Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters depicted within this work of fiction, aside from Mr. and Mrs. Kawsk. Please, if you want to borrow them, here is a hammer. Hit yourself in the head with it until sanity returns to you and the urge goes away.
Summary: Did they really think that, after saving the world, that'd be the end of it? Michelle, Maggie, and Anita agree to help an old lady find her husband, and get much more than they bargained for. Or wanted. Really. Ever.
Michelle Chan, Maggie Mui, and Anita King, the three who comprised the Paper Sisters Detective Agency, were beautiful, kind, honest, caring, possessed a strong sense of what was right and just, and possessed as well just enough flaws to lend them Personality, thus making them even more charming.
It was very curious, the way that three such perfect and likeable girls managed to make enemies with nearly the entire world quite frequently, but this was naturally not their fault, and was a fundamental problem of the aforementioned world.
Just to clarify.
On this particular evening late in spring, these three girls, on whom every Adjective in existence that means something good might be piled, stared at the old woman enthroned in a rocking chair opposite the utterly nondescript beige sofa in their tiny apartment/office, in something just on the right side of baffled dismay.
Naturally, the old woman, her face streaked with tears, had said something to prompt this reaction in the girls, as staring in horror at old women who materialize in your apartment might be acceptable, but staring in horror at old women whom you have invited into your apartment and have done nothing further to provoke such a reaction is not considered polite or suitable, and might have made the Paper Sisters less wonderful than they clearly were.
The reason they were staring at this woman in dismay was that she had just requested that they aid her in finding her missing husband, as he qualified as "a missing person, book, or cat."
Mostly the first, she added with no trace of humour in solemn face or voice.
Now, the Paper Sisters enjoyed having money as much as anyone else, not being quite so perfect as to be free from the pursuit of filthy lucre, and as this woman had come as a client, they ought to have heralded her words with delirious joy, as it signaled that if they should prove successful, as they undoubtedly would, being them, that they would probably get some.
Money, of course.
Still, when Michelle had called a vote and the three had unanimously decided, a few weeks earlier, that they should re-establish their business full-time (save for Anita, who was busy with that pesky school thing and could thus commit only part-time), they had seriously considered removing the part about "missing person(s)" from their sign.
A missing book or a missing cat was one thing. Well, two things, actually, but that was not important.
Missing cats tended to be easily retrieved once found, and the finding was not generally dangerous, even if it could be finicky and dull on occasion.
Missing books tended to be located with even greater ease, as their being missing was most often due to their owners' carelessness with their belongings.
All in all, both were relatively safe, simple ways to make money.
A missing person, on the other hand, could be a different matter, or "kettle of fish", as the quaint and utterly absurd colloquialism of somewhere far from Japan went. Who knew what they might find themselves entangled in?
Following that ugly business with the British Library trying to put an old man into a little boy who would then rule a fictional world constructed by a random Japanese author who just happened to be another beautiful young woman in the interest of a sharp contrast with all the old unattractive evil people, none of the three were particularly anxious to embark upon anything that might become an Adventure.
Still, it was best to keep an open mind.
At least, until one's brain fell out.
Then it was best to pick it up and slide it back in, pausing to look quickly about and hope desperately that no one had noticed.
"So, Mrs. Kawsk, how long has your husband been missing?" Michelle asked, feeling very decidedly that the narration had already had plenty of time to narrate uninterrupted.
"He's been gone three days," Mrs. Kawsk replied, nobly wiping a tear from soft brown eyes and reaching gratefully for the cup of tea the lovely young woman held out to her. "As for how long he's been missing, though, that's another question."
"Uh…wouldn't that be three days?" Anita suggested from her perch on the back of the sofa.
"You don't know Arthur," Mrs. Kawsk said, eyes becoming dreamy, tone fondly exasperated. "He goes on these little adventures every now and again."
"So, he's been missing before?" Maggie surmised hesitantly.
