VOLUME 2 - THAT WHICH CONNECTS SOULS file 02: exorcism ()
Why was he being treated like a maid? He had a lot of work to do since this was a serial abduction murder case.
Hata took a file out of the cabinet.
It was an autopsy report for a traffic accident that had occurred a few days earlier. Wasn’t it just a regular old traffic accident? He didn’t understand at all why something like this was necessary now.
The accident had occurred three days ago.
The male victim had ignored a red light and suddenly ran into the intersection.
There were reports from eyewitnesses as well. A housewife on the way home from shopping and a middle-aged man who worked at the management office for the water gate. However, the car was still at fault. The driver hadn’t watched the road.
Didn’t watch the road? If somebody suddenly ran into the intersection, you wouldn’t be able to avoid it even if you had been watching.
Traffic law was written in a way that completely ignored human reaction time.
It could only be called bad luck.
The driver found at the scene of the accident had seemed serious. He had been extremely pale and just barely managed to stand.
It had hurt to look at his cowering figure as he spoke in a trembling voice. He might have been imagining his future.
Hata, who had seen scenes like that many times, had decided not to drive a car.
He knew how terrifying it was to have your life crumble down around you in an instant.
‘We’re coming in.’
At the same time as Hata heard that casually loud voice, the door opened and Gotou came into the room. Hata felt that it must have been suffocating for Gotou to come into the extremely narrow room lined with cabinets and shelves.
A slim young man followed Gotou in.
A light bulb turned on over Hata’s head – he didn’t even need to hear an explanation. Since Gotou had brought him along regarding the case, there was no mistaking it.
’Might you be Saitou Yakumo-kun?’
’There’s no might about it – that’s correct.’
He gave a brusque reply to Hata’s question.
During the previous case, they had only spoke on the phone, but he could still tell immediately from that tone of voice.
The young man had been born with an exceptional genetic make-up that allowed him to see the spirits of the dead.
Hata stood up and shook hands with Yakumo. His body temperature was normal.
Still holding his hand, Hata took a close look at Yakumo’s face.
Oh – he usually wore contacts then. The size of his left and right eyeballs and pupils didn’t appear to differ much.
He wanted to confirm how it felt. Hata reached towards Yakumo’s left eye, but Gotou pushed that hand away.
’What are you doing?’ Hata had been so close.
’Shut up! You perverted old man! Do you plan on dissecting it?’
’Will you let me?’
’Are you an idiot? Control yourself and stick to mice!’ Gotou yelled, spitting as he did so.
What a noisy man.
Even if Hata didn’t go so far as to dissect it, he wanted to thoroughly examine Yakumo’s left eye one day.
That which connects the body and the soul, the barrier between the living and the dead. It was likely that Yakumo’s left eye could see that. Yakumo knew the answer to the question Hata had been chasing for so many years.
Gotou plopped himself down on the folding chair by the wall, and Yakumo stood by the wall with his arms folded.
At that point, another person came in – a man who felt rather frail.
’Er, please excuse me. My name is Ishii Yuutarou, and I’m working as Detective Gotou’s subordinate.’
Compared to Gotou, the man seemed so fragile it was pitiful.
He bowed from the waist – it was so polite it was stupid.
’You’ve been paired with Gotou-kun? My condolences.’
’Your condolences? You’re the one who’s got his feet stuck in the Sanzu River.’
’My, what an annoying man.’
Hata laughed scornfully at Gotou’s insolent words and tossed the file onto the table.
’That’s the material you want.’
Gotou started flipping through the material on the table. Yakumo leant over to look as well. Since the room was too small, Ishii couldn’t move and stayed by the door.
’There’s no mistaking it. This is the man,’ Yakumo said, pointing at the photo taken of the corpse’s face at the time of the autopsy.
The skin from the cheek to the nose was cut. The blood had been wiped off before the photo was taken, but the flesh and bones still showed.
He was so thin it seemed sickly, and his face looked extremely nervous.
His name was Andou Takashi. He was twenty-five years old. His father was a member of the Kyushu prefectural assembly. He had been a legal apprentice until the end of last year, but he’d caused a little incident and had been unemployed at the time of his death.
’But why are you interested in an old traffic accident?’
He hadn’t heard anything from Gotou before he came. Hata asked his question while sipping at the tea in his teacup.
’A number of reasons.’
Gotou crossed his arms standoffishly.
’I’m asking about those reasons.’
He should have guessed from the flow of the conversation, but this man was just too straight. Hata thought that it was more appropriate to call him an idiot than a hot-blooded detective.
’The spirit of the man who died in this accident has possessed a woman.’
Yakumo explained in Gotou’s stead.
Hata then understood that Yakumo had probably stuck his neck into this case since they believed a ghost was involved.
’That is interesting.’
’This man has an attachment to life that knows no bounds. Furthermore, he also has very bad intentions. There must be something serious for a spirit of the dead to possess somebody living. I want to know what that something is.’
So it wasn’t just seeing the spirits of the dead – he could feel so much?
It was becoming even more fascinating.
’Hata-san, was there anything you noticed?’ Yakumo asked.
’Things I noticed, eh?’
He thought it over.
The cause of death was a cerebral contusion. There were no other injuries, and there had been no response from drugs. Nothing particularly strange had showed up during autopsy.
’Anything is fine.’
Even if he said that –
’There wasn’t really anything.’
’I see.’ i𝙣𝐧r𝑒𝘢𝒅． 𝚌𝚘m
Yakumo raked a hand through his hair, looking irritated.
’Old man. Where’s the corpse?’
Gotou asked an inappropriate question.
’It was cremated a long time ago. It’s already been three days since his death.’
’His family came to pick him up soon after. I think his flat’s already been vacated.’
’His family must’ve been disturbed since their son died at such a young age in an unexpected traffic accident,’ Gotou said seriously, looking through the materials.
At those words, Hata recalled his memories from three days ago anew. Andou’s family hadn’t been emotional like Gotou had suggested. On the contrary –
’It was so cold-hearted. They finished the paperwork in a business-like manner and that was the end of it.’
