Jodie had let him drive the three hours to their suspect to get some more time preparing for the upcoming conversation she was going to have. Occasionally, Shuichi took a quick glance over at her. Once Jodie got her teeth into something or someone, she wouldn’t let go of them anymore. Having her investigate someone was the least thing these people would want.
However, no matter how acquainted she was with the case and Inazumi’s first testimony, they had to rely on his cooperation first and for now. They had no chance of getting any information if he insisted on not having this interview without his lawyer.
When they arrived at their suspect’s address, they had nothing else to do but to wait. Shuichi had a cigarette or two while Jodie watched the quiet street. She looked bored and completely exhausted, causing him to smirk.
“I don’t know what’s worse,” Jodie muttered. “Being bound to your desk for weeks with no end or waiting and sweating in a tin can. In the next job description I better read the small print too.”
Shuichi laughed slightly, but couldn’t deny feeling the same way. Every now and then he took his cap off his head and wiped the sweat from his forehead. His hair stuck to his face and neck, making the whole situation a lot more uncomfortable. And it wasn’t much better outside of his car either as the sun was burning down on them.
Jodie sighed in the passenger seat beside him. “By the time our friend shows up, I’ll probably look like a cow. I’m sweating like one anyway,” she muttered.
Shuichi turned his head to her, grinning widely. “You don’t look like that yet,” he assured her.
And she wouldn’t look that bad either, even if they would sit in the heat until night came. The opposite was the case for Shuichi – the longer he spent in the confined space with his ex, the more often and longer his gaze lingered on her. Closing his eyes and following his thoughts was not helpful either when it caused unsolicited memories popping up in his conscience.
He needed a distraction – and if he didn’t get them, he at least needed a cold shower.
“Why am I sitting here with you and didn’t stay in the office, anyway?” Shuichi asked with the hint of displeasure in his voice.
He had his arms crossed over his chest and rested his chin on it too, as he gave Jodie a tired side glance.
“Don’t want you to get the last piece of cheesecake,” she replied with a cheeky twinkle in her eyes, making him smile.
“And you think it’ll still be there tonight?”
“I don’t care as long as you don’t get the last piece while I’m melting in here.”
Shuichi leaned his head back against the headrest with a wry smile and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, Jodie was tipping around on her phone’s screen. She ignored him which was tantamount to an invitation for him to eye her from the side.
Ever since their success against the Black Organisation, and Vermouth’s arrest, she’d taken off her father’s glasses. She also seemed to let her hair grow – it was unfamiliar, but it suited her. Just like the pink lipstick she had put on, which matched her blouse of the same color.
Shuichi’s gaze wandered from her lips down to her collarbone, and deeper, until it got stuck at her cleavage. Jodie had unbuttoned her blouse on their way to this place, but he suspected that it didn’t give her any kind of relief – and the view didn’t give him any relief either. Instead, her curves fed his imagination.
“You know you’re being paid to observe, don’t you?!” Jodie asked him dryly.
He looked up immediately, but she didn’t take her eyes off her phone for a second as she spoke.
“Paid to observe, huh?” Shuichi replied, rolling his eyes at her.
He averted his gaze from her entirely by looking out onto the street while leaning sideways against the car door.
“Don’t unbutton your shirt that far. It’s unprofessional.”
His words made Jodie’s head snap up and judging by the many lines on her forehead and the dark scowl, he seemed to have stepped on her toes.
“Why do you men actually see an invitation in any bit of bare skin to get off on and satisfy your fantasies?!” She snapped at him, angrily.
Suddenly, the air inside his car became thicker, and Shuichi felt an urge to leave the car to escape the dropping atmosphere. Instead, his mind was racing, trying to choose his next words more carefully. It wasn’t that easy when part of his thoughts got stuck on her curves and the other half was melting in the heat.
“That just happens when you sit in such a small space together for too long.”
“Oh, really now? You can’t do anything about it?” The sarcasm dripped from her lips as she rebuked him unequivocally. “Speak to me about unprofessionalism again when you’re the one forgetting your priorities because of two loose buttons.”
Shuichi opened his mouth, almost perplexed, and blinked. It took him a long moment for his usual smart brain to realize the hurtful effect of his words. As soon as he did, a soft expression appeared on his face. The corners of his mouth dropped.
“Jodie,” he said ruefully.
“Save it,” Jodie shot back at the same moment and put her phone back in her pocket. “Our man is coming.”
They got out of his new Chevrolet and walked over and onto their suspect’s property. Jodie had slipped into her gray blazer as she crossed the street, but her blouse remained open.
“Good afternoon,” Jodie said before Inazumi closed the door of his car. “I’m special agent Jodie Starling of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That,” she pointed to him, “is my colleague, special agent Shuichi Akai. Are you Mr. Masaru Inazumi?”
Shuichi kept a close eye on him with his piercing gaze while Jodie did the talking. It was her case, she had worked hard for this opportunity, so it was her who got to lead the interview as well.
He noticed how a brief flicker crept through Inazumi’s dark eyes. He turned his head to him for a moment, returning the look suspiciously, before looking him up and down. Eventually, Jodie regained his attention.
“That’s me,” the man said coolly. “Anything wrong?”
“No,” Jodie lied with a carefree smile that was supposed to give their suspect a false sense of security. He wouldn’t be able to resist her, Shuichi was sure of that. “Nothing to worry about anyway. May we come in for a moment?”
Inazumi’s expression darkened as he seemed to consider his answer. His posture was tense, but suddenly, he relaxed and shrugged his shoulders before he waved them over to the front door. Shuichi exchanged a quick look with Jodie and let her go ahead with a tiny nod.
