Chapter Five: Lacrimosa
A/N: Welcome to chapter five! I apologize that chapter four was delayed for so long. Original fiction, exams, and work have squirreled their ways to the forefront of my concentration.
Disclaimer: I don't own Ghost Hunt or Until Death Do Us Part.
Lacrimosa (lacrimōsus)—'weeping.' Latin.
"Tell me about Annabelle."
Annabelle. This girl was a lot more perceptive than he'd thought. Then again, he probably should have picked up on that back at the museum. She'd seen Annabelle's slippers in her dream. Does that mean she's also spoken to Annabelle?
To his knowledge, the deceased belle had never talked to any of her victims, save for extracting a promise of help. Why did Annabelle choose this girl? The girls that Annabelle usually chooses are poor, miserable, little waifs that have no future. Why this girl who's in college with a job and future ahead of her? His eyes narrowed at Mai. Is Annabelle getting sick of being used? Ridiculous! Annabelle is dead! She has no say in her life any longer! This girl cannot help you, Annabelle. Nor can the next victim you choose! Before he could dismiss it, a nasty memory crept back into Samuel's mind. The day that Mai had been chosen as Annabelle's new victim, he'd met her boyfriend who'd mentioned that their jobs were in research. That man never did specify what kind of research they did.
He snapped back realizing that he'd been silent for too long. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "Annabelle, you said?" He scrunched his brow thoughtfully, hoping that Mai's heart was pounding in anticipation for answers she desperately sought. Samuel would be utterly delighted if she looked crushed upon hearing his answer. "My two-year-old niece? I don't recall mentioning her to you. And you'll forgive me, but I don't think she has anything to do with your topic—unless you were interested in hearing about the time when she played dress-up with the very shoes you chose?"
He was sorely disappointed when Mai's expression remained neutral—remote even. As if she'd expected him to not tell her anything.
"Sounds like a charming story. Later, perhaps? Still, Annabelle is such a pretty name."
"I'll tell my sister you think so. I'm sure she'll be pleased."
And if this 'sister' and 'niece' of his did exist, then she likely wouldn't give a damn what some stranger on the other side of the world thought of the name she'd given her child. "Was she named after anyone?"
Ho. She's good, Samuel thought. "I'm not entirely sure," he confessed, "although, and this is pure speculation on my part, my sister always did love the poem Annabelle Lee, by Edgar Allan Poe."
"All right. Does the name 'Baker's Field' ring any bells?"
Another surprise, he thought, feeling a nasty bout of shock slither through him. He smiled at Mai. "A cemetery? Maybe for the victims of the Civil War? You're the researcher, aren't you? You tell me," he challenged.
Mai resisted the urge to growl at the man in frustration. She should have known it would be pointless to even try asking. "All right then, tell me about those shoes." If you actually have anything to tell me!
"You obviously know that they're dancing shoes meant to be worn only at parties. They were made from Kidd leather, which should tell you something about the family during those times."
"Kidd leather was expensive," Mai said, nodding. "Especially when the South found themselves on the losing side."
"They were made for the person who wore them last," Samuel said, hanging that piece of information out.
"Annabelle?" Mai asked, her voice saccharine.
Humph. She's being quite chatty. He smiled. "Mildred—my… great…" he began to tick the numbers off on his fingers, "great-great grandmother. She died in 1863—about a year before the Civil War ended. After that, no one ever wore the shoes again."
"Did she curse them?" Mai asked.
McLaughlin blinked. "That's certainly far out there," he commented.
"Not at all," Mai said. "There has to be a reason why they were never worn again. And the legend that they were cursed would be just the thing. Back during those years, people were still very superstitious—so if they learned that Mildred had cursed those shoes, they'd never get worn again, because no one wanted to tangle with a ghost."
"I suppose," he said doubtfully.
"How did your great-grandmother Mildred die?" she asked.
Samuel blinked, genuinely surprised. "I have no idea," he said. "Miss Taniyama, back in the eighteen hundreds, medical science wasn't very advanced. Nothing at all like today—back then, the common cold could very well kill whomever caught it."
"It can still do that," Mai pointed out.
"Touché," he said, nodding. "But here's another thing they didn't keep very good track of—written records."
Mai found that hard to believe. Wealthy families had the money to educate. Education meant learning to read and write, arithmetic and sciences, geography and languages. A wealthy family probably kept very good records, especially if they were involved in buying and trading, as much of the South was… at least until the Union Army blocked off the supply routes. She tried a different track. "How about a family Bible?"
"Names, birth dates, and death dates," he said, knowing that she'd never see the family Bible, anyhow. "Isn't this off topic, Miss Taniyama?"
"Yes, you're right. Hmm…" Mai fell silent for a second. "What about the flowers embroidered on the shoes?"
"The blue ones? Bluebells, I think. I do believe they're part of the Foxglove family."
Mai scrunched her brow in thought. Bluebells. Have I heard of them from somewhere? Whether or not she had, she couldn't deny that they sounded almost sinister, for some reason. "Why thirteen of them when thirteen is an unlucky number in the West?"
"No idea on that one, I'm afraid."
Mai was sure he was telling the truth with that answer. "What was the last occasion those shoes were worn for? Or should I ask which party?"
Samuel hesitated. If he didn't answer this… he didn't want to think that the consequences would be good. Not knowing what type of research the company worked for did concern him greatly. Would she research into his family for the skeletons in his closet? He rather thought that if she could, she would. He decided to answer somewhat honestly. Nothing wrong with mixing stories, after all. It's been two hundred years at the very least. If the stories get mixed up then it's easily blamed on the fact that the stories are so old and human memory is faulty. "You're not easily creeped out by anything, are you?"
"No, I'm not," she responded.
"Then… the last occasion they were worn for was indeed a dance. But not like the one you're thinking. It wasn't a grand party—though the slippers saw many of those before Mildred died. They were stolen by a maid who set out to make a fortune with her own two legs and feet. Mary Leigh Baglow—called Marilee for short, if I remember rightly. According to the accounts, she really was a very good dancer. She managed to get herself hired as a maid, although the story isn't clear how, and she decided that those shoes were her ticket to fame and fortune. It's said that those shoes made her dancing even better, somehow. One day, when she was so near her goal, she died; just… keeled over during a dance. She was still wearing the shoes."
"I thought you said that Mildred was the last to have worn the shoes?"
"That story was before Mildred died, however."
Which means that Annabelle wasn't dead, yet? Something's not right… Still… a dancer that keeled over while wearing the shoes… a premonitory chill slid down Mai's spine. That girl had definitely been one of Annabelle's victims, she was sure.
"Is that the first time they were stolen?"
"And the last. Occasionally, the kids of the house would take them and play, but they never left the premise of the house."
"When did this Mary Leigh die, roughly?"
"Hmm… 1870's I want to say."
"If I may ask…" she began.
"Anything," he said. Anything but Annabelle.
"What was Mildred's name?"
"Her name… her family name."
Well damn. She's got me hook, line, and sinker. "Hathenway," he answered honestly. "Why?"
Mai hoped that her face looked perplexed. "I thought it would have been McLaughlin."
Samuel wasn't sure he believed that. "My father married into the family. He brought McLaughlin with him."
"Ah, I see. I was simply curious."
I bet. Out loud he said, "Well I'm flattered. Anything else?"
Mai considered asking if there were more stories of people dying while they wore the shoes, but he wouldn't answer that, she was sure. "Is there anything else you can tell me?"
"I'm afraid that about sums it up."
"I see." Thanks for the non-informative interview, she thought. "Then, that concludes this interview. I'm Mai Taniyama, signing off." She stopped the tape and slid the device over to Yasuhara, motioning to her cup and him.
Understanding, he slid out of the booth to let her out. Mai turned and grabbed both cups. "What do you want?" she asked, slipping back into Japanese.
The bespectacled investigator looked at the soda machine. "A diet coke works nicely."
"I'll be right back," she promised.
"Her English is better than I anticipated," Samuel said, watching her go.
"Shibuya-san, John, and mostly Lin-san have been very good tutors," Yasuhara responded, popping his own tape in. "I've helped, too."
"I've met Mr. Lin," he said. "Tall, wears suits?" Miss Mai's boyfriend.
"What kind of research do you all do?"
"Scientific," Yasuhara answered promptly, sliding out of the booth when Mai came back to the table with their drinks. "Thank you, Taniyama-san," he said, when she put her glass down where he'd been sitting.
Reseating himself, he reached over and grabbed a straw, unwrapped it, and stuck it into the cola.
"Scientific?" Samuel asked.
"Currently, we're dabbling in Quantum Physics!" he said cheerfully. "Would you like to hear some of the theories we're currently researching?"
"I'll pass, thanks," he said, thinking to himself that the only thing people who studied any sort of physics were good for was making other people feel stupid. All the more reason to get her away from that man, then, he decided. "Well, before we start the second interview, I'm going to get something to drink. My throat is just parched," he said, sliding out of the booth. "I'll be right back."
Take your time, Mai thought, smiling at Yuka who watched them like a hawk. She peered at Yasuhara curiously. "Quantum physics?" she asked.
"I think Shibuya-san would enjoy such a topic, don't you?"
Mai doubted that. "If it doesn't have anything to do with Paranormal Research, I'd say no."
"You might be right."
Hernando watched the movie with little interest. It was something to help pass the time—despite the fact that it had failed miserably throughout the entire flight. The flight itself was almost over. That only added to the long stretch of eternity that he'd already endured. Next to him, Mercedes slept, using him as a pillow. From her iPod, he could hear the strains of… was it Bach or Mozart? He didn't know; it sounded all the same to him. What Hernando did know was that he envied Mercedes right then, because he didn't dare sleep. Carmen would be waiting for him if he did. Sighing, he glanced at the small screen that his wife had been using to watch a movie of her own. Now it showed the duration of the flight: three hours and forty-five minutes left until the plane landed at Narita Airport. His passport would once again gain a stamp from Japan. Thirteen, he recalled dimly. Stamp number thirteen. Unlucky thirteen. The last stamp I'll ever get, he thought morbidly. A chill ran down his spine. What nonsense! he scolded himself. Despite that, he couldn't shake the cold feeling building in him. Unlucky thirteen… oh, stop acting like a scared kid! He looked back at his wife's screen. Three hours, thirty-seven minutes, and forty-six seconds.
After that, judgment.
"Thank you very much for you time, Mr. McLaughlin," Yasuhara said, bowing to the American and getting into the waiting taxi.
"Yes, thank you," Mai said, bowing as well.
