Chapter 2 Friends and Family
Two ice creams headed down a busy sidewalk. One was chocolate, the other: vanilla. One had two scoops, and the other only one. And the double-scooped, chocolate one was skipping along, a couple feet ahead.
As they turned off of the crowded path onto a less occupied one that ran through the park, Saburou asked, "So earlier you mentioned homework, are you in school already?"
Nori stopped skipping and turned around to face his dad. "Yeah," he replied shortly before licking up another mouthful of ice cream.
"What grade are you in?"
"First. I can count, see: iti, ni…" he began holding fingers up with each new number. When he got to "go," though, he had no more fingers and added, "here, hold this," handing the ice cream to Saburou before continuing, "roku, nana, shoujo."
"Shoujo?" Saburou repeated curiously, knowing that to be "girl," not the next number. He quickly realized that Nori's now-mesmerized stare was pointing directly toward a little blonde girl his age that was following behind with her mother. Smiling, and laughing to himself, he gave Nori the ice cream back mentioning, "Good job, now eat your ice cream before it melts."
At that point, Nori remembered that he had stopped counting and insisted, "But I can do more! I can count to hyaku! Sen even, and spell my name and…" After a pause, he shouted, "Are you even listening?" Saburou was once again staring at his pager.
Dropping his pager back into his pocket, Saburou put his arm on Nori's shoulder and asked, "So how do you spell your name?"
The boy lay three meters from the foot of the stairs, in the parking lot of the apartment complex. A hard lump on the side of his neck, a slightly dislocated knee, and road rash on his face, legs, and elbows suggested strongly that he'd fallen down the stairs. Blood drops on the third and ninth steps attested to it. He had a bracelet in his hand, a desperate attempt to hold on to someone as he fell.
At the top of the staircase were two apartments. Living in the one on the left was a family of foreigners—four kids between the ages of two and nineteen—who spoke not a word of Japanese. Their oldest son was the exception, but being the only one who knew the language meant he was also the only one with a job. It was, of course, the most undesireable hours that he worked. Thus, it would yet be fifteen more minutes before public transport brought him nearby, and he could translate for the police.
In the meantime, two others of Saburou's colleagues arrived on the scene which the next page had spoken of. This pair also consisted of a male—Yamada Taro—and a female—Tamura Tamara. However, this pair was opposite the other, with the male being of average height, weight, and age, and Tamara being unusually tall. She was also inclined to wear heals on certain occasions, but that is a different story.
They would have to busy themselves with hands-on work waiting for the time when they could take witness statements. The coronor had already pronounced the young man's official death as around two hours before, so Yamata squatted down to examine more thoroughly the body. Clasped in his right hand were remnants of a bracelet grasped in a last second effort to stabilize before the fall. Tamura found other pieces scattered along his path of descent, confirming it once more.
Reaching out a gloved hand, the man searched the victims pockets, finally finding the one containing a billfold. Chinta, Haruto was 22, he had ¥700 on him, two ticket stubs for sappy movies, a picture of his family, and a cherry print strap of his girlfriend's bra. His driver's license said he lived in the upstairs apartmnent on the right. They had a feeling no one else would be inside, but Tamura knocked anyways.
No one answered, so Yamata joined her at the top of the stairs with the keys he found on the victim, and they entered. The living room was tidy, but ill-organized. Papers were stuffed inside books, piled upon a shelf that held movies at one point in an alphabetic order. It was the house of a bachelor taking online college classes, judging by the textbooks's topics. There were a lot of little details in the room they picked up on that were of no value at all. The open newspaper on the coffee table, the tangled mess of video game control cables, for example.
It wasn't long at all, however, before they started to see signs of a female resident. A flower backpack sat in the corner of the second bedroom which happened to have silky sheets on the bed and a couple dresses in the closet. They seemed to live there permanently, not like a girlfriend who sometimes spent the night and left her things. The room was full. Who was the young man's roommate? The prealgebra book open on the bed and the obviously minor style of clothing suggested she was significantly younger.
A photo—the same as the one inside the victim's wallet—was framed upon her dresser. Mother and father and two children all seemed so happy as they posed at a fair held in a park. She was little sister.
Outside of that discovery, little was found in the apartment. No signs of struggle indicated a fight had begun inside and then carried out to the stairs. Breakfast dishes in the sink made it seem that only one person had eaten that morning, like the second had not even been at the apartment. If Haruto was at the bottom of the stairs, where was his sister?
Saburou-san had brought with him a large folder of paperwork to keep him occupied while Nori played at the park. It was fairly simple work, allowing him to keep an eye on Nori at the same time, but it was necessary that he get it done. This is what happens when you ask to take the week off, he thought to himself.
