The Horoscope

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Chapter 11 Uncertainty

On his way to the hospital, a backed up city street compelled Saburou to make a detour. Forced onto a side alley with a smaller speed limit, but one that was actually moving, the man's mind deviated from its course as well. Shop after shop of child's clothing lined his left and right, reminding him of the task given him by his son's teacher. There was no way he would find time to do this after work and before school the next day. Nori needed something appropriate to be wearing.

Pulling over immediately, he rushed into the first store without any second thoughts. Quickly, however, he realized just how ill-prepared he was. The room was full of mothers, expectant mothers, and female friends of expectant mothers. Only one other man had dared to enter the establishment before Saburou, and he was currently running out. Frazzled, he carried a scribbled list and muttered something about size.

At first, the new father ignored his better instincts to follow the rest of his gender, making his way through the pinks and froof, into the Spiderman and dinosaurs section. That was more like it. From there, he had little difficulty finding tan-ish colored khakis. It was then that the other male's warning came back to mind. There were so many different sizes, and the one that he first picked up hardly looked like it would fit the boy.

A lady, concerned by the dazed way he stared at the collection of bottoms, inquired, "Are you looking for something in particular?"

Surprised, Saburou took a moment to recover and then held out the pair of pants in his hand. "Are six year olds supposed to be this size? Because mine isn't."

The young lady covered her mouth as she let out a giggle. "It has nothing to do with his age, Mister," she informed, seeming familiar with the mistake. "It's just a number. What matters is how tall, or how big around he is. Do you know that?"

"I," he began uncertainly. Glancing around the room, he searched for a mother who had come with a child about Nori's size. It was not to be, though, as any of them would have been at school at the time. "I don't know. He's small."

"You're silly Mister," she giggled once more. "You won't know if you don't bring him or a pair of his pants back with you next time."

Of course. He sighed, knowing he should have known as he watched her walk off. But he had no time to go home and return at his work's expense. There was one way he might be able to find out, though. Taking out his cell phone, he dialed up his older brother and waited for the answer.

"Saburou," the older greeted, knowing it was him before picking up. "How unlikely for me to hear from you three days in a row. What drastic has gone wrong this time?"

Resisting the urge to break down with the whole story right there, surrounded by a store full of women, he took a breath and simply responded, "I need to buy some pants."

"Pants?" The elder repeated, not yet realizing the serious nature of the situation. "Has he soiled all of what he brought already?"

"School pants," Saburou clarified, having decided he could calmly mention, "Shimizu-san sent a note that she's not coming back. Takeshi-kun is all my responsibility now. He needs pants for his new school. I am at the store now, and I don't know what to do."

Knowing showing pity would be the worst thing to do at the time, Ichirou noted, "Isn't that just like you, younger brother? Every time you ask me, 'Aniki, what should I buy him for Christmas, for his birthday.' Now will it be every time he needs new clothes too?"

"Aniki," Saburou began exactly as expected of him as he returned to a younger form who still needed advice from an elder. "This is serious."

"I would think by now, as a 30 year old man, you would know what is appropriate school apparel."

"Size," the younger blurted out abruptly. "What size is he?"

Ichirou unintentionally let out a burst of laughter. "Did you not bring him with you?"

"No, he's at school."

"Baka, Saburou," his older brother mocked without restraint, "you need to take the kid to the store with you."

Even more embarrassed, to the point that he began to whisper, the new father insisted, "But I really need them today, and I won't get another chance later. I called you because I was hoping you could make a good guess. You've spent more time with the boy than I have."

There was a remorse in the last words that Ichirou didn't dare counter, even if they weren't entirely true. He could tell his brother was at least putting forth a sincere effort with this parenting business, no matter how long it might take him to get it figured out. Still, there was no way to choose out clothes without knowing the size. Hesitant about letting down the sibling who had always depended on him, Ichirou paused before answering again.

"Maybe when my kids were younger, I could have told you Takeshi-kun's size, but I've long forgotten the numbering system for children," he admitted reluctantly.