Gotou mulled over that.
’Seemed like he hadn’t really been a member of the Andou family in the first place.’
’Kid from a previous marriage?’
’It’s a bit more complicated than that. He and his mother had lived by themselves when he was young, but that mother killed herself about ten years ago so he was adopted into the Andou family.’
’Do you mean...’
Gotou was an idiot, but he had a good nose for this sort of thing from his experience as a detective.
’That’s what I mean. Seems his birth mother had been a mistress. That makes him a blood-related son.’
’But why do you know so much about this, old man?’ Gotou asked. His doubt was natural.
’At some point during the procedure, I got to contact his family. A servant gossiped away about this even though I hadn’t asked.’
’What a disaster.’
’Well, I didn’t mind since it was interesting. If you’re interested, try giving a call. You’ll hear much more from a servant than the family themselves.’
’Can’t stop rumours, eh.’
Gotou leant back on his chair.
’After that, there was something a bit strange, though this might not be related.’
’What is it?’
It seemed like Yakumo had felt something, and he spoke with his brows furrowed.
’I think it was yesterday. A few of the things he’d had on him were returned – said they weren’t their son’s.’
’What were they?’
’If I remember correctly, there was a bible. A small one about the size of a notebook. There was also a key,’ Hata replied as he recalled his memories.
’Where are those?’
This time, Gotou was the one who spoke up.
Gotou yelled authoritatively, like he was calling a dog.
Ishii had just been listening silently. He suddenly turned around and jumped in surprise. He was fidgeting like he didn’t know what to do.
Gotou was awful at talking. He’d definitely just brought him along without explaining properly.
’Hurry and go bring it here!’
This time, Gotou stood up and pointed at the door as he yelled.
Ishii finally understood. It was nice how he responded with an ’Ah, yes sir!’ and rushed out, but he might have been too hurried because he banged into the closed door.
’What are you doing? Get a move on!’
Gotou lost his temper at Ishii, who was crouching while pressing a hand against his nose.
Ishii replied, ’Yes sir,’ in a nasal voice and left the room.
’It’s a light blue envelope that has Andou written on it!’
Hata called out to Ishii’s back.
He couldn’t be sure whether he heard him.
’I feel really bad for your subordinate,’ Hata muttered.
Gotou’s irritation had reached its peak.
It had already been almost an hour since Ishii went out of the room. Hata had already left, saying he had some other work to do.
He acknowledged Ishii’s enthusiasm, but he had probably run off in the wrong direction.
’That guy’s late...’
’Then why not help him out?’
Yakumo looked up from the materials he was perusing as he sat in the seat Hata had been in it.
’If you’re going to say that, you go.’
’Ishii-san is your subordinate, Gotou-san. I’m a complete stranger.’
’Ah, that’s true.’
He really couldn’t beat Yakumo in an argument.
’Gotou-san, you’ve been a bit strange lately,’ Yakumo said, his lips turned up in a smirk.
Whenever Yakumo looked like that, he always had something unpleasant up his sleeve.
’I’m the same as usual.’
Gotou denied what Yakumo had said, but it was true.
It had only been one day so far, but being paired up with Ishii was driving him mad.
That guy had an unnatural interest in the occult, which ended up with him proclaiming that Gotou was a spirit detective or something.
’Gotou-san, why not be a bit nicer to Ishii-san?’ Yakumo said with a big yawn.
’I never thought I’d hear about being nicer from you.’
’Gotou-san, have you really not noticed?’
’Notice? Notice what?’
Gotou put himself on guard, though he couldn’t figure out what Yakumo was thinking.
’Ishii-san has feelings for you, Gotou-san.’
’He has earrings?’
’You said that on purpose. Feelings. I meant that he likes you, Gotou-san.’
’W-w-w-wha – ’
What was he saying? Gotou’s heart was beating wildly. Why was it thumping so much? Calm down.
It wasn’t like Yakumo’s words didn’t echo with him. When Ishii looked at Gotou, his eyes were like that of a puppy that had been given a treat. Gotou didn’t know what to do when a man looked at him with eyes like that.
’Got this, Yakumo? There’s a limit to how much you should joke. I’m a man. He’s a man. Understand?’
’You have an unexpectedly obstinate way of thinking. If you like someone, gender doesn’t matter. The important thing is how you feel, Gotou-san.’
Yakumo replied with a serious look.
’There’s nothing to feel! I don’t swing that way.’
A strange sweat ran down his forehead.
’Is that really true?’
’What do you want to say?’
Damn Yakumo. What the hell is he thinking? And why am I taking this so seriously?
’Nothing really. I’m just saying that it’d be better if you were honest with yourself.’
’I don’t want to hear that from you.’
’Please answer honestly. Gotou-san, men or women – which do you prefer?’
’I obviously prefer women!’
Just as Gotou stood up and shouted, Ishii opened the door.
Ishii’s mouth was gaping, and he stood stock still with a surprised expression on his face.
Yakumo was holding his stomach as he shook with laughter. He had just been making fun of Gotou to waste some time. What was he going to do with this atmosphere?
It’d just be annoying to explain everything.
’Was it there?’ Gotou asked, sitting back then.
’Ah, yes. I f-found it,’ Ishii said hesitantly, a light blue envelope in his hand.
’Let’s confirm what’s inside at once.’
Yakumo’s face quickly turned serious, like nothing had happened.
Ishii put the contents of the envelope on the table. Just as Hata had said, there was a notebook-sized bible bound in black leather and a key that looked brand new.
Gotou reached out to take the bible, but Ishii had been thinking of doing the same thing, and their fingertips touched on top of the table.
He hurriedly pulled his hand back.
For some reason, things felt a bit strange.
He couldn’t look directly at Ishii’s face. What was this hazy feeling?’
’Gotou-san. Let’s stop those thoughts there.’
Yakumo’s lips were turned up in a smirk.
