Chapter 19 A Little Progress
Saburou was in for a good flogging when he made it to work that morning. You don't drop off a case when your main suspect suddenly becomes a certainty and disappears from the radar, especially when there's a time period of one day to find him. The man had made an impromptu decision about priorities, between Father and Investigator. From the tone in his boss' voice, it had been the wrong one.
Nori was at school now. Kento was on the loose, possibly with the help of his accomplices. In 21 hours the whole nation would be exposed to another round of messages inciting death, and the cause had a whole night to get ahead of them. The more those words were pounded into Saburou's head, the more he regretted having taken the night off. After the bomb team had deemed the threat level as low, the officers had gathered everything from the house and organized it in piles of paper now on the table to the side.
Yes, nothing but papers that they expected him to make sense of. Drafts, clues, a trail that led directly to one day too late, no matter when he started to follow it. As if Kento were bragging, flaunting whatever information he had that would take them nowhere. It was just like a journalist, documenting his own adventure. The answer had to be elsewhere, perhaps with whomever he sought revenge upon—the next newspaper, the officer who had uncovered the clues to lock him away the first time. He would have to check the original file again.
A hand thumped against the back of his head, accompanied by the irritated comment, "I needed your head deep in the case last night. I need you here right now." Once his easily distractible subordinate was listening, the boss continued, "Imaging has surveillance footage from the traffic cameras around the house to see if they can follow Kento anywhere. IF you don't give me something right now, I'll have to warn every newspaper and make a press release to the public about it. What can you do for me, Kyoko-kun?"
For a moment, the term reminded the father of Nori. He wandered over to the table to refocus his mind and tried to recall anything new from the file. If nothing more, he could mention the names of journals which had more severely betrayed the photographer. Besides the Japan Shinbun, one other major newspaper had published the same distorted story of Kento and other that was smaller. With an unenthusiastic thank you, the superior headed out. He had hoped for more.
"Wait, bring this with you," Kyoko suggested, holding out one of the papers he had spotted on the desk.
The boss took the paper upon which was scribbled four numbers. "What is this?"
"I have a feeling the editors will know what it means better than us," Kyoko replied.
Giving a disinterested grunt, he accepted it and ordered, "Have a chat with Tashi-keiji. He's been up all night on this."
Saburou agreed with a nod while the other walked off to handle the social aspect of an investigator's job. Deciding to familiarize himself with the new evidence before talking with the officer, he filtered through the piles on the desk. Poetic phrases of doom, summaries of each crime that had been tied to the original message, crumpled rough drafts. When had Kento gotten the pad of sticky notes? It was possible Hayoshi had simply left them there, but with the house completely abandoned, it was unlikely. On the stack of blank sheets, the top one had indentations in it from the page written before.
"Kento-jukeisha took that note with him," Tashi informed as he took his place beside Saburou with a cup of black coffee, smelling like tobacco. "We were able to determine what it said by the traces on that page, though. It was a time and half of an address. We've lowered it down to an area not far from the house, but the day was marked as Wednesday."
"He could be going back," Saburou pointed out.
"Yamada-san is checking in to that now."
A silent pause of exhaustion filled the air between them, Tashi sipping at his beverage while the other finished his examination of the findings—cough drop wrappers, and a picture of his daughter. "None of this is worth anything," the investigator concluded. "It's a distraction to make us fall behind."
"You think he placed all that for us?" The officer wondered.
Saburou shrugged, but he was certain it was true. "Where did he buy the bomb?"
Unimpressed, Tashi gave him an incredulous glare. Now he was calling it a bomb? After they discovered it was just a panel with a timer, he said it was a bomb, not when it was counting down to their possible death. Besides that, it wasn't something one simply bought at a store.
"He didn't buy it," Saburou corrected, "he has no money. Then an accomplice must have gotten it for him."