"Oh, I see then." Saburou's reaction was just as disappointed as he had feared it would be. He had no clue how he would next respond to that, with some encouraging, yet conclusive comment. Then two full hands appeared over the edge of the metal counter where he sold his beverages, and Ichirou looked down upon a smiling face curiously asking, how much can that buy? It was a look he was accustomed to seeing.

Beside the young boy was his impatient mother, irritated that he was talking on the phone rather than paying attention. Knowing he would almost be done with his brother, the street vendor held up one finger to beg their patience. Looking down at the excited boy with just enough spare change gathered for a little treat, though, he recognized that—clearly younger than Nori—the child was about his same size.

"Hang on Saburou, I've got a client," he muttered hurriedly and set down the phone on the counter to speak to the woman. Feeling that being completely honest and straightforward would hopefully get him sympathy from the mother, he explained, "I apologize for that. My younger brother went shopping for clothes for his son for the first time by himself today, and he thoughtlessly neglected to take note of what size. I couldn't help but notice that your son is about the same height. Would you mind telling me what size his pants are?"

The lady agreed, providing him with a number as he passed over a paper cup of artificially colored Sato To Shitsu. After a quick farewell, he returned to the phone call, "100 Saburou. Try buying 100."

"How did you—" The younger stammered back in awe.

"Aniki knows all, at least when it comes to kids," Ichirou answered with a smile. He could let his little brother keep thinking that. He actually didn't mind helping out with the little squirt.

Hours of calculating angles and jabbing spikes into gelatinous models of brains and windshields had occupied the grand majority of Suzume's Monday. Finally having determined the most likely trajectory for the gun shot that had caused Sunday's multi-car accident, she Tuesday stood atop a several story building with her current partner Yamada. There was a perfectly clear view of the road where the semi-truck driver had been shot, as well as several escape routes that were unmonitored by street cameras. It was undoubtedly the sniper's most favorable choice of places to set up.

There was absolutely no evidence.

Whoever had caused it all went through the scene with a fine tooth comb. They hadn't left a single casing from the gun, nor tracks in the gravel where the stand had been set up against the roof's edge. Footprints had seemed to be wiped away meticulously, and neither fingerprints, nor gun shot residue remained at the scene. No hair, no skin, just an empty roof with a good view of the street.

Wiping the sweat from his brow, Yamada complained, "Finally now that we found out where to look, there's nothing up here anyhow."

"Oh there's something up here," Suzume assured certainly. "I just don't know what yet." She was busy glancing all around the building, at what role surroundings could play in aiding them. Something as small as their reflection off a window across the way or a logical escape route could be just the detail they needed. It didn't seem, however, that the killer missed anything in his plan. The only surveillance camera even in the area had blacked out for an hour on either side of the crime.

"He's thorough, that's for sure," the woman's partner noted, leaning lazily against a swamp cooler beside her, "probably a professional. Or a psychopathic serial murderer, if no one had any reason to want him dead."

"Or both," she added, reluctant to stop examining around them. "I suppose that part of his personality will have to be our tell. It's the only lead we have."

Yamada let out a small, unexcited laugh as something near his crossed arms caught her attention. She pointed to his elbow where a hose entered the main body of the cooling system. A gold band looked rather out of place wound tightly around the hose, apparently sealing the connection of the two pieces. Her question, "What's this?" accompanied a light touch to the mechanism. The gold band, which had seemed to be attached, easily came loose with her contact, sliding down the hose to a curved part.

That had them both interested, and the one more likely to get down in the dirt pulled a screwdriver handily from his kit like he expected at all times to need to use it. Detaching the cord, he removed the band, and quickly remounted the machine while Suzume was inspecting the new discovery.

A gold band clearly implied one thing. But what was a wedding ring doing hooked up to a swamp cooler, impersonating a nut? On the inside was a miniscule engraving, barely legible, but which she recognized as the first victim's name. His wedding band. What was that doing on the roof from which he was killed? It implied that the man had been in contact with his murderer beforehand in a way they hadn't yet imagined.

