The Horoscope

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Chapter 12 A Family's Apathy

It was around his son's lunch break by the time Saburou finally made it to the hospital and gained access to Konatoya-san's room. The phone call which led him there came as a shock. What kind of sick determination brings a gang to repeat a random attack when the victim was still in the hospital? That was the question running through his mind as he stepped off the elevator on their floor.

Officer Tashi met him there with a coffee in one hand and some papers in the other. Flashing the papers in Saburou's face, he greeted, "Took you long enough. I was headed out for a smoke, so I'll make the update quick. Both Konatoya-san and the girl were attacked again at 0600 today. He was still in the room; she was in the recreation center. Nurses heard the ruckus and chased the attackers out. The head nurse and the doctor on staff gave their statements in those papers. They managed to catch and detain one, who should be arriving at the station."

He paused to take a sip of his steaming energy drink as they rounded a corner on their trek toward the family. "And we just received word that down in the neighborhood where the attack originally took place some officers tracked down the suspect described as having a while brand name on his black hoodie. I'll have my work cut out for me at the station this afternoon. Good luck here."

Thus ended the morning's update, right at the door to Konatoya's room. Tashi went his way, and Saburou entered, curiously wondering why across the hall he saw the victim's younger brother sitting beside the family agent. Shouldn't he have been at school?

For the sake of an explanation, we return to the night before, after both of the Kyoko's had left the hospital, and the press had quieted a bit with their questions. Sometime around the hour Masami's sleepy eyes were drooping closed, and Kaoru was pacing the hall outside the room, the flashing of cameras started up again. The sound reached the young celebrity's ears with the urgency of a bomb siren.

Instantly alert, he turned around in his chair and peaked out the window to the hallway. The whole mob of reporters were back on their feet, microphones, camera lenses, and notebooks simultaneously aimed at a mass of tall men in buzz cuts, ear buds, and black suits. In the center of them he could almost make out a $300 pair of green stiletto heels from California and a few chunks of perfectly curled hair bobbing between the men's stern faces. Masami could easily recognize the artificially highlighted strands as belonging to his mother.

"Of course, Okaasan would show up in the middle of the night," Ayumu commented sleepily. He dared shift in position, hoping it would cause little or no extra pain. "It's the most appropriate time for any socialite to show up for anything."

Across the room, the other patient awoke from their conversation. Rubbing her eyes, she input, "I see you have a deep respect for your mother."

"Just wait until she comes in here. Masami will ask her some ridiculous favor, and she'll just agree. It's so typical," the older brother informed with the intent of amusing her.

Hardly even glancing over at the mention of his name, the younger eagerly watched as the mom approached Kaoru, exchanged a few words, and then turned toward the room with him in toe. The door swung open, letting in the celebrity along with her entourage of body guards. They quickly fanned out, forming a line behind the lady. Whipping sunglasses from her face in the dead of night, she paced toward her eldest boy, heels clicking with every step against the cold floor.

The floor matched her tone in greeting the other son as she passed by him on her way. "Hello Masami." Nothing more.

Unhindered by what he was used to, Masami supplied his 'ridiculous' request, "Okaasan, since Aniki is in the hospital, I don't have to got to school tomorrow, right?"

An evil glare spread across Carli-s face as she struggled to not choke the boy while his mother was around, letting him get away with things. The little schemer.

"Of course not, Masami, you'll be busy here," the mother assured sweetly.

"See," Ayumu hissed across the room to Hikari, as that was, in fact, how their mother was.

The girl just giggled quietly and watched the celebrity address the young, injured man. "How are you?" She asked.

"I'll be fine," Ayumu answered, forcing through the pain to sit up as proof. Neither did he want her help, nor did she show him any sympathy. It was a formal exchanges, such as between two people who hardly know one another. Perhaps that was the case here. Both the woman's children had seemed to be more open with the nanny than her.

She grabbed her son's face to look more closely at the damage, her perfectly rounded acrylic nails wrapping around his chin. Much to the dismay of the fully grown Ayumu, she proceeded to manually tilt his head in all the angles she needed to see. Wincing, he just tensed at her applying pressure to his swollen jaw and waited it out.

"Doesn't appear to be any permanent damage," words finally came from her mouth again, but she instantly turned away, actually speaking to the family agent. "Did any pictures get out?"

"Not of Ayumu-san, Tomomi-sama," Kaoru assured, "the press didn't catch word of the incident until we were securely barricaded inside this prison. I'm certain they couldn't have take any photos. For the time being, you may be hearing about a different bit of information that slipped out."

