Chapter 17 Is Scorpio All?
"Kyoko-kun…Kyoko-kun," the echo filled the darkness, calling out the boy's name. A string of giggles joined the call, and yet Nori remained unable to lift his head from the weary world of dreams. When, at last, he cracked an eye, the line of kids beside him came as a sudden shock. Instantly, he realized his head lay upon a cold, hard desk. The voice belonged to Matsui-sensei, and his classmates were laughing.
Sitting upright, he could only drowsily mutter, "School?" It was eleven o'clock already, yet he had no recollection of getting to school. He couldn't even remember putting his clothes on that morning. How had it all happened?
"When you've joined us here on Earth, take a paper and pass it," the teacher stated impatiently.
Nori did as asked and then found himself surprised by the sound of Masami's voice. "Got the morning after headache?"
The young celebrity was unexpectedly seated right next to Nori, who wasn't sure whether that, or the words confused him more. He just sat there, staring in a daze.
"It's a hangover, Man," Masami tried to clarify, but Nori only nodded off, jerking abruptly to stay awake.
"What are you doing over here, Masami-kun?" The tired one eventually inquired.
"Group project," answered the green haired boy as if Nori knew already. "Would you care to share why you are so tired?" He leaned back in his chair haughtily, but there was a hint of curiosity on his face.
Why was he so tired? Nori wondered. He was struggling to recall anything at all. As he pondered, there was only one thing that kept coming to mind. It was totally off topic, but it was keeping him from thinking straight. He was hungry.
"I really want a sammich," he pointed out, despite knowing its random placement.
Masami frowned, perplexed by both the odd connection and the strange accent. "Do you?"
"You know, the one with the egg that's all smashed and salty, with the lettuce, and—"
Getting really into the description, Masami added through his starving drool, "And the bread all toasted on one side." As quickly as he fell into his fantasy world, he snapped back out of it. "What does that at all have to do with falling asleep in class?"
Nori shrank back, slightly intimidated by the celebrity's harsh tone. "Oh that," he began again. He would get the answer right this time. Now that he was fully awakened from his little nap, the previous night's events were slowly coming back. So many things he had to tell! He needed a catchy introduction, and he knew just the phrase.
"You know how you can sleep safely at night? You're welcome," he commented with a large, cheesy grin.
Masami wasn't impressed. "What? Are you some superhero guardian of the commoner?" He inquired with heavy sarcasm.
"Well actually…yes," Nori agreed teasingly, giving Masami a wink and a thumbs-up. Of course, he followed up with, "Sorta. I mean, I was at the police station solving cases for Chichi and his metentai friends. Just 'til 2 in the morning, they were consulting me for my advice, and then, 'Case Closed!' All of them!"
Having been so carried away by his own over exaggeration of the account, it was only as he was finishing that the boy realized how dramatic he had been. Standing atop his chair, Nori held out his hand to form the symbol for 'OK.' Had he shouted at the top of his lungs? Immediately, a wave of shyness came over him because the whole class was now watching.
"Kyoko-kun," began the teacher, without even a hint of irritation, "please return to your seat and focus on the task at hand."
"Gomennasai," the boy muttered, thoroughly humiliated, while he dejectedly did as he was told. Only…he didn't know what work they were supposed to be doing. The thought just barely crossed Nori's mind when his celebrity companion began impatiently tapping his pencil hard on a book.
"There you are," Masami remarked, showing only half-interest that he had recalled his friend from the daze that had previously engulfed him. "How many cases did you really solve?"
"Three," Nori stated, quite proudly.
"Three?" He didn't believe it. That much was clear by the artificial laugh.
"I totally…" The younger was about to burst out with the whole story, but he faded off. "We should do the work first, huh?"
Masami brushed it off apathetically. "I've done enough."
"But I haven't done any," Nori informed, a little mopey.
Like he struggled to think of something friendly to say before giving up, the celebrity decided to not respond much. "No, you haven't." After all, it was obvious enough.