Deciding simply to ignore the wording, the officer responded to the question Saburou had really been meaning to ask. "The timer was a standard Sony car radio from ten years ago. They don't sell them new anymore. But there is a junkyard between the house, and—you'll never guess where—Watanabe-san's work. The owner says he just sold that model to a tall, large, irritating man last week. He paid cash, put it in a black back." Tashi gestured to its new location by the desk. "He didn't recognize the photo of Kento-jukeisha. Want to take a stab at who bought it, Kyoko-san?"
"I think we need two warrants," Saburou decided, holding up a picture of Kento and his wife. They were at a bar, which could be discerned by the sign hanging on the wall. "Hayoshi-san had a napkin from that bar pinned to his cubicle." The investigator had only caught a glimpse of it before they had entered the conference room and hadn't thought much about the phone number written on it with a heart underneath. It wasn't much to work off of, but it would be a start.
"You head there and dig up more proof. I'll get started on the warrants," Tashi offered. "Maybe we'll bring them in before they go into hiding as well."
Decided, the two went their separate ways, Saburou choosing to make a brief stop in imaging along the way. Videos played through the screen on the wall under the control of a scrawny, computer geek who was munching on some spicy snack rather than eating a real breakfast. Beside him, Yamada had pulled up a chair and proceeded to fall asleep on the desk. Traffic surveillance could have that effect on people. Saburou asked if it was having the same effect on the tech.
"Sometimes in a game you have to stalk someone for hours before confronting the enemy," he answered, making it seem staying up all night to stare at a monitor was usual for him. "Of course, we have the benefit of facial recognition software which tells us the suspect got into a taxi cab and disappeared in a mass of taxis to the northeast. The cameras pick up the license plate again further east, but Kento-jukeisha is no longer in there."
The tech pointed to each area on a map on his computer with the curser. A large gap was left where Kento could have gotten out, meaning he could be anywhere. It was easy to assume that was the area the partial address pointed to, but even that was very vague.
Yamada stirred and muttered something about gym lockers. Suspecting that was simple sleep-babble, Saburou was ready to leave when the former shot awake with an idea in his mind. Unaware of the red lines across his face, he began to explain his thought.
"What do you need most when trying to avoid all contact with the parties involved in a crime? A drop point, to leave things other members will need to fill their role, convenient to everyone for quick access. There's a gym on that side of town with lockers inside. If everyone had a key, no one would ever have to make contact with anyone else."
Now fully awake, Yamada shoved the tech out of his way and slid his wheeled chair to the computer screen. Entering just a few more restrictions into the map search returned a public gym right in the center of the previously grayed out area. Even checking it against the partial address proved to be a match. They wouldn't know which locker, but maybe on location they would find some more clues.
"Have fun following that lead," Kyoko stated, not pitying his fellow investigator's fatigue. It was payback. "Call me if you find anything. I'll be at the bar." The elder walked away, laughing to himself how that had been fun to say, even if his job at the bar was no better than the one at the gym.
With a slight groan, Yamada took the cue and stood. He arrived at his destination well before Saburou would have reached the bar. Leaning impatiently against the front desk, he wasted no time on pleasantries, simply flashing his badge at the girl working there and starting into his explanation right away.
Three pictures on the desk, he asked, "Have you ever seen any of these men?"
Officer Murata hung in the background, disappointed by the youth's haste. It was important to observe a situation before making any moves. This time, there had been no negative effect, but had one of the three been there, they would have slipped away during the dramatic entrance. The girl behind the counter didn't look impressed by his introduction. Still, she did answer.
"This man has a membership here." She pointed to Watanabe. "I only remember him because his is always trying to sell us something. 'You would love such-and-such product, Babe.' Always, 'Babe.' What is he doing next to a picture of that man who just got out of prison?"
Vague as he could possibly be, Yamada answered, "We have reason to believe something may be going on here. We are going to need to see this man's locker."
"His locker," she repeated questioningly. "People can choose to use whichever unoccupied locker they please, as long as they put in some change every time they close it."
"Could you show me to them?"