That bastard. It’s because you said something strange. You haven’t even noticed Haruka-chan’s feelings. I’ll get you back someday –
Gotou bit his lower lip and changed his mind, taking the key on the table.
It was still new. There was a sticker with <E-3> written on it on the bow. It was a key for a disc tumbler lock. It was probably for some room.
For a moment, he thought it might have been for the flat Andou lived in, but it’d be strange for his relatives to return it if that were the case.
Yakumo took the bible in his hand and flipped through it.
Ishii looked like he didn’t know what he should do, so he stood upright like a kid who had been scolded.
Can we really save Makoto from the spirit by doing this –
’Gotou-san, please look at this.’
Yakumo broke the silence and placed a photo on the table.
It had probably been carried around for a while. The photo’s corners were worn.
There was a girl in the photo. Her hair was tied in a ponytail, and she wore a school uniform with a blazer.
The photo looked like it had been taken in a room. There was a smile on her lips. She looked happy at a glance, but her eyes weren’t smiling.
Her eyes were wet, and it looked like she was afraid.
’Where’d you find that?’
’It was in between the bible’s pages...’
Yakumo replied with his chin in his hands.
Why had Andou carried this photo with such devotion?
’T-t-this is Ayaka-chan!’
Suddenly, Ishii let out a loud voice which pierced Gotou’s ears.
’You’re so noisy. What are you making a fuss about?’
Ishii’s behaviour was unusual. His body was shaking, and he was so agitated it felt like he could faint at any moment.
’But that’s Ayaka-chan.’
’I heard you say that earlier. She somebody you know?’
’No, I don’t know her, but... That’s not it. This is the first victim from the serial abduction murder case...’
Gotou became agitated as well and stood up.
Ishii was talking about that Ayaka-chan –
The police were currently in a frenzy investigating that case.
It wasn’t just Ayaka-chan. The other day, the corpse of the second victim, Miho-chan, was found at a dumpsite. Three days ago, Keiko-chan had disappeared.
It was a serious incident which had shaken society. A general mobilisation of the investigation team had been called and they were currently conducting an investigation, but since Gotou was being treated as an outsider, he hadn’t seen a proper photo before.
But why would Andou, who’d died instantly in a traffic accident, have the photo of the female victim?
’His relatives might have thought this wasn’t his because this photo was inside,’ Yakumo said, tapping the photo with his fingertip.
Surely that was it. And old Hata had just put it away without looking inside.
Thinking about it logically, there wouldn’t be a link between a traffic accident and a serial abduction murder case.
’There might be something here.’
’Detective Gotou, what will you do?’ Ishii said with a rare snort.
Even if he asked that, it wasn’t something he could answer immediately.
A man who died in a traffic accident had a photo of a victim of a serial abduction murder case. It was incredibly suspicious, but that was the limit of it.
Should I go talk to investigations –
No, that wouldn’t be necessary. They’d do it themselves.
’Ishii. Look into that Andou guy’s background again. His friends, his upbringing – any detail will do. Just look into it.’
Ishii stood up straight and responded energetically.
The way he responds is the only respectable thing about him though –
Gotou pinned down a tinge of anxiety and decided to start their investigation.
I could see a light –
A faint white light.
I can see someone’s face.
Who could it be –
The person is saying something.
I can’t hear.
I feel myself swaying.
Where am I?
I fell into the river, and then –
I couldn’t breathe –
Am I dead?
’I’m glad. It looks like you’re awake.’
Haruka heard a voice.
Upon hearing that voice, the mist lifted from Haruka’s vision.
A middle-aged man with a long face was peering at her from above.
She remembered seeing him before. He had been at the river.
’Everything’s OK now,’ he said gently, smiling. His eyes closed when he smiled. Somehow, he made her feel at ease. ’I...’
Her voice was hoarse and didn’t feel like her own.
’You nearly drowned in the river. Uchiyama from the management office at the water gate saved you.’
She recalled the middle-aged man in work clothes who had been at the river.
He was tan, with thick, forceful eyebrows and a sturdy body build.
That man saved her –
She was alive.
Haruka faintly but finally understood her own situation.
’Don’t worry. I’m a doctor, and this is my hospital.’
So this man was a doctor.
She had been lucky.
An IV tube hung from her arm.
’My name is Kinoshita. What’s your name?’ Kinoshita asked.
Though she had regained consciousness, her body still felt heavy, and her voice wouldn’t come out the way she wanted it to.
’You drank a lot of water. You should rest for today.’
’Please don’t worry about it. This is a private hospital and the nurses have gone home already, but if you need anything, press that button to call me and I’ll come right away.’
She decided to obediently agree to Kinoshita’s proposal.
She couldn’t go home by herself in this state.
’Well, have a good rest.’
Kinoshita turned around and started to leave the hospital room.
Haruka called out to Kinoshita, forcing the sound out of her throat.
’What is it?’
’Thank you very much.’
Kinoshita smiled pleasantly.
’After you recover, please thank Uchiyama as well.’
Haruka responded with a nod. Then, Kinoshita turned off the lights and left.
In the moonlit twilight, Haruka realised that she was alive.
She couldn’t tell if she was happy or sad, but tears flowed from her eyes and wet her pillow.
– Big sister. I’m still alive.
First thing in the morning, there was a regular investigation meeting.
Even though they conferred every day, they didn’t have much to report.
While Hata rubbed at his sleepy eyes, he half-heartedly listened to their exchange.
’When we investigated the call history on the mobile phone of the second victim, Miho-chan, it showed in the browser history that she had accessed an online dating site...’
’Regarding the white station wagon that was sighted at the scene, we currently don’t know who...’
’We obtained a list of customers for a pornography shop...’
’A former instructor who was arrested before for molestation was...’
The information was snarled. They couldn’t narrow down the targets. He knew that they were just taking all the possibilities into account, but they would just be overwhelmed by all the information they gathered.
If they couldn’t find an opening, this stalemate would just continue.
Hata stifled a yawn as he mulled over these thoughts.
’What do you think, Hata-san?’
Suddenly, Chief Hijikata spoke to him.
