|A Year and Change|
Cooan's gentleman had dropped in to give his girls a couple of little gifts before going home, presumably to his wife and what other children he had--or perhaps grandchildren. Makoto didn't know how old he was, but he might be old enough to have grown children. Cooan was gone--in fact, all the Ayakashi were gone that evening, still doing their work for the Grey Company, perhaps just delivering packages faster than Federal Express (or in Cooan's case now, office work); perhaps more. Petz had been gone for almost a week; probably she was on the other side of a Gate. Makoto was left with her own six to watch, plus the five offspring of the Ayakashi. Perhaps that is why when the buzzer sounded, she did not stop to think. Makoto assumed it was Cooan's gentleman returning; he had just left moments before, and he always seemed to be forgetting his key . . . it was after she buzzed the entrance door open that Makoto began to think, <Is he trying to come on to me? . . . He seems to be over here a lot when Cooan is out . . . and I guess he would know her habits by now.> It was not as if Makoto was actually attracted to the old hentai, even if he had a certain disreputable charm, a bit like the Founder or Rei's late grandfather or even . . .
Makoto opened the door, preparing to face Cooan's gentleman and set things straight with him. But it was not Cooan's older gentleman in the doorway.
It was Uncle Giro.
"Your uncle owes a great deal of money to some of my friends," explained Mrs. Nobunaga in the taxi. "And my friends will be very hard on him if this money is not repaid. You look like a smart girl. Do you understand what you must do to keep your uncle out of trouble?"
Looking at the driver, with the missing joint on one finger, and tattoos peeking out from his sleeves and his collar, Makoto nodded. "Hai. I think I understand."
Uncle Giro invited himself in before Makoto could think to stop him, slipping off his shoes and making himself at home. He was wearing his usual smile. He bent his long trunk down to say something to Philip, who retreated behind Makoto's legs. Zara took a few steps back, too; she was bold around people she knew, but strangers were different. And ZoŽ--Makoto could tell ZoŽ did not care for Uncle Giro at all, though she had never said much about him. In fact--
"This is my Uncle Giro, children. My father's brother." <Half-brother, from grandfather Kino's first wife . . . > "Uncle Giro, how did you find us?"
"I have my sources," said Uncle Giro smoothly. "We can talk about that later, Mako-chan."
Uncle Giro proceeded to charm himself into a meal, or rather Makoto let it seem so. He told jokes, he did little magic tricks, and he seemed to win over all the children except ZoŽ. <Same old Uncle Giro, wonderful fun to have around, when he's around . . . What is he after?>
At the end of the evening, outside the door in the short corridor leading to the stairs, Uncle Giro answered Makoto's first question. "I found you through a friend who works with the police. They know you are here, Mako-chan. They don't have orders to pick you up yet, but I'm sure they will. This American holy man we are hearing of so much lately, he has followers here, maybe even some in the Police. You should move out of here soon. I can find a safe place for you."
"Thank you, Uncle Giro," said Makoto. "And what do you want for your help?"
Uncle Giro seemed unfazed. "Five hundred thousand yen would get me out of my own trouble, I think."
"I thought your yakuza loan sharks and bookies were going to hurt you, or even kill you. Yet you seem to have your health, and all your fingers. You don't limp, so you must have your toes, too."
"They found something else to cut off, Mako-chan," said Uncle Giro. "Five hundred thousand is not so much to you. You have control of your trust now."
"I have no money to give you, Uncle," said Makoto. "My husband closed out what little was left of the trust. And the authorities here and in America will be watching for money transfers. I can't touch anything I left in America."
Uncle Giro pulled on his chin whiskers for a moment or two. "I don't suppose your friends could loan you the money."
"I would not ask them. They could get in trouble for helping me."
"Ne-e-eh, I meant your friends here, Torumatsu's mistress and her sisters."
"You know his name?" said Makoto. No one in the Ayakashi household had ever mentioned the name of Cooan's gentleman, even his daughters; he was just "otousan" to them.
"I've known him, for many years now," said Uncle Giro, still pulling at his whiskers, a sign he was thinking hard.
