Anna did as she'd been told, and stayed with Hank at Rio's, who worked to fill the void of Leanne's oversized armchair with her tiny body. It gave her a commanding view of the apartment, which she used to track the Realities flowing in and out of Anna. Their size and number made Rio dour, a fact she hid behind big red glasses and wavy bangs of black hair.
Leanne sat on the sofa facing Anna, who talked to her unendingly. They seemed to be becoming the very best of friends. Sue Marie had called a few times, phone calls Hank allowed Anna to receive by giving back her phone. Fuji had also called, telling Hank she came out of her ordeal with Miss Warugi suffering no more than a few stitches on her thigh and a badly bruised behind, as well as a blood-stained sari.
"She seemed to be the most upset over having ruined her outfit," Hank said about Fuji.
Anna dismissed the remark. "She's in love with her clothes. They're custom made, you know, because of her huge boobs. When she isn't talking about you, they're all she ever talks about."
"She said it was her purple sari, the one with orange dots and flowers. It has a gusset choli."
Anna gasped dramatically. "Oh! That is her loveliest! The gusset is so perfect that it cinches up to fit me."
Hank eyes were glued on Anna as she demonstrated for Leanne how the choli fit. Imagining Anna's buxom body in a top designed for Fuji's braless breasts was almost too much for Hank to bear.
"Fuji also said Sue Marie is taking her to stay at a friend's house overnight," Hank said after Anna was done showing Leanne how big her bosom was. "They want to avoid the scene at your place."
Anna pursed her lips, knowing there'd be no room for her where Fuji and Sue Marie were going. "I have something you could wear," Leanne said, working to cheer up Anna by getting her to talk more about clothes. "Uh-huh. I could wrap you in a real nice tunic. It has these beautiful sleeves."
"That does sound amazing. I'd love to get out of this monkey suit from work."
"Great! Then come with me!"
Leanne led Anna by the hand into her bedroom. She closed the door, leaving Hank and Rio alone. Neither spoke for a while, as Rio seemed lost to the world, a small woman among giants.
Her sour puss made Hank uncomfortable. "Anna's family lives nearby," he said to brighten Rio's mood. "Perhaps she can stay with them."
"She already has refused to go. She says they annoy her and their house is crowded. And since Leanne has managed to get out of going into work today, Anna is thrilled with getting to know her." Rio's next words came as an order. "She's not going anywhere. You're making her stay. So suck it up, my honey eater. We're in this for the night."
"We have to walk Bumbles again."
"Ach. He's okay for now. You know how I once told you that you're not leaving my sight?"
Hank nodded. "You said, um, like, despite hating me…"
"Despite my loathing of you," Rio corrected.
"Yeah. Then you said I'm Man's best hope."
"And she is our worst nightmare." Hank's discomfort pleased Rio to no end. "Hai. That is right. Mahoutsukai isn't leaving. I don't trust her an inch."
"Mahoutsukai?" Hank asked, scoffing.
"She's a witch. The death of us all."
"I've known her for years."
"You've only spoken to her recently."
"True, but I trust my judgment. I believe in her."
"Hank-sama, she's a witch."
"Again, perhaps true. But the good kind, I think."
Rio wanted to disagree, but couldn't discuss the topic further because Anna had returned from her trip to Leanne's closet. She sported a pastel blue and lavendar wrap that looked too thin for the weather. Her arms were visible up to her shoulders, which the tunic's fluttery and wide open sleeves made look chiseled and square. She continued her nonstop conversation with Leanne as they again sat together on the sofa.
"No one wants to battle the mob of cops and reporters at my place. Miss Warugi murdered someone once before, you know." Leanne gaped at Anna's manner of speaking about death so casually. "She should have gone to prison for the first guy she killed while living next door. But she got away with it spot clean!"
"It's pretty hard to get away with murder," Leanne pointed out after swallowing hard. "Especially if the person you kill is someone who lives next door."
"Well, she never talked about it, not really. And if she ever did, it was in some dialect no one understood. I mean, she was such a loner. And she was always nasty, and insane through and through."
Rio spoke in monotone. "That's no way to talk of the dead."
Hank and Leanne gasped, as Anna fell silent for a moment. She then spoke with contempt.
"You do know what she did, yes? She murdered six innocent people. Maybe seven when you count the policeman she landed on, trying to kill my Fuji."
Rio glowered harder, forcing throat-clearing noise from Leanne. "Nobody's innocent," Rio said.
"How do you know this?" Leanne asked Anna once she found her voice, trying to deflect attention away from her sour roommate.
Rio blasted a thought at Hank so hard, his eyeballs lit up like pachinko machines. Anna makes bad things happen.
"I just do," Anna said to Leanne. "I mean, it isn't hard to figure out things if you try."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. It's how I do my consulting!"
"Why don't you tell us how you figured it out?" Rio asked Anna in her monotone voice, keeping everyone ill at ease.
"Ah, well… ano sa. They share the water heater, you see. It's why the penthouse has free electricity. So the water heater's on Warugi's side, and she must have access to the wires and such."
"Do you think she tricked the neighbors into letting her in by messing with the electricity?" Leanne asked.
"They would have noticed that," Rio said of the police.
"Yeah," Anna said. "She couldn't have, say, cut the power or something. Each side must have circuit breakers. They just share the water heater."
Leanne shrugged, intrigued. "So what then? She put something in the water?"
Anna leaned in close. "I think she found a way into the Calimentos' apartment from where the water heater is. And with all the blood from killing them…"
"Blood?" Leanne interrupted. "How do you know there's blood?"
She put it there, Rio blasted at Hank.
"Will you stop that?" Hank barked at Rio before realizing what he'd done. Anna and Leanne stared at him for a moment, losing track of their conversation. "Tell us more about the guy who lived there before," Hank said to Anna, to keep people from gawking.
