They were all half-asleep. Osawa ran her fingers through her hair as she blazed a trail down the stairs, sleep shaken from her brain in favor of thought, thought, thought. Her heels clicked to a stop at the head of the table, and she reached into the inside pocket of her blazer. “We have a case,” she informed her mussed (and annoyed-looking) team.
“It’s like two AM!”
Osawa flashed them all a pleasant smile. “What better way to spend the morning than with my cute subordinates, solving a murder?” she asked, tossing the photos on the table.
“Some guy—woah, he was hot for an old guy—dies wearing a Santa hat and all of a sudden this is our problem?” asked Iwai, passing the pictures around.
Osawa tossed the next photo on the table. “It is once you take the hat off,” she answered.
Hanagata winced. “Where did… where did the top go?” he asked, tentatively.
The final photo. “We don’t know,” Osawa said, hands on her hips, “the brain of the victim was taken.”
“Tateyama Koichi was killed on the way home from a small party with his company,” Osawa began, before the door swung open to interrupt her.
“To think I could be spending the night with a beautiful lady right now,” Nodate complained, an envelope shoved under his right armpit as he slid down the stairwell.
“The nation of Japan appreciates your devotion,” Osawa drawled, taking the envelope and sliding—“another one,” she said, eyes fixing on the pull of Nodate’s mouth.
“Another one,” Nodate agreed.
“Same as the first?”
“Same as the first.”
“Well,” Osawa mused, looking through the file. “Iwase Shingo, we’re on it. Let’s get moving, people: Yamamura-san, Katagiri, check on identities.” Yamamura nodded, looking awake now. Katagiri, still clearly not pleased to be on over-time, stood to pull his jacket on.
“Iwai, ask around. We need social contacts.” Iwai was already halfway out the door.
“Kimoto,” Osawa said, “come with me.”
Case #1: TATEYAMA KOICHI
Business owner, Tateyama Bookshop
47 years old
Married, one child (daughter, 16)
Killed between midnight and 1AM, December 1st
Case #2: IWASE SHINGO
Business owner, Iwase Pro Sport Shop
28 years old
Killed between 1 and 2 AM, December 2nd
“So… Iwase Shingo was killed after a run to a conbini on the way home from a pickup soccer game with friends. Tateyama sent his employees home and was murdered two blocks from his place. Beyond being business owners, any links?” Osawa asked.
“They owned shops in the same shopping center,” Yamamura supplied.
“A call to the owner of the center says they were both on time with rent but they’d been talking about a partnership with a third company that’d been trying to buy its way in—one Nakayama Takeshi,” piped up Hanagata.
Osawa’s eyebrows rose. She waved her hand at the board; Hanagata added it, a long arrow between the photos.
Iwai crashed back into the office, holding up a piece of paper. “Their business partner, Nakayama,” he said, “stumbled out of a hostess club, drunk off his ass, about an hour before the first murder.”
Osawa’s mouth tightened. “Seems too easy,” she said, “but round him up anyway.”
“No need for that,” Katagiri grumbled from the doorway, holding up another envelope.
Case #3: Nakayama Takeshi
Business owner, Nakayama Furniture Store
34 years old
Married, two children (son, 9, and daughter, 6)
Killed between 2 and 3 AM, December 3rd
Another day, another body. Osawa raised an eyebrow. “And you’re sure,” she said, leaning her elbows on Narahashi’s work table and watching the woman pluck a pastry from a box of sweets.
“Very,” answered Narahashi, “same weapon on all three of them. A bladed blunt weapon of some sort—a fire-ax or something similar.”
“So a revenge rampage,” Osawa mused.
“It’s possible,” Narahashi agreed.
“You have doubts,” Osawa answered, turning and leaning her hip against the counter.
“Besides the obvious, most of the trauma happened post-mortem. Revenge sprees usually imply more aggression.”
“So our killer had practice,” Osawa mused, rifling through her pockets for her phone. Time to call Kimoto.
“We have all the shop owners in the center on house arrest,” Hanagata reported.
“Good. Any leads? Nakayama was in negotiations with other prospective businesses, correct?”
“There were three other businesses until recently—two have pulled out and the other, an art gallery run by Tanaka Satoshi, is still locked in a bidding war.”
“Do we have anything on Tanaka?” asked Osawa.
“Only that he lives alone except for a dog and said he was home alone, asleep, at the time of the murders.”
“And where is he?”
“In his home with Yamamuu and Katagiri-san,” Hanagata answered.
“What are you idiots doing in there?” demanded Onoda.
“We’re trying to catch what seems like an actual ax murderer,” Osawa answered.
“You don’t seem to be trying very hard.”
“Onoda-san, please,” said Nodate, trying to sound calm.
A knock on the door to Nodate’s office.
“Another one,” Osawa surmised.
“If you’ll excuse me, then, I have a case to solve,” said Osawa, turning on her heel and following Kimoto out.
“So our victim is… entirely unconnected to the shopping center,” Osawa said.
“Looks like it,” said Katagiri, “Nida Kazuki was an electrician employed by the power company.”
“Nida was last seen leaving a charity fundraiser for a group raising money for a cancer research group after an altercation with another guest,” Iwai said, pinning a photo of the venue and several pictures of the body on the board.
Case #4: Nida Kazuki
Electrician, Tokyo Electric
48 years old
Married, three children (two sons, 23 and 21, and daughter, 19)
Killed between 3 and 4 AM, December 4th
“What was the altercation about?” asked Osawa, eyes narrowing.
“Increasing donation pledges,” answered Iwai.
Osawa nodded. “Check in on that,” she said, “where’s Hanagata with that report on Santa hat orders?”
