Carmen could speak Spanish, as well as fair French, but English was her mother tongue. She'd grown up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, with side trips to Europe and the highest-class areas of the United States.
Carmen wanted to be more than another deb, and then another helpmeet to an executive like her father. She liked challenges. That was a big part of her decision to go into medicine. Once she had made her decision, she proceeded at warp speed, finishing high-school early and then getting her bachelor's in three years. She was in her third year of medical school when she first really started noticing Mamoru Chiba, though she had run across him before.
Chiba was gorgeous and he knew it, and he flirted shamelessly with every girl who would put up with it--and with older women. Carmen remembered that from her previous encounters. But now that he was starting medical school, she saw him more often, and discovered he was not what she had first thought. She noticed that he never left with any of the girls or women he flirted with. Stanford was quite sensitive to sexual harassment now, thanks to some bad publicity from a few years earlier. Carmen did have a friendly ear or two in Administration by her third year, and from them she found that Chiba didn't have any complaints filed on him. So, the flirting wasn't serious, and he was sensitive enough not to play his little game with anyone who might misunderstand.
Including herself, Carmen realized.
From that moment, Mamoru Chiba presented a challenge to Carmen Gonsoles. A lesser man would have been doomed . . .
Once Carmen had decided Mamoru Chiba was worth pursuing, at least for awhile, she took the direct approach. Noticing him in the hospital cafeteria, she sat down across from him and said, "Hi. I'm Carmen. Remember me?"
Chiba looked up from his meal and said, "Yes. You proctored Dr. Nan's last test, didn't you?"
"Yes," said Carmen, "But I've seen you around for ages."
He held out his hand, and she shook it. "Chiba Mamoru. Or Mamoru Chiba, as you style your names here."
Good. I couldn't call him by name before, or he would have known I'd been doing a little snooping. "Mamoru. Japanese?"
"Yes. I'm from Tokyo. I've lived in Japan most of my life. And you?"
Carmen replied, "From the wilds of Michigan. Grosse Pointe."
"Very rich wilds, I have heard," said Chiba.
"Yes." Sharp, not just in medicine . . . "Did you hear about the recital Friday night?"
"Would you like to go? Somebody gave me a couple of tickets." After I gave them a couple of hundred.
Chiba said, "Yes, but I'm afraid I already have tickets. And I'm going with someone. But it will be good to see you there. I'm sure you can find someone else who will want to go."
Carmen said, "Oh, I think that's a safe bet . . . Geez, it's later than I thought. Gotta run!"
"But your food?"
Carmen was more interested in a quick exit. "You can have what you want. See you!"
Ginger Han was not enthusiastic. "A recital? I was going to Shoreline to catch the Stones."
"The Stones? Are you going with your mother?" sneered Carmen.
Ginger said, "No, with Kenny. They have a couple of great warm-up bands, and, you know, maybe I'll get to see one of them die on stage."
"How could you tell?" asked Carmen rhetorically. "Ginny, you owe me. And Kenny?" Very low on the food chain, Kenny.
Ginger whined, "Well, I really wanted to go . . . why me? You could get a guy."
Carmen said, "I don't want just a guy. I want a particular guy."
"Then why not go with him?" asked Ginger.
"Because he's going with someone else," said Carmen.
"Oh, I see. You go with me, so I'm not in the way when you make your move." This was not the first time Carmen had used Ginger as a decoy.
Carmen said, "Yes, my lackey, that is my evil plan . . . do you have a formal that isn't too extreme?"
"You mean, that doesn't show off my boobs?" said Ginger Han.
"Yes, dairy queen."
Ginger began beating Carmen with a pillow.
Carmen and Ginger got to the recital just in time, and had to sit in the very back. Carmen could see that Chiba was sitting in the front row, next to a statuesque brown-haired girl only slightly shorter than himself. Carmen caught enough glimpses of her profile to see that she had an even larger bosom than Ginger. There was someone sitting at Mamoru's right, but the person was so short Carmen was not even sure of the sex until she caught a glimpse of a bare shoulder.
Once the recital started, Carmen paid more attention to the music. The violinist was clearly a prodigy, but not altogether pleasing; perhaps her style was too unconventional to be appreciated. She was icy, elegant, and almost supernaturally graceful. The pianist was technically flawless, but not at the level of his partner. Between pieces, Carmen said to Ginger, "He's good, but he needs more experience. And it sounds to me like he might be holding back to make her seem better."
"Who cares!" exclaimed Ginger. "Look at him!" She was all but licking her chops.
In the middle of the next piece, however, came an unexpected interruption. A baby wailed. The pianist got up and disappeared offstage. The violinist apologized to the audience. "I'm sorry, but our baby needs Haruka now." Then she played a couple of solo pieces without notes.
