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Living in the Dark

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It wasn’t like Jodie had never been in the office earlier than her co-worker, but rarely ever did he come after her, looking like an angel of death himself. He was pale and looked tired – more tired than usual – and when he pulled the hat off his head, his hair stuck out in all directions. Jodie couldn’t help but grin despite his exhausted-looking condition. If she didn’t know better, she’d say he’d just fallen out of bed, but in reality, his curly hair was probably too stubborn to get tamed by the products he used.

“Morning,” she said with a smile.

His reply was drowned out by a good yawn before he dropped down on his chair like a heavy bag of potatoes.

“Did you not get any sleep?” Jodie asked and wrinkled her brows.

Her smile faltered slowly the longer she looked at him. He was barely able to keep his eyes open, that Jodie wondered how he even made it all the way to the office in the first place.

“A little,” Shuichi admitted brusquely.

“You should have stayed home then,” Jodie muttered, her voice changing in a lecturing tone.

She wanted to show him what she found out at the weekend, yet she was worried when he came to work in the desolate condition he seemed to be in. Someone like him could afford to call in sick for a day.

She saw the corners of his mouth twisting into an ironic grin with his eyes closed.

“What? And leave you here alone?”

“Uh!” One of her eyebrows raised up to her hairline. “You know, I’m grown up, Shuu. You don’t have to take me by the hand anymore.”

The darkening smile on his face made Jodie halt. She blinked and let her teeth sink into her bottom lip as her words echoed through her mind.

“Not that I mind. I mean, if you come to work anyway. Not the other thing…” She revised her former words quietly and indistinctly.

She hid behind her monitor to avoid Shuichi seeing her red face. She felt her body heat up, getting hotter and hotter, and she only hoped that she wasn’t as red as she felt. Shuichi could take her by the hand at any time. Outside of their work. She just didn’t want to be intrusive and give him the impression of a hung-up ex, seeing a new spark of love in every friendly gesture.

She heard Shuichi laugh. Suddenly, a rolled-up newspaper landed next to her keyboard and startled her.

“I was referring to the thing you mentioned at the weekend,” he said. “And give me the paperback when you’re done. I haven’t read it yet.”

Jodie thanked him and started unrolling the newspaper immediately. She couldn’t hide the fine smile on her lips because Shuichi kept bringing her the new apartment ads almost every day. She had never asked him to do so but she appreciated his attention.

Automotive industry growing rapidly – the headline of the first page read. Jodie ignored it, instead, she caught another article about a hostage situation where the killer got shot on Saturday night.

“Did you hear about the scene in Brewster?” Jodie asked as she flipped through to the page with the home advertisings – but stopped at the article of the crime. “It wasn’t that far from here.”

The article wasn’t long and only dealt with the supposed background of the crime and possible motives. The perpetrator shot a pastor and injured several churchgoers- some of them badly until he got stopped by one of their colleagues.

“Hm,” Shuichi growled from behind his desk. “Just because you’re living under a rock doesn’t mean I do.”

“I had my first weekend off in weeks,” she jumped to defend herself. “Besides, I’ve been thinking about our case all Sunday. Excuse me.”

Shuichi regarded her with a dark look which she couldn’t interpret, but eventually, he turned the focus of their conversation back to the main reason for bringing the newspaper.

“Didn’t you get any feedback yet?” He asked as he rolled closer to the desk with his chair.

“I did,” Jodie muttered. She found the needed pages and scanned them with a schooled first look. “But I haven’t had time to meet with any landlords or agents yet.”

And also, some areas no longer seemed like a good option when she suddenly had to actually decide whether to take the apartment or not. However, it was none of Shuichi’s business to know the reasons for that.

Of all the advertisements in the current issue, Jodie only picked out two. She first marked them and later wrote the address and phone number down. She would call there during a short break at noon – for now, she had to work. Neatly folded, she returned the newspaper to Shuichi.

“So?” He asked expectantly as he took his eyes off his monitor. “What about Saturday?”

Jodie had already sent him pictures and had shared her hastily made conclusion but now she had the opportunity to elaborate the whole matter. After all, she had been busy with it all Sunday. She had brooded over the new things she had found out for a long time, about the new understanding of this case and possible new straws to clutch on. She went through reports of their analysts, but nothing seemed to her as clear as the latest theory she presented to him.

“That’s possible,” Shuichi, who redrew the Kanji with the given parts from the crime scenes. “But either he’s an idiot or he doesn’t know how to write kanji.”

Jodie took a judging look at his notes. She let her eyes move up to his face and back to the paper in front of him.

“Not like you’d win an award for fine handwriting in Japan either,” she said, smirking at him with a raised eyebrow. She got used to his terrible handwriting, but there had been a time in the past when she wasn’t able to decipher his scrawl.

At least a hint of a grin crept onto his face before the corners of his mouth gