|A Year and Change|
|The Pig Woman|
Kate Warfield was off-balance for a moment, but only for a moment. "Give Sharon one of the small cameras."
"They'll be more likely to let her in." Warfield had not expected to be admitted, but she could not clawed her way up as far as she had without taking unexpected opportunities.
The producer complied, asking, "Should I wait?"
"Why not?" asked Warfield, irritated.
Her producer said, "Joel wants to do a hooker story. I have to set up a night shoot."
Warfield sighed. "Another hooker story. God bless sweeps."
"Amen. So, do you want me to stay?"
Joel Harris was on his way down, but he still had more clout than her with the executive producer. But, <you get lemons, make lemonade.> "Take off right now. That way, I can at least stay long enough to get a cab."
"Right. See you in the morning?"
"Yes. At nine. I want whatever we get to go out tomorrow."
Roland Descartes smoothed back his hair—he had not even bothered to pocket a comb today—and waited to receive the nuisance of a reporter he had so gladly escaped the day before. <Nothing for it,> thought Roland. His manager had only reminded him of a fact of life for every performer: it was unwise to offend the press. Fighting with a reporter, except in good humor, was never an intelligent move. So, he would endure this one.
The front door opened. She had brought only one crewperson, a plumpish young woman who reminded him slightly of the creole maiden who had favored him in Rio: mostly white, but with just a touch of African blood to give her full lips, creamy tan skin, and wavy dark hair. Seeing that Mrs. Jones—a widow, he now recalled—was hesitating, he took over the situation by swinging the door wide and saying, "Come inside, come inside." The reporter and her camera operator complied, as Mrs. Jones stepped back.
Then the reporter did something unexpected. Instead of turning to Roland, she drew up to Mrs. Jones. "Excuse me, would you be Mrs. Marvell Jones?"
"My name is Jones, but my husband's name was Kevin."
"Kevin Jones, the brother of Marvell Jones?" asked the reporter.
"Yes, they were brothers."
"Kevin seems to have provided for you well," said the reporter.
<What was this woman up to?> thought Roland
Mrs. Jones shook her head. "Kevin left me three wonderful children, but he had very little else to leave us."
"Then how are you able to live here?" asked the reporter.
Mrs. Jones said, "I live as the guest of my stepfather, Mr. Alvarson. And, now, Mr. Descartes is also his guest. I am sure you would rather talk to him today. I have a very ordinary life, I am afraid."
The reporter said, "An ordinary life? Your husband was assassinated last year. Two years ago, you and your husband survived another assassination attempt."
Mrs. Jones was upset, but Roland saw an immense dignity in her he had not suspected. "My husband was killed because of his brother, not for anything he did himself. I do not know all of what he did before we married. What wife does know everything of her husband? What I do know of Kevin is that he loved me very much, that he was wonderful with children, and that he did the best he could with what he had. And I know I miss him, very much."
Roland could see no hint of sympathy in the reporter's eyes, but he noticed the camera operator sniff, and "adjust" her camera for a few moments.
Kate Warfield paused for a moment, noticing her camera operator was not shooting. There was no use going on if it wasn't on tape. She did not miss that slight sound of sympathy. <Have to talk to Sharon about this later,> she thought. Something else was on her mind, too. <I've seen this Jones woman myself before, but where?>
Somewhere from above, the air was filled with the sound of babies, some crying, some just yelling. Mrs. Jones suddenly moved off very quickly. Descartes was looking at her, and he was not wearing any of the public faces she had seen before. With a slight signal, she made sure her camera operator got that face before he could put another on.
"Mr. Descartes, were you aware of these facts?"
Roland Descartes said, "Pardon," and backed away from the entrance. Adrienne was calling down to him from the walkway, in French, asking about the people who had just come in. He called back, "Just someone interviewing me. Go back to your lessons." But he did not put the urgency he would have liked into that command, and he found that the reporter and her camerawoman had moved inside with him. Instead of moving back from the railing, Adrienne turned to Titania, who had come up beside her, and Nereid . . . and Michiru, and Anne Marie, each of them with one of the infants. Michiru said something to Nereid that Roland could not make out. Whatever it was that Michiru said, it sent her daughter racing down the stairs, passing Mrs. Jones on the way up.
"Is that your wife, Mr. Descartes?" pressed the reporter.