"Here's our second clue," Suzume stated the obvious to her partner as they turned to leave the roof, the lady continuing to look over the only evidence the suspect had left.

"How's it going?" The short investigator inquired of his coworker Tamura the moment he entered the room she was working in. He had a pile of evidence results for which he needed to use the table. She scooted over her things to only take up half the space.

"Good, I guess," she replied cordially before explaining to him the troubles involved in their shared case. "I know we thought that Chinta-san was clearly killed by his sister and that the case was pretty much closed, but while you were out on other cases last night, it all got much more complicated."

Yamada agreed with a nod and a small grunt while he began sorting through the things he had come in with.

She continued, "I met Chinta-san's girlfriend. She claimed she witnessed the crime and that Yamashi-san was the one who pushed him down the stairs. Now I'm trying to see if anything in the evidence makes it clearer."

"Sounds easy enough," he commented.

Shocked by the statement, the girl was about to harshly inquire what he meant by that. Then, she realized, reading through a print out of an analysis, he couldn't possibly have been listening. It was all right, though, since Kyoko had given her ideas for it the evening before. They were working on it already.

At that point, Kuro peeked his head into the room. "Oh Tamura-san, you're in here. Murata-san asked me to give this to you." Having entered the room, he slid a paper across the table to her.

"It's over," was scribbled sloppily across the top of a page from the officer's notebook.

Unable to understand, she gave a curious frown to the messenger. He provided the answer, "When Murata-san went to question Chinta-san's sister, she pulled out the tears again. The lawyer informed us that they had heard the girlfriend's version of the story, and that it was true. She started sobbing how she didn't want to say before, but it was true. So he took that statement to Yamashi-san, who responded, 'I vouched for that girl, and she blamed me! You tell her this,' and he wrote her this note."

While Tamura was still taking it all in, Yamada noted, "Like I said, easy. The girl did it, you know."

"How can you say that for sure?" She wondered.

He gestured to the center of the victim's shirt. "See this, where she pushed him? It's oil. Not like if Yamashi-san did it, where we'd find car grease and dirt. How much do you wanna bet that it's her sun block for soccer practice? Plus, if he came up at all, there would be his fingerprints somewhere at the scene. It wasn't a premeditated crime, so they wouldn't have thought about hiding evidence. Besides, she changed her story and he didn't."

A silence filled the room as the two were surprised by his deduction. "What?" He asked. "When they answer is obvious, don't go looking for reasons to doubt it."

Kuro chuckled. "Finally you've shown there was a reason to hire you. You hide your intelligence well." All he got back in response was a half smirk. At that point, Kuro spotted the evidence the younger had been working on and questioned, "What are you doing with my case?"

"Kyoko-san looked a little overloaded with it yesterday. I offered to check some suspects for him. How he ran off today on the Konatoya-san case, I assumed you wouldn't mind the help."

"All right then, humor me with a second amazing deduction. What did you find out?"

"Your dead man's partner was 'shocked' by the news. He claimed he had left the game early because of an appointment with his daughter, and that after that only the man's personal caddy would have been around to kill him. After telling me that, he decided he better mention the 'heated discussion' they had at Hole 4 about their business, which was why they were running late. But he assured me it was nowhere near bad enough to be cause for murder. He even showed me his golf clubs, and not one was missing."

"Neither were any of the victim's," Kuro added. "Back to square one then, I guess."

"Not exactly," Yamada countered. "I have the address for the victim's caddy, and the results of all this evidence. The fibers under the receptionist's fingernails were a knitted cotton and polyester blend."

"A golf shirt," Kuro interrupted, not much impressed by the unrevealing tidbit.

"Yes. Pretty much to be expected, but it was white, and all of the workers wear a light blue, which eliminates them as suspects. In her nose and throat was found a combination of gun powder and blood. Strangely, the lab had it tested and the blood matched the samples from the other victim. My guess would be: she was smothered with the bag where the killer dumped his evidence. As for the bit of something that was in our first victim's head wound, it's a new synthetic form of leather to make golfing gloves, only sold by a couple specialty stores. The brand name is Supra Golf!"