During the second break for applause, Carmen remarked. "She's better than I thought at first."
"Who cares. They have a baby," said a much-deflated Ginger Han.
"Yes," said Carmen, deciding to rub it in a bit. "She's quite the performer. Playing while her guy takes care of the kid."
"Yeah. What a guy . . . what's your guy doing?"
Chiba took the stage, exchanged a few words with the violinist, and then sat down at the piano. He played well, though clearly inferior to the tall blonde he had replaced.
When the recital ended, Carmen dragged Ginger up to the stage. She was dismayed to find not only the statuesque girl there first, but two more girls from the front row. There was a stunning raven-haired girl in a red silk cheongsam, plying a fan with elegant subtlety as she talked. Beside her was a blonde who practically oozed pheronomes, and yet conveyed innocence--big trouble! Both the girls seemed to know the violinist quite well--and Chiba. But Chiba was not so absorbed in them and the others on the stage to ignore Carmen. He introduced Carmen, and Carmen did the same for Ginger. That was about all that happened for awhile, from Carmen's viewpoint.
Then Chiba and the Violinist headed offstage in the direction the pianist had vanished. Carmen noticed that Ginger had disappeared. She followed Chiba as subtly as she could. She managed to catch up with him just as the violinist turned off the corridor into a side room, and a woman emerged from the same room.
Chiba stopped so quickly Carmen actually ran into his back before she could stop herself. She muttered an apology, but Chiba didn't seem to take notice. Instead, after a moment, he said, "Usako."
"Mamoru," said the woman--young, Carmen saw, but definitely a woman, complete with a child on her hip. She was shorter than Carmen but still tall for a woman. She had blond hair, the same shade as Carmen's. The woman also had blue eyes, though a deeper blue than Carmen's, and set under almond lids. She was wearing a simple black dress, barely a formal. The child was a little girl, in a little middie-dress. She was perhaps a year old, with strawberry-blond curls, and light brown eyes which looked at Carmen . . . and seemed to look through her, as well. Carmen Gonsoles shivered for a moment, before she was able to rationalize away the odd moment of perception. Then she blinked, stepping back just a bit, and said, "Your little one has good lungs."
The woman in black replied, "If you mean, she cries very loudly, she does, when she cries. But it was Haruka's baby that you heard. Sarah seldom cries. Not much scares my little moon." The woman glanced back at Chiba, who bent down for a moment to kiss the head of the child, and then went into the room.
Instead of following Chiba, Carmen stayed in place. The young woman was an element she had not anticipated. "Are you Chiba's ex? Is this his kid?"
"We were engaged once, but, no, Sarah is not his child."
Carmen noticed that two of the girls he had seen earlier passed her on either side, and formed up on either side of the woman in black: Rei, the girl in the cheongsam, and Minako, the first blonde. A third person passed, and stood between her and the woman with the child, someone she had barely noticed. She was an older child, pre-adolescent, and she looked fragile, but she was another one with unsettling eyes, which were so dark it was hard to see they had pupils--although when light caught them, Carmen could see that they were actually not black but a very deep purple.
The woman in black put a hand out on the shoulder of the girl, who was also in black, and said, "It is all right, Hotaru. Carmen means no harm."
Carmen put on a smile, and then went into the room Chiba had entered. Inside, she found Mamoru speaking with the violinist and the pianist. The pianist was sitting with his back to Carmen, with the violinist at his side, and both were facing Chiba. The jacket he had worn was hanging on the back of his chair. Ginger Han was also in front of the pianist, staring at him. While Carmen was wondering why Ginger seemed transfixed, Chiba kissed the violinist on the cheek, and then bent down to do the same to the pianist.
Oh, no. Bi-guy. How did I miss that? Carmen made up her mind to cut her losses and retreat, but she had to get Ginger first, who seemed to be hypnotized.
"Ginny, there you are," she said, passing by the pianist to grab Ginger's wrists. "I wondered where you'd run off to. Come on, we've got to get going, remember? Remember?"
Ginger took the hint at last. "Oh, yeah. Uh, nice to meet you guys."
"I am sorry I could not play the whole recital, but Titania needed me," Carmen heard the pianist say.
"She just won't take the bottle sometimes," said the violinist. Carmen had turned back just in time to see the violinist finish her comment by caressing the infant's head.
The infant that the pianist had at her breast.
Carmen, of course, would dig at Ginger mercilessly for weeks for mistaking the pianist for a man, even though she had made the same mistake. She would actually convince Ginger she had known from the first.
