Chapter 4 Monday
Monday started with a call to a car accident. One single man had crashed his sedan into a light pole. He had neither drank alcohol, nor taken any drugs beforehand. Yes, he was still alive, but they had been asked to explain how one single man, in one single car could end up in this situation during perfectly good weather conditions.
"Why did you call us down for something like this, Tashi-san?" Yamada inquired of the officer at the scene.
"His story is extremely suspicious," the officer replied, gesturing to the man sitting on the back of the ambulance. "He claims he simply was not paying attention, and when he realized, the car was already completely out of control."
"And?" The investigator probed, not finding the statement at all unbelievable.
"Look at the tred marks, the way they go directly toward the pole. There was no swerving, no drifting as if his mind was elsewhere. Just direct."
"Suicide then?" Tamura supposed, having been once again accompanying the senior investigator that never seemed to act his age.
"I don't think so," Tashi countered, continuing to explain. "He isn't exhibiting any of the normal symptoms of someone who's considering suicide."
"You know as well as I do Tashi-san," Yamada scolded, "that this week is way too busy to deal with your hunches. It's just a car accident."
"At least take the evidence," the officer compromised. "You can deal with it later."
Conceding, the two investigators set about quickly—yet thoroughly—making note of every detail, important or not, of the scene. The bridge was full of skid marks, but only one set seemed to match the pattern of the car's tires. It was fresh and direct to the light pole where the car was still implanted. Glass was scattered from one side of the street to the other, the guard rail was deformed from cars going over, and the shoulders were scraped from close calls. The hard part was determining what applied to this particular incident and what did not.
Their only option was to take samples and photos of everything and sort through it later. And while the directness of the accident implied suicide, the man claimed the morning consisted of nothing more than reading the Sunday paper with breakfast, heading off to work, and losing control when he zoned out. There was something missing. That much was clear, but was it really necessary to determine what it was? For the time being, all evidence—the photos, the samples—went into a box in the back corner of a processing room in the lab. Later.
Monday morning: both sat in the principal's office of the nearest school, exchanging yawns with droopy eyes. News played through the office radio describing as many details of the previous night's murder as the press could give. It was just interesting enough to keep Saburou awake as they waited, and just boring enough to make Nori drift off.
It was definitely a pair worth seeing. When they woke up, already late, Saburou hadn't the time to change his clothes from the day before or brush his hair. Frantically they had dumped everything from the box on the floor and still found only half of Nori's school uniform, certainly the wrong color for the new school anyways. His hair too was only half brushed and there was food in his teeth because Saburou had mistakenly told him to brush them before breakfast.
If there was something they should have brought to school other than his house slippers and a pencil, they didn't have it.
Finally, the principal came in to see them, and Nori quickly woke back up. Saburou stood to greet him. Both adults introduced themselves and then sat. The principal immediately turned his attention to the young boy.
"And what is your name?"
Nori paused and then lied, "Kyoko, Nori-kun."
Saburou looked surprised but couldn't think of anything to say before the principal continued, "What class are you in Kyoko-kun?"
"One," he answered.
"Then, you know how to write your own name by now." The principal was sure Nori would agree, and when he did, the question followed, "Would you like to write it yourself on the paperwork? Right there." He handed the boy the form and pointed to the blank he should write on, not knowing the trouble it would cause.
Nori took a pen and carefully drew out the kanji he had been taught was his name in the other school, and Saburou sat beside him, clearly nervous. The father certainly made a better interrogator than interrogated. When Nori was finished, he gave the paper back, and the principal read the sloppily written name aloud.
"Shimizu, Takeshi," he read slowly and with confusion. Turning to the father, he asked, "How do you explain this?"
After a second, Saburou answered, "I think I would prefer if my son didn't have to hear the story retold. Is there somewhere he could go?"
Without any questions, the principal complied with the request, calling in his secretary to take Nori to the playground. Now no longer worried about hurting the child's feelings, Saburou described exactly what had happened for the boy to come into his care, and the reason for the two names. When he was finished, the principal seemed very concerned.
He sincerely expressed his apologies and then inquired, "So, you are not legally the boy's guardian?"
"What? I'm his father," was the shocked response.
