Disclaimers: The primary characters in this story are the creation and possession of Chiho Saito, Ikuhara Kunihiko and Be-Papas – all rights reserved by them and their representatives. The secondary characters and situations are copyright 2000, E. Friedman.
Japanese terms are defined in the Glossary at the end of each section. Notes to follow the story.
Please let me know if you enjoyed this story at email@example.com
1/23/03 – story updated, notes and glossary changes
1/31/03- illustration of the Investigator by Angie Karagounaki
A Special Case
Mitte sectari, rosa quo locorum / Sera moretur.–Cease your efforts to find where the last rose lingers. — Horace.
The moment she walked into the office, every cliché ever written about women and private eyes popped into my head. But none of them are true. I had no idea she’d be trouble, and her legs, while nice, weren’t better than average. Her hair was rolled into a bun-like hairstyle, and pinned, so I had no idea how long it was. In fact, she looked more like an office lady than a femme fatale.
I gestured her to a chair and nodded at my receptionist, a nice college student who was working her way through a degree in criminal investigation. I sat down behind my desk smiling reassuringly, and gave her my “break the ice and give the client a moment to orient” rap – mostly background about who I am, what I do…you know, disposable information.
She smiled, no, beamed, at me, and I found that I couldn’t read anything in her face. Not a thing. I pride myself on being pretty good with reading faces – it’s part of the skill set for the job – and it was a bit unnerving to find so blank a canvas. Her eyes sparkled with a friendly light, but behind that everything was guarded. Like visiting the Diet. You can see what they want you to see, but nothing more.
When I finished my spiel, she introduced herself as Himemiya Anshi, formerly of Houou, now living in Tokyo. She gave no occupation and I didn’t press for one. She could have been a madam for all I knew. I didn’t want to know. Something was very strange about her behavior and it bothered me quite a bit until I put my finger on it. She was here in my office and obviously wanted me to do work for her – then how come she wasn’t upset, nervous, or at least a little worried? *No one* came here without worries. That’s why you hire a private investigator, after all. This, combined with her eyes, pinged me immediately. There was something wrong here and I knew it. But she didn’t smell dirty. I decided to play along and see if I could figure out what was up.
“So,” I came around and sat on the edge of my desk, giving me the advantage of height over her, “What is it that I can help you with, Miss Himemiya?” I smiled at her, but left my eyes guarded too – she wasn’t the only one who could do that. A few years of police training teaches you how to do that, sometimes obviously, sometimes not. Her eyes widened, just a little, showing she had noticed. Good.
“I am sorry to be such a bother,” I waved away the traditional excuses, and she continued, “I am looking for someone. I want you to find her.” She looked down into the little clutch purse she held and pulled out a photograph. I took it but didn’t look at it. Not yet. I wanted to know more. I waited until she began speaking again.
“In case you’re worried, there’s nothing strange about this request. It’s not illegal, or even questionable. This woman is an old…schoolmate. We parted several years ago, and I’d like to find her. Can you help me?”
I noticed the hesitation, the use of “parted.” Old lover, I assumed, or maybe close to it. That would explain why she was so guarded. But for some reason, that didn’t wash. There was something she wasn’t telling me. One look into her face told me that she wasn’t going to tell me, either, and that she could wait as long as I could. I took the opportunity to look at the photo.
It was an amateur deal – a girl, pink-haired, in a school uniform of a sort. She stood next to another girl, obviously my Miss Himemiya. They both smiled, but where my client had that same polite, carefully empty smile, her companion’s face was open, glossy with happiness and youth. Blue eyes shone from the photo and I could feel the girl’s charisma, sensing it in the way she waved at the camera, the arm around Miss Himemiya’s slim form. I looked up.
“How many years ago?” I asked.
My client shrugged slightly. “Almost ten now.” I looked back down at the photo. That made the missing girl about my age. I wondered…
“Why’d you wait so long to look for her?” Still looking at the picture. There was something about that face…something I couldn’t put my finger on.