But that evening wasn't quite over. Carmen had come up with a fallback plan: ambush Chiba on his way out of the recital hall. When he came out, however, he was with none of the girls she had noticed. Instead, he was with a little mouse of a girl with glasses, who hung on his arm as if she were afraid to lose him.
She decided to let him run free, for the moment. Taking a man away from a little mouse like that would be like drowning a kitten. But if Chiba left her, Carmen would be ready for another run at him.
Medical school was hard work, even for someone as brilliant as Carmen Gonsoles. She did not have a lot of time to brood over the problem of Mamoru Chiba, and she did not lack for dates when she wanted them. None of the young men or not-so-young men she went out with really interested her, though. Carmen found she could manipulate every one of them with hardly an effort. Some of them were nice enough for her to try to fix up with Ginger Han, but they would never do as steady fare for Carmen.
Several months after the recital, Carmen saw Chiba with the girl who had worn the red cheongsam and plied the fan. They were walking arm-in-arm.
A few days after that, in the plaza outside the campus bookstore, Carmen spotted the mousy girl at a table, eating a sandwich while she read. Carmen went to her. "Excuse me. Didn't I see you with Mamoru Chiba once or twice?"
The girl looked up at her, a little startled. She recovered in a moment, and answered. "Yes. I remember Mamoru introducing you. Carmen Gonsoles? You are in third-year?"
Carmen said, "Yes . . . I'm afraid I've forgotten your name. I've hardly seen you with Chiba since. He seems to keep you a secret."
The mouse said, "I don't like to go out that often. And Mamoru and I are no longer together."
"I'm sorry," said Carmen.
The mouse said, "Why? It is not your fault. Do you want to sit down?"
"Uhhh . . . Yeah. Thanks." Once she had settled in place, Carmen said, "Listen . . . I saw Chiba with someone else a few days ago. I think she was at the recital."
The mouse said, "Hino-san. He is dating Hino Rei now, mostly."
Carmen asked, "How well do you know her?"
"She is one of my best friends."
Carmen said, "Hell of a friend, to take him away from you."
The mouse retorted, "She did not take Mamoru away. I broke up with him."
"You did? Why, on earth?" Chiba was too big a fish to casually throw back in the water.
Ami the mouse-girl, who had been nibbling at her sandwich and reading her book all through this--a biochemical text in German--put down her sandwich and closed her book. "Why are you so interested in Mamoru?"
Carmen recoiled slightly. The mouse seemed to have turned into a cat for the moment, and Carmen wondered if she should find a hidey-hole. But the girl was smiling in a sly but benign way . . . "He's interesting. I thought I might like to go out with him sometime."
The girl said, "Yes . . . you are very pretty, and smart, and you are going to be a doctor, like Mamoru or me. And you are Mamoru's age. Mamo-chan was always uncomfortable with us being younger."
The girl said, "Usagi and I. And Hino-san, now."
"Usagi?" Carmen wondered what she had started here.
"She was Mamoru's fiancee." The girl lost most of her smile.
"The one with the baby? I mean . . ." Carmen had put the strange encounter in the back of her mind, but now she remembered.
"Yes, Usagi has a baby," said the girl.
"But not his," said Carmen. She remembered that, now . . .
Carmen sat in silence for several moments. Discovering that she had the initiative again, she asked, "Why did you break up with him? I mean, I didn't see you with him very much, but you looked like you wanted him a lot. Like you really loved him."
The girl said, "I will always love Mamo-chan. But that does not mean we should be together."
Carmen asked, "What was it? Was he seeing someone else on the side?"
"No. He was not cheating on me."
"Then what?" asked Carmen.
The girl sighed, took of her glasses, and kneaded the bride of her nose for a moment. "When we made love, he would call me 'Usako.' Not always, but . . ."
"Then he was cheating?" said Carmen.
"No," said the girl. "He was faithful to me. But Usagi still holds his heart."
Carmen said, "If he still loves this Usako or Usagi or whoever, why doesn't he just get back together with her?"
"Usagi will not allow it," said the girl, quite forcefully.
Carmen thought about that for a few moments. The girl said nothing more, but waited for her to respond. Finally Carmen asked her about what she thought of Stanford, and that led to quite a long conversation. Carmen found she liked Ami the little mouse, and made it a point in the following weeks to speak with her whenever she got the opportunity, even when she wasn't checking out Chiba.
While Carmen was getting to know Ami, the police in Palo Alto were puzzling over a murder. A man was found on a trail near the Stanford Campus. The police had no problem identifying him: Luther Ponds had a thick record of arrests. He was also an informant, which explained why he had been out of jail. It also might explain why he was dead.
It couldn't explain how. Ponds had drowned. How he had managed to do this miles from any body of water was a question that remained unanswered.
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