"But with different names," the principal reminded. "And you have never legally been given custody. Neither do you have any proof that he really is your son. All you have is an anonymous note not even signed."
"What can I do? It's not my fault she left him that way. But she is in Australia now, assumedly, and I have no way at all of contacting her. I don't even know any of her friends who might be able to contact her. I'll go through all the legal processes, really, but that could take months or years. He needs to be in school so he doesn't get behind."
"Technically, I should call Social Services, but I can't bring myself to do it in this case. I'll let you in, without all the proper paperwork and signatures, if by the end of the semester you've worked it all out. If you haven't by then, I don't know what to tell you."
"I'll try my best," Saburou assured, not too presumptuous.
"We'll need to fax his transcripts from his other school to enroll him today. I'm assuming you don't have their number, but do you at least know what school he went to?"
"Oh, no," Saburou admitted, upset to find the next obstacle. "They lived in Yuni. It's a pretty small town, so I'd guess they would only have one primary school, if you could look it up."
"I'll see what I can do," the principal offered, and he turned to his computer. Thankfully, the one school in Yuni had a website, the website had a phone number, and the phone had a secretary to answer it. That was the end of their good fortune. Getting the transcript from them was much more complicated without the mother's signature. The principal practically had to make it seem like she had died for them to make any compromises.
After close to two hours of work, Nori was allowed entrance into the school with a first grade teacher and twenty-six classmates. Saburou said good-bye to his son just before 11:00 and headed to work late and frazzled. Every second there was another task added to the list of things he had to do to be a father.
Nori followed the secretary into his classroom and was instantly laughed at because his pants were blue and all theirs were brown. It was an age at which kids were more disposed that normal to make fun of one another—but then, the same could be said of children at any age. The teacher quickly quieted them down and asked the new student to introduce himself.
Saying exactly what the secretary had told him to, Nori stated, "Ohayo, my name is Kyoko, Nori-kun. I just moved from Yuni to live with my dad."
"Welcome to Tokyo, Kyoko-kun," the teacher replied. "Will you tell us something about yourself? How old are you? What is your favorite part of school?"
"I'm six, and I like…" he began, but looking out at all the classmates scared him. His stomach started to turn over again, and all words left his mouth. Off to the right in the third row, he caught a glimpse of a familiar shade of green. That boy was here! Shyly, as anyone else would respond in the same place, Nori whispered, "Snacks."
And even though every kid would have said the same thing, they all laughed. The teacher thanked Nori, and introduced herself as Matsui-sensei before sending him to sit in an empty seat across the room from Masami. That was one relief for him. Not that the other kids were better, already calling him short, and making fun of his small-town accent. The pants were still a subject to talk about.
They mostly stopped when Matsui-sensei started to teach the difference between left and right. Whether or not Nori knew that was still uncertain, but when the teacher asked if anyone remembered, he wasn't one of those who raised his hand. He was busy looking across the room at Masami who also was paying no attention to the class.
The child-celebrity was, at seven years old, already flirting with the girl next to him. Every time Matsui-sensei would turn her back, he would pass the girl a note. That was another relief. It seemed Masami had no interest in bothering him about their encounter the day before. He turned away from the older boy, glad it wouldn't be a big deal, and then glanced back again. On the other hand, there was something comforting about a familiar face…
It was a shock that any girl would fall for this guy, much less one with the innocent appearance of Chinta-kun. He had grown out the top of his hair and pulled it back in a ponytail to match hers, which revealed to all the tattoo just above the collar of his maintenance uniform. One could hardly distinguish between sideburns, stubble, and dirt on his face. His lips were chapped, and his nose had been broken more than once in the past. He seemed far too familiar with being in that chair, interrogated by this officer.
"It pretty much looked like an accident," he vouched for the girl.
"Who is it that your neck always ends up stuck in other people's crimes Yamashi?" The officer inquired, like he too was familiar with the suspect. "You're not just some good citizen helping out the wrong people. You know, if we find evidence that his wasn't an accident, you'll be tried for conspiring to murder, and it won't be ju-vee this time. That could call to light some of the things we've looked over to this point. If you help us, we might ignore that you were dating a minor."