"You're most welcome," he said, smiling at her and nodding coolly to her bespectacled companion. He turned back to Mai. "Call me anytime," he told her. I fully expect you to call and soon. Just imagining your frantic voice is drawing shivers down my spine.
Mai bit back the urge to snarl at him. Instead, she forced a smile that was mostly likely a grimace. "I'll keep that in mind."
Mai debated with herself for a second, then decided to take the chance. "There's something that you should also keep in mind, Mr. McLaughlin."
"What's that, Miss Taniyama?" he queried, smiling down at her.
"I know Annabelle's inside me and I know what she wants." She narrowed her eyes at him. "And believe me when I say that I'm not going to let her win."
Go on, he thought, seal your fate.
"I would think twice about keeping secrets," she continued. "I'm not going to help Annabelle, Mr. McLaughlin. I'm going to help myself. Whether you tell me about Annabelle, or whether I find out about her myself, I will triumph."
She looked so fierce and adorable as she glared at him that Samuel couldn't help it. He reached out to draw her close, but she stepped out of reach.
"And one last thing. Your advances are unappreciated. Desist. I already have someone that I lo—care for."
"Oh? Then I'd like to meet the boy that captured your interests," he teased.
Mai gave him a strange look. "You've already met him," she said. "Lin? He's the one you gave your business card to."
Jig's up, he decided. "I wish I could, Miss Taniyama, but I simply can't." Samuel leaned forward to kiss her cheek and instead got her ear when she dodged. He solved that by catching her arm and holding her in place. Yasuhara emerged from the cab, his body tense; he watched McLaughlin warily. The American ignored him, focusing completely on Mai. "You captivate me," he whispered huskily, dropping a kiss on the cheek he'd missed originally. "And I'll get you, sooner or later; you could make it easier on both of us and opt for earlier. I always get what I want, you know. One way or another, you'll grace my bed," he promised, kissing her on lips pulled into a ferocious frown. Just before you dance to death, if need be.
"Mr. McLaughlin, you'd do well to let her go," Yasuhara warned. "I'm quite competent in Judo and it looks like Gavin-san just got off the phone with the police."
Mai jerked away and glared at him wrathfully. "I refuse to allow that," she snarled. "You'll find, Mr. McLaughlin that my resolve is much tougher than you, your money, and Annabelle. Have a nice day," she said coldly, preceding Yasuhara into the cab.
As the driver started off, Yasuhara shifted to see McLaughlin still standing there, watching them off. The man raised his hand in a farewell gesture, but the bespectacled boy could plainly see the wide smirk on his face. "Cocky bastard."
"Quite," she replied, her voice seething.
Teppei Genda alighted from the car in front of Gavin's restaurant and looked around curiously. What the hell? he wondered, glancing at Masuda as the other detective joined him.
"This is the oddest crime scene," his companion muttered.
"That's because it's not one," Genda answered. "Let's go," he called, heading into the restaurant. He stepped inside out of the humid air and into the cozy, air-conditioned interior. The smells immediately washed over him and his stomach responded, letting him know that it fiercely protested the lack of breakfast this morning.
"Was the call a crank?" Masuda asked.
"Doubtful. MacAllister's not the type to do that. He's got a sense of humor, but it doesn't run to cranking the police.
"Hmmm…" Masuda sniffed the air of the restaurant appreciatively and smiled sheepishly when his stomach gurgled loudly.
"Y'all don't take the time to stop and eat, do you?"
Genda turned to see Gavin MacAllister standing with his hands on his hips and a disapproving frown stretched across his face. Masuda stared at him in wonder. He'd seen his fair share of foreigners, but this man was exotic. Tall, maybe taller than Genda-san, broad-shouldered and slim; he had pale, lightly freckled skin stretched over an aristocratic bone structure of sharp, high-arched cheek bones, long, straight nose, and thin, chiseled lips. His green eyes were piercing; Masuda swore that they saw right through him and his partner. The younger detective started slightly when he saw a purple ring around the man's pupils. But most shocking was his hair: it was bright; candy-apple red with gold woven in here and there.
Noticing his stare, Gavin aimed a strange look at him. "What's wrong with you, lad?" he asked.
Masuda flushed at being caught red-handed. "Sorry. I didn't mean to stare. It's just… I've seen plenty of foreigners—don't misunderstand! But I've never…" he gestured to MacAllister's hair and eyes.
MacAllister's lips pulled into a smile. "Never met a man from the Highlands, have you lad?"
"I…no. No, I haven't. I'm sorry."
"What're you sorry for, laddie boy?"
"MacAllister, leave my partner alone. Why did you call?"
Gavin smiled grimly and motioned for the two to follow him. He led the way to one of the empty booths. Settling himself, he withdrew a cell phone and flipped it open, bringing up a photograph. He then handed the cell to Genda.
"And?" the detective asked, showing it to Masuda. His quick scrutiny hadn't revealed anything suspicious.
"The man introduced himself as Samuel McLaughlin. He had lunch here with two regular patrons—I've mentioned Taniyama-chan to you before, haven't I?"
"She's a friend-of-a-friend, right?"
"She's a permanent employee of the company that employs Houshou-kun from time to time."
"I've met him, too. Nice guy, got a weird fashion sense, though."
"Apparently band members aren't supposed to have good fashion sense, period."
"Where are you going with this story, MacAllister?"
"In other words, 'get back to the point?'"
"It had better be a worthy one."
"Go to the next picture," MacAllister advised.
Suspicious, Genda did as he was asked. Clicking the button for the next picture, he felt his lips pull down into a ferocious frown when the picture presented itself. The same man leaned forward, his lips poised to drop a kiss. Were that the only thing in the picture, Genda would have dismissed it as being labeled suspicious. But the young lady looked like she was trying desperately to get away and was impeded by the fact that the very man trying to force a kiss on her, held her in place. He began to understand why he'd been called. That alone would have sold Gavin's story, but what really took the cake was the wary, ready look on the young, bespectacled man's face that stood outside the cab. He looked ready to attack, Genda decided.
"That her boyfriend?" he asked, pointing at the young man.
"No," Gavin said, shaking his head. "Though I feel sorry for that American man when her boyfriend finds out about this. That young man is also a staff member at Taniyama's company. So, do you get why I called you?"
Genda looked back at Taniyama. She was a pretty thing, he decided. Sweet-features, brown hair that hung chin length and an eye color that matched her hair. But her expression in that picture was one of disgust and fright. Abruptly, Genda went to the next picture. The American was standing there staring after something—Genda assumed it was the cab—with a smirk on his handsome features and one hand raised in a farewell gesture. Something about the arrogance the man exuded set the detective on edge. He had something up his sleeve, Teppei guessed.
"Does she wish to press charges?" he asked, handing the phone back to MacAllister.
"I have no clue what she wants to do."
"Then why did you call me instead of calling the regular police?" Genda grated.
"Because… I think there's something else wrong with her. And I'm fairly certain he had something to do with it."
"Watch it, Gavin. Especially if you don't have any proof."
MacAllister shook his head. "I'm not saying he did have anything to do with it and I'm not saying he didn't. This is more like a very, very strong hunch; my gut tells me he had something to do with this. All you have to do is look in her eyes and then look at his smug grin. I'm sure she even asked him about it and she got the run around."
"What do you mean there's something wrong with her?"
Reaching out, Gavin grabbed a straw and fiddled with it. His eyes took on a far away look as if he was gazing to the past for something that was just within reach, but not quite there. "The Highlands," he began, "the Muris. They have many, many stories. Some pretty common ones, some not. I remember, however, when I was a wee lad sitting at my granny's feet during the harshest snowstorms. She used to tell such stories, my Grandmother Ailith did. She told us stories of ghosts and Faeries; Selkies and the changeling children left behind to sicken and die when the faeries would take the real babies away. One story she told in particular was one that happened during her girlhood. The powerful Fae can disguise themselves, you know. Pass themselves off as humans and they could do it so well that a body couldn't tell they weren't human—unless they looked in their eyes."
"Their eyes?" Masuda asked, fascinated, despite himself. Ghosts and monsters, Japan had her share, too. But none of the stories that he could remember ever included the art of looking like they were human. No, he corrected himself. That's not true. There are ghosts that can. And the gods. Glancing at his partner, Masuda saw a well-known grimace on his face; Genda certainly didn't care for an example that came from story-telling.
"Aye lad, their eyes. It's said the eyes are the windows to a person's soul. Gran often told me the story of the Fae man that tried to woo her. Wouldn't ever mention his name, like she was frightened that he might come back again and get her, despite her old age. She often said the man was fair of face and splendidly built, with a sweet, persuading voice, but he never looked her in the eyes, not a once. So one day, she decided to look her handsome love straight in the eyes, to see if he meant every word. And she did. She said they were terrible, those eyes; beautiful like the finest cut emeralds, but cruel and cold as winter. She said he disappeared after that."
"Please," Genda scoffed. "Does your story actually have a point, Gavin?"
"Weren't you paying attention, Teppei? The eyes, Teppei, the eyes." Gavin frowned. "Looking into Mai's eyes, I got chills… because it wasn't just Mai in there. There was something else and I don't know what. But I will tell you this: she was adamant that whatever was wrong with her was McLaughlin's fault. I didn't, however, call just because of that. I called because it's strange that this man cares so much about Taniyama-chan; he hasn't known her for very long, I'm sure. According the Tokyo Newspaper, that man and his Civil War collection only arrived in our country Sunday evening. I, personally, think it's disturbing that's he's taken to her so instantly."
"But sometimes love works that way," Masuda commented.
"Aye lad, you're right, but look at Taniyama's face."
"That's true," Genda said. "She tried valiantly to get away, didn't she?"
Genda sighed. "I still don't know why you called me. I do have other cases to look into, you know."
"Because you're a good judge of character. And maybe Taniyama-chan wants to press charges."
"For heaven's sake, this isn't my duty!"
"But can you do it?"
"I'll tell you something else that might help change your mind. There's some nasty rumors about that collection. My wife was looking at the collection online and somehow got diverted to several sites that state there's a body count wherever that collection has gone. No one really special, but there're bodies all the same. Could be a hoax, of course, but I wouldn't expect a state paper to host such nonsense."
"Body counts in the States are America's problem, not ours," Genda answered, knowing he'd just doomed himself. He knew exactly what Gavin was going to say.
"And it might soon become Japan's—starting with Taniyama-chan. She's a good kid. I don't want to see anything bad happen to her."
Genda glared at him. "You play dirty. I'll look into this McLaughlin and talk to the young lady."
