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In My Line Of Work

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In my line of work you come across some pretty curly cases at times. I've found bodies frozen in the snow like popsicles with blood and vomit rock hard beneath them. Other times I've been called up at three in the morning to stop some domestic, and in the few minutes between me getting the call and me getting to the scene the wife's taken the meat cleaver to her husband's head. You'd think a guy would know better than to confront his wife in the kitchen. She's in there every day and knows how to use those knives the way a hooker knows how to use every single one of those toys you find in the adult stores.

That's a cop. The cop sees the initial snippet of people's lives that leads others to delve even further. I'm a detective, that puts me second on the list after the cop (which I've had my stint at) and before the lawyers (which I'm glad I'll never be). I get to ask the questions and find out perhaps more about a person than even their family does. Doesn't start with a friendly, 'Hi, how you doing?', oh no, this relationship starts off with detention and lots of intimidation in the little room. Not exactly the best beginning, is it. It's no wonder that I hardly ever see those people again. I know too much about them, revealed probably a lot of stuff they didn't want dug up, all in the name of justice.

Kinda interesting, isn't it, how some divorced investigator like me with no life beyond his work will get to know within days what lies behind the face people present to the world in order to be accepted. You don't ever forget them, though you might wish you could. A lot of them will fade over time, but there are those few that you never forget.

This guy was one of them.

One reason why I'd never forget him is because he was brought in by a couple of people who belonged on the front page of a glossy magazine, not in the city police department at eight in the morning on Christmas Day. The one who got the most attention from me was the woman, of course, what with her red wavy hair and twinkle in her eye as all the guys turned to watch her walk, hoping she was coming to see them. I got a lot of ribbing from those guys afterwards. The other one was a kid, probably fifteen, either that or he was short for his age. I don't lean that way but even I could tell this kid was breaking hearts in school. Dark hair, pale skin plus really striking violet eyes, and I don't think he was wearing contact lenses. Shigure, who does lean that way and has been with his uh, 'friend' for years, he was definitely looking at him.

The person they were escorting had his head bowed. Close cut black hair, couldn't see his face, slender, something around a hundred and seventy-five centimetres, off-white long coat, black sweater and pants under that, a deep red scarf around his neck … yeah, I know I'm going into detail, but that's part of my job.

The woman went to talk to Ayako, probably to ask who to see about something. That left the violet-eyed kid to take care of the other guy. He touched his arm to get attention and whispered something that he got no reply to.

They were definitely here for something to do with black-haired guy. He was walking lethargically, like he was in a drug haze or something. Maybe his clearer thinking friends were bringing him in to get a talking to by the law on the hazards of drug taking? I've had to do that before, for some enraged bull of a father who pulled me out of all people to tell his son what any good parent should already know. I told Ayako if anything like that happened again, hand the parent some info pamphlets and tell them I'm busy.

Ayako's smart. So when she pointed me out to them, I knew it wasn't something that simple and my hopes of an easy morning were about to go down the toilet. Geez. As if the spate of earthquakes recently weren't enough to give me a headache.

I sighed and put away my newspaper.

"Detective Kobayashi-san?" The woman had a voice to match her face, and made me brighten up a little. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad. Behind her Violet Eyes was looking uncomfortable, as if he didn't want to be here. The other guy didn't even twitch. "Pardon me for disturbing you, but I was wondering if you could help us."

"It's no use," Violet Eyes said. "If he's not speaking to us, what makes you think he'll talk to the police?"

It's interesting what the people who care are never told. The reason that they aren't told anything is because they care. Me, and all the rest in my line of work, we have a job to do.

"Shush." The redhead turned around a little to admonish him. I got a good look at her profile, and a damned good one it was. "He won't talk to us because he knows us. Since that's the case, we have to get him to talk to someone else."

Brains to go with the looks. Impressive. "What seems to be the problem?" I asked.

The woman pulled the silent guy forward into the light. "Tell him," she said firmly.

The guy looked at me. He had green eyes. Not your usual hazel green, I mean really green. Even more so than the emerald that had decorated my ex-wife's finger. Like the other two he was a looker. Pretty, but there's no way you'd mistake him for a girl. Maybe these people worked in a modelling agency together.

Green Eyes looked at me calmly. The modelling agency idea went out the window. "There's nothing to say," he said softly.

I lifted an eyebrow and looked at the woman. "Nothing?"

The woman made an impatient sound. Before Green Eyes could say anything she grabbed his arm and pulled up his sleeve. "You call this nothing?"

I had to stare then. Violet Eyes wasn't looking too happy either. The guy had pale skin, which probably made everything look worse, but still … that was a hell of a lot of bruising. The kind you usually get on abused wives or kids.

The three of them looked at me. I sighed and got up. "I think we should talk someplace else."

 

* * *

 

It's funny how names for things change according to circumstance. The tag on the door says 'interview room', and that's what it's usually referred to when not in use. When I use it to talk to victims or people with information, I still call it the interview room. When it's used to talk to suspects or arrested offenders, for some reason it starts getting called the interrogation room. It's the same room, but the interrogation room is way more stressful than the interview room.

I told my visitors it was an interview room. You don't want to tell a possible abuse victim that they're about to be interrogated.

"So whom am I speaking to?" I asked as they all sat down. Green Eyes sat stiffly in the middle, back to the wall where the door and window were.

The woman got the job of doing introductions. "I'm Karen Kasumi." She pointed to Violet Eyes. "Kamui Shiro." She pointed to Green Eyes. "Subaru Sumeragi."

I raised an eyebrow. Interesting assortment. 'Karen' wasn't a local name; it wasn't even from this continent. 'Kamui', while definitely a Japanese name, wasn't exactly common either. And as for the other guy … "Sumeragi?" I asked. "You mean, Sumeragi witch-doctors Sumeragi?"

Sumeragi glanced at me with a slight smile. "Actually, the term is 'onmyouji'."

"You know of him?" asked Shiro.

I shrugged. "I've heard the name. Usually linked to cases that end up in the 'unsolved' or 'unexplained' pile." Personally I don't believe in all that mystic shit but I've got more sense than to say that aloud to someone carrying the name Sumeragi. "Anyway, mind explaining to me what happened?"

The three of them looked at each other, or rather, Kasumi and Shiro looked at each other then at Sumeragi. Sumeragi just looked at the table. I sighed. Time to prod. "Kasumi-san, why did you bring Sumeragi-san here?"

Her mouth tightened. Still looked good on her. "We had a meeting this morning. Subaru-san turned up late. When he did he came in looking dazed. He said he was fine when asked what was wrong, but in that evasive way that implies the exact opposite."

"I saw the bruises when he hung up his coat," said Shiro. "Karen-san was nearby when I attracted attention to them. We had seen Subaru just last night; he didn't have any bruises when he went home. He said he had had an accident and hit something."

I glanced at Sumeragi. He was looking at the table again. "An accident," I repeated. Sheesh, that excuse was lamer than a cripple.

"I didn't believe him," said Kasumi. She had an odd smile on her face. "I've seen bruises like that before, and they don't come from banging into a table." She gave a pointed look at Sumeragi's other arm. "Tables don't leave a matching set either."

My other eyebrow went up. "Let's have a look."

Silently, Sumeragi pulled up the sleeve on his other arm. Bluish-purple bruises stood out like a sore thumb, including one nasty one that went round his wrist that's all too familiar to guys like me. Last time I saw it was on the wrists of some poor girl who'd gone out for a drink and ended up naked in a back alley with concussion by some horny sadistic bastard I was damned happy to slam cuffs on.

Kasumi and Shiro were looking at me expectantly. I tried to look as authoritative as possible. "You've got some very astute and worried friends, Sumeragi-san," I said. "Can you tell us what happened to you?"

"There's nothing to say," he replied. "I had an accident."

I gave him a look that matched Kasumi's in impatience. "You have any idea how many times I hear that excuse, or some variation of it? It doesn't work. Look, none of us here are going to judge you, we just want to help."

Sumeragi raised an eyebrow at me. "Is that what you believe? That I was raped?"

Shiro looked uncomfortable. Kasumi on the other hand, she didn't even blink. "Well, you tell us," I retorted. I've never liked interviewing rape victims, Ayako's way better at it than me. "Were you?"

He hesitated, just a little. "No."

"Then where did you get those bruises?"

"I'd rather not say."

"Subaru-san." We all turned to look at Kasumi. "You can't fool us. I am not unfamiliar with this kind of thing, and Kamui-kun watches you. We know something is not right."

"Please, Subaru," said Shiro. God, if I ever have kids, please don't let them have eyes like Shiro's otherwise I'd never be able to refuse them anything. "Don't you trust us?"

Sumeragi looked at Kasumi, looked longer at Shiro, then back at me and sighed. "I went out last night, and ended up at a bar in Taito-ku not far from Sensoji-jinga at around eight o'clock."

Great, the long story road. "You went out to a bar, and then what?" I asked.

Sumeragi's eyes were distant. "I had one drink. There was a man there who made advances to me. He grabbed me by the arms and tried to pull me into an alley. I escaped."

"And what did the guy who made advances to you look like?"

"Tall, heavily built, unshaven, brown hair and eyes. He was wearing a thick black jacket."

"Did you know him?"

"No."

"And you say you escaped?"

"Yes."

"How?"