In the end only looking tough, Yamashi changed his story. "Whoa officer, I don't wanna go to prison over this. They were struggling. He got physical first, but when he stumbled down one stair trying to get his keys out, she pushed him down the rest. She swore to me it was an accident. I made her call the ambulance, otherwise you guys would definitely think it was murder. Then, I took her to the school."
Having been what they expected the story to sound like, the officer set his hands down on the table a little too roughly, giving a slight start to the interrogated, and turned to leave the room. That statement easily confirmed their suspicions about the young girl. They needed nothing more from the worthless, but also rather harmless, scum at the table. Before walking out the door, he gave the boy one last warning to watch his behavior back out there on the streets. Enough petty crimes, and they would start counting it against him.
As he exited the room, he crossed paths briefly with Saburou, who was just arriving and was very late. "Ohayo Kyoko-san," he greeted.
"Ohayo Tashi-san," the tired man responded rather dully.
"What's gotten him?" He inquired of Tamura who had been right there listening to the interrogation.
"Saburou," the most senior investigator began without a hint of joy to see his companion. "It's about time. We're flooded with cases. You can't just show up at your own convenience."
"And if I had gone out of town this week Kuro? I wouldn't have shown up at all," the exhausted father reminded. With everything he had been juggling the past 24 hours, he was in no mood to justify himself. "I have things that I have to take care of…and it just so happens all the red tape and bothersome regulations made it take longer than expected. Much longer."
"Well, I was down at the golf course this morning with Officer Tashi-san." Kuro was one to simply get down to business. "The manager was trying to open back up, but Tashi-san and I handled that. We got a register of everyone who golfed yesterday as well." He handed it to Saburou informing, "I'll have to leave you to look into it and go over the evidence. I have another case to work on."
"Yeah, all right," Saburou accepted the task.
"By the way, your kid is in the room right now giving Officer Murata-san his statement."
A clear look of terror struck the younger man's face. "Takeshi-kun?"
Raising a curious eyebrow to the response, Kuro had to let it slide since he was in a hurry. "No, Hiro, Kohei-san, the boy from the golf course. Get your head on straight."
He walked away, leaving his "partner" alone with all the tedious work of business books and DNA searches. Saburou sighed before going over to observe the questioning of Kohei. The boy seemed to be exactly the same—slightly freaked out, and giving the same answers lacking in recollection. Only the no-nonsense Officer Murata didn't take the boy's obliviousness lightly, and it seemed to frighten him even more. He didn't give the appearance of being afraid, but his responses were becoming more and more questionable. Murata was confusing him.
Soon, Kohei probably would be convinced of his own guilt like he had said. Saburou was not concerned about him having anything to do with this. It was off to the lab, then, to see who else it might be. Opening the case's box, he began sorting things, spreading out the victim's clothes side by side. At first glance, there would seem to be nothing more than the ground soiling them, but Saburou had to look closer than that, for fibers of the wrong color, fingerprints, etc. It was going to take a while.
When did Takeshi—Nori, he corrected himself, get off school again?
Neither boy crossed the other's mind at least until lunch.
In the line at the cafeteria, Masami approached three girls in the class and told the middle one, "I really like your pink hairband today. It really makes your cheeks rosy and makes me think of my favorite princess in that one show…" He trailed off, pretending not to remember the name, knowing it had been enough to provoke the girl's imagination.
Blushing with the normal embarrassment of flattery, the girl was about to supply a television show when the boys around started mocking, "Konatoya-kun is such a girl. 'I like ribbons and princess shows.'" They all laughed.
Looking back at the girl, the boy realized her embarrassment had grown into true humiliation, so he silently fell into line and got his food. It would be several years before any of the other boys began to act like the little celebrity. You see, nothing he said expressed his real feelings or interests. He only wanted to draw attention from girls, and unlike the others, he already knew how to get it.
The teasing continued, "And he doesn't hang out with any of us. All his friends are girls, so he must be one." Some others pointed out again, "Even his name is girly."
So it had been for most of the year. Ever since the class had gotten over their fear of his bodyguards that stood continuously outside the door, they had been pestering him. Sitting down at a table alone, he thought, It's not my fault I was born better than any other boy here. Still, the teasing was starting to be so annoying he thought he might have to lower himself enough to choose one pathetically ill-qualified companion. Nori just happened to be standing nearby, awkwardly looking for a table to sit at.
