AFTER TWO WEEKS of summer vacation, Usagi was miserable for several reasons.
First, her foster parents were mad more often, with everyone out of school and at home more. They usually didn't start out mad at her or Chibi-Usa, but they were snappy almost all the time, and anything might provoke a tongue-lashing or worse.
Second, she never had enough money—now she was prowling the thrift stores, flea markets, and garage sales for not only herself, but for Chibi-Usa. They wouldn't let her work any more hours at the fast food place, and they said Chibi-Usa/Sarah was too young (if only they knew how old she really was . . .)
Third, she was lonely again. Of course, there was Chibi-Usa, but there was only so much they could take of each other, no matter how desperately important each was to the other. They began to bicker over tiny things, and spend hours not talking.
Fourth, she missed Jimmy. She realized he was the only friend she had made after coming to this world, and that made her feel lost, no matter how much she told herself that it was better Jimmy had gone away.
Fifth, she was bored so much of the time, which probably went a long way to explaining the third point. She felt like reading all the books okasan and otousan had always recommended, but her foster home had no books, and the neighborhood library had a very poor selection in Japanese. English was still too much work to be a pleasure to read.
Television was ruled by her foster parents when they were around and by the meanest foster kids when they weren't. Usagi or even Chibi-Usa could beat up any of the mean ones, but they wouldn't do it just for that.
Movies took money, unless you sneaked in, which was something Usagi wouldn't do.
And if she just sat around looking bored, one of her foster parents would nearly always come up with yet another chore to fill her time. And Chibi-Usa's. They were the only foster kids who really did any work around the house now.
Besides, the weather was bad. There hadn't been rain for a long time; the weather was hot; the smog was bad; every time she and Chibi-Usa rode their old bikes somewhere, they were covered in dust by the time they got there. Because of the dust, there was twice as much laundry to do. <And guess who does all the washing and ironing now, Usagi thought as she saw two other foster-girls sneaking out, as Usagi started ironing the skirt one of them had worn the day before. Any "permanent press" had long ago been washed out of the secondhand clothes they all wore.
Dr. Watanabe came to see Usagi and Chibi-Usa a month into summer. He showed up unexpectedly, along with a social worker, a woman Usagi vaguely remembered. They spent a long time talking to their foster parents. Then Dr. Watanabe spent a few minutes with Usagi, and asked to speak with Chibi-Usa alone. The social worker led Usagi away, and then went back into the room, where they were doing their interviews.
The interview went on for a long time. Her foster parents started to tell her to go outside, but she shushed them without thinking much about it—it was Chibi-Usa on her mind. Again, she could hear no more than a word here and there, but she could tell that Chibi-Usa was getting more and more upset . . . as Usagi was herself . . .
ALEX BOGARDUS and his shotgun Betty Black (who was black, and a "betty" as well as a Betty) arrived on the scene to find a cop car already there. "Must be a donut shop around here," he said, joking but irritated nevertheless—he prided himself on beating the cops to a medical 911 call, and did, more often than not.
"Must be," Betty drawled. She usually talked slow, but moved fast when she had to—very fast. They were at the door in no more than fifteen seconds. "All right, ladies and gents, what do we have?" he called out, and then coughed as soon as he took in a breath. When he managed to stop he said, "What in the name of . . ." and he began coughing again.
"Sorry, sorry. Vacuum creaner go bad. Dust everywhere. Sorry, we have not creaned up yet." "Yes, big mess, stirr crean," said a couple of very dusty girls—one of them was wearing a bathing suit. A bathing suit?
The cops were coughing, too, but also laughing. "Well, I guess Bogie and Black Betty must be off their feed . . ."
Bogardus said, "Bite me, Peng. Is this our guy?"
Officer Perez said, "Yeah. Head bang. I think he's okay, though."
Black said. "Well, thank you for your consultation . . . Sir? Sir? What is your name sir."
Betty Black snapped, "Let us do our job, Peng, will you?" She had gentler words for the patient. "Sir? Can you tell me your name."
The patient finally responded: "Watanabe. Harold Watanabe . . . I think I know you. Betty, is it?"
"I'm unforgettable. Could you answer my partner's questions?" she said, slipping the blood-pressure sleeve over him.
The police went back to interviewing everyone, but they saved the girls for last because they were cleaning out the damnable dust—no one else in the house seemed to be lifting a finger. Officer Peng was interested to find one of the foster kids was one she had busted for shoplifting just three months before. She talked her into returning the Doctor's wallet before she did anything official—a bust would just be more paperwork.
By the time she and her partner got to the dusty girls, the EMTs had already taken Dr. Watanabe away, and it was so apparent that all the stories matched that they asked only a few questions. The girls who were doing all the work did their best to brush the dust off their uniforms before they left.
Vera Gant waited until the police left to start her own inquisition. "How the hell did you managed to screw up a vacuum cleaner?" she asked the Kino girls.
"Not our fault. It just blow up," said the little one. "I take out back and throw dirt on it. Afraid it start fire."
"Jesus H—Do you know how much it cost?"
"No," said the bigger one. "Maybe I call Mrs. Farb now?"
"Why would you do that?"
"You borrowed vacuum cleaner from Mrs Farb, many month ago," said the little one, quietly.
"Oh, I forgot . . ."
"You want me to call Mrs. Farb now?" asked the big one again.
"No, no . . . I'll do it later . . . Don't say anything about this to her . . . I remember—"
"You had a very bad dream, Vera-san," said the smaller one. "You took a nap and had a very bad dream. That was when vacuum cleaner blow up. Do you remember dream?"
"Some . . . "
"Maybe better forget bad dream."
"It was only a bad dream, Vera-san," added the big one.
"Vera-san, what you want me cook for dinner?" asked the small one.