A couple moments passed in an awkward sort of silence, Nori trying urgently to figure out how to proceed, Masami watching with a curious eye on whatever the younger might do. He was finding this whole friendship thing was becoming amusing, if nothing else. The young Kyoko was unpredictable, embarrassing, annoying, ugly, loud, and stupid. Still, Masami was beginning to think his pointless antics and over dramatized stories were—dare he say it—somewhat enjoyable.
He shook the thought from his mind. Carli was starting to get inside him. It was all still nothing but an experiment. An experiment that could not be complete until the scraggly mutt was scrubbed down and presentable enough that he wouldn't be the source of an even greater mockery. Perhaps that would be a Friday endeavor. Right about then, he was expecting a call.
On time, the elder bodyguard peaked his head into the room. "It's time, Konatoya-kun," he said simply.
The boy left all his books in his desk, slung his bag over his shoulder which he held up by the small, looped handle, and marched back to Nori. "Turn this in for me Kyoko-kun, okay?"
It was his half of the project. Nori agreed eagerly, but soon found himself astounded by it. When the celebrity said he'd done 'enough,' he meant it was already finished. His half looked good too. All of the continents were labeled neatly, and he had sketched bored lines of matching color on the land and water. Nori sank a little at his white sheet, the first half of the kanji for ocean scribbled off the coast of Japan.
When he looked up to comment on it to Masami, however, the celebrity was already gone. He would do just as good! Only…he still had no clue what they were doing.
"Sends me off to Oume again to question some ancient, invalid lady in a foul smelling nursing home. Damn Suzume-san," a certain man was spotted grumbling to himself as he stomped down the hall to the door. "If I wanted to see dead people and be beat by canes, I could go downstairs to the morgue, or the elderly couple who are my neighbors and think that worthless dog belongs to me. Instead I have to drive three hours to ask an old lady what she thinks of a man who isn't even a suspect. Damn. Why does everyone else always get the good stuff?"
The door slammed ferociously behind him and a darker toned bystander let out a hearty laugh. "Oh to be young again! Isn't that right Saburou?"
The younger of the two chuckled in response and then realized what those words meant. "Hey, I am not that old yet! I am only three years older than Yamada-san. Get back to work, you jerk."
"Good news is, "I hear that crazy gang that attacked your son's new friends has started talking, or so the officers say. You might want to check that out," Kuro offered compliantly, thought it was rather vague and convoluted. "But the truth is, I didn't come over here to talk work."
"What is it then, Kuro-san?" Kyoko asked, reluctant to look away from his research.
His superior and elder flashed a card in his face, separating the work-aholic from his computer screen. Written on the white paper in black ink was a girl's name. Beneath was her phone number written in large, feminine characters. Saburou could only wonder what it could possibly be for.
"Issei, Ran-chan is one of my daughter's friends," the elder explained. "She's been looking for some extra money working after school. I'm not saying you have to, but it's an idea. Think about it."
Saburou agreed quickly to consider the option. As soon as Kuro left, he put the idea off. He couldn't let those kinds of things distract him during the work day. He would think about it later. In the mean time, the interrogation room and the information available to him therein was calling him. Lifting himself from the chair, he headed over to the interrogation rooms. Officer Murata was currently occupied with the questioning of another suspect, so Saburou took a number and waited his turn.
The man currently being questioned was not hard to handle. He was yet another killer who committed the crime simply because 'he thought he wouldn't be caught.' After all, that's what the newspaper said. Murata began the session by playing the video recording of the man running the other family off the road. The man was completely shocked by the images before his eyes. SO easily they had found proof of what he was certain would go unnoticed.
Just like that, he was willing to tell all that had happened. Of course, parts were embellished to make his actions seem justified. As it turned out, the man driving the second car had a daily habit of cutting off the suspect, unnecessarily, as he pulled out of his street. Finally having become intolerable, he decided to hit him, just once. After that, the man caught sight of the children in the back seat as the car plummeted over the edge of the bridge. No one else had been in the car before! He hadn't meant for it to go off the bridge.
A shocking weight hit heavily in the man's stomach at what had happened, what he had caused. It was then that the words of the newspaper came to his mind. This week, someone will make you very angry. Give in to your inner feelings…kill them. No one will catch you. There was nobody around—which was what made the other man's pulling in front of him each day so irksome! He had only needed to skew the evidence to hide the second vehicle. Driving into a nearby pole struck him as the best option.
