Count D perked his head up as he heard heavy footsteps emanate from the entrance hall. The small white cat, too, lifted her head from its rested position. She quickly bounded out of the back room in a flash of white fur and glowing green eyes.
A very worn out Detective Orcot and Subaru entered the back room. The remaining silk of Subaru’s borrowed cheongsam was matted with dust and dirt. Subaru knew without a doubt he would be paying for the outfit with what little money he made from his paycheck.
The Count, however, did not seem to notice the ragged cheongsam. If he did, no one in the room was able to tell.
The parrot, too, was covered all over with dust and tiny debris. Its dark eyes held a look of severe shock, wide and frightened. And Detective Orcot. . . well, he did not look *as* bad as Subaru. But he came awfully close.
“How was it?” D asked.
“Where the hell did you find this kid?” Leon asked, pointing fervently at Subaru. “He exorcized a ghost from that house, and it didn’t even bother him! He just stood there, chanting whatever the hell that spell was! If anybody else had faced a ghost like that, they would’ve shit their pants!!” He started panting, trying to catch the breath lost by his statement.
Subaru gave him an uneasy look, after hearing what the parrot had translated. He smoothed frays of his dark hair away from his face. Sadness and exhaustion overwhelmed his emerald green eyes. The cat saw this and stared up at Subaru with sympathy.
Subaru approached the Count, his head bowed and his hands folded in front of him. “I’m sorry about the cheongsam,” he spoke solemnly. “I will be sure to pay for it.”
“It is all right,” D said with a smile. “I have many more.”
The cat appeared to be smirking. Count D looked down at it, muttering, “Oh, shut up.” The cat followed with a knell of breathy meows that sounded much like laughter. The parrot that had been sitting atop Subaru’s shoulder flew off into one of the back rooms, probably to try and sleep off the trauma it had just witnessed.
“Well,” Leon said, stretching his arms out, “I was supposed to get off about two hours ago. I’ll be leaving you two.”
“Oh, Detective, won’t you please stay for some tea?” D asked Leon with the innocence of a five-year-old. God, what was it with Count D and having tea and sweets?
Leon smiled, shaking his head. “Sorry, Count. I’ve got an early shift tomorrow. I need to go home and sleep.” As the detective began walking out toward the main parlor room, Subaru heard him mutter, “‘Course after tonight, God only knows how I’ll be able to get to sleep. . .” No one else seemed to have heard this, and the parrot did not translate the line for him. He could only guess what the detective had said.
The white cat joyously leapt into Subaru’s limp arms. He held the cat lightly, tired from having to act as a medium. It had only been a few months since his last “job,” but it seemed like ages to the angsty thirteenth head of the Sumeragi clan.
The cat meowed, staring up into Subaru’s eyes. ‘Those eyes,’ Subaru thought, staring down at the cat. ‘They’re so familiar. . .’
“I think she wants you to call it a day,” D commented, interrupting Subaru’s thoughts.
“Huh?” Subaru whirled his head around to face the mysterious Count. “I’m sorry, what was that you said?”
“I think your friend would like you to get some rest. You have had a long day. You deserve your sleep.”
“Oh. . . okay,” Subaru nodded. “What time do you want me to get on tomorrow?”
“Anytime around 7,” D smiled. “I’ll have a set of written instructions on feeding the animals for you when you get up.”
“Thanks,” Subaru bowed. He stalked off toward the back rooms, toward his makeshift bedroom. Upon entering, the small cat escaped his embrace and fell onto the blue covered bed. Subaru swiftly shut the door and followed suit with the cat. He groaned, the day’s events slowly seeping from his slender frame.
The cat slowly edged toward him and started stroking his short hair with the top of her head. This cat was smart. She probably sensed Subaru’s penned up stress. Subaru lifted his hand and brushed the smooth white fur with his long, gaunt fingers. She began to purr, nuzzling his hand with her nose.
Subaru smiled. For the second time in almost a week.
