A knock on the door disrupted the quietness. Both Wato and Sherlock broke contact and focused on the closed door. Who could it be? It did not sound like Hatano.
“I’m coming in!” Sherlock’s brother announced from the other side before opening the door.
“Good evening,” Wato greeted. What was he doing here? Was there some kind of breakthrough with the Shiina sisters case?
“Good evening,” he replied then turned to his sister. “I only have twenty minutes.”
Her housemate straightened up. “What is it?”
“Shiina Arisa is talking. According to her, Stella Maris would show Shiina Yuma the way.”
“That organization was behind it all?” Wato spoke up. That sounded so ominous. It was so twisted like the extremist groups she often saw in the media.
“It may not be an organization,” the consulting detective interjected. What? What did she mean by that?
“So you think it’s a person?” her brother asked. (It was clear that they were related; he was able to keep up with her thinking.)
“Stella Maris is the North Star,” Wato began, trying to make sense of her housemate’s speculation.
“Sailors used it to navigate,” the consultant remarked. “When they were lost, it guided them.”
“Perhaps, Stella Maris was the guiding star for Shiina Yuma,” he mused.
“A guide,” the other woman trailed off. Then she gasped and dashed to her computer.
“What is it?” Wato asked as she watched her housemate jiggled her mouse to wake up the monitor. When the desktop was visible, the other woman clicked on an application. Her fingers drummed against the desk while waiting to the application to load. When it was on, she logged in. It looked like a telecommunications software.
Sherlock scrolled through her list of contacts before she found the one she was looking for. She immediately clicked on the name. Her webcam flashed on and the dial tone filled the lounge room. The call was soon accepted and there was an older man with glasses and a suit and tie. Behind him were books. He was a foreigner, Wato guessed he was a college professor.
It was strange to hear the other woman speaking English to the Western professor. Her English voice sounded nothing like her Japanese one.
“Who is he?” Wato whispered.
“A Cambridge professor,” her housemate replied before returning her attention to the screen. (How good was her hearing?)
Wato widened her eyes. Cambridge? Sherlock went to Cambridge? It should not be a surprised, given how smart her housemate truly was. Then again, she hardly knew nothing about the other woman. As the two converse, Wato lamented how poor her English was. She was able to pick up a few words, but not enough to understand a sentence without a transcript and dictonary. She took a glance at the brother. He seemed to be following along with no trouble. That was third person she knew that spoke English after the actress. (Adler was an American, therefore she was fluent due to the country of her birth.) She was certain that Hatano was skilled as well since the landlady was a woman of culture.
Great, was she the only one who could not speak English perfectly in 221b?
It was clear that the consulting detective asked the professor for some kind of research paper. On his end, he was unable to access it. Their conversation ended after that.
“What’s this thesis about?” Wato asked, hoping that her deduction of fragment English was correct.
The housemate swiveled in her computer chair. “It’s a theory about manipulating crime. There was a US railway accident in the 1800s. One of the workers suffered a head injury. He became a killer after that. This was all due to damage to his orbitofrontal cortex. A Cambridge student applied it to psychology. The brain is stimulated through dialogue: a law-abiding citizen turns into a criminal. It caused quite a stir back then.”
“Is the author Stella Maris?” the sibling spoke up.
“Perhaps,” the consulting detective answered. Then she widened her eyes and snached her purse and coat. She dashed out the door.
Eh? She was going out, this late at night?
“Your shoes!” Wato cried out. “Shoes! Shoes! Shoes!” She reached down for the heels in one hand and then her belongings in the other.
“Be careful!” he called out.
They took a cab back to the Akasaka district. Takai Four Season Dining Hall was still sealed off. Since Sherlock called Reimon in advance (this time thankfully), the officers on duty were expecting the two and allowed them through. The inspector and sergeant were waiting for them in the room with the disturbing photographs.
“Good evening,” Wato greeted to alert their presence. She was panting from the brief workout. (She quietly cheered that she did not sound as tired as before. She was slowly getting in shape!)
“There’s a connection to Stella Maris in here!” the consulting detective declared as she walked further in and planted herself on the kotatsu. “Devil’s Foot and Mizuno Akiko, Shiina Yuma,” she muttered as she stared intensely at the collage. The three waited in silence.
“Did someone rearrange these?”
“Nobody touched them,” the bespectacled man replied. “Why?”
