DR. HAROLD WATANABE was quite used to seeing police, since he did so much work with them. But he was very surprised when the unfamiliar detective sergeant began asking him the wrong sort of questions. "When? Ah—weeks ago. Let's see—can I look at my calendar?"
"You don't remember without it?"
"I live by my calendars; my life is too complicated to carry around in my head . . . here it is, see?" He brought up the page on the screen of his largest monitor.
The detective wrote something down. He had known enough detectives by now to know they often wrote down nonsense, and his hunch was that nonsense was what this one was scribbling. Before Dr. Watanabe could put together a question of his own, the detective had another. "Can you tell me what you did that day?"
"Well, what my notes say. I visited several group homes."
"There's not much on each case"
"That would be in my case files. They are confidential. You know that, of course. What is this about?"
"Just let me ask all my questions first, Okay? Can you tell me what happened after you finished your last visit?"
"Well, I had an accident. Slipped on something in a bathroom and conked my head. That I certainly haven't forgotten. It must be in your files; I remember police there.
"Yes, it's in the files . . . but what about Ms. Chilicothe?"
"Why, she . . . Hmmmmm . . . she wasn't there. She wasn't at that last visit."
"Really? Wasn't she supposed to be? It says so in your notes there."
"Yes, she was . . . You've got sharp eyes . . . I'm sorry, I don't remember why she didn't come . . . " In fact, he realized he remembered very little about the woman at all—yet he had recognized the name. "I don't remember . . . I don't really remember much about that day at all, even looking at this. Maybe that concussion took a little more out of me than I thought . . ."
"Well, that's possible . . . when is the last time you are sure you saw her? . . . Doctor?"
"Sorry . . . I'm sorry. I don't remember seeing her that day."
"You're saying she wasn't with you at all?" <"Sisters?" What did that mean?>
"No, I'm saying I don't remember . . ."
"Your notes say—"
"Yes, they do. I must have uploaded these from my PDA. But nothing about that last visit, except this . . ."
"What does that mean? 'mtwsaa?'"
"I don't know. I make these abbreviations all the time, but I forget them sometimes. I don't know what I meant . . . all a blank." He turned back to the cop and read his face. "Has something happened to her?"
"Don't stonewall me, Arteminski. I can find the story with one phone call. All you'll do is annoy me."
The cop flipped shut his little notebook. "She hasn't been seen since that day, Dr. Watanabe. Now that I've seen your records, you are the last known person to have seen her."
<Seen her alive>, Watanabe almost responded. He didn't say it aloud, but the cop could see that he wanted to say it. Arteminski struck him as a smart investigator; he wondered how he couldn't have met him before. But of course, they would send someone he hadn't worked with, if they could.
He made a call.
"I need a favor . . ."
"Can you recommend a good defense attorney?"
Going over his files late at night, Harold Watanabe began wondering if the police had already been through them—suddenly encryption didn't seem like such a paranoid idea. His computer records for the last group home were gone—just an empty folder. He went through his hardcopy and found most of what he was looking for—but he also noticed something else. He was a stickler for aligning his folder tabs, but there were some gaps now . . . three. One of them had to be the file on his doings with Ms. Chilicothe—though he couldn't seem to remember much about it, or the woman. The other two . . . What?
He mused about the concept of the blind spot. He felt there was something he should be seeing in his mind's eye, but couldn't—it was where he just couldn't see it.
<The judge>, he thought. The judge had something to do with it . . . but calling her again didn't seem a good idea. He had just used up his favor. If he called again, expecially so soon, she would feel she had to tell the police . . .
He shrugged. <Go back to that last foster home.>
Dr. Watanabe sat in his car outside the Gant home for awhile before getting out. There didn't seem to be any police watching, but he wouldn't be able to spot them if they were good . . . <Is it paranoia when they are really after you?> He smiled at the wry thought. But he waited a few minutes longer, listening to the loud voices through the open window. He began to remember the Gants . . . a good record with fairly tough cases. They had to be turning a profit on their operation, but the system wasn't going to begrudge them that unless they got on the wrong side of some administrator.