"No, no, he's always come back, you see, dear," the old woman corrected gently. "And since he's always come back, I would hardly call it being missing. I simply wonder how much of the past few days were one of his normal adventures, and how much was actually Being Missing."
Maggie and Michelle exchanged uneasy looks as Michelle settled onto the sofa next to the (much) taller girl.
"Well, whether he's just on an Adventure or not," Michelle finally began slowly, "he's still missing, right?"
"And that means you still want us to go find him," Anita added, teetering on the back of the sofa.
"So, it's basically the same thing," Maggie finished.
"Oh, there's any number of differences," Mrs. Kawsk explained pleasantly. "If Arthur is just off on an adventure, then he's exactly where he means to be. But if he's missing, then as his wife, it is my solemn duty to see that whoever has made him be that way against his will returns him and receives the punishment that justice demands they face!"
Michelle looked at Maggie.
Maggie looked at Michelle.
Anita nearly lots her balance and flailed wildly to remain upright on the back of the sofa.
"You think he's been kidnapped, then," she said flatly once she had regained her balance.
"It's a possibility, I should think," the old lady agreed. "Either that, or he's simply gotten lost. Arthur does that sometimes, too."
"Well, Mrs. Kawsk, we promise to do anything we can to find your husband," Michelle assured her brightly as Maggie set to work trying to untangle exactly what was going on and Anita groaned something about how being at school would be better. "Unless he finds himself and stops being missing first, because that might just make it a waste of everyone's time."
"We'll need a photo of your husband, and we might need to search your house to get an idea of where to look first," Maggie added, looking down and blushing brightly as Mrs. Kawsk regarded her kindly.
"Of course, girls, dear," she beamed. "Thank-you so much! I heard that you three were very good. You found a book for a friend of mine in Hong Kong some years back – before the city up and sank, of course. It was amazing, from what he tells me: you just walked into his room, moved the dresser, and found the book immediately! Now that the city's sunken, I suppose his book is probably fairly soggy."
"Um…thank-you, Mrs. Kawsk," Michelle said hesitantly, hiding a smile. "We like what we do."
"We do?" Anita muttered.
"We do," Maggie replied in a mutter.
"I'm glad we were able to help your friend, and I hope very much that we'll be able to help you," Michelle added.
Mrs. Kawsk sighed heavily, tears beginning to form again.
"So do I, girls. So do I."
"Can we stop at this bookstore?"
"How about this one?"
What my readers have just witnessed was a fairly typical snippet of conversation between Yomiko Readman and Nenene Sumerigawa during a walk down a street that happened to contain a lot of bookstores. It is fairly clearly which lines belonged to which girl, and it is also fairly clear that this conversation would almost always end with the two girls in one of the many bookstores along the street, after Yomiko's huge, sad eyes were simply too much for Nenene to resist.
However, this afternoon was something considerably different.
Although the two young women were hurrying down a street crowded with bookstores, this conversation was failing utterly to take place.
This signaled fairly clearly that something considerably out of the ordinary was occurring, or going to occur some time in the near future.
"I hope we get there in time," Yomiko said anxiously.
Nenene sighed, exasperated.
"You hope we get where? Where are we going?"
At this point, Yomiko stopped and pulled Nenene out of the steady flow of Sidewalk Traffic, and into a nearby alley.
"Nenene, I really think you should just go on home without me."
Nenene answered to older girl's wide-eyed expression of concern with a glare containing its fair share of that same concern.
"Forget it. Not until you tell me what that was all about back there."
"In the bookstore, you mean?"
"Like we're ever anywhere else," Nenene sighed, scratching her cheek with a small smile belying the annoyance in her words. Then she frowned again. "Yes, in the bookstore. The owner said something to you, and the next thing I know, you're headed for the exit! Without buying anything!"