* * *
Subaru carefully looked over the handwritten directions Count D had given him on how to feed the animals. D had been very specific in his instructions, and Subaru wondered why there was a need for such caution.
Perhaps it had something to do with the detective’s earlier comment, “At least this one’s harmless. . .”
Subaru shook his head. He had a job to do, and if he wanted to keep his job he would do what D told him. No questions asked. No answers really wanted.
Subaru could not read the names of the animals for they were written in English. For the customers, of course. Luckily, Subaru could match the pictures of the strange creatures with the creatures in the tank. Some he found to be quite amusing. Others were just frightening.
There was one in particular that caught Subaru’s interest. It was an all black salamander-like thing; thin, muscular body with a long, lashing tail. It had eyes that had the ability to pierce into the skull of any passers- by. Its left eye was a beatiful honey color, while the other was a stark white.
Subaru shuddered, duly noting the resemblence between it and Seishirou.
“Seishirou-san. . .”
The quick sting that only a cat’s claw can provide broke Subaru from his trance. He pulled away from the black lizard’s tank, whirling around to come face-to-face with the small white kitten that inhabited the Count’s petshop.
Actually, it was more ankle-to-face, given the kitten’s size.
“You really don’t like me thinking about my past, do you?” he asked the cat with a raised eyebrow. The cat shook her head and peered up at Subaru. Her eyes gleemed at him, as if she were trying to say, ‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself. It’s all over now. You’re safe.’
Subaru nodded. The cat was right. Everything that happened had happened in the past. There was no reason to feel bad about anything.
Wait, did he just say a *cat* was right? She did not even know what had gone on not two weeks previous. How could she be right about something she knew nothing about?
The cat glared at him, as if scolding him for not taking her seriously.
“I’m sorry,” he bowed. “I will take your advice.”
The cat seemed to smile and let out a short, high meow.
Just then, Subaru heard the door to the petshop open. He heard D’s greeting of, “Welcome, gentlemen. I am Count D. Welcome to my petshop.” It was in English. Lucklily, Subaru had the parrot D had loaned him.
Subaru creeped around the hall to peer into the parlor room at the front of the petshop. A man in a fine navy business suit and a woman in a completely black lace dress sat down on a silk couch opposite from D’s chair. The little bat-mouse creature sat upon the Count’s shoulder, peering around the room in scattered interested. D was speaking with the customers in his usual cool tone.
“You must be me Mr. and Mrs. Harrison,” he continued with mellow appeal.
“We just need something that will preoccupy my wife. Since Madeleine died. . .” Mr. Harrison’s face became low and solemn. His wife’s shrill cry rang throughout the petshop.
“The death of a loved one, especially a child, can be terribly heartbreaking,” D said, sounding so sincere and so full of BS at the same time. Kind of like members of the clergy.
“Yes, I believe I have the perfect pet for you.” The Count grinned, almost devilishly. It sent shivers all through Subaru’s spine.
‘How does he DO that?!’ Subaru thought wide-eyed.
“Please follow me.” Mr. and Mrs. Harrison removed themselves from the soft comfort of the silk couch and followed D into the back. Subaru followed, curious as to what kind of pets D sold customers that were not on display in the main room.
Making sure to keep a distance of at least fifteen feet, Subaru pursued the small group. Mrs. Harrison was still sobbing, her husband consoling her as best he could. They were led into the hallway opposite from the one Subaru’s current room was. They walked all the way down the hallway, entering the furthest room. Subaru ducked into a nearby doorway so the Count would not notice him as he led the greiving couple into the far room.
Subaru would just have to listen through the door to know what was going on.
Once D had closed the door, Subaru creeped closer. He knelt right before the door, placing the parrot that now sat on his wrist close enough so that it could hear. The small white cat had followed him, and was now resting its head right next to the door.
The voices were soft, muffled; yet somehow, the parrot was able to discern enough of the conversation to be able to give Subaru a proper translation.
“Oh my God. . .”
“What is it, dear?”