The green eyes grew evasive. "I … fought him off."

I lifted an eyebrow. I've talked to every kind of liar there is, from the experts to the kid on the street who insists they just found the credit card in the bin. If I was grading a lying test, Sumeragi just flunked.

Right about then, someone knocked on the door. I swore under my breath a little, but then the door opened and Shigure stuck his head in. "Very sorry to interrupt, Kobayashi, but we just got a call."

Shigure knows better than to interrupt interviews. If he's calling me out then it's something important. I gave my visitors my best, "Excuse me a moment, I'll be right back," then left them and went outside.

"Damnit, Shigure, can't you see I'm in the middle of something?"

Shigure waved me off. "I know, I know, but it's an emergency and we're the only detectives on duty. Someone found a stiff in Taito-ku a couple of blocks from Sensoji-jinga."

I blinked. "You're kidding."

Shigure frowned. "What is it?"

"That's the location the sexual assault victim in there just gave me."

"Huh?" Shigure looked through the window. "The red-head with the legs?"

"No."

Shigure looked at the two guys in the room, then back at me. "Don't tell me it's the kid. Please don't say it's the kid."

"No, thank goodness, but still not good." I glanced at Sumeragi. Kasumi and Shiro were talking to him, or trying to anyway. "The guy in the pale coat with the red scarf. He said he fought his attacker off."

"Did he explain what he meant by 'fought'?"

"No, but he's not the world's greatest liar either." I looked around for Ayako and waved her over. "Ayako, Shigure and I just got called out for a murder, can you take over in there for me?"

Ayako glanced through the interview room window. "What are you giving me?"

I made a face as I got my coat. "Possible sexual assault. And it's not the woman, either."

Ayako's eyes widened. "You're kidding me."

"Nope." I grabbed my keys; Shigure was already at the door. "Look, you're better at this kind of questioning than me, do me a favour and find out what happened to Sumeragi last night, please? Merry Christmas."

 

* * *

 

Police cars with flashing lights always attract attention. Everyone comes out to see what happened to disturb the peace they usually live in. Most people don't dare to do a crime themselves, so they like to go see it when someone has. There's something disturbingly fascinating about the darker side of morality.

Shigure and I got out, waved badges, and got through the police tape. "Well, isn't he a pretty one," commented Shigure as we stepped up to inspect the body.

There had been a bit of snow during the night, but everything was still clear to read. The body lying in the middle of the alleyway was lying facedown, but the neck was twisted so that the victim's face almost stared at the sky. The expression on his face was that of one who had seen his death coming. I wondered if anyone was missing him. He was a pretty big guy with a thick black jacket, and fit the description Sumeragi had given to a tee.

Forensics told me that they'd finished taking photos, so I turned the stiff over. "Do we have an ID on him yet?" I asked the policeman in charge. He nodded.

"The barman down the road, Hyuga, says he knows him. Tanaka, somewhere in his forties. He's a bit of a regular at the bar, apparently, likes the drink. Barman said he saw the victim just last night trying to hit on a young man in his twenties. The man kicked him off and left, then Tanaka went after him. That's all we have so far."

"No other witnesses or anything?"

"Nope. Apart from the seedy bar it's all shops and markets around here, so it's pretty dead after business hours."

"Right. Keep those gawkers away, I might get back to you." The policeman gave me a nod and left. Shigure was already looking around the scene; I went and joined him. "Well, he certainly fits the description Sumeragi gave." I signed to forensics that we were done with the body, and they came up with a sheet.

"So what, you're going to slam a murder charge on the guy for defending himself?" asked Shigure. He had that look on his face that told me he wasn't too happy with the idea. We're not supposed to get emotionally involved with our work, but Shigure's a bit more sensitive than most and logically sympathised with Sumeragi. "So far it's all circumstantial."

"I know." I walked around the crime scene a bit, trying to imagine what had happened. "You've seen Sumeragi. You think a pretty boy like him has the strength to break a guy's neck?"

"What are you saying?"

There was something in the snow; I bent down and picked it up. A cigarette butt. "I'm saying that there's something Sumeragi isn't telling us." I lifted up the cigarette butt. "You think Sumeragi smokes?"v

"Possibly."

"How does someone struggling to get away from a rapist have time to grab a smoke?"

"It could have been dropped there before the attack."

"It's got the same amount of snow on it as the body. There's a lot of dropped ash around it too. What does that imply?"

"Implies that whoever smoked it stood there for a while."

"Right." I put the cigarette in a plastic evidence bag, scooped up the ashy snow and put that in another bag, then walked around again. "Look at the stiff's face, he's scared. What does that tell you?"

"He saw it coming. Sumeragi isn't that intimidating, you know."

"Neither is Ayako at first glance. Hand her a gun and then it's a different matter."

"This guy wasn't shot."

"It was just an example. Get a medical examiner on the body; let's go talk to the barman, see what he has to say."

 

* * *

 

I've been in and out of more than a few bars in my life, but at least I have the dignity to go to something decent. This place was tiny, dim with a lot of smoke hanging under the ceiling. The kind of place you go to in order to drown sorrows in cheap alcohol, not for socialising. What an apparently nice guy like Sumeragi had been thinking of even looking at the door I don't know.

There was some old guy snoring in one of the back booths with saliva dripping into his shirt, but apart from that the place was empty. Shigure and I rapped on the chipped wood of the bar for service, and a beefy guy with a stained apron appeared out the back door. "Can I help you?" he asked suspiciously.

"Yeah." Shigure and I waved badges. "Hyuga-san? Police. We just want to ask you a few questions."

Hyuga began to look even more suspicious. "I've already had one of you in here asking me a few questions. Now what do you want?"

"Hey, no need to get jumpy, we're just being thorough. You saw the body out there in the alley, right?"

"Yeah. That's Tanaka, never knew his other name. Pity, he was one of my best customers. Could always rely on him coming in at least three times a week." He got out a cloth and started buffing the bar.

"Did he come in last night?" asked Shigure.

"Yeah."

"What time?"

"Around seven thirty. He left just after eight, chasing after some pretty boy."

"Oh?" I lifted an eyebrow. "And what did this pretty boy look like?"

"Short black hair, pale coat and black top. He had really green eyes, that I remember. Stingy guy only had one drink. He seemed pretty depressed. Look, what else do you want to know? I don't have anything to do with Tanaka being dead."

I smirked. Hyuga wanted us out of his bar ASAP. I've got to keep an eye on this place; I wouldn't be surprised if he had some less than legal things going on under the counter. "We'll be out of here as soon as we're done, don't you worry. Did you see Tanaka and the pretty boy together?"

Hyuga snorted. "Who didn't? Tanaka was making eyes at the pretty boy from the other end of the bar. When the pretty boy got up to leave Tanaka stopped him and shoved him against the wall. So, the pretty boy kicks him into one of my tables. I had to replace all the drinks that got spilt no charge."

"And what happened after that?"

"The pretty boy left. Tanaka picked himself up and followed him looking horny. How many questions are you going to ask me?"

I ignored his question. "What time was this?"

"Just after eight."

"What's 'just after eight'?"

"Eight ten, eight fifteen? Something like that; I had to set the VCR for my TV show, and missed the first few minutes."

"And no one else followed them?" asked Shigure. "No one who thought they should go save the pretty boy or anything?"

Hyuga laughed. "Get real. No one wants to get involved in anything around here. Otherwise they might end up with guys like you chasing their ass."

I ignored that. "Did you hear any fighting or anything?"

"Nope. Bar's a noisy place at night. Are we done yet?"

"Yeah." Shigure and I headed for the door. "By the way, I don't see your liquor license on the wall. You do know that you're supposed to have it up for easy public viewing right?"

Hyuga turned a little pale. I smirked and left.

"Well, Sumeragi's story is holding out," said Shigure as we were heading for the car. "However, he's just the last person to see Tanaka alive, we don't have anything to prove that he actually is the one who killed Tanaka yet. Between eight ten last night and us getting the call at a little past eight this morning, there's a lot of time to account for in between."

I opened the car door and got in the driver's seat. "We'll go check with forensics when we get back, see if she can place a time of death. Meantime, we'd better get back. Ayako must have dug something up from Sumeragi by now."

 

* * *

 

Shigure offered to take the cigarette to forensics and bug them to look at it immediately, plus draw up some profiles on Sumeragi and Tanaka. He really doesn't like dealing with traumatised victims. That left me to go check up on Ayako and the others. I looked through the door's window. Judging by the expressions on everyone's faces, it didn't seem like it was going too good.

Ayako saw me at the door window. She said something to the others and came outside.

"Well?" I asked. The moment the door closed, Shiro and Kasumi started talking rather urgently to Sumeragi.

Ayako sighed. She seemed glad for the break. "He's being evasive, but no, I don't think he was raped. He was quite firm about that fact. But he still won't say where the bruises came from."

"Did he tell you about being hit on last night by a guy at a bar?" I asked.

"He did. It's possible that he sustained those bruises when the man grabbed him. Maybe he's just too embarrassed about being nearly assaulted by another man to admit it to his friends."

"Maybe more than just embarrassed," I said darkly. "The guy who assaulted Sumeragi? Forty-something habitual gay drunkard called Tanaka. He's dead."

"What!"