"There wasn't time," Yomiko said mournfully. After all, to leave behind all those books she had selected so carefully…it had been pure torture. Who knew if someone else would come along and buy them before she could get back? Still…
"You're really not going to tell me anything else about what's going on, are you?" Nenene asked, arms crossed, leaning against the brick wall.
"It's a little hard to explain," Yomiko replied. "I still don't want to involve you in this in case it turns dangerous—"
Nenene pushed off of the wall and glared angrily at the other girl.
"The last time you got on that train of reasoning, you disappeared for four years!"
Yomiko's eyes were wide and slightly moist behind her glasses.
"Forget it," Nenene said brusquely, starting from the alley. . "I suppose I'll find out what this is all about when we get there. Wherever 'there' is."
"This is where we had to rush to get to?" that same Nenene growled as, five minutes later, she followed Yomiko into a very familiar elevator, and watched Yomiko withdraw a very familiar card and swipe it through a very familiar hidden mechanism, which popped out of the wall once a very familiar special combination of very familiar elevator buttons had been pressed.
Yomiko beamed at the younger girl.
Nenene sighed, rubbing her forehead and wondering how such a headache had sprung up so suddenly.
"I could have guessed it. I don't suppose you'll tell me now what we're doing here?"
"The owner of the store we were before in only told me that the old man wanted to see me; he said there was someone very important who needed my help."
"Great," Nenene groaned. "Well, if it's a favour to the old man, I guess it's okay. We kind of owe him for losing his van, after all," she concluded sheepishly.
"It wasn't his van, Nenene. It was the other man's van. And anyway, he said it came home on its own one day. I don't know if he meant it literally, though," Yomiko concluded, looking faintly puzzled.
"Well, let's go find out what this is all about," Nenene said briskly.
Yomiko nodded in enthusiastic agreement, and together the two picked their way through the darkish, narrow spaces between faintly dusty bookshelves, toward the front counter.
"Thank-you very much for bringing me on your fishing trip," Junior said dutifully, without terribly much enthusiasm, looking down at his lap.
To be sure, impaling worms on little hooks and throwing them into water on the end of string wasn't exactly something he would call 'entertainment' – a necessary evil in the interest of staying alive when lost in the wilderness would have been closer the mark.
Still, to neglect to thank the man for taking time out of his busy schedule to allow him to indulge in what was apparently a well-loved pastime for reasons that escaped him would be simply rude.
"No problem," Drake said from the other side of the small boat with slightly more enthusiasm, which becomes less impressive when one considers that a rock would fill that requirement. "Your mom wanted you to have some good old-fashioned male bonding. To tell you the truth," he said conspiratorially, "I think it was Nenene's idea."
"Why?" Junior asked, quite astonished.
"I guess she thought constantly spending all your time with a bunch of women might have a bad effect on you."
"I don't know," Drake replied thoughtfully. "That group's tougher than most men I know."
"They've been through a lot," Drake replied, traces of annoyance beginning to lace his tone as he rather viciously speared another worm on the end of his fishing hook. "You were there. You know that."
Drake looked up abruptly and glared at the boy.
"You're doing that on purpose, aren't you?"
A long pause.
"Well, maybe a little."
"Anita warned me about this," Drake grumbled. "Why the hell didn't I listen?"
"I don't know," Junior replied. "Why?"
End Notes: Hehehe! A Post-ROD TV story that actually focuses on the main characters! I never thought I'd write one!
Oh, and by the way, I hope the first part didn't give the impression that I don't like Michelle, Maggie, and Anita. Because I do. Especially Michelle. I have a huge fangirl thing for Michelle. And I love and identify uncomfortably with Maggie. It must be the incredibly tall, incredibly shy, incredibly fond of confined spaces thing. But I just found all the emphasis put on the Female Good/Male Bad (or rather, the Pretty Female Good/Everything Else Bad) thing (dichotomy?) to be utterly hilarious. And thus I had way too much fun harping on it. I hope I shall be forgiven, as the harping shan't continue past this chapter. :o)