There were murmurs around the students as they gazed upon their fellow classmate. In the courtyard, the spectators formed a ring around two students that were surrounded by piles of flowers. It was an ironic situation; cherry blossom season was coming soon. Yet, this viewing was not suitable for an audience. One was crouching over, hands covering her face. Her hands hardly muffled the hysteria.
“Senpai never noticed her,” she kept mumbling between her sobs.
Senpai never noticed her indeed. Next to the mourning girl was her friend, lying down. The recently departed girl was a second year. Her eyes were closed and hands laced together. She looked like she was resting peacefully. However, the cause of death was hardly peaceful. There was a huge bouquet that bloomed from her mouth. The cherry blossoms trailed downwards, passed her chin and shoulders. It stopped at her bosom. The school uniform hid the limbs; on the neck, the veins and arteries were thicker, resembling tree roots.
It was another case of Hanaki Byou, the flower disease.
Hanaki Byou was an ancient disease. The pathogen was an abnormal one; it could lie dormant within the human body for years. There were no known causes of how a human could contract it. At no predictable time the pathogen could become active, enabling the disease to ravage the victim. As the name suggested, flowers were involved. Symptoms included chest pains, sore throats, body aches, and constant coughing. The difference between Hanaki Byou and the common cold was flowers. The coughing gradually builded up to a violent one. Once the infected person coughed violently, petals came out. Fortunately, the flower discharge proved to be harmless. From there, the disease was broken up to four stages that resembled the growth of a flower shrub.
It was a strange phenomenon as it was linked to mental and emotional health. The flower disease only occurred when the person experienced a one-sided love. The growth of the disease varies from person to person. However, there were two things for certain. Without confessing, the person would surely die from flowers consuming their body. Confessing could lead to rejection or reciprocation. If the former, the disease stopped growing, but it will not disappear. This could be easily be fixed through surgery. The only catch was it had to be intervened early enough to prevent lasting damage. With the latter, then the person was completely cured. All traces of flowers and roots vanished from the human body. There were no explanations how returning one’s love was the most effective treatment of all. There was even uncertainty about the disease returning if the person’s beloved passed away.
Researchers were studying extensively to answer the questions that have plagued Japanese society for centuries. Until there was concrete data that could rationally explained the disease and cure, the government funded a dating campaign. This campaign encompassed thorough details the disease (including misconceptions), mental health sessions, advertisements encouraging relationships, and surgical services. Yet, these efforts were somewhat in vain. Government officials underestimated the severity of the disease. Many victims were young people who were under extreme stress due to school, work, and high expectations placed by their parents, teachers, and superiors. When they developed an unrequited crush, they allowed Hanahaki Byou to take their own lives. Marginalized groups in society also enabled the disease to kill them. This group were part of taboo topics mainstream media would never dare mention. Members of this community refused to admit they were queer to their family and friends. The intolerance of society had lead to extreme unhappiness and demise.
The increase of Hanahaki Byou related death in recent years and perils of Japanese society (aging and low birth rates) forced adults and officials to care more for the younger generation. It made them question how social behaviors and customs were negatively affecting children. There was progress, but Japan still had a long way to go.
Sherlock could not stand the grating cries of the student mourning for her friend. Hanahaki Byou cases were not regulated to the Investigation Department. Yet, the mother of the victim was screaming that she wanted to know the student that was responsible for her child’s death. She claimed her daughter was murdered. Given the mother’s difficult nature, the police gave in and contacted Inspector Reimon. The inspector promptly came with a team of assistant police inspectors and herself, a consulting detective that frequently collaborated with the inspector.
The assistants took statements from the students while Reimon and Sherlock looked at the body. Both inspector and consulting detective knew each other for a very long time; it was mutual bond of professional trust. He knew her personality could be off putting for many, hence he acted as a mediator whenever Sherlock investigated. He knew the assistants were capable of handling the high schoolers, it was good practice for future questioning.
“What do you think?” he asked when she prodded the body. He was glad that she was wearing gloves this time. Perhaps it was because the victim’s mother was here; she kept trying to sneak past the officers and interrupt the investigation.
