The Horoscope

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Chapter 3 Back To Work

Kuro found himself the first to arrive at the golf course—the scene which finally dragged the baby-sitting father from his week off. A frantic seeming secretary or planner of the establishment met him in the parking, going on about the shock of the situation.

"As soon as the yard maintenance boy came running in here to inform me that there was a dead guy on hole 14, I called you right away. My boss says it would be a terrible thing for our business if we don't handle this correctly. After all, who wants to golf on a course that isn't secure, right? Oh, the boy who found the body is in the locker room pacing around and chewing on his nails. He's not exactly taking it well. But then, who would if they saw that? It was rather gruesome. I'm surprised I didn't cry. Should I have cried? Or fainted maybe? I should have fainted."

Kuro closed the trunk of his SUV and gave her an amused glance for the rambling. You shouldn't have to ask how to react, he thought.

"Anyways," she picked back up again after a pause. "Is there anything I should do to help you with the investigation? Would you like me to show you to the body?"

"No, but thank you," the large man replied. "I'll have to wait just a while for my partner to arrive before I get started. But I'll let you know as soon as I'm ready."

Nodding, she took her endless energy back inside the clubhouse to accomplish the first half of a dozen tasks. Just like a butterfly. He was almost positive she wouldn't end up on the suspect list. Smiling with an inner laugh, he leaned against the back of his truck to wait for Saburou to show up. The poor man probably wouldn't be in as good of humor this Sunday afternoon as he himself was, being forced into his work on the only week he ever asked for off. It was logical that he might be a little late.

As time started to pass, however, the smile slowly faded from his lips. He glanced at his watch impatiently. It wasn't impatient, he corrected. A whole hour had passed in waiting. That was inexcusable, even in his situation. The secretary came out once more, asking how much longer it would be. He could only shrug and reply he did not know.

"Saburou," he mumbled under his breath. "For a busy day like today, how could you do this?"

When the missing investigator finally pulled into the parking lot just before sunset, he rushed out of his vehicle and immediately apologized. Kuro just sighed, grabbed his bag, and headed toward the clubhouse entrance. The secretary was the only person in the lobby, leaving an eerie echo in the hallways as they walked. In a confused and upset daze, the new arrival showed no signs of life as he followed the two towards the green. It was worse than just getting called in to work; there was something wrong with Saburou.

Being more than just a coworker, but one of Saburou's few friends, Kuro had to ask after they climbed into a golf cart, "What's up?"

With a shrug, he slightly grumbled, "Nothing."

It wasn't at all convincing, particularly when the secretary glared to the smaller man with the condemnatory comment, "My boss would appreciate it if you work in a timely matter. He is hoping to reopen the course in the morning."

She turned back to her current task of driving the golf cart too quickly to notice the utter lack of response from the scolded man. His mind was definitely elsewhere. Kuro chose to ignore the fact that hole 14 would certainly still be a crime scene the next morning, leaving the group in silence until they reached actual site. Upon arrival, the lady offered them the key to the slow-moving ride to use if they needed to get from one place to another, and then started the walk back to her desk.

The two glanced around at the scene, at the man sprawled face down on the green with half a golf club jammed into his head, and at everything surrounding them that could end up playing a role in evidence of the crime. Still in his haze, Kyoko stepped right into a puddle of blood. Lifting his foot to look at the shoe and the print it had left in the grass, he began to realize just how unfocussed he was.

"Saburou!" His friend exclaimed in a surprised, scolding way. "What were you thinking?"

Silent for quite some time, the man cautiously wiped off his shoe with a napkin to not spread his mistake further, and sealed it in a plastic bag. "Not much, I guess," he answered.

"I'd tell you to pull yourself together, but from the looks of you, it would do no good. Are you unwell?"

"If I was, would it make any difference?" Saburou wondered, a bit of resentment in his voice. "They wouldn't let me refuse to come in."

Unable to argue that, Kuro sighed. "Well, you won't make anything of this scene but a big mess. Go question the kid. It should be simple enough." Saburou turned back to the golf cart to the final advice of his partner, "Write down everything he says."

