The Horoscope

By Xaitra All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery

Chapter 7 Strategies

A twenty year old boy sat, slumped over a couple textbooks. Math: he hated it. He had a college exam the next day, and the square roots, differentials, or derivatives of a particular combination of letters were the last things on his mind. That was the case with most college aged guys. The only thing that truly interested them was girls, the exact subject that his mind kept wandering to every time he tried to concentrate on vectors or surface area.

Through with unsuccessfully combating his inner desires, the boy pushed away from his textbooks. Grabbing his cell phone, he began to dial numbers, a plan fully developed already. All he had to do was wait for the ringing to stop and the other end to pick up…

"Mushi mushi," a girl responded with the customary beginning to a phone conversation, curiosity for who it might be clearly in her voice.

"Hey Hikari-san," the boy began, "this is Ayumu-san from your Calc class, and um, I—"

"Look, Kontatoya-san," she returned, interrupting him, "I know you and your celebrity ways. I'm not interested in any party you may have planned. I have studying to do."

It seemed she was ready to hang up already, but before she could, Ayumu corrected, "Actually, I need to study too, but I can't do it by myself. I'm just not getting it. And you are the first person I thought of that can understand this stuff. That's why I called."

"I was the first one?" Hikari repeated doubtingly. When the boy affirmed it, she continued, "Not one of the six nerdy geeks in our class?"

"Well…you were the first person I thought of that I wanted to teach me math," he revised, the sincerity of his words still obviously questionable.

"You manipulative dog, thinking I would fall for your boyish ploys. I know what you really want," she scolded, sure she had seen right through him.

Still, Ayumu persisted, "No, it isn't like that. You can wear four pairs of pants and a turtleneck, who cares. I'll pay you for your time because it's math that I want. I can't fail this test! Could you imagine that in the magazines?"

"Perhaps, you should have paid a little attention in class, if your grades will really give you that kind of reputation."

"Please Hikari-san, don't mock me like that. I'm begging you; I am getting down on my hands and knees. I cannot do it by myself Hikari-san."

"You're begging?"

"I am on the floor," Ayumu agreed. Then, he added, "and I haven't vacuumed in a while."

The girl on the other end of the phone giggled a bit at that. "And what would that look like in the magazines?"

"Does that mean you'll come?"

"That is not what I meant at all…but, I suppose, you would make studying more amusing."

With that, it was decided. The conversation ended with Ayumu giving thanks extensively. As soon as he had hung up the phone, he glanced around the apartment he was living in and realized he hadn't tidied the place since he had it cleaned after the party two weeks before. Hikari would have to gather her things and come over, which probably gave him thirty minutes to be presentable.

Of course, that was a lot to accomplish in a little time for someone expected to appear clean and neat. He hesitated, unsure of where to start. By the time she knocked at the door, he had frantically thrown his shoes in the refrigerator, stuffed his dirty underwear with the cereal, put the mail under the door mat, and just closed the bedroom door. Other than the overflowing trashcan, and the floors that still hadn't been vacuumed, the bachelor flat looked halfway decent when he opened the door.

Without a word of small-talk, Ayumu obediently followed her to the table they would study at. She set down her bag, and it slammed onto the table from the weight of whatever was inside. He flinched as she reached in to pull something out, nervously glancing to see what it was.

"If we're going to study, we are going to do it my way," the girl informed, showing a long, white piece of cloth with the word 'student' scribbled on it in black marker. "Starting with this."

Having expected something much more terrifying, Ayumu was at the same time embarrassed over his fear and dumbfounded by her suggestion of the childish tradition. "Are you serious?" He asked, thinking it must be a joke.

"Entirely," she confirmed.

"No, I won't wear it," the boy insisted, desperately backing away from her with his hands up to protect himself.

"But it really does help," Hikari urged, thoroughly enjoying the somewhat vulnerable boy.

"I really don't believe that."

"Do you want me to help or not?" The question was a string the tutor knew she would pull on the young man at every stage of the process he resisted. No matter how she tormented him, he would have to give in to that.

Reluctantly compliant, Ayumu took the cloth and tied it on his forehead as she wished. "Good," she commended, heading back to the table, "now that you are prepared for deep concentration, I'll tell you how we're going to do this. After looking at the study guide, I have made up a mock test with the twenty most difficult questions possibly on the exam."

The older Konatoya boy was gulping in fear already, as she pulled her books and the aforementioned test from her bag, but it was going to get much worse. Next to be removed was a small pot, which seemed random to the suspecting young man. It couldn't possibly be some sort of food that may serve as a reward when he answered correctly. He knew her much better than to vainly hope that was the purpose.