“No signs of physical harm,” the consultant murmured. “The thickness of the roots indicate that she suffered Hanahaki Byou for two years. The time frame indicated that the disease developed too quickly. It should have been obvious that she had the disease from discharging flowers through coughs.” Something did not seem right.
Sherlock stood up and removed her gloves. This was the signal to the other officers to take care of the body and transport it to the forensic pathology division. They placed the corpse on the stretcher before covering it with a white cloth. The forensic staff members hoisted it to a waiting ambulance. A pair of uniformed officers had to fend off the mother.
She approached the inspector. “I need to see the victim’s belongings: books, journals, school records, social media accounts, photos, friends, contacts, and anything related to the victim’s personal and professional life.” It was a tall order for the inspector, but he trusted her. Their investigations were nothing without her deductions. Her observations were honed to detect the minute detail and piece together a complicated narrative.
“I understand,” he replied. Reimon walked off and relayed her orders.
She knew she could count on Reimon for compiling and organizing the data she needed. There were folders filled with xerox copies of the items she requested for. It was a late night at 221b. Her only companion was an empty coffee mug that Kimie gave her three hours ago. Sherlock often got engrossed with her investigations; she never heard Kimie coming in and placing the drink on the coffee table. Yet, she appreciated the landlady of 221b. That lady was her confidant and one of the very few people that knew her best.
Reviewing the data took time, but Sherlock was not a stranger of sacrificing sleep for the truth. She finished reading everything at 5:45 a.m. Fifteen minutes before Kimie woke up to start her day.
Sherlock had almost two and a half hours of sleep before Reimon called her to accompany him to the school again.
At the school, she was given permission to investigate the victim’s desk, locker, and classmates. The investigation of the premises did not yield the information she needed. Even the friend that was mourning and accusing did not know the identity of the upperclassman. For a break, she went on the school’s rooftop. Being at such heights gave her the quietness and space she needed. She was physically above others; she was at a place where she did not have to hear officers calling her a bitch and other cruel remarks. Sherlock did not give a fuck. Let them complain and bitch to Reimon all they want. At the end of the day, she was the one solving these cases.
She walked around the perimeter of the rooftop, enjoying the view and wind. The architecture was old, there were holes made from kids that were roughhousing or fighting up here. One particular hole caught her eye. Sherlock reached in and pulled out papers that were hidden. She recognized the handwriting and began reading.
Afterwards, she rushed down the stairs. She almost collided into Reimon, who was about to go on the rooftop to look for Sherlock. The consultant waved the papers in his face. “I need to see the class roster,” she said briefly. “It’s important for this case.”
With the help of a school administrator, the list was narrowed to male students. She scrolled through the lists, searching for the real names of the students mentioned in these personal papers. Sherlock called for Reimon. She requested for an empty meeting room and two students: a first-year student and a third-year upperclassman.
The two male students were nervous and confused. Not that Reimon blamed them; Sherlock always worked at a faster gear than most people. There were times he struggled to understand her reasoning. In his experienced, he learned to roll with it. If one paid enough attention, Sherlock was quite methodical. There was a reason for everything.
Sherlock leaned against the doorway. “I need to speak with you two,” she stated as she walked back in meeting room. The male students silently stood up and walked inside. Reimon followed along; by the tone of her voice, there was something she wanted him to hear. The inspector was the last one to enter and closed the door behind him, signaling for the deduction to start.
“The cause of Hanahaki Byou was you,” Sherlock declared when she sat on the tabletop. So it was not an upperclassman assumption like the friend kept insisting.
The first-year student grew deathly pale. “I didn’t mean it to happen,” he stammered, clearly disturbed. “I swear, I didn’t. Senpai has nothing to do with this!”
Reimon knew no charges would be filed against the student. The circumstances of the flower disease made it difficult for the legal courts.
“You never did,” Sherlock continued. “Your senpai was not to blame either.”
Oh? This was interesting, where was Sherlock going with this analysis?