“I haven’t. I began looking for her as soon as we…graduated.” Again, I noticed the hesitation. I looked up again, my eyes slightly narrowed. Miss Himemiya noticed immediately and her smile became more placatory, her voice soothing. “And no, our school has no record of her current whereabouts. In fact, “and she sighed slightly, “the school has undergone quite a few changes since we were there. I’m not sure if any of their records would be of help anymore.” Something slipped in her guard, and I saw a moment of genuine pain pass over her face. I filed it away for future use – school was not a happy time. For whom? Miss Himemiya, or her lost “friend?”
I gave an exaggerated sigh. “The truth is, Miss Himemiya, I’m not sure I can help you here. If you’ve been looking for ten years…” The real truth was, I’d have taken this case for free. Not to find her, so much as find out what I wasn’t being told. That’s where the real investigative work comes in…what was the real story behind those guarded green eyes? “Have you been to another investigator?”
She shook her head. “No. I waited until I had followed every lead I could. They led me here…to Kyoto. That was about a year ago. Now…well, you were recommended to me. In fact, you are highly spoken of.” Her smile, again, and I found myself smiling back. No great beauty perhaps, but this woman’s charm was unmistakable.
“Spoken of?” I noticed that I was being exceptionally terse and decided to use that as a weapon. Maybe she’d believe that I didn’t want the job…maybe she’d tell me more. Maybe she’d stay here and we could chat for a while…
“By the police. Especially Officer Eishin. He told me that you had been a member of their force…” She paused and turned to look out the window. I hoped that my embarrassment didn’t show on my face. Tobei and I had been good friends, then more, and now we were good friends again. It worked better this way. When I was a cop, he would get terribly worried about me and try to smother me. It wasn’t good for either of us. By the time I left the force, we had already split, but he was a good guy and his new wife was very sweet. I had dinner at their place once a month; they came over mine about the same. I looked down at the picture in my hand, as my client turned back to face me.
There was a long silence until, at last, I looked up and met her eyes. All wards were in place, for both of us.
“Will you take the case?” She asked simply. No tears, not importuning…I had the impression she already knew my answer.
I shrugged. “Yes. Sure.” And I launched into my prepared speech on fees and expenses. Without blinking, she reached into her purse, and pulled out a checkbook. Scribbling for a moment, she handed me a check, and a small folded wad of bills.
“The check will cover your expenses when you travel. The cash is for right now. I expect you’ll want to start right away.” Her voice was sweet and gentle, but there was humor underneath it. I hesitated to take the money, feeling the universe about to laugh at my expense, but then, what else did I have to do? I shrugged once again and took the money with both hands, bowing formally.
My client laughed at that, and pulling away, she bowed herself. “I’ll expect a daily report from you – unless you’re away. Then just let me know when you come back. I’ll have the portfolio of information I’ve collected sent to you today.” That was the second time she referred to me traveling. I wondered where I was being sent.
“I’ll call you at…” I checked for a phone number on her check and repeated it to her. She nodded, then turned around crisply, stopped at the door, bowed once more to me, then left. The office felt much changed after she was gone. Slightly dingier, as if the color had leeched out of the paintings on the wall. I sat in my chair and sighed. This was going to be some case – I could already feel it. I sighed again and wondered just who I was going to find at the end of all this.
The evening found me wandering the trails near Uruhattan Falls, a place that I often came to think, to relax and sometimes just to watch people. I liked being asked to take pictures of people with their own cameras – it felt like I was part of their family or tour, for a minute. The falls were beautiful, especially as the weather had been so good, and this night there were few other people around. I sat on a bench and listened to the music of the falling water. I didn’t notice my eyes were closed until they popped open at a loud noise nearby. Yawning, I sat up and stretched, drawing attention from the obatarian next me. She scowled and turned away. I mentally stuck my tongue out at her, and got up to take a walk and get the blood flowing. It had been a long day.
That afternoon, Nikki had handed me a manila envelope, thick with papers. She said it had been delivered about ten minutes previously, while I had been on the phone. I thanked her and after she had closed the office door, opened the envelope. Inside was an accordion folder with neatly labeled divisions, and a note folded into a handmade paper envelope. Nice local touch, I thought. The note was brief, and neatly written.