"Thank you," Gavin said seriously. "But aren't you giving me too much credit? After all, you just let me win. Never mind, never mind," he said. "Here's the company she works for," the Scotsman said, handing Genda a card. "I'll give you one last speculation to think about. This Civil War collection caused quite a hype—especially when the museum decided to host it. And instead of touring the States where the war mattered most, it's here in Japan. You know, England cared more about the Civil War than Japan ever has, because Japan had her own Civil War if you think about it."
"That's correct. And there's a body count in the States, if the rumors are true," Masuda said, looking at Genda.
Genda was inclined to agree with both points. "And why bring the collection here when it doesn't really impact Japan at all?" he asked, throwing in his two cents worth. Then he frowned. On the one hand, what Gavin had called him about could have been dealt with by the normal police; there really was no need to call a detective. On the other hand, if America had a body count from this collection, then he was right, something like that could become Japan's problem very quickly. He sighed. Looks like Hijikata, The Elements Network, and Tooyama Haruka will have to wait. This is very disturbing. "Masuda, when we get back to the station, confirm the rumors of a body count and get the exact number and States."
"Thanks, Teppei," Gavin said sincerely. Then he slid two menus over to the detectives. "Pick something to eat. You're not leaving on an empty stomach. That's no way to work."
When Mai walked into the Takamoto house, she wondered what the screaming was about. It seemed that Alejandro-san and Chisato-san were both in a fine fury. Then Mai frowned. The lady's voice didn't sound a bit like Chisato-san. The argument itself was mainly in English and both investigators caught the tail end of Alejandro-san admonishing the other person and insisting that she return to the Kibbutz. The response to that was immediate, angry, and not in English. Mai recognized it as Spanish.
The brunette spotted Chisato coming towards them with a wan smile on her face. "Welcome back," she greeted.
Mai returned the smile. "We're back," she greeted. She winced at what seemed to be a particularly vicious insult from the other woman. "Dare I ask?"
Chisato shrugged. "Rosalie arrived about half an hour after you two left," she said. "Alejandro wants her to return to the Kibbutz."
"But why?" Mai demanded. "Doesn't this concern Rosalie-san, as well?"
"I told him much the same earlier. I don't think he listened." Chisato sighed, mentally cursing her stubborn spouse and equally stubborn in-law. "He really does try to shoulder too much responsibility. Ah, the idiosyncrasies of men, I suppose. Another person from your crew arrived, as well."
"Takahashi-san?" Yasuhara asked, a genuine smile lighting up his face.
"I believe so. She said she was the administrative assistant."
Without another word, Yasuhara made his way to the base room to greet his girlfriend. Chisato watched him go, smiling faintly as he went. She looked back at Mai. "You look upset," she commented. "I'll say this as a friend," Chisato continued, "if you'd like to talk, you know where to find me."
Mai smiled gratefully. "I'll keep that in mind."
"Yes, do." Chisato shook her head as the fighting got louder. "I think I'll help Matsuzaki-san in the kitchen. And hopefully, one of the neighbors will call the police." Turning, she headed the opposite way.
Thoughtfully, Mai made her way to the base room. "I'm back," she announced, stepping through the door.
"Mai-chan!" Yuko pounced on the brunette investigator and hugged her hard; Mai returned the embrace. "I heard from Chiaki-chan that you were possessed. Is everything all right?"
Mai pulled back and shook her head regretfully. "Not quite. But don't worry. Between Naru and all of us, I'm sure we won't deal with Annabelle for very long."
Tears shimmered in Yuko's eyes and she gave Mai another hard hug. When Shibuya-san had first offered her the job of 'administrative assistant' she hadn't thought she'd be accompanying them on cases. A fool she'd been to believe that. And the first case that she had worked with the group, she'd watched a man (undoubtedly deranged) die because he refused to be exorcized. It hadn't mattered to him that he was being devoured by the very creature that had possessed him. Yuko had no desire to see that repeat itself.
"Where's Lin?" Mai asked, looking around for the tall, Chinese man.
"Should be in his room," Naru answered, not looking up at her.
"What are you up to?" she asked curiously.
"I'm looking into the legend of La Llorona."
He ignored her. Chiaki offered her an apologetic smile. Returning the smile with a shake of her head, Mai left the base room to find her boyfriend.
Lin honestly couldn't imagine why phone calls with Madoka almost always went awry. He would have blamed it on the fact that she could be so absent minded, but that was just a front that she put on. Madoka was one smart, manipulating, conniving cookie, but if she asked him one more time about his dating or sex life, he was going to strangle her the next time he saw her.
"Madoka," he said sharply, "this is a serious issue. Leave my personal life aside for I assure you it's none of your damned business. Mai's in trouble."
Madoka dropped the wheedling tone she'd been trying to use to get information from him. She recalled a similar incident about a year ago when Naru had phoned her with the request for a therapist affiliated with the BSPR that spoke fluent Japanese. Mai had been in trouble then, too.
"This… is very eerie, Lin," she said, all mirth gone from her voice.
"I beg your pardon?" the sorcerer asked.
"Did you know that something similar happened a year ago or thereabouts?"
A little over the aforementioned time period, SPR had been dealing with an insidious lust spell. But Lin hadn't contacted the BSPR. That meant that Naru had.
"Mai was also in trouble."
"What did Naru ask of you?"
"He asked me to send a therapist that was affiliated with the BSPR and able to fluently speak Japanese."
"And seeing as none showed up, it's safe to assume they were all busy."
"Right. Hey, Lin? Tell me you just need me to dispatch someone to your location."
"I certainly wish it were that simple, Madoka. I really do."
She sighed. "Doesn't hurt to ask, I suppose." Her voice was wistful. It changed, then, becoming all business. "All right, I'm listening."
The sorcerer explained in concise words their current case and where it stood.
"A Llorona? In Japan? That specter's usually found in the American Southwest and Mexico, isn't it?"
"This one's a bit unique. It followed one family here and we're working on why."
"Well. What an intriguing report this will produce. Don't leave out any details. But interesting as that is, you don't need me."
"Not for that, no. The other problem is that Mai's been possessed by a ghost from the American Civil War and it looks like an exorcism won't help much."
"It'll just come back," she mused. "How in the world did Mai come to be possessed by a ghost from America's bloodiest war? Is it a soldier?" she asked. Her cat jumped into her lap and curled up, making himself at home. Absently, Madoka reached down to pet him and smiled at his satisfied purr.
"It's not a soldier," Lin answered. "We don't know much except for a name."
Grabbing a pad and rooting underneath her pillow for a pen, she clicked it. "What's the name?"
"Annabelle. From what I can gather, she was a Southern Belle from Georgia. I'm suspecting that this happened when Mai was at a Civil War exhibit in Ueno."
"The Civil War exhibit at the Tokyo National Museum, right?" Madoka asked. She nodded when he confirmed it. "I've heard of it, actually. It's going on a world tour." Reaching to her cat's ears, she started to scratch behind them gently. "The exhibit is owned by the McLaughlin Family and is acknowledged as one of the largest collection of Civil War memorabilia."
"But," she emphasized, "some people say there's something wrong with the collection. It's toured all over the States, but according to quite a few sites, mainly personal blogs and tabloids, the collection's left behind a body count."
"That's bad news," he said. "What are the police saying?"
"Well that's what's odd. They're not saying anything. There's virtually no information from the police. They haven't even confirmed or denied the rumors."
"Meaning someone's paying big bucks to keep it hush-hush," Lin translated, thinking of McLaughlin. He seemed like the type to do such a thing. "Are there rumors of the collection being cursed, haunted, or both?"
"All of the above."
"Tourism," the sorcerer said grimly. "The next dead body may be you."
"Macabre, but that's about the gist of it," Madoka agreed.
"Then, here's what I would like you to do. I need you to find out everything you can. Go to America, if you must. I'll happily reimburse you."
To go this far, she thought with a wistful smile. "You don't have to ask, you know. I'll do it because I adore Mai, too. But I'll definitely send you the receipts."
"I'm certain that the lone pair of dancing slippers in this display are part of it. Mai dreamed of them before she saw them in reality, and she dreamed of Annabelle, too. Also, if you're up to a challenge, see if you can find out how far back this body count goes in Georgia, because this can't be recent. Mai and Yasuhara-san took one of the tape recorders with them to the interview with McLaughlin-san. I'll listen to it later tonight and call your cell phone with whatever news there is—though I'm not really hopeful."
Madoka heard the frustration in the sorcerer's voice. "She's being very opaque about this entire situation, isn't she?" Madoka asked sympathetically.
"Yes, she is. She's virtually ignoring it and damned if I can figure out why."
"Because you all are working on something else currently?"
"We do know how to multi-task quite well, Madoka."
She smiled. "I'm well aware of that. But maybe you should ask Mai instead of guessing."
Lin sighed. "Communication is key?" he asked wryly.
Her smile widened. "Communication is the fundamental basic of all relationships. I'll be in touch."
Hanging up the phone, she set it next to her and turned to the laptop on her desk. She brought up her internet browser to begin booking her flight.
When the car stopped, Genda alighted from it and simply stood there, staring at the building of the West Setagaya Police Station. Taking out a cigarette, he lit it and took a puff, still staring. Masuda came to stand beside him.
"What is it?" he asked.
Genda didn't respond; her merely took another pull and then another. Masuda sighed, wondering what was going through his partner's head. Turning, he began to pace, trying to get rid of the bloated feeling in his stomach. He'd eaten way too much.
"Let's go," Genda ordered, making his way to the building. Masuda hurried after him and once inside began to make his way to the stairs leading to their office. He stopped when he realized that Genda wasn't with him. "Genda-san?" he asked, turning to the man.
"What are you doing, Masuda?"
"The office," he answered perplexed.
Genda frowned. "We're not going there just yet. Follow me."
"Where are we going?" the other detective asked, trying to keep up with Genda's long strides.
"We're going to visit a different squad."
"We are? Which one?"
Masuda's brow furrowed. "They're part of Special Investigations, right?"
"Right. Do you know what they investigate?"
Masuda shook his head, following his partner deeper into the building. Genda stuffed his hands into his pocket. "Squad Zero gets the odd-ball cases that most detectives in my opinion won't even contemplate. They reinvestigate the cases that are blamed on the supernatural."
"So basically they investigate the cases that people claim to be caused by ghosts and stuff, right? So why are we visiting them?"
Genda held up the card that Gavin had given him. Curious, Masuda took it from him and peered at it. "Shibuya Psychic Research?" he asked, handing it back.