In fact, though, Nori hadn't even made it to the park yet. He had gotten distracted with climbing the tree nearest Saburou. He was a pretty good tree climber, having made it almost all the way to the top. It wasn't very long, however, before he came back down, running to his father in the grass, with blood dripping down his leg.
"It hurts Chichi," Nori pouted, holding his leg out toward his father and pointing to the small cut.
"Oh that's nothing. Just a little scratch," Saburou responded.
Nori burst into tears and an extremely convincing fake cry.
Realizing he'd have to do something quickly to avoid disturbing other people around the park, Saburou quietly asked, "What do you want me to do? Kiss it?"
"No," Nori insisted, sobbing a little, "that's for girls."
"Then what?" He repeated, but Nori just returned to crying.
A couple seconds later, a woman walked over from a picnic blanket to the left of them. "Hush, hush," she stated, pulling the sacred item from her purse. It was a band-aid that fit just perfectly over the small scrape. After putting it on, she inquired, "Is that better?"
A huge smile returned to Nori's face and he ran off to play again calling back, "Arigato Shinsetsu-san!" (which meant "Thank you kind lady!")
When he was gone, the lady returned to her feet, and Saburou quickly did the same, offering to shake her hand as a thank you. She returned the gesture mentioning, "Just a tip: Don't ever go anywhere without band-aids."
"I'll try to remember that for next time," Saburou replied bashfully.
"You don't do this very often do you?"
"No," he admitted, "actually, I'm not sure I ever will again."
"Well, I'm just sitting him, you see…well, he's my kid, but I'm not his dad, or…I'm his dad, but he's not my kid…I'm not explaining myself very well, am I?"
"No, but I think I understand," the lady assured with a laugh.
"His mom just got married, and she asked me to watch him for a week…only he seems to think she's not coming back."
"That's a kid thing. To them a week seems like an entire lifetime. I remember when I left my daughter just for the weekend, she cried the whole time."
"That's a relief," Saburou sighed, carefully hiding his slight disappointment that she had a daughter.
"Don't worry. I'm sure you'll be a fine father some day. My husband used to be exactly like you, and now he actually gets along with our daughter really well."
This time the disappointment showed through when he repeated, "That's a…relief…too." He should have known she was married. Now even more embarrassed, he grabbed his paperwork from the grass and excused, "I really need to get this done."
"I won't keep you then," she assured.
They got word that the other family's son had returned home, so Tamura headed back outside for the interview. The young man introduced himself and his family in a thick accent. He informed that they were originally from Indonesia, having been here only six months. Then, rather disheartened, he glanced over to the zipped, black bag they were taking the victim away in, and slumped a little.
"They say that is my friend in there," he mentioned, meaning his parents had told him. "He can't be saved?"
"Unfortunately, no," Tamura replied, trying to seem comforting, but letting herself get torn up by the friend's reaction. "He broke his neck at an essential vertebrae and probably died instantly. He didn't suffer much if it's any consolation, but there's nothing anyone could have done."
He nodded but didn't seem anymore cheerful for it.
"I hear your family knows a thing or two about what happened," the lady pointed out, getting right to the important part. "Think you can translate some for us?"
The young man turned to his family, asking their approval to reveal such information. They replied with a nod, but the mother was quietly sobbing, still too worked up to speak. It was the father, then, who sent the children a small distance away with his wife and began to explain. Every couple of phrases the son would stop his father to repeat what he could in Japanese.
"He says…they heard it," he began. Using the victim's name, he almost forgot to add the conventional "-san" to the end but recalled before continuing, "come to my house this morning. He left something here and come to get…it." He paused to let his father say more. "My family, they eat breakfast, and they offer Haruto-san juice. He said no, seem…tired. Then, he go."
Another few moments passed before he stopped his father again, "Then, few minutes, they heard shouting…outside. Haruto-san and a girl. Then a big sound. Father come outside, and Haruto-san is down here, no one else though. Father called police. They said:" He waited a little bit. "Someone already call."
Tamura had been scribbling down notes, nodding occasionally as she tried to take in the details of what was being said. Noticing his story had now ended, she inquired after a bit more information, "Did they hear what the argument was about?"
Even though he already knew what his father's answer would be, the son swallowed the lump in his throat so he could transfer the question. "It was not clear at all," he replied back the response. "And—if yes—they not understand it."
"True," Tamura agreed, finally realizing it had been a silly thing to ask in the first place.
"My father ask, you will speak to children? He would like no. Too hard for children…this," the son informed her of the family head's concern.
Understanding, she assured, "We won't unless we need to for some reason."
He nodded his gratitude.
Finally, the two, inexperienced as a Father-son pair, made it from the park walkway to the edge of the playground. It only remained for Nori to decide whether he would prefer the swings or the jungle gym before he ran off toward it. In the last second, however, his plans were foiled by yet another buzz of Saburou-san's pager. Once more Nori looked curiously up at his dad who read the message in clear disappointment.