"I know," the man brushed him off. He had seriously blown it, hadn't he? As he drove back toward the club house, he tried to shake off the mental cobwebs. With Takeshi on his mind, however, hardly anything else even reached in. Other than running off on their first day together, or forgetting to pick him up in the first place, there wasn't much to really think about in regards to the boy. Still it was clouding his thoughts. What for?

The enormous clubhouse was still in front of him, so he at least knew he was driving the right direction. Head of an old man, he blamed; thought, he was not yet 30 this year. Suddenly, a sight on the road ahead compelled him to bring the small vehicle to a screeching halt. Just off the sidewalk, face down in the mud, was the lady who had shown them around. Jumping out of the golf cart, he ran over to her body with a pair of gloves from his pocket. Certain to not disturb any of the evidence this time, the investigator simply reached two fingers around to her jugular. No pulse.

"We need an ambulance here," he announced into his radio that both Kuro and the police outside the golf course would be listening to. Her body was still warm. She had only left a minute before he had. Perhaps they would be able to save her. Looking over her as he waited for a medical team to respond, Saburou noticed how much worse she looked than before. Hair disheveled, she looked like she had put up a fight before ending up dead in the mud, clothes dirtied and legs bruised.

His mind began to wonder again, curiously inquiring if she had children, and just that quickly jumping to his own child. A minute or two passed in thought before he shook off the distraction. He had to work. Before the paramedics arrived, he had to take some photos of the scene, to know exactly the positioning. He got enough before the blue uniforms came running over with stretchers and duffle bags.

While they worked, Saburou contacted Kuro with whatever information he had. His partner insisted that his assigned task to question the lawn boy remain the same. "ADD Kyoko-san," he had teased. "Please just do the simple things." Therefore, he continued on his way to the locker rooms.

The young man sat in the farthest back corner on a grated metal bench. Slumped over, his fingers laced with strands of hair as he rested his forehead in his palms, replaying every moment over again in his mind. He looked a little nervous, but mostly tired, as he never even noticed Saburou had entered the room.

"So you are the person who found the body?" The man caught his attention, barely getting the younger to lift weary, auburn eyes from the pedestal his hands made for them. The investigator continued, "I'm Kyoko, Saburou-san with the crime lab. I'm here to figure out what happened."

Willingly, the questioned seized the outstretched hand of Saburou in greeting and then responded, "I…don't remember."

"What do you mean?" A concerned Saburou asked.

Standing, the boy began to pace while answering, "I can't remember what happened. Like so you can take me off the suspect list. I know I was mowing the green when I spotted a club handle. I got off to grab it, but there was this heap at the top of the hill that the flies were starting to gather around. Thought I'd get it out of my way at the same time, but then it was Iochi-san, so I went to tell the miss at the desk, and she called the police…or did I? She shoved me in here and told me to wait."

There was a sweat on his brow as he continued to ramble all the necessary details, "But I couldn't tell you when I found it there, or what hole he was at. Not even what I was doing at the time he would have been killed. Was I talking to the girl at the pool? Or was I late for work so no one could vouch for my whereabouts? I know I saw who Iochi-san was golfing with today, but even that I can't remember."

The poor boy looked no more than seventeen, doing this job after school to help his parents. Saburou swore that would never be the case with Takeshi-kun. If his mother Shimizu-san ever started to struggle monetarily, he would forcer her to accept his help. Kids had enough work these days with just their schooling, each level trying to surpass the last. He couldn't imagine what it would be like to juggle both.

His pen had stopped its scribbling as his mind wandered off once again. Thankfully, he caught it this time before it went too far, inquiring of the boy, "Where did you put the handle?"

Stopping mid-sentence, their only source of information raised his eyebrows in surprise—mostly at his own incompetence—as he answered embarrassedly, "I forgot to grab it."

"That's fine. I'll just let my partner know that it's there. Excuse me." Stepping aside, Saburou called Kuro on his phone.