Genda nodded. "I figure that Squad Zero knows about this place. At the very least, they've probably heard of it—it's their business, after all. Left here." They walked a bit further before coming to a halt in front of a door that announced Squad Zero. "Please excuse us," he said, opening the door and stepping inside.
The door opened smoothly, admitting the pair, and the two detectives walked into a bustling office. Masuda found himself slightly disappointed. They were doing normal things—things that he did when he was in his office. He'd expected weirdly dressed people to chant ancient sutras, not regular looking officers working on reports, filing, and making phone calls.
"Can I help you two?" a voice asked.
Looking to his right, Genda saw a slim, tawny-haired man hang up a phone and approach.
"I'm Genda," he said, bowing. "This is my partner, Masuda."
"Hirota," the man responded, returning the bow with one of his own. "You're too seasoned an officer to be new, so you definitely didn't get lost," Hirota commented with a mischievous sparkle in his dark eyes.
Genda's lips quirked upwards into a faint grin at the observation. "I actually came to ask some questions."
The sparkle dimmed and was replaced by a serious expression. "Oh? Is this something you'll need Squad Zero's help with?"
"I'm not sure yet," Genda answered honestly.
Hirota tilted his head to the side and gave a cursory once over of the two detectives that had come to Squad Zero. Masuda wasn't as seasoned as his partner, but he was sharp and aware. Genda—well, Hirota had heard of him, actually. Genda Teppei was well known in Kendo circles and he'd heard his father talk about him from time to time. "Suppose you ask your questions and we'll go from there?"
"Sounds like a plan." Reaching into his pocket, Genda withdrew the card that he'd shown to Masuda. "A young lady was nearly molested outside a restaurant. As my current case is at a stand-still, I said I'd look into this for the restaurant owner. The young lady in question works for this company," he finished, handing over the card.
Dread pooled into Hirota's stomach and sank like lead as he reached for the proffered card. He glanced at it and groaned mentally. I should have known. There's no getting away from them, is there?
"What is it?" Genda asked, observing the look on Hirota's face.
For a few moments, Hirota remained silent. Then, "I know these guys," he said, at last.
"You do?" Masuda asked. Trust Genda-san's instinct to be right!
"I do." Hirota stared at the simple piece of cardboard that was devoid of everything except the black, English letters S.P.R.
"What can you tell me about them, then?" Genda asked.
Handing the card back, Hirota grabbed his jacket. "Hey, Mitsutaka! If anyone asks, I stepped out with two other detectives."
"Sure," the man replied, hanging up the phone he'd been using.
"Follow me," Hirota commanded, motioning to Genda and Masuda. He led them out of the building to a shady break area that sat off to the side of the station. Going over to the vending machine, Hirota dropped in a few coins and pushed the button for iced coffee. Retrieving the can, he popped the top and took a seat at the picnic table, motioning for the other two to join him. Taking a liberal swallow, he began. "Actually, I've worked with them before."
"How did that come to be?"
Hirota took another sip. "I was investigating the office manager. Unofficially, that is."
Masuda frowned. "So you posed as staff in the office?"
"Not at all," Hirota replied, shaking his head. "There's no way I'd have been able to get away with that, seeing as the company has three or four staff members—or did, when I was investigating. No, I was posing as the cousin to a homeowner who was having quite a few troubles with her new house. Inexplicable problems, that is. I was the one who introduced her to this company," he said tapping the business card. "I also wanted to keep an eye on the office manager, so I asked them to use me as an assistant while they investigated."
"When you say inexplicable problems… what do you mean?" Genda asked slowly.
Hirota frowned at the can on the table. "Electrical problems to start—the breakers tripped easily; other electrical items would break one after another. The T.V. pictures would warp; there was static on the phone line; the house was always damp; rain always leaked in, and of course, extremely pesky neighbors."
"Those aren't inexplicable."
"No, you're right. All the owner needed to do, of course, was call and have those things fixed. And she did, but too many calls…"
"You're joking," the kendo master said.
"I wish, but the repairman always blamed the house's age, when he came out."
"What about the neighbors?"
"Well, they're more inexplicable than anything, if you will."
"How do you mean?"
Hirota frowned. "You didn't hear me name names. The Agawa family wasn't necessarily on good terms with the Sasakura family, their neighbors. However, Sasakura Kazumi-san was so friendly towards Agawa Midori-san that it was just creepy."
"Maybe she simply needed a friend?" Masuda asked.
"Then she had no business asking to keep a spare key for Midori-san," Hirota countered.
The other two detectives stared at him. Hirota gave them a tight-lipped smile in response.
"All right… why don't you tell us the inexplicable problems that made you introduce her to this company."
"That house… had a bad reputation, I assume. There was a rotten smell that always pervaded the place. All the windows were replaced with mirrors so a person couldn't see out and no one knew just why. The owner's mother would sometimes close the shutters during the day because she said that it felt like someone was peering inside and it bothered her. There was also the bath water that turned red somehow and the rumor of a suicide in the house."
"So someone slit their wrists in a bath tub?" Genda mused. "And they got a ghost out of it. Good reasons to seek out a company that performs exorcisms."
Hirota's smile turned peculiar. "There were deaths in that house, true enough, but no one ever committed suicide. The Sasakuras made that up to chase people away from the house—though they needn't have bothered."
"Why's that?" Masuda asked.
"Because even before the Sasakuras moved into their house, made up the story of suicide and began their harassment, people didn't stay in the Agawa house very long. And you know what? I don't know how many times I saw that small piece of information and simply thought nothing of it. But Shibuya-san… after solving the explainable problems, went on to stay a bit longer because he was unsatisfied with the investigation's end. When I asked him why, he commented that it was curious that even before the harassment started, people didn't stay long in that house. And the need for the mirrors covering the windows—what purpose did they serve?
"I never did strongly believe in the paranormal. I was always the skeptic. Probably why I joined Squad Zero. People, I assumed, would make up anything so they wouldn't have to face their crimes. And then came the possessed Sasakuras who tried to emulate what Sekiguchi-san and his wife had done back in Showa 49. And then came that thing that they called Kosori. Let me tell you what Judo doesn't work against: ghosts. After that… well, I still suspected Dr. Davis, but not of being a fraud. Don't misunderstand. It didn't change my initial opinions of the supernatural. But…I did grant him a little leeway. Even though there was an actual crime, the Sasakuras couldn't help but commit it. They didn't even know what they were doing, or why."
Genda frowned. To him, it seemed as if Hirota was holding back quite a lot—as if he just didn't want to remember it or relive it. It had to have been quite a shock for that. He simply nodded, however and said, "What's your overall opinion of the company?"
"In regards to?"
Ah, Detective Hirota was back. "Tell me about their clientele."
"It's safe to say that Dr. Davis—excuse me—Shibuya-san is very selective about the cases he'll choose to work on."
"Only those with the most money, right?" Masuda asked, knowingly. He knew the type; he'd seen it often enough in other cases.
"No," Hirota said, flooring the younger detective. "The Agawas didn't have very much money. After all, they'd just bought a house and during the time they'd been there, there were so many repairs from the Sasakuras… no, they certainly didn't have a lot to give, and yet, Shibuya-san still took their case. As far as Shibuya-san is concerned, he wants nothing to do with the case if it doesn't deal with the Paranormal, money or not."
Genda blinked, unsure if he'd heard correctly; Masuda's jaw dropped.
"Unexpected, isn't it?" Hirota asked the younger detective.
"Yeah. What kind of person is he?"
"A focused one," Genda answered for Hirota. "But somehow, he needs to make a profit. So how's he doing it?"
Hirota shook his head. "Well, clients give what they can afford to. But, Shibuya-san doesn't need the money. That's why he can afford to inform the clients that they're welcome to give whatever monetary compensation they'd like to. Turns out he's got several financial backers in England that foot his bills—and they're likely very wealthy. Operating in Shibuya isn't cheap and all that equipment is costly."
"What kind of equipment?"
"Cameras, mainly night cameras, thermographs, electric thermometers, microphones that can pick up anything, you name it."
"So he's also a serious Ghost Hunter, eh?"
"What's his satisfaction rating?"
Hirota smiled faintly. "He's got a one-hundred percent satisfaction rating, attitude and all."
Genda stared at him, unsure if he'd heard right. "You're joking," he said, at last.
"Not at all. Genda-san… why are you asking me about Shibuya-san and S.P.R. when the person you're really interested in is Taniyama-san?"
The kendo master blinked and aimed a faint grin at Hirota. "You… you're good. What gave it away?"
"I figured it had to be her. I doubt anyone would bother with Matsuzaki-san or Hara-san. But Taniyama-san… I can see someone trying to harm her, sadly enough. Especially when I worked with her. She's really selfless; she'll put herself straight into harm's way to help. She's a good kid and she's got a fair, honest head on her shoulders. She also didn't treat me like an imbecile, unlike her boss—who was just contemptuous towards me for being of what he considered "lower intelligence." And, of course, if someone did try to harm Taniyama-san, then as an officer that serves justice, I would love to make sure that the perpetrator is forced to answer for their crimes."
Genda smirked. "You're all right."
"Back at you."
"Come with us? You already know Taniyama-san. She might be more apt to talk to you, rather than Masuda or myself."
There were a thousand reasons or more that should have kept Hirota from saying 'yes,' but the prospect of seeing Taniyama and making sure that she was unharmed, had him rising to his feet. Downing the rest of the coffee, he tossed the can, picked up his jacket, and looked at the other two detectives expectantly.
Lin had just gotten off the phone with Madoka when Mai walked into his room, closed the door, and leaned against it. Lin smiled. "How did it go? Did you get anything useful?" he asked. When she didn't react and acted as if she hadn't heard him, he grew worried. "Mai, what happened? Mai?"
She took one step away from the door and then another and another until she was standing right in front of him. Lin peered beneath her bangs and frowned at the sight of her face. Ask the right question, he reminded himself. "What did he do to make you so upset?"
At that, she flung herself into his arms and buried her face in his neck. Her tears burned his skin as they trickled down her cheeks. "Mai?"
"Hold me," she begged. "Please, just hold me."
Whatever had happened couldn't be good and Lin knew it. Biting the inside of his cheek, he folded his arms around her in a comforting embrace and pulled her close. He stroked her back gently and waited patiently for her to tell him. Quietly, she began to recount her earlier experiences.
"When we first got to the hotel, there was a message waiting at the desk for me. It was… an invitation… to go up to his room. You can just imagine what the concierge was thinking, I'm sure."
