“Slow down. I can’t help you if I can’t understand what you’re saying.” The man opposite me is visibly shaking. He also seems incapable of holding eye contact with me for more than a few seconds. He’s an interesting case, obviously a strong, battle-hardened man, but somehow he’s been broken down into the anxiety-ridden mess I see before me. Unfortunately, I’ve been treating all too many of these cases in the past few months.
“I...Oh, god, woman, where do I start? It all happened so fast. Those two-” he gestures toward photos of Rolf and the girl hanging above him, “-were passing through Arima, looking for hired help. As a Hunter, I thought I’d be up to the task.” His motioning toward the photos reminds me that we’re in Rolf’s house, not my office. I will never understand why Rolf is so stubborn about that.
As he talks, he starts to loosen up, straightening up in his chair and looking me in the eye more often. He continues: “Long story short, we got caught up in solving some unrelated local crime. Normally, I’d have quit as soon as they got sidetracked, but something about that girl made me want to help.”
“Which girl?” I clarified. He pauses for a second, trying to remember a name. Failing, he shakes his head and replies:
“Rolf’s...sister? Girlfriend? Got the cat ears.”
“Ah. Yeah, I’ve known Rolf for a while, but she’s still a mystery to me. Continue.”
“So after a few days of searching for leads, we bust into Nido Tower. That’s where the kidnapped girl - Teim, she was called - was kept. Found the scoundrels killed by biohazards. Don’t envy them, but can’t say I pity ‘em, either. Found the girl, too. I took an immediate liking to her. Reminded me of my daughter.”
Up until this point, he had (for the most part) gotten over his anxiety, sitting straight with steely blue eyes focused on mine. Almost as soon as he said that last sentence, though, he must have realized what he was going to say next, and began to break down again.
“I thought it would be a good idea to veil her face; Teim’s father, following her disappearance, had turned to banditry. I figured the people of Arima would be glad to hurt her, or worse, for revenge. And I couldn’t let anything happen to her.” I wasn’t sure where this would go, but judging by the man’s face, nothing good.
Before he can continue, we’re interrupted by someone opening the door. “Do either of you need something to drink? There’s tea if you want it.” It’s the girl. Neither of us knew how to respond to the interruption.
“Nei! Rolf’s voice comes from the hall. “Don’t bother them; they’re having a private conversation.”
“Sorry,” she says, and closes the door. We can clearly hear the girl running down the hall.
The man’s gaze follows the sound. He seems unable to focus, distracted by the interruption. After a moment, he continues, still looking at the door. “We took her to the tunnel where her father was said to be holed up. For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea for us to stay outside.” He now talks in a complete monotone, as if afraid to let emotion enter his voice.
“She ran to her father, happy to see him. Unfortunately, he did not feel the same way. Before she could embrace him, he blocked her path. With a blade. ‘Your money or your life,’ he said. Never having received any ransom note, he had left his daughter for dead, and became a bitter, heartless man. And with the veil still on, he had no idea it was her. After a long silence, Teim began to cry under the veil. She was swiftly silenced by his knife piercing her abdomen.
“We all heard the scream, and ran in. As soon as the girl fell to the ground, the veil flew off. Her father dropped to his knees, cradling her in his arms. I saw regret, sorrow, and finally anger contort his face. My two companions just stood behind me, shocked. I felt I had to do something, so I ran forward. I don’t know what I planned to do once I reached him, but it didn’t matter in the end. He pulled a grenade from his belt, and held it in the air, arm shaking slightly.
“‘Don’t,’ he said. I could hear his broken heart in his voice, but I didn’t respond to what he said. I took another tentative step forward, and opened my mouth to offer consolation, but I couldn’t hear if anything came out. He had already detonated the grenade. There was no trace of their bodies afterwards.”
I was speechless for a solid minute. Then all I could say was, “It’s not your fault.” Some psychologist I am. I tried again. “You just have to-”
“Forgive myself? It was hard enough doing that when I let my wife and daughter die. And yet it essentially happened again.” I stood up, mouthed “I’m so sorry” at him, and walked out to the front door. Rolf was waiting for me.
“I’m sorry for calling you on such short notice, Amy. Is he - is Rudolph - okay?” I just laughed.
“Rolf, I may not know what you’re after, but whatever it is, you’re in way over your head. We all are.”