Masami sank guiltily in his chair under the revealing glance Kaoru sent his way. Of course, it was part of the agent's job to warn Tomomi of potential tabloids, but the boy couldn't help despise the man when his mom pressed for clarification. How could he twist the story to minimize the effects?

"Carli-san brought a kid from school home today." Passing the blame was always a good way to start. "Because Kyoko-kun's dad didn't come pick him up until we were already here, and by that time," embarrassment suddenly came over him, as he couldn't hide the truth, "he had been photographed."

"And interviewed," Kaoru added a detail he knew the boy would leave out.

Disappointment spread gradually across her face as the news sank in. Meanwhile, Ayumu mentioned, "Good going Masami, leave out that he's your friend. You'll get in less trouble from Okaasan, but more from Carli-san."

The nanny was fuming in the corner unnoticed because she had no influence at all as long as the neglectful celebrity was claiming control. She'd have her revenge on the bratty child when it was only the two of them. Her mind was already filling with moral corrections she'd have to make to get Masami to take responsibility for himself.

Tomomi practically ignored it all, just asking of Kaoru, "Is there anything we can do to minimize the effects?"

"Actually," he replied, "The way Masami-kun depicted it is probably about as minimal as it will ever get, but I will work my hardest to see if I can convince them to only release that much."

"In that case, I'm exhausted, and my doctor said I need to get more sleep to keep this young face. While you're working at that, schedule me to come visit here tomorrow while nothing important is going on, and I probably ought to interview with 13 news. Good night."

At that, she left in a way exactly opposite to her arrival, bid farewell only by an overwhelmed Kaoru who sighed, "Good night, Konatoya-sama."

Back in the present, Ayumu sat miserably on his hospital bed, holding an ice pack over a brand new shiner on his face when Kyoko entered the room. He hardly groaned out a greeting, but in reality he was grateful to see the investigator. There was always that hope that Kyoko would find some fingerprints, and catch the guys who humiliated him twice. Still, he wasn't looking forward to telling the story.

"We're trained to tell people, 'I'm sorry for your loss,'" Saburou began. Unsure of how to proceed, he simply spoke to break the ice. "But then don't tell us what to say when someone lives through it…twice. I guess you've got either luck, a fighting spirit, or really ineffective attackers. I'm leaning toward the second."

"You could probably get in trouble for insulting the criminals," the young man pointed out. Then letting the ice fall away from his eye, he continued, "I did get a good look at one of them this time. He had crooked teeth and thick, calloused hands."

Saburou scribbled that down and then inquired of the visible cut at his neck, "He got in here, and he got a knife to your throat, but decided not to kill you when he could have. Why did he leave you alive?"

Ayumu's eyes glazed over just slightly trying to recall the details. "Three of them came in; another stayed at the door to watch. When I went for the call button, he punched me in the face, and before I could even react to it, he had his pocket knife pressed up there threateningly. He asked where Hikari-san was, and after some deeper probing, I told him." The victim gestured to the cut to clarify what his words implied.

"Which is where?" Saburou asked further.

"The recreation room. She's not released, but she was allowed to move around. So this guy sends his two helpers after her, saying, 'Be quick. We can't kill him until we know for sure she's there.' I don't know how badly, but I know they got to Hikari-san before the staff rescued us and caught one of the slower ones." At the end of the story he had to wonder, "So how helpful was that?"

"They were after Hikari-san this time," the investigator muttered curiously to himself. He could use Suzume's personality analysis right then because he couldn't make sense of this gang's modus operandi. "Not too bad," he responded to the boy. "Why do you suppose they were focused more on her this time?"

"It was more like they were after both of us," Ayumu corrected, "and they wanted to be sure they found her too before…doing away with me."

"All right, I'm going to look around to see what evidence I can find," Saburou concluded.

"Find some good stuff Kyoko-tentai," the young man encouraged, using a title that made Saburou feel like he was in an old fashioned detective movie. He chuckled a little as he got to work. Metentai, the word was more special and much rarer than what he did for work.

At the same time, outside the crime scene tape all ears were once more alerted by the sound of overpriced shoes echoing down the hall. She had a bohemian flair that day, with a glittery scarf braided through sloppy curls around her head. A flowing, patterned cover teasily concealed the tank top-jungle pants combo that matched her Brazilian leather boots. Accompanied by only three body guards, she had met Atsushi and his older partner Nora at the door. Now she was making her way to her appointment with her sons.

A magazine dropped into Masami's lap, opened to an article with a huge picture of Nori in his shirt that was obviously too large. Suddenly a clammy feeling came over him as the nervousness kicked in. He knew it was going to be bad; he knew he was in big trouble. It was time to brace up for the lecture—the only kind his mom ever really gave.