Lin could. His arms tightened around her and his eyes narrowed. "I really don't like that man," he muttered.
"Trust me, the feeling's mutual."
Sighing, she dropped her arms and settled down next to him on the mattress. His arms draped around her and she continued. "I sent up a message telling him that if he wasn't down in the lobby within the next couple minutes, to hell with him."
A soft laugh escaped Lin's throat. "You never cease to amaze me."
She blushed at that and then sobered. "When we got to Gavin-san's restaurant, I asked him to tell me about Annabelle. You can listen to the recording, if you like. I'm sure you're going to, anyways. He wouldn't tell me anything, of course. Pointless to ask. It was the same thing with Baker's Field. Nothing. He did, however, try to tell me that Mildred was the last person to wear the shoes. Now that I think about it, it might be true. Annabelle died at a young age. Maybe Mildred was a victim, same with Mary Leigh Baglow."
"I don't know. I don't know if she was real, or if he made her up."
He tapped her forehead gently. "Tell me what this is whispering."
Mai bit her lip and shook her head. "It's so out of whack. But… I get the sense that everyone he mentioned was real, but they weren't in order, if that makes any sense."
"As in… I'm sure that Annabelle was the person those slippers were made for. And I'm sure she was the last one to wear them. But in between those times, Mildred and Mary Leigh Baglow also wore them. Whether or not they were victims, I don't know."
Lin nodded. "I'll tell that to Madoka. I've sent her to America to start looking into this collection."
"Ask her to look into Baker's Field and for a Family Bible for the McLaughlin's," Mai said, unfazed by Lin's comment. She'd had a feeling he'd call and ask her to help with the investigation of Annabelle.
He nodded. "Will do. What else?" he asked her. "What did he do to upset you?"
"I'd hoped you'd forget."
The sorcerer just looked at her.
"Yes, I know. After lunch, I decided to impart a warning to Mr. McLaughlin. I told him that I knew about Annabelle and that I wouldn't let her win. My resolve, I told him, is greater than him, his money, and Annabelle because I'm going to help myself. She chose the wrong victim this time."
"I wonder about that," Lin commented.
Surprised, Mai pulled back as much as his hold would allow and peered at him with equal amounts of wariness and curiosity. "What do you mean?"
"Does it occur to you that maybe she chose the right victim this time?" he asked.
Beginning to trace random patterns on his shirt, Mai pondered this. "Gene did say she usually went for people with abilities like mine."
"And you yourself said she's tired of all this. So perhaps she chose the right victim when she chose you. You're powerful enough to talk to spirits and perform exorcisms. Combine that with all that you've learned from Eugene and the rest of us—it makes you formidable, especially to a weary ghost. And of course, we'll all help you and we specialize in ghost hunting. I'd say you're the right victim for ending her suffering."
"She's… really, really, desperate."
"I can't really blame her. When I was talking to Madoka, she mentioned that the exhibit has been all over the States and has accumulated quite the body count."
Mai's fingers stopped tracing the patterns on his shirt and she crumpled the fabric between her fingers in anger. "That's unforgivable!"
"It is. But…empathetic as you are, that's not what upset you."
Releasing his shirt, she smoothed it as best she could and resumed tracing patterns on to it. "I told him that I wanted him to stop his arduous pursuits. I have someone I care for."
"Oh, is that so?" Lin asked, toppling them both to the sheets. "Do I know him?"
"You just might," she said, grinning at him. Then she sobered and told him the rest. "When I told him he'd already met the person who held my heart…all joking was gone. He told me he couldn't stop because I'd captivated him. He tried to kiss me, but I dodged away. Then he grabbed my arm and kissed my cheek and…" she trailed off, touching her lips with her finger tips; she flushed.
Lin felt a jolt of red, hot rage surge through him. He'd long since accepted his feelings for her; it was part of the reason that he didn't object to Naru, Yasuhara-san, John, or Bou-san being so familiar with her. This however, was different. For trying to take what was his, Lin was going to make the man pay dearly.
"There's more," she said, interrupting his turmoil. His eyes snapped to hers and held them. "He told me that he'd get me; he told me that one way or another, I would grace his bed. And he said that he always got what he wanted."
That rage began to pulsate through his very veins. Over his dead body. He cradled her face in his hands and locked eyes with her. "I will never let that happen," he promised, his voice seething.
He pressed his lips to hers, softly, gently, making Mai think that he was sealing a vow. Then it grew more tender and his mouth moved against hers. Mai sighed and relaxed in his embrace. The long, sweet kisses he liked to give always made her feel like pudding after. His mouth left hers after a second and she pouted. She didn't pout for long. His body shifted and pressed hers more firmly into the mattress. Mai's breath caught and she blushed at the intimate position he'd trapped her in; hesitantly, she bent her legs a bit and rested her knees against his hips. If Lin noticed however, he didn't acknowledge it. He felt her heart pound against her ribs and ignored it. He had too much to promise to just give into her yet.
Keeping their eyes locked, he continued. "I will not allow him to touch you ever again." He traced her neck with small kisses and ghosted his fingers down her sides and rested them on her thighs. "I'm the only one who will bring you any pleasure," he whispered, caressing the shell of one ear.
Mai shuddered; she'd never seen him this angry—had she? She wasn't even sure if anger was the right word for him right now. She did know how he was making her feel; she felt completely wanton and her body trembled with anticipation. And his voice! It was different from earlier—it was no longer patient and gentle. These tones were richer with deeper cadences that seemed to touch some deep, primal place within her. And, with a small thrill of fear, she realized that she knew this voice; she'd heard it before in a dream when he'd stolen her fifth kiss. Mai had tried to convince herself after that it hadn't been Lin, but some sort of doppelganger created by the spell or possibly by her imagination. But the reality was that that it had been him. Lying atop her was the same man who'd showed her his possessive side in a dream and was currently robbing her of her senses, driving her past the threshold of madness and into the welcoming gates of delirium with his voice alone.
His lips resumed their trek down her neck and across her shoulders; he delighted in each moan she emitted and every shudder that ran through her body. He sucked hard at the skin of her throat leaving quite a noticeable mark on her creamy skin. Nothing he hadn't done before, but this was different. It was more savage and infinitely more pleasurable. With a cry, she arched her hips against his and Lin felt his control splinter like a fractured mirror. He continued to rain kisses down her body; one hand worked its way beneath her shirt and rested momentarily on her stomach before slowly sliding up further, leaving burning trails on her skin. Whimpering, she wrapped her arms and legs around him and just held on. It seemed after so long of wanting… She didn't care that they were on a case or in someone else's house. Frankly put, she couldn't think enough to care. She was well past delirium's gates, by now.
She really was perfect, Lin noted, from her skin to her lithe figure lying beneath him. She'd belong to him completely soon enough, as well. You're on a case, his conscience reminded him.
Lin ignored it. Mai sounded better than the good little angel on his shoulder. He enjoyed hearing each gasping breath that escaped her lips and it drove him to make it happen again and again.
This also isn't your home or your rooms.
Lin had a very clear picture in mind of where his conscience could go as he slowly peeled Mai's shirt away from her. The clang of pots and pans crashing to the floor and an impassioned shriek in Spanish brought Lin back to reality. His control reinstated itself and he stopped, looking down at Mai. He dropped her shirt quickly and lifted himself away from her—well as far as she would allow him to go. Great gods, he thought, looking at the marks he'd left on her; he tried to ignore the surge of pride at this. Her eyes opened and he noted with satisfaction that they were dark and hazy with pleasure. They cleared all too soon.
"You don't have to stop," she whispered.
"Yes, I do. This isn't the right time or place, unfortunately."
She heard the jagged edge of frustration in his voice and a slow, wanton smile spread across her face. Returning her smile, he lowered himself back into her embrace and gently knocked his forehead against hers. "Soon," he whispered into her ear. She shivered and nodded. Soon. He meant it, too.
Sighing, Mai reluctantly untangled her limbs and Lin levered himself up and away from her just as a perfunctory knock sounded in the room; the door opened a second after that and someone Mai had never met poked her head into the room. She was pretty, Mai thought, studying the intruder. She could see the family resemblance between her and Alejandro-san, but her skin was very, very fair. However, she had the same ebony hair as her brother and the same whiskey-gold eyes—that were currently wide with shock; a furious blush stained her high, arched cheekbones and her mouth dropped into a small, 'o.'
"Oh," she said her voice stunned and small. She reminded Mai of the child that got caught with her hand in the cookie jar. The blush intensified. "Oh," she said again. She bit her bottom lip and fretted it. "I'm sorry," she said, at last. "I hadn't realized…" She trailed off. Taking a deep breath, she simply ducked out of the room and closed the door.
"That's Rosalie-san, isn't it?" Mai asked, looking at Lin.
"She's pretty," Mai commented, aiming a mischievous smile at him.
Lin rolled his eyes. "I hadn't noticed," he returned dryly.
"You'd better not have," the brunette said archly.
Lin felt a chuckle rise in his throat and he let out a quiet snort of laughter and aimed a small smirk at his girlfriend. Mai sat up and answered his laughter with a snicker of her own.
"I'll see what she wanted," Mai told him, vacating the bed.
"Then I'll see you back at base," Lin replied, taking one last kiss and watching her go. When the door closed, he buried his face in one hand and exhaled a long sigh. He was going to make Samuel McLaughlin pay for that lapse of control and dearly, too. Closing his eyes, he sent a short prayer to the heavens that her feelings had absolutely nothing to do with that spell from over a year ago. He didn't think his heart could handle it if that were the case.
Standing, he straightened the clothing that she'd tugged at and winced at the stinging pain at his shoulder blades. He smiled, amused. He didn't think that spell had any claim to responsibility at all.
Rosalie stalked down the hallway, hoping that by the time she got to the backyard, the blush would be gone from her cheeks. She'd only intended to talk to the tall, handsome, mysterious man her sister-in-law had introduced as 'Lin.' After the fight with her brother just now, she needed to blow off some steam and he seemed like he was a good listener; it didn't hurt that he was sinfully gorgeous, either. What she hadn't expected was what she saw. It was obvious that nothing had happened, yet, but it was equally obvious that they'd wanted to do something and she'd either walked right in on it, or… they'd decided against. And it's none of your business Rosalie! But she was so young… and he… Huffing, she gave an incredulous smile, feeling her cheeks cool. Cutting through the living room, she poked her head into the kitchen. It seemed that Chisato had gotten everything to rights. Said woman shot her a stern look that had Rosalie fleeing to the backyard where Makoto and Ofelia were romping with Ginger. She smiled at their laughter and youthful faces; she smiled at the joy they got from playing with the dog. The smile faded when she looked out over the dark, inky waters of the man-made lake. For an instant, she wondered why Chisato allowed her children to play near it.
