself, and asked me right in front of everyone if I needed to use the toilet. Of course I said I didn't. Naru went with her. As they left, I noticed that just about all the senshi at the big table were watching them. Sarah's mother had dropped a spoon and wheeled around as if to pick it up.
Maybe a minute after they were gone, Sarah came over and said something to Nereid. Nereid got up, and, before turning around, made one of her turquoise roses. She went back with Sarah toward the big table. I followed her.
Nereid approached Good Old Fred and she said to him, "I want to give you something, Monsieur Fred."
"That's sweet. You mean this flower?" He turned around in his chair. But Neri was a little too far away. He got up and took a step, bent down, and reached toward her.
Then Neried raised her arm and brought it down, driving her rose into his arm.
Neri stepped back. Fred just stood there, bent over, not saying anything. No one said anything, until Fred stood up straight, said "Aaaaacccccchhhhhh!" and tried to it out. But he couldn't.
Then the rose began pulsing, pumping, pushing some kind of venom into his arm. Fred staggered back. The Reverend's daughter caught him; Lord Seiya stepped up to help ease him down onto the carpeted floor. "Canddd Breeeedddd" was approximately the last thing Fred said, just before the rose dissolved into sparkling green mist. Minako started CPR.
Mom didn't come back until after the EMT team showed up—all women, by the way, something I still wonder about. The Doctors Mizuno talked to my mother. They had some papers. The younger one, "Auntie" Ami, bent down and held a chrome tube with lights next to Fred's head and said, "There are no alpha waves. He is brain dead. But he can help so many more. Please, there is so little time." My mom finally agreed and the EMTs wheeled Good Old Fred out. Mom had her head buried in her hands after she signed the consent form, but my eyes were open. And so were Fred's, I noticed, just as they took him away.
I never told Mom.
When we left Orlando three days later, just before we all split up, I saw the younger Dr. Mizuno fix her lipstick after seeing her mother off. She used blue lipstick, matching her hair. It came in a chrome tube, with little flashing lights. "A fad in Japan," she explained.
We came back from Orlando with only two souvenirs. One was Bugsy. Bugsy was one of the little bugbears that ate their way out of Dr. Huntaromo. He was imprinted on me. Two more were imprinted on Jan and Michelle, which goes a long way to explain why Michelle became a xenologist and Jan had to change schools so many times. That's how the bugbears raise their young; they select a patron for each larva.
Mom had a major meltdown, finally ending up in prison for six months for check fraud. But at her Gamblers Anonymous meetings after she made parole, she met another man named Fred. I was never wild about him, but gambling was his only big flaw. He stuck with my mom to the end. They had a girl together, and Mom insisted on naming her Chance.
The other souvenir is this candy dish. Whenever someone would ask what it was, Besu always said "Cocoanut?" Who can tell what it is under all this pink acrylic?
I became Naru's apprentice, and I followed her into her specialty. And now I am President Emeritus of the American Forensic Necromancy Association. Thanks to us, dead mean do tell tales, even if they aren't always admissible in court.
Good Old Fred became an organ donor. Thanks to his kidneys, a girl from Botswana and a man from Bridgeport, Connecticutt survived. His heart beat on for six more years in someone else's chest. His corneas gave sight back to two more people. His liver, divided, gave a newborn fourteen months to know love and a woman thirty-seven years. A man in Biloxi, Mississippi got one of his hands.
Good Old Fred was not a good man. But he had his good parts, I must admit, at least eight of them. When I think of it, almost nine.
Care for another mint?