I quickened to a trot, maneuvering my way through the crowd. Slipping through one group of elderly women then accidentally pushing another man too hard and apologizing without so much as sparing him a moment to reply. Coming right up behind the detective, I paused before getting her attention. She seemed a bit taller than I had thought. Moreover, what was I to say? I hadn’t really considered this part of the process, she’d simply walked off, no conversation, nothing. I’d always assumed getting the conversation would be the simple part. Surely she didn’t think anything else of my being here, did she?
Either way, I’d have to say something, get her attention somehow, make certain she was the one who’d just touched my neck, better now than in another second, yet still, it wasn’t coming so easily, I had to say something or risk looking like a stalker—
“Excuse me? Hello, I’m sorry, but you seem awfully familiar to me. Do we know each other by chance?” I finally managed to say, bringing my umbrella over the both of us.
“I don’t believe we do,” she responded without so much as a glance in my direction.
“Oh, well you see I just, I noticed the colour of your coat,” I paused, waiting for any sign, nothing, “And you see, because it’s rather similar to my umbrella,” I glanced up at my umbrella, it was as far from beige as black could get, “I thought maybe we’d have bought them at the same store.”
Again without looking at me, “Mustn't have.”
I was starting to get a little agitated.
“Look, you were the one who put your hand on my neck just now, weren’t y—?”
And before I could even finish the sentence, her face spun towards me and shot a glare. Her hand had wrapped itself around my wrist, and a burning heat began to ripple up my arm in waves of pain, spreading across my chest. I was in too much shock to move. Off in the distance, I could see bright white peaks forming like soundwaves, presumably surrounding us. I’d have checked for you if only it didn’t kill to blink.
With each moment that she’d kept her fingers wrapped around my wrist the pain worsened, the white peaks shot up higher, forming new patterns and spiking up as if in sync with a song. Somehow I managed to take a breath through all the pain, and the only thing I could smell was burning flesh and cloth. I wouldn’t have been able to bring myself to look down even if the world’s fate had required it.
Her hand abruptly slipped off of my skin and I was cooled instantly, steam releasing from all of my pores at once, like a red hot piece of steel dunked in water. I gasped for air and stumbled forwards, gripping my stomach, nearly vomiting from the shock alone. The crowd seemed averse to my display, and a small bubble formed around the both of us. I only knew the woman was still standing with me because she had already crouched down to my eye level, staring at me with just the same amount of intensity as a moment ago.
“Why are you so nearly spilling your insides on the street, sir?”
What an eloquent, yet rude thing to ask.
“God, I don’t know,” I coughed before taking the cool morning air into my lungs. The smell of burning flesh was lingering, yet I was still cold enough to shiver, “Maybe the heat?”
“Oh but that can’t be it, it’s cold and still spitting,” she said while glancing up to the sky, “Are you sure you’re all there?” she questioned, tapping at her own head to indicate my supposed insanity.
I gave back as disdained a look as I could manage while contending with the stomach pain, “Yes, and might I add—”
“Oh hush with the whining,” she cut me off, grabbing at my hand.
I flinched, only noticing that she’d already put her leather glove back on while she pulled me back to my feet.
“A little jumpy today are we? Just relax, I’ll be taking you with me but not to where you think.”
“Where do I think you’re taking me?”
“The station? I’m not arresting you is what I’m trying to say, must I honestly go into so much detail with you?”
I hadn’t even considered the possibility that she might try to arrest me.
“Come now, off we go,” she started to pull me along, “Still have that little tummy ache?”
“What? No... I feel fine now thank you.” I lied, I just didn’t want to give her the satisfaction that her condescending tone had seemed to seek.
She gave me a look as if to suggest her ability to both see through my lie and allow me the luxury of no further antagonism.
“So, where are you taking me?” I asked.
“Why not make it a surprise?”
She had begun to tug me along, her walk was brisk and had me trailing a few steps behind, stumbling every couple.
“You could at least slow down a bit—”
“Wouldn’t want to get caught in the rain again, now would we?”
She was definitely hiding something, other than just where we were going. A moment ago she’d been stomping through puddles without care for how wet her clothes were getting. And I have an umbrella. I couldn’t imagine that the rush was related to the weather.
“So what’s your name?” I asked.
“What’s it to you?” she answered.
“It’s just a name.”
She didn’t respond.
“You’re a detective aren’t you?”
“Is that so?”
“Oh come on, you won’t even tell me that?”
Again no response. It seemed she was intent on being rather uncooperative. If I had to guess she was avoiding answering any questions at all for fear that whatever she was hiding might slip. Fine, I’ll just answer the questions for her.
“Well I know you’re a detective, it doesn’t take much to figure that out. Probably homicide. You’re investigating the death of that young girl, am I right?” I paused, allowing her ample time to respond. She didn't.
“Fine, don’t waste your breath. I know you were arguing with those two cops about the murderer. And since you’re not going to answer I might as well tell you that they were right, it’s probably not the same guy.”
She stopped mid-step to turn and glare at me. Got her. Someone walking behind us had managed to run right into us. I know we were the ones who stopped in the middle of the street but come on man.
“You haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about.”
She glared at me with enough ferocity that I could’ve sworn she was silently growling. Without words, she managed to tell me that she knew exactly what I was doing but didn’t care to deal with my pushing anymore.
“It was the same person,” she explained, “The wounds were nearly exactly the same in both cases, the motive was the same, and so it was the same 'guy'.”
“So, what was the motive?” I asked, quickly working to press my advantage.
