Chapter 15 Let Loose in the Lab
"How did you do that?" Yamada asked of his coworker Tamura. He had just entered the garage where she was making note of everything that had happened to the car found in the river, and without even looking back at him, she had made the comment, "You have a bad encounter with the assistant at the morgue again, Yamada-san?" How could she have known it was him, much less notice him holding his throbbing head?
Her reply was simple, "Rear-view mirror."
He gave her a slight smile and rubbed his sore neck. Even though she already knew the answer, he wasn't going to admit to something so humiliating. Speaking of it would only make him feel smaller.
"I think you should give up on her," Tamura suggested.
Yamada responded instantly, "I think you should tell me what you've found in this car." It was clear he wanted to change the subject.
"It was hit from the rear by another car. Paint trace matches the suspect's car. As far as I can tell, the rest of it is in good working condition, and since the car is in drive, it was likely driving along the bridge without trouble when it was hit. That's pretty much it. And what did you learn about the victims?"
"There were some broken bones and injuries, but the doctor says that all four of them died by drowning, not the impact."
Both of them were straining to not mention the rest of what happened in the morgue, until Yamada decided, "You should try to question the driver again. I'm going to get some ice for my head, and then find the accident on some surveillance tapes that got sent over this morning."
At that, he left, walking toward a break room with a refrigerator that had ice packs kept inside. In the same room happened to be two Kyokos. One was seated on a couch, papers spread all across the table before him, with another set in his hand. A laptop was beside him, taking up the other half of the couch, glowing several screens all describing everything he could ever need to know of the man named Kento.
The younger Kyoko was on the other end of the room, seemingly as far away from his father as was possible. He also had a stack of papers, dug out of the recycle bin. Having spread them all over the floor of the corner he was occupying, he busied himself sketching robots and spiderman—and tried to practice his name by signing it at the bottom of every drawing.
Yamada glanced back and forth from one to the other, now holding a frozen sack to the back of his head. Saburou was so deep into his work he didn't even notice his coworker enter the room, so how could he have been paying any attention to his son? The kid had watched intently as the newcomer crossed the room, but he had never said a word. Now that he was being watched, though, the boy's eyes were glued to his pictures. Why were father and son so far away from each other anyways?
The tension between them presented itself as a puzzle that needed to be solved. Discerning quickly the most likely cause of apprehension on both sides, Yamada took his leave of the silent room. He went out in search of a solution. There had to be something they could connect through.
Only as Yamada was leaving the room did Saburou look up, having sensed his presence. By that time, it was too late, and he couldn't decide what had alerted his senses. After shrugging it off, Nori caught his attention from across the room. Why was he drawing on the floor when there was a table right there? He wondered to himself.
Rather than ignore it like he had the previous concern, the father asked, "Why don't you come over here, and use this as something hard to draw on, Nori-kun?" He patted on the table, and the son looked up curiosity spread over his face.
Cautiously, he answered, "You're using it, Oto-san."
That was true, but it didn't have to be that way. He hadn't realized he was being selfish, or that Nori was purposefully trying to stay out of his way. It felt rather harsh. Right away, he stacked up his piles and pushed them all onto one side.
"We can share," he offered the boy.
Nori was all too happy to gather his things and his backpack to move them over to where his dad was. It was another one of those moments where Nori made his father feel special even though he hadn't really done anything. The moment passed quickly, though, as Nori returned instantly to his pictures, just with a smile on his face.
Saburou decided it wasn't as essential to figure out his kid's little quirks as it was to catch He who was causing all the murders and brushed it aside. Not too long after, Yamada returned with his ideas of how to bond father and son. He took a moment to register the new setting. Seeing, only the son's physical location had changed, he concluded they still needed his assistance and sat down beside Nori.
Just when he was about to begin, he spotted the work in progress. Not only had the crap paper mixed with Saburou's files, but Nori had been drawing on the backs of it. Most recently it seemed he had begun copying the information from the files, successfully duplicating only a few words from each section. There was even a sketch of the retired special ops soldier in the top corner.
He smiled and grimaced at the same time, thinking it was the most adorable way to screw up. Having noticed his coworker's entrance this time, Saburou glanced over, curious about what he was doing. Now the question was more about the guilty look on his face as he held up part of the case's paperwork.
Yamada drew a blank. How was he going to make this less bad for the unintentional culprit? As the silence lingered, Nori began to realize that he had done something wrong. Sensing the tension, he backed away a little. Finally, just before Saburou would have been forced to ask, Yamada found the words to answer.
"Isn't that cute? Kyoko-kun must think this is the guy who did it," he supplied, hoping the humor in it might dull the anger.
The father took the page and attempted to make out the inexperienced handwriting. "Naka…Kouta," he read a part of the name. "Nakamura, Kouta-san? Do you really think so Nori-kun?"
Thinking his plan had worked, Yamada let his mind be distracted wondering why his elder still bothered using the honorific with his own son. While he was pondering, Saburou noticed that the flip side of Nori's creation was official paperwork he had just tediously filled out. Both anxiously awaited the father's reaction to the first time Nori had caused any trouble at all.
"Takeshi-kun," he mistakenly grumbled, letting his head drop into his hands. The boy tensed at that. He hadn't meant to.
The irritation welled up, and Saburou began to pace as a calming effect. "How could I? My work's all over Nori-kun; Nori-kun's all over my work. And every time I think I'm finally handling it all right, I screw something up." He stopped, rubbing his eyes with the fatigue of the first half of this week.
Bursting out like that had done him no good. It had only served to make Nori cry, even though the boy understood perfectly clearly that he wasn't in trouble. He was just upset that he had made his dad sad. Yamada was pretty impressed that he had been able to vent all of that without once blaming Nori for the mistake. There was one problem the father would not have.
"I would go home if I were you," the less motivated investigator suggested.
"I have to get this done," Saburou gestured back to the enormous mess of a coffee table.
"Take a 15 minute break," Yamada sighed. "Come do this puzzle I got for Kyoko-kun."
"I can't. I have to finish," the father declined. Nori on the other hand, instantly perked up at the thought of a gift.
Scooting closer to the table where his dad's friend had produced a colorful cardboard box, he asked excitedly, "What's a puzzle?"
Even Saburou looked away from his papers, slightly worried, as Yamada questioned, "You've never done a puzzle?"
The boy just shook his head. Thus, Yamada set about explaining to Nori the concept of a puzzle and demonstrating how to do it. Nori grasped it right away, and caught on much faster than expected of someone who hadn't even heard of the game. Before long the two had successfully completed the 50 piece image. The genius puzzle solver received a high-five from his mentor and then turned to show his dad.
"Oto-san! I did it!" Nori announced.
Unlike the day before when Saburou had faked being impressed by Nori's accomplishment, the perfect picture on the table amazed him. Not that this was anymore important to life. Maybe he was stunned by the boy having a natural aptitude for it. Maybe it was knowing that Nori had just learned that before his eyes. There was a chance he found it more interesting because he himself had always like puzzles, or possibly he was just starting to think at the level of his son. Whatever the cause, Saburou was impressed.
"Wow, good job," he congratulated, following Yamada's lead and giving Nori a high-five.
"I've got to get back to work now," Yamada informed, much to Nori's dismay. "I have a really big puzzle to solve, and so does Oto-san. Here's another one for you to try." The next puzzle he gave the kid had twice as many pieces, but seeing the excitement with which Nori dumped out the box to begin, he trusted there would be easy success. Surveillance footage was waiting for him.
Figuring out how the pieces fit together turned out to be a much harder feat on his own, but Nori was making slow and steady progress. He knew that eventually the jumble would look like the picture on the box, and he could only assume his dad's mess would look like the picture on the computer.
From time to time, Saburou would look over to see little clusters developing and a firm scowl of concentration. The next time his glance fell on Nori, it was because the boy had stood to his feet and started toward the door. Strangely, the puzzle wasn't finished yet. Where could he possibly be headed?
"Where are you going, Nori-kun?" The father inquired.
"I gotta go potty," the boy replied.