It was a while before Kuro answered, as he took his time to place the new information into the image that was beginning to form in his mind. The murderer had to have deliberately broken his club on something to get a sharp edge and tossed the other half aside, near the sprinklers. Then, he swung at the unsuspecting man, catching a bit of the leather between his thumb and finger, leaving it in his head along with the half of the club.

Of course, blood would splatter, so to hide his crime until after having left the course, he would need a bag. And when the receptionist learned too much, it was the handiest object to do away with her as well. What was the gun powder about, though?

"There's still a lot to prove on this one," he concluded.

Lunch time found Nori once more scanning the cafeteria for someone who might want to sit by him. Where was Masami anyways? Finally he just settled in at the empty end of a table by himself. These people were a lot meaner than the kids back in his old school anyways. His mind began drifting back to Yuni. He didn't really miss his mom, but right then he really wanted to be back there. It was only the third time he'd thought it—after Sunday night alone at his uncle's house, and then when they read the letter. He didn't need her; she was never around anyways. Still…

"Hi-ya Shimizu-kun from Yuni!" A girl from his class waved ecstatically, having just arrived at the table to interrupt his thoughts. She set her food across from his and sat with a giggle. "That really makes me laugh a lot, even still. I never would have thought to do something funny like that! I like you." Then, it seemed her mouth caught up to her previous action. "Can I sit here? Because I saw Masami-kun isn't here today. This is totally like my favorite meal here."

Takanawa, Akiko was a six-year-old, dark haired girl with a tendency to the random. Even her answers in class were likely to be distracted. Nori looked up about the end of her excited outburst, slowly tuning back into his new schoolmate. Hadn't she been one of the girls laughing at him the day before?

"Are you okay, new kid? Because if I didn't know better I'd think you weren't listening, or…were you crying?"

Surprised by the question, Nori quickly denied it with a shake of his head. Maybe he had been close.

"Well, I don't know why you're upset, but I'm sure jealous of Masami-kun today! Why do you guess he's not here?"

"I don't know," Nori answered, finally getting in a word. "His brother got hurt."

"I think it's really weird that Masami-kun would decide to be friends with someone like you. I've been his friend for a while, like a whole year. We met at this party both our mom's were at. When did you meet him?"

"Sunday," the boy replied, just a bit embarrassed due to the differences in the circumstances.

Before he could open his mouth to add more explanation, Takanawa just kept on. "In all this time, I've never seen him with someone like you. He's got tons of friends—none here because of the image they'd all give him. But look at you, all not matching, lost in this big city. You're like a charity case for him. And you do talk a lot. I saw you on tv this morning, telling everyone some silly stuff."

She stopped to giggle again, and Nori turned a bright shade of red. Did she really come over here just to be mean to him? He really did not like this girl at all.

"I've never seen Masami-kun like someone who talks so much," she continued. "Where'd he find you?"

Having gradually grown tired of her insulting, he stood up and retorted, "Right back at you, Big Mouth!"

Takanawa burst into laughter once more as if she was observing the boy's harsh comment rather than receiving it. Only after calming down did she clarify, "You look silly being mean! You're too cute to ever do that again. Sit down."

Nori considered the proposal, but he didn't like being laughed at. As he had been there first, he sat, inquiring, "Am I cute enough that you won't be mean either?"

"Aw, I'm sorry. Don't be sad," she begged, leaning in closer to look up at him from beneath. "I like you Kyoko-kun. I think you get your humor from tv shows that are too grown up for you."

"I haven't even said anything," he grumbled, still unhappy with her.

"No?" She asked with a thoughtful, cocked head, uncertain about his truthfulness. "I guess not. But Masami-kun talks to me. He tells me everything, like this one time when it was snowing and our mom's were doing a photo shoot outside we sat in this freezing trailer and talked about…what was it?" She stopped to think again, but only a split second later she went of on another topic, "so, like there's this designer that sells the cutest stuffed puppies…"

Nori just blinked at her never ending energy. Was he supposed to follow this?

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