He might have meant that as a reprimand towards someone who had yawned imprudently, but he was barking up the wrong tree. Hata was a coroner.
He autopsied corpses and showed up to investigation meetings like this, but strictly speaking, he wasn’t part of the police.
Hata accepted requests from the police – a subcontractor, so to speak.
’Are you asking me?’
He’d try playing dumb. Hijikata stared directly at Hata.
What an obstinate man. Since it didn’t seem like he would be able to get out of this, Hata reluctantly opened his mouth.
’If you are requesting my personal opinion, I think that the aim of this case’s perpetrator is to kill.’
There were exclamations from every corner of the conference room.
Hata hadn’t meant to say something so surprising.
’What do you mean?’
’I mean exactly what I said.’
’I don’t understand.’
Hijikata looked sullen, like a child.
’From the impression I received after autopsying the corpses, there hadn’t been any injuries that stood out or indications of sexual assault, yet the ankles had been bound by something like a rope.’
’Oi, couldn’t he have been planning to assault them only to have them die before he could?’
’I don’t know why he wouldn’t have assaulted them immediately after binding them,’ Hata replied, knowing his words would rub Hijikata the wrong way.
As usual, Hijikata was emotionally overwrought and had a bright red complexion.
’Then what is his goal?’
’I don’t know. He isn’t doing this to satisfy his libido or for money – something else.’
’That’s probably not it. If it were a grudge, it would have been better for him to injure them more. Both their corpses were too clean.’
Hijikata glared at him like he had spotted a cockroach.
’Keep your hobby in check. I don’t want to arrest you.’
At Hijikata’s words, the conference room suddenly filled with laughter.
He didn’t remember saying anything laugh-worthy. As long as a man like that was in command, it would be impossible to solve the case.
Shouldn’t you be worrying about your daughter who’s been possessed? It’d be faster if you left a case like this to Gotou and Yakumo.
Hata muttered those words in the back of his mind and smiled bitterly.
Ishii first headed towards the police station in front of the station, in order to meet with Sergeant Yoda, who had been in charge of the violent incident Andou caused a month ago.
Yesterday, Ishii had stayed up all night to investigate Andou.
Ishii found out about the violent incident through that. Andou hadn’t been indicted or charged, but there was still a record of it with the police.
The truth was, Ishii should have come together with Detective Gotou, but the detective had refused bluntly, saying, ’Do something like that yourself.’
Detective Gotou had to be testing him. Would he be an appropriate partner? Ishii had to stand firm here to prove that.
’Excuse me. I’m Ishii from the detective department.’
He peeked inside from the police station’s entrance.
It was a small space that might not have even been four tatami mats in size. A plump policeman of about forty or so was sitting on a chair at the desk in the middle of the room, and he looked up and grunted to acknowledge Ishii’s presence.
It seemed that he was Sergeant Yoda.
’Well, please. Come in.’
Invited in by Yoda, Ishii sat on the folding chair opposite him.
’I am Sergeant Yoda Tarou. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to come.’
Yoda showed the identification in his police notebook and introduced himself.
’Ah, please don’t concern yourself with that. You must be busy with the serial murder case too.’
Ishii was really an outsider, but Yoda ventured to reply vaguely without really saying anything.
’Er, you spoke about the Andou case, yes?’
While Yoda said that, he took out his work log from the desk drawer. He licked his fingers and then started flipping through the pages.
’If the detective department is looking into it, does that mean Andou is the perpetrator?’
Such speculation was natural, but at this point, Ishii couldn’t say yes or no.
’I could ask you the same thing.’ Ishii replied with a weak smile, which made Yoda scowl at him. He looked like he could start clicking his tongue at any moment. Ishii could almost hear Yoda’s dissatisfaction at not being able to be informed about anything.
’Well, it’s not a question we officers at the police station should be asking about,’ Yoda replied, his expression once again mild.
’Why are you apologising?’
’Ah, er... even if you ask me why...’
’You have to be firmer. If you get flustered like that, even the perps will make fun of you.’
Ishii already knew what Yoda was telling him, but knowing and being able to do something about it were different stories.
Assertion was good, but what if that assertion was incorrect? He always ended up thinking about that. Naturally, that made him unable to say his own opinions.
He had ended up with his mouth shut many times because of that.
’It was unnecessary concern on my part.’
Maybe he had seen how Ishii was completely depressed, but Yoda went back to their original subject while drumming the back of his neck. ’The Andou case, right?’
’Yes. It’ll be fine if you just say what you remember.’
’I remember it well. It was about one month ago... I had gone to the station because of some fuss with another incident and was returning from that. While I was going up the stairs, somebody called out to me saying, ’Officer, there’s a molester.’
Ishii cocked his head.
According to his data, Andou had caused a violent incident.
’That’s right. She was a girl in middle school or so, and she had her hair in a ponytail. That girl said, “That man peeked up a girl’s skirt.”’
’That man was Andou.’
’Yes. His eyes were wide as saucers in surprise. I couldn’t leave things as they were since there was a female student in a skirt right in front of him, so I questioned him.’
’Did Andou really look up a skirt?’
’It’s hard to find proof for molestation, so eyewitnesses and the victims’ testimonies get precedence. It’s easy to falsely accuse somebody of it.’
’This is just my gut feeling, but he probably didn’t do it.’
Yoda rubbed his double chin and stared into the air for a while, looking like he was pondering something, before continuing his story.
’Andou also insisted that he didn’t do it. Well, it’s not like the victim pressed charges, so I thought I’d just end it by warning him.’
’It didn’t end.’
Yoda nodded at Ishii’s words.
’That female student said this to Andou: “Liar. Just go die.”’
She said something like that to him –
They weren’t words that should be said lightly to a stranger. It was an unbelievable thought, but it might not have been that surprising to hear on a news programme from a middle school student.
’When the guy heard that, his eyes suddenly looked different. They looked like they had been possessed by something. And then...’
’He assaulted that female middle school student?’
’Yeah. Since I held him back immediately, the girl wasn’t harmed, but...’