"It's safe during the day," a voice said, causing Rosalie to jump.
"Dear God above!" she exclaimed sharply, turning to look at the petite brunette that she saw with Lin, "you took years off my life! Don't do that!"
"I'm sorry," Mai answered apologetically. She sat down on the steps next to Rosalie. "It's all right during the day."
"La Llorona doesn't care if it's night or day. She'll still take children."
Mai smiled again. "It really is all right. We've made sure of it. Well… Ayako made sure."
"And how's that?"
"Charms," Mai answered simply. She nodded to the trees where they hung. "Ayako's wards are very effective."
"So you claim," Rosalie answered, turning back to the kids and dog.
"So I've seen, actually. Her charms have protected us from some very spooky specters. Lin and Bou-san put up wards around the house. It extends down to the lake," Mai said, nodding to it. "That's why they're staying away from it. The wards that they put up give out the insistence that people don't want to pass them. The more a person tries, the more insistent they become; they work."
Rosalie bit her lip again and didn't answer.
"I'm Mai," the girl continued. "Taniyama Mai. And you're Rosalie-san, yes? Takamoto Rosalie-san."
"Aren't you well-informed?" she asked.
"An essential thing for Ghost Hunters," Mai said seriously.
"So… are you here to tell me that 'Lin' is off-limits?"
"Why would I need to? He can take care of himself. If he doesn't want you near him, believe me, a glare is all it will take to send you running."
Rosalie shook her head. "How long have you two been together?" she asked.
"Over a year, now."
"How old are you?"
"Nineteen. I'll be twenty soon—a fully fledged adult, then."
"And your parents are okay with you having an affair with an older man?"
Mai smiled sadly and didn't answer immediately. Finally, "I think they're happy that I'm happy."
"That's some optimism you have."
"Is it? I call it sensible. Need to talk?" Mai asked, directing the conversation away from herself. "Sounds like you and your brother had quite the row."
Rosalie protested internally. It wasn't like her to talk with total strangers—especially about personal matters. Then again, why not? After all, she'd been ready to talk to Lin and she'd already gone out on a limb of crazy and flown here from Tel Aviv. She sighed. "Alejo's upset because I left the kibbutz that I've been living on."
"It's more than that. He's concerned for you."
"He shoulders so much shit that he can't see past it anymore," Rosalie said derisively.
"Maybe. But I firmly believe he's genuinely concerned that you'll be hurt. Did you know that he was attacked?"
Shock turned Rosalie's eyes to a molten gold and she felt it sear through her. "When?" she whispered.
"When the Wailing Woman finally found her way inside."
Rosalie's eyes swept over to the mezuzah that could be clearly seen on the doorpost inside. "The bathroom," she muttered.
"How did you know?" Mai asked.
Rosalie gestured to the mezuzah sitting on the inside doorpost. "All rooms are supposed to have one, except bathrooms and other rooms of the same nature."
Mai looked at the simple silver case. She narrowed her eyes at the symbols on it and asked, "What does it say?"
"Those are letters, right?"
"Not on that one," Rosalie said. "That's just a letter—a 'shin' and a picture of Jerusalem. There's no simple way to explain it. It stands for one of the letters spelled out when binding the tefilin." She shrugged at Mai's confused look. "Like I said, it's not simple to explain, so be satisfied with that."
"All right… so tell me what purpose a mezuzah serves."
"Originally? It was meant to serve as a reminder. A reminder to love God." She pointed to the silver casing. "What's important isn't that piece of decorated metal. What's important is what's inside. The scroll inside is important. That's the mezuzah."
"The scroll inside?"
"Yep. Written on it are verses from the Tanakh—the Old Testament."
"What kind of verses?"
"Not what kind. Which ones. The Shema and the V'ahavta. The Shema is one of the most important blessings in Judaism, proclaiming our belief that there is only one God. And the V'ahavta is a reminder to love God and follow His commandments. The original purpose of the mezuzot was to remind people of this. Nowadays, it's almost like a good-luck charm; ward off evil, that sort of thing, because no one really remembers the original reason for them. So, if the mezuzot act as protection against what's outside, then nothing will get in—just like Ginger, Ofi, and Mako won't go near the lake. But we don't put a mezuzah on a bathroom's doorpost because of what we do in a bathroom. Other rooms like doors leading outside and bedroom doors, we put them there."
"So because a bathroom isn't necessarily a clean or sacred place…"
"Hole in one," Rosalie said. "What is it?" she asked, seeing the perplexed look on Mai's face.
"I wonder how the Wailing Woman figured that part out."
"My mother was Jewish," Rosalie said. "And she was very adamant that Alejandro and I learn the traditions."
"Is Chisato-san also Jewish?"
"Of course. Alejo would have been disowned marrying outside the faith. Those two met at a temple function. Love at first sight, I guess. Same for you and Lin?"
Mai scoffed. "Hardly." She patted Ginger on the head and received a slobber in return. "He actually hated me at one point."
Rosalie glanced at Mai's throat. "I think it's safe to say that's not true anymore."
Mai blushed, but offered a serene smile. Ginger paused in her romping and pricked up her ears before beginning to bark. When the doorbell rang, she darted inside and over to the door. Puzzled, Rosalie picked herself up and went inside. "Are you guys expecting someone else?"
"No, we're all here," Mai answered, perplexed. Then she recalled something that Chisato had said and wondered if that hadn't come true. They arrived at the door at the same time that Alejandro did. He scowled at Rosalie.
"It's probably the IDF to drag you back," he muttered.
She kicked him in the shin. "Don't be stupid! The IDF has better things to do! Like, oh, defending Israel?"
Another knock sounded on the door followed by the phrase, "Police, open up!"
Cursing, he unlocked the door and pulled it open, looking at the three men on his doorstep, puzzled.
"IDF my ass," Rosalie said smugly.
Alejandro glared at her before turning back to the officers. "Can I help you?" he asked.
"We're looking into a call of domestic dispute," one of them said.
Hang on a second, Mai thought, her eyes going wide with surprise. I know that voice! She peered around Alejandro and Rosalie, confirming her suspicions. "Hirota-san?" she asked.
"Hello there, Taniyama-san. It's nice to see you again. It's been a while, hasn't it?" he asked, smiling at her.
"Yep, it has. What brings you of all people here? You're not still investigating Naru, are you?" she asked, narrowing her eyes in suspicion.
"Not this time, no. Allow me to introduce two of my associates: detectives Genda and Masuda. We came to answer that call, but more importantly, we came to see you, Taniyama-san. We'll talk with you in a moment." He turned to the siblings and aimed a hard look at them. "Your neighbors, Takamoto-san, reported disturbance of the peace. Care to explain yourselves? And please be as detailed as possible."
Oh? Someone new? You should introduce me, as well!
Eh? It was the first time Mai had ever heard Annabelle speak to her. Mai felt herself shoved to the wayside. Oh, no you don't! she snarled, pushing back with all her might. Don't you dare think you can just waltz in and do whatever you damn well please!
In the end, Annabelle won. The officers were too busy questioning Alejandro and Rosalie to notice the peculiar smile that crossed Mai's face upon Annabelle's victory; they didn't notice Ginger's low-throated, threatening snarls, either.
"Hmm?" drawled a slow, thickly accented voice. "There are new people here. Seems a shame that I'm not introduced, as well."
Genda's eyes widened and Masuda took a step back. The number of people hadn't changed in the hall—just those three, but there was a new voice. Hirota looked at Mai, a hard frown on his features. The southern drawl had come from her. Annabelle looked up and studied the newcomers. "But none of you are him. What a pity. Still…" She shoved her way forward, grabbed Hirota's hand, and dragged him into the house. "I'm sure that you won't mind dancing with me?"
This… has to be what MacAllister was talking about when he mentioned the eyes. Those eyes don't belong to anyone alive, Genda thought, trying to process what he was seeing into reality. The eyes that studied the three detectives were lit with an insane, hungry light that caused goose bumps to crawl on Genda's skin. Or anyone sane, he thought, suppressing a shiver with sheer will.
"Who are you?" Genda asked.
"Annabelle," she drawled in a sing-song voice. "I'm Annabelle." She turned to Genda, held out her hand, and smiled. "Come dance with me."
Before any of them could answer, another familiar voice spoke. "Hirota-san? What's happening?"
Hirota glared at the young man that made his way to the small crowd. "Shibuya-san. So nice to see you again. I see you're taking great care of your employees like normal. She's a bit off in the head, isn't she?" he asked, pointing to Mai.
"She's possessed," he corrected. "You've seen this before."
"Excuse me," a new voice said. "Is… this a bad time?"
Pandemonium broke out.
Masuda would never forget how the young man, Shibuya, managed to restore order. Just a word, the tone of his voice, and his cold, cold, eyes.
"Quiet!" the young ghost hunter snapped.
"You're not him, either."
Naru looked over at Mai. "Of course I'm not. I could find 'him' if you told me his name. However, I don't think you really need that much help, do you, Annabelle-san?"
She stayed silent for a few moments. "Promise me."
"Why are promises so important to you, Annabelle?"
"Promise me you won't leave me."
"None of us are going to promise you anything," Lin said, looking at the ghost possessing Mai with something akin to pity.
Annabelle frowned at that voice. That man—why was he always there when she decided to show up? Despite her host's struggle, she eventually managed to find the answer. He was paying her court. It's called dating now, old timer, Mai grumbled. And don't just raid! You could ask!
Annabelle ignored her. "Why, if it isn't Mr. Brute!"
"Can't say it's a pleasure to see you again," Lin answered.
Naru sighed. "Matsuzaki-san, the schichi-baku, please."
And what is that, host? Annabelle asked, watching the other woman approach. She frowned when her host didn't answer. Before she could begin to search her host's mind for the answer, the woman started talking and waving her fingers in a simple, but confusing pattern. To Annabelle, it had no rhyme or reason. Reason or not, it had an effect. Something encircled her borrowed body and seemed to tie itself to the floor, tightly. Annabelle couldn't move, no matter which way she tried. Damn them! That was awfully sneaky.
You pushed them to it.
"Now Annabelle-san, seeing as you're unable to move, perhaps you'll answer some questions for us?"
Mai's eyes glittered. Naru pulled out a tape recorder and turned it on. He continued, unperturbed. "Whom are you searching for?"