Murata walked away from the room, checking the criminal off a mental list. The man had been a pest at best, not even worthy of a notch in his belt. To believe he wouldn't be found out just because a paper said so was nonsense. He should have tried to hide it if he wanted to get away with it. It wasn't that the officer wanted criminals to get off without proper retribution. The people who tried to go at it without a plan just bothered him.
Upon exiting, he spotted Saburou leaning against the wall, waiting for a moment. There was an example of a man who—if given from Sunday to Thursday to do nothing but get all his ducks in a row—would successfully destroy every ounce of evidence that pointed to him, and probably hold up against questioning. He seemed to be an entirely different person outside of the criminal world, though.
Through with his analysis, Murata addressed the same man. "How are you holding up, after this week?" He inquired, patting Saburou roughly on the back before joining his against the wall.
The father shrugged half-heartedly. In the end, didn't he have to keep it together? Pushing aside personal concerns, he asked about what Murata might have to tell him.
He answered, "About that: the two members of the gang that were brought in started talking. They've been giving names, and we're slowly picking up the whole lot of them. I thought you'd be interested in knowing they are a gang of Scorpios, whose beliefs that the stars influence their lives almost resembles a cult. After all reading their horoscopes Sunday, an emergency meeting was called Monday during which they voted unanimously to not wait to be provoked before making their attack."
"It makes sense. According to research Scorpio's theoretically are naturally more inclined to anger and violence. It's almost a propos for the instigator of all this to choose that particular astrological sign," Saburou expounded, off on a topic he was neither expected to know nor to take an interest in. The officer gave him a curious look, eyebrow cocked uncertainly. Prompted to justify his female, adolescent tidbit of information, he explained, "I just looked it up."
"Right," Murata hurried back into the relation of facts. "As it turns out, Konatoya-san and Hikari-san simply happened to be the first people to take that alley Monday night. And the reason for the second attack was that the stars demanded that their destiny be completed as predicted, regardless of who or where the victims were."
"I see," Saburou took a moment to ponder the strangely complicated and yet far too simply resolution of the matter. At least he could rid his mind of one of his many anxieties. Just to be sure, he inquired, "Is that all?"
"Oh, and one more thing," Murata added, the hint of a smile threatening to betray his joke. "I heard your son got his hands in everyone's cases last night. Do you think he could help me interrogate some guys after school?"
The father had been ready for that. He turned and walked away with little interest as the normally composed officer's words were delayed by jolting laughter. Of course, he knew he and Nori would be the subject of people's jokes until something funnier came along. It didn't help any that Nori was a funny and sociable kid. A smile spread across Saburou's face, but he buried it in his research.
Kento had been admitted to the prison with hardly any cash, not enough even for a train ticket or a taxi ride. That meant, if he really had been dropped off in the business district near the Japan Shimbun office upon leaving the prison, he could not have gone far without contacting a friend. There was no way he walked all the way to a residence from that area of town. He had not attempted to use his credit card, which added to Saburou's suspicions of him. Even more, what was the importance of the collection of keys he had kept on his person?
After having considered the list of items the prison kept on record as having saved for Kento through the duration of his sentence, Saburou looked into the original case file. He was mostly searching for friends who might know of his whereabouts and just a general idea of who the man was. In college, Kento had been a part of a somewhat radical newspaper staff. His life seemed to calm down for several years after that.
Once a radical, always a radical; though, his second phase was more discrete. FOlowing the disappearance of his wife and 8 year old daughter, he began to use his connections with several city newspapers to take down politicians. Records of each of his scams boasted of a talent at secrecy, but the more Saburou read, the more he recognized the need for a group of accomplices. Even with the man's own personal abilities, he couldn't have pulled it off alone.
The case mentioned, in the matter of familial contacts, one brother who had been questioned with no results. Saburou had no choice but to approach him again for information. Kento had been fifteen when his brother was born. That left them as anything but close. Add to the troubles that both their parents had passed away when the brother was still young. He claimed they hadn't spoken to one another since the elder of the two neglected to show for the father's funeral. It had something to do with him remarrying after the mother died. "Personal stuff," as the brother put it on the phone.