’He was caught red-handed in his assault.’
’Just as you say.’
Yoda sat up in his chair, looking awkward, before continuing.
’I think that girl didn’t see Andou molest anyone. She probably saw an officer nearby and decided to play a little prank, that’s all.’
Ishii hadn’t seen it happen, but it was probably as Yoda said.
Andou had been a legal apprentice. Even if he hadn’t been arrested or charged, the event would have made his future life very difficult.
If he had been aiming to be a police officer or judge rather than a lawyer, he would have already been despairing.
Just one word closed the door on his dreams.
What feelings did Andou have afterwards?
While Ishii imagined them, he felt as depressed as if a dark cloud had been hanging over him.
’It wouldn’t have ended like this if the guy had been just a bit calmer,’ Yoda said with deep feeling, ending the discussion.
’Why do I have to go with you?’
While driving, Gotou took a peek at Yakumo, who had his arms crossed sullenly.
Yakumo’s dissatisfaction was natural. Gotou didn’t think that he should be bringing a civilian into the investigation either.
However, the case this time couldn’t be solved without Yakumo.
They’d run into the serial murder case while pursuing the spirit possessing Makoto, but he had no idea where to go from there.
The reason Gotou had asked Yakumo to cooperate with him on the investigation wasn’t just because he had the unique ability to see spirits.
Yakumo’s insight and reasoning capability were essential for solving the case.
’Don’t say that. You won’t be able to accept things as they are yourself.’
Gotou held a cigarette in his mouth as he handled the wheel.
’You’re the one who made me feel that way, Gotou-san. Also, if you light that up, I’m going home.’
’Ah, my bad.’
Yakumo really was fussy about everything. His hobby might have been making other people angry.
After they crossed the bridge over the Tama River and had just passed the shopping street in front of the station, a sign with the words <Kinoshita Surgery: Maternity and Gynaecology Department>.
’Oh, there it is.’
Gotou turned on his hazard lights and parked his car at the shoulder of the road beside the park.
The white-walled building had three floors and a flat roof. It was as big as an apartment building. Its scale was acceptable for a private hospital that also functioned as a residential building.
Gotou got off the car and headed towards the hospital’s entrance. Yakumo followed after him, complaining the whole way.
A sign with the words <No Consultations> hung on the glass door, and the curtains were closed. Gotou stooped over to look inside through the window, but he couldn’t make anything out.
When he pushed the door handle, it opened without any resistance – it hadn’t been locked.
’We’re coming in,’ said Gotou, stepping into the hospital.
Nobody was in the lobby. Gotou took slippers from the shoe rack and changed into them before stepping up into the dim linoleum-tiled lobby.
’It seems like consultations are off for today only,’ Yakumo said significantly as he followed after Gotou.
Gotou wondered to himself as he took a look at reception. There was nobody here either.
A hospital with no one in it was uncanny enough in itself.
Gotou yelled in a loud voice that echoed through the hospital.
’Sorry, there are no consultations today.’
The door to the examination room ahead of the lobby opened, and a man dressed in white showed up.
’Are you Doctor Kinoshita?’
’Yes, I am, but...’
Kinoshita was a kind-looking man with an oval face and droopy eyes, but his cheeks were hollow and there were dark circles under his eyes – he appeared considerably worn out.
He was the father of the first victim of the serial abduction murder case.
The sorrow from the lingering memory of the incident surrounded him.
’My name is Gotou. I’m from the detective department.’
Gotou showed his identification.
Kinoshita sighed, looking like he might cry while smiling.
’What do you require from me?’
’I want to ask you something about the incident.’
’I see. Please come in.’
Kinoshita smiled amiably, an expression completely different from his earlier one, and invited them into the examination room.
Gotou went into the examination room where Kinoshita was together with Yakumo.
It was a dreary room with only a desk and a bed.
The room in the back behind the partition was probably an examination room with a bed or something in it.
Kinoshita lined up two round chairs on the opposite side of the desk and gestured at them to sit.
’Please forgive me. The nurses are all off today, and I’m the only one here. I can’t be a good host...’
Kinoshita bowed his head several times, seeming apologetic.
’Don’t worry about it. We’re not here for a friendly visit.’
Gotou waved his hand like he was chasing away a fly.
Kinoshita had said that the nurses were all off today, but that probably wasn’t actually it.
Gotou had heard a rumour that everyone from the nurses to the patients had stopped coming ever since the incident with Kinoshita’s daughter. Sadly, that was the way of the world.
Even though it wasn’t as if Kinoshita had become the father of the victim because he wanted to, he was receiving abuse from people who didn’t care about his emotional state.
’May I ask who is accompanying you?’
Kinoshita gave Yakumo a strange look as he asked that.
Well, his misgivings were natural. Gotou should have made Yakumo wear a suit or something.
’He’s a detective, even though he looks like that,’ Gotou replied in a very matter-of-fact manner. Half-baked lies would be no good in a situation like this.
’A detective? You are very young.’
Kinoshita had his chin in his hand and appeared to be thinking about something.
’I am Saitou Yakumo from the detective department,’ Yakumo replied, as if to shake off Kinoshita’s suspicions.
Kinoshita repeated that name like he was ruminating.
He narrowed his eyes and looked like he was thinking about something again, but finally, he looked up in surprised realisation.
’Was your mother’s name Azusa-san?’
’How do you know that?’
Yakumo looked at Kinoshita with searching eyes.
’I was right then! You’re Saitou Yakumo!’ Kinoshita said happily in a loud voice, clapping his hands together.
’You know him?’ Gotou whispered.
Yakumo shook his head, appearing displeased.
’Ah, excuse me. I was too excited. So you’re Yakumo-kun. You’ve gotten so big. I must have aged as well.’
Kinoshita crossed his arms and furrowed his brow, looking very emotional.
’Oi, looks like you do know him.’
’Like I said, I don’t know him,’ Yakumo replied, as if to stifle the line of questioning. Somehow, it felt like there was a gap in the conversation.