Roland was caught off-balance. "Yes—pardon? Oh, my wife is working on a motor caravan."
<Blast, she almost caught me there!>
Kate Warfield was mildly irritated with the Frenchman for walking away, but discovering his family was here was more than recompense. Except for Titania's occasional performances, there was little exposure of Descartes' children.
Warfield was even more pleased when, instead of retreating, the party came downstairs. One of the girls—<Michiru's daughter?>—raced down ahead, and then ran across the enormous main room to disappear behind a stairway on the opposite side.
Warfield spoke French, something she did not intend to reveal. She spoke several other tongues passably, including enough Japanese to recognize it. She did not understand the language Michiru was conversing in as she descended the stairs, although she did catch a little Japanese being exchanged with the girl she recognized, Titania. But only a little; what she understood was merely "Be polite." The Frenchman spoke the unknown language, but not as fluently as the others. He broke into French as the others joined him. He was saying, "I am sorry, but she seems to be important here. Andrea warned me about her."
Sharon Canday was bored by the interview once it began, and wished she had more opportunity to "film" the home. The video recorder she was using was small but very sophisticated; it recorded using the latest compression methods, so it could squeeze as much as four hours on a single small cassette. She had two spares, and she wondered if she would get to use one of them.
Sharon noticed that Warfield had pulled in her horns a bit, probably because of the children. Privately, Jennifer thought Warfield's "touch" with children was pure artifice. But she pulled it off well enough to suggest a pause because one of the babies was particularly fussy.
A tall man smelling of oil and gasoline came and kissed the baby who was fussing so much. He—no, she exchanged words with the others, and then rushed away.
Sharon was so curious she actually asked a question. "What was that about?"
The lady with the green hair, Michiru, answered. "Hecate wants to nurse. Haruka has to clean up first."
Warfield broke in. "Excuse me, that was your wife?"
"Oui," answered the Frenchman. He was holding the fussing baby now, trying to comfort it. "Hecate can be quite insistent at times." He spoke soothingly to the infant in French.
Michiru reached out to rub the prodigy Titania's head. "She was the same when she was so small." The girl blushed.
The Frenchman might be a dog with woman, but he seemed to be good with children. The baby settled down enough for Warfield to start the interview again.
Katherine Warfield said to Michiru, "I met a Mrs. Kevin Jones when I came in, Ms. Meiou. Are you acquainted?"
Michiru said, "Yes. Minako and I have been friends for many years."
Warfield said, "Really? And her late husband?"
Michiru said, "I did not know him as well, I am afraid. He was a kind, considerate man."
At that particular moment, Roland began amusing himself by picturing the pig of a reporter as a pig. It was a trick that had helped him endure many fools over the years. He also wondered when Haruka would be back.
There were the sounds of activity—older children. Sharon Canday glanced away from her viewfinder for a moment.
Titania watched Katherine Warfield as if she were a snake. But her older half-sister feigned indifference and looked away. She was the only one who saw it. Or perhaps, the only one who saw it and knew what to look for, now. Adrienne saw Hecate's eyes light up, for just an instant, just the slightest change in tone.
Sure enough, a second later, the Warfield woman stopped talking. She retched. Adrienne asked the woman, "Are you ill?" She asked it in French, without thinking. And without thinking, the woman answered in French. Adrienne then volunteered, "Let me show you the bathroom." And she led the horrible woman away, swallowing a smirk.
The others watched as Haruka trotted into the nursery and closed the door behind her quickly.
"Is that reporter still here?" asked Naru.
Haruka said, "Yes, but she got sick suddenly. I took Hecate from Roland and got out as quickly as I could"
"Sick?" Naru had a slightly suspicious tone.
Haruka sat down, opened her robe, and began to nurse Hecate. She did not answer until Hecate was well-settled. "Adrienne thinks she used her magic on the reporter. Do you think that is possible?"
Naru said, "Yes." She paused a moment, concentrating on a spell. "I think she has. Her aura is different now. She has worked magic or tried to."
Haruka smiled ruefully, and kissed Hecate on her still mostly hairless head. "You naughty girl," she said in mock anger. Then she addressed her friends. "Roland says the reporter is a swine, but that she is important. He will try to keep her controlled . . . Do either of you know of her? Her name is Kate Warfield. I don't know of her."
Hotaru spoke up. "I know of her. She is from what they call a tabloid show here."