Before continuing to explain, Hikari ordered, "Roll up your sleeve." Unable to do otherwise, the desperate boy unbuttoned his cuff and began rolling while she spoke. "We are going to do a little thing I call 'Strip Studying,'" she revealed. Once more, her fellow classmate knew better than to believe the first explanation that came to his mind for her words.

Opening the pot, releasing a cloud of steam into the air, the girl started to stir the honey like substance with a wooden stick. "We will work through the problems together, and you tell me when you think you have the solution. If you do, we move on."

"And if I don't?" The young man asked nervously; though, he remained incapable of hiding his hopes for the reply.

All hopes died when Hikari held the stick out of the pot with a smirk and Ayumu realized what it was. He tried to pull away, but she already was holding his wrist, smearing the wax across his forearm. Slapping a piece of gauze over the sticky goop, the terrorizing tutor sealed her student's fate.

"If you don't answer a question correctly, I rip a strip off," she described what was now already clear, and then further solidified it with a demonstration.

The young man jumped away screaming. Once he stopped hopping around chanting repeatedly, "ow," he lifted his hand off the injury to examine the burning, red mark. It was then that he felt inclined to cuss, but he held back, transforming the vulgar word to instead be the name of a food.

Finally, he pulled himself together just barely enough to exclaim, "Are you crazy?"

"You won't let yourself get the wrong answer like that, will you?" She said, laughing.

"I'll be afraid even to answer," he responded. "That's…that's inhumane! It should be against the law!"

"You can be sure it'll work," Hikari assured, still thoroughly convinced his reaction was amusing. "Pain is scientifically proven to improve memory."

"Scientifically proven," the boy grumbled unhappily. Sitting down at the table, he concluded, "Let's just study. I'll try not to screw up."

The tutor came over, convincing Ayumu that she would be sitting. Instead, she plastered his arm with more wax.

Shocked, the young man demanded, "What the—what are you doing?"

One by one, the teacher stuck the gauze to Ayumu's arm, defending, "You have to put it on while the wax is still hot."

"But what if I don't get all those answers wrong? How will you get the extra ones off me?"

Hikari said nothing. She simply smiled with a twinkle in her eyes and set the test in front of her poor victim. As time passed, the air of the study session slowly improved. At one point, Ayumu actually felt daring enough to write 'geek' on a towel and compel his tutor to wear it on her head. She did agree, but only after taking off his and replacing the word with 'retard.'

When he got tired of studying, just like any boy might, his mind wandered off. He began doodling pictures of stick figures with large bosoms and only a little clothes in his notebook of scratch paper. At first, Hikari thought about tolerating it, but she quickly became annoyed by the drawing. Then she noticed the main focus of the sketch of busted but faceless women and ripped a strip of hair from her student's arm to get his attention.

It certainly served its purpose. Springing from his chair, the boy cried out, "What was that for?"

Hikari took her pencil out from behind her ear and pointed to the drawing.

Confused, Ayumu looked from her to the picture and then back to her. "Oh, you're jealous," he assumed, realizing something.

"They are faceless, stick people. Why would I be jealous?"

"'Cuz they have oppai, and you don't."

"Oppai? Is that it?"

"Yes."

Furious—halfway at herself for being slightly amused—Hikari leapt over Ayumu's chair to attack him. Before he knew it, the unexpecting boy found himself tackled to the floor with a goose egg pounding on the side of his head. Stunned, he just looked up in a daze as the teacher sat straddling the student.

"First of all," the crazed attacker defended, "I am perfectly happy with my own chest size. The problem is that you were thinking about chests—mine, imaginary, or otherwise—instead of math."

"The answer is 12.79, isn't it?" Rather out of place, the question came as a surprise to the short-notice tutor. He had struggled for minutes on that problem, and now, without a calculator or even paper, he had the answer in his head.

"How…how did you get that?" She wondered as they both started to stand up.

Showing no sign of insincerity, the boy answered, "I think better when I'm turned on."

"Don't talk like that, you dirty mind. Didn't I just tell you to focus?" The girl scolded, thinking it was a joke.

"What did you want me to say? 'Our conversation helped me create a word problem about breast augmentation, which is the only way I could have ever found that derivative.'"

"How about: 'you really convinced me that I need to be serious.'"

Ayumu pondered that explanation for a moment and then responded, "But what I said was the truth."

"Really?" She questioned, still hoping not but starting to believe it was so by the honest tone of his voice.