"Oh, okay," the man agreed. Just as Nori turned to leave again, Saburou remembered, "Do you know where the bathroom is?"
With a shrug, Nori answered, "I'll find it."
That seemed reasonable to both of them, until Nori went the wrong direction, and the father called after him, "It's the other way, Nori-kun."
The boy turned instantly and followed the other hallway around. Eyes peeled, he was searching intently for one thing, and one thing only: a blue sign with the picture of a boy on it. Somewhere along the line, he got distracted. Goings-on in a darkened room stole his attention, and he wandered in to watch the television screen.
As he crawled onto a chair to see around the two grown up heads, the feed started over, switching from one camera to another in order to follow the man who forced a family off the road. It appeared that they cut him off, but he could have easily stopped. Rather he had accelerated. There was no accident at all about it. He then crashed himself into a pole.
Nori, however, had been watching a different plot line in the same video. Of course, his observations were interrupted by a voice call out behind him, "Takeshi-kun!" The boy whirled around to find Yamada burst out in laughter because of his immediate fear at hearing the name.
"You didn't think I'd remember your dad calling you that, did you Kyoko-kun?" He inquired, so amused that he didn't really mind that the kid should not have been viewing the film. Knowing that he had to take care of that, though, he continued, "What are you doing in here anyhow?"
"He's following her," Nori whispered, worry in his voice.
Yamada crossed his arms, showing the boy his disbelief. That was not an answer to his question.
Nori clarified, "I was going to the potty when I saw him following her."
Both adults exchanged curious glances. They couldn't let him, but both of them had their interest piqued by the young boy's comment. It was probably just the imagination of a child anyways. Before they could send him out, however, Nori had run over to the television and climbed onto a different chair.
"This guy," he pointed to a man reading a newspaper, leaning against a wall. The film continued to cycle so he could easily show them. "He's following her."
A woman passed by where he stood, and he glanced at her over the paper. When the camera switched to the next view, she was looking at something in a shop window, and the same man was seated on a bench, still reading. She kept on walking, next spotted waiting at a crosswalk for the signal to go. At the same time, the man was perusing a sunglass stand about five meters away.
It was pretty obvious, actually watching it go down. Neither one would have ever noticed, simply focusing on the cars, though. Both were amazed that the small, six year old had picked up on it so easily. Unfortunately, what could they do about it, knowing nothing of either the pursuer or the pursued?
"Is she gonna be okay?" Nori questioned, sincerely scared for her well-being.
Neither man spoke. They couldn't find the pair. Unless she called the police, or even worse, he successfully did something to her and they found the body, there was no way of tracking either one down. Still, how would they explain that to Nori, who trusted that they were trying to save her? It seemed difficult, almost impossible.
"We don't know who she is, or where she lives. How can we tell her Kyoko-kun?" Yamada gave it a try.
Nori pointed adamantly to the screen. "Go there and wait for her."
"Say we go there, and she never comes back because she was only there that one time. What then, Boy?"
"You have the video, Puzzle-oji-san," he pointed out, having already given his father's coworker an endearing nickname like they were family. "Look at other days. It's not hard to know if she's there or not."
The boy was so certain about it, like somehow he knew what he was doing. How could he, though? He wouldn't understand that, even if they found the lady, that wouldn't necessarily lead them to the man. Even if it did, they couldn't, at this point, charge him with anything. It was the job of a personal investigator to spend their time that way when people in the city were actively killing. That was where their resources were centered; he wasn't paid to find endangered ladies. Yet Nori feared for her so much. Thus was the reason kids weren't supposed to see this stuff.
"Okay, Boy, that's enough deduction for one day. Run along to Oto-san," Yamada concluded, taking Nori beneath the arms and setting him in the hallway. A sigh escaped his lips as he closed the door behind him. Because of that kid, he was going to be bothered about this girl.
Nori continued down the hallway in a slump. His sad concern for the random lady did not last long, however, as his adventure kept on turning up interesting pass-times to prevent him from reaching his destination. His father's friend from before was talking quietly to a pale woman of slight frame and jet black hair. Thinking she looked kind, Nori stopped to listen.