To make a long story short, he had been expecting to hear from Kento the day of his release. They had even cleaned out a room and prepared it for him to stay in for a short time. The younger had gathered some information about the happenings surrounding the disappearance of Kento's wife and child that he had planned to share. He was actually surprised—after finding out the date of the release—that he never heard a word that day from his brother.
Saburou made an appointment for the next week to learn what new had been uncovered about the disappearance and inquired instead who Kento might have chosen as an alternative to his brother. His answer was one of two people from the journalism staff in college. He provided names, but no numbers. It wouldn't be difficult for the investigator to track Watanabe, Dai and Hayoshi, Tobe down.
According to internet articles, the two had gone their separate ways, leaving journalism behind. The first, Watanabe, Dai had since become a successful salesperson with a rather ordinary business, your average middle-aged, blue collar worker with plenty of spare change and no interests worth spending it on. Hayoshi, Tobe—who had received perfect grades in some of the toughest classes in the university—ended up a low-level programmer for network video games. That either attested to a severe lack of ambition, or possibly a front to supply revenue for a hidden project.
Hayoshi was somewhat difficult to scrounge up his information. Besides an unlisted phone number, he was nobody worth mentioning in his company. Once the investigator found out where he was working, it was simple to convince his boss to allow a meeting later that day. Watanabe, on the other hand, being a salesperson, had his phone number published all over the place. He would be coming to the station for questioning in the afternoon.
Having spent the entire morning engrossed in deep research, Saburou now found himself with nothing pressing for him to do until after his lunch break. It was the first 30 minute break he had taken all week. At the vending machine, as he pulled some cash from his billfold to buy a quick, microwave meal, the card Kuro had given him slipped out. No better time existed to call this girl, as far as he was concerned.
The hallways echoed with the giggles of teenage girls, the trash talk between boys who were friends, and shoes pounding from one room to the next. Three girls stood in a stairwell letting the rest of the school pass by, seemingly not intending to be at their respective next classes. Currently at the center of attention was a slender girl with the top button on her school uniform blouse being one too low.
A black bow clung tightly to the dark blue, plaid skirt, while a similarly shaded silk and lace rose peaked through choppy, ebony hair on her headband. Slightly too dark eye-liner and mascara barely made their statement from beneath her bangs. Rebellious yet feminine. Even the standardized consistency of every student's uniform could not contain her personality, nor that of her two friends.
On her right was a tall, dark skinned beauty, and on the left was a girl darker in character than appearance. Both were thoroughly interested, however, but the subject of conversation that was her phone, which flipped open and was decorated by a dangling gothic cross.
The conversation had turned there when Kuro's daughter had asked, "Are you and your boyfriend still fighting, Ran?"
She gave an irritated sigh at the drawn-out troubles she had been facing. "We were almost in good standing again. I thought he was totally going to forgive me when I find out he gave my phone number to a bunch of random guys. At first, I was getting calls from his friends, but now it's people I don't even know." Her voice showed she was clearly upset.
What better timing could there have been for the phone to ring as proof? All three looked to the number on the screen intently. They didn't recognize the caller.
Ran answered the phone, prepared to give the man on the other end a piece of her mind. "I don't know who you are, or why the hell you keep calling me," she explained furiously, "but I better never see your number on my caller ID again."
There was a silent pause on the other end, made awkward by the threatening tone. Neither had it been a meaningless one. Just when she thought the other may have disconnected, an adult voice stated calmly but uncertainly, "My name is Kyoko, Saburou-san. I am calling to discuss possibly hiring you."
"Oh," incredibly surprised and embarrassed, the girl turned to her friends and mouthed, "It's about a job."
"You do realize, Kyoko-san, that I'm at school right now," she was trying to make up for the bad first impression wit kind, planned words, hoping also he might leave giving her a chance to recompose.
"Why did you answer the phone then?" Saburou inquired, without actual thought to what she had implied. "Never mind that. Since you are on the phone now, can you watch my son after school today?"
Today? The man drove straight to the point. Ran couldn't even remember applying for that position, and he was already hiring her. How did that happen? Kuro beside her looked strangely guilty all of a sudden.
