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Chapter 5 -- Embarcadero By Moonlight
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

The air was cooler in the reception area than in the previous room, and I realized I was sweating slightly. Surely, I thought, it hadn't been that warm in there? As I closed the inner door behind us Franklin said, "Solomoriah, I'd like to hire you to investigate the murder of my mentor."

I was a bit surprised at this, but I quoted him my "usual" fees. He said, "I don't have it now, but I will soon. John showed me his will a while back, and I'm to receive a third of his assets and his house. His sister in Stockton gets the other two-thirds."

"You realize that makes you a suspect," I said.

"Yeah. I didn't do it though," he replied. "I don't even know how it was done, but that sword you showed us could have done it."

"I have no love for the Changelings, but I can't think of any reason why they would attack your master."

"Will you take my case?" he asked. I thought about it briefly.

"Yes. Can I get access to his house?"

"I don't know. The police forensics team is still going over it with a fine toothed comb. I'll ask."

"Here," I said, giving him a business card. "Are you available tomorrow morning?" He nodded, and I continued, "Come by that address in the morning after nine and we'll talk more."

We shook hands, and then I braced myself for the onslaught of the dance music. I don't know how it's possible, but it was louder than before. At the foot of the stairs Natomi asked me if I wanted to dance some more (at least I think that's what she said), but I shook my head and started for the door.

Natomi came up beside me and hooked her arm around my elbow again. She had a big smile on her beautiful face, and I wondered what had made her so happy.

It was dark; not surprising, as we had been more than an hour in the club. The tie-dyed valet quickly retrieved Natomi's car, and I tipped him. I must have given him plenty, because he took the money with a smile and said "Hope to see you again soon sir!" I found myself thinking about how some things never change where humans are involved.

I got in the car quickly, for it was chilly and I had neglected to bring a jacket. Natomi was still smiling, seeming unaffected by the cold, as she started the car and drove down toward the waterfront. As she turned onto the Embarcadero I found myself thinking of other things that never change, for I had noticed the little glances, the ever-so-subtle movements...

Was she really flirting with me? This Natomi Osaka seemed very different than the one I met almost two months before at 50 Fremont Center, or for that matter the one who had summoned me that very morning. Yet, I was sure that she had deliberately exposed even more of her leg than on the trip to the nightclub; and the Embarcadero, though certainly an interesting and often beautiful drive, was hardly the most efficient way to get me home.

Then she turned toward me, and though it was dark outside it seemed that her smile warmed my face like sunshine.

I doubt I could have been much more uncomfortable. Did Natomi really think I would cheat on my wife? I began to doubt she was thinking at all. But no matter how attractive Natomi was (and she was very attractive) my heart would always be Mara's.

Natomi was also a powerful ally, though, and I had few enough allies in those days. I didn't want to anger her.

Finally I scraped up enough courage to speak. "Natomi, what are you doing?"

"What am I doing?" she said, a half-smile, half-frown on her face. "What do you mean?"

"I think you know what I am talking about."

Her smile fled from her face, leaving the car seemingly darker. After a moment of staring straight ahead she said, "I'm sorry. I'm afraid my feelings have been less than honorable."

"Natomi, though I would not have expected this when I first met you, I consider you a friend. I don't want that to change. You must know how much I love Mara; we were just married, after all."

"I know," she said, her shoulders slumping. "I can't help but wonder if things would have been different had I met you first."

"That's pretty well impossible," I said. "Stop along here somewhere; I want to tell you a story." She turned onto a side-street and found a place to park, then looked at me expectantly.

"That story I told about my past at the meeting was partially true... enough so that, should any of them be somehow reading my mind or otherwise monitoring me for lies they would be confused. I have practiced it over and over to fix it in my mind so that no stray thoughts would give me away. Now I'll tell you the whole truth, because you are my friend. Do you know the spell of Mind Reading?"

"I know such a spell."

"Cast it, then, for I want you to truly see the things I am going to tell you."

She did so, and I told it all to her, abbreviated slightly, but essentially all that I have previously written about my past, up to the first time we met. I showed her the people and the places, and when she saw Mara, the first Mara, I could see the surprise and then the understanding on her face.

When I was done with my story she said, "Amazing. How long ago did your civilization exist?"

I was pleased she seemed to believe all of it. Of course, it's hard to intentionally fake memories. "About thirteen thousand years, as best as I can tell from my research."

She was about to ask another question when her eyes strayed to her watch. "It's late," she said, "I should get you home. Mara will be worried."

As she drove me home, by a bit more direct route this time, she said, "I am truly sorry."

"Don't be," I said. "We are still friends, and nothing happened. This need never be mentioned again."

"Thank you," she said. "Thank you also for telling me the truth about you. I will keep your secret."

"And I will trust your judgement," I answered.

"How can you, after this?" she asked.

"It was a moment's weakness," I answered. "If you truly care for me as much as I think you must, then I know I can trust you to protect me."

"Thank you," she said again. "I have been such a fool."

"I know the feeling," I replied. We pulled into the drive and I got out. "Goodbye, Natomi."

"Goodbye, Solomoriah. If ever I can be of service to you, call me."

"I will."

Mara met me at the door; it was by then almost midnight. She kissed me as I walked in, and I pushed the door shut behind me without breaking the kiss.

"You smell like Natomi," she said after a few moments. "She has a lovely perfume."

"I hadn't really noticed." I hadn't, actually. "I suppose her car must hold the fragrance." Though I had done nothing wrong, this line of questioning was making me uncomfortable. I kissed Mara again, and she pulled away.

"What happened," she said, without anger. She could feel my discomfort in my kiss, and probably sense it in my soul. There's just no hiding anything from her, so it's just as well that I never need to.

I told her everything. Nothing happened, after all, and I hoped she could understand that. I will not recount my words here because, even with my spell of Mnemonic Enhancement, I can't remember them clearly.

At the end she said, "Were you tempted?"

"No. I was just uncomfortable." She nodded, and I could see she believed me. "Please, my love, don't hold this against Natomi. She is my friend, and that's all she'll ever be to me. I don't want to lose her." I could not read the expression on her face; after a moment I said, "If you can't forgive her I'll understand. You are the most important thing in my life."

She smiled then, and if Natomi's smile warmed my face, Mara's warmed my whole body. "I trust you, Solomoriah. Even if she tried to win you from me every day I know you would be true; and I know she is a good and honorable person. Natomi is probably terribly ashamed of herself now. No, love, I won't hold it against her."

I took her in my arms again, joyfully. "Of all the women in the world, I was lucky enough to get the one who can truly see into my heart. I don't deserve you, Mara."

"I know," she said, a devilish grin on her face. "We need to work on that." She led me upstairs.

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The Adventures of Solo Jones Last Updated 07/18/2005