Chapter 13 Anniversaries and Birthdays
Once he had thoroughly finished searching the hospital room of the young celebrity for any clues, Kyoko had to make his way to the recreation room and start over with Hikari. He ducked beneath the yellow tape fencing small, bored children out of their play room. Something told the man he should be reminded of his own child at that point, but he shook away the thought before it could overtake him again. This was his job; he needed to focus.
The room was far more overturned than the previous one had been. There must have been more of a struggle, and Hikari had waited all that time in the room. Being surrounded by everything that had happened seemed to have left her more shook up than she had been after the first attack. She was in a complete daze, staring at her visitor, but not actually registering anything. A thought crossed his mind, Perhaps he would have done better to come to her sooner. How was he to have known, though?
"Are you seriously injured, Hikari-san?" He inquired to get her attention.
"No," she grumbled in return, bringing her knees up to her chest until she was curled in a ball on top of a table in the corner. She looked cold. Even with the jacket draped over her shoulders, though, Saburou could easily make out the deep cut on her arm that had been stitched up, the bandage that almost hid her seeping side wound, the cast on her broken fingers.
Outside her room, her family sat in the hallway. The father was in his work uniform like he had dropped everything to return to the hospital when he heard about the second attack. Her mother, it seemed, had finally stopped crying but was still blowing her nose as an after effect. Even her 10-12 year old brother—as bored as he looked—appeared to be more concerned in his boredom than any of Ayumu's family had been.
Glancing back to Hikari, Saburou couldn't decide if she was trying to be strong for them, or if something in particular had happened to make her this way. Just in case, he pulled the blinds closed tight so that no one could see either in or out. Maybe it would help. For the time being, she just continued to stare.
"Do you mind telling me what happened?" Saburou then asked, but she didn't even register the question. "I'm going to look around a bit, to see if I can figure it out, okay? If there's ever anything you want to tell me, speak up." There was no reaction at all until finally, she nodded.
Saburou wandered slowly through the room, taking a thorough look from each angle, searching for one thing in particular. Finding it—the vantage point from which he could clearly see the beginning of the scene—the whole event began to unroll in his imagination. The table with the building blocks had already been knocked over when the hooded man came in. She had been sitting in a chair across from the television reading a magazine.
Startled, she stood and backed away as he made his way into the room, revealing two men behind him. He lunged forward, and she knocked over a chair to buy her some time to think of something better. By the time he'd gotten around it, she had yanked the DVD player from its shelf and cords to swing it at his head. Big and bulky as that is, he ducked beneath it, and the second man caught it. Having prevented her from flailing it around, he ripped it from her hands and wrapped the cords tightly around her wrist as a restraint. The marks were visible on her arm even now, and he successfully lifted a set of prints off the front of the smashed player. So far, so good.
Next, the first man pulled out a knife—or maybe it was out before—but at this point the knife fight began. A big, blue, stuffed square that was in her reach became his first victim, serving well in her defense. The battle had resulted in a swipe across her arm, likely as she was trying to guard something else with it. Saburou could see her blood splattered on the carpet as proof.
There he lost the trail for a moment. Was the third guy just standing guard like in Ayumu's room? He had a suspicion she escaped at that point to the other side of the room, but he couldn't follow it as clearly.
As if she could tell-and somehow felt sorry for him—Hikari spoke, without moving a muscle in her body. "I know...why they wanted to kill Konatoya-san first."
It sounded awfully robotic, like her mind was still lost deep inside the event. HE tried to break her out of it, questioning, "Why is that?"
She shifted, lowered her knees, and looked away—not that she had been looking before. After several moments of silence, Saburou had given up on her finding the courage to say it. As soon as he turned his attention back to trying to figure things out himself, she gave him another tidbit.
"Konatoya-san wouldn't let them do it."
The words that weren't said rang clear in Saburou's mind this time. There was no doubting what had been different for the second attack. Had Ayumu been in the room with her, he would have stood up again and again and again until he died to keep them from shaming her. Now that she was alone, it was obvious that they had planned to have their way with her before killing her, during both this attack, and the previous one.
Instantly, he could picture what had happened again. He slashed at her once more, digging a deep gouge into her side that splattered across the wall and stopped her in her tracks. She didn't cripple from it, but he was easily able to catch her and press her against the wall. After wiping the blood from his pocket knife across her shirt, desires took over, and he let the weapon drop to the floor.