"There's nothing down here," the black man informed when he reached the bottom of the hill. The boy wasn't lying, as he could clearly see the mowing had abruptly stopped there, but the missing half of the murder weapon was not anywhere to be seen.

Even though the investigator was trying to be discrete, the curious boy made his way close enough to overhear most of what was said. "They didn't find it," he muttered to himself in disappointment. Would they not believe him?

Saburou, hearing the whisper, turned to the witness to shoo him off right as the both of them heard Kuro mention, "The secretary didn't make it. The medics said it was too late."

Knowing the boy had heard, Saburou could only watch in silence as the expression on the eavesdropper's face melted. Brown eyes watered slightly as he tried to swallow the lump of tears in his throat. He was dazed, trying to find a way to convince himself it wasn't reality. Quickly, the man responsible for the leaked information thanked his accomplice Kuro for the update and hung up.

"She died too?" The youngster hardly got out, clearly shaken up.

Unable at the point to say much else, Saburou answered, "Yes."

"Are we safe here?"

The kid realized as well as they did that the murderer was possibly still at the course. Saburou was able to recall him mentioning that he had see Iochi with someone that day. If he was a witness to anything, the killer was probably after his life as well. There was really no easy way to know if they were safe.

Still, he asked, "It depends. Does the killer know you're in here?"

"How would he?" The boy wondered nervously.

"Are there cameras in here? Or did you at anytime leave for one reason or another?"

"No, no," was the answer given. Then, pausing, the boy corrected, "Wait, crap. I did."

A story line flashed through the detective's mind. The maintenance worker killed Iochi. Having seen it, the secretary forced him to stay in the locker room, but he snuck out and killed her as well. It was feasible that—as sincere as he seemed—the boy was lying. They couldn't count him out just yet.

"For what?" Saburou questioned suspiciously.

"I had to call my parents to let Okasama know I wouldn't be home for dinner. You could check my phone record, or call her back to verify it, but still…there's no way to know if I did something else, is there?"

"No, not really," the investigator affirmed. "Until the evidence clears you…"

The boy swallowed hard, interrupting his elder to say, "I don't like being a suspect, even though I didn't do it. The longer you keep finding reasons that I might have, the more I will start to believe I did."

"Have a vivid imagination, do you?" The man began to tease when suddenly the sound of footsteps caused him to refuse the boy's response. Drawing a gun from his belt, he instantly had the suspect pinned to the floor by the back of his neck, under the bench, and just behind him for safety. Barrel pointed chest high at the wall where the footsteps would be coming from, he knelt completely prepared for whatever might round the corner.

Then, somehow his mind faded back to Takeshi. If he died right there, how would that affect his son? That would be some devastating news. The whole job was dangerous, and not just that—gruesome on a daily basis. If Takeshi were to become a more common sight in his life, would he have to change jobs? Kuro casually came into view from behind a row of lockers, laughing at his partner's dramatic reaction to his entrance, but expecting Saburou would drop the weapon upon recognizing him.

"The sprinklers came on right after the coroner left," he explained his presence. "Pretty much any evidence we had not already gathered was washed away. We might as well just head back now."

Saburou, however, did not falter in his hold on the gun. There was a dazed look in his eyes again. The boy in his grip wriggled a bit, trying to break free. Kuro pitied his poor friend. No way should he have been working in that condition. Finally, his captive escaped and climbed to his feet.

"Doesn't he work with you?" The boy inquired, snapping Saburou back to reality.

Gradually, the man returned to a stand, holstering his gun as he should have from the beginning. "Could you come down to the police station tomorrow for something more official," he asked of the teen, handing over a card with the address.

Pondering the request, the boy ran a hand through his hair, "I'll see if I can get off school."

"Be careful on your way home," concluded the conversation as Kuro led his partner away in a scolding manner.

"We need to have a little talk."