Annabelle didn't answer. "If…I could remember, would you promise to help me?"
"So you can't remember who the person is. Why are promises so important to you, Annabelle-san?"
"Because no one's ever kept a promise to me. Not my parents, my siblings, no one. Even he betrayed me."
"And your victims?" Naru asked evenly.
"They failed. They promised and they failed. Should I reward that?"
"Spoken like a spoiled child," Naru sighed.
"You have no rights to talk," Lin muttered.
Naru glared at his assistant briefly before turning back to Annabelle. "Why do you try to coerce people into dancing?"
A small smile spread across Mai's face. "Because I like to dance and I am a very good dancer."
"And 'he' has what to do with it?"
Annabelle stayed silent.
So, that was as far as she would divulge, Naru thought frustrated.
"Does the name 'Baker's Field' mean anything to you?" Lin asked.
Tears filled Mai's eyes, telling them that Lin had hit upon something significant. "He… that's where he was born."
"Where?" Lin asked, taking a step forward. "Where is Baker's Field?"
Annabelle tried to move back, but her host's body was frozen. Belatedly, she realized that she'd been immobilized. She watched him approach warily. She looked around to see if there was anyone who would stop the man from approaching her. There was no help from the small crowd. She shook her host's head. "You certainly are a brutish person. I've no clue at all what she sees in you."
"I couldn't give a damn what you think of me," Lin responded.
Mai's eyes went wide. "Such language! Is this how a gentleman talks to a lady?"
"Lin!" Naru said sharply, when objects began to rattle. Lin took a cursory glance around and fell silent, glaring at Annabelle.
"Thank you, kind sir. Why are you not with the young lady? You're much kinder."
"No, I'm not," Naru said bluntly. "What is Samuel McLaughlin using you for?"
"That boy," she sneered. "A relation of mine, I suppose, though why he wasn't drowned at birth I'll never know."
"I… am not sure," she confessed. "I am tired of answering your questions, boy. I think it's time I take my leave, now. "Mr. Brute, let me make one thing clear." Gesturing to Mai's body, she continued. "Getting beneath her skirts will not get rid of me."
"Let me also tell you that 'getting beneath a possessed person's skirts' rarely works to rid them of their parasites," Lin responded unperturbed.
Annabelle glared at Lin before retreating from her host's mind. Such a rude fellow, my host. Why do you bother with him?
Mai felt herself shoved back; Ayako's wards disappeared and she slipped to the ground in a faint. Takigawa darted forward and caught her. "Like old times, eh?" he asked, looking up at Lin as he approached.
Lin gave him a puzzled glance. Shaking his head, he scooped Mai into his arms and turned to the rest of the group. "As soon as she's awake, we'll join you."
That said, he swept out of the room.
"What the hell was that?" Rosalie demanded.
"I think we'd all like to know," Hirota said, looking at Naru.
Stopping the recorder, Naru met his gaze. "Didn't I say before? She was possessed."
"How is that connected to Samuel McLaughlin-san?" Genda asked.
Naru's stormy blue eyes narrowed. "I'm not yet sure. But I'll definitely find out. In the meantime… Hernando-san, I believe you have some crucial information for us?"
It didn't take Mai long to wake up. When she did, she found herself once again cradled in Lin's arms. "Koujo?" she rasped.
"Yes. How are you?" he asked.
Mai took a moment to take stock. "Tired, but not as tired as the last time she possessed me."
"Her chosen partners declined dancing with her. Shame, no?"
She smiled weakly. "Very sad. Ayako immobilized me. That startled her; she wasn't sure what to do when she couldn't move my body."
"That's something to use sparingly then and only in emergencies. She'll find a way to break it if we use it too much, I'm sure."
"She spoke to me," the brunette commented right out of the blue.
"Pardon?" Lin asked.
"Annabelle. Just before she possessed me, she spoke to me. She said that if there was someone new, she should be introduced. She shoved forward after that." Mai frowned thoughtfully. "I spoke to her when she asked about Ayako's binding."
"That's surprising," Lin commented, his face mirroring his words. "I think she's more communicative than McLaughlin is. She might actually remember more than she claims. Do you think you can talk to her again?"
"Like I do with Gene?"
"Similar, yes. Do you think you'd be able to initiate contact?"
"If you can, that brings us closer to getting useful information. It's unlikely McLaughlin will ever cave and tell us what we want to know. So we'll have to get it another way."
"I agree." She fell silent. "How did Naru know that something was going on?"
"Besides Rosalie-san yelling at her brother? Hara-san said that she sensed a spirit that wasn't Maria Carmen."
"Speaking of Maria Carmen— I told Naru we'd join the rest of the crew when you were awake."
"You don't feel up to it?"
"It's not that," she told him.
She shook her head. "No rest for the weary, I suppose."
Mai eased herself out of Lin's arms and stood up. Immediately, a dizzy spell spilled through her and made her stumble. Lin reached out to steady her.
"Whoa. Easy now—take it slowly," he commanded, easing her back down to the bed. "Head between your knees and deep breaths."
Too disoriented to argue, she did as he said, smiling faintly when his palm stroked her back soothingly. Presently, the dizziness and nausea passed.
"How do you feel?" he asked, when she looked up.
She didn't answer. Her fingers found the collar of his shirt and yanked him down to her, fusing their mouths together. Surprised at her sudden bout of strength, Lin slapped his hands on either side of her. He wouldn't risk his control slipping like that again. When her tongue ran over his bottom lip, he nearly broke the kiss in shock. She was definitely doing her best to make him snap, he decided, granting her the entrance she sought. As the kiss deepened, his arms closed around her and pulled her closer. He groaned lightly at the contact. His control was starting to slip again. As if she were aware of this, she eased back.
"And what was that for?" he asked, slightly breathless, and though he'd never admit it to any soul, slightly disoriented when the kiss suddenly ended. Mai framed his face with her hands and lightly stroked his cheekbones.
"Me," she answered. "I think… I needed to prove to myself that she wasn't in control of me." She licked her lips and looked up, meeting his piercing gaze. Her eyes pleaded with him to understand. And he did. Covering one hand on his cheek, he gently removed the other and brought it to his mouth. Not removing his eyes from hers, he kissed the inside of her wrist, right over the veins and felt her pulse begin to thrum.
"You felt that," he stated softly.
She nodded her mouth dry.
"And you feel this," he said, placing that same hand over his heart. She blinked and looked at her fingers as a steady, but rapid bu-bump vibrated through her hand and up her arm. Fascinated, she tilted her head to the side and spread her fingers wide. His heart began to beat faster at her simple action. Covering her hand with his, Lin laced his fingers within hers. He leaned forward just a bit. "If she were in control, none of this would have any meaning. Let's wrap this case up. Then, we'll focus on getting that bothersome belle out of you."
They met everyone in the living room. Naru started a tape recorder and a video camera. Looking at Hernando, he said, "The floor belongs to you. Tell us what happened to Maria Carmen."
Hernando took a deep breath. "Let me start by saying that our marriage had been going downhill for quite a while," he began.
Mai sipped at the hot cocoa, feeling its warmth trickle down her throat, but failing to spread to the rest of her. She huddled inside Koujo's blazer and wrapped it around her slim frame, hoping that the heavy material and hot chocolate combined would warm her. Thus far, neither remedy was helping. Tendrils of icy lead radiated from her stomach, licking at veins, muscles, and the rest of her. She shivered and tried to divert her attention to something other than the waterlogged corpse of Hernando Takamoto.
Taking a larger gulp, Mai looked over at Hirota and was glad for his presence. This was what he specialized in. She looked back at the corpse that was covered with a tarp and shook her head sadly. His wasn't the first death she'd seen as a result of malicious spirits and likely, it wouldn't be the last, either, if she kept to this line of work. Still, it always saddened her for the family that was left behind. The story he'd told, however, was one of the darkest she'd heard.
His marriage going downhill, Hernando had taken the opportunity to leave for a bit and go to an uncle's funeral. What was supposed to be a cool-down period turned to a passionate five-day affair with his current wife… and an impromptu marriage. Upon learning that her husband was already married when he'd married her, Mercedes had leapt from the couch and slapped him soundly across the face. No one could blame her. Finding out that she was guilty of bigamy was a massive shock—especially since he'd assured her that he was already divorced. Maria Carmen had also slapped him upon learning about his deception.
One thing that was absolutely true was how much Hernando had loved his children. He'd decided to take them with him when he left Maria Carmen and filed for divorce. Carmen, on the other hand, had other ideas. She'd left during a monsoon with the children, trying to get out of Tucson and to Phoenix. Instead, she'd miscalculated and drove into a sign when she drove into the rapidly filling wash. That had been her doom. The children, however, had somehow made it out alive. They'd gone to a local restaurant and called their grandparents to pick them up, just like their mother had taught them to do if they were ever in a pinch. Alejandro and Rosalie had confirmed this.
Sometime during his tale, Maria Carmen had appeared. She'd announced her presence by sending murky, brackish water through the living room, all of it concentrated on knocking him to the ground. Soaking wet, but likely at ease with himself, Hernando had offered her heartfelt apologies for his crimes, but it hardly placated her. Instead, it brought out pent-up rage and recognition on Maria Carmen's part. She'd recognized her husband and that had been his death warrant, signed, sealed, and delivered while she took him to her watery grave. John, Bou-san, Ayako, and Lin hadn't been able to step in to do anything, either. Mai doubted that anything would have worked, however, when she began to drown him.
And wasn't that the kicker? Mai thought to herself. He was completely at ease with dying. He'd looked… resigned was the best word for it, she decided. It was as if he knew that coming to Japan at the behest of his son would lead to his death. She was happy for him that he'd managed to tell his children and wife a last good-bye and 'I love you.' She looked over at Mercedes sympathetically. Cheated wife number two sat on the couch and stared at nothing; her eyes were glassy and unfocused, tears trailed down her cheeks. What now? Mai wondered. What would she do now that her husband was dead? Would she return to the states and wither, or try to pick up the pieces of her life and go on? Maybe find a new husband? Would her step-children help her? Mai certainly hoped so. She discarded the cocoa and sighed. She peered up curiously when detective Genda sat down beside her. He clasped his hands in front of him and stayed silent for a moment. Mai wondered how many dead bodies he'd seen. Then again, she really didn't want to know.
"How are you?" he asked finally.
"Cold," she said honestly. "It's surreal; it's not the first time I've seen people die because of ghosts, but no matter what, it doesn't change the strangeness of it all. Then again, you've seen more dead bodies than I have."