’It seems I’ve confused you – please forgive me. It’s natural for Yakumo-kun to have forgotten me,’ Kinoshita said with a pleasant smile.
’Excuse me, but do you really know me?’
Even Yakumo couldn’t hide his bewilderment.
’Yes. Let me explain. I was the doctor present at your birth.’
Oi oi, that was surprising.
Unusual for him, Yakumo looked like a pigeon that had been hit by a peashooter.
’Still, you have a good memory.’
’Well, it left a deft impression, in a variety of ways.’
Kinoshita replied to Gotou with a nod.
He was probably talking about Yakumo’s eye. His red left eye. Kinoshita was the first person in the world to see it.
’You’re hiding it with a contact lens then?’
Yakumo replied to Kinoshita’s question clearly.
The confusion had left Yakumo’s face, but he was stiff with tension.
Wow, what karma –
’To be honest, I’m happy that you’ve grown up like this. Please listen without taking offence.’
Yakumo nodded silently at Kinoshita, who had become talkative.
’When I picked you up, I thought you might not have been able to live. Part of it was for medical reasons, but more than that, people can be unimaginably cruel to those who are different from them, so... you see. You’ve had the support of many people as you grew up.’
Yakumo smiled bitterly, like he didn’t understand Kinoshita’s words.
’My mother tried to kill me.’
’She tried to kill you? You must be lying.’
Kinoshita’s eyes went wide from shock.
’No, it’s true,’ Gotou interrupted.
Whether it was good luck or bad, Gotou happened to be present then. Kinoshita shook his head back and forth fervently, as if saying he couldn’t believe it.
No matter how he tried to deny it, it was the truth.
’She probably loathed this left eye,’ Yakumo replied, refusing Kinoshita’s disavowals.
’There must have been some reason. I understand, since I’ve lost my daughter. A parent wouldn’t kill their child just because of loathing. She must have had a reason for coming to that,’ Kinoshita insisted with tears in his eyes.
Gotou could somewhat understand the doctor’s feelings. From the perspective of a man who had had his beloved daughter cruelly taken away from him, it would be inconceivable to take the life of his child with his own hands.
On the other hand, from the perspective of Yakumo, whose mother had tried to kill him, the bond between a parent and a child didn’t deserve his belief. If he didn’t tell himself that, Yakumo’s theory would fail.
Sadly, it wasn’t possible for everyone in the world to live with the same values.
That was why crimes occurred. That was just how it was.
’If I meet with her again, I would love to hear why a woman would try to kill her own child.’
The corners of Yakumo’s lips were turned up into a smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. They were looking forward with incredible force.
’That’s true. No matter what reason she had, it isn’t forgivable...’
Kinoshita looked up at the ceiling to escape Yakumo’s gaze.
’Sorry, but could you have your emotional reunion some other time?’ Gotou interrupted.
It wouldn’t be good to let the two of them discuss any further. They would get even further off-track.
Their situations and positions were completely different. It wasn’t about who was right – they were both truths, respectively.
Kinoshita fixed his posture.
Yakumo mussed up his hair, like he was resetting his emotions, but the sharp look did not leave his face.
Well, nothing could be done about that.
’Actually, we came because there was something we wanted to show you today. It might be tough, but could you cooperate with us?’
Gotou asked Kinoshita again. Kinoshita nodded silently.
’First, there’s this photo.’
Gotou handed over the photo that had been in the bible that was in Andou’s possessions to Kinoshita.
In the photo, a girl in a ponytail was smiling while crying.
Did the girl know she was going to die when the photo was taken? That thought suddenly came to Gotou.
’Ayaka...’ Kinoshita said, his voice hoarse. The hand holding the photo was trembling and his eyes were red.
’Do you recognise this photo?’
’It’s the first time I’ve seen it.’
’Are you sure?’
’All the photos of my daughter are in albums. There’s no mistaking it.’
It didn’t sound like Kinoshita was lying.
Gotou noticed the photo in the silver frame on the desk.
Kinoshita’s daughter, Ayaka-chan. There was a man about Kinoshita’s age as well.
Had Kinoshita put this photo out after his daughter’s death? Or was it from before? Gotou couldn’t ask.
’Do you know about when this photo was taken?
Upon hearing Gotou’s words, Kinoshita rubbed at his eyes and moaned quietly while hunched over.
Gotou didn’t want to press Kinoshita for an answer when he was trembling like that; he just waited for Kinoshita to lift his head.
’This is... a photo that was taken after my daughter disappeared.’
Kinoshita finally sat up and spoke, bright red all the way to his ears.
A balloon that was about to pop – that was what he looked like.
It felt like he was forcing himself to keep his unstoppable rage within himself. His emotion was so strong it was unfathomable to Gotou, who didn’t have a child.
’How can you be certain?’
At Gotou’s question, Kinoshita bit his lower lip so hard it looked like it would draw blood.
’There’s a plaster on her ear. The night before she disappeared, she had gotten her ears pierced. I had opposed at first, but she said she really wanted to... My daughter usually wouldn’t ask for much, so...’
Kinoshita was probably reliving the scene in his mind. He covered his face with his hands – he couldn’t finish speaking.
This man blamed himself.
Even though his daughter had been taken away from him for no reason, he turned that resentment towards himself. He was hurting himself.
Gotou wasn’t sure what he understood himself. There wasn’t any special meaning to it. It was just that he couldn’t think of anything else to say.
’Where did you find this picture?’ Kinoshita asked in a shaking voice. He was looking down.
’Currently, I can only say that we found it during the investigation.’
For a while, Kinoshita just looked at his feet.
Gotou just waited for Kinoshita to move.
When he looked to the side, he saw Yakumo looking at Kinoshita seriously with a finger on his brow. That guy felt something. Though Gotou didn’t know what it was.
Finally, Kinoshita looked up with his red eyes and said just that.
’Actually, there’s one more thing I’d like to show you.
Gotou took a key in a plastic bag out from his jacket pocket and handed it to Kinoshita.
Andou had also been holding this.