“That. . . that cat! It looks like. . . like. . . like Madeleine!!”
“What are you talking about? It’s just a cat. A Parisian short hair.”
“Don’t you see it?! It’s Madeleine!!” Mrs. Harrison shreaked with joy.
“Margret, I know you miss Madeleine. But I’m telling you that this is just a cat. Madeleine is not a cat!”
“Are you saying I’m lying? Just look at her! She looks just like she did before she died. . .” Mrs. Harrison began to weep.
“Look, I don’t know what you’ve done to my wife, but can you please tell her that this is not Madeleine? This is a CAT!!” Mr. Harrison was now yelling at the Count.
“Mr. Harrison, all animals look different to the people who own them. Some look to be human, often replacing a person who has left their lives recently.”
“Madeleine!! Oh, thank God you’re still here!!. . .”
“That’s not Madeleine!!”
“Madeleine. . . you’re safe. . .”
“Count, tell her that’s not our daughter!”
“I am not at liberty, Mr. Harrison. What you view to be just another cat, your wife views as your recently deceased daughter.”
“Oh, Madeleine. . .”
“STOP IT!! Look, I don’t know what kind of business you’re running. . .”
“David, please. . . Can’t you see that this is your daughter?”
“That is NOT my DAUGHTER!!”
“Mr. Harrison, if you are interested in buying this pet. . .”
“That is NOT Madeleine!!”
“David, how can you not see?! Your daughter is sitting right in front of you!”
“That is not Madeleine!!”
“Count, we will buy her from you. How much?”
“Right this way. . .”
Subaru hopped back from the door and into a doorway near where Count D and the Harrisons were exiting the small back room. They walked over to another room only two doors away from Subaru’s hiding place.
D closed the new door, and Subaru sighed in relief that no one had noticed him. It was bad enough that he was spying on the Count. He sure as hell did not want to get fired this early into his new job.
Subaru quietly crawled over to the new room and again knelt just before the door. The parrot immedietly took up its position right next to the door.
“In order to own a pet of this high of quality, you must agree to three things.”
“First, you must never allow anyone to see or view her. Second, you must make sure she is always well fed and well cared for. Third, you must never make sure she is always watched over, and that she does not wander off where you cannot see her.”
“Of course! Of course, I will do what you ask!!”
“I don’t know. . .”
“Please, David!! It’s bad enough we lost Madeleine the first time. I don’t want to loose her again!!” Mrs. Harrison began weeping violently. Subaru pitied the woman, wondering what had happened to her daughter before her death.
“I. . . I guess it’s all right. . .”
“Are you sure, Mr. Harrison? For once you sign this contract, you must agree to fulfill all three of the requirements.”
“Please, David! It cannot be that difficult.”
“Well. . .” Mr. Harrison paused for a moment, probably thinking whether or not buying this cat was a good idea. Afterall, the death of his daughter had been heartwrenching enough. The fact that his wife truly believed this cat was his daughter come back from the dead was too much.
“All right. Where do I sign?”
“Right here, Mr. Harrison.”
“Oh, thank you, David!”
The movement of chairs sounded inside the room. “Thank you for doing business with me, Mr. Harrison. I hope you are very pleased with your new pet.”
“Hmm. . .”
“Come on, Madeleine. We’re going home!”
Subaru jumped away from the door and ran into the back display room where he had been feeding the animals. Maybe D would not notice that he had been eavesdropping. Though he could not be too sure.
As the Harrisons left the petshop, Subaru stepped out from behind one of the screens and into the parlor room. He saw Mr. Harrison, a very happy Mrs. Harrison, and a small, black cat that had penetrating blue eyes. Subaru was creeped out most by the eyes. They seemed almost. . . human.
“Another sale?” Subaru asked calmly, as if he had not listened to the whole thing behind closed doors.
“Mm hmm,” D nodded.
“The woman certainly looks pleased.”
“Yes.” D’s tone lowered. “Hopefully, they will not make the same mistake twice.”