"Yeah. The murder Shigure and I got called out for? The victim's physical description and the location Sumeragi gave match perfectly, the local barman even placed Sumeragi and Tanaka together at the time Sumeragi said." I gave Ayako a rundown of what Shigure and I had found out so far.

"So you're going to arrest Sumeragi-san for murder?" she asked when I had finished.

"I don't know. We've got the cigarette – if it turns out that Sumeragi smokes, that puts him at the scene of the crime." I sighed. "Shigure's not liking the idea of arresting Sumeragi for a self-defence killing."

"Yes, well, you're not gay and you're not the one who pulls victim interviews. Do you have any idea how often I want to shoot some of those rapists we arrest?"

I winced – I'm not heartless, but I know I can give that impression sometimes when I'm working on something. "All right, all right, I'm sorry. Can we go back and see whether we're going to hold Sumeragi on murder or not now?"

Ayako rolled her eyes and opened the door. Sumeragi, Kasumi and Shiro looked up. Shiro was biting his lip in the way I see on people who struggle whether to offer information or not. I made a mental note to talk to Ayako about him later on.

I sat down in the empty chair. Ayako closed the door and stood behind me.

"Sumeragi-san." The guy looked at me with those green eyes of his. "Do you smoke?"

He frowned slightly. "Yes, I do."

I exchanged a glance with Ayako. She lifted an eyebrow at me. "Can we see your cigarettes, please."

Sumeragi looked confusedly at Kasumi and Shiro, then reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a pack. He handed it to me. 5mg Super Lites, they were. I flipped the lid open; the pack was already half finished.

Shiro must have seen the look on my face. "Is something wrong?" he asked tensely.

I put the box back on the table. "Sumeragi-san. You said the man who made advances to you last night tried to pull you into an alley near Sensoji-jinja, right?"

"Yes."

"And you said that you 'fought him off', is that correct?"

"Yes."

"Do you remember how you fought him off?"

The green eyes grew wary. "Not really."

"Sumeragi-san." I leaned forward a little to look at him. "Your attacker was found dead this morning."

I heard gasps from Kasumi and a 'what?!' from Shiro. I didn't see their faces, but. I was watching Sumeragi's face. He didn't even blink. He did, however, stiffen a little in his chair. Guiltily.

Ayako looked at me and nodded – she'd picked up on it too. "You knew he was dead, didn't you, Sumeragi-san," she said.

No answer. Shiro and Kasumi, on the other hand, more than made up for it.

"Are you saying that Subaru-san killed a man last night?" said Kasumi incredulously.

"This isn't right," exclaimed Shiro. "Subaru wouldn't kill anyone!"

I turned to the two of them. "We also found a cigarette at the scene. Sumeragi-san has just shown us that he smokes. He was also the last person seen with the victim last night."

"But, but—" Those purple eyes of Shiro's looked as if they were about to fall out. "Subaru couldn't have killed him! He's not that kind of person!"

"He knew that the victim was dead before we told him," I told Shiro to no avail.

"No, no, there's got to be some mistake! Right, Subaru!" Shiro turned to look at Sumeragi almost pleadingly. "… Subaru?"

Sumeragi looked away, fiddling with his red scarf, and didn't answer. Kasumi stared at him. Shiro couldn't say a word, but he didn't have to. The expression on his face said everything.

Sometimes I hate my job.

 

* * *

 

Since so far evidence was only circumstantial as Shigure had said, we didn't put Sumeragi under arrest yet but we did make it very clear that as a top murder suspect, even for a worthless nobody like Tanaka, he wasn't going anywhere until we were finished with him. Kasumi and Shiro refused to leave. We got them all coffee. Kasumi barely touched hers; Shiro and Sumeragi didn't even look at it. Police rations take some getting used to. Either that, or my tastebuds have been desensitised.

"Forensics is looking at the cigarette right now, and I got your profiles, Kobayashi." Shigure waved a couple of folders at me from his desk. I don't know what the public opinion is of us having access to information on every person in the city, but I can bet there's a lot who don't like the idea. Birth records, criminal records, licenses, housing, you name it; if it went down on official government paper we can read up on it.

In the interrogation room, Sumeragi and his friends were talking. Sort of – Kasumi and Shiro were talking, and Sumeragi was listening. Or not listening. I got the impression he was just pretending to make them feel better. Anyway, after trying unsuccessfully for over half an hour to get more info out of a very cagey Sumeragi, Ayako and I had decided to take a break and leave his friends to talk some sense into him to cooperate.

I noticed that Shiro had been watching us leave the room. Give him more time and he'd probably come to us. No need for me to scare him away asking; if Sumeragi continued to be difficult, Shiro was going to open his mouth. Just give him a bit more time.

"Really?" I pulled up a seat for Ayako and sat on the desk. "I take it that it's story time now?"

"Yup." Shigure didn't sit down; he just kept standing like a teacher in front of a classroom. Sometimes I wonder how a nice guy like him ended up as a cop.

"Nobu Tanaka. Forty-one years old, unemployed so he lives off the government, no set address. He's got a small unimpressive list of offences – drinking in public, making a nuisance of himself, so forth. No close relatives or family, except a cousin who emigrated years ago. Y'know, economic crisis and all, get out the country and find a better life."

"No rape offences at all?" asked Ayako.

Shigure flipped a page. "Actually, we've had three complaints against him from young men accusing him of petty harassment, but no, no actual rape or attempted rape."

I made a face. "Lovely. So we have a homeless gay alcoholic who's decided to move from merely unloading himself onto other guys to force, if the bruises on Sumeragi are any indication. Should we get a medical examiner in?" I asked Ayako.

"Maybe. Ask Sumeragi-san if he's willing first. Is that all we have on Tanaka?"

"Pretty much," replied Shigure. "He's no different to any of the other homeless drunks we get in. Sumeragi on the other hand …" he got out the next folder, noticeably thicker than the other, "now he's interesting."

I lifted an eyebrow. Shigure coughed. "To summarise. Subaru Sumeragi. Thirteenth head of the Sumeragi clan. Home base is the Sumeragi estate in Kyoto, though currently he's living in Tokyo."

"Old blood," I commented. "Would that mean Sumeragi grew up with all the perks a first-born clan head would have? Martial arts training, for example?"

"Right here." Shigure lifted up a school profile sheet dated nine years ago. "Been learning since he could walk. He works as a freelance onmyouji, whatever that is, some spiritual counsellor, helps out with police work now and then too. Got a lot of high government recommendations, though, so whatever he does it's pretty important. He's twenty-five years old, parents deceased long time ago, closest relative at the moment is his grandmother, the twelfth Sumeragi head. He did, however, have twin sister." Shigure looked up. "Emphasis on the past tense."

"What happened to her?" asked Ayako.

Shigure held out an ID photo of a cute teenaged girl with short black hair and eyes the same colour as Sumeragi's. "Hokuto Sumeragi. Nine years ago she disappeared aged sixteen. She's never been found, and is now presumed dead both officially and by the Sumeragi family who held a funeral for her about a month after her disappearance. It's still an open case, hasn't been solved."

I exchanged a glance with Ayako. Didn't have much to do with the murder yet, but still this was hell interesting.

"Anyway. Sumeragi dropped out of school after his sister disappeared a little before he turned seventeen, apparently dedicating himself to solving his sister's disappearance. No criminal offences or anything, not even a ticket for littering."

"So there's absolutely no relation to Tanaka then?" I asked. "Nothing else that can give us motive apart from the assault?"

"Nope."

"But that doesn't make sense," said Ayako. "If you're saying that Sumeragi-san killed Tanaka after Tanaka attempted to assault him and they didn't know each other at all, something doesn't add up."

Shigure and I looked at her. "What do you mean?" Shigure asked.

Ayako looked at me. "Tanaka was killed by getting his neck snapped. That's a cold-blooded act, not self-defence. You'd have to be thinking pretty clearly to do that. Most assault victims are focusing on escape than payback. If they do cause injury to their attacker, it's usually something like hitting or scratching their face. Even if they know martial arts, as you say Sumeragi-san does, they don't hurt to kill, only to get away. In the rare case that an attacker has been killed in self-defence, they wouldn't hang around to have a smoke at the scene of the assault with the dead body of their attacker right next to them. The only case where a rape or assault victim could realistically be in a state of mind to do that is when they know their attacker. Abused wives and partners, that kind of relationship."

I stared at Ayako for a moment. There had been a couple of things that didn't add up at the murder scene and in the interview, I had seen that, but Ayako's the one who can put everything together and tell me why they don't add up. You see what I mean about her being smart.

"So you're saying that it's unlikely that Sumeragi is Tanaka's killer," said Shigure.

"But what Ayako said is usually for cases when the assault victim is female," I pointed out. "When men are approached by a homosexual a lot of the time they get mad and lash out, sometimes killing the other in anger. Homosexual advances have been perceived as provocation before. Sumeragi might be a gay-basher for all we know."

Shigure gave me a patient look. "Kobayashi," he said.

"What?"

"Get rid of that idea."

I frowned. "Why?"

Shigure rolled his eyes. "Sumeragi is gay."

I blinked. Okay, I hadn't seen that one coming. "How do you know?" I asked in disbelief.

Shigure gave me another patient look. "Kobayashi. It's me."

Whoops. I had almost forgotten that. Still … I twisted to look for more confirmation. "Ayako?"

