Veronica Murther (vmurther) wrote,
Veronica Murther

Customs, 2

Folder tucked under my arm, I walked down an alley leading off the studied elegance of Japantown's main streets, passing doors that never get opened and dumpsters like metal menhirs. I'd exhausted the files at my office about the aswang and its relatives, and I still needed more details.
The one Cagliostro's Law that most people know is that the more you have to do with the supernatural, the more the supernatural has to do with you. I get avoided by most of the mundanes who know what I do, as a result, but the supernatural community in San Francisco is more than happy to have me poking around... well, as much as they ever are.
The door to the Koto looks like a fire door at the back of a building, marked with spraypaint. It's almost always slightly open, though you'd be a fool to walk in uninvited. Fortunately, I'm a patron, so I can more or less come in as I please.
Higashi greeted me with his back turned, as usual. He can't talk to you unless he's facing away; he has no face.
No, I don't understand how he speaks, and it isn't polite to ask.
"Always working!" said Higashi. No, I don't understand how he sees, either.
"Work is rarely finished," I replied pleasantly, making my obligatory bow before I walked in, heading for the middle booth where Akiko was sitting.
The Koto is a sushi-ya for the Japanese supernaturals in San Francisco. You get other kinds there as well, but you can't get in unless one of the patrons has recommended you to Higashi. Akiko brought me here when we started seeing each other, and it has been an excellent place for work and pleasure. The Japanese supernaturals love to gossip, especially about those 'others'.
I bobbed my head in polite greeting to a few others I recognized, and then settled on the cushion at Akiko's table, where she sat sipping tea, while the mouth at the base of her skull was busy slurping up miso soup, her long glossy hair cradling the bowl like a tentacle made from ink.
We met when I got called in to a walking dead case, where the zombies were doing things like drinking cream, bursting into flames for no apparent reason and doing strange little dances. My suspicions were confirmed when I caught one zombie catching and collecting rats, and I started asking some questions in Japantown. Akiko is an authority on Japanese supernatural fauna, and helped me bag the nekomata who was trying to turn the San Francisco morgue into its luxury lair. I was surprised when we finally caught it; it was just like a normal calico cat, with two tails instead of one.
Akiko can pass for human pretty well; she's a tall Japanese woman with a quizzical, narrow face. Her nose is a bit long, and her eyebrows particularly sharp, and she's very willowy. The mouth at the back of her head is just like the one in front, though it can open to a surprising degree, and I haven't yet seen something it can't bite in half. It speaks, too; we'd nicknamed that voice her 'nee-chan', just like a little sister.
She smiled slightly as I set the folder down, but her eyes slid sideways, watching the folder before turning back to me.
"Very bad," I agreed. "Probably an aswang."
"Typically uncertain," said nee-chan.
"Ah." She sipped at her tea, pausing for a long moment. "Will you have time to stay?"
"It'll be a long night," I replied quietly. "And I don't know enough."
"Of course," snipped nee-chan.
Akiko's eyes narrowed just a bit, but she said nothing as the servers came by, setting up a folding table to rest behind her, and started putting down plate after plate of food.
"I ordered something for you," she said as they bowed and started away.
"It's not enough for both of us," muttered nee-chan.
"I'm sure it will be plenty," I replied, only half-serious. Akiko ate enough for four people; nee-chan accounted for three of those. Her hair had already taken up two sets of chopsticks, and the relentless eating began. I understand it is characteristic of her species to constantly worry about gaining weight that they never gain.
From the front, Akiko ate with careful manners, very slowly, eyes downcast. "Perhaps you would like my assistance?"
"It would be very welcome."
She nodded once, and set to finishing her dinner. I ate only a little bit myself; I don't like to work on a full stomach, and nee-chan can get nasty if she thinks I'm eating more than my share. Most people didn't understand that nee-chan and Akiko actually shared the same core mind, but were capable of independent thought. Akiko would be mortified to make a loud noise in public, whereas nee-chan didn't care... but neither of them ever talk with their mouths full. It's just unspeakably rude.
Conversations with Akiko, particularly serious ones, were best done while nee-chan was eating.
When she had finished (nee-chan was still systematically laying waste to the pile of food on the small table), she set her chopsticks down, raised her eyebrows and her eyes, and then told me what I wanted to know.
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