Grabbing the oversized sleeve of the boy's unmatching shirt, Masami yanked him into the seat beside him, almost spilling food all over the place. Instead of kindly offering, the proud celebrity ordered, "You'll sit there today."
Nori was truly terrified. He had no idea what Masami had planned for him, and the longer they sat there in silence, the worse he feared it would be. The older boy certainly wouldn't talk, and the younger was too frightened to dare try. Nervously, he moved around in his chair, swung his feet at the floor, and poked at the food on his plate. Masami calmly ate his lunch like Nori wasn't even there.
Finally unable to take it any longer, the younger burst out, "I'm sorry about yesterday."
"For what?" The green haired boy inquired, more inclined to forget it happened than to forgive and apologize in return.
"I don't know," Nori mumbled, silenced by his confusion over the response. All was quiet again for a while, until the younger had thought through all the possibilities and reached a conclusion. "So whatever I did, you forgave me because you liked the Sato To Shitsu, is that it?"
"No." The answer was short and blunt.
"I told you; I don't drink that stuff. It's for poor kids, and I can't have that much sugar, so I didn't drink it."
Nori only noticed the outer harshness of the statement, but he couldn't quite sense the deeper tone of repetition. That he had only not drank it because his mother had told him he shouldn't so frequently he actually believed it. Sugar was truthfully bad for celebrities—skin, energy, size—but it being for poor kids could only be a lie to discourage his wanting it.
What Nori got out of the comment, however, was that he needed a different reason for being asked to sit at the table. A second past before he offered, "I can give you the money back…if you want."
"I don't want anything from you," Masami stated. "Just sit there."
Nori tried to comply. He really intended to. Being quiet just wasn't his strong point. Before too long, the lack of speaking was too much for him to bear. He finished chewing his current bite and then went back to talking.
"People here don't really like you, do they?" He pointed out.
Masami almost choked from the question. "Do you always have to say stuff like that?"
"No," Nori agreed apologetically. Then, he continued, "But I do have to say something, and you aren't talking at all."
Nodding, Nori took a couple bites himself while he tried to think of something good to talk about, and then he wondered, "What color is your hair really?"
"Green," Masami replied.
"No, like really?"
"Green," he insisted.
"No!" Nori exclaimed in disbelief.
Masami was quiet for a second before answering, "I…don't know."
"'Cuz I heard this story once about a girl who loved grape Sato To Shitsu so much that she would have it all the time. Then, when she got older, her eyelids and fingernails turned purple. But you can't have sugar, so…maybe what happened is you ate too much…broccoli."
"Broccoli? If it was that, wouldn't my hair be big and curly?"
"That would be cool!"
"If I had an afro?"
"No," Masami disagreed.
"Why not?" The younger boy couldn't help but wonder.
"Because then I would look like broccoli."
After that exchange, Nori felt comfortable enough to keep talking all throughout their lunch hour. None of it really interested Masami, but he was willing to test out having a friend. He would have to decide whether being picked on or being spoken to would be worse.
When their class had run out of time to eat, both boys stood up to go to recess. Returning their trays to the kitchen ladies, they started heading outside. On the way, however, Nori caught sight of a little blond girl just sitting down for her lunch. It was the same girl from the park; he knew it.
Once more, his speech slowed to a stop. As he walked, he turned his head to keep looking. Masami watched with a smile on his face as his new companion obliviously walked right into a metal pole. For the first time, the rich kid laughed, and he laughed hard when Nori fell to the floor.
It was quite a while before the boy stopped laughing enough to mockingly inquire, "You like Chiyo-chan?"
Nori stood up, rubbing his sore forehead and replied, "I saw her at the park yesterday."
"So tomorrow you will fall over from every girl you saw today?"
"No," Nori tried to explain, "it's just that…I got distracted because…she was really nice."
"You talked to her then?" Masami questioned in disbelief, as it was clear he knew her somehow.
Realizing he hadn't, the younger answered with embarrassment, "No."
Masami broke out in laughter once more. "Nori-kun! You've fallen in love! In love with a girl who doesn't like boys."
"Have not," Nori protested. "I am not in love."
"Are too," the celebrity insisted, and they continued arguing over it all the way to the playground.