"You have to go this time, don't you Chichi?" The young boy inquired wisely.
"Yes," the father admitted with a sigh, "gome."
Nori shrugged. "It's okay. I got ice cream, and the park. I can stay here, can't I?"
Saburou-san was about to disagree when the boy's comment actually gave him an idea. It would be much better than bringing a six year old to a forensics lab to investigate deaths, at least. Leading Nori along the sidewalk to the other side of the park, he stopped at a small street vendor.
The man selling there was pretty bizarre looking. He was older than Saburou-san, with wrinkles, grey hair, and a goatee. It seemed he was trying to appear younger, though, as he was dressed far beneath his age and his hair was spiked around a headband that read "refresh" in Chinese—not that Nori could yet read Chinese; he could hardly spell his name in Japanese.
Jumping onto a nearby bench to see what this guy was selling, Nori soon realized his dad knew the vendor when the old man greeted, "Saburou, what are you doing at the park?...and with a kid?"
"What kind of way is that to greet your brother?" Saburou-san replied, not near as offended as he jokingly sounded.
"As my younger brother, I can greet you however I like," the older teased right back, "but I guess it was unnecessary to ask the first question. You're probably here for some Sato To Shitsu."
"Sato To Shitsu!" Nori exclaimed, "Oji has Sato To Shitsu?"
As easily as Nori had picked up on the family relationship from their conversation, the opposite was drawn from the boy's comment. Stunned, the brother questioned, "That's your son?"
Saburou-san nodded, "I'm sure I told you the story before of—"
"Takeshi-kun," the brother completed, affirming he knew of the kid.
"Nori-kun," the younger adult corrected immediately, not thinking of the shocked response it would bring. With raised eyebrows, the older questioningly held up two fingers, so Saburou-san clarified, "I think it's a nickname one of his friends gave him, but he insists upon using it, so we have been."
"Nori-kun," the vendor repeated, turning to the boy himself, "nice to meet you. I am your dad's oldest brother Ichirou."
"Ohayo Ichirou-oji," Nori responded politely. Then he quietly added, "Can I have some Sato To Shitsu please?"
Just as quietly, Ichirou-san answered, "You have to ask your dad that."
"Chichi?" Was all Nori inquired, eyes filled with hope.
"No," Saburou-san refused. Two devastated expressions asking why prompted him to explain, "You just had ice cream. You don't need a drink that's nothing more than sugar water."
At that, Nori's pout grew even larger, but Saburou-san's brother understood. "Your dad is right, Nori-kun," he agreed and then continued curiously, "but if you didn't come here for drinks, why did you bring your kid to see me while I'm selling them?"
Deciding to just tell the story from the beginning, Saburou-san began, "I'm supposed to baby-sit him for a week and a half while his mom is on vacation, so I took some time off work and thought that would be the end of it. But you know the way my job is. Whenever I'm not in, they get slammed and call me back anyways. At first I was ignoring it, but they've paged me personally six times already. They really need me to come in today."
"So you're asking me to baby-sit your kid that you're baby-sitting," Ichirou-san summarized.
"Are you going to make a habit of this?"
"No, it's just for today. I'm sure he'll enjoy himself at the park with you much more than sitting in my office."
"If it's just this once, then all right," he agreed, but before he had even finished, Saburou-san had already thanked him and run off. He felt he was needed that urgently.
With a sort of rejected sigh, Nori sat down on the bench and began swinging his feet mindlessly back and forth. After a while, Ichirou-san inquired, "Do you not want to go out there, Nori-kun?"
Pausing slightly in his swinging, the boy looked up for a second and then continued, answering, "There isn't anyone I know here."
"Are you shy about making new friends?"
"No," Nori assured certainly. "I just don't know what to do when everybody's already playing with somebody."
"Oh, you need a mission," Ichirou-san mentioned, realizing Nori wasn't used to playing by himself and that might help.
"You want Sato To Shitsu, right?"
The boy nodded agreeably.
"But you have to pay for it. I'm sure Saburou didn't leave you any money, so you'll have to find some."
"In the park?" The boy seemed unsure that he would find any, but upon his uncle's agreeing, he probed further, "How much?"
"I'll give you some no matter how much you bring back, but the more money you have, the more drink you get."
That was it. Nori was off the bench and instantly determined to accomplish his mission. He would find the money Oji Sato Mizu had hidden no matter how long it took him, and he would have a huge drink. Of course, Ichirou-san hadn't really hidden any money. What he meant was surely someone had dropped some somewhere. How ever the six year old wanted to see it, was how he was going to see it.
Ichirou-san's last comment replayed over and over through the boy's mind as he thoroughly searched the park for spare change. It was hard to find, but he quickly learned it was more common under the benches than the swing set. He had already gotten a few when a lady in front of him opened her purse to get something and dropped one.