Sherlock explained that the first-year student and victim were from the same middle school. Initially, she never knew he existed. The victim developed a crush on the first year when she saw him scoring a goal during an intramural match; he was a third-year in middle school while she was a first-year in high school. The interesting twist was the victim developed a borderline obsession with the male student. The writings even indicated times she was following him after school.
The third-year turned out to be a neighbor and childhood friend of the first-year. He noticed the victim frequently hanging out in their neighborhood. He grew concerned when the victim took pictures with her digital camera. Hence, the third-year began to spend more time with the first-year. The senior was athletic; his imposing frame proved to deter the victim’s efforts, giving the first-year a brief moment of peace.
The time they spent together blossomed into more than friendship. Camaraderie gave way to intimacy: longing gazes, holding hands, whispers, and cute gestures such as sharing lunch and texting every night. Tutorial sessions became their haven to talk about anything and everything. Eventually, their feelings were pushed to the brink; neither could hold back their attraction for one another. This unexpected change brought great joy and great fear. Two people found each other; someone to connect them to the world. Yet, there was vulnerability, especially with the victim stalking the first year.
They tried to be careful, but the victim eventually caught on. The last segment chronicled heartbreak and inexplicable anger towards the secret couple. The combination of intolerance and vain feelings pushed her to the edge, spurring the disease to develop faster. In the occurrence of abnormal growth, there was a chance that the victim may not show symptoms. Rather, it could bloom unexpectedly.
Reimon listened in rapt attention as Sherlock completed the narrative. As always, she knew how to surprise him. (Though, Sherlock could use more tact especially with exposing such relationship-but that will not be included in the final report.) He respected her analytical skills; even had greater esteem for her as a person. It was a shame that not everyone would bother to truly know her. Though, Sherlock did not seem to care; she was someone true to herself. When Sherlock hopped off the meeting table and exited the room, that was his cue to wrap things up.
“No charges will be filed,” the inspector announced. “It’s hard for building a case for the courts. That being said, your identities will be safe.” The first year looked at him with hope. The third year seemed guarded, but felt comfortable enough in Reimon’s presence. Before the students were allowed to return to class, Reimon gave them his business card. He encouraged them to call for anything: a trusted adult to listen, safety, or even contacts for nonprofit support groups.
He later found Sherlock leaning against a brick column at the front gate. “Thanks for your help. We managed to placate the mother and friend without jeopardizing their identities. They will never know the truth.”
Sherlock remained quiet before she pushed herself off. She looked at Reimon. “Inspector, never call me again for another flower disease case.”
“Sherlock!” Kimie greeted when she walked in. “Rin-san is here, she’s in your lounge.”
Hanawa Isuzu, an old acquaintance that was her roommate at her time in Cambridge University. She was brilliant enough to be admitted in a prestige institution and chose to study abroad instead of staying at the Ivy League schools. She was a Japanese American: her mother had German ancestry, while her father was Japanese.
In the entertainment industry, she went by Irene Adler, a stage name that was formed from her English name and her mother’s surname. She got her break in Japan; the director of her first television role was enamored by her mixed ancestry. He insisted on giving her a Western moniker, claiming it would distinguish her from other actresses that were debuting.
Turned out the director was right; it launched her to stardom. Unable to juggle entertainment work and school simultaneously, Irene opted to complete her studies in under three years. Many scoffed at that aspiration, but Irene proved them wrong. Sherlock recalled the smug look on Irene’s face when she strutted during the graduation ceremony. She was the head bitch in-charge.
Succinctly to say, their Cambridge years were interesting. Irene was Sherlock’s equal; the Japanese American’s intelligence was on par with her. Irene was eloquent, cultured, and had great fashion sense that accentuated her body. There were two differences between them. One, Irene had better social graces; her mastery of persuasion was a sight to behold. Irene could easily talk herself in and out of trouble. Two, Irene was far more open about her preference towards the fairer sex. She thrived on being unapologetic about love and companionship from women. Sherlock, on the other hand, never divulged her sexuality to her roommate, but Irene was sharp to pick that up. There was an unspoken bond between them.