Makoto wished she could hear thoughts like Usagi had learned to, or Sarah, or occasionally Naru with the Art she had learned from the Founder. "If you know your old friend has been keeping my friend as his mistress, why aren't you getting your money from him?"
Uncle Giro dropped the charming mask he displayed to the world for a moment. "You have grown wiser, Mako-chan." He put on a more genuine smile, one showing irony. "I thought of that years ago, of course. It was a bad idea. Torumatsu-san has many connections. And besides, his wife has always known about all his mistresses."
"You still haven't answered my question, Mako-chan," continued Uncle Giro. "Do you think you can get money to help me out from your friends here?"
"Have I not already done enough to help you out, Uncle Giro?"
Uncle Giro released his whiskers and produced a card. He turned around, pressed the card on the wall, and started writing something on the back with a stub of pencil. As he wrote, his back to Makoto, Uncle Giro said, "I am not proud of what you did to save me before. And you did save me. As bad as it was what they finally did do to me, I am still alive. They really were ready to kill me, to make an example." He finished writing, turned back to face Makoto, and handed her the card--not his card, Makoto noticed, but the card for a club of some kind. "You should be able to reach me at one of these places. I don't think anyone else will find you a better hiding place. This is one of the things your Uncle Giro really does know how to do well."
"I will think about it."
"Tonight is not too early. The police might move before my friend can tell me."
"I will think about it, Uncle Giro."
Cooan returned only a few minutes after Uncle Giro left, Beruche a few minutes after that, and Karabaras a few minutes after Beruche. The two older sisters picked up that something was wrong with Cooan, and it turned out that her gentleman had forgotten their rendezvous, again. Now Makoto remembered her earlier suspicions about Torumatsu's intentions. Makoto said nothing of her thoughts about the man she now knew was Torumatsu.
Makoto also did not tell them about what she had talked about with Uncle Giro before he had left. She had never told Usagi or Minako or any of her new friends about what she had done for Uncle Giro's sake, much less the Ayakashi sisters. Perhaps Usagi knew something from reading her thoughts, but she had never spoken of it.
But that shame was in the past. In the present, Makoto was a danger to the Ayakashi sisters, now that the police knew . . . <Haruna-sensei said she would tell Wakagi-san we had met, and Wakagi-san is a very smart policeman . . .>
<Where do we go now?> thought Makoto, wide awake on her futon much later that night. The Founder's place in Switzerland, perhaps, or one of the other places . . . but that could bring trouble for Minako; they would try to get to the Founder through her. At the least, it would put her in the news again, and that would bring up the whole business about the gang Minako's husband had been in, and her husband's brother had led. It might even get a reporter curious enough about Minako and her friends to figure out they were senshi, like Mr. Crawford did. The next reporter would probably not keep silent . . .
<Africa? The place where Ami's mother has her hospitals?> But they would be found there; the holy man's sect had missionaries in Africa, and some converts. Rei had mentioned them the last time they had managed to connect. And trouble with the sect Philip and Tammy's parent's now belonged to would mean trouble for the work Ami's mother had dedicated her life to.
<France?> No, not France. Haruka and Michiru and their family were already in a goldfish bowl, thanks to Roland Descartes.
Makoto ticked off other possibilities . . . not Asanuma and Shinozaki, far too famous now, and fashion designers were ultra-sensitive to bad publicity and boycotts . . . Not Motoki and Reika; besides the old baggage she carried for Motoki, they were in a legal mess of their own over Leilani, Unazuki's girl. Her late father's family were trying to get custody, maybe over the money she would eventually inherit, maybe over the child herself, maybe both . . . Not Lily-chan's grandparents; they were in a mess too; the company they were dealing with was looking for an excuse to void their contract and renegotiate their fee--and they had enough on their hands with a chibi senshi and a chibi Mimete--another child it would be better the authorities not take a close look at.
There were still more possibilities, but one by one, Makoto discarded them. She was left with only two choices: Surrender Philip and Tammy, hoping their parents really had changed; or ask for Uncle Giro's help in hiding them until she could send them to ZoŽ's world, the only place she was sure they would be safe. Makoto knew she would not last long on her own without help, not with six to look after.