She smiled a little. "Shigure's right. Or didn't you notice that Sumeragi-san has paid Karen-san's legs about as much attention as he would a chair, and whenever Shiro-kun turns the eyes on him he gives in?"

I felt my jaw drop as the phone rang. Ayako picked it up. "You're kidding," I said. "Sumeragi and Shiro are together?"

Shigure shook his head. "I doubt it. I was watching them when they came in this morning, the body language is all wrong for it. Shiro might be a little interested, but it's probably just sempai worship or something."

"Shiro's in high school, and he's already got a crush on an older guy?"

Shigure shrugged. "Hey, I was only a little older than him when I knew I liked men. It was only about two years after that when I knew I liked Izuru. He's not happy that I pulled the Christmas Day shift, you know."

"You can make it up to him later, I'm sure."

"Can I take that as an order?"

Ayako put down the phone. "That was forensics. They said that they've done the preliminaries if you want you can go and see."

"That quick, huh." I got up and grabbed my coat again. "Shigure, you coming?"

Shigure got his own coat. "Might as well."

"I'll see if I can talk Sumeragi-san into seeing a medical examiner," said Ayako.

I frowned, half out of the door. "Why?"

"He's not telling us anything about his bruises. Don't you want to know why?"

 

* * *

 

I'm old enough to still be amazed at how much science can tell us. Ritsuko, the forensics doctor, was young enough to not be amazed at all. She's damned good at what she does, though.

"First thing, the victim," Ritsuko said crisply, expertly removing her gloves and throwing them away. "Male, forties, and from the colour of his skin and eyes, an alcoholic. Cause of death, broken neck."

"We know about the neck," said Shigure. He should have kept his mouth shut, cause Ritsuko gave him a withering look. I get the feeling Shigure had irritated her into put our finds through ASAP, and she was pissed off with him.

"There are pieces of vertebrae in the muscle, and there is also evidence of tearing in the oesophagus. Which means that whoever broke his neck did it in one shot very quickly. Death was instantaneous, and that happened approximately fifteen hours ago between eight and nine o'clock last night."

Hmm. Hyuga the barman had seen Sumeragi and Tanaka fighting at about eight ten or eight fifteen last night. Which meant it looked like Sumeragi was in deep shit.

Ritsuko wasn't finished. "Just remember that it's not a precise time of death, it's only an approximation and defence lawyers will remind you of that. Anyway. There's no evidence of any struggle whatsoever, no skin under the fingernails, other bruises, nothing. Whoever killed this man did it quickly, and as you noted, the victim's facial expression indicates that he saw his killer."

"And got his neck snapped before he could fight back, shout out for help or do anything to try and save himself?" I asked. "Sumeragi's pretty face hides a lot."

Ritsuko ignored me. "The person who killed this man was very strong. There's evidence of bruising on the victim's head where the killer pressed his hands in order to get the grip to twist his neck around. And, judging from the size of the bruising, you'd be looking for someone tall."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

She handed me a sheet with the diagram of a left hand and right hand on it. "There. You'd be looking for a man with hands approximately about that size."

Shigure's a little taller than me; I held out the sheet and he put his hand over it. The width was pretty similar, but his fingers were nearly two centimetres shorter. "Very tall," he murmured. "You think Sumeragi fits?" he asked.

I shrugged. "The guy seems to have a habit of staring at the ground, so we'll take this back and measure him against it. Have you got anything on the cigarette yet?" I asked Ritsuko.

"Just the brand. There weren't any fingerprints and the snow erased any DNA that I could have got from the saliva. Mild Seven cigarettes. How much help that'll be I don't know seeing how many people use that brand."

Mild Seven. Sumeragi smoked 5mg Super Lites. Something wasn't adding up right.

"Thanks, Ritsuko-san," I said. I pushed Shigure towards the door. "If you get anything more send it over."

She sniffed. "Hmph. You know, unlike you two, some people actually have plans not involving work today."v

"Hey," protested Shigure. "Don't put me with Kobayashi, I have plans too."

"Oh, really?" Ritsuko lifted an eyebrow as we left. "Well then, I guess that's more incentive for you to wrap up whatever case you're doing now, doesn't it."

Shigure scowled as I closed the door. "Sheesh, talk about uptight. Where's she planning to go today, the military court?"

"Actually, I think she's engaged and going to see her fiancé's family," I replied.

"You're kidding. She'll probably have an iron band for a wedding ring."

I laughed then quickly sobered up. "You know, that evidence about the cigarette doesn't fit our scenario of Sumeragi killing Tanaka. Sumeragi doesn't smoke Mild Sevens."

Shigure nodded. "I know. But look, the cigarette doesn't mean much; Sumeragi might have been trying a different brand last night, or maybe someone who smokes Mild Sevens gave him one of theirs."

"Far fetched, but not unlikely. Anyway, we've got the hand-spans off Tanaka's body, that's more substantial evidence. We'll see if Sumeragi matches up."

 

* * *

 

Things in the interrogation room didn't look much better than when we left. Ayako was still pushing for a medical examination, and it seemed that Kasumi and Shiro were backing her up. Sumeragi was refusing with a surprising amount of firmness.

"Subaru-san, we just want to make sure that you're all right," said Kasumi, obviously doing her best to not go and do grievous bodily harm to the guy.

"No, Karen-san," said Sumeragi calmly.

Ayako tried yet again. "Sumeragi-san, your friends are worried. The fact that you refuse to tell us how you were injured isn't helping at all. Seeing the medical examiner might help reassure them."

"No."

"Subaru." Shiro had his kicked-puppy eyes back. "Can't you at least tell us, if you won't see a doctor?"

I had thought that after what Shigure had told me if anyone could convince Sumeragi to change his mind it would be Shiro. I was mistaken. Sumeragi silently but firmly shook his head, and Shiro began to look even more upset. Shiro may have had something for the guy, but Sumeragi was obviously not interested.

The session wasn't going anywhere, and Ayako was beginning to look irritated. It's not easy to tell with her, but we've been working together for years and I know what to look for. I also know that when Ayako gets irritated it's not good to be in her targeting range. It was time to break it up. Shigure was interested in seeing Sumeragi and the others for himself, so he came into the interrogation room too. With six people inside it was beginning to feel rather crowded, but oh well.

"Sumeragi-san, Kasumi-san, Shiro-kun, this is Detective Maeda Shigure." Nods and acknowledgements all around; Shigure did try to smile and wave like the nice guy he is, but seeing as he was with me trying to prove that Sumeragi was Tanaka's killer that didn't earn him much good will from Kasumi or Shiro. "We've just gotten some more evidence, so we want to take a look at something, Sumeragi-san."

Sumeragi gave us a mild look. Shiro and Kasumi almost glared. "Don't give it to them, Subaru-san," said Kasumi. "You're not under arrest, we can still get out of here."

"Don't count on it." I put the handprint paper on the table and looked at Sumeragi. "Can you please put your hands on these, please."

Sumeragi looked at the paper and frowned. "What is this?" he asked.

"Evidence," said Shigure. "It can let you walk out of here and we won't bother you anymore."

"On the other hand, it could just as well get you arrested for murder," added Ayako. She only had to take one look and knew what was going on.

Kasumi and Shiro looked at the paper as if it were a snake. Sumeragi glanced at them, and glanced at the paper.

"We'd prefer not to order you to do this, Sumeragi-san," said Ayako quietly. "But if we really have to, we will."

Sumeragi closed his eyes and sighed. Then he lifted his hands and put them over the outlines on the paper.

Shigure's hand had fit the width of these, but his fingers were too short. Not only were Sumeragi's fingers too short, shorter even than Shigure's, they were also too slim. There was a space of nearly a centimetre between his hands and the smallest limit of the range Ritsuko had given for the prints.

I stared for a little while. Sumeragi hadn't been the one to snap Tanaka's neck.

Sumeragi took his hands away. Shiro watched us nervously. "Well?" the boy asked.

"He doesn't fit," replied Shigure, frowning. "Sumeragi-san couldn't have killed Tanaka."

There were sounds of relief from Kasumi and Shiro. "Ha! See, I told you!" said Shiro triumphantly.

"Can we go now?" asked Kasumi. "This has already gone far beyond what any of us wanted."

Ayako smiled. "I suppose. Between this and the cigarette I think we can rule out the idea of Sumeragi-san being Tanaka's killer."

Shiro was smiling. Sumeragi seemed to let out a sigh of relief.

"Before you go, however, Sumeragi-san," I said. "I don't suppose you can tell us why there was a Mild Seven cigarette beside the body?"

"Mild Seven?" Shiro frowned and turned to Sumeragi. "But, isn't that what he—"

Without warning, Sumeragi whipped his head around and stabbed Shiro with a Look. The boy shut up immediately. I raised an eyebrow. Okay, now that was way suspicious.

"What were you saying, Shiro-kun?" asked Ayako.

Shiro stared at Sumeragi for a moment, then sat down in his chair and stared at his feet. "N-nothing."

Kasumi was frowning. "Nothing?" she asked. "Kamui-kun, I hate to say this, but you're no good at lying. You and Subaru-san might as well be wearing a neon sign saying that there's something going on."

Shiro was turning pale. It probably had something to do with the fact that Sumeragi was gazing at him with those green eyes of his, and it wasn't a nice look. It was something in between pleading and accusing.

"Sumeragi-san?" I said carefully. "Do you know what happened to Tanaka last night?"

Sumeragi didn't answer. One hand lifted and started fiddling with the tail of the soft red scarf around his neck.

"Sumeragi-san, Tanaka died around quarter past eight last night. The barman describes you and Tanaka fighting in his bar just before that. You were the last person to see Tanaka alive, and you knew that Tanaka was dead."

Still no answer.

"Sumeragi-san, if you don't answer, we can charge you with obstruction of justice."

"Now wait a second," said Kasumi. "Subaru-san didn't kill Tanaka or whatever his name is. Subaru-san may or may not know something, but the point is, he did not kill him. Why don't you just let us take him home and go chase the real killer yourselves? Go find some fingerprints or something."

"I'm afraid it's not that simple, Kasumi-san," said Shigure. "Sumeragi-san may not have actually taken Tanaka's life, but since he won't answer our questions, we can take that to mean that he was an accessory."

"Sumeragi-san." The guy slowly looked at Ayako. "Would this 'he' that Shiro-kun mentioned have anything to do with those bruises on your arms?"

I don't imagine things very often. Sumeragi's eyes widened, his hand tightened on the scarf, and he started to look like a cat chased by a pack of dogs. Bingo.

"Are you going to answer our questions, Sumeragi-san?" asked Ayako.

There was no answer. Inwardly, I groaned. The day wasn't over yet.

 

* * *

 

"We know he knows something, but he's being as forthcoming as a bank safe." I chugged down a cup of coffee – it was too sweet, and that didn't help my mood any. "Can't we get a subpoena or something to make him talk?"

"I don't think that'll do any good, even if we could get one," said Ayako. We were sitting in our office area, taking a time out for discussion since the interrogation was again going nowhere. "Sumeragi doesn't want to give information, period. But that in itself tells us something."

"Like what?" asked Shigure.

"The fact that whoever he's protecting or hiding has some kind of leverage over him. Maybe he owes this person something, maybe it's a relative, maybe it's someone affiliated to the yakuza who would hurt Sumeragi-san's friends or family if he were to blow the whistle. It could be anything."

I sighed. "Great. So in other words, Sumeragi's not going to give in that easily."

"Not even under a death threat."

There was the sound of someone coming towards us. I looked up expecting to see Ritsuko or even the Chief. It was neither. In fact, it wasn't even a police officer.

"Yes, Shiro-kun?" asked Ayako.

The poor kid stood there in his black school uniform looking as if he were about to jump off a cliff. "Subaru …" Visibly he took a breath. "Subaru thinks I've gone to the bathroom," he said.

I quietly sat up a little straighter in my chair. I knew it, I just knew it. Give Shiro a bit of time, and eventually he was going to talk. "He thinks?"

"Y-yeah."

"But you're here to see us," Shigure pointed out.

Shiro was looking more and more uncomfortable by the second. "Yeah. I … I want to tell you something. But only if you promise to let Subaru go after this."

I raised an eyebrow. Shigure had suggested that it was just sempai worship from Shiro to Sumeragi, but I was starting to think it wasn't that innocent anymore. Of course, we couldn't promise to let Sumeragi go. If whatever Shiro said incriminated Sumeragi, we'd be duty-bound to arrest Green Eyes.

"I can't promise that, Shiro-kun," I said as gently as possible. "But we will try to help your friend."

"Really?" asked Shiro.

Those violet eyes were getting scary. Not just because they could do that kicked-puppy expression so well, but because now at close range, I could see that there was something else in them. Something haunted. This kid couldn't be more than fifteen or sixteen, and he looked as if he had seen more of the dark side of humanity than most of the officers in this building. "I promise I'll do my best," I reassured him.

Shiro shuffled his feet. "There's someone you might want to investi– uh, talk to about all this," he said, very quickly, as if he wanted to get this over and done with. "I think he might know something."

"Who is 'he'?" asked Ayako.

Shiro bit his lip. "Promise you won't tell Subaru I talked to you?" he asked pleadingly.

Shigure answered for all of us. "We won't tell him, we promise."

"All right." The boy closed his eyes before taking the plunge. He took a deep breath. "Sakurazuka. That's his name."

I frowned. "Sakurazuka? Is that a family name or first name?"

"Family name."

"Can you give us the first name?"

"… I can't."

"Shiro-kun, is this Sakurazuka the 'he' that you mentioned earlier on?" asked Ayako.

The boy turned a little red. "I can't say," he said evasively.

I sighed, but I wasn't really surprised. "Thank you, Shiro-kun," I said. "And as Shigure said, we promise we won't let onto Sumeragi-san that you came to see us."

Shiro relaxed a little at that. Not much, though. "Thank you." He glanced around the corner to the interrogation room. "I … I think I should get back now." Before any of us could say anything, he was already retreating, and the moment he got to the corridor he ran.

Shigure and Ayako looked at each other, then at me. I put my coffee on my desk and stood up. "Well then. Let's go find out about this Sakurazuka that Sumeragi doesn't want to talk about."

 

* * *

 

I wish I could say that things got easier from here, but obviously it didn't. Shigure pretty much summed it all up.

"You have any idea how many Sakurazukas there are just in Tokyo?" said Shigure. He chucked the phone book he had been flipping through onto his desk with a loud thump. "The one we're looking for could be any of them!"

I was going over Sumeragi's profile again and getting irritated. "Calm down, Shigure. It could be worse – we could have absolutely nothing and have the entire phone book to look through."

Shigure grumbled to himself. "Yeah, well, it would help it Shiro had told us the other name as well."

"Be nice, Shigure-kun," said Ayako. "It took a lot of courage for Shiro-kun to speak up."

I sighed and closed the file, rubbing my eyes. "All right. Are you sure that none of the Sakurazukas that came up on the criminal files match up?"

"Positive. The only one whose prints even come close to the handprints Ritsuko pulled is serving his fifth year in prison in Nagoya."

"So we're looking for a Sakurazuka without a crim record," said Shigure. "What about Sumeragi's profile? Any mention of a Sakurazuka in that?"

I shook my head. "These profiles only give facts like date of birth, employment, address, things like that. Friendships and relationships don't make it into this. Besides, it looks like Sumeragi wants to keep this guy a secret, so the profile's definitely not going to help."

"Right. What about the family or his friends? Maybe we can talk to them and see if they know."

"Except that if we do, it'll get back to Sumeragi-san, and then what's to prevent him warning this Sakurazuka we're looking for? Besides, we promised not to let Sumeragi-san know that Shiro-kun spoke to us."

"Some promises have to be broken, Ayako," I replied. "Unfortunate, but true. But we'll keep talking to friends and family as a last resort."

Ayako sighed. Then she frowned. "Shigure, didn't you say that Sumeragi-san's sister disappeared?"

Shigure nodded. "Yeah, I put in the profile."

Ayako thought a little bit. "I have an idea. Find out who worked on that investigation, he or she would have done some digging into Sumeragi's private life. There could be some information in that which can help."

 

* * *

 

Shigure found a Detective Yamakawa. It turned out that he had also worked a case with Sumeragi before the disappearance of Sumeragi's sister. He was stationed a couple of precincts away from us, but when we called up we got an answering machine. The lucky guy was on leave. But, if me, Ayako and Shigure were going to be stuck with work, then I wasn't going to let Yamakawa have a completely free day either.

We got his address from the police directory, so Shigure and I drove over to his apartment. He wasn't too happy about the interruption.

"You'd better keep this short," the man growled. He held a glass of wine in one hand and shut his apartment door behind him. "I've got my twenty-three year old son in from Osaka visiting because I got leave."

"Sorry," I said. What else could I say?

Yamakawa sighed. "Don't bother, I know you've got a job to do, hell, if it were me I'd probably be doing what you're doing right now. So what can I help you with?"

Shigure started off. "Do you remember a man called Subaru Sumeragi?" he asked.

"Yeah, I do. You don't forget someone who saved your life."

"Saved your life?" I asked. "What did he do?"

Yamakawa shrugged. "A case I was working nine years ago was investigating a guy named Shinji Nagumo whose fatal bad luck seemed to get passed on coincidentally to every man standing in between him and a top promotion. Subaru-san was called in by one of the victims just before he died, so we ended up working together on it. One night I confronted Nagumo and the man strung me up on the ceiling somehow. It was like nothing I had seen before … anyway, I black out, but the next thing I know I'm waking up in a hospital bed and Nagumo's taken a dive off the tower's sky-arch. He got into a fight with Subaru-san when the kid came looking for me. Subaru-san got hurt as well, so his friend took us all to hospital."

I lifted an eyebrow. "Impressive."

"Yeah. Anyway, I owed the kid one, so when the news came in about his sister I put myself up to look into it." Yamakawa scowled. "Problem was I couldn't come up with anything. No leads, no suspects, it was as if the girl disappeared off the face of the earth. I've never felt worse in my life, especially watching what happened to Subaru-san."

"What happened?" asked Shigure.