As a celebrity, Irene knew how to play the act of a model citizen in front of society and fans. Celebrity Irene was a professional: collected, sincere, charismatic, and witty. Her personality won respect from the general public in variety shows; her acting skills lead to awards and recognition; and her modeling work garnered a fandom that collectively questioned their sexuality. Irene knew how to keep her private life guarded. In private, she was far more carefree (bordering recklessness), devious, and possessed an immature streak that could piss off Sherlock for days. Imagine the meltdown when her fanboys and fangirls find out.
“Darling! How was the case?” Irene greeted when Sherlock opened the door. The celebrity was laying on Sherlock’s couch; her black mini skirt was on the floor and the magenta button down shirt was opened, revealing a u-plunge bra. She was also giving Sherlock a nice view of her tanga panty and stockings. Irene smirked while Sherlock rolled her eyes before almost tripping over the stilettos. Irene believed in body positivity; her figure was clearly blessed from her mother’s side of the family. There was no point in hiding her amazing physique. Hence, she was an exhibitionist whenever there were no cameras around. As Sherlock’s old roommate, she knew how to read that consulting detective. It was no brainer that Sherlock liked women; Irene knew it after observing Sherlock checking out her ass during the first three months in their dorm.
Sherlock grunted and plopped herself at the computer chair. To Irene, that meant the case annoyed her. Used to dealing with such antics, she reached down to her bag and pulled out a gift. “I got something for you,” she said.
“If it’s another vibrator, I don’t want it,” Sherlock replied curtly.
“I paid good money for it!” Irene pouted. Nonetheless, she tossed the gift to Sherlock.
Sherlock looked at the gift with suspicion. This time, Irene rolled her eyes. “Open it, you ass.”
She fiddled with the wrapping paper. “You got me a chocolate massaging oil?”
“For lonely masturbating nights,” Irene chimed in. “I was in Belgium for my latest photoshoot.” The celebrity was confident that Sherlock would not chuck the massaging oil at her face. She was right. Sherlock placed the oil in bottom drawer of her computer desk. It would only be a matter of time before Sherlock would appreciate her gift.
Kimie later came with castella cake and Earl Grey Tea. The landlady rapped on the door, announcing her arrival to the lounge. Irene moved upright, planning to sloppily button her shirt and grabbing her skirt. She managed to fasten two buttons before Sherlock tossed her tan coat. It landed directly on Irene’s lap. Irene inwardly smiled; the consulting detective was a walking contradiction-what Sherlock says was often different from her heart. She cared about Irene having a semblance of decorum. Instead of thanking Sherlock (the consulting detective would never accept it), Irene neatly folded her mini skirt and fixed her top.
“Have your overseas managers and staff been treating you well? I’m so proud of your international recognition!” Kimie exclaimed as she offered Irene a slice.
Sherlock remained quiet as they conversed. She and Irene maintained contact over the years. Since she lived in 221b, it was inevitable that Kimie would meet Irene. Kimie was delighted in meeting a collegiate acquaintance-let alone another Japanese. The landlady was impressed by Irene’s bilingual ability and often provided excellent hospitality during her visits. Kimie was the only one who gave Irene a nickname. Based on the second kanji of Isuzu, it could be read as Rin. It was a clever double meaning since Rin could also be a nickname from the Katakana spelling of her English name. It was fitting for Irene, an enigma that possessed multiple interpretations.
Sherlock ate her cake as the two talked about Irene’s international career. Irene’s prowess was not limited to Japanese television and movies. Her work was also released in the Asian continent, garnering an overseas fanbase. Eventually, this caught the eye of an upcoming Asian American director. They took a gamble: collaborated on a movie. It proved to be a box office hit, received positive ratings from film critics, nominated for awards, and launched Irene to international recognition. She was considered as a pioneer for Asian Americans in American entertainment. This was a catalyst for Asian actors and actresses in other Western countries to fight for roles in their respective entertainment industries. Irene’s influence was quite powerful.