Hikari didn't tolerate that for long, ignoring her throbbing side for a moment while she took the knife from the floor and stabbed it into the guy's leg. Saburou bent down as well to take a sample of the blood on the carpet. The second man, who had been awaiting his turn, stepped in again. Pulling her hand behind her back, he had no troubles breaking parts of it, which—it seems—greatly dimmed Hikari's fighting spirit.
Even so, fate preferred her, which Hikari revealed with her last words. "They left then. The doctors..."
Sounds faded to silence as someone appeared in the doorway. Hikari's robotic shyness immediately imploded, and she shut down. Wondering why, Saburou looked up from his evidence gathering to see the child celebrity's guardian trying not to appear imposing.
After being acknowledged, she began, "I just wanted to let you know I'm going out for a few minutes. I need to stop by Masami-kun's school to pick up his work for today before it closes."
That was all she came over to say. It intrigued Saburou, as both knew she didn't need to stay around for anything and thus needed no permission to leave. The longer she lingered in the doorway, the more perplexed he became. It was like he was missing something—a deep implication that he should have discerned. Even more, it seemed like she was waiting for a response.
"Okay," he agreed eventually.
Carli repeated his reply with just a hint of surprise that he had nothing more to say. He wasn't getting the hint, though, so she left him standing in bewilderment. Strange, the man thought, turning back to his work. What was that all about? Something compelled him to glance at his watch, and the time struck a chord within him. Late afternoon already?
It was then that Carli's words came back to mind, 'stop by the school...before it closes.' He couldn't believe it was that time already.
Making sure he didn't destroy any evidence this time, the new father chased after the nanny. Upon catching her, he requested, "I can't get out of here because I have to keep working. Would it be possible for you to pick up Nori-kun and bring him here?"
She smiled. She had been certain that he only needed a reminder. Of course, it would eventually be ideal for him to make an arrangement before the end of the school day, but for now it was well enough that he acknowledged the time and asked for help.
"Yeah, sure," she accepted.
With that taken care of, Saburou made his way back to the recreation room. After apologizing for running off on Hikari, he finished up with taking note of the details. Then, he braced himself for the challenging task of informing her parents why she would be a little emotionally unstable for a while. The mother burst out in tears once more, falling into the arms of her husband. He filled with a silent rage that the son could sense from down the hall. They hadn't let the boy hear, but he could tell something much worse had just been announced.
By the time that was finished, Carli would be halfway back to the hospital. They had just cleared Konatoya-s room for the public to enter again, and Saburou made his way over while Masami and his guards settled in for an amusing conversation with the older brother. Saburou found a seat and a rolling table to work on some of that paperwork Yamada had reminded him to bring while he waited for his son.
It came as a surprise upon entering the country club to find the lawn boy Kohei spending his evening manning the front desk. As school was over for the day, Kuro should have expected to see him around. Maybe it was just unexpected to find him behind a counter. Not only did he seem out of place, though, but also a little frantic. After allowing the teen to finish with a client, Kuro stepped up to the desk for a chat.
"I didn't think I'd see you here," the investigator began, leaning one arm on the counter.
"The boss wants to keep things running as smoothly as possible, some sort of denail restores productivity thing," the boy responded, trying to be both informative and quick at the same time. It was clear he hadn't really understood the staff meeting where the boss had announced his plan, however, as he continued, "So some of us are doubling up on tasks. I'm getting time and a half for it, though...or something."
"That's nice," was Kuro's only reply.
"Not to be rude or anything—because I don't want you to think that—but why are you here?" The question was asked with nervous concern that he might once more be in trouble.
"Do you have access to the records of which caddies were working at the time of the incident?" As expected, the man got right to the point.
Rather than relieved, he appeared to be surprised that the question would be unrelated to him and so easy to answer as well. "It's kept in a room down that hall where back-end stuff gets done," he explained, pointing to his left. "I'll page a manager and have him meet you there."
"And before I go back, just one more thing." The anticipation on the boy's face at the investigator's words once more verged on fear. Kuro doubted the kid would ever do anything to spite law enforcement. He probably didn't even litter. "The second victim was smothered by a bag containing gun powder. Do you have any idea how or why someone could have brought that into the club?"