Compliantly, she stepped away from the desk and led the two further back, all the while inquiring, "Do you suppose they have been hiding contraband or smuggling illegal drugs or something?"
Yamada ignored her question as he pondered the thought of processing this room. Dozens of lockers were in use, and that didn't count those that were currently swinging wide open. All of them would be covered in fingerprints unknown, and on record. He was racking his brain for another option, less tedious, that wouldn't make them fall further behind on their schedule. Murata did not like the thoughtful look on his companion's face. It was a look of cutting corners.
He suggested it. "We're going to nee everyone in the gym to open their locker."
Unconventional as it was, if everyone acted agreeably with the idea, it could most definitely cut back on time the task might take.
"And what am I supposed to tell them all?" The lady demanded, the slightest bit contrary but not opposed to it.
"Just that there is a problem in the locker room and you need everyone to remove their items." Yamada's answer was vague and simple.
With a nod, she consented to the assignment. "Give me a moment to arrange it," she stated as she left the room.
"You're crazy," Murata muttered while they waited, but after only a few minutes, people of all ages, sizes, and shapes began to filter in. Each gave a look of surprise and concern upon spotting the officer in the corner and emptied their locker to display the contents. No one protested, and soon the room was full of sweaty, helpful people.
A sudden stir split the crowd and they gazed intently as Officer Murata dashed out the door. Someone had peeked their head into the room to remove the items from their locker. One glance at the police uniform and he decided against it. Murata didn't recognize the face with just the short glimpse he got, but running itself was just cause.
Yamada watched his partner, his lack of motivation reminding him he was too tired to chase people. Besides, someone had to supervise the lockers. It was good enough of an excuse to satisfy his conscience.
The next glimpse the officer caught of his target was just outside the door, leaning against the side wall. "They're at the place," the man whispered through staggered breaths. Murata heard no more of it, as he startled the runaway who took off again. He dropped the phone, still connected to the other line, to the ground but even losing the extra weight only earned him another block before the officer overcame him.
Handcuffs in place, they returned to the gym, stopping to pick up the cell phone on the way.
The sound of a standard ringtone echoed down a tunnel, ricocheting off the cement walls, amplified by the drops of water collecting in puddles on the floor. A light shown through the darkness as the owner reached to answer his phone.
"If that's your business, don't answer it," one of the other two—the scrawny one—mentioned.
"Don't you think I know that, Tobe?" The first responded in irritation. His voice was easily recognizable. Without waiting for a protest from the third member, he greeted the caller.
"Kento!" Was the first word from the one on the other line, sounding out of breath and frightened.
Watanabe covered the receiver. "It's your damn brother, Kento. End it quick."
Kento took the phone and demanded, "What is it?"
"I went to the spot you told me about to give you that information," the brother answered, voice hushed. "Thought it might be less suspicious if I worked out a little before just leaving."
Able to overhear the conversation, Watanabe growled, "You told him about the gym?"
"The police are there Onii-san," his brother continued. "They're at the place."
He got no more, and the phone crashed to the sidewalk. The three stood in silence for quite some time, all perfectly aware of the results of that mistake. Likely, the police would have found the locker eventually, but that single phone call could have just connected the whole team to one another. Watanabe snatched his phone back.
"We're screwed," the computer nerd concluded.
"Your brother is a fool, Kento. You should have known he would ruin everything if you gave him access to the drop point," Watanabe scolded. "This means we'll all be staying here."
Hayoshi was visibly distraught. "I even had a date planned tonight for an alibi."
"An alibi tonight will do you no good when we're implicated in planning," the former reminded. They could no longer pretend to be simply innocent.
The lady who worked at the gym supplied a master key and unlocked the final locker in front of the arrested brother now that the crowd had cleared. No other word could better describe his face than baffled. He had come here with something for his brother, knowing nothing of their plans, and now he was the one in custody. For what? Using his brother's gym locker. Their voices on the phone call had made all the implications seem like they were the reality. Only a week had passed since the release. How was that even possible?