Here is all the paperwork I have to date. The missing person’s name is Tenjou Utena. Please call me if you have any questions.
Terse, to the point. I found myself liking Himemiya Anshi more and more. She certainly didn’t beat around the bush – and there aren’t many women like that. She didn’t look any older than I did, but her manner was that of a more mature, older woman – one who has seen many things and isn’t going to waste too much time on them. I wondered who she was and why she hadn’t been able to find this friend of hers. She seemed to have considerable resources.
“Tenjou Utena.” The name meant nothing to me. I flipped open the portfolio cover and took out the first sheaf of papers. Birth records, early school records, athletic awards…no scholarships or other awards of that nature. Transfer to private Ohtori Academy at age 13, graduation four years later. That completed her school portfolio. Everything nice, neat and tidy. It immediately put my hackles up.
The next sheaf was no less informative, no less useless. Tenjou had been orphaned at 3, spent some time at an orphanage, ran away once or twice. The last time, at the age of 6, she had been gone for nearly a week, and had been returned by a businessman named Kiryuu. His son had discovered the girl hidden in a local church. Shortly after that, she had been given to an aunt, her mother’s sister, a corporate interior designer who traveled internationally. At 13, when she had transferred to Ohtori Academy, the aunt had moved to Amsterdam. They wrote sporadically, the correspondence tapering off after she moved. The last letter her aunt had written was in the file.
I am sorry that it has been so long since I last wrote. I haven’t heard from you in a while. It’s been so busy here! I had a big job in Paris – I told you about that in my last letter, and about Michel. We were married last month and as I hadn’t heard from you, I thought I’d better let you know – I’ve made arrangements to give you the apartment in Japan, as I’ll be living here permanently. When you’ve got yourself settled, write. I miss you all the time and want to know what you are doing now…it’s been so long since I heard from you.
It went on like that for a while. There was a follow up note appended to the aunt’s letter, mentioning that my client had attempted to reach the aunt at her last known address and phone number, but was unable to do so. The woman had apparently faded away, like an apparition.
The next section was information pertaining to Tenjou’s apartment, left to her by the aforementioned aunt. The apartment had never been used. Tenjou had never contacted the lawyers and although the rent was still being paid, the red tape associated with that payment made it impossible to trace the source of income. The trail petered out an offshore holding company based in the Cayman Islands. I stared at this for a while, wondering who the hell my client was, that she could access all these records – and why they all ended so suddenly. I began to suspect foul play, but then, if that had been the case, why had nothing been reported to the police? Was it a Jane Doe case? Maybe Tobei could help me on this.
The final section was a rough collection of personal notes, names of contacts, addresses, phone and fax numbers, and email addresses. All the miscellany that Miss Himemiya had gathered in the course of her investigation. Several names popped out at me. Kiryuu came up a few times, I noticed. It had been a Kiryuu that found Tenjou when she had run away…and had returned her to the orphanage. And that same boy had attended Ohtori when Tenjou had been there. Coincidence? I doubted it. I paged through the files and found a phone number. The date on the paper was less than 6 months ago, so I figured it was as good a place to start as any. Nice how my client had kept such meticulous records… as I dialed my phone, I wondered again where I was being led.
Now, several hours and one appointment to see Kiryuu Touga tomorrow at 16:00 later (assuming that my train to Tokyo was not delayed) and I’d start putting together the mystery of the disappearance of Tenjou Utena. The light was beginning to fade as I left the noise of the Falls behind me, while my mind ran on ahead.
There is nothing as relaxing as a hot bath, and tonight I appreciated it more than usual. My meal, a boxed thing I picked up on the street, had been good, but I was feeling uneasy. After I had packed my bag for tomorrow’s journey (and deposited my client’s check in my account) I needed to do something to kill time. I relaxed into the hot water, sighing with relief. Several fellow bathers shot me tight smiles and returned to their conversations.
My conversation with Tobei had been a surprise, to say the least. When he had answered the phone, it seemed like he had been expecting my call.