"It's really a shame you can't read boy because I think you'd get a kick out of it. Everyone else who sees this magazine sure will. 'The Konatoya family adopts an orphaned farm boy. Little is known about the never before seen Kyoko, Nori, except what fables his childish mind conjured up in his backwoods accent. Research shows his father is a Crime Scene Investigator—having nothing to do with the popular American television series—currently working hard to earn rice for himself and his son by solving the attempted murder on Konatoya-sama's older son. See page 24.' Then, they printed the 'interview' you and Kaoru-san were talking about. Looks more like a parody to me."

By that point, Masami had shrugged smaller and smaller until he felt like a flea staring at the enormous mouth of a bullfrog outlined in lipstick. The mother, however, was already through with his scolding and turned her attention rather to the numerous things the agent should have done for her.

"Did you prepare me a speech to interview with the news Kaoru-san?" She inquired directly after finishing with her son.

"It's right here Konatoya-sama," he replied, waving a paper from his lap. "I've almost finished."

Giving a cold glance to her leather watch, Tomomi decided, "Well, I haven't got much time here, so I better not waste any of it waiting on you. I'll go see my son, I suppose."

Turning on her heel, the lady paid no attention to the crime scene tape barring her entrance, nor did she listen to anyone's pleas to not cross. The barrier clearly didn't pertain to her, and she gracefully slipped beneath it. Saburou was ripped from his secluded world of evidence with a start for the second time—the first being when Ayumu had thrown a crumpled paper at him claiming he looked like a cat ready to pounce who just needed to be frightened.

Before registering who he was looking at, the investigator defended his territory, "You cannot be in here. This is limited access because a crime was committed here. Didn't you see the tape, Konatoya-sama?" Halfway through the last bit, he had remembered who she was, but it wasn't until after using the honorary term with her name that it struck him. She was the celebrity parent of his celebrity victim. Probably he should have spoken to her more politely.

As an involuntary reaction, he repeated her name in shock. How was he supposed to act in the presence of a pop star? Should he thank her for watching his son the day before? Should he get an autograph and show it off to everyone? Should he apologize for speaking harshly, or kick her out like anyone else? For a second he wavered from her aura, fading out to wonder mundane things—how old was she, was she still married to that worthless man?

She walked right past him to her apathetic son. He had hidden both is ice pack and his pain and looked bored rather than injured. "Kyoko-san told you not to come back here Okaasan," were his first words. "You are corrupting his evidence."

"Don't tell me what to do Ayumu. I am still your mother," she commanded, but Saburou easily noticed her tone lacked the strength to inspire change.

Having regained consciousness by that time, Saburou tried again, "Look, as there was another crime here this morning, I really need this room empty and uncontaminated, so if you could please leave, following the same path with which you came—" He faded off at the end when it seemed she was thinking instead of listening.

"Ayumu, did you say Kyoko-san?" She asked of her son, scheming deduction in her voice.

"Yes," he agreed, unsure why she wanted to know.

Tomomi paced over to him with a scrutinizing glare. After looking him over and finding him quite average, she wrinkled her nose and left the room. The two men remaining just shrugged and went back to what they had been doing. Not long later she stormed back in, though, shoving the same magazine into the investigator's arms.

"Is this your son that's all over the press today, soiling our name?"

At first the father felt guilty and remorseful from her words as he took a glance at the article, asking, "What did he do?" Of course, the more he read of what the reporters wrote, the less he seemed to care of Tomomi's complaints. He began to chuckle with an amused smile. "That's cute. I didn't know he told such good stories." Before he could let his mind wander back to all the things he didn't yet know about Nori, he got back on topic, "All right, Konatoya-sama, it's time for you to take your leave. You don't have clearance here, and I don't need your assistance to destroy a crime scene."

"Are you telling me too—" the celebrity began, appearing offended that he would order her in any way.

"Go," he affirmed, more forcefully, pointing to the door.

Giving one more look of disapproval to the ridiculous, blue shower caps covering the investigator's shoes, she turned her nose up and walked out. As soon as she was out of both ear and eye-shot, Saburou tossed the magazine onto the bed with Ayumu, offering him something to pass the time with the article on page 24. He skimmed through it without much interest and then flipped through the rest.

"Why is it that you don't want her around anyways?" Saburou couldn't help but ask, as he went back to work.

Ayumu just shrugged, considering whether he would simply respond that it was a crime scene and he didn't have a choice. "Because she doesn't want to be here," he decided to answer. "Even Masami's more sincerely worried about me." Both of them glanced between the blinds to the seven-year-old who was completely engrossed in a portable video game. Saburou had his doubts, but the young man just continued, "Eventually you get tired of being let down, and you quit caring if they care or not."