"The first time I met him, he was the nicest kid you could ever find. Always went out of his way to please people, never had a bad word about anybody. Then his sister disappeared … he went catatonic for a month. After he came out of it, it was like he was a completely different person. He didn't smile anymore, didn't talk much. Cold doesn't even begin to describe it." He sighed. "He was such a nice kid, one of those special ones, he didn't deserve what happened to him." I shook my head, almost tempted to say 'life isn't fair', but I didn't. Yamakawa knew it already. "What are you asking about him for, anyway?" he asked.

"Sumeragi's currently being held," I told him. "We're just trying to find some good questions to ask him."

"Being held?" Yamakawa stared. "What for?"

"Just some questions, we think he might know something."

"So he's not actually a suspect or under arrest? Phew."

"Yamakawa-san," I said. "Do you know anyone named Sakurazuka who's connected to Sumeragi?"

Yamakawa frowned. "Sakurazuka? He was the friend who took me and Subaru-san to hospital after that Nagumo case."

I exchanged a glance with Shigure. "A friend?" asked Shigure carefully.

"Friend, something more, I never found out. He was always driving Subaru-san places in that vet's van of his. I never really talked to him, but, except to thank him for getting me to the hospital."

Oh, this was getting very informative. "What was his other name, do you know?" I asked.

Yamakawa's eyes were distant. "Yeah, I know. It struck me as pretty interesting that Subaru-san and his sister were both named after constellations, and this friend of theirs was also named after one. Seishirou. Seishirou Sakurazuka, that was it."

I couldn't prevent myself from smiling. "Thanks, I think we've got what we need."

"Is there any reason why you want to know about Sakurazuka and Subaru-san?" asked Yamakawa curiously.

Shigure and I turned to go. "The name just came up in questioning and we wanted to know who. Again, thanks for your help, Yamakawa-san, and sorry to interrupt your party. Merry Christmas."

 

* * *

 

In the car, I called up Ayako to tell her what we found.

"Yeah, we're looking for a Seishirou Sakurazuka, apparently he was a friend of Sumeragi's. Worked as a vet. Yes, I know it was nine years ago, but there's got to be some kind of paper trail we can follow to find this guy. What? They're gone? What do you mean – oh, Kasumi took Shiro home. Yeah, well, Kasumi's a smart woman. Anyway, start looking through vet practice registrations nine years ago – sorry! sorry! I'm not trying to tell you how to do your job, you're usually the one who tells me – ok, look, you want something to eat? Shigure and me can pick something up on the way back for you. I'll pay. Right. All right, we'll be back soon."

I closed the cell-phone and let out a breath. Shigure was laughing. "Ayako give you an earful again?"

"She hates it when I tell her what to do when she already knows what to do." I started up the car and turned the heater up, it was freezing. "And she wants a taco bento. We'll swing past our usual take-away place; by the time we get back she'll probably have some info for us."

Shigure nodded. "I heard something about Kasumi and Shiro being gone, what was it?"

"Apparently Kasumi decided that Shiro wasn't doing any good being there with Sumeragi, so she took him home to get some rest."

"Oh. You know, just for the record, it's a really good idea to not let on to Sumeragi that we're looking in this direction."

I guided the car towards the traffic lights. "What, you mean this Seishirou Sakurazuka whoever?"

"Yeah. You saw the way Sumeragi told Shiro to shut up about it, even though Yamakawa said that Sakurazuka and Sumeragi were close friends nine years ago."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that there's a reason why Sumeragi doesn't want to talk about this guy. I don't know about you, but I'm thinking there could have been a relationship that ended badly."

The lights changed to let us go, and I pushed the accelerator down a little. "You mean that Sumeragi and this Seishirou Sakurazuka were involved together?

"It's a definite possibility."

I sighed. "This is getting more and more complicated. Whatever happened to simple motive and method?"

"It never was simple, Kobayashi. Hey, if we're getting something to eat, I'm getting okonomiyaki. Lunch hour's long gone and all this running around is making me hungry."

 

* * *

 

"Got something," said Ayako the moment we walked back in, me carrying her bento and Shigure eating his take-away okonomiyaki. "I think I've found the man we're looking for."

"Good job. Got your lunch, by the way." I put her bento on her desk, taking care to avoid the files that were sitting there. "What's happening with Sumeragi?"

"He's sitting in the interrogation room. He's not talking, I'm getting frustrated, and it's getting to the point where I want to slap him."

"Maybe putting him in a cell over night will make him more cooperative," I said. v

"One can only hope."

Shigure finished off the last bite of his late lunch and wiped his mouth. "So who is this Seishirou Sakurazuka that Shiro told us to talk to and Sumeragi doesn't want to talk about?"

"There used to be a Sakurazuka Veterinary Clinic in Shinjuku," said Ayako. "It belonged to a Seishirou Sakurazuka, who, surprise, surprise, was the vet. After being in operation for about a year and a half, it suddenly and without any warning at all shut down."

"Shut down?" I repeated. "What happened, malpractice?"

"Actually, no, which was the strange thing. In fact, the Sakurazuka Veterinary Clinic had a fabulous reputation, especially when you throw in the various degrees and certificates the vet had. Details of what happened to Sakurazuka after that are sketchy, but he moved out of the apartment above the clinic, and from what I can tell, left the country."

"When was this?"

"Nine years ago."

"But judging from Sumeragi's behaviour, if this is the right guy we're looking for, he's come back," Shigure pointed out.

Ayako pulled out a sheet of paper. "As of the latest telephone directory update, there are two Seishirou Sakurazukas in this city. Looking through the housing records, only one of them moved into his current address sometime in the last nine years, the other one has been in his for nearly fifteen." She handed the paper to me. "That's the address. You two can go talk to him. I'm going to have my lunch."

"We only just got back and we have to go out again?" protested Shigure.

I handed him his coat. "You heard the lady; let's get going. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can make an arrest, which means we get to go home that much sooner."

Shigure's eyes narrowed at me. "I've had my lunch, Ayako is having hers. What about you, Kobayashi?"

I shrugged, heading for the door. "Not hungry, I'll get something later."

I could feel Ayako looking at me. "In other words, you've got a hot lead and won't sit down until you've exhausted it," she observed.

"That too."

Shigure muttered something less than complimentary under his breath. I pretended not to hear it.

 

* * *

 

The address Ayako had found was for one of those up-market apartments in an up-market location. Not quite Shinjuku or Shimbashi, but getting very close to it. Shigure and I took the elegant lift up to the one of the higher levels. Fantastic view of the city and Tokyo Bay, and this was just around lunchtime. I could only imagine what it would be like at sunset or night.

"How much do you think a place like this costs?" asked Shigure quietly as we made our way down the hall.

I glanced at each door as we passed. There weren't a lot of doors, which implied that the apartments behind them were pretty spacious. "Something out of our price range."

We came to the last door. Underneath the doorbell was a label declaiming 'Sakurazuka'. I pressed the bell.

"He'd better be home," muttered Shigure. "After all this running around I'm going to be rather pissed if he isn't."

I wholeheartedly agreed with him, and I was about to tell him that when the door opened.

Shigure and I blinked.

The guy standing in the doorway was somewhere around six feet, early thirties, with dark hair. He was wearing a loosened white shirt that looked expensive and slacks that looked just as expensive. What was most distinctive, though, were his eyes. His left eye was a strange gold colour, whereas his other one was milky white. Blind. Even with that disability, though, I'm guessing that this guy would have no problem attracting people. He was good-looking, and from the way he was carrying himself, knew it.

I didn't like him. When you've spent as long a time in the force as I have, you develop an instinct for people. This guy had something about him that made me want to reach for my gun.

He stared at us curiously for a moment. "Yes?" he asked.

Shigure and I flashed badges. "Seishirou Sakurazuka-san? I'm Detective Kobayashi, and this is my partner Detective Shigure. We'd like to talk to you."

Sakurazuka frowned a little. "Is there something the matter, detectives?"

"We're conducting an investigation and need your help," Shigure explained.

Sakurazuka smiled amusedly. "I see. Would you like to come in?"

Shigure and I looked at each other, then shrugged and stepped inside. The interior was spacious and modern. Pretty monochrome for most part: white walls and tiling, black leather couches and glass-and-iron tables, some greys, but some scarlet scatter cushions added some very striking colour. This guy had an eye for style. Excuse the pun.

Sakurazuka closed the door. "Can I get you something to drink?" he asked.

I shook my head, declining. Shigure asked for water. Sakurazuka smiled cordially at him and went to the kitchen telling us to take a seat, which we did.

"Nice place," Shigure commented as we sat on the couch.

"You're telling me." There was an empty gift box and a crystal ashtray on the coffee table in front of us, and there were a couple of cigarette butts in the ashtray. "What's your first impression of the guy?" I asked Shigure quietly.

Shigure raised an eyebrow at me. "Honestly? He's hot."

That got me into a severe coughing fit. "What!" I hissed once I got my breath back again. It's been years since I found out that Shigure was gay, and though it took me a while to get used to the idea I've got no problem with it. Every now and then, but, he says something that just throws me. Like that comment just then.

Shigure was smirking – I'm glad to know my coughing fits amuse him. "I may have Izuru but I'm still allowed to look," he said. Suddenly the smirk disappeared. "However, I'd admire Sakurazuka from a distance. A long distance."

I lifted an eyebrow. I was about to ask why when Sakurazuka returned with the water. He handed Shigure a glass that Shigure sipped it a little then put on the table. Sakurazuka sat in the chair opposite. "So, detectives," he said calmly, "how can I be of service?"