"I meant to tell you," she began quietly. "Chichi gave your number to a coworker for baby-sitting. My bad."
All of the reasons not to start so quickly raced through Ran's frantic mind. Her reply was quite different from the fear prompting it. "I should probably not until my parents know. Can't have them dying from a heart attack, y'know."
"I see," the man conceded. "How about this: could we meet somewhere just to talk details, and so you can meet Nori-kun?"
"Sure, whatever," Ran agreed. "Four o'clock, at the music store by the train station." Not bothering to be sure he knew the place, she ended the call and then frazzled under the knowing glances of her two friends.
Nori was not looking forward to lunch. Besides the fact that he could at any moment be swept away to the storage closet again, Masami wouldn't be there. Who was he supposed to sit with? He always had the option of meeting one of the other students, introducing himself, and making new friends. On the other hand, he could always just go sit with Akiko. It would be much easier.
Even determined as he was, everything came out different when he actually walked up beside where she was sitting with his tray of food. She was babbling on about something. Afraid to interrupt, Nori glanced at her current sounding board and spotted a familiar head of blond hair. She was Takanawa's friend? Somehow the girl followed Akiko's every word with interest—far more than Nori could ever hope to accomplish. The boy was astounded; adding to an already growing awe for the blond.
He watched her comment on Takanawa's exposition, and then she revealed, "There's someone behind you."
Nori had only a second to snap out of it before he had to explain. "Eto," he began, unsuccessful. "Masami-kun…"
The hyper girl quickly grew impatient as he stuttered through his words and interrupted, "Well, are you just going to stand there?"
"Can I sit here…with you?" He eventually got out, still mostly captivated by the girl in the background.
"What makes you think you can just walk right up to us and sit down?" Takanawa replied, rather harshly. It seemed her answer was a no. "I didn't ask you to come over here. You can see, right, that we're girls and you're a boy? We were talking about girl stuff. And like, what if you heard something we didn't want you to? That would be like the time the press found out about Haha spending the day out with Chiaki-sama, and they ruined it all when—"
Once again, Nori struggled to keep up with her story. She was speaking as if he knew who Chiaki was. Based on the mention of the press, fame could be assumed, but the boy understood nothing further than that. How could that girl understand her so well? Nori wondered, and that easily his mind was lost in thoughts of curiosity for the one he had not yet met.
His mouth was completely speechless, but it curled into a smile at the idea of speaking with Her. All such dreams were slashed away, however, with Akiko's final, abrupt command. "You heard me. Leave."
Blinking a few times, Nori was too surprised to react right away. After telling Masami she liked him, the boy seriously thought she would have let him join them. What a strange, inconsistent, unlikable girl, he thought to himself. Why did Masami have a friendship with her, as invisible as their relationship was? Only then did Nori slowly turn and begin to walk away.
No sooner had he plopped down at a vacant table and jabbed his fork into the first bite of food than Takanawa appeared cheerfully in the seat across from him.
"What's up?" She asked like nothing at all had just happened.
"Just trying to eat, but you keep getting me all confused," the boy replied, not trying at all to hide his thoughts.
"Me, confuse you?" She asked, innocent as can be. Perplexed, she pondered the how and why, but not nearly for long enough, as another thought crossed her mind. "Oh, I know why you're confused! Masami-kun is filming a commercial this afternoon. But don't worry, he intends to keep him promise to have you over tomorrow."
Almost carried away in her other world of commercials, Nori was tempted to ask what it was about. A second urge in him wanted to know why on Earth she knew about the deal made which resulted in another invitation to the celebrity house. What was the friendship between the two famous children? Instead, he stuck determined to his original topic.
"What happened to all that 'girls only' stuff?" Nori questioned.
"Oh, Chiyo-chan went out to recess." Her answer was simply, so much so that it made the previous argument feel pointless. Nori couldn't linger to focus on that complaint, however, as Takanawa continued, "Which reminds me of this time on a field trip we stopped to eat lunch…"
The ears shut off again to her endless jumping about. Nori knew he'd never get to ask why he didn't see her and Masami together if they were friends. Therefore, he ate.