With a nod, the young man expounded, "It's the only way I've ever passed a math class—besides cheating, of course. My seventh year, I started sitting behind the cheerleaders in class. When I got to high school, I joined the band just so I could do my homework at volleyball games. I don't know what I would have done if I had gone to an all-boys school."

"It's a good thing you didn't…I guess," Hikari responded uncertainly. Thus, she concluded their short break, and they returned to studying, both a little more pensive than before.

As it turns out, Officer Tashi was a smoker himself. Therefore, it was he who wound up with the two identical suspects to analyze their responses. Setting himself at the table with his first target, Tashi noticed the boyfriend seemed a tad more nervous. Even though, his composure remained constant.

He gave a glare to the officer and commented, "I told your friend I'm waiting for my lawyer."

"I'm aware of that," Tashi assured, sprawling out to make himself comfortable. "In fact, that's why I'm here."

After enough time had passed to be certain the man in custody wouldn't be able to make the connection on his own, the officer took out a pack. Tapping it lethargically on the table to extract a single cigarette, he made a point of taking his time to raise it to his lips and light up. The boyfriend's leg began to bounce quickly up and down, a discrete sign that he was craving one as well. Then, he slid up in his seat to consciously halt the natural reaction as the man smoking took a long draw and let a puff back out.

"It'll be a while before your lawyer arrives," he pointed out, having waited long enough. "Is there anything I can do to make your wait more enjoyable? Soda maybe or coffee? If we're going to be pulling an all nighter, you might need some."

The man stared longingly as the officer slid the box of extras back into a pocket, but he never admitted to the craving. "Nothing then," Tashi concluded. "You're sure an easy suspect to take care of. Mind if I stay here until I've finished my smoke? I won't bother you any."

Still, the boyfriend made no efforts to speak, simply directing his eyes away from the trap. Of course, to Tashi, it was so obviously clear that he was in fact a smoker by the little ways he tried to deny it. Perhaps he wasn't denying it, simply trying to be uncooperative and contrary.

Waiting until the situation became awkward through its silence, the one controlling it all inquired amicably, "Do you smoke?"

"Used to," the other replied shortly; although, it at first seemed like he might not.

"Look how impolite it was of me not to offer you one," was the thoughtless response the officer returned, pulling out his pack and holding it out for the ex-smoker to easily take one.

The leg tapping started up again as a glance to the offer revealed the inner conflict over whether or not to take one. It wasn't about crime scenes and hiding evidence. The man used to smoke, and he was trying to not take it up again. His fight only lasted moments before he clasped one of the cylindrical suicide weapons between his fingers and presented it to the flame of the officer's lighter.

"So, you quit?" Tashi then wondered curiously about the story. "Do you mind me asking about it?"

"Nah," he supplied freely, "Shinju didn't like it, that I smoked. I managed to quit for her…mostly. When I get worked up sometimes—well, you know how it is. I always kept a pack on me just in case."

"I could see then, how the stress today would have been too much to resist."

Realizing the officer wasn't talking about the one he had just shared, the boyfriend let both his hands fall to the table firmly. "It's about this then? You know what? Yes, I smoked in Shinju's house. When I saw her dead there on the floor, the urge just came on me. And the longer I stood there waiting for you to arrive, the more antsy I got, and hot. So hot, but I could hear the air conditioning running full blast. I knew it was the only way to calm my nerves waiting for you. Now, I don't want to see any of your cop faces until my lawyer is here."

Thus ended the first interview, with a clear answer to the investigators' question. Still, they suggested he use a similar method on the husband anyways, just for the sake of hoping to bring him to break as well. With their identical personalities, perhaps their weaknesses would also be the same. With that mission, Tashi headed directly into a second interrogation room.

He entered to find Nakamura looking nothing less than bored. Legs spread and arms crossed, he had sunk low in his chair with a defiant confidence that implied they were in it for the long haul with him. Trying to make him crave a cigarette wasn't going to get very far. He was probably trained to last months.

That firm glance followed the officer all the way to his seat and continued unwavering, uninterested. He watched also as Tashi casually took out a now mostly-empty pack of cigarettes and pulled on a round tip. Nakamura was very well aware that the entire premises were non-smoking, and that the officer should have been outside before setting his lighter to the inflammable substance. Still, he brought the cigarette to his lips causing the end to glow orange. What was he trying to get at by the seemingly inexplicable breaking of rules? The observant man wondered, keeping his same guise of not caring. Certainly he meant something.

Only after fully enjoying the benefit of the first few draws of poisoned air did Tashi offer the box to the suspect. "If you want one, just take it. Don't be shy about it."