I shifted a little in the chair, getting into business mode. "Sakurazuka-san," I said. "Do you know a man called Subaru Sumeragi?"

The effect was immediate. Sakurazuka looked startled by the question for a second, then he leaned back in his chair with a smile. I say smile because that's the only word to describe it, but really it wasn't that nice. "Do I know Subaru-kun," said Sakurazuka softly.

Subaru-kun? I could feel my eyebrows rising into my hair.

"Why are you asking about Subaru-kun?" asked Sakurazuka in amusement.

I grimaced, but I supposed there was no way to avoid the question. "Sumeragi is currently being held in custody," I told him.

Sakurazuka's eyes narrowed. It gave me the shivers. It might have had something to do with the fact that one of them was blind, but I'm not sure. "Subaru-kun is in custody?" he repeated. "What for?"

If I hadn't been sitting down, I would have been backing away slowly. I'm not sure what Sumeragi thought of this guy, but Sakurazuka was obviously thinking a lot of him, and he wasn't looking very happy at the idea of Sumeragi being in custody at all. "There was a murder last night," I told him before I had time to think. Shit.

"Murder?" Suddenly Sakurazuka burst out laughing. "Now that's ridiculous – Subaru-kun wouldn't kill anyone. Not without good reason, of course," he added almost as an afterthought. "Is he actually under arrest?" he asked, eye suddenly intense.

"No," I replied. "He was under suspicion, but we found evidence that cleared him."

Sakurazuka smiled. "I'm glad to hear that. But if Subaru-kun is cleared then why is he still in custody? You have no right to hold him."

"It's just a precaution; we need to ask him a few questions—"

"That's beside the point." Sakurazuka cut Shigure off, his voice suddenly cold. I really wanted my gun. "You have no legal right or authority to hold someone who is not under suspicion or arrest. Subaru-kun should be released."

I raised an eyebrow, trying to ignore the little silent alarm bells going off in my head. "Sounds like you're rather worried about Sumeragi," Shigure observed.

Sakurazuka smiled. "He used to visit my veterinary clinic almost every day nine years ago with his sister."

"Nine years ago?" I asked. "What happened after that?"

Sakurazuka's smile grew a little enigmatic. "We had a disagreement," he said. "Personal differences – we broke off contact."

"I take it that you and Sumeragi were in a relationship then," Shigure said.

"You could say that. It was rather one-sided; Subaru-kun didn't take it very seriously." I carefully kept my face expressionless – I have no problem with a couple like Shigure and Izuru, but this … nine years ago Sumeragi would have been sixteen, and Sakurazuka probably mid-twenties, and that I was definitely not comfortable with. "A pity – Subaru-kun was very cute."

"Who broke it off, if you don't mind me asking?" Shigure pressed.

"I did, actually."

"Did you keep in contact?"

"No, we did not. I closed down my clinic and went travelling."

"Then I suppose you don't know about his sister's disappearance," I said.

"Actually, I do," Sakurazuka replied simply. "It was in the news, I do believe."

"You knew about his sister's disappearance, you obviously cared for Sumeragi, yet you didn't contact him? Not even to give support or anything?" I asked sceptically.

"No, I did not. I thought that my presence would be rather … uncomfortable for Subaru-kun."

'Uncomfortable' was an understatement, if Shiro being so adamant about not letting Sumeragi know that he had dropped Sakurazuka's name was any indication. 'Stalker' is the first thing that comes to my mind. Those mental alarm bells were getting more insistent.

I sat back a little, throwing my gaze around the room. There weren't any photos anywhere. "You live alone?" I asked.

"Yes, I do."

"I suppose a bachelor like you would have gone out to a party last night, then."

"Quite the contrary. I spent Christmas Eve here at home."

"With company?" I asked, nodding at the gift box and ashtray with the two cigarette butts in it.

There was that smile again. "You are very observant, Detective," Sakurazuka said. "I'm glad to know that my taxes go to something worthwhile. Yes, I spent it with company. You'll pardon me if I withhold the details."

I looked at him questioningly. "Any reason why?"

Sakurazuka raised one fine eyebrow. "I understand that my rights as a citizen mean that I do not have to answer any questions I deem too intrusive."

I grimaced, but there was nothing I could do about it. Probably it meant that he had some other man's wife here last night, or, given his tastes, maybe some boy. Either way it had nothing to do with our investigation, which meant we couldn't make him talk.

Shigure picked up his water again. "Looks like this company brought you a Christmas present," he said, nodding at the gift box. It was white with silver ribbon. Whatever had been inside had been wrapped in soft tissue, but that didn't say much. There could have been anything in it.

"Actually, the present was for the company from me."

"And this company didn't give you anything in return? Rather impolite," I said.

Sakurazuka chuckled. "Don't worry, I was properly appreciated."

Oh. Oh. I coughed and quickly went onto another subject. "You said that Sumeragi wouldn't kill anyone without good reason. What kind of good reason would he need?"

Sakurazuka smiled. "If you were to take something precious away from him, Subaru-kun can get quite, shall we say, vengeful."

"What do you mean?" I pressed.

"Well, let's say that I would not be surprised if he were to kill his sister's murderer if and when he catches up with that person."

I frowned. "How do you know that his sister is dead?"

Sakurazuka looked at me. "After nine years wouldn't any reasonable person presume that she is no longer alive?"

I had to concede that Sakurazuka had a point. Speaking of points, this conversation was going way off point, namely, to find out who killed Nobu Tanaka last night and what exactly did Subaru Sumeragi have to do with it.

"Sakurazuka-san," I said. "Have you seen Sumeragi at all recently?"

The man smiled. "I told you; we parted under bad circumstances. As a result, neither of us is going to go out of our way to see each other."

"Not even an accidental meeting?"

"There are over ten million people living in Tokyo, Detective. What are the chances of that happening?"

I sighed, yet another dead end. My eyes fell on the ashtray. "What cigarettes are those, Sakurazuka-san?" I asked.

"Those? I smoke Mild Seven cigarettes. Just like countless other people in this city."

A Mild Seven smoker. What a coincidence. I glanced at Sakurazuka's hands; they were definitely larger than Sumeragi's, but without Ritsuko's paper in front of me that didn't mean much. Just like how everything else we were getting from Sakurazuka wasn't meaning much.

This interview wasn't going anywhere.

I nudged Shigure, telling him to go. "Sakurazuka-san, thank you very much for your time, I think we've got what we need," I said. The faster we were out of here, the happier I was going to be. This guy was really making me feel on edge.

Sakurazuka rose from his chair to accompany us to the door. "It was my pleasure," he said congenially. "I do hope you'll let Subaru-kun go."

I gave a non-committal shrug. There had been an implied threat in that 'hope' that I really didn't like. "We'll see."

Shigure extended a hand that Sakurazuka shook. I didn't offer my hand; I didn't like him one bit. "Thanks for the drink," said Shigure. "By the way, if you don't mind me asking, what happened to your eye?"

Sakurazuka opened the door for us. "Some years ago, I was visiting a hospital with Hokuto-chan when an emotionally unstable woman tried to attack someone with a knife. I intervened and subdued her, not before sacrificing my eye in the process."

I frowned as Shigure and I exited the apartment. "'Hokuto-chan'? Where have I heard that name before?"

Sakurazuka smiled. "Hokuto Sumeragi. The person under attack was her brother, Subaru-kun. Good day, detectives."

And he shut the door.

Shigure and I stared at each other for a moment.

"I think," Shigure said slowly, "that we should get back to headquarters."

"Yeah. Me too."

 

* * *

 

"I'm telling you, the guy's obsessed," I said to Ayako after Shigure and I had recounted our encounter with Sakurazuka to her. "Nine years since their last contact, and he's still calling him 'Subaru-kun'."

"Are you sure it's not just old habits dying hard?" asked Ayako.

"You didn't see his face when we told him that Sumeragi was in custody," muttered Shigure. "'Scary' doesn't even begin to cover it."

"I thought you said he was 'hot'," I pointed out.

"I also said that I'd admire him from a very long distance," Shigure retorted. "Sakurazuka may have incredible sex appeal but I think I'll pass, thank you very much."

"Why do you say that?" asked Ayako curiously.

"I don't know, and personally I don't want to find out."

"Sex appeal aside, he's also too damned good at dodging questions," I growled. "Or didn't you notice, Shigure, how he wasn't giving us any straight answers to those last few questions I asked about seeing Sumeragi recently?"

"He wasn't?"

"… Like I said, he's good."

"Do you think he's hiding something?" asked Ayako.

"Oh, he's definitely hiding something," I replied darkly. "He had a nice expensive gift box sitting on his coffee table that he said was a present from him to his 'company' last night. And oh, don't worry, he was 'properly appreciated' for it."

"So maybe he's got an expensive mistress he doesn't want people to know about," Ayako replied. "What I want to know is why Sumeragi refuses to talk about him."

"How am I supposed to know? Why don't we just go ask him? 'Oh, guess what Sumeragi-san, we just talked to your obsessed stalker-boyfriend of nine years ago, shall we arrange a reunion?' Be my guest."

"Seriously, Kobayashi," Ayako chided. "What would someone Sumeragi-san hasn't seen for nine years have to do with Tanaka's murder last night?"

"What are you saying?" asked Shigure.