“Still trying to narrow it down,” Hanagata called from the office, sounding harried.
“Well move it!” bellowed Iwai; Hanagata whimpered audibly.
Kimoto had left a report on mannequin orders in Tokyo on her desk when she checked back in from checking the crime scene; Osawa looked it over with one baleful eye. A lot of clothes boutiques, a few schools, some individual orders of small sizes… until they had an order of Santa hats to compare against it didn’t narrow much down. It might be a starting point, though.
“There were two matches,” Hanagata informed her, regret lacing his voice, “but they both originated at clothing boutiques who’re using them for clothes.”
“Damn it,” Osawa cursed.
“Keep looking,” she decided, “widen the search range. Look for smaller, multiple orders of hats or mannequins.”
Nodate leaned on the wall, fingers fiddling with the edge of his jacket.
"You really have nothing?" he pressed.
"Do I ever have nothing?" answered Osawa, and the flash of her eyes was like thunder.
Nodate snorted. "Of course not," he agreed, and tapped the back of his fingers on her shoulder as he left.
Osawa turned and looked down at the city below her, every flash in the map of lights like another teasing hint.
She'd find her killer--the team would find their killer.
She turned her back to the lights like stars below her and set her shoulders. Time to get back to work.
Case #5: Odagiri Tomoko
Hairdresser at Le Ciel
24 years old
Live-in boyfriend (currently in Hokkaido with parents)
Killed between 4 and 5 AM, December 5
“Well, that kills our guy from the charity event hypothesis,” Hanagata said, voice very small.
“Maybe it’s not connected to the charity group at all?”
“Perhaps,” Osawa admitted, but the set of her jaw admitted otherwise.
It was 12:45 AM, and they were all (even Katagiri, looking stressed and frustrated as he went over credit card numbers and names for the umpteenth time) still huddled around the table. Hanagata had been sent out for food around midnight, and they had lapsed into silence as they ate.
“What are you all doing here?” Osawa asked, her voice kind of amused.
“Waiting,” Hanagata answered around a mouthful of chicken karaage.
“Go home,” she ordered brusquely.
“Go home,” she said, her eyes not unkind, “keep your phones on. I’ll keep in touch.”
Four-thirty AM. They were still huddled around a table, only this time it was in a family restaurant. Kimoto had wandered off, muttering something about going home and sleeping for a bit, but Katagiri’s eyes were very firmly on his phone. Any time now…
When the phone actually rang he squawked and nearly dropped it into the beer Iwai had ordered but never touched.
“Hello,” he said.
“Osawa here,” she snapped, and rattled off an address.
She’d sounded awfully calm over the phone for a woman who was in the middle of negotiations through a glass door. The man on the other side looked—not deranged, it was never that easy, but his eyes were bright and it made Katagiri uncomfortable as he checked for his gun—and he was brandishing an ax at her between soft demands for her to move aside please.
“Killing these people won’t bring your wife back,” Osawa said, voice soft, “it’ll only make a lot more families sad.”
“I have to,” the man said, “you don't understand.“
"No, Kawai-san, I don't understand," Osawa agreed, "but I do know you're doing something that's not making you happy."
"There's only one thing that'll make me happy," the man--Kawai--answered.
"I know," Osawa answered, "but she's not going to come home."
Osawa stepped forward, tight against the door. Hanagata squeaked, high and frightened, when Kawai lifted the ax. Osawa's back tensed, and Katagiri's gun flew up.
"Don't," Osawa snapped over her shoulder. Both Katagiri and Kawai froze.
"Boss," Iwai called, "maybe you should back up from there."
"No," answered Osawa, shaking her head.
"Move aside," Kawai begged, "I have to go you don't understand I have to I have to I have to I have to--"
Kimoto was barely visible behind Kawai when she lifted a vase and hit the man over the head with it. Kawai crumpled with a little sigh, and Osawa threw the door open to kneel beside him.
"Good work, Kimoto," Osawa complimented, while Iwai called for an ambulance.
"Moving without being seen in the glass was tougher than I thought," Kimoto answered, "thank you for stalling him."
Osawa offered her a smirk; Kimoto smiled back, hair long over her eyes.
“This place is creepy,” Hanagata complained, as they sifted through the headless mannequins.
“It’s about to get creepier,” Osawa answered, holding up a plastic container.
“I found our missing brains.”
"When did you figure it out?" asked Katagiri.
"When the information about the charity event came out, I asked around--every other member of the shopping center had donated. I wasn't sure what they connection was, until I figured out that all of the people who were killed had been solicited but never donated. Kawai was quite good about covering his tracks, but he forgot that most people in Tokyo don't buy three wood-chopping axes in the same month."
"So you went to see him?"
"So we went to catch him leaving his home and intercept him. Thankfully Kimoto remembers how to climb fences and broke in the back."
“So, his wife was a cancer victim,” Nodate summarized, “and he was killing people who refused to donate to a charity working for cancer research.”
“Yes,” said Kimoto, nodding.
“And he bought one single Santa hat from every place in the area to avoid suspicion.”
“Yep,” agreed Hanagata.
“And now we’re wearing those hats while we drink to an early Christmas party.”
“Sounds about right,” Iwai said.
“All right, you sissies, move over,” Osawa declared, holding up a pitcher of… something.
“Oh god,” Nodate said, “is that what I think it is?”
Osawa poured him a glass and offered him a wide, chilling smile. “What do you think?” she asked, “it’s the only way I know how to get into the ‘Christmas Spirit’.”
“We’re all going to be sorry about this tomorrow,” Nodate promised them.