<But not just Philip and Tammy . . . all of them.> ZoŽ was a Moon Angel, and probably it was her destiny to return to her world . . . she would never leave her brothers and sisters without her protection, certainly. Time had slipped enough there so ZoŽ could represent herself as an adult now, if she used her original ID. < Of course, that means they will ask her about-->
Makoto slipped out of the apartment a few minutes later.
"Wakagi-san," said Makoto. "You have come alone?"
"No," answered a male voice from the darkness. Wakagi Toshio's voice. Wakagi Toshio, the Police Captain, emerged from the darkness to stand beside Haruna-sensei. And a third person joined them, a woman Makoto struggled a bit to remember.
"Sakurada-san," said Makoto. "You have come too?" It was Haruna-sensei's aunt, who had been a high official in the Metropolitan Police in the days when Mrs. Nobunaga went to prison, and Uncle Giro had vanished for what Makoto had thought would be forever.
The woman said gently, "Urawa-san, this place is quite far from the apartment of the Ayakashi family. Perhaps we could drive you back."
Makoto was sure the woman was sincere. They were all good people, very good people . . . but . . .
"I came to talk. Am I to be arrested instead?"
"This is not official," said Captain Wakagi, "Not yet."
Haruna-sensei said, "If you surrender now, my Aunt has arranged for the children to stay with us until this thing is settled."
"This is kind of you," said Makoto, "But I am not ready to surrender just yet. I have sent word to my attorney that I am willing to meet with the birth parents--" Makoto almost choked on those words. "--but that is all I promise. I will not force Philip and Tammy to see them."
"That is not acceptable, Makoto," said Toshio, who had shown her great kindness in the former days. "Please, there really is nothing else we can do for you."
"How much longer will you keep the children out of school?" asked Haruna-sensei.
"I teach them myself," said Makoto.
"You know that is not enough," said Haruna-sensei.
She was right, of course . . . they were all right, by the way they saw things. But Makoto shook her head. "I am not the smartest person or the best teacher, but I love them." She turned to Wakagi-san. "May I go now?"
Captain Wakagi hesitated, but then nodded. Makoto slipped away into the darkness.
Cooan was awake when Makoto returned, and Petz was with her--returned from whatever special business she had been on. Makoto explained where she had gone, and about Uncle Giro's warning and his offer--but nothing further about Uncle Giro. Petz held her tongue for the moment, but Cooan, between bites of her latest eating binge, did not. "I didn't know you had an uncle here. Why didn't you tell us about him?"
"I have not seen or heard from him since I was young," was all Makoto said.
"You have talked enough about Hiroshi," said Cooan, "And you haven't seen him since middle school. Unless that was Hiroshi at Fruit Parlor Crown? Zo-chan told me you met a man you used to know."
"Iie," said Makoto emphatically. "It was not Hiroshi I met, it was someone else."
"Ah. It is as well," said Cooan. "Your Hiroshi must be married by now . . . Why did you break up? That's one thing you haven't told us."
"It just was not to be," said Makoto.
After Cooan left the kitchen, Petz said quietly, "There never was a real Hiroshi, was there?"
"He was sort of real to me. What Asanuma or Shinozaki might have been, if they were not men for men." Makoto took a sip of her tea. "Have you learned to read minds like Moon-sama?"
"No," said Petz. "If Hiroshi had been real, he would not have left you."
"I suppose not," Makoto sighed. "Not unless he died. Like Ryo."
Petz broke the considerable silence that followed by saying, "I do not think you should trust this uncle of yours to hide you. He seems like a slippery person. He even looks like a mink."
"Oh, he is slippery," said Makoto, "But maybe I need a slippery person to hide my family. At least until we can get them to ZoŽ's world. There won't be a new moon until next month now. I think the police will get orders to move before then." She shook her head. "I should have sent them before, I guess."
"There are other worlds the Company could take you to."
"None other I am sure will have a real home for them. None I can be sure I can follow them. And if I am not mistaken, it is only from this world that ZoŽ's world can be reached?"
"Essentially, yes," said Petz. "If not another world, then, the Company headquarters on Hokkaido."