Kohei though, for quite a long time. After all, he could never claim ignorance to the police and then wind up knowing later. Eventually, some lip biting, head scratching, and nervously glancing away brought up a good response.
"Fireworks," he realized. "The club's anniversary is next week, and Sunday there were plastic bags full of them sitting just outside the storage shed out back. They were sitting there all day. Anyone could have grabbed a bag."
"And put their bloody evidence in the fireworks bag," Kuro understood at last. Patting twice on the counter, he headed toward the back room, adding, "Thanks kid."
It wasn't long before Carli returned with a stack full of books larger than the small boy accompanying her. He went straight to the injured victim while she dropped the homework beside Masami. "Are you better?" Nori asked as he just barely raised himself to see over the bed. He actually, really cared.
After letting then talk for a while, Saburou put down the paperwork he was still trying to find a correlation in and decided to give five minutes to his newly arrived son. "So what did you do at school today Nori?" He couldn't think of any better question to ask.
"Um," the boy thought hard to recall something. "We all read books. Masami-kun wasn't there, and...birthdays."
A little perplexed, the father inquired, "What about birthdays?"
"How to put the class in order by their birthday. It's Nagara-kun, Itsui-kun, Sayaru-kun..." Seeing that the confusion on his father's face was not fading because of the list of kids in the class, Nori tried a different approach. Taking the paperwork for suspect statements from his father's temporary desk, he ordered all of them by month and date of birth.
"I see," Saburou responded, not exactly thrilled by the small accomplishment, as he flipped through to check his work. "That is very important to know." Suddenly, he realized all of the criminals were born within 30 days of one another, between October 25 and November 20. He may have never noticed without Nori's help.
"A newspaper and their birthday," he muttered.
Nori cocked his head curiously. Never had the boy mentioned any newspapers.
"That's what they all have in common." He still didn't seem to know how either one could relate to the crimes, however.
"The Horoscope," Ayumu put in his input.
Saburou could only repeat the suggestion.
"Read it. Maybe there's some homicidal tendencies," the injured boy offered.
"Even if a publisher let a newspaper print something promoting crimes, do people really take their Horoscope seriously?" The investigator inquired like it was the others who knew best.
"I had to do research for an essay that I mostly plagiarized, but I remember reading that 30% of Americans take it seriously. I'm sure it's similar here. And even those who don't, might if the situation depicted presents itself."
Most of the adults in the room glanced to Ayumu, disappointed that he would plagiarize on papers. They knew he had been lazy in school, but that was just so much worse. Fortunately, Saburou cared enough about the original topic to ignore that remark and bring the conversation back around quickly.
Willing to give the idea a try, he commented, "The only place I can think to find a Sunday paper still is at my place."
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Masami asked. "Go get it."
"Show some respect, Masami-kun," Carli ordered, fatigue coming through in her voice.
"It's all right," the man assured, standing slowly to his feet. "It was a lazy complaint. I will be back shortly, if you think you can handle things without me."
"What would you do if they came back?" Ayumu wondered, knowing that he wouldn't be able to make a difference.
"On tv they say," Nori peeped up, "kick 'em in the leg, or where it hurts. Then run away."
"Thanks for the advice," the elder brother mentioned just because he knew the boy would like to hear the compliment.
"Come on, Nori-kun," Saburou decided. "Let's actually spend the evening at home. I'm sure the Konatoya family has seen enough of us."
"Okay," the young boy answered, agreeably as always and then he turned to wave a friendly farewell to the rest. "Bye bye!"
Once at the apartment, Saburou set about preparing a good meal for his son, or rather just about the only thing he knew how to prepare: rice. That cooking, he knew he would have around half an hour's wait, and the boy was busy sitting on the living room floor making robots fly. There was plenty of time for him to look into the theory Konatoya had thought up for the series of crimes. Now where had he put the Sunday paper?
He hadn't seen it since...Nori knocked unexpectedly at his door. Everything had been a mess since then. Taking the paper, he flipped through to the Horoscope page and scanned down to the appropriate month. This week, someone will make you very angry. Give in to your inner feelings…kill them. No one will catch you.