He could hardly hear their words, catching only bits and pieces. "Timeline…alibi…who is lying…" It all sounded ominous, like a murder maybe. To hear anything, he would have to get closer. Recalling to mind what had just happened when he had been spotted in the room, Nori decided he would also have to keep hidden. Looking around, he saw a small corner under a counter where he could fit behind a trash can. They were focusing pretty deeply on their conversation. Surely, they would never notice if he was quiet.
Silently, he crawled across the floor. Once he reached the safety of beneath the counter, he let out the breath he'd been holding. Success. Perfectly concealed where he was, Nori was all ears to the whole discussion of the two investigators. He would have to remember every detail of this to tell Masami at school the next day. It was so awesome!
Suddenly, the dark skinned man started to walk around. No, it wasn't around; it was directly toward Nori's hiding spot. Had he been made? The man was not stopping in his progression. Any moment he would reach the boy's cubby. Nori held his breath again. He was going to be tossed out and miss the punch.
Unexpectedly, the man only threw something in the trash and leaned against the counter to keep thinking. Every muscle in Nori's body relaxed with the realization that he was there for the trash can. It was a great relief, but the boy knew he'd have to be extra quiet.
"We can't even build our suspicions off of the connection Kyoko-san found in many of the cases," the lady mentioned. "Nakamura-san admitted that he habitually reads the newspaper in the morning, but neither man said they had Sunday morning. As well, we clearly cannot assume that every crime committed relies on that as motivation."
"That would never fly in court," the man agreed, and they continued to brainstorm, reading directly from what had been said during the smoking experiment. Some time passed with the boy unnoticed before Nori's father decided to leave the break room and figure out what was taking his son so long to use the bathroom. He stopped by the room where Kuro and Suzume were talking just to inquire.
"You haven't happened to see my son pass by here have you, Kuro-san? Suzume-san?" He asked, peeking in through the door.
"This one?" Was Kuro's response, kicking the trash can aside and holding out the guilty six-year-old by the collar of his school uniform.
So they had noticed, Nori moped to himself over the failure as he was dangling there, feet in the air.
Saburou's eyes widened in a surprised, apologetic fashion. "Was he bothering you?"
With a shrug, Kuro responded, "Nah, he's a good kid, just curious." At that, he set Nori back on the ground and sent him to his father. "You probably don't want to let him get his little hands on classified information, though."
"Nori-kun," the father scolded, "what were you doing listening to their private discussion?"
"I suppose he probably has his own suspicions about the case by now," Suzume pointed out, with a hint of curiosity.
"Do you want to know what he thinks?" Saburou was surprised by the idea. Of course, he was always surprised by Suzume's thoughts.
"What if Kyoko-kun has some light on the situation that we never would have noticed otherwise? Children have a different manner of seeing events."
With her request made known, all eyes fell to the six year old, whom they expected to have something to say. Sure, he had been trying to think it through, but there with all the pressure, his thinking process shut down. They wanted to know what he thought? I choose…the boy's mind was completely blank.
"When it's hot out," a seemingly unrelated story was on its way out of his mouth again. At least at first glance one would think that. Nori continued, "Haha always smokes on the couch by the fan, where it's cool."
Well aware of the details of the case, Saburou was actually disappointed at the best Nori had been able to come up with. The sound of a blank stare filled his mind, as Kuro burst out in laughter. After hearing all of that information, the kid couldn't manage to make anything of it. Had he even realized they were talking about crimes, and not just random people?
In stark contrast, Suzume busily flipped through the papers on her desk and then began to scribble down figures. Kuro had not yet stopped laughing when her calculations confirmed what she had been thinking. "Sugoi," escaped her mouth, amazed by what Nori had just inspired her to uncover.
The two men were instantly all ears as she explained, "Nakamura-san even told us, if he were to commit the crime there would be some way to delay the timing. Of course, there is an anomaly, something we never considered. The boyfriend was hot, not due to nervously awaiting the police. The room's temperature was raised."