Assuming her partner had examination of Haruto's apartment under control, Tamura next decided she would take a few moments to look for signs of the second party's escape route. As she would be taking photos of everything, she ran back to the car to get fresh batteries as a precautionary measure. While she was around behind the building, she glimpsed just briefly the ponytail of a teenage girl in untied running shoes and a sports jersey. That and the yellow duffle bag on her shoulder implied she was returning from weekend practice. Tamura immediately recognized her as being the girl from the picture.

The girl as well recognized Tamura as being police. Frightened, she switched her bag from one arm to the other and discretely turned down towards a different apartment. Intent on talking to the girl, Tamura followed. She would have to be cautious, though, as the fit teen could definitely outrun her and she never had been good at spying. Some stalking and darting around corners to hide passed until finally the crime investigator was only one turn away from the hallway the young girl thought she had cleverly concealed herself in. It then became a waiting game.

Quite a few minutes later, the girl figured her pursuer had certainly given up or gone looking elsewhere. She was still cautious in coming out, just in case, but Tamura caught her by surprise. Taking her by the arm, the tall lady headed back to the cener of activity and law enforcement.

"Let me go," the girl ordered, pulling away, "I've done nothing, so you can't touch me!"

"Do you know Chinta-san?" Tamura questioned bluntly, clearly unsympathetic to her demands.

"Who?" She replied, considering complete denial.

"I saw you in a picture of him, so don't pretend like he isn't your brother."

"Oh, Haruto. I just didn't hear the name you said. Yes," she changed her story instantly.

"Then you need to come with me."

Handing her over to the police to make a statement, Tamura went back to her job somewhere nearby where she could listen as well. The girl suspiciously continued to say the least she could get away with so that there was no way she could get in trouble for any of it. It was she who had called the ambulence, but then she had left for soccer practice. If she hadn't gone she would have been kicked off the team.

"He's okay, isn't he?" She finished her story, as if she had somehow mistaken him to be alive after the instantly fatal fall. Nervously she fingered a necklace of beads matching those of the bracelet clutched in the victim's hand. The innocent look of a bubblegum popping teenage girl did not soften the officer, however.

"We'll have to take you down to the station to make an official record of your statement," he mentioned blandly, knowing her story was inconsistant enough to make her suspect.

At the station, her interrogation began with, "Why did you run from our agent?"

She just shrugged.

The officer pulled out his seat and made himself comfortable. "We can do this quick, or we can make it last all day. Your choice."

"Well, it seems bad, doesn't it?" She answered after a while. "That I left. I thought it might make you automatically think I did it on purpose."

"Did you?"

"I love my brother," she countered viciously. "I should be in the hospital helping him recover, not here."

"Do you think if your brother was going to be all right, we would be bothering with questioning you?" He paused for a moment to let the question sink in and then clarified, "Your brother is dead. He was dead before you ever left for soccer practice. Are you meaning to say you didn't notice?"

"Dead?" She repeated, a whimper in her voice. Out came the fake tears, and she began bawling rivers of 'get whatever you want' teen drama.

The officer handed her a tissue, and—unconvinced—pressed on, "Which is why we need a clear and complete record or what happened today. Start with the argument. What were you two shouting about?"

She snifled. "A bunch of stuff I guess. He had gone out all night again, which I was upset about, but also because he was supposed to take me to practice, and I was going to be late. I was sitting in the living room reading the newspaper while I waited for a friend to come get me when I heard this scratching at the door. The knob started to shake like someone was trying to come in. I grabbed the broom from the kitchen and started toward the door when he started banging furiously on it. When I looked out and saw it was aniki, I set it down and opened the door to ask where he had been."

Attentive to every detail of what she said, the officer took notes while she continued, "He smelled like sake and tried to brush by me with just a grunt like he had a hangover, so I went outside and closed the door behind me. We argued about how I get worried when he doesn't come home, and how it was irresponsible to forget he was supposed to take me, and that I would be late. He kept bringing up that he didn't ask to be in charge of me, and that it was all my fault that he couldn't do whatever he wanted. I told him I had been terrified when he tried to come in, and that he shouldn't leave his keys places. And it all sorta culminated with one thing."

"Which was?" The officer prompted.