With the forensics scientist busy processing the locker according to standard procedure, the officer turned his attention to the captive. "Why don't you tell us what is inside that locker?"
"Nothing really," the brother excused nervously, "just some information Aniki asked for."
"What information?" The question was blunt and without heart.
A squeak accompanied the door opening, and Yamada narrated his findings. "A box, full of packing peanuts. I'm not sure I want to stick my hand in there, but here it goes." After a moment of rummaging, a gloved hand revealed the prize. "A memory stick."
When Murata's gaze fell back to the brother, he answered quickly, "It's all about what happened to his family. I don't really think any of it is worth being arrested for."
"Then why did you run when you first saw me?" The officer asked, the obvious question.
He was instantly embarrassed as he tried to dig out of the hole he was creating. "Well, you see, just a couple days ago, I got a call from the police asking all these questions about Aniki. I was sure it was all some overreaction or misunderstanding, but when I saw you here, I just had to call him to see what was going on."
"Were you satisfied by what you learned?" Murata questioned, his temper tried by this man's obliviousness.
"Not really," he replied. Incapable of thinking ahead, he simply blurted out, "I have this feeling the whole thing is more important than the little information I put in that locker."
"You think so?" The officer returned, clearly sarcastic.
"I'm going to call Kyoko-san about all this," Yamada decided. "Give him an update and Kento-jukeisha's phone number." Taking the brother's cell phone, he went out to the car.
Kyoko was just arriving at the bar when he received the call. "You have news already?" He greeted in surprise.
Starting up the laptop computer in the trunk of his car, Yamada summarized, "News of the gym: Kento-jukeisha definitely had a locker here, we arrested a fool trying to use it, and we have a phone number."
Once Yamada had supplied that information, Saburou pointed out, "That number is in my recent call log. It's Watanabe-san's number."
"Looks like we've got ourselves a connection," Yamada agreed as the results of the fingerprints he had scanned into the computer started to come back. Kento, Watanabe, Hayoshi—the latter two with trivial records from misdemeanors in their college rebel days—an unknown, probably the brother. The investigator chuckled about how his prints would be in the system the next time and the reason why.
"But we're still no closer to catching them," Kyoko reminded.
"No," the younger agreed. "The brother alerted Kento-jukeisha that we found the locker, but he doesn't know anything."
That was as good of an update as he could have expected. After passing on the essentials to Tashi at the courthouse, Saburou at last looked upon the location where his investigation would begin. Now that he was here, he realized he knew the place. Afternoon as it was, the bar was abandoned as expected, with only the bartender preparing things for the evening. A single customer sat glumly against the back wall, a product of years of failed attempts of escaping something.
"How may I help you today, Kyoko-keiji?" The middle aged man inquired while he wiped out a shot glass. Saburou could barely remember him from one of his earliest cases. There had been a domestic case in his neighborhood, and he had been the best witness. Bar tenders are invisible, and they know how to watch people. Maybe they had a better chance with his help.
Saburou began the same way his coworker had: three photos on the counter, a question if any were familiar, and desperately high hopes.
The bar tender glanced at the pictures and said nothing. His thin moustache and white shirt seemed too classy for this place; though, perhaps, on the other hand, it would liven up at night or the weekends. Turning to his open cupboards, the man stacked his cleaned glasses and reordered a few bottles of liquor.
"Another case," he muttered, finally deciding to answer his old acquaintance. "I don't think I have anything to tell you."
"I didn't ask you if you wanted to chat," Saburou responded. "I asked if you've ever seen any of these men."
"Hasn't everyone seen that man, Kyoko-keiji?" Was the uncooperative answer given as the man gestured a thumb to the television behind him with the news still talking about the ex-convict. When addressing Kyoko this time, his voice had been tainted with contempt. "You are a terrible client, actually," he added. "You only come here when you want something from me."
Frowning, Saburou pointed out the only customer, "He's only here to get something from you also, isn't he?"