As he waited for the yelling to stop, a car pulled up. The driver looked like a teenager, but the car was no street machine; it was a nondescript hatchback, more than ten years old, with some primer patches showing some body work that hadn't been repainted. There was a fresh bumper-sticker that read "USMC." Three girls and another boy got out. He recognized the boy and the girl who headed directly into the house: they were in his case files. The two who stayed by the car to talk with the driver for the moment, he couldn't place—but he he was sure he had seen them before.
After the old car drove away, the two girls waited for another few moments, talking with each other. The taller, older one, attractive with long blond hair put a hand on the smaller, younger one's head—that one had strawberry blond hair, almost pink, and resembled the other one. <Sisters?>.
"Yes . . . Don't you remember us?" the older one asked. Was she mocking him? She seemed to have a heavy Japanese accent.
The smaller one spoke—in Japanese. "You are the one who fell and hit his head." She had light brown eyes, but with the epicanthic folds of an East Asian. But aside from the color, they were set the same way in her face as the older girl's cobalt blue eyes—and both girls had eyes that seemed a little large.
The girl spoke again. "Why have you come here again?" This time it was in English, with an even thicker accent.
"I just want to check up on things here. Did I ever see you two as patients?"
The older one answered, "I saw you a long time ago."
The older girl answered, "I lost my memory."
"You did—yes, I remember something about that . . . I'm afraid that bump on the head did more damage than I thought."
"You sent Sarah here hoping I would remember her. I do . . . I do not remember everything, but I remember her."
"Oh . . . that's good."
The younger one spoke again, in Japanese. "You do not remember that, do you?"
"No . . . no, not really."
The younger one said, "I am so sorry . . . If you come inside, I can make some chocolate for you."
"Thank you." He accepted the offer. They led him inside to the kitchen, and the smaller one made hot chocolate while the bigger one talked about what was going on at her school and the smaller one's school—girlish gossip, the sort of thing his daughters could go on about for hours. Then they left him to talk with the Gants.
The Gants were nervous to have him dropping in unexpectedly. He asked them about all their charges, and they told him what he expected they would, except for the two odd ones he had talked to first—the Gants were very happy having them. Then he got to his real point. "Do you remember Ms. Chilicothe being here with me on my last visit?"
"Ms. Chilicothe. A social worker. She—" he realized he had entirely forgotten exactly what her function was. "She worked with me on occasion."
"No, I don't remember any such woman. Vic?"
"Doesn't ring a bell with me, Doc. Maybe she was here some other time—we get so many of them coming here, it's hard to keep them straight."
"Vic's got that right. I've seen kids go through five, six different case workers. Why do you want to know?"
"I can't remember much of what happened on my last visit here. Probably because of the concussion. Anyway—you're sure neither of you remembers Ms. Chilicothe?"
"What did she look like?"
"Ahhh—rather short, brown hair, blue eyes. I'm afraid I'm not very good at physical descriptions. I think she liked to wear brown. And she wore glasses." Dr. Watanabe was really describing the one photograph of the woman his research had uncovered.
"That could be a dozen different women I know," said Mrs. Gant.
"Why are you asking?" inquired Mr. Gant.
"Oh, I'm a nitpicker. I was going through my records and found some contradictions. I'm afraid I don't remember much more about the last time I was here than getting taken to the hospital."
He had all but forgotten about the odd pair of sisters by the time he was ready to leave, but they met him again outside.
"Watanabe-san, we would like to ask you a favor," said the blond one in perfect Japanese.
"Our records have been lost, and we have no proof we are sisters. Could you have someone do a DNA test? We don't want to be taken away from each other."
<Taken away. Something—>
The little one stared at him very intensely. "Please, it is so important. We are all the family we have in this world. It would help keep us together. Please keep us together."
"Well, I suppose . . ."
"I'll see what I can do."