“Yeah, hey.” He was always informal to the point of rudeness. One of the things I loved about him when we met.
I told him of Miss Himemiya’s visit, her request, the useless dead end in the info she sent me, and my suspicion that something had happened to the missing girl. He made a rude noise into the phone.
“Nah, you know, we investigated that angle.”
“Yeah – when Miss Himemiya came to town. An executive order was received. We were to open a case – missing person’s believed murdered, no habeas corpus, or anything, but like a Jane Doe case.” I nodded, just what I was thinking.
“Well you know how it is, there’s more pressing things that take up your time – we put out the APB, and asked for help from the NPA…of course we turned up nothing.”
“No candidates at all?” There had to be *someone* who fit the bill.
“Nope.” I could hear him shrug over the phone. “Houou’s pretty far off the beaten path.”
“What about the lure of the big city and all that? Maybe she left school and got in trouble in Tokyo.”
“Unh-uh. All the bodies we had were poorer, bad physical condition, bad teeth – ya-chan, illegals, foreigners, you know the rap. This girl was strong, healthy, athletic. No way they could be her.”
It was my turn to shrug. “So what happened?”
“Well, we sent all that we got to the higher-ups. A week later we get an order that we can drop the case. Next day, that robbery on the train hits and we’re off to new pastures.”
I made a noncommittal noise.
“You know,” Tobei finished up, “I kept wondering who your Miss Himemiya is…someone important enough to get our brass to open a new case for her.”
Yeah, I wondered that too. We chatted a bit, reaffirming our next night for dinner together, then hung up.
Long after I returned from the bathhouse, I lay there on my bed and thought about Himemiya Anshi and her friend, who had disappeared off the face of the earth not quite ten years ago.
My train was on time. Not surprising, but pleasant nonetheless. I ate a late lunch from a street stand and watched the salarymen stuff themselves at record speed at one of those restaurants that charges by the minute. It never ceases to amaze me what people will agree to.
I was early for my appointment with Kiryuu of the Kiryuu, Takahashi and Suzaki Partnership. I preferred to be early, so I could get a feel for the office culture. I was surprised to find the secretary greeting me pleasantly, without that superciliousness they usually reserve for the unworthy visitor. Meaning nearly everyone. She was plain, but polite and efficient. Her relationship with the people that she spoke to on the phone was reserved, but she exhibited none of that “executive’s assistant” snobbishness I frequently see. In her brief moment off the phone, I asked her a few questions, which she could not, or would not answer, but never did she become less than professional. By the time I was let in to see Kiryuu himself, I was pretty sure what I’d meet – stolid, ex-jock, coming from a long enough line of money that he doesn’t have to be rude to the help. Married, family man, traditional values, etc.
I was wrong.
The man that greeted me had never been a jock. I could see immediately, from his almost effeminate gestures, to his insinuating voice – he had been a pretty boy. Athletic, maybe, but his main hobby had been ladykiller. His hair, a little longer than is usual in a corporate firm, was red and silky. He tossed it back uneccesarily from time to time. It was a habit he had picked up with it had been much longer, I guessed. His greeting was warm, but not familiar and he led me into a very office-like office. It might have been furnished from “corporate office handbook.” Big desk, big window, sideboard, bookshelves, etc. Nothing worth looking at. I got the feeling he wasn’t really comfortable here. His eyes moved around the room, not lighting on any one feature. He hadn’t picked the furniture – not even the sculpture on his desk. Poor guy.
As he talked about the company – they did something horribly dull that I completely blocked out, even as he talked about it – I noticed that he fiddled with a silver ring on his pinky. No wedding band, but that didn’t mean anything. No photos anywhere, either. That did. This guy was still single. I wondered if he was gay, but he didn’t strike me that way. Another mystery, but a small one. He probably kept more than one mistress in more than one place.
He was telling me something about how he and his sister ran the company together. She handled Operations; he was more the figurehead of the group. That would explain why he hated the office so much – he was a people person. Being stuck here, without crowd adulation was killing him. I reappraised him. Good looking, playing to a camera that wasn’t there – yes, I could see that he’d be the company spokesperson, and do it well too. I thought about the plain, efficient secretary outside and decided that she had been picked to protect him from himself. I almost smiled at the idea, but managed to cover it by coughing slightly.