Saburou and Kuro were starting to catch on, but they listened to their coworker expound, "Body temperature of the victim placed the time of death between 10 and 11 that morning. The body will lose heat at approximately 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit per hour, unless the temperature matches that of the surroundings. By raising the thermostat in the apartment to its highest setting, he could control the time the body would start to cool by setting the temperature to change back to normal automatically at a time he would be gone several hours already."
"I wouldn't be hard with a programmable thermostat," Kuro agreed, liking the idea.
"It would also slow down rigor mortis," Saburou added, curiously making his way to the thermostat on the wall in that very room to experiment. Without much thought to what would happen if he actually raised the temperature that high, he simply pressed the up arrow until it stopped increasing. Managing to cancel it before the heater kicked in full blast, he muttered, "Genius, it stops at 99, right there at body temperature."
"What a sneaky little trick to confirm him alibi," Kuro noted. "Now all we need is proof that he actually did that."
"I'll leave that to you two," Saburou decided, directing his son toward the door by his shoulders. "Nori-kun and I are going to finish a puzzle and then go home."
Once he was out of the room, Suzume commented, "Kyoko-san calls his own son with an honorific?"
"Yeah, he's scared of being the boy's father. He'll get used to it soon enough," Kuro brushed the small matter aside and slung his bag over his shoulder.
"Isn't it my job to analyze personalities, Kuro-san?"
Kuro didn't bother to answer, as he knew Kyoko very well, simply informing, "Tonight my son finds out if he got the lead role in the school drama production. I promised I would be there for the cake whether it's celebration or consolation, so we'll continue this tomorrow."
At that, he left, meeting Tamura in the hall, also on her way out. She had just finished summarizing her findings with Yamada and thought it a good time to pack up for the night, before she got caught up in another task. Even Yamada was on his way over to bid good night to anyone he met on the way out. It seemed to be a mutual agreement.
As if fate knew it was the perfect time for an inconveniently placed change of plans, Saburou's phone rang with an unknown number, "Mushi mushi," he answered, entirely unaware of what it would cause.
The voice on the other end spat out in a hush, "I can't talk long. I think they're following me. We need to meet."
Saburou frowned. "Who are you?"
Three tired investigators stopped in front of the room, struck curious by his reaction, while the man replied, "From the newspaper. I have something for you. I'll text you with a location." The man hung up then, ending the conversation with his contact just as confused as when he first saw the unknown number.
"Who was it, Oto-san?" Nori inquired excitedly.
Looking down at the boy with the thought of what might happen if he brought his kid along, Saburou responded, "It sounds dangerous."
"What is it, Kyoko-san?" Tamura easily betrayed the nosiness the three had been hiding.
The way he answered them clearly showed how little he had really gotten out of the short conversation. "A lead on our newspaper case, I think. Or it could have been the criminal himself. All he said was that he wanted to give me something about the newspaper, and someone's following him. I don't want to put Nori-kun in the middle of that."
"What's your plan then?" Kuro asked, prompting him to think through it. Of course, good intentions were thwarted by the beep of a received text message.
"That's the location," the concerned father informed, flipping his phone open again. "It's a bar. I definitely can't take Nori-kun."
"I'll go for you," Yamada suggested, liking the idea of working at a bar. "I was heading out for drinks anyways. This way, when the interview is over, I'll already be there."
"I don't think so," Saburou countered. "If he bothered to add, 'Come alone,' to the text, he probably wants to see me."
All of the more favorable options exhausted, everyone knew what the new father's next choice would be. It seemed inevitable. Kuro instantly announced, "I'm gone."
Tamura followed quickly with, "Not it!" They weren't about to get stuck with baby-sitting duty. The one remaining hung his head in disappointment. Too slow.
"We'll wait here, isn't that so Kyoko-kun?" Yamada conceded reluctantly. "You owe me a beer for this one, though."
After he thanked his coworker profusely, Saburou hurried off to meet his mystery informant, with Nori calling after him, "Don't let them shoot you, Oto-san!" Stunned, everyone with ears on the scene wondered, Where did that come from? Nori knew well enough, though, what 'Come alone' meant.