"I don't want to involve the Company in this. I'm sure one of this holy man's followers would notice us even there, and police would come. No, I should get out before the police come here. I don't want to get you into trouble."
"The police will come here anyway, looking for you. I don't think you could get us into more trouble. But you could get yourself in trouble. I have done work with some men like your uncle before. I think--"
Suddenly Petz stopped, and turned around. "Juzo! How long have you been there?"
"Long enough," he replied.
Makoto was wakened by someone pounding on the door. Even the suite Cooan's gentleman had built for himself was not spacious enough for five women and eleven children, so Makoto spread her futon in the front room. Someone was trying to open the door, but Zara was standing by it, and Makoto sensed Zara was using her power to keep the lock closed. There were excited voices from other rooms, but nothing Makoto could really make out.
<Torumatsu-san? At this hour?> And then she remembered . . .
"Police! Open the door!"
"Tami! Firipu!" shouted Makoto. She was about to gather them up, but then saw that Zara had transformed, perhaps to use more power because the police had begun to batter the door. But she was still a very chibi senshi, even a little smaller than Chibi-Usa had been at her age, and she could not hope to hold back the police with force. Makoto put her shoulder to the door and said, "Zo-chan! Take Tammy and Philip!"
The police were battering harder now. The door was beginning to splinter. But Makoto bought enough time for ZoŽ. That left Zara, still in senshi form. "Zara-chan, change back. We must not fight them. We will only get your aunties in more trouble."
There were lots of police, but there were more plainly-dressed men and a couple of women, who swiftly began searching everywhere. And it was not long before one of them turned up ZoŽ's sword, something Makoto had not known she had brought with her. Makoto claimed responsibility for it, and very promptly was led away. Possession of an unlicensed sword was a very serious matter in Japan.
Captain Wakagi brought a welcome item: a breast pump. Makoto thanked him and then asked about the children.
"Your babies and your stepdaughter are with us as we promised you, Makoto," said Wakagi. "But your American children have not been found. The Ayakashi say they know nothing of where they are."
Makoto said, "They keep asking me here about Torumatsu-san, not much about the children."
Wakagi smiled thinly. "I could not tell you, of course, but Torumatsu is suspected of cheating on his taxes. The raid was to find secret accounts, files, that sort of thing. We still do not have clear orders concerning the children your American holy man is making so much noise about."
"But you expect to have them soon, do you not, Wakagi-san?"
"Yes. The parents may be very unpleasant people, but they have the law on their side."
"For now, perhaps."
"I am certain the children are not living with the Ayakashi. They are still under surveillance. Do you know where they are?"
Makoto shook her head.
"Don't know? Or won't answer?" Before Makoto might have answered, Wakagi went on. "You wouldn't have gone to jail at all if it wasn't for that sword. Why would you have a sword, Makoto?"
"It was a special thing of my husband's," said Makoto.
"Yes, so you have told my colleagues . . . But why would he want a sword? It is no antique. It is certainly finely made, but it is no presentation piece."
"My husband was not really a wealthy man," said Makoto. "Old swords are very expensive."
"Yes . . . But this is a handforged weapon. Only one smith in the United States does this work. It would still be expensive. At least several hundred thousand yen."
"Ryo was very careful with our money," said Makoto. "I would not complain of this one indulgence . . . Do you still do kendo, Wakagi-san?"
"Yes," he answered, "And I am still very bad. But the way of the sword still attracts me."
"Have you never wanted to have a real sword of your own?"
"Of course," said Wakagi-san, "But a sword I could love would be beyond a honest policeman's salary."
"It was expensive, but it was important to Ryo," said Makoto.
"I'm sure," said Wakagi. "But I wonder why it was important. Haruna remembers Ryo; she knew nothing of an interest in kendo."
"He took up the martial arts with me," said Makoto.
"And you became a devotee of kendo?"
"No," said Makoto, knowing she could not sell a complete lie to Wakagi, "But we learned a little of the art."
"Yes," mused Wakagi. "Perhaps there was someone who knew more of the art . . . I heard stories of a master of the sword who visited America and found a young student who was so good he wanted to bring him back to Japan to train. Or her; sometimes it was said the student was a girl."
"How unusual," said Makoto.
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