DNA matching was, of course, expensive. But Stanford University was a center of genetic research. He made a few calls. Finally an old friend told him he could have one of his graduate students take care of it. She could work in the tests as part of an advanced class.
Ateminski the detective didn't return that week, or the next, or the next. But he did pay a visit to the Gant home one school day, long before Usagi or Chibi-Usa came home. He remembered what he did there. Dr. Watanabe didn't find about it until another month had gone by.
By then Dr. Watanabe had almost stopped worrying. But he made up for lost time, because he found his contacts in the police and the courts would tell him nothing about Ms. Chilicothe.
But he had found out a little more about Barbara Chilicothe. She had family, although out of the state. He actually called them, using a false name and a false story, from a public phone. They hadn't heard from her for some time, but weren't particularly worried—she wasn't much of a writer, and seldom called. They mentioned an ex-husband, but he turned out to be a dead end. Dead, in fact, for a couple of years. No children of her own . . .
Taking a closer look at his cases and other records, he found scattered references to her going back for at least three years. Yet she remained behind that blind spot in his mind's eye . . . he could summon no direct memory of what she had looked like, or sounded like. The photograph he had found was of a woman of ordinary appearance—pleasant-looking but nondescript. She didn't look like someone with whom he was likely to have had any romantic involvement. But he had walled off that part of his life since his wife had passed away. He had never let his daughters know about any of the women he had been involved with since their mother. He'd trained himself not to think of them, or of other disruptive things in his life, while he was with them. Was he walling off something from his own consciousness? He'd seen that often enough, though he didn't really believe that truly divided personalities existed.
His daughters. He had quite forgotten about them in his latest late-night research. He looked in on them. He found that Stephanie, his youngest, still in her day clothes, asleep on her bed amid a pile of Japanese comics, manga. She had left the lights on. Rather than wake her up and scold her, he removed the manga from her bed and put the quilt over her. He gathered the rest of the scattered manga up, and decided to take them with him—she really shouldn't be staying up so late. He shut off the last of the lights just before he closed the door.
He was going to lock them away in his files for a few days, but as he got back to his study, the scene of so much worrying about the detective and his lost memories, he wondered if he was being too severe. He began to look through them. They all featured mostly girls, drawn with that large round-eyed look peculiar to most Japanese cartoons. Many had absurdly-colored hair, probably to help differentiate the characters, since the faces were mostly done very much in the same, conventional way.
Most of the comics he had gathered had the same character on the cover, a silly-looking thing with two long blond ponytails descending from two buns on the top of her head—she usually had some red things in them. Looking inside, he began to follow the stories . . . and began to grow concerned. They were far more sophisticated than he had imagined, when the fantasy and rubber science were stripped away. They weren't hentai, the sexually explicit cartoons he knew of (and found disgusting), but they were really far more adult-oriented than he had imagined. And while there was far more romance, there was violence, and even death. The girl with the ponytails and her friends could and did kill.
He spent far longer going through the manga than he had thought he would; in fact, he read every one of the manga featuring the ponytailed girl, Sailor Moon, some more than once. It was dawn when he realized how long he had taken . . .
Instead of locking the manga up, he put them on the kitchen table, and began making a pancake breakfast. It was a school day—and a workday—but it was a day off for his housekeeper/nanny. The girls wandered down one-by-one when they smelled their favorite breakfast, but they didn't say much to him, or even each other.
He realized he had grown distant from them. This thing with the obscure social worker was a blight on his life. And what about the missing case files? Who had they been? They were hiding behind that blind spot . . .
He noticed that all his daughters were reading the manga while they ate, despite his rule against reading at the family table. He almost scolded them, but thought better of it. Then he looked at the cover of one of the manga . . . it was the pony-tailed girl, Sailor moon, and a smaller girl who looked quite like her, except the hair and eyes were a little different—the hair was pink, and the eyes were red. She was supposed to be the daughter "from the future" of the blonde one, Sailor Moon. A peculiar sidekick, one of the wierder elements of the storyline.
What did that remind him of? Who did that remind him of?