"'You can't be hanging out with a boy that much older than you!' Is what he said when my boyfriend pulled up to take me to practice. I told him that he couldn't tell me what to do, and turned to go back in to grab my bag, but he took hold of my arm and reminded me that he was in charge, even if neither of us wanted it that way. 'What was I supposed to do?' I asked, shoving him away from me. 'You may or may not have come home.' So he ordered me—he ordered me, 'Go get your bag. I'll take you.'

"By that point, I was upset, though, so I told him to forget it, and that I was going with my boyfriend. I went to get my bag, and when I came back, he was swaying on his feet trying to find the keys again. When he took a step towards the stairs, he fell. He tried to grab my arm, but he still fell anyways. I called the ambulence and my boyfriend took me to practice. I thought he had passed out being drunk. It was only one flight of stairs. How could he have died?" For a grand finale, she broke out the flow of tears once more.

Still with no compassion, he simply asked, "Who is this boyfriend of yours?"

By sunset, Ichirou-san had hoped to hear from his brother Saburou-san. After all, he had been asked only to watch Nori at the park. He had never planned to take the boy home, but Saburou-san never called. They couldn't stay after dark, so they began the walk to Ichirou-san's house.

Once they had arrived and Nori had been shown all of the small house, Ichirou-san set him down at a table in the living room. He gave the boy some scrap paper, scissors, and pens, trusting he was smart enough not to destroy things. If he had known he would be baby-sitting, he would have been more prepared, but as it was…

He promised Nori there would be dinner soon and turned the television on to play cartoons in the background. Then, he went into the kitchen to call his brother. Saburou-san had to know he couldn't just leave his son like that. On the first call, however, he didn't even pick up. Ichirou-san instantly called again, and was answered by a profusely apologetic assurance that he would be there soon.

Accepting reluctantly all the excuses, Ichirou-san set about making his nephew something to eat. There were some leftovers in the fridge that he simply reheated. Serving it into two bowls, he came and sat next to Nori on the couch.

Putting down his drawings, the boy took his rice, asking in sincere concern, "He isn't coming, is he?"

Ichirou-san was shocked by the question. Stunned by Nori's certainty, he couldn't help but laugh in disbelief. "Why do you think that?" He wondered eventually.

"Haha isn't coming back from Austronalia. She said she will, but I know she won't."

"Of course she will," the uncle countered. "And my brother will too. I can make him, since I'm older."

"Are you sure?" The simple question clearly showed that the boy lacked confidence in his uncle's guarantee. When Ichirou-san affirmed it to be true, though, Nori didn't ask again. Quietly he sat eating his rice and watching cartoons.

At first, Saburou-san was not supposed to work at all that week, but how quickly "not at all" had become "a little paperwork." Then, necessity called him in for a couple hours, and before he knew it, his job had kept him until 12:30. Overwhelmed with the fatigue of a long day, he finally dragged himself away from his last coworker, knowing very well that they expected him back the next day. He obviously wasn't cut out for the role of father.

It was approaching one A.M. when he knocked lightly on his brother's door. Ichirou-san quietly ushered him in and demanded in a hushed voice, "What took you so long? Your kid was terrified that you weren't going to show up. He hardly moved all night, and he practically cried himself to sleep when he was really convinced you weren't coming."

The scolding was met with surprise. "You assured him, right? Didn't he know?"

Ichirou-san had to explain in great detail for his brother, "Saburou, it's the first time he's been away from his mom. You took him to a place he's never been, with people he's never known, and left him, for over twelve hours! Do you have any idea how long twelve hours is to a child that's terrified?" After a short pause, he continued, "I know this is all very new for you. You'll catch on. But think of that next time. Now, go get your kid, go home, and get some sleep."

In an exhausted daze, Saburou-san complied. He hardly seemed alive driving home and then carrying Nori up the stairs to his apartment. Fumbling for the keys while trying not to wake the boy, he walked right into a large box in front of his door. He wanted to cry out, but refrained for his child's sake. Unlocking the door, he laid Nori down in bed before returning for the box.