"Really?" remarked Haruka. "And when did you start watching such worthless things?" Haruka was imitating Michiru.
"I had a lot of time with nothing better to do waiting for this one to come," said Hotaru, tickling Rhea into a bubbly giggle. "But Descartes-san is right. She is popular."
Minako said, "She is also mean. I remember now, I tripped her once when she was bothering Lisette after her press conference. I hope she doesn't remember that."
"Should I have Chibi-Usa make her forget?" asked Usagi, wheeling inside. She was in some difficulty; it was crowded. "Gin-chan is right; we should take out that wall and make a bigger room."
"No, it is not that important," answered Minako.
"Not that important?" retorted Usagi. "Not that important! I can't even turn around in here now! I think."
Minako said, "I meant about the reporter. Chibi-Usa should not use her powers just to help me out of a little trouble."
"It is crowded. Some of us could leave," suggested Hotaru. "Tenou-san, would you come with me?"
Haruka was caught a little short by Hotaru's formal form of address, but it was, after all, correct. "Yes, Tomoe-san. Of course."
They were quiet as they slipped out onto the walkway. Haruka glanced down and saw that the reporter had not returned to the main room, although the woman with the camera was talking with Michiru and Roland and the children—she could make out that they were speaking French, for the most part. Still, the reporter could return at any moment.
Haruka followed Hotaru to her room. She suspected Hotaru was using her powers to make their transit quieter still, but she did not ask.
Warfield had sent the child away as soon as she could speak. Perhaps it was not the smartest decision, because Kate was in dire straits, but she did not want anyone to see her so.
<What brought this on?> she wondered, as she finally began to recover a little. It was far from the first time she had had to tackle nausea. After rinsing out her mouth, she drew a glass of warm water and began to drink it, a little at a time. Her stomach seemed to be settling. But her nose was feeling peculiar, and she had a devilish itch between her nether cheeks, one that she found herself scratching before she thought . . .
Sharon Canday wondered how long she should wait before checking on Warfield. But she found that Descartes, Michiru, and their older children to be pleasant company, and they all seemed to be able to follow her Cajun French.
"So, you are from Louisiana, then?" asked Descartes.
"Actually Texas. There are quite a lot of us in East Texas. But my folks came from Louisiana. I used to spend my summers with my grandparents. That is how I really learned to speak French." She caught movement overhead, and saw a face over the railing. It was Descartes' wife, who had rushed in, grabbed her infant, and headed upstairs only moments after Warfield had left. <Hiding,> she thought. <I don't blame her.>
"Texas?" said Descartes. "I have been there, too . . ."
Haruka did not have to nurse Hecate long at all. In fact, she did not get to nurse enough; she used a breast pump to finish what Hecate had started. "She wasn't really hungry," Haruka explained, looking down at her infant, asleep again. "She's a great sleeper. She reminds me of how odongo atama used to be."
Hotaru watched Rhea endlessly arrange and rearrange the colored blocks she had brought for her. She finally asked the question. "Haruka-papa, should I let Shingo go?"
Haruka was not surprised by the question itself, but by it coming now. "That is your decision. But I do not think Shingo wants to leave you."
Hotaru did not look at her. "This is different from you and Descartes-san. Shingo is not just having fun with Mika. He loves her."
Haruka said, "I do love Descartes-san, you know. Why else would I put up with him?"
Hotaru said, "You do not love him like you love Michiru-mama."
"No. I could never love anyone else like that. But I have come to love my husband. As has Michiru, in her own way." Haruka reached out to touch Hotaru's cheek for a moment. "I do not think that parting from Shingo would make you happy, or would make Shingo happy, or would even make Mika happy."
Hotaru said, "I think Michiru-mama thinks--"
Haruka said, "She is very angry with Shingo. But do not think that means she does not agree with me about this."
At last Hotaru looked at her. She said, "How do you feel about Descartes-san being with other women?"
Haruka shrugged. "I would rather he gave that up. Certainly Michiru does."
"Does he really love you?" asked Hotaru.
Haruka's pause was longer. "Yes. He loves us. Both of us. We are both part of his family now, and he is a good family man, whatever else he is."
"I would think that would make it worse," said Hotaru.
"In some ways, it does . . . but Roland is Roland."