’What is it?’
’A key. Don’t know what it’s for. Does it look familiar to you?’
’Unfortunately...’ Kinoshita said apologetically, and he handed the key back to Gotou.
They’d gotten no leads for the key, but if the photo really had been taken after the girl disappeared, they couldn’t say that Andou had nothing to do with the case.
This is getting interesting –
Haruka was in the water –
For some reason, she didn’t feel cold or pain.
She let herself be dragged along by the flow, and her body moved with the water.
Something surfaced in front of her.
It was the girl she had seen at the river. She was decaying – her skin had changed colour, and her flesh was falling off, exposing the bone.
Suddenly, the girl’s eyes opened.
She’s looking at me –
’Why... won’t you save me...’
The girl grabbed Haruka.
’Why am I the only one who died?’
Blood dripped from the girl’s face.
That face –
At some point, it changed to her sister’s face.
– Big sister!
She wasn’t in her room. Where was she? Haruka was confused for a moment, but she remembered soon afterwards. She had nearly drowned in the river and had been brought to this hospital.
She turned her gaze to the analogue clock on the wall.
It was already nearly ten in the morning.
Her body felt heavy, as if she had a weight on her back.
Her head ached with a throbbing pain.
But she couldn’t just stay here forever. Haruka got up from the bed.
Haruka’s belongings were gathered on the bedside table.
Haruka finished changing, picked up her things and left the room.
She didn’t see anybody in the corridor. Not only that, but the lights were also off, so the corridor was dim.
She tried calling out, but there was no response. It was a fairly quiet hospital.
She was forced to go to the reception desk, but there was nobody there either. She hadn’t paid yet, so she couldn’t just go home.
Suddenly, she heard voices talking. She strained her ears. The voices came from the examination room behind the reception.
She thought it would be rude to interrupt a consultation, but she couldn’t calm down if she just stood in front of the door, since it felt like she was eavesdropping.
Haruka resolutely knocked on the door.
She heard a voice. Haruka opened the door.
’You look better now. I’m glad.’
Kinoshita was sitting facing her and spoke with a smile.
’Thank you very much.’
Haruka bowed deeply. At the same time, the two people who had been sitting facing the other direction turned around.
She was frozen in surprise.
Detective Gotou. And Yakumo –
Why were they here?
’What are you doing in a place like this?’ Yakumo asked quietly, staring at her with sleepy eyes.
No, that was what she wanted to ask.
Haruka sat in the backseat.
She was being driven home by Gotou in an unmarked police car.
Yakumo, in the passenger seat, was gazing out the window with an expression full of displeasure.
For some reason, Haruka felt ashamed.
’Haruka-chan. Why’d you go to the river?’
While waiting for the light to change at the intersection, Gotou turned around and asked her a question.
Well, it was an expected question. Kinoshita, the doctor, had pretty much explained how she had nearly drowned in the Tama River and was brought to the hospital, but he hadn’t explained the reason.
’I was asked by a friend.’
’To almost drown in a river?’ Gotou asked with a serious look.
Where would you find a friend who would request something so commendable? Even if she had been asked to do that, she definitely wouldn’t have accepted.
’That’s not it. Er... I heard that she saw a ghost there... and then...’
’I see. I thought you might’ve been hiding something the last time I saw you, so that was it.’
It hurt to hear Gotou-san say that.
She hid her face in embarrassment.
’So you just stuck your neck in without thinking.’
Yakumo mercilessly lined up harsh words.
I did go there without thinking, but that was because I didn’t want to cause trouble for Yakumo –
Even if she said that, it would just sound like an excuse.
’Come on, don’t say it like that. Haruka-chan kept quiet because she didn’t want to cause trouble for you. Isn’t that praiseworthy?’ Gotou said to pacify Yakumo.
’That is even more troublesome for me. If I’m just going to brought into the situation in such a half-baked manner, it would have been easier for me if she had just spoken to me in the first place.’
’That’s quite a mouth on you when you’re the one who won’t stop complaining about people making trouble for you.’
It was just as Gotou-san said. Haruka wanted to give him an award.
’Traffic light. It’s green.’
After Yakumo spoke, Gotou hurriedly stepped on the pedal.
’I’d like you to reflect a little. Though that’s just if you actually have the ability to think,’ Yakumo said disagreeably.
Haruka felt she was in the wrong, so she hadn’t said anything, but the last bit had definitely been unnecessary.
’Hey. What do you mean by that?’
’Nothing in particular. Please take it exactly as I said it.’
He was the worst.
Why was he acting so high and mighty? Haruka had been in considerable trouble herself. He could have been a little nicer.
’It isn’t as if I went there without thinking.’
’You’re getting angry at me?’
’I know I can’t do anything, but Gotou-san had brought in some trouble for you too, and if I troubled you on top of that...’
’Oi, oi. Now it’s my fault?’
Gotou interrupted without a moment’s delay.
’Sorry, that’s not what I meant.’
’Well, don’t worry about it. That guy’s going to complain no matter what you do, so there’s no point in worrying. Just ignore it and leave it to him.’
’The reason I suffer is because there are irresponsible people like you, Gotou-san,’ Yakumo retorted in his annoyance.
’Hmph. You keep on running your mouth, but you’re just worried.’
’It would be better for you to worry about your wife leaving you, Gotou-san.’
’My wife’s got nothing to do with this!’
One sentence from Yakumo made Gotou raise his voice in anger.
’Eh? Has your wife left again, Gotou-san?’ Haruka asked seriously.
’Shut up. That’s not it.’
Gotou looked so cute in his franticness that Haruka ended up smiling slightly.
’It seems that Gotou-san recently started an exchange diary with his wife, even though it’s unbecoming for his age.’
’Oi, what a minute! How do you know that, Yakumo?’
Even though Gotou was driving, he took his hands off the wheel to grab him.
At Yakumo’s comment, Gotou cursed and took the wheel again.
’Gotou-san, you’ve got your cute points.’
’Haruka-chan, you too? Please stop.’