“Which brings me to the reason for your visit.” Kiryuu turned away as he spoke, his eyes wandering to the window and back. “You said you have some questions about an old schoolmate of mine?”
“Yes,” I agreed pleasantly. “A girl named Tenjou Utena.” Kiryuu’s face didn’t change. Polite smile, dissatisfied eyes. He met my gaze evenly.
“I’m afraid I won’t be of much help to you. I only remember her very vaguely. After all it was ten years ago that we were in school together. And she was younger than I was.”
“But you *do* remember her?” I pressed. To my surprise, he colored slightly.
“I do. As I say, she was at school with me.” He cleared his throat and swiveled towards the window. “I believe, well, I went out with her for a very brief time.” He paused. “I remember liking her quite a bit.”
I was getting used to saying nothing – a time honored technique to get people to talk about themselves.
Kiryuu laughed a little, a dry laugh, self-deprecating. His voice was insinuating, as if he was confessing a great secret. “It may seem very odd to you, but I was not in the habit of actually liking the girls I went out with.” He swiveled back and looked at me, from beneath what had once been long bangs that would have fallen over his face. “I went out with so many you see, they all kind of…blurred.”
I nodded encouragingly and said, “But this Tenjou Utena, she was different?”
He sat back in his chair, fingers steepled, eyes closed. “Yes, different. I remember she used to dress in a different school uniform, more like the boys’.” Smiling, he opened his eyes and said, “I remember when they passed the new rule that stated girls could not wear the boy’s uniform. This was just before I graduated, you understand, and I was still President of the Student Council. What a riot! There were protests everywhere – some of the boys even went so far as to wear the girl’s uniform…it would have been funny if it weren’t so very silly. The rule was repealed, though – my last act before I left.” He preened, pleased with his magnanimity. I disliked this Kiryuu and allowed my impatience to show.
“And Tenjou Utena?” I prodded.
“What about her? She was different…I liked that. Confident, athletic. It might have been good between us, only…” he stopped, his brows furrowed. This boy was either the best liar in the world, or should have avoided poker like the plague.
“Only it wasn’t.” His soft mouth tightened and my regard for Tenjou upped a notch. Anyone that rejected Kiryuu was a hero in my book.
The door opened and a pert little figure strode into the room. Immediately the cameras all swung her way. Kiryuu noted this and stood to meet her, gaining back some of the crowd for his own.
“Allow me to introduce our COO, and my sister, Kiryuu Nanami.”
I bowed, but made no motion to stand, or shake hands. Nanami raised one eyebrow, but said nothing. She greeted me, then launched into a rapid-fire speech, requiring Kiryuu’s complete attention. Now my eyebrow rose. This Nanami was a spitfire. It was obviously she who really ran the company, as Kiryuu had implied. I could see that she had a precise grasp on the daily operations of the firm. And it hit me in a blink – she had chosen the secretary and the furniture. She probably ran his whole life. No wonder he wasn’t married. After a few minutes of business talk, she turned towards me, almost dismissing her brother, who moved back to his chair by the window.
“I’m sorry that I could not be here sooner. As you can see, we’re very busy.”
The royal we, I supposed, because Kiryuu didn’t look busy at all. I imagined him sitting at his desk, twiddling his thumbs, and had to cover my smile with another cough.
“I’m sorry to interrupt you, as well.” I made the usual polite noises. “Actually, I was just finishing up. Do you have a moment to answer a few questions? I’m here about a missing person – an old schoolmate. Tenjou Utena.”
Kiryuu Nanami was a spitfire, with all that implies. Engines revving, wings spread, machine gun pumping out lead. My simple sentence seems to have torn a hole in the manifold, though, and the Kiryuu Nanami was grounded immediately.
“Tenjou Utena?” She said the words like they tasted bad.
“Yes, I’m trying to find her – what can you tell me about her?”