"More than I'd have liked and usually attributed to normal circumstances, however."
"Normal is a very funny euphemism sometimes."
"Isn't it just?" he asked. "Taniyama-san, the three of us originally came to speak with you. Answering the domestic disturbance here was just an added bonus, if you will."
Mai looked at Hernando's corpse and frowned. "I don't think bonus is the right word."
"No," he said thoughtfully, "it's not."
"Hirota-san did mention that you wished to speak with me. Might as well do so now, while you have the time."
"All right," he said, nodding and taking out a small notebook. "Tell me what McLaughlin had to do with the earlier incident."
"Earlier incident… ah, you mean Annabelle. You might say she's a resident of his Civil War collection who likes to possess people. You know, it occurs to me that you asked and you shouldn't be surprised considering that you've met her," Mai said, when she saw the faint disbelief on his face.
"You're right," he said, breathing out slowly. All right, why you this time?"
Mai scrunched her brow. "Because I have potential."
"Ending her suffering. That's what motivated her to possess her other victims, too."
"Other victims? There are more of you all? How many are we talking about?"
"Only one at a given time." Her eyes went glassy. "First her Mother, then Marilou, the dancer." She stopped abruptly when she saw, clear as day, all the previous victims before her and saw their names. "Please write these names down," she said tersely. She began to speak before he consented. "Mildred Hathenway, MaryLou Baglow, Theresa McFinnely…" On and on she went, until at last she said, "and me."
"You?" Genda asked, scribbling her name down and peering at her.
"Me. I'm a victim, too. She's inside of me and can possess me whenever she has the strength to. Can I have a copy of that for our own investigation?" she asked, pointing to the list.
Genda nodded and quickly made a copy of the names she'd mentioned, before handing her the original list.
"I'll wish you luck with your investigation, Taniyama-san. In the meantime, I'll go have a chat with McLaughlin."
"Why? He's not going to tell you anything."
"You were thinking of pressing charges, weren't you?"
"Gavin-san called you," Mai commented.
"That he did. What do you think, Taniyama-san?"
She considered for a second. "I think he needs to be taken down a notch or two," she said.
"I'm glad we agree. I can reach you where you work? Good. We'll be in touch," Genda said, standing as Lin made his way over to his girlfriend's side.
"Detective," he said, giving a short bow.
"Sir," Genda said, bowing back. "Taniyama-san. Good evening to you both." He looked at his watch and grimaced. "Make that morning. I'll reserve judgment on good or bad, however. Masuda!" he called, heading to the door.
Lin watched him go, nonplussed. Turning back to his girlfriend, he took the seat that Genda had vacated.
"The crying has stopped, hasn't it?"
"It has. But we're staying one more night just to be on the safe side."
"I bet the Takamotos will be glad to see us gone."
"No doubt," Lin agreed.
The next morning, the Takamotos found their guests hard at work dismantling and packing up equipment in the den. Mai noted that the family, aside from Mercedes, looked well rested and had a healthy glow about them. Before she could say anything however, Yuko beat her to it.
"You all look much better."
"We actually slept through the night!" Chisato exclaimed happily. "There was no crying, just like Shibuya-san said!"
Mai smiled. "Painful as it is to admit, Naru's always been correct."
Chiaki shot Mai a triumphant grin; the brunette stuck her tongue out in response.
"How can we ever repay this?"
"Ah… Lin'll get those details for you. This wasn't an especially difficult case."
"No. I'm assuming your situation will be more difficult and more close to home, right?" Chisato asked, looking at Mai with concern.
"Possibly." Handing her tools to Yuko, Mai approached Mercedes. "How are you?" she asked gently.
Mercedes sent her a weak smile. "I'm holding on. Barely, but I'm holding on."
Mai nodded sagely; it gave Mercedes the strangest feeling that the brunette girl knew exactly how she felt—as if she'd been there before. But she was far too young to know, Mercedes thought, wrapping her arms around her body and hugging herself, as if it would stop the aching pain in her heart. Looking into Mai's eyes, however, she realized that the young lady did know, because grief didn't have an age bracket. She wilted; her arms dropped to her side and hung there limply. A sob rose in her throat and, try as she might, she couldn't hold it in; it escaped, a long and piercing wail. Her hands came up to cover her face as the sob wracked her body. Warm arms wrapped around her comfortingly. There were no words exchanged, or soothing sounds, Mai simply held the grieving widow until she pulled away. Wiping her eyes, Mercedes aimed a small, but genuine smile at Mai—the first one since her husband had received his son's phone call. It had only been four days, but it already felt like a lifetime ago.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"No need," Mai said, shaking her head. "What plans do you have?"
Mercedes looked at Alejandro, Rosalie, and Chisato. "My step-children have convinced me to stay here for a while. Rosalie's made arrangements with her kibbutz to have her stuff shipped here."
Rosalie nodded in confirmation. "I think it's best if I'm here right now, with family. Daddy's death…" She cut herself off and smiled wanly. "I didn't have the conflicts with daddy that Alejo did. But…we never really got to know our step-mother because our grandparents had custody of us after our mother died. All hail wills, I suppose. So I'll stay here for a while, too."
Mai grinned at Alejandro's long-suffering sigh that seemed to ask where peace and quiet had gone. She turned back to Mercedes.
"I'll go back to Arizona when I'm ready and sort things out as best I can."
"That sounds like a good plan, both of you. Be sure you take the time to sight see. I don't recommend the Civil War exhibit at the Tokyo Museum."
Mercedes crinkled her nose. "I've seen it. Too ostentatious for me."
"Oh! The hot springs! You have to go to the hot springs! Nothing better for a pick-me-up!" Yuko crowed.
"Takahashi-san! Mai! Chiaki! Do I pay you all to stand around?" an irate voice interrupted.
Their backs stiffened and their merriment died; their heads bowed forward like naughty children caught with their hands in the forbidden cookie jar. Then they peeked at each other and started to laugh. Naru watched them, honestly perplexed. He stared at Chiaki, who was bent at the waist and clutching her stomach as she chortled with Mai and Yuko about God knew what.
"I guess I do," he muttered, seeing that they weren't going to stop anytime soon. Shaking his head in bemusement, he walked off. In the hall, he encountered Bou-san, who had paused in his task of dismantling the camera and was listening to the laughter that floated out of the den.
He looked at Naru. "It's a nice sound, isn't it?"
The young ghost hunter paused momentarily. "It is," he said honestly. "But I don't pay you to stand around and eavesdrop! Get back to work!"
"Sir, yes sir!" Bou-san said lazily, throwing him a mock salute.
Rolling his eyes, Naru went to find Lin.
Madoka was not happy. She was tired, grumpy, and back in England it was well beyond bedtime. In America, however, it was mid-afternoon. It was a good thing that Lin was paying her back. After arriving, she'd taken a cab to a quaint bed and breakfast that she'd reserved a room with. Once in her room, she'd promptly dumped out the watery substance masquerading as tea that she'd gotten from one of the many kiosks in the airport; she watched it go down the drain thinking that she'd paid an arm and a leg for that disgusting cup of 'tea.' With a sigh, she stowed the suitcase and set up her laptop on the desk. Plugging it in, she booted it up. Pulling out the chair, she sat down and composed a quick note to Lin telling him of her arrival. She then brought up her information one last time and scanned it. She hoped that her quarry was there. If not, she was going to be supremely pissed off.
I am woman, hear me roar, she thought, smiling faintly. She looked at the large, four-poster bed with its cheerful quilt and crème colored sheets forlornly. She promised herself that she would definitely make use of that bed with a decent cup of tea later—even if she had to make that tea herself. Powering down the computer, she locked it and picked up her purse. Darting into the bathroom, she freshened up just a bit and then headed downstairs again. Smiling at the girl running the desk, she said, "Could you call me a cab, dear?"
She arrived at her destination about twenty minutes later. Taking a bill from her purse, she handed it to the driver. "Keep the change," she told him, ignoring his surprised squawk. "But give me a receipt," she ordered.
She knew she'd tipped him too much, but then again, she was getting reimbursed. Might as well make the most of it, she decided. If nothing else, maybe she could get Lin with cab fares. Then she rolled her eyes. No matter how much she spent in America, it would hardly put a dent in that massive fortune of his. Her phone beeped at her telling her she had a message. Pulling it out, she looked at the short text and felt herself fume. It was from Lin—they were back in Shibuya, the case in Hiiro solved. She'd receive the details via email later when he typed them up. That was standard. What made her frown was the postscript. P.S. please see if you can locate a simple silver bracelet. I'm going to make a charm for Mai—one that will hopefully keep Annabelle at bay.
And why, she thought scornfully, can't you do it? Men. Her ire left her just as suddenly as it came and she deflated. Quite likely, he didn't' want to leave Mai's side—even for a few hours. From what she'd heard of Annabelle, she came and went when she wanted to. And like most ghosts, she was sure that the belle took over by force. She didn't blame Lin for not wanting to get the bracelet himself; he couldn't (or wouldn't) ask family because of the questions that he didn't want to answer right then, and asking someone from S.P.R. was sure to have gossip floating around. Not to mention, shipping fees would be horrible. Well, they wouldn't be pretty here. But if she found something and sent it expedited… not only would she be reimbursed, but Mai could have a functional charm sooner rather than later. That, and he probably didn't have much of an eye for jewelry.
She quickly texted back. Sure, no problem. Like I said, don't leave out any details.
Shoving the phone back into her purse, she straightened the cardigan that she was wearing over a peach colored blouse and walked into the building. She talked briefly with the young man at the desk and put her hand over the phone when he offered to call her quarry. "That's awfully thoughtful of you, but unnecessary. He's already expecting me," she lied.
Moving past the desk, she followed the directions she'd been given and found him in a relatively short amount of time. He sat hunched in an uncomfortable looking chair, reading a file with an intense look of concentration. My, but wasn't he handsome, she thought, feeling a flutter. He seriously needed to work on being more aware. He didn't even look up when she approached his desk.
She cleared her throat softly and said, "Lieutenant Lee Chamberlin?" She smiled when he looked up and held her hand out to him. "My name is Madoka. I wonder if you'll allow me to take you out to lunch? I'd like to talk to you about something near and dear to your heart."
A/N: Okay, okay, I know this took a while and I'm sorry. I would like to thank the community Japan Fact Check on livejournal for patiently answering my questions. Amd I've recently found a new beta-reader! Please thank Eilara for her hard work and effort! I'll see you all in chapter six: First Date Jitters!