“The thumbtacks have been rearranged.”
“The North star,” she trailed off. Then her left hand shot out, pointing. “Give me that yarn; the red one.”
Wato reached over and grabbed it. The other woman took it from her hands and leapt up. She looped the string around certain pins. The others stood back and observed her moving from the bottom right to the upper left.
The red string made the design very visible. “The Little Dipper?” Wato gasped.
“Stella Maris changed Takai’s personality,” Sherlock explained. Her phone vibrated with an incoming message. The other woman pulled out her mobile device. “It’s Dr. James.”
That was the Cambridge professor! Wato leaned closer to her housemate to get a view. Her screen showed an email attachment. The other woman clicked on the attachment, it was a PDF. “Theory on Crime Manipulation, written by…” she muttered.
Her long index finger furiously scrolled through the pages. How long was this paper? It would take some time before she could reach the end. Few moments later, she reached the bibliography section. There was a name after the last entry. (Fortunately, Wato’s reading comprehension was better than her listening.)
Akira Moriwaki is a third-year undergraduate student of Psychological and Behavioural Sciences Tripos at the Department of Psychology in University of Cambridge.
“Moriwaki Akira,” Sherlock read out loud. Then she turned to the inspector. “This person is Stella Maris.”
Wato suppressed a shudder. Stella Maris felt more real than ever.
“Hey,” Shibata called out. “There’s something written on the back here.” The young man was crouching near the bottom right pin. The photograph in his hand was slightly bent.
Her phone slipped back in her pocket. “Show me,” she commanded. She, Wato, and Reimon moved closer to the sergeant. He pulled back the photo, revealing a Latin character written in red pen.
“Take everything down!” the consulting detective ordered. The four went to work: unwinding the yarn and removing the thumbtacks. They took the pictures and turned it around. There was a letter on each one. The seven photographs were laid out on the kotatsu.
“What is this?” Wato asked. It was the western alphabet. Her brain wracked for a seven letter English word. Nothing came to mind.
“It’s a message from Moriwaki Akira.” Her housemate, on the other hand, stared at the photographs before arranging it swiftly. When the last letter was in place, it spelled a word Wato recognized as an expression.
The foreboding greeting raised more questions than answers about Stella Maris. Wato found herself moving to a corner to make room for the consulting detective, inspector, and sergeant. The other three were in deep discussion. Sherlock shared her research from Dr. James while the two men made notes about the message. It was clear that Stella Maris or someone trespassed the crime scene and interfered with it.
What was the point of doing that? Normally, crime scenes would be sabotaged to thwart an investigation. Yet this one only had photographs with a red inked letter written behind it. More importantly, how did the culprit evaded the police?
It was almost one in the morning. Her mind was tired and exhausted to think of a hypothesis. There was one thing for certain: Stella Maris was closer than they thought.
Stella Maris was definitely monitoring every move, every step.
Wato did not sleep soundly when they returned.
After a restless night, Wato decided to leave her bed late morning. She had to get ready for her afternoon shift at the library. Soon as she selected today’s outfit, her phone chimed with a missed call and voice mail. The sender was from Inspector Reimon. The precinct would be holding a dinner remembrance gathering at an izakaya for Inspector Kawasaki and Dr. Mukaiyama. The invitation was extended to her housemate, but Wato and the bespectacled man knew that consultant would have zero interest.
For herself, she was unsure if she actually wanted to go. She could not turn away from helping someone process grieving. It was part of her creed, her defining personality trait: compassion. Yet, this had been so hard for her. The last two cases were intense and emotionally draining. There had been no time for reprieve. It was work, counseling, sleep, mystery, and repeat. She could not relax in 221b, not when it was so clear that she was an outsider.
Fortunately there was time to decide if she was feeling okay to attend the gathering. Wato’s breath suddenly hitched as her throat became scratchy and a brief chest pain. What was that?
She would have to take ibuprofen before heading out. Wato hoped that this pain would not last all day. It was not good to mix medicine and social drinking.
It was finally time. The first day of shooting for her upcoming drama was slated to begin tomorrow. There was only one day to enjoy herself before she went back to a hectic filming schedule. Irene was glad that finished watching the Amuro Namie documentary; she hated leaving watching projects unfinished-especially when the star had a cute face. The retiring soloist was definitely her type.