Nanami’s face went through an amazing variety of expressions in less than a second. From distaste, to chagrin, to embarrassment and even a little fear passed over her carved features. I watched this amazing transformation patiently.
“There isn’t much to tell,” she began. I doubted that. I wondered what she wasn’t saying to me, but could hardly press her here, in front of her brother. “We hardly knew each other. We didn’t get on very well.” And her face closed off, just like that. She made her apologies, ended the interview and was about to leave, when she turned back and said, “If you have no further questions, I’ll be glad to escort you out.”
I know a lead-in when I see one. I accepted, made my farewells and thanks to Kiryuu Touga and walked down the hall with the younger Kiryuu sibling. She was silent all the way to the elevator. When the elevator had started down, she punched a code into the pad and the car stopped. Turning to face me, her face flushed, she grabbed my arm.
“Leave us alone, please. Did *she* send you?”
“Who?” I asked, not sure what she meant.
“That witch, Himemiya!” she hissed, her nails biting into my wrist. “She sent you, didn’t she?” I nodded, stunned. I expected information about Tenjou, not this reaction to my client.
“Whatever you do – never trust her. Do you hear me?” Tears filled her eyes and anguish made her voice crack. “She’ll use you, as she’s used us, me and my brother…” She wiped the tears away angrily. “I thought we were free of her, now I see we never will be.” And she let go of my arm with a jerk, as if it caused her pain. Pulling out a handkerchief, she dabbed at her eyes, then punched a second code into the pad with a stabbing fingertip. The elevator continued its descent. This performance so shocked me I completely forgot to ask her what she meant. The elevator came to the ground floor and the doors slid open. I stepped out and before I had time to do more than turn around, I found myself being met by two sauntering building security men.
Nanami stepped out of the elevator and spoke to the security goon who had taken a position on my left. “Will you please escort the Investigator out of the building? And make sure we never have a repeat visit.” To me she simply hissed. “Go away. Drop the case. Forget everything. And leave my brother alone.” Then turning away she walked quickly out of the foyer and into a section marked “Executive Suite.”
And that was it. The guard on my left looked at me and smiled politely – a genuine smile, not one that was intended to intimidate. I recognized him slightly and when I caught the name on his uniform I smiled broadly in return. This was the younger brother of a guy I had gone through Police Academy with – a good kid. I didn’t want to make any trouble for him, so I headed for the door and he and his partner accompanied me while we caught up on a few years of life.
Just outside the door I paused. “Can I ask you a couple of questions? Nothing that’ll get you in trouble.” I smiled and he nodded. “What do you think of the Kiryuu’s? Anything about them striking?”
Shun looked thoughtful, but his partner laughed derisively. “Other than the fact that she’s got all the balls?”
I grinned at that. “She’s a pistol, that’s for sure. Nah, what I mean is – what do you think they’re like as people? Know anything about them?”
Both shook their heads, but Shun added, “There’s something…weird about them. Is that what you meant?” He paused. He’s no quick wit, but his mind is a steel trap – I remembered his brother saying that a few times.
“Something weird.” Shun continued. “Like there’s something she knows and he doesn’t. And she knows he doesn’t, but he doesn’t even know he doesn’t know it.” His partner burst out laughing at that, but he had hit the nail on the head. I was impressed.
We made some small talk and I left, promising to let his brother know I’d seen him.
On the train home three girls in school uniforms talked filth about the boys they knew, the punk next to me snored while his headphones blared and salarymen stood like sardines in a can all the way home. By the time I got home I was ready to fall down where I stood and sleep.
Blearily I checked the machine for messages; there were two. The first was my now even more mysterious client.
“I’d like to hear what you’ve learned so far. Will you join me for dinner at Capital Toyotei tomorrow night? Let’s say 20:00?” the message clicked off. I gave a low whistle as I pondered it, but the next message stopped that train of thought dead.