"He's here for the alcohol," the bartender reminded. "You don't even pay for the services I provide you."
Supposing it wouldn't help to mention his cooperation would benefit the community, Saburou quickly looked around for a bit of leverage. He spotted it. A gold band that had not been there the last time was proudly displayed on the man's left hand. The investigator knew a bit of dirt from the man's entire neighborhood from the twisted lies of the previous case. In just a second, the right information was brought out of storage into the front of his mind.
"How about I tell your new wife that the kids she sees across the street every morning are yours," Saburou threatened. Yes, the past affair with a married woman could often times hit hard.
"Who are you to think I haven't already told her that?" The bartender replied to cover his weak spot. However, he suddenly turned quite helpful. Pointing to Hayoshi, he revealed, "This one lives in a loft upstairs. I haven't seen them together in years. Since before I ever met you. I never really thought much of it, but whenever Hayoshi-san comes in, he sits at that table."
The man pointed toward a corner. "Then Watanabe-san started to come in more often and would insist on sitting there as well, never at the same time, of course. Who would have thought they were planning something all this time."
"Do you mind if I took a look at it?" The investigator requested politely. Obviously, he was given permission, and Saburou headed right over to see if there was anything special about the table itself.
At first glance nothing set it aside as preferable. It was neither hidden from the cameras nor did it have a quick escape route to the two exits. He slid a hand along the bottom side of the table, finding a couple chewed bits of gum but no unexpected cubby holes. Even adults were irresponsible and disrespectful of property to leave their gum like that. Saburou slid into the booth to see if there was anything unusual about the seats.
"You know, Kyoko-keiji, you're in luck," the man continued from behind the bar.
"Am I?" Saburou replied, as a small drawer slid out from beneath the seat. At this point, it was already too good to be true just to have made the progress they had in one morning—and to have a contact with a little information. He didn't want to push his luck.
A single object remained inside the drawer, a digital audio device. Before the bartender could finish what he had planned to say, Saburou held it up for the other to see, the black case contrasting with his white gloves. He hit play in anticipation.
It was a man's voice—likely Kento's because Kyoko didn't recognize it—who stated in good humor, "Congratulations police force, for reaching the end of the first false trail. I haven't been here since the week I was arrested the night this whole thing was planned. That makes you 8 years behind. Hope you can catch me. You have 19 hours before it starts all over."
Visibly disappointed, Saburou glanced to his watch. Two hours had already passed since he last looked. How had Kento known what time it was—or would be? Maybe it was a computer truck by Hayoshi. The time had been stated by a more generated sounding voice.
After taking a moment to feign sympathizing with Kyoko, the bartender finished giving his information, "Good thing you came by today rather than earlier. This morning as I was sweeping the sidewalk outside, Hayoshi-san came out from his apartment in a hurry. He was talking on his phone in English, which I took some of myself in high school. I hardly remember any, but I couldn't help but challenge myself to see what I could pick out. I'll tell you where he went if you do a little something for me in return."
As much as he needed to know, it was hard for Saburou to resist, even long enough for him to think through the proposal. It was all he could do to not accept immediately and respond instead, "What do you want me to do?"
Upon return to the station, Yamada plugged the memory stick into the USB drive of a computer. Kento's brother was being held, safely prevented from contacting and warning the fugitives further. Though this information was likely of little or no import to the current pursuit of Kento, the team had hit a momentary lull. He figured he'd skim through it quickly while he downed an energy drink. The data, however, was set to autoplay and immediately opened a window to play a recorded message.
"Congratulations police force," it began, the same as Kyoko had heard. It was not the brother's research. They must have already been swapped previous to the arrival of the two police. Yamada listened closely to the message, knowing they were receiving it solely because Kento knew he could no longer hide his own involvement, nor that of Watanabe. "For reaching the end of the second false trail. Though I stopped by this morning, it will lead you no further. Think you can catch me? You have 12 hours before I disappear completely."