To dial the number he’d been given, Sano found himself a little hesitant. The guy hadn’t exactly been pleasant to him when they’d met before, after all. What eventually convinced him was the reflection that the worst that could possibly happen was Hajime being rude to him again and perhaps hanging up on him without listening to everything he had to say — whereas the best that could happen was getting rid of this little problem. Sano glanced over his shoulder, grimaced, and hit the ‘send’ key on his phone.
“This is Hajime,” came the voice he’d expected after only a few rings.
“Hey,” Sano began. “You probably don’t remember me, but I met you at Forest of Four, like, last December…” He cleared his throat. “My name’s Sano… I see red… You were there with a sword…” He paused, waiting for Hajime’s acknowledgment. Hajime, however, said nothing, and eventually Sano went on. “Well, Aoshi says you’re good, and I’ve got a problem… There’s this shade that’s been hanging around for a couple of weeks now — I mean hanging around me, specifically, not just around somewhere where I go or anything; it’s like the damn thing is haunting me, but I have no idea who it came from or why it would be — and I can’t get rid of it.”
“Red?” Hajime asked.
“That’s the thing!” Sano turned to face the shade, which was still drifting around his living room. “It’s perfectly red! I should be able to deal with it, but every time I absorb it it just comes back! It’s weird, too; it’s not… solid… like they usually are. There’s this empty shape of a person, and the red’s around that like an outline.”
Hajime’s tone sounded completely different than before as he asked, “When you say you absorb it and it ‘comes back,’ what exactly do you mean?” He seemed far more interested all of a sudden.
“I mean the same anger comes back,” answered Sano in some aggravation. “It’s like it never ends; no matter how much I absorb, there’s always more! And I can’t just keep taking it in, or I get so mad I start destroying stuff!”
“And this shade follows you around?”
“No matter where you go?”
“Yeah… to school and everything.”
“Do you know the park off 32nd street?”
“Uh, yeah?” Sano was fairly certain he did, anyway. “The one by that toy store?”
“Can you meet me there in half an hour?”
“Um…” This was not what he’d expected at all. “Yeah, sure.” Of course, he’d been basing his expectations on the one brief conversation they’d had and Aoshi’s warning that Hajime was neither a people person nor likely to want to do any kind of work for free.
“I’ll see you there, then.” And Hajime ended the call.
Sano’s car being a piece of shit, he didn’t greatly appreciate having to drive to a park twenty minutes away, and from the suggestion of locale he guessed that Hajime didn’t live in the Asian district. He hadn’t objected, though, since he was the one essentially demanding favors in this situation. He did wish Hajime had named a longer space of time, however; he could have taken the bus.
The place had a playground, a field with a backstop, and its own parking lot. Here Hajime was waiting, when Sano arrived, beside a really nice car. Although individual jobs tended to pay fairly well, being an exorcist was still an uncertain profession at best, given the inconsistency of the work, and Sano wouldn’t have thought anyone in that trade could afford such a nice vehicle; Hajime must have some other source of income.
As when they’d met at Aoshi’s store, the exorcist was dressed in suit and tie; it looked great, but Sano had to wonder if he dressed that way all year round. March wasn’t too bad, but in a month or two most days were going to be far too warm outside for a suit coat. Hajime was also carrying a sword again, though Sano wasn’t entirely certain it was the same sword.
Hajime didn’t bother with a real greeting, only asked, “Where’s the shade?”
Sano had been absorbing so much angry energy lately, thanks to his unusual visitor… it was good to have an object on which to release some of it. “Hi to you too!” he said in annoyance, and stalked out of the parking lot toward a bench near the playground. Hajime followed, and as Sano took a seat he informed him with less indignation, “It sometimes takes him a while to catch up when I go somewhere unfamiliar. I tried to lose him that way for a while, but he always found me again.”
“‘He?'” echoed Hajime.
“‘He’ like ‘aitsu,'” Sano shrugged, citing a pronoun that, while it carried a masculine connotation, was not necessarily limited to it.
Hajime nodded. So obviously he belonged to the relatively large segment of the city’s population that spoke Japanese, whether or not he lived in the Asian district. Not that this was a great surprise, given his accent.
“So what’s your deal?” Sano wondered somewhat idly, slumping down so as to lean his head against the back of the bench. “I mean, what do you see?”
“Everything,” was Hajime’s brief answer.
Sano sat up straight. “Really? That’s awesome!” Those that could see shades of all colors were incredibly rare.
Hajime seemed to add, “In white,” almost against his will — as if he felt compelled to be honest but was as irritated at the compulsion as he was at the fact.
“Oh.” Sano sat back again. That made it less significant. Still must be fairly convenient for exorcism, though.
“So tell me about this unusual shade,” said Hajime in a somewhat dictatorial tone.
“He showed up, um…” Sano had to think for a moment.
“You should take better notes on things like this,” Hajime broke in somewhat derisively. Sano was fairly certain that this particular statement was meant to be provoking. He didn’t mind at all. If Hajime could handle his anger, it was definitely a relief to let it out.
“I’m not a pro, OK?” was his irritated retort. “I only take notes at school. Anyway, I think it was just at the end of February… the twenty-fifth, I’m pretty sure. So it’s been almost exactly two weeks — not long enough for him to get used up, except, like I told you, I’ve used him up I think five times now.”
“What were you doing when he showed up?”
Sano scratched his head. “Homework? I think. No,” he corrected himself, “I think I’d finished what I was working on and was just messing around online.”
“Porn?” asked Hajime, without apparent implication.
“What?” Sano was more surprised than anything else. “Is that supposed to make me mad? It was just normal websites and shit.” Who really got their porn from the internet, anyway? That stuff was brutal; no amount of anti-virus or spyware-killing software could make that sex safe.
Hajime smirked, and continued with his interrogation. “Had you done any magic any time beforehand that might have attracted the shade?”
“I don’t really ‘do magic,'” replied Sano, scratching his head. “So, no. Least not that I’m aware of.”
“No friends at your home casting spells? No recent seances?”
“Have you tried the medicine you get from Aoshi? Does it inhibit your ability to see this shade?”
“Yes and no. I usually don’t take the stuff except when something’s going on I really need to concentrate on, because…” Actually there was no real reason to get into that; Hajime undoubtedly wasn’t interested. “Anyway, yeah, I tried it; it didn’t work. I mean, it worked a little, but not enough. I could still see the shade and feel the anger.”
Hajime nodded, and then unexpectedly asked precisely what Sano had just been thinking he wouldn’t be interested in knowing.
“Oh,” replied Sano with a shrug, “I don’t take it when I don’t have to because it makes my head…” He gestured vaguely to the organ in question. “Fuzzy. Blurs my magical senses, I guess, is the best way to put it.”
“And that bothers you, even though you don’t really do magic?”
“Yeah, ’cause it’s like… it’s like having a sinus infection: there’s this unpleasant feeling that maybe doesn’t actually stop you from doing anything, but you can’t ignore it.”
Again Hajime nodded. He was about to say something else (possibly criticize Sano’s incomplete description of sinus infections), but at just that moment Sano felt washing over him the anger that was becoming all too familiar these days. “Oh, fuck,” he growled, interrupting his companion. “Here he comes.”