“Hello? I’m not sure if I have the right number, but my name is Kaoru Miki. I am a professor here in Kyoto…I received a phone call today from my friend Kiryuu Nanami. She tells me that you’d like to find Tenjou Utena. I thought I should save you some time and call you. Please call me back at…” the string of numbers listed informed me that he was calling from Kyoto Sangyo University. I walked over to the table, found the portfolio of information that Miss Himemiya had collected and paged through it to the end. Kaoru Miki, professor of Intercultural studies…Chiba University. As I changed for bed, I pondered what brought the good professor out here to Kyoto. Then I pondered over my dinner date tomorrow night – fancy restaurant, overlooking the Botanical Gardens. Better go black tie…or at least tie. I wondered if I had clothes nice enough to get myself in the door of Capital Toyotei. Then I laid down and didn’t wonder anything else for several hours.
The next morning came all too quickly. I woke up as the alarm went off and managed to turn it off before any of the morning news had a chance to ruin a perfectly good day. Breakfast was leftovers, a quick set of exercises, and I was ready to face the conundrum that called itself the world. First up, my client. I didn’t really want to talk to her, but I owed her at least the courtesy of a reply. My day was 100% so far – she was out. Or just didn’t answer the phone this early. I told her I’d be there with bells on, and a report.
That gave me useful occupation for an hour or so, typing up what I had (and hadn’t) learned, and leaving out any useful information, which I always do in case my clients feel like doing a run-around on me. Call me paranoid.
When I had completed the report, I checked the time and decided it was late enough to call Kaoru and set up an appointment. I wondered what rabbit hole I’d fall down today and idly whistled “I’m Late” from the Disney version while the phone rang. A sleepy voice answered, very young. I asked for Kaoru and the voice asked me to hold. It was a long time before an older, male voice picked up on the line. I introduced myself and mentioned that he had called me yesterday. His voice was male, but rather young sounding to be a professor of anything. There was a slight note of hesitation in his voice as we set up a meeting. I wondered if he was as young as he sounded. We rang off with polite words and empty promises.
I yawned and stretched and decided to treat myself to a new suit, or at least jacket, today. My account bulged with not-yet-earned gains and I deserved something spiffy. Maybe two things. I slipped on my shoes and noticed how thin they looked. Maybe shoes too – did they count as proper expense? I grinned and decided that even if my client couldn’t afford it, I deserved new shoes. Feeling like today was a good day, I left the apartment humming to myself.
Shopping in the morning is always weird. Everyone looks at me funny, like I should be somewhere else. With almost everyone at work, or carting babies around, I guess I do stand out a bit. A few old folks were on the streets too and I tipped the hat I don’t wear at them and greeted them. Some of the men smiled, most of the ladies did, a few scowled at me, wondering what I wanted. I walked to my favorite clothes store and let the sales help deck me out in a silk jacket and pants, new shirt. Not bad, I thought, as I checked myself out in the mirror. I wanted to wear the suit home, but decided not to risk it getting dirty before tonight. Next stop shoes. That was a little harder. Fashion is a harsh master and I had a difficult time finding the right kind of shoes. But when I was done, I knew I’d be the shining star at dinner that night.
Entirely pleased with myself, I grabbed a light lunch, then headed for the university. I was due to speak with one Kaoru Miki and I couldn’t wait.
Kaoru wasn’t at all what I expected. I guess I expected someone more aesthete looking, more hunched shoulders and peering eyes over thick spectacles. Kaoru was not terribly tall, but lean, athletic and fit. His frame moved like a well-oiled machine and it was lovely just watching him pace up and down his office. He talked a bit about his life at Ohtori, the fencing team. His name kept ringing a bell and just about the time he mentioned playing the piano I remembered where I had heard it. When I was younger there had been a popular song he wrote and recorded. It was overplayed on all the stations and everyone got sick of it. As fast as it had come, it was gone. I wondered if he ever played it anymore. I realized he had stopped talking and was looking at me quizzically. I decided to take a different tack with him than I had with the Kiryuu’s.
“Professor Kaoru,” I began with a pleasant smile, “do you remember a Himemiya Anshi from school?” I expected a reaction, but not the one I got. The Professor, whose lithe frame had not been still since I had entered, froze. His complexion went white, then a sickly green. He looked like he was going to pass out. I stood to help him, but as if he was released from a spell, the blood returned to his face and he waved me away. He sat down heavily on the edge of his desk and I retreated to my chair.