Picking it up, Nori thought about adding it to his pile. She hadn't noticed it fall. But then…he knew it was wrong because his uncle hadn't hidden that piece. Decided, he tapped the lady's leg and gave the coin to her. She thanked him and then walked away, leaving Nori still with not near enough to buy hardly any.
After standing there for quite some time, a clever idea came to the boy. Just outside the park was three pop machines. Since people used money there all the time, it seemed like a good place to search…but he wasn't supposed to leave the playground. Running over to his uncle, Nori asked if it would be all right for him to go. Ichirou-san agreed, since it was still clearly visible from his juice stand, and Nori took off to look there.
Just as the boy got on his hands and knees in the middle of the pathway to look under the machine, another kid entered the scene. He had a particularly unique green mullet for hair and both his height and his attitude were unusually large for a seven year old. Though he could have easily gone around Nori, he stopped, looking down at the younger boy condescendingly.
Hands on his hips, the older questioned without even a greeting, "What are you doing?"
Nori looked up, pulling his hand out from beneath the pop machine with one small, dusty coin. Seeing the angry, green haired boy—and the two strong men in the background that seemed to be guarding him—brought about the honest answer, "Looking for money."
"For a soda?" The other assumed, a scrutinizing tone in his voice as he knew the vending machine wouldn't even take money that small.
Somewhat intimidated, Nori could only shake his head to disagree.
"Then don't block the only path to it," the older commanded, urging Nori to his feet and shooing him away.
"B-but I…" he began nervously to defend himself.
"Can't you ask your mom for money?" Was the next very pointed question. When Nori just shook his head again, the other inquired, "Why not?"
"She's," Nori answered hesitantly, "in Austronalia."
"Australia," came the instant correction. "And your dad?"
"He went to work."
"Then, go ask your nanny for some." Nori started to excuse himself from that too, so the green haired boy finished, "You don't have one, do you?"
Nori agreed with another shake of his head.
The other couldn't hold back from questioning, "What is wrong with you?"
Finally overcoming his fear a little, Nori was courageous enough to reply, "Why are you asking me that? You're the one with green hair."
Frustrated beyond any further acceptable social behavior, the older one slammed a couple paper yen into Nori's hand and concluded, "There, have some money. Take it, and go somewhere else."
Confused, Nori complied. As he walked away, unsure of whether to be elated over how much sugary beverage he could now buy or disappointed by the way he had been treated, neither boy could ever have guessed how the two of them would soon become close friends.
With more money than he could have ever imagined to gather, the young boy approached his uncle's stand. Two full hands appeared over the edge of the metal counter, and Ichirou-san looked down upon a smiling face curiously asking, how much can that buy?
The response came in shock, "Nori-kun, you could buy a whole pitcher with all that money! Where on Earth did you find it?"
"He gave it to me," Nori innocently answered, pointing toward the pop machine.
"Who?" The uncle asked for more clarification.
"The one with the funny looking green hair."
"Konatoya Masami-kun?" He had to ask, just to be sure.
"You know him?" The boy inquired, figuring that was why he knew the name.
"Not personally, but everyone knows who he is. Don't you?" Once again, Nori silently replied in the negative, so Ichirou-san explained, "He's the son of Konatoya Tomomi-san."
Ichirou-san repeated the name, adding, "You know, the singer," but his nephew continued to look perplexed. Thus, he simply stated, "He's a celebrity; that's all." Then, changing the subject, he continued, "So because you brought me so much money, I can't give you all that it's worth, but choose which size you want and I'll give you the rest back."
"Can I have two of that one?" Nori pointed to a medium sized, paper cup.
"Two, Nori-kun? You did just have ice cream."
"But—" he protested, glancing over to Masami-kun.
Understanding, Ichirou-san poured his nephew two cups of sugar-water and sent him off to share with the celebrity. Nori ran right over, slowing down as he neared the rich kid and his two body guards. How was he going to do this after having been told to go away? But he didn't have to start the conversation.
"You came back?" Masami-kun instantly asked upon seeing the younger boy.
"To say thanks," Nori explained gratefully. "And I got you one, if you want it."
"That poor person drink? Why would I ever—" He would have finished with "drink that," but a knock on the side of his head changed the final word to "refuse." Taking the cup from Nori, he only said more because the same guard that had slapped him was now mouthing, "Arigato."
Nori could easily sense the reluctancy as well as the same tension that had been there the time before. Feeling insulted, he gave in to his inclination to comment, "Masami-kun, isn't that a girl name?"
"Is not!" The kid-celebrity shouted back defensively as Nori ran away, frightened by the vicious tone of voice.
After the second encounter, it seemed no more likely that the two would become friends than after the initial.