Finding that the back page of the magazine had instructions for an origami project, he ripped out page 24 and began following the fold steps. "Ototou and Kyoko-kun are well on their way there too," Ayumu mentioned, making the comment seem off-handed. In reality, it was a deliberate warning.

"Takeshi-kun?" Escaped the father's mouth before he could remember to call him Nori.

"Who?" Of course, Ayumu didn't recognize the name. His origami failed, so he tore out another page and started over.

"Never mind." The investigator shook his head, deciding not to bother the Konatoya boy with his personal life anymore.

Kuro walked past the address on his little scrap of paper twice, and almost a third time. Now, he stood uncertainly outside the door he was directed to, several times taking a double take to make sure it was even the right place. Broad daylight felt like early dusk in the dark alley. Puddle ridden with filth sat beneath overflowing garbage cans, and the investigator looked with concern to the officer beside him. Could this possibly be the home of someone who worked at a Member's Only Country Club? It was nothing more than a shack with half a door.

Nevertheless, he knocked on the splintered wood. After quite a while, the door cracked open, getting caught on something the small house didn't really have enough space for. A tall, pale man appeared from the shadows with a white mask over his nose and mouth, dark bags under his eyes, and a look that implied he'd been drinking cough syrup.

"Officers, can I help you?" He began, quite drowsy as he inquired, "Is there something wrong?"

"Well, yes, actually," Kuro affirmed, when he spotted a jacket from the golf club inside the house. "Do you often golf with Konami-san?"

"Yes, I work for him," the man corrected. "Clients of the club have the option of always golfing with the same caddy. Whenever he comes in, so do I. Why?"

"In that case, he died while you were there Sunday."

The man swallowed hard at the information, which made his throat sting. "Dead?" He paused a while, running his fingers through sweaty hair, almost like he'd forgotten what they were talking about. Finally, he put the two statements together and realized he had to defend himself. "I didn't work Sunday. I stayed in bed."

"Is that so?" Kuro responded, in a way probing for further explanation.

"Yes, I called Konami-san to say I was late, and he told me he'd rather golf alone than with someone as miserable and out of it as I am when I'm sick." The longer he spoke, the more it sounded like his sinuses filled with pressure. Stepping away from the door, he offered, "Excuse me for a moment. You can come in." Clearly, he was making his way to the tissue box.

Each coming just barely inside, Kuro asked, "Do you mind if we look around a little?"

"Go ahead," he sniffled.

Kuro turned his attention to the officer beside him. "If you could, when you find his equipment, check to see if all the clubs are there."

Trying to laugh as he overheard the suggestion brought about a snorting cough from the sick man. "You think I play at that course? It's a job. I don't have that liberty. Not unless I can afford the membership fee."

The officer glanced over to Kuro for confirmation and received a nod in return. There was no way to tell if he was lying or telling the truth. That mask covering half his face prevented them even further from measuring his honest. They needed to find the proof somewhere.

"Why don't you call the Club?" The sick man suggested, having returned to the visitor at the door. "They'll tell you I wasn't at work."

"That I will," Kuro replied, just out of habit, but his mind had veered off already to a photo on a table nearby. The man stood, smiling, under the arm of Konami, both of them with their golf sets. They looked like they were enjoying themselves like close friends. He was about ready to inquire how that evidence fit with his statement about not golfing with Konami.

As if he could read Kuro's mind because of seeing where the investigator was looking, the man provided, "From time to time we would meet at a course nearby and golf together. At the club, I'm just his caddy, but elsewhere we are more like friends…or were."

"Did you resent it?" Kuro asked.

The man responded with only a drowsy, perplexed blink, so he clarified, "That he treated you inconsistently when he was with his other friends?"

Seeming to find the idea absurd, it was a while before the man answered, "He didn't treat me different. I just don't golf at the club. Do you really think I killed him?"

At that point, the officer reported back. "All the clubs are there and in tact; though, they're an older make and model than what killed the victim. Same is true of the gloves."

Kuro excused himself and his companion from the house, saying, "Just looking into all of the possibilities to get a clear view. We'll be checking into what you said about not working Sunday. Good afternoon."

He left with the feeling that it wasn't the caddy who murdered Konami. Even though his statement conflicted with the other golfer's claim that he had been at the course with them, it was hard to imagine that someone could fake that realistic of snot. It left him thinking that it was the business partner who had been the one to lie, and with an overwhelming desire to wash his hands. Then, after that, it would be back to the course.

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