“I’m sorry,” he passed a hand over his face. His voice was thin and shaky. “That name. When you said it, I felt so…” he shook his head and stared off into the distance. I wondered if I had just done something very, very stupid.
I was about to apologize when he looked up at me with blazing blue eyes. “I do remember her, you know.” His voice was intense. “We weren’t supposed to. Everyone else forgot, just like the time the Black Rose came.” He had lost me after the first sentence, but I was unwilling to stop him. The light in his eyes flashed, he looked half mad with something I couldn’t place. I could feel my legs tense beneath me in preparation for something.
“After it was all over, we felt so…at a loss. None of us knew what to do. But there were classes, and clubs and we all just went back to them, pretending they had never been, never existed. The letters stopped, of course, but we were still the Student Council and we all acted like it meant something. But she was gone…gone…” His voice grew faint and I sprang up again, just in time to catch him as he fainted.
I called the department receptionist and found some spirits in his liquor cabinet. They looked untouched, so I broke a seal and poured a glass of something or other. He was stirring on the ground and I lifted him and helped him sip the drink. He coughed and spluttered, but that seemed to make him feel better. When I sat back, the receptionist came in and said she had called the campus EMT squad and that they would be here in a few minutes. Kaoru protested, but I insisted. The secretary left and he looked at me strangely. I could see him as a young boy, from a photo in the file. Weary, almost sad eyes, so serious in that uniform. I wondered what burdens it had placed upon him.
“I have to tell you, ” he laughed self-deprecatingly, “The EMTs won’t find anything – it only happens when I try to remember.”
“Try to remember what?” I asked.
“What Utena looked like.” And he lay back on the floor and closed his eyes. A moment passed and then he spoke again. “I liked her a great deal. She was real. Very down to earth. And she was a good friend. To me and to Anshi. Anshi…” he sighed deeply. Still lying on the floor. “I loved Anshi you know.”
I didn’t. “Tell me about her. About Anshi.” I prompted.
“I can’t. It’s all blurred. The only things I can remember are shaved ice and math and the piano. It’s all blurred. And every time I think of her, I try to see Utena – and this happens.” His voice was thick and I tried not to see the tears at the corner of his closed eyes.
I dug into my pocket and found the photo. “Why don’t you look at this?” I held it out and he slowly sat up. Taking it from my hand he looked at it for a long time. In perfect silence he stared like a man redeemed. I felt my throat close at the look on his face. It was rapture.
He held it out for me to take back. “Thank you. Thank you.” His hand shook, so I took the picture quickly. “I can already feel it fading, but thank you for letting me see them again.” He lay back down, groaning with the effort. “I know we’re not supposed to remember. But it was nice to see them again.” And he passed out.
I checked his pulse at his wrist and throat. His heartbeat and breathing were steady, so I sat there holding his hand until the med squad arrived. The put him on the stretcher and asked me questions. I told him that it was probably blood sugar or something and they let me go.
When I arrived home, I felt drained. This was all so confusing. What on earth could possibly make people forget someone so completely? Why? Who was my client and why did one person hate her so much, while a man who called that woman “friend” loved her?
I spent the rest of the afternoon doing regular office chores. Calling people back, sending out invoices – and typing up the rest of the report. I stared at the monitor for a long time. What the hell could I say about that interview that wouldn’t make me sound nuts?
The finished product wasn’t satisfactory, but it would do.
Diet: The administrative body of Japan, and the building in which it meets. Prounounced “Die-et,” just like it’s spelled
Obatarian: From the word “oba” or older woman and “batallion.” It refers to the many older women who seemingly rule the streets during the day and are frequently rude or pushy.
NPA: The National Police Association. The administrative body for all Japanese local police forces. Other than in Tokyo and Hakkaido, the NPA is the central authority for all local police forces.
Ya-chan: A slang term for gangster. It was long considered to be a very bad idea in Japan to say the word “yakuza” or even mention that someone looks like one.