Hotaru looked back at Rhea for a moment or two, and said, "Maybe we should move to France, the three of us. Five of us, with Rhea and Mika's baby."
Haruka said, "Shingo is not Roland. And it is not that much easier for us in Paris."
Hotaru looked back at Haruka and smiled. "It was only a thought."
Haruka smiled back, and then sighed. She got up carefully, saying, "Would you watch Hecate for a few minutes? I'm going to change and go downstairs."
"Why not stay up here with me?" asked Hotaru.
Haruka said, "It would be much more pleasant, but I should not let Michiru face that reporter without me."
Kate Warfield returned and continued her questioning, mostly of the children at first, until a flock of other children arrived from school. Descartes' legal wife, Haruka, returned, and the children went off. Warfield pressed on, asking the inevitable questions about Haruka and Michiru and getting the expected answers. Then she asked the Frenchman about himself, and he went on, and on, and on. Warfield did not think she would be using much of that, but she had a feeling if she waited long enough, she would get something else.
But she did not get anything, really. Older children began arriving home from school, and adults from work. The house was becoming crowded, actually. Descartes brought the interview to an end she could not find a reasonable way to avoid.
"What?" Kate Warfield could not believe what she was hearing. "The Jones woman is the only good thing I got, really."
The executive producer shook his head. "No. I can't let you use it."
"Then what am I supposed to work with?" demanded Warfield.
"You shot over two hours. I think you can get five or ten minutes out of that."
Hot News was on in the afternoon in the San Francisco Bay Area, but Hotaru recorded it so that it could be watched after all the children were in bed. She was surprised that the story did not appear for three days. When she found the story had been aired, she called the others in. They used the little theater Lily's grandparents had put in to replace the cramped old servants' quarters.
Roland left as soon as the segment was over. "Don't ever let Adrienne or Titania see this!" He muttered to Haruka and Michiru as he exited. He headed for the basement, where he had set up one of his little secrets: a punching bag. He would kick and beat the big sack until his anger was worked out.
Michiru remarked, "Ms. Warfield is clever at what she does."
"Or she has clever people working for her," said Haruka.
"Both, I think," remarked Rei. "Your Roland will not be able to take them to court over any of that." She sighed. "Does he really butterfly that way?"
Haruka nodded. "He has a bigger reputation for it than he really deserves, but, yes, that is the way he is."
"I thought perhaps he had grown past it," said Rei.
Michiru laughed. "Roland? Does a fish grow past swimming?" She shook her head. "He is really angry because the piece makes him look like a fool."
"But she did not use any of the questions she asked you, Minako," remarked Makoto.
Minako looked around at the others. "Alvarson-san did something. Or his people."
Usagi said archly, "Didn't you say this problem was too small for us to use our powers with?"
Minako replied, "My stepfather does not want reporters here all the time. I told him what happened, and he did what he wanted to do."
Usagi and everyone else looked askance at that answer. Then Usagi shrugged, and asked, "Is it just me, or did Ms. Warfield's nose seem bigger to the rest of you?"
While the soundproofing of the little theater was impressive, it was not proof against the extraordinary hearing of Nereid, who stayed up to listen to what her mother did not want her to hear. Titania had fallen asleep, but Adrienne stayed up with her.
"All right. I think they are finished now," said Nereid.
Adrienne shook her head. "Is papa still punching the bag?"
Nereid said, "Yes. He is slowing down a lot. I have never heard him punch it for so long . . . maman is asking him if he is almost finished."
"What is wrong?" Adrienne could tell something was bothering her stepsister.
"Well . . . I think they will . . . uh . . . " Nereid was flushed.
Suddenly Adrienne understood. "Maybe you should stop listening."
"Maybe." She sounded doubtful.
Adrienne said, "Maybe we should go to sleep, then. They might come up to check on us."
"I guess," said Nereid.
Adrienne tried to ignore it, but she was getting to be knowledgeable about Nereid's moods. After a few moments, she asked, "Nereid, is there something you are worried about?"
"Yes, sort of."
"What is it?"
Nereid said, "Auntie Usagi is worried about something. I think it is about that nasty reporter woman."
Adrienne said, "I don't think we need to worry about her any more. Papa will know how to handle her if she comes back."
Nereid said, "I guess . . . you were right, I think they are coming up to check on us."
They pretended to be asleep, but they did not really fool Haruka or Michiru.
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