Stunned, he glanced over to his son. A company so large would check several times that every letter was exactly as planned, and they certainly would never risk officially printing something that would possibly involve their name in murder. But then, how did such a violent message get there, on a widely circulated, printed page? A disgruntled editor? He would have to look into it more tomorrow. At that moment, he had to finish with dinner.
Taking a can of beans from the cupboard, he opened it and dumped the contents into a small pot to warm up. Only a few minutes later, two steaming plates of rice with beans made their way to the table, quickly followed by a continuously excited six-year-old with a huge appetite. It was far from the greatest dinner ever. Neither one knew better anyways. It tasted good and filled the stomach, which was good enough for both of them.
In silence they passed the meal. The father was used to a dinner without conversation, and yet somehow it was awkward with only the sound of two forks lifting food. It was like being on a date with a girl he had nothing in common with. He searched for a solution. For a moment, he considered turning on the television. Certainly, it would be the easiest choice. That, however, was not the kind of family he wanted to become. He could play some music, but that felt weird. What he really needed was to think of something to talk about.
"Done," Nori announced amidst his thoughts. Pushing away from the table, the boy disappeared into his bedroom. Saburou heaved a sigh of relief. It was so much easier than he expected, and still he was exhausted. He was ready for a break.
Some time later, he entered Nori's room to tell him it was bedtime. What he found was a shock. The young boy had completely emptied the box of his things. It seemed he had 'organized' about half of it, as the drawers were overflowing with unfolded clothes, and a dozen toys had been meticulously tossed on the bed. The rest lay in piles on the floor surrounding Nori who had found a coloring book. It had quickly distracted him from the task.
"See what I found?" He greeted the gaping man. Saburou just stood in the doorway. Never had he seen such a big mess. Did all of this have to be cleaned up before they went to sleep? He hardly even noticed the kid's words, just the marker spread all over his hands.
"It's time for bed, Nori-kun," he managed to get out. "Go get ready."
The boy let his shoulders slump in disappointment but compliantly ran off to the bathroom to brush his teeth. Having a bit of an organization obsession—which had been completely neglected these past few days—Saburou began off-handedly arranging some of what was scattered about. It amazed him how the room had been his office just the week before. That morning there had been a white mattress on the floor, a chair, three drawers, and one Buzz Lightyear nightlight. Now there were stuffed Pikachu's, small plastic samurais, and battery powered robots scattered about. He had even half put on his own set of dinosaur sheets. Where once sat a file organizer full of paperwork and bills was now a sloppy pile of world destruction books with childish plots and talking animals.
Did Shimizu actually read those to Nori? It was hard for the man to imagine her performing any motherly task. Nori hurried back into the room and grabbed his pajamas from beneath the pillow. In a moment, he was changed into baggy, robot pants and a long t-shirt with a flying dinosaur. If nothing else, it was easy to tell what he liked most. Turning on the nightlight, he took the top book from the pile and crawled under the covers.
Saburou watched curiously as he popped a cassette out of the front page and inquired, "Do you have a tape player?"
He had to find his own way to hear a bedtime story, the new father realized. He had certainly not expected that to be the boy's question. It surprised him, and yet it seemed more like something the boy's mother was likely to do. Fatigue tempted him as well to resort to the same escape of responsibility. He knew better, though, kids all wanted to be read to. Reluctantly, he plopped down on the foot of the bed.
"Why don't we read it together?" Saburou suggested because he knew he should.
A huge smile spread across the boy's face as he rushed to close that book and grab a second one that did not have a recorded accompaniment. "I like this one better," he mentioned, setting the new book in his father's lap and scooting in closer so they could both look. There was a new kind of excitement in Nori's eyes. Saburou had never seen it before, but he thought he could place it. Finally one of his parents was taking a real interest in him. The way such a little thing could make such a huge difference to a child left a guilty knot in his stomach. He wasn't ready to do the kid justice.
Despite his insecurities, the father began to read. It would take several days for Nori to build up the courage to ask if he would put his finger under the words as he read. Another couple stories after that, he would offer the child the chance to turn the pages. Even further on he would begin to take on voices of different characters. One day, Nori would start to read the stories to him. That night, however, the boy was perfectly content with the monotonous repetitive voice of his dad. Halfway through he had fallen soundly asleep against the arm of his dad. Shortly thereafter, it was also where his dad fell asleep against the wall.