"I'm saying that Shiro-kun wouldn't have pointed Sakurazuka out to us without a good reason." Suddenly, she frowned. "Kobayashi, did you get anything specific about Sakurazuka's 'company' last night?"

"Not really, unless you count being 'properly appreciated' for whatever had been in the gift box. As I said, there's something about the guy that you don't want to antagonise. Why?"

Ayako glanced at the one-way window of the interrogation room beside us. Inside, Sumeragi was sitting with legs crossed on his chair, eyes closed and hands folded in his lap. When left locked to contemplate their situation in the interrogation rooms, people either sleep, pace restlessly, throw the furniture around, yell obscenities at us that we pay no attention to, stare at the table, but this is the first time I've seen someone meditate in there. "Is there anything that strikes you as out of place on Sumeragi?" she asked.

"Everything," Shigure replied promptly. "He's pretty enough to wear something more flattering than a pair of old denim black jeans and worn black sweater. The off-white trench-coat is a few seasons old, but I suppose stuff like that doesn't really go out of style."

"Be serious, Shigure. Isn't there something that strikes you as odd?"

I frowned, squinting through the window as someone entered the work floor. Ayako's got an eye for little details that go straight over my head, so if she tells me to look at something, then I do it.

Suddenly, it clicked. "The scarf," I breathed.

"Exactly. Why is a young man who obviously doesn't care too much for colour or clothes wearing a brand new, expensive cashmere deep red scarf?"

I stared at Sumeragi, then at Ayako, a not entirely comfortable feeling in my stomach. "You're not saying that Sumeragi—"

"Kobayashi!" hissed Shigure.

Ayako and I turned around. "What?" I asked.

Shigure stabbed a finger at the entrance. "Look!"

Ayako and I did so. We froze.

Seishirou Sakurazuka had come to the police department.

When Shigure and I had seen him in his home, he had been dressed casually. Now, he was striding purposefully past the desks and startled officers in a long black trench-coat, black suit and tie with white shirt, and dark sunglasses. Threat, that was the first and foremost thing that sprang to my mind. I instinctively reached inside my coat for my gun holster before I realised what I was doing. Distantly I noticed that Ayako and Shigure unconsciously did the same. One officer who sitting close by actually got his pistol into his hand and turned towards Sakurazuka with it before he blinked in absolute perplexity at what he had done.

Sakurazuka didn't deign to give us any attention. He just walked straight past us towards the interrogation room where Sumeragi was being held.

Ayako found her voice first. "Is that …?"

"Yeah," I replied quietly. "Seishirou Sakurazuka, Sumeragi's ex."

Shigure watched Sakurazuka warily. "You sure that 'ex' is the correct term?" he asked.

Inside the interrogation room, Sumeragi was still meditating. Then, suddenly, he opened his eyes very wide and froze. From his angle there was no way he could have seen who was on the other side of the door. To this day I have no idea how he knew Sakurazuka had come, or even how he had known it was Sakurazuka behind the door in the first place.

"You think we should do something?" asked Ayako as we watched discreetly from our position beside the one-way window.

Shigure had a funny look on his face. "Well, as Sakurazuka told us, we don't really have any legal right or authority to hold someone who is not under suspicion or arrest … all those in favour of non-interference?"

I immediately raised my hand. After a moment's hesitation, Ayako did the same.

Sakurazuka laid his hand on the door-handle. I had thought that the door had been locked, but I must have been mistaken, because Sakurazuka opened it without any trouble.

In the room, Sumeragi stiffened.

Silently, Ayako, Shigure and I watched Sakurazuka enter the room and soundlessly close the door behind him. Sumeragi sat there frozen in his chair, not turning around. His face was unreadable. After a long pause, his lips moved.

Interrogation rooms are constructed so that anyone watching from the window can hear what's happening inside. For some reason, we couldn't hear anything. Maybe Sumeragi was speaking too quietly, or the acoustics of the room had changed since an hour or so ago, but whatever the reason, the interrogation room seemed blanketed and we didn't hear a sound. We saw Sakurazuka smile and say something in reply, but what was said we could only guess at. When Sumeragi made no response he seemed to sigh stepping away from the door. He came to stand behind the chair, and then, softly put his hands on Sumeragi's shoulders. Sumeragi didn't move. Nor did he resist when Sakurazuka gently drew him backwards to rest against his chest. It seemed strangely surreal.

"Remember what you said about a relationship that ended badly, Shigure?" Ayako said slowly.

Shigure never took his eyes from the window. "What about it?"

"I don't think it ever really ended."

I didn't say anything. All three of us were almost transfixed by the silent interaction before us. They were talking now, not looking at each other, but they didn't have to. Sometimes Sakurazuka ran his fingers through Sumeragi's hair, a treatment that Sumeragi submitted to, closing his eyes and even going so far as to hesitantly reach up to touch the hand on his left shoulder. Quick as a flash Sakurazuka grabbed his wrist, ignoring the way Sumeragi involuntarily hissed in pain, and held it tightly. He pulled Sumeragi's coat sleeve down to reveal the bruises there. His expression darkened.

Shigure swallowed nervously. "That is not a healthy relationship. Sakurazuka seems almost …"

"Predator-like?" Ayako suggested.

"… Yeah. Sumeragi needs help."

I whole-heartedly agreed. There was something about the whole scene that reminded me of my ex-wife's cat and the way it liked to play with the little birds it had happened to catch. Sakurazuka ran a finger over Sumeragi's bruises almost sensuously. Sumeragi quietened and let him, twisting a little in his chair to gaze steadily at the other man. His green eyes flicked towards the window, a tiny movement that Sakurazuka picked up on immediately. I couldn't really tell since the man was wearing sunglasses, but I think Sakurazuka looked our way too. I had to reassure myself that the glass was mirrored on their side, that they couldn't see us. It didn't work. They may not have been able to see us, but I had the distinctly uncomfortable feeling that they knew that we were watching.

Ayako, Shigure, and I didn't move.

Suddenly, Sakurazuka let Sumeragi's wrist go. He laughed a little and said something in a careless manner. The way the guy switched personalities was frightening. Sumeragi didn't respond, but fixed his eyes offside. Sakurazuka laughed again. Then he leaned over Sumeragi, brushed his lips against his ear to whisper something, and possessively wrapped his arms around the younger man's waist.

My eyes narrowed. "Is it just me or is Sakurazuka putting on a show?"

"It's a show, it's a show," Shigure muttered. "Believe me, he's playing up for us."

"Playing up for us or playing with Sumeragi?" asked Ayako.

I choked.

Sakurazuka held Sumeragi like that for a few heartbeats. Then he let him go, stepping away. In a perfect and unexpected display of gentlemanly behaviour, he extended a hand out to Sumeragi to help him out of the chair. Sumeragi ignored it and stood up himself. Sakurazuka smirked. Placing his hand in the small of Sumeragi's back, Sakurazuka gently pushed him towards the door. It opened with a click that made us jump. Hastily we tried to pretend that we had been busy doing something else, but we needn't have bothered because they didn't even look at us. Or at anyone else for that matter.

They exited the room, and finally, we could hear something. It probably helped that everyone in the department was watching them in dumbfounded silence, a detail that they completely ignored. As they walked past the desks Sakurazuka took hold of the tail end of Sumeragi's deep, almost blood-red scarf. He smiled and touched it to his lips.

"I'm glad to see that you like my present."

I swear, the man literally purred.

Sumeragi pulled the scarf out of his hand and kept walking. "Stop it, Seishirou-san."

I think my eyebrows were about to make a permanent home in my hair. Seishirou-san? Okay, this had long passed the disturbing level. Even the word 'twisted' doesn't come anywhere close to describing it, and believe me, in my line of work I've seen some very twisted things.

Sakurazuka chuckled, then fell silent with a strangely intense smile. Slowly, he reached up and gently slid his left hand under the red scarf wrapped around Sumeragi's neck. Beneath the scarf, painfully livid against the pale skin, were five fingerprint bruises. Sakurazuka's hand fit them perfectly.

I felt sick. Kasumi and Shiro had brought Sumeragi to see me fearing possible rape. After what just I saw, there was no longer any question in my mind about 'possible' part of it. However, I seriously doubt that 'rape' is quite the right word to describe it. After all, bruises only hurt if you say they do.

Bruises …

Ritsuko's sketch of the hand-spans was still on my desk. Shaking myself into action I snatched it up. In my mind's eye I saw Sakurazuka's hand on Sumeragi's neck again, Tanaka's dead face, the bruises …

I stared at the prints, a sinking feeling in my stomach.

Shigure saw it too. He grabbed my arm. "Are we just going to let him walk away like that?" he hissed. "Murder, sexual assault, there's got to be something we can do!"

Ayako stared, her face tight. She, too, had seen the bruises. She, too, had come to the same conclusion. "Kobayashi?" she asked urgently.

I didn't want to let them go. There's nothing a detective hates more than watching a villain walk away.

But …

Sumeragi didn't look back as Sakurazuka guided him out the door of the police department and onto the wintry street outside. No one made a move to stop them. Like I've said, those in my line of work develop an instinct for things, and no matter how much I disliked the idea, my instinct was telling me very firmly to leave those two and whatever relationship they had well alone.

The door closed, and they were gone.

 

+ fin +