Shining Path


Chapter 12

Shimada Takashi and his secretary were the kind who still managed their workflow with physical files in filing cabinets, never mind that most of the files only contained a single sheet of paper each. That one sheet could display any document the computer recorded as being "in" the file – and of course, they could have dispensed with the files entirely and just used a couple of pads per person to represent windows on the entire filing system, maybe with a stack of blank sheets in the corner for making copies of things that had to leave the office. However, the existence of physical objects representing cases made the documents easier to think about, and it had some minor legal advantages in the event of a discovery process. The legal codes for discovery had never really caught up to the reality of electronic recordkeeping; when a robocop with a court order showed up at the door, it was always better to let her seize something tangible.

The lawyer could have taken a blank folder himself and loaded it with a new bar code for the tab and a sheet of paper to represent Kamioka Hanako's father's will, his own notes about the case, and the contract for agency. But he asked Miss Takada to prepare the file instead, just so that she would have the chance to skim the documents while she did so and learn the outlines of the case. He hadn't quite liked the glares the gray tabby had dispensed to both him and the client earlier. Evidently she did not entirely approve of a middle-aged bachelor receiving mysterious afternoon visits from a twenty-something human girl in a soiled high school uniform and very visibly no bra, visits concluding with the issuance of funds from petty cash.

Even though Mr. Shimada was not even sure why he should care what Miss Takada might think of him, and he lacked the experience to fill in the details of just what he was afraid she might be thinking anyway, it was well to let her know that nothing untoward had in fact occurred and that this was a legitimate case. His bit of diplomacy was successful: after a few minutes of work at her desk, during which he occupied himself fussing with the flower arrangement in the corner, Miss Takada rose to put the file in the cabinet, and her boss saw that she again regarded him with appropriate respect. Good. They said their goodbyes and went off to their respective homes.

On Tuesday morning, Shimada spent a short time on the Net looking for an appropriate lawyer to whom he could refer Miss Kamioka. He didn't find anyone perfect, but made a list of three names that might be reasonable choices. He was not sure he could bill this time, so it took low priority compared to other things he had to do that morning; and it was well after noon by the time he had a moment to pick up the phone and call the girl. Instead of an answer, he got a recording saying that her phone number was out of service. A quick inquiry to the hotel yielded the information that she had checked out late that morning.

Evidently, the client had taken matters into her own hands. Shimada wondered if he would ever see reimbursement for the expenses he'd incurred – though, all things considered, he might be better off not pursuing it. He made a note to shuffle this one into the "bad debts" pile, but did not alert the secretary, who usually handled those. Fortunately, she didn't ask about it. When she found out she probably would say that she had told him so, even though in fact he hadn't given her the chance to do that.

On 21-day 5-month Shoumei 18, Shimada Takashi awoke to find a note in his mail signed by Kamioka Hanako. It started out with "Dear Mr. Shimada: please find attached hereto one (1) instrument drawn upon..." and continued with many other words that Miss Kamioka could not possibly have used correctly all by herself, so it was clear she had had help. The note politely thanked him for his services, said she did not require further assistance from him, and included a limited open money transfer settling their account. It was not plausible that she had resolved her differences with the former trustees of her father's estate already, so presumably she had retained some other lawyer to represent her interests in that matter, and found some source of funding for the project. He wondered if it was anyone he knew, though of course that was none of his business. Nice of her to at least pay her bill.

It was just as well, Shimada reflected – he had not been eager to take the case himself at all. Far out of his line, especially if (as seemed likely) Miss Kamioka had gangster connections and wanted to pursue matters on that level in parallel with the legal issues. Better to leave well enough alone. He downloaded the money transfer to a blank sheet of paper, folded it, and put it in his pocket. When he got to work he would give it to Miss Takada to deposit when she deposited the rest of the week's receipts from their other cases, and with any luck, that would be the end of his contact with this Miss Kamioka and whatever her problems might be. He hoped she found whatever she was looking for, but he was glad to be well out of it himself.

As Mr. Shimada waited for his train on the subway platform that morning, he looked at the overhead sign listing the current weather forecast and the time to the next train, and on the other half of the sign where it showed news headlines, he read a brief item about what the newswriters called an "execution-style slaying," three men and a woman shot dead in a ritzy mansion out in the hills. The item only flashed up there for a few seconds between a commercial for soap and a public service announcement about escalator politeness, and Shimada Takashi immediately forgot about it. Any large city gets its share of violence and one learned not to worry too much about it, or else one went to live somewhere else.

Only several days later would Shimada Takashi buy a newspaper, read a more complete story about the ongoing investigation, recognize some names, and connect it with the Kamioka file. At that time he would wisely keep his mouth shut, reasonably guessing that the police already knew all he could tell them and he was better off remaining well out of it. Besides, before reading that newspaper article he would find something else to think about.

With the news story out of his mind, Shimada rode the subway into the Quarter, walked to the building where he worked, and in the main door and down the hallway. So far he had noticed nothing unusual. The cleaning robot was still out of service, with a sign on the door of the closet, until the maintenance people would come around to fix its broom; but that just meant there was a little more dirt, bio-muck, and shed fur from the joneko on the floor than usual.

When he opened the door to the outer office, Shimada stopped, the tune he had been humming dying on his lips. Something wasn't right here. Miss Takada would have said she smelled something wrong – but he realized that that was the problem: Miss Takada wasn't in her usual spot, sleeping behind the desk. Although it was not a formal requirement of her job, normally the joneko arrived well before he did every morning. It was part of the joneko Shining Path to wake up early, so as to have plenty of time for naps, and the place looked rather odd without her.

He looked around the room carefully. Was she sleeping on top of the filing cabinet, or hiding ready to spring out at him like a playful kitten, but with her tail always sticking out somewhere because it was all a game? Neither would have been normally expected behavior from his Miss Takada, but other, less civilized, joneko might do such things, and atavism could strike the best of such creatures at any time. No, there was no striped tail to be seen anywhere in the room. But the desk lamp was turned on, casting a pool of light over a little bottle of signal red seru vinyl and a book; and there was a piece of unidentifiable gray clothing folded and draped over the back of the chair. The secretary had been here this morning.

Mr. Shimada approached the desk and looked at the book. It was a cheap manga, volume 12 of Gentlemen's Love Adventure. It had a picture on the cover of a young man in a business suit kissing a woman with long flowing blue hair – actually another man, but Mr. Shimada didn't know enough about manga to guess that. Not something he would have expected Miss Takada to read, but of course that was her business. He shrugged. It was a small mystery, but the legal secretary was sensible and level-headed enough not to go off somewhere at random without good reason, and she would no doubt be back soon. The Kamioka money transfer could wait. He went to the door of the inner office and opened it, just like Stockton's condemned man.

And as in that story, anyone with a heart knows what came next.