Subaru did not understand what the Count meant by this.
Perhaps it was best that he did not know.
* * *
Subaru looked at his white feline companion. It was currently batting its paws at his lunch: Shrimp Lo Mein with vegetables. Subaru softly grinned and placed a large piece of shrimp in front of the kitten. She quickly grabbed it up and greedily shoved it into her mouth. Small dots of Lo Mein sauce marked the side of her mouth. Subaru chuckled.
It had been two days since that couple had bought the black cat, the woman claiming it to be her dead daughter Madeleine. Subaru wondered if they were enjoying their pet. He had not seen them in the past couple days. Of course, that was to be expected in a big city like Los Angeles.
The experience had made him think. Did Mrs. Harrison honestly believe that a cat could be her daughter? The idea seemed proposterous.
Of course, Subaru had lately had the lingering suspicion about his white kitten friend. She seemed so much like Hokuto-chan; her eyes, her attitude. . .
Subaru chuckled again. Yeah, right. Hokuto-chan had been reincarnated into the body of a white cat. The idea seemed so. . . far fetched.
Of course, considering what he had been doing in Tokyo for the past few months was not exactly normal. . .
Subaru mentally slapped himself. ‘I will NOT think about Tokyo. I will NOT think about anyone IN Tokyo!’
The kitten stared up at him, its face now completely covered in Subaru’s Lo Mein. It grinned at him, its white smile now a tannish brown. Subaru grinned, shaking his head.
“You know who you remind me of?” he asked, staring straight into the cat’s eyes. She innocently stared back.
She replied with a small meow.
“Heh, I guess so. And how do you know who I’m talking about?”
She meowed again, giving him an all-knowing grin.
His minute smile widened. He snatched a slice of bamboo up with his chopstick and shoved it into his mouth.
A knock at the door interupted his lunch. Subaru swallowed his food, sighed, then got up to go open the door.
Detective Orcot pushed his way into the petshop, nearly knocking Subaru over with his force. “Where’s D?” he demanded hastily. Subaru did not notice the cakebox in the man’s right hand.
Subaru gave him the same confused look he had given him in the mall three days ago. Leon was getting fed up with this. Just once, he would like to find someone in Chinatown, other than the Count, who could actually speak fluent English.
Good thing for both men, the translating parrot flew into the parlor room and sat atop Subaru’s shoulder. It stared at Leon with cold, judging eyes.
Leon ignored the parrot’s icy gaze. “Where’s D?”
“Probably in the back, checking on the animals.”
“Is something wrong, Detective?” Count D glided out from behind one of the laquered screens. He must have heard the Detective’s yelling from the back rooms.
‘How the hell does he DO that?!’ Leon thought. He shook the thought from his head, his mind already preset on a mission.
“I need to talk to you, D,” he said seriously.
“Of course, Detective,” the Count nodded. He had no need to lead the officer into the back tea room. He already knew where to go.
“What has happened to cause you to grace our presence?”
“A married couple, Mr. David Harrison and Mrs. Margret Harrison, were found dead in their suburban home earlier this morning. The neighbors said they had heard a commotion coming from the house just that night previous.”
“Yes, the Harrisons. I remember them.” Subaru was amazed that the Count did not even have to pause to think about who his customers were. Talk about excellent customer service.
“You sold them one of your creatures, didn’t you?”
“Yes. I sold them a Parisian short hair. Black, if I remember correctly. Quite a beautiful cat. It was saddening to let her go.”
“Cut the crap, D! What you sold them *killed* them!” Leon had jumped out of his seat and was yelling right at the Count.
The Count, however, did not faulter. “Oh, I am sorry to hear that. If I may, what happened to them?”
No one had noticed Subaru slowly edging to the end of his seat. The parrot had done an excellent job of translating, and Subaru was really getting into the conversation.
Leon suddenly mellowed. Strange for the hostile American detective. “They were scratched to death. . . by what appears to be a cat.”