She stopped and grabbed my hand again, pulling me along. “You seem to believe you’re rather bright, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
“Well I hope so, now you’ve got me interested.”
Again no response. It seemed she wasn’t so willing to share after all. The rest of the walk fell relatively silent, I decided it would be in my best interest not to bother her too much. I wasn’t sure exactly where we were headed but I could tell just by the upkeep of the buildings ahead that it must be somewhere in the old ward slums. A mess of tangled apartment buildings and repurposed living areas that housed millions.
She started bringing me through progressively narrower alleyways and deeper into the slums than I’d normally be willing to venture. I hope she’s at least got a gun. Every once in a while we’d pass by some less than respectable guys sitting around the back exits of buildings, smoking whatever they could get their hands on I’m sure. Most of them didn’t say a word but a few whistled at the girl who was still dragging me by hand, others looked towards me throwing insults, most based on the assumption that we were having some weird lover’s quarrel and I was being brought to my punishment. Maybe that wasn’t so far from the truth, I still wasn’t certain on where we were headed.
The rain had mostly subsided and with it so did the frenzied hurrying of the girl I was with. My umbrella had made itself comfortable on a loop of my jacket, finally getting some hard-earned rest for the work it’d put in. I ended up staying out much later and felt bad for the little guy, spent all that time out and about when I’d lead him to believe I would only be out for a couple of hours. Believe me, I understand the feeling.
‘Here’ was an old brick building, if you could even call it that. Half of the walls were that of the original building, made up of that classic red brick, the other half looked like it’d been torn down or fallen over time due to poor construction and was filled in with gray concrete. Still, it wasn’t the kind of thing that you usually saw in Japan. All of the brick buildings that I’d ever run across were either new or part of an amusement park and thus pretty damn new.
The entrance looked to be a green metal door half-hidden in the ground, steps coming down off the sidewalk to meet it. There was a bulky keypad next to the door that the detective woman walked up to and before punching in the code, told me to look away. Even with my face turned in the opposite direction I could still hear the eight distinct beeps of the lock, up until it opened.
“You know this isn’t a very inconspicuous building if you were going for the whole secret lair thing,” I said.
“I’m quite aware. The room’s Naishiyo rating is only a three if it so pleases you to know.”
It was odd for a building out in this part of the city to have an advanced feature like that...
She only glanced at me in response before ushering me through and closing the large door behind us. It seemed to latch rather intensely.
“I was planning on following, you really didn’t have to force me here,” I said.
“Well that’s good news, you won’t be so bothered to know that the door locks from the inside.”
We had been standing in the middle of a hallway, with about five doors on either side, the length of it most likely spanning the entire street block. At the end of the hallway was a small window high up against the wall from which you’d normally be able to see the street, only it had been completely covered in electrical tape.
The detective finally let go of my hand and punched in another code into the second door on the right, eight digits. The door was a thick metal that looked to be extremely heavy, marked in sloppy black paint with a large ‘04’. It opened with a loud clunk that echoed through the hallway, she held it for me and once again invited me to enter before her. The room was larger than I’d been expecting, almost to the degree that I couldn’t believe the building I’d seen outside was housing it. One of the reasons for the feeling of size might have been the high ceilings, they created enough space over your head to give the impression of being intended for warehouse storage.
Despite the impression, the room was nearly empty. Only a few couches surrounded a television sitting on the ground, so old I’d be surprised it still worked. There was also a small table surrounded by nine chairs, and in the opposite corner of the room, a sewing machine and modern printer with its guts spilled out onto the floor. Beside them was a jumble of different metals and bits along with a few piles of assorted fabrics, seemingly also used as a makeshift sitting spot, made apparent by the empty shape of a small human that had been left on top. The room was only lit by a few lightbulbs, hanging far from where they’d been installed. At first, I had thought there was a lack of windows until I noticed three of them covered in tape, like in the hallway.
“Are you going to tell me what this place is now?” I asked, my voice echoing off the hard walls.
“Of course, if you promise to behave,” she began walking over to one of the couches, where I’d only now noticed a bunch of clothes hung over its back.
“I won’t be causing any trouble if that’s what you mean.”
“That’ll do. It’s just a room for meetups if you must know, that’s about it,” she said, taking off her coat and laying it over the back of the couch. Underneath she’d been wearing a white button-down and a black tie.
“Then what’s with all the security?”
“Can’t be too safe around these parts, can you?” she said, proceeding to take her tie off in one fluid motion, laying it on top of the coat.
“So then who meets here?”
“We’re just a group of friends, it’s honestly not so complicated or mysterious, as much as you seem to believe it is.”
It was definitely more complicated and mysterious than she was making it out to be. I looked around the room a little, trying to get a sense of the space. How many people met here to warrant so much room? But before that, I still didn’t know why I’d been brought here. It felt as if I had so many questions and none of the answers that I was getting were helping to quell my curiosity.
“So why did you bring me here?” I asked, glancing back at the detective who was now standing without a shirt on, “Woah—maybe a warning?” I quickly turned, averting my eyes.
“Never seen a naked woman? For some reason, I’m not surprised.”
“Never heard of common decency? I doubt you’d enjoy it if I just started stripping on the spot.”
“Funny you mention it, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing!”
“Excuse me?” I wanted to spin around right then, only stopping myself because last I saw, she’d been naked.
“And unless you’d like a large audience I suggest we get on with it, the others should be arriving rather soon,” from behind, I could feel her hand grab onto my chin, the cold skin of her fingers gently holding onto my face, guiding my head around to look at her.
She smiled for the first time and tilted her head a little, “Okay?”