Nakamura leaned forward indifferently, halfway considering the response, "I don't smoke." It was true; he didn't. He couldn't imagine why, but what if they somehow needed to know that about him? How would accepting or refusing benefit either group? It was hard to tell. Then, something he had learned in training came back to mind.

'If someone asks you to walk with them for a mile, go with them two.' It's an American expression. It means, if you're getting information from a drunk, drink with him. If you're tracking a gambler, bet with him. It works. The Bible knew that; the CIA knows it; and you better use it.

That in mind, he took hold of a cigarette and accepted a light. He had smoked before with diplomats. It was a customary offer in a social environment to designate a confidential conversation of nothing but small talk. Usually it pertained to nothing but observing the other's character. Such he could agree to.

"Do you often break company policies with suspected criminals?" Nakamura questioned, deciding it was worth it to start first.

"Would it affect your opinion of me if I did?" The officer replied vaguely.

The soldier just shrugged and leaned back in his chair again. Of course it would.

"Well, I learned today from it, that your wife did not like people smoking."

"That she did not," he confirmed, almost reminiscent of a memory that must have been called to mind.

"And also that the man she was seeing is not so successful at kicking the habit."

An amused scoff at the other's weakness accompanied an inner anger at the fact that his existence even crossed paths with the wife-thief.

"Do you mind me asking how you found out about him?" Tashi dared to brave the topic.

After considering deeply for some time whether or not to answer, the questioned finally decided he would. "I would get up before her in the morning and read the paper. One morning her phone rang in her purse in the living room. I called to her, and she asked me who it was. So I went to her bag and saw a text from him. It was," he paused, wondering how much to actually say, "disgusting."

"I could only imagine," Tashi drew out his reply, "how you must have felt. Treason means more to a soldier than the average person. Just out of curiosity, what division were you in?"

Nakamura wasn't bothered by the question, knowing there was a dozen ways they could have found out. "Ground," he revealed shortly, "Counter terrorism."

"Special ops, wow," the officer remarked. "My brother was in GSDF. He met his wife there. They had to move over to office work when she had her son, but that boy was practically born on the base."

With that random, personal revelation, neither man spoke for a short while, Tashi purposefully giving the impression that he was pondering something. Then, he began again, "I hope it's not too daring to say this, but certainly after finding out about your wife, you wanted to kill one of the two. Being special ops, you probably know tons of ways to eliminate people quietly and leave no evidence. How would you do it, of course, in a way that no one would ever know who had done it?"

Looking off into the distance, Nakamura smashed the tip of his cigarette into the tabletop and answered, "A gas leak. I'd cut a nick in the line to our stove and leave. When she woke up and went to boil tea with breakfast, it would blow. An almost imperceptible gas gradually filling the apartment, she wouldn't see it coming until she was dead. And you investigators would be too busy trying to find where the explosion started to bother looking into why my body didn't show up. I'd be gone."

Tashi chuckled. It sounded like a soldier's strategy.

Unfortunately for the two young boys, the fun work of cooking ended and Carli-san still wouldn't let them watch television. When Chief Mumu-san transformed back into Masami-kun and ran off toward the theater room this time, the 'evil nanny' conveniently questioned, "Do you have any homework Masami-kun? Because if you do, that needs to be done before you watch anything."

Disheartened by yet another interruption in his grand plan to waste away his entire afternoon, the young celebrity dramatically let his shoulders slump and then slowly proceeded, cautious of every word, "I don't have any homework I need to do."

Carli-san would have been perfectly willing to let the boy fail his first year of school to teach him a lesson about attitude. She, of course, knew that wouldn't work since his gazillionaire, pop-star mother could simply bribe the teachers and make his attitude worse. Fortunately for her, Nori was neither dishonest like his friend, nor willing to let people fail like his friend's caretaker.

"Nuh-uh," the younger spoke up immediately. "Matsui-sensei said we are s'posed to bring a book to read."

The nanny had only to give a scolding look at the young celebrity and pronounce his name for the boy to know he had to give an explanation. "What is that look for Carli-san? I already have a book," he defended.

"Does it have words?" She asked right away, knowing his nature. When he replied in the affirmative, she continued questioning twice more, "Can you read it? Is it the same one you did last week?" Masami-kun answered both satisfactorily, leaving Carli-san only one thing to say: "Show it to me so I can approve it."

"Can't," the boy answered so quickly it seemed he had long planned the response. "It's a library book I checked out from the school yesterday. I can't take it home."

Surely, Carli-san would have come up with something to say had Atsushi-san not abruptly entered the house. Starting from clear across the room, the anti-social bodyguard invited, "Come on Konatoya-kun, let's go blow up things and shoot some Russians."