’If you don’t look forward while driving, you’ll get in an accident again,’ said Yakumo, pointing forward.
’Again? What do you mean, again? Last time it was to save Haruka-chan.’
’Eh? It was my fault? That’s...’
Haruka covered her face on purpose and made it look like she was sad.
’No, that’s not it...’
Gotou looked flustered, like he had screwed up and didn’t know what to do.
’Come on, Gotou-san. Look forward,’ Yakumo said.
’Aah! Shut up!’ Gotou yelled, hitting the wheel.
It was so funny Haruka laughed so hard she had to hold her stomach.
Ah, no matter what’s said, I always end up being honest in front of these two. I realise that now.
It doesn’t matter how other people see me. My sister doesn’t have to switch places with me. I can get angry and smile and cry like I want to –
’Come tomorrow to explain properly. It would be troublesome if you died and came back to haunt me.’
Yakumo muttered that as Haruka got off Gotou’s car.
He said one thing too much, but –
The car started at the same time as she responded.
While watching the car leave, Haruka murmured ’Thank you’ in her heart.
’How was it?’
After Haruka got off the car, Gotou asked Yakumo that question while starting the car.
Yakumo ran a hand through his hair and spoke with a troubled expression.
’According to Doctor Kinoshita’s story, that photo was taken after the disappearance.’
’Yeah, that’s right.’
’That would make Andou, who died in the traffic accident, incredibly suspicious.’
’You think that too then.’
Gotou had also been thinking that.
The case with the serial abductions and murders of girls. He had a suspicion that Andou might be the culprit.
At this stage, he didn’t even have one shred of evidence, but he was almost certain.
’But isn’t that odd?’ Yakumo said, looking up at the roof of the car.
Gotou held a cigarette in his mouth.
’I won’t talk if you light that up.’
’Damn. I got it.’
Gotou threw the cigarette onto his dashboard.
It’s because there were people like Yakumo that smokers felt ashamed.
He didn’t know about those separated seating places, but recently, there were even cafés that forbad smoking completely.
’If, hypothetically, Andou was the culprit, why did he only have Ayaka-chan’s photo?’ Yakumo said with airs.
’What do you mean?’
’The case this time involves serial abductions and murders. Why doesn’t he have photos of the other girls?’
He had been going to rebut, but he couldn’t find the words.
It was just as Yakumo said. If Andou was the culprit, it wouldn’t be strange for him to have the photos of the other young women.
’There is another thing.’
’There was a girl’s spirit in that hospital.’
’Who was it?’
’I don’t know. It was someone besides his daughter.’
Since Gotou couldn’t see spirits, he couldn’t comment.
Even if he could see them, he didn’t feel like thinking about what that meant.
’But well, it’s expected for a hospital to have one or two dead spirits...’
Yakumo spoke, almost to himself, and sighed.
’You might be right,’ Gotou agreed half-heartedly.
’Now, where are we heading next?’
Yakumo yawned in his boredom.
It appeared that he knew Gotou had not planned on letting him go yet.
’We’ll be going back a bit, but we’re heading to the flat Andou lived in.’
’Hasn’t everything been taken out already?’
’Seems like it.’
’Then wouldn’t going be a waste of time?’
Thinking normally, what Yakumo said was correct, but Gotou had different intentions.
’If Andou’s the culprit and his room was the scene of the murder, though there might not be any physical evidence left behind, there’s the possibility that something else has remained.’
’So you are saying that the spirits of the girls who were killed might be there...’
’You really just do whatever you want.’
Though Yakumo complained, he didn’t object.
He might’ve also thought the same thing –
The flat had a green roof and was by the river.
That was where Andou had lived. Gotou’s suspicion that it was related to the crime was growing.
Gotou drove his car into the visitor’s parking lot on the premises.
’Is it here?’ said Yakumo, looking up at the apartment.
’Yeah,’ Gotou replied, looking up as well. It was a family-oriented apartment with ten stories. It was aptly called Riverside Apartment.
’It’s rather extravagant for someone who was a legal apprentice.’
It was just as Yakumo said.
’Plus it came with parking and he drove a black Benz.’
’He must have been of high status.’
’Damn, it’s bigger than my flat.’
’Gotou-san, you have a flat?’
’Yeah, though it’s company housing.’
It was a 2LDK. All of the residents were part of the police.
In police work, which often had transferrals, a feat like purchasing a flat with your own money wasn’t even remotely possible.
’What a waste,’ said Yakumo as he got off the car.
’It’s obvious that a wild bear should stay at a camp or the like.’
’Don’t make it sound like I’m some monster cat that lives at a school.’
Even though Gotou had actually replied, Yakumo started walking towards the entrance, like he hadn’t heard anything at all.
Damn, the guy just does whatever he wants.
They went to the management office near the entrance and were able to borrow the key to the flat Andou had lived in after they said they were further investigating the traffic accident.
Andou lived in a corner flat on the top floor.
When Gotou had heard from the manager that the rent was two hundred thousand yen, he thought his eyes were going to pop out. It felt kind of stupid to work so hard.
He rode the elevator with Yakumo and opened the door to Andou’s flat.
Like he had heard before, there were no belongings left. Though the walls and floor had a few marks, it would look like new with some housecleaning.
It was a 2LDK like Gotou’s company one, but each and every room was larger.
There were many windows to let light in, so it gave an open and bright impression.
They went around each room. Bathroom, kitchen, toilet –
As expected, they didn’t find anything important.
’Hey, Yakumo. Can you see anything?’
Gotou asked Yakumo, who was looking out the window in the twenty-tatami living room.
’No, I see exactly the same thing that you do, Gotou-san.’
An immediate answer. He hadn’t been expecting much in the first place. There was no point being disappointed. They would go to the next place.
He moved to leave, but Yakumo was frozen, staring out the window.
’What is it?’
’Gotou-san. Could you show me the key Andou had?’
’Please just hurry and let me see.’
After being urged, Gotou took the key in the plastic bag from his pocket and handed it to Yakumo. Yakumo took i
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