“Not that I have anything to hide,” their suspect said as he unlocked the door with his back turned to them, “but actually, I don’t usually talk to you without my lawyer.”
“It won’t take long,” Jodie promised him in her sweetest voice. “You have a beautiful house, Mr. Inazumi. Are you living alone?”
He snorted. “As if you don’t know,” he retorted snarkily. “But thanks, I’ve worked hard for this.”
Shuichi was the last to enter the house, taking a close look around the hallway while Jodie kept talking to their suspect. She was not intimidated or put off by his gruff manner, instead she smiled gently and spoke to him in a soft tone. Jodie laughed slightly and moved closer to the young man’s side.
“What do I have to do to be hired by your employer?” She asked with a broad grin. “I was just thinking that I need a new job. My employer doesn’t pay so well that I can afford a house like this. You look quite trustworthy, but I’d have to decline when you have co-workers that stare at their female colleagues like a juicy steak and blame them for their own hunger? I’ve really had enough of those, no need to trade.”
Both of Shuichi’s eyebrows shot up towards his hairline as she spoke and went back deep into a frown a second later. He scowled at Jodie who returned the look sternly. He had the feeling that she would hold his thoughtless remark against him for the rest of the day. And aside from her, he got confronted with a condescending look from their suspect. Shuichi returned the eye contact in the same manner. The tense air between him and Jodie was probably noticeable to him too, although he didn’t care. He could think whatever he wanted as long as he chirped like a bird.
Inazumi led them through the expensive-looking hallway – a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling and what looked like a vinyl flooring on the ground – into the living room. A glass front stretched over the entire length of the room, giving a good view on the spacious garden with a pool. Though he seemed to be wealthy considering his house and his interior, it looked spartan. White walls, no decoration and only the most essential furniture being found in the huge space of his living room. The hallways hadn’t looked any different.
“So,” their target began, “why are you here? What do you want?”
Jodie sighed slightly but didn’t leave his side. Shuichi literally stared holes through the back of her head for her standing carelessly in his comfort zone. She was too close to him.
“Do you know a George Carter?”
His answer came like a shot from a gun. Shuichi lifted his chin and waited patiently, but there was no further question asked by him.
Jodie accepted his answer without expressing skepticism about it.
“Too bad. We would really like your father–”
“Stepfather!” Inazumi interrupted her angrily.
Jodie quickly apologized and regarded him with a soft smile. “We’d have liked to ask your stepfather about him, but that’s no longer possible.”
Shuichi turned away after the man’s little snap and continued to look around the living room unobtrusively. There was a fireplace on the far left wall from him. The framed pictures hanging over it seemed to be the only kind of decoration he had in the room.
“Unfortunately,” Inazumi repeated disparagingly. “The world is a better place without him.”
“How come?” Jodie asked, surprised but interested.
Inazumi snorted, turned away, and stepped around the corner to the right. Jodie followed him, forcing Shuichi to do the same. He didn’t want to take his eyes off her. They didn’t know their way around this house and, for all they knew, he could have weapons stored anywhere.
“You don’t know what it is like to grow up with a stranger because of your father leaving you alone.”
Shuichi saw Jodie nodded and ran a hand over her upper arm. He couldn’t tell if it was just an act or if it was her own discomfort showing.
“I know how that is,” she confessed to him quietly. “My parents didn’t deliberately leave me alone, but that doesn’t change the fact that I came into a new family at the age of eight. Suddenly, you have to stick to their rules, whether you like it or not. You have no say in any of what’s happening.”
“And on top of that, you have to show them your gratitude, too,” the man scoffed.
Shuichi had felt a touch of displeasure at the mentioning of her parents, but the corners of his mouth curled up in a dark smile at her dramaturgy. Good for her, because Inazumi did exactly what Jodie wanted: she won his empathy and trust.
Shuichi leaned forward over his wheel to put the key in the ignition. Instead of starting the engine and driving off, however, he halted for a moment. Then he leaned back and stared over at Jodie.
“What was that? In there.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jodie replied with a raised eyebrow. “I did my job– and did it pretty damn well, if you ask me.”
“Tch,” Shuichi uttered. He averted his gaze, shaking his head. And eventually, he drove off. “I didn’t look at you like– like a juicy steak.”
To his satisfaction, he could see Jodie’s cheek turning red as he used the exact same words she’d used earlier.
“To be honest, I expected that I’d win his sympathy with it. Don’t take it too seriously.”
Shuichi grumbled and dropped the topic. After all she was right – they had received a lot of additional information, though there was no confession in it or the name of their hitman. They also didn’t get any hint of reason for the murders.
Before Shuichi hit the highway, he stopped at a diner. The way back to Manhattan was long and they wouldn’t head straight home then either. As much as he knew Jodie, she would want to write and finish her report first before she went home.
“Did you see the photos above the fireplace?” Shuichi asked her over a shared plate of BBQ, french fries and coleslaw. “They were all old photos of a woman and a little girl.”
Jodie nodded. “I didn’t ask him about it, but I think it’s his mother and sister. The latter died about ten years ago.”
“Brain trauma. According to his mother, she fell down the stairs in their house and died a few days after a serious head injury. She’s only been five.”
“Hm,” Shuichi hummed thoughtfully. “Did he say anything about his family? His father?”
He hadn’t heard all of their conversation because Jodie had gotten him to show her other parts of the house. She had left him on the first floor with a mixture of anger and worries – so much could have happened to her if he’d had some hidden weapons somewhere.
“Nothing we didn’t already know,” Jodie answered, shaking her head. “His parents divorced 15 years ago and his father moved to Switzerland. Allegedly, he didn’t have any contact to the rest of the family ever since.”