"The first guy she killed? Oh, he was a piece of work. Until now, everyone thought it was one of his druggie buddies."
"Yeah. He was a drug dealer, or a gang-banger or something. I mean, they had a list of suspects longer than your arm. But no one could figure it out, and nobody really cared. The guy was dead for a day at least, with the door locked from inside. So no one got him that way."
"That's how you think Warugi got in?" Leanne asked. "By climbing over the water heater?"
Anna nodded. "Mm-hmm. She also strangled him like she did the Calimentos after knocking him unconscious."
Rio sat bolt-upright, her sudden movement unnerving. She dug her nails into the arms of the upholstered chair, her eyes locked onto something in the air that only she could see. Blackness swirled around Anna's head like the smoke of a starving fire. Rio dared not breathe it in, lest the monster in the smoke steal oxygen from her lungs, using it to burst the room to flame, bright and all-consuming.
Run, Rio blasted instinctively at Hank. Run away and hide.
Evil had stalked Rio before, but not since leaving the country of her birth had she ever felt so scared. Now, in what had once been the safety of her state-side home, the faint fae light of dimming hope fought the looming doom.
Death is with us! she blasted into Hank uncontrolably.
Rio wanted to scream at Death, at Hank and at everyone else, but she forbade her tongue to do it. She wouldn't acknowledge the presence of evil as it sought out souls in the room. Bumbles sat up quickly and yipped, sensing the distress. Rio muttered to the dog, oddly and without meaning, as if she had failed to realize other people were present.
"Gomen ne." Anna inquired of Rio, using a sweet voice. "Nani?"
"It's a preferred way of killing," Rio replied to the doom above Anna's head.
"I'm sorry. What is? Strangulation?"
"I've seen it many times."
"You've seen it?"
"You will see it too. Making people kill with violence is how the world will end."
"Ahm… I don't think that's true."
Rio eyes burned holes in Anna with their laser beams. "Death will strangle us one day. The last thing we'll do is stop breathing."
Hank made sure his voice was pleasant, and used it to clear the air. "Rio? Everything's okay. Milton will get in touch with you in a day ot two. In the meantime, I am here."
Looming evil was no match for kind words from Hank's lip. Death left in an instant, as if it didn't exist. Unlike Anna's untethered chaos, Reality with Hank was perfect. It was everlasting weightlessness; a watch forever wound. A gift of triumph. Of hope. Pure love.
It will never die.
When Hank spoke again to Rio, she returned to his Reality. "Aika sent me to you, to help you and protect you, and I will do both." He turned to speak to Anna, who seemed in youthful shock. "You have also given me to Rio, to sponsor me and care for me." He turned back to Rio, making sure they locked eyes. "And what I need from you right now is to remain calm."
Papa Bear Milton had abandoned Rio, but something better had taken his place. Mousy, lanky Hank.
Kirisuto! How can this be?
But Hank had banished the evil Anna brought, wrapped around her finger pretty like a bow. She became his useful pup, a whelp with him as Master.
Anna spoke to Rio, attempting to be kind. She adjusted the tunic Leanne had given her, heaving on her breasts to lift them to their proper place. "You know, you're the same size as one of my little sisters. She might have some clothes I could give to you."
Maybe she's more of a snot-nosed cat.
"Okay," Rio said out loud, struggling to breathe easy. "But why did you tell that horrible story?"
"Uh…." Hank interjected. "Because you told her to."
God have mercy. The mouse minds the cat.
"Knock it off," Hank said to Rio without looking at her.
Not much else was said after that, at least not until the explosions. Anna jumped to her feet at the sound, watching them light up the evening sky through the window of Rio's balcony. When she turned and faced the room, her nearly all black eyes glowed darker than the moonless night.
"Oh! Fireworks! Can we go?" She clapped her hands in youthful exuberance, causing the colors of the display to shine through the sleeves of her tunic.
They turned into angel wings. "There's a festival in town," Hank said to Anna's beauty.
"Oh, we are going to go," Leanne said, staring hard at Rio.
"Those fireworks scared the crap out of me," Rio lied.
"It's the Autumn Colorfest," Anna said, recalling facts about the festival. "They decorate Cathedral Park with lights and other displays before shutting it down for the winter."
"You have to fly to Switzerland first thing in the morning," Rio reminded her roommate.
Anna calmly strode up to Hank, who corrected his posture while seated. "We are going to the Colorfest," she said with certanty to his face. "This asshole has been promising to take me on a date for years."
"He has?" Leanne asked, surprised.
"I have?" Hank echoed back.
Anna spoke with confidence. "Don't think I don't know about the crush you have on me." She turned to speak to Leanne. "He's been waiting half his life for the perfect chance to ask me out."
Leanne headed for her shoes. "Then what are we waiting for? Let's go!"
Anna leaned in close, to do further battle with Hank. She trapped him between her arms by placing her hands above his shoulders, pressing them to the back of the love seat. The neckline of her tunic opened, revealing a light pink bra complimenting her perfect breasts. He breathed heavy upon them, while she whispered with force to his face.
"I'm not leaving you with her," Anna's eyes darted in Rio's direction, "to stink up the place while I'm gone."
Hank managed to focus his attention a bit higher, now on Anna's chin. "Okay," he squeaked up to it.
Rio became the first person out the door. "Let's go to that stupid park before you people make me scream."
- Upright. In the Den.
- Sci-Fi Action Adventure, propelled by a little Romance.
"Arise!" The star-studded empress of night
Gave me the keys to her city.
Bathed me in breath, told me of plight,
Force-fed my conscious with pity.
Pointed toward East, down past the yard
Through revolving doors of her courthouse.
Megaphones cry. "A guinea a head!
"Everything's fun at the Circus!"