Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.
Inside the house I found Mara in the parlor, talking with a woman who
was facing away from me. The parlor, by the way, is to the right of
the entry hall, while the living room is to the left. I was glad they
weren't in the living room, as I hadn't picked up my papers before
Mara looked up at me and smiled, and I said "Hello." The woman turned
toward me. I was surprised, to say the least, to see that it was
Natomi Osaka, the mage whose turf I had invaded at 50 Fremont Center.
"Hello, Solomoriah," she said, standing up and reaching out to shake
my hand. "I hope this time we get off to a better start than last."
"As do I," I said, returning her handshake. "What can I do for you?"
"I'd like to hire you. Your website says that you are a 'supernatural
investigator,' but I'm hoping you'll take on a rather more mundane
investigation for me."
"I told her that you probably would," said Mara.
"Then I probably will," I said. "Come, let's sit and discuss your
Now seated, Natomi began her story.
"My younger sister, Miyuki, married an American man named Walter Burke
while he was stationed in Japan over twenty years ago. When he was
sent home, naturally she went with him. They now live here in San
Francisco. That is why I chose this assignment over several others
offered to me; I wanted to be near my sister.
"They have two children, Daniel and Kimberly. It's on her behalf that
I have come. You see, she was raped just over a month ago, in her own
bedroom. Two men entered her second-floor room sometime after
midnight, by way of the window. Her parents were both in the house
and neither one knew what was happening."
"Did she tell them right away?" asked Mara.
"As soon as the rapists left. The police questioned everyone. They
did find evidence of a ladder being used, but that's about the only
clue they have. They took her to the hospital and collected the 'rape
kit,' but I have learned that there may be no usable DNA in it."
"The rapists must have used condoms," said Mara.
"I don't think so. The doctor who collected the evidence was sure
they had a good sample of semen, but there appeared to be no sperm in
"Shooting blanks," said Mark as he entered the room. I introduced him
"You will be discreet, I hope," she said, looking straight at me.
"You can rely on that, Natomi," I answered. "I'm not sure I can do
better than the police, though."
"I think you can. They aren't making any progress, and there are
elements of the case which seem strange to me. I would investigate
myself, as my honor demands, but my position at the Consulate doesn't
allow it. So I want you to investigate."
"There are more strange elements to this case?" I asked.
"Yes," she answered, "but I don't want to tell you my opinions. I
want you to form your own."
I sat back in my chair and considered her words. "We'll need to talk
to Kimberly, and her family."
"Daniel is in college at UCLA. He wasn't home the night of the rape."
"Well, he shouldn't have any useful information then."
"I have told Miyuki I am hiring you," she said. "They will expect you
tomorrow afternoon, if that's convenient?"
"I see no reason why not," I said. My mission at the support group
meeting was planned for later that night; I expected no conflict.
Natomi took out a business card and wrote an address on the back. She
held it out to me, but Mark said, "I'll be the one driving, ma'am, so
I better have that."
"Now, about your payment," Natomi began. Mark again stepped in, quoting her our
planned rate (which we had not yet had the opportunity to charge anyone), and
she agreed to it. She stood again, and I held out my hand for her to shake
again. Her hand was soft but her grip was strong and steady. "My phone number
is on the business card," she said. "If you need my assistance for any reason,
Mara followed her to the door, exchanging goodbyes, as Mark and I
adjourned to the office. Again he made that arm-pumping gesture. "We
got a client, Solo! We got one!"
"Indeed. Perhaps a new ally, also." Just then the phone rang, and
I picked it up. "Solo Jones Investigations, how can I help you?"
"Hello, is Mark there?" The voice seemed familiar. I said that he
was, and handed the phone to him.
"Laura? What's happened?" he said. As I watched his face fell. I decided to
leave him be, and went out to the back porch. Mara joined me there, and we sat
on the porch swing in silence; there seemed to be nothing to say.
Some time later Mark joined us there, leaning against the porch rail. "That was
Laura," he said.
"Yes, I got that much. I thought you probably wanted your privacy."
"Solo, Mara... you guys are family, as much as anyone I'm actually related to.
My Mom and stepdad live in Kansas, you know, and they never understood why I came
here." He grinned a rueful grin. "Robert thinks everyone in this town is gay."
"That's a common mistake east of the Rockys," said Mara.
"Yeah... anyway, Laura told me that things aren't looking so good for Val. Doc
Harper ordered a CT scan and an MRI both, and Laura and Art got to see them.
She said that the cancer has spread from the top of her right hemisphere all
over her brain like vines; most of it is inoperable. The Doc wants to start
radical chemo right away, but he has to wait for some test result first. Laura
wasn't clear about it, but I remember reading that some cancers don't respond to
chemo, so all that happens is the patient gets sicker and the cancer gets
Mark finally seemed to have run out of words, and I didn't have any either.
Mara got up and put her arms around him and held him as he struggled not to cry.
Valerie was obviously still very important to him.
"I'm okay," he said at length, gently pushing away from Mara. She rejoined me
on the swing. "Anyway, Laura also told me that Valerie had several 'tantrums'
today, and then just before she called me Val had a seizure of some kind. Doc
Harper is trying low-dose tranquilizers to help her control herself."
We all sat in silence for a while, then Mark began walking toward the door.
"Mark, my friend, you don't have to stay if you don't want to."
"Thanks, Solo. I'm thinking about taking a drive to clear my head."
"If you make it back in time, you can join us for supper," offered Mara.
"Man, Mara, you are too good to me. I doubt I'll make it back for supper. Oh,
Solo, about your project... I'll need to pick up some tools tomorrow on my way
in, so I'll probably be late."
"The way I've been sleeping in, I'd probably never notice," I said. "Good
fortune in your wandering."
"Thanks, both of you." With that he left.
At supper that night, I asked Mara "What is chemo?"
"Chemotherapy. It's poison, love. They drip poison into your veins slowly, in
the hope that the cancer will die before you get too weak. It doesn't always
work and it makes the patient very sick."
"That doesn't sound like a very good treatment."
"It's not. But it's often the only thing that works at all."
Well, there wasn't much else I could do about it, so I helped Mara clean up the
dishes and then I resumed working on my project. The enchantments were coming
together nicely on paper... I hoped they would work as well in real life.
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