The nanny had no reason to refuse, other than she preferred that the boy do something other than stare at a screen. She also preferred Atsushi-san in a good mood, however, so she allowed the two gamers to escape into the theater room without any complaints…after pestering the guard with a few questions.

"Did you find Nori-kun's uncle?" She inquired as the rough man walked past. Still unhappy over having been given the job, he responded with only one word, so Carli-san had to probe for any useful information.

"I gave him our card," Atsushi-san clarified, sure that could be all she possibly wanted to know from him. It wasn't.

"You didn't stick around to find out what is up with the father?"

"No," he replied, somehow thinking the question was absurd. "If they care, they'll show up sooner or later. Come on boy," he finished clearly wishing the conversation to be over.

After that, she did not try to prevent any of them from leaving for their brain melting video games, yet, for some reason Nori lingered behind. "What is it?" Carli-san wondered, "Do you not want to 'blow up things and shoot some Russians'?"

"Well…" the boy hesitated, "not really. But…you know what too? I don't have a book to read." He muttered his problem, thoroughly embarrassed by it.

"Not yet, but won't your dad help you choose one?" That is what the young lady began to say, until she looked at her watch and realized the sun was already set. Assuming by the time the father showed up there would no longer be time to help the boy with his homework, she changed her mind. Nori curiously looked up at her, head tilted to the side, wondering why she hadn't continued past "your."

The next phrase seemed very abrupt to the boy, since, "I can lend you one of Masami-kun's," had nothing at all in common with the response's beginning. She took a few steps away to a stack of library books on a shelf and shuffled through them before returning for one. "Masami-kun already read this one," she mentioned, handing the book to her charge's friend. "You'll give it back to him when you're done with it, right?"

Nori nodded slowly, afraid to ask for help reading it. He knew he wouldn't be able to himself, but he was reluctant to admit it. Verbalizing wouldn't be necessary. Carli-san could tell just by the bewildered expression with which the boy stared at the cover. Certainly, she would have offered to practice through it will him had her phone not rang at the exact moment.

From the side of the conversation Nori could actually hear, the boy would not have ever guessed the sudden urgency of the situation. Carli-san's face, however, displayed all of it as she hung up the phone. For a second, she just stared at the child in a daze and then abruptly rushed up the stairs. Confused, Nori watched, patiently waiting for her to come running back.

When she did, Masami-kun was with her wearing a winter hat and—at his nanny's direction—pulling a sweater over his head. "Honestly Carli-san, I was right in the middle of this whole, huge, strategic battle that I have to start over now. I don't see why I have to come," the intense gamer of a seven-year-old complained once more.

"Because it's your brother," is all the explanation the young lady gave. That should have been enough.

"So?" Masami-kun replied immediately. Knowing she would accomplish nothing trying to reason with him, Carli-san simply ushered the boy out the door. By that time, Atsushi-san had found the older bodyguard. Together, they too put on jackets and headed outside.

As the door was closing, Atsushi-san remembered Nori and stopped to state, "You can't stay here alone."

Understanding the meaning, the confused boy hurried out so the impatient bodyguard could close and lock the house. He didn't know where they were going or why so quickly, but he wasn't going to be left behind. They all piled into Carli-san's beat up Toyota and drove off.

Like every other day, Kyoko Ichirou-san packed up his Sato To Shitsu stand at sunset and walked it the short distance back to his home. After a sigh, content in knowing he lived by making children happy, he took out the card Atsushi-san had given him. He began to wonder if his brother had ever gone to pick up the boy. Since he knew what the answer probably was, he decided to call Saburou-san.

His brother's response had been exactly what he expected. A forgetful gasp preceded a pleading, "Can you please do it for me? It's just this once." Ichirou-san reluctantly agreed. He didn't want to punish the boy for his father's obliviousness. Besides, he knew the last two days had been incredibly busy for Saburou-san's job. As soon as things calmed down, though, they'd be having a little chat about priorities.

Only a little annoyed, he went straight to the train station and boarded one bound for the rich area of town. A long, curved and paved driveway led up to a large, intimidating house wearing the address on his business card. He felt embarrassed pulling up in a taxi even though much of the glory of the neighborhood was masked by the darkness.

"So which celebrity do you know?" The cab driver asked curiously of the man who made a living selling drinks in the park.

"I don't really know them at all," was how he answered. Then, he exited the car commenting, "Wait for me. I'll only be a moment."

But no matter how many times he rang the doorbell, no one would ever answer. They had already been gone for thirty minutes.

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