The Japanese American spent her morning packing her belongings she brought to 221b. By the time she was finished, she decided to head down for a late breakfast. She barely stepped a foot into the kitchen when she saw Tachibana Wato dashing out. The two briefly made eye contact. Based on the actress’ observation, the new resident was certainly leaving for her part time job. The petite woman briefly bowed before she fled. The celebrity gazed at her retreating figure. It was clear that the newest 221b resident was intimidated by her.
The actress had a peaceful meal of fruits. She needed to maintain her physique for her role.
After running some personal errands, she returned to 221b. Kimie would not hear of the actress leaving without sharing one last meal. The two enjoyed an early lunch filled with easygoing conversations. The actress vaguely explained her next drama role to the landlady. The older woman looked forward to watching it in the upcoming drama season. The Japanese American knew she would also encourage her friends to tune in once NHK airs it. The celebrity knew she could count on Kimie to boost the TV ratings.
They were interrupted when Sherlock stomped downwards. She was in her pajamas with messy bed hair. The consultant grunted a greeting before she opened the fridge. Seeing her acquaintance made the celebrity realized she had not gotten an update on the case. She only knew about some politician’s son got an ear in the mail. The Japanese American knew the case developed more as time passed. She imagined the mystery was wrapped up by now. After all, that consultant worked hard on the cases. That consulting detective would not stop until she reached a conclusion. Once deductions were made, she would rest hard to make up for the physical and mental exertion. Her late appearance indicated how emotional draining this investigation was (in terms of vexation than actual horror or sadness).
Irene knew she could not leave yet until she talked with her fellow alumni, not only for satisfying her curiosity over the case, but for the housemate. She needed to know the consultant’s opinion of the other woman.
The actress watched her grabbing some fruit before walking back. She would have to wait until she satiated her hunger and other hobbies before having a deep conversation. She knew how to be patient.
The celebrity opted to stay in the first floor sitting room where she memorized her lines for the pilot. Her script was a thick booklet. The cover page had the title written in big bold text.
She chuckled at the name. The title translated to Investigation in the Living Room! The upcoming NHK drama was a family comedy. Irene was starring as Morikawa Shouko, a female detective in the Criminal Investigations Department Special Unit. Her character was passionate about her job, very athletic, and had a strong sense of justice. Shouko was also married and had a young elementary school son. Unlike her professional life, Shouko was quite hopeless with daily housewife duties. Fortunately her husband excelled at housework. He was a mystery writer and a charismatic house husband on the internet. Their son, meanwhile, inheirited his parents' strong points. The drama chronicles the Morikawa family banding together to solve mysteries in their living room.
The Japanese American had to admit that the synopsis was pretty cute. The other cast and staff members were fun and easy to get along. Her TV husband was very nice and she looked forward working with him. Hopefully the director would not make them perform any physical affection. (She was already imagining her TV spouse as a woman.)
When she went to the table readings, the actress found it absolutely hilarious that her character was the straight version of Sherlock that worked in the police department rather than a consultant. With this revelation, she personally talked to the wardrobe department and asked if her character could wear a sexy black leather jacket instead of a cheesy and stereotypical detective outfit found in western media: the gaudy tweed deerstalker cap and tan trench coat. Thank goodness the costume coordinator was a woman, it made persuasion so much easier. Another victory was claimed when the woman fell for the wink and thinly veiled flirtation. The staffer vigorously pushed for the leather jacket in the promotional shoots. It was a sin to hide a gorgeous body such as hers after all. She had the body positive confidence and it needed to be flaunted.
She noticed that the music stop playing by the time she finished studying her lines. There was her chance to chat with the consulting detective. She closed the script and rose from her seat. Her long legs swiftly climbed the stairs. The Japanese American entered the lounge room. Her old roommate was packing up her cello. The other one grunted in acknowledgment, but made no other comment nor gestures to kick the celebrity out.
The actress left the door slightly ajar in case there was someone else going to walk in.
“How often are you changing your bedsheets?” she began as she lowered herself seductively on the couch. The alumni almost dropped her cello case and glared at the celebrity. “You do know that high levels of cortisol are not good for your health, right? I hope you have not forgotten what I taught you to lower it.”
“What I do to reduce my stress is none of your concern,” the consultant grumbled. “I could never forget what you did back then.”