The package had no return address, so he had to open it to know its contents. Upon quietly cutting open the cardboard, Saburou-san unexpectedly found the box was filled with things for little boys, including some he remembered buying for Nori. Fearing the worst, he picked up the note carefully placed on top and prepared himself to read it.

No mental preparation could truly ready him to see what he knew he would read.

Dear Saburou-san,

I hope this letter finds you well; though, I am sure it will not. The surprise of what you are seeing before you must be so great I myself will never understand. And I wish it hadn't had to happen this way. But our son needs one of his parents, at least. I could not bear to handle it any longer, and I do not believe you would have agreed had you thought the arrangement to be permanent.

I am sorry to so suddenly leave in your care the child whom I never asked you to give anything for, but I trust you will care for him accordingly. Please give my love to Takeshi-kun and gently help him to understand that Haha and Mick-san won't be coming back from Australia.

My sincerest thanks.

Of course, the inexperienced father had hardly the strength to stand. Shaky hands dropped the letter as he stumbled to the table for support. He would have sat to rest and think, had he not seen his six year old standing curiously in the doorway with his blanket.

Rubbing his eyes tiredly, Nori mentioned, "Chichi, you never tucked me in."

Saburou-san was without words. Seeing the boy now represented twelve years of constant attention, a complete change in the way he lived his life and managed his time. He thought he could keep a kid amused for a week: make him happy with sugar, occupy him with non-productive activities, spoil him a little by treating him. Raising a kid was different. They had to eat healthy; they would quickly tire of having only one game. He would have to reorganize his budget. He would have to send the kid to school.

The mind didn't have to wander beyond that to be overwhelmed. Not even imagining the math homework he would have to help Nori with ten years down the road, Saburou-san was anxious about getting the kid into school before he got behind. The school year was already in course, and every day he missed could be detrimental to his education. They would have to take care of that right away.

"Chichi, are you okay?" The question burst into the bachelor's world of thought and tried to bring him back to reality, unsuccessfully.

Then the boy noticed the box and curiously went over to check it out. Instantly recognizing everything, he grabbed one and exclaimed, "Whoa, it's my robot toy! And the book about the candy thief." Being so excited about his stuff, Nori didn't notice the note on the floor until he stepped on it.

Looking down at the paper with all the symbols that he knew were supposed to be words, he decided he wanted to try to read it. Picking it up, he deciphered only one thought—Haha—before Saburou-san ripped the note away from him.

"Chichi," he complained as it was torn in four pieces and thrown away, "That's from Haha. What does it say?"

The father looked into his son's eyes with every intention of lying so he wouldn't have to see the devastation the truth would create, but he couldn't bring himself to lie to the boy's innocence. Carefully, he answered, "She says she misses you, and she loves you always, but…she really likes Australia, and she thinks she's going to stay." The details weren't all exactly true, but it wasn't exactly false either.

At first, Nori just stood there like maybe he hadn't understood. Lips slightly apart, his mind was racing as what he heard slowly sank in. He had known she wouldn't come back. Why, then, did hearing it feel so much worse inside? His legs were stuck to the floor, his stomach upside down, and his throat tied in a knot. Then, what neither of them wanted to happen, did. Tears welled up in Nori's eyes and began to pour down his cheeks.

Saburou-san had no words of comfort for his son. He, in fact, felt like crying as well. Though, he did know the boy would benefit from a hug. Taking the sobbing Nori into his arms, he wrapped the boy in a warm embrace until he cried himself to sleep. Once Nori was asleep, Saburou-san gently carried him back to the bed and laid him in it. The gentleness of it wasn't an issue, but rather, Nori awoke the moment he lost contact with his father.

"Chichi," he called out drowsily. "You aren't leaving, are you?"

This man had never felt any desire to stay up all night so his child could sleep. His disinclination toward fatherly activities was probably the reason he was still unmarried. Sighing because he knew he didn't have any other choice, Saburou-san knelt beside the bed and took his son's hands.

"No," he assured, "I'll stay."

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