Eventually, the topic of their conversation turned to the case. Sherlock summarized it, not wishing to spend more time on talking in great details. “I told the inspector to never call me again for another Hanahaki Byou case,” she concluded. The irritation she felt earlier still burned. Honestly, cases like these were a waste of time. Emotions were not her forte; it hindered rationale thinking. Not to mention, the unnecessary drama; it tested her limited patience. How could she be level-headed if feelings caught her in a chokehold?
Both Kimie and Irene remained in deep thought. For the former, the landlady had great empathy. She knew Sherlock’s and Irene’s sexuality; there was no doubt she felt concerned for those boys. With the latter, Sherlock could only hazard a guess. Irene was a wild card-she would either be concerned or be flippant. The celebrity dismissed the fears and concerns regarding the flower disease. Irene lived for pleasure and excitement. Since she had an active sex life, Irene certainly had an annual checkup for early Hanahaki Byou detection along with mammograms, pap smear, and STD checking.
“It seems like they will be in good hands with the inspector,” Irene remarked.
So it was the flippant attitude.
“Come to think of it,” she continued, “you never experienced the flower disease, have you?”
Now it was a 180° viewpoint. Frustrating Irene could not make up her mind!
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sherlock snapped.
The conversation ended when Sherlock stomped upstairs, declaring she was changing her clothes to work on a new toner. There was a pile of fresh cucumber waiting to be used. In response, Kimie cleaned up and left to give Irene privacy for putting on her skirt.
She was washing the dishes when Irene walked down, fully dressed. “Thank you for the cake, Kimie-san,” the celebrity said.
“Of course, Rin-san. Would you like to stay for the night? It’s getting late.”
Irene beamed. “I would like that. I miss your cooking.” Without prompting, Irene reached over for an apron. She donned it over her clothes, signaling she was ready to help Kimie.
It amazed the landlady how similar she and Sherlock were. Kimie initially hoped Irene was Sherlock’s beloved when the Japanese American visited 221b the first time. After watching the two young women banter, she realized they were better off as friends. (Even if Sherlock would never acknowledge it.) Irene knew how to keep Sherlock on her toes, but she was unsuitable as a complement to Sherlock’s nature. The consulting detective needed someone that was a foil: compassionate and warm.
While chopping vegetables, she heard Sherlock playing the cello again. Perfect. Sherlock will be spared from hearing their conversation about her. “Do you think Sherlock might contract Hanahaki Byou?” Kimie asked. Given Sherlock’s social life, she feared for the consulting detective’s isolation in the future. She, the brother, and the inspector will do their best to be there for Sherlock. However, it would not hurt to have another person in Sherlock’s small trust circle. In the event of Sherlock falling in love, Kimie was concerned about the repercussions. Stubbornness and the inability to deal with such emotions could catalyze into an early death.
“Yes,” Irene replied. “Sherlock prides herself in repressing her feelings-even to the extent of being hard to read. Yet, she’s not invincible. Someday, there will be someone. A woman will thaw her heart and Sherlock will be unable to deal with it. That is a high probability for it.”
Irene shared the same sentiments as her. The possibility of Sherlock being afflicted with the flower disease clenched her heart. She may not be Sherlock’s biological mother, but she swore to the late Futabas that she would do everything in her power to watch and support their children.
“When it happens in the future, let’s place our faith in this woman,” Irene reassured. “Let’s hope that she too will return Sherlock’s affections. Let’s hope she will teach Sherlock how to love. After all, it’s the only cure.”
Yes, a reciprocated love was the most effective treatment.
“I want the truth!” she declared, eyes beaming at her with sincerity and determination. The doctor was grieving at the lost of her mentor, yet she was willing to pursue the true cause of his premature death.
This was different from others that tagged along for shits and giggles. This woman was truly serious.
“Okay. Maybe I’ll ask your opinion as a doctor,” Sherlock remarked before turning her heel. The consulting detective heard another pair of feet trailing behind her.