“There is no shame with sleeping in the nude. It really can improve your overall health. Shall I demonstrate skin-to-skin contact in the bedroom again?” Good thing she stripped to the bare minimum earlier.
The Japanese American was met with another grunt as she had no comeback. The acquaintance studied her, trying to figure out if she would do that. The celebrity was not afraid to follow her word. She proved it once at Cambridge and she could do it again.
“Fine,” the consulting detective relented. “I’ll tell you about the case. You’ll enjoy this one since it has gore, blood gushing galore.”
The actress grinned. Only they knew the true agenda underneath their banter of grunts and innuendos. She remained quiet as her acquaintance launched into her narrative. It had been a long time since she listened to a gruesome case. This mystery was incredibly fucked up with a high count of victims. It was even stranger that the theory of leading crime played a role. Irene had not heard the outlandish theory since her university days. The Japanese American recalled the controversy was raised by a third year psychology behavior student, but she was so focused on completing her degrees to follow the gossip. Now that there was the name of the theorist attached to the elusive criminal Stella Maris, it was safe to say shit just got real. The hunt was on to find this Moriwaki Akira in Tokyo.
However, that was not the highlight of this tale. Personally witnessing the impulsive activities made her unfazed to the risky and dangerous shenanigans Sherlock would intentionally get tangled up in. She could not believe that the consulting detective easily allowed herself to be tied up and engage in knife play with a hitman of all people. The celebrity would have praised her for finally discovering her kink had it not been the gravity of danger in the situation.
“All of the sudden, the doctor came up behind and struck him with a metal pole. Then she used his knife to free me. I almost used that knife to stab the fucker in the liver.”
“So she saved your life,” the Japanese American mused, pointedly ignoring the murder attempt. That was completely unexpected. Tachibana confiscated Sherlock’s favorite pocket knife and never returned it. It was fortunate that the tool came in handy, but it was still in her possession. She was right to be wary of that petite woman after talking with Kimie during her second day at 221b followed by the umeboshi bottles she found in the recycle waste can. Returning from a war zone and drinking were in tandem with PTSD. Those suffering from the disorder were at a greater risk to engage in domestic violence. It did not help that mental health services were downright terrible and the stigma was immense; the petite woman had no chance for a complete recovery.
Now she had a fucking weapon in her grasp; that was true danger right there. There was a greater likelihood of the other two inhabitants being stabbed once that housemate snap-whether it was from the consequences of the mental health condition or discovering Sherlock's sexual orientation that unleashed a homophobic personality.
Irene would be damned if 221b was a victim to domestic and homophobic violence.
"That damn stare," the consultant muttered under her breath. "The fucking micromanaging and sabotaging during investigations. I don't want that damn pity." The celebrity merely lifted an eyebrow. Where was she going with this?
“I don’t want her stay,” the consulting detective declared with finality, breaking the celebrity's thoughts. “She’s so annoying. I hate it. Her presence is suffocating. She makes me sick. It feels like I’m drowning in a riptide I got caught in. I can’t swim back to shore. I'm fucking sinking! I'm deprived of oxygen! I FUCKING HATE THIS SO MUCH!” As the consultant kept talking, the tension in her voice escalated. Her eyes glowed in anger. She was even standing up. Her body language was so expressive.
That was the first for the celebrity to see her old roommate so enraged. It was simultaneously refreshing for Sherlock to speak of her true feelings and disturbing for Irene to be the recipient. The actress had no idea how to react. The consulting detective lived her life with repressing such emotions. That alumni thrived in making everyone guess the meaning behind the metaphors and obscure word play. (The Japanese American would dare say it was her kink to thoroughly confuse people.)
Most importantly, her verbalization was something to not be taken lightly. The fierceness in her tone supported the actress' conclusion of the petite woman. The celebrity could feel the fury behind the delivery. Her acquaintance was not the type to express herself so easily, but when she did, it was quite serious.
Part of her was surprised that her prediction was incorrect. She was certain it would come true given Sherlock's behavior and personality, but she was so glad that she was dead wrong. Kimie said before that her feelings towards Tachibana were ambivalent. The actress now knew the truth. The consultant's feeling were nothing but hostile. (It was truly commendable that the consulting detective lasted this long before erupting like this.) Her fellow alumni was clear where the 221b resident stood. This was not a woman that was changing the consultant's life for the better; Tachibana Wato was fucking up her life. So what the hell was Kento thinking when he proposed for them to be housemates? Was it not clear how much she was bothering Sherlock?
It was up to the Japanese American to safeguard Sherlock’s wellbeing. She gazed back at the consulting detective. The other woman turned her head, not bothering to make eye contact after that declaration.
Yet there was another part of her that was relieved as well. For starters, there was certainly no chance for the consultant to ever develop Hanahaki Byou. It was incredibly liberating to realize that. The consulting detective was in no danger to have life cut drastically short. That also meant there was a future of Sherlock falling in love with the right woman.
Conversely, her chances to banish Tachibana from 221b just got remarkably easier. The actress had her (quiet and subtle) blessing to kick the petite woman out. It was unfortunate that she only had one day and one shot to execute it. Too bad there was not enough time. The celebrity would have to make do. She was able to graduate with a degree and minor in three years while starting her career in Japan. She was capable of pulling off miracles. Separating her from Sherlock would be nothing.
The actress opened her mouth to ask about the housemate's work schedule, but something else caught her eye. Since the alumni turned her head, her neck was exposed. For a split second, Irene swore she saw something bulging at the vein. What was that? Whatever it was, it certainly was alarming. The Japanese American was no medical expert. However, protecting her old roommate from the shadows also meant physical health.
“Hold still,” she murmured. Her lithe hand shot out before the consulting detective had a chance to respond. It landed against the neck, barely brushing against the clavicle. The thumb gently caressed the surface. The skin was smooth, devoid of bumps. She even pressed her thumb down. There was nothing underneath the surface. What the hell? The Japanese American knew what she saw. Her eyes were certainly not playing tricks on her.
The celebrity leaned closer. She intensely studied the skin with her acquaintance heavily breathing in the background. Her own exhaling was adding fuel to the consultant's flustered state. Really, Sherlock had her moments as a useless lesbian. Thanks again for sustaining the Japanese American's self esteem.
Since the room was so quiet, it was easy to pick up a faint gasp and quiet pattering of footsteps. That could only be one person and those footsteps did not belong to the landlady.
The actress withdrew her hand and said it was nothing. She stood up and stared at the other woman. Years of acting experience perfected her craft of portraying an excellent poker face. The other one made no reply. A few seconds later, the consultant moved away and exited the room. The celebrity was left alone to reflect on the events that recently transpired. All this time, she had been planning to drive the petite woman away. It was hard to formulate an idea, let alone executing it due to Sherlock and Tachibana working. Yet it turned out to be easier than expected thanks to the consultant's feelings.
She was anticipating to let the housemate catch them in a compromising position sometime tonight. It was much more effortless than she planned to choreograph.
From Tachibana’s view, there was no doubt that it looked like they were about to kiss. This spoke volumes even though it was one of her more subtler and tamer actions. Even the lack of clothing played a role. Wearing the lacy demi bra and g-string thong cemented the assumption that they were lovers. She was not blind of the incredulous stare at her physique. (Hoped she enjoyed the view of her toned ass.) Now the celebrity was certain that the housemate would withdraw even more. This was push to have Tachibana expelled. The celebrity started the process, it was up to her acquaintance to finish it. She knew that the consultant would eventually pick up cues she done to drive the petite woman away. By the time Irene would return to 221b, she looked forward to only seeing Kimie and Sherlock.
The actress sighed in relief and took her leave. She needed to retrieve the cell phone that was charging in her room. There was a call she needed to make. As she walked through the third floor hall, she could hear Tachibana on the phone.
"Hello, Reimon-san? This is Tachibana. I will be attending the remembrance gathering for Inspector Kawasaki and Dr. Mukaiyama tonight. No, I won't need a ride to Kokono Kasumigaseki Common Gate; I can commute there myself, thank you. I will see you then."
Huh, interesting. The celebrity hastened her pace to not get caught for eavesdropping. She heard about that izakaya, it carried the strongest liquor. It made sense since it was near the metropolitan police department. No doubt that the establishment wanted to retain its clientele. This was probably what the actress needed. The gears in her mind started whirling for a plan. Once she returned to her room, she grabbed her phone and dialed a number. Her call was picked up two rings later.
"Hey oniisan, it's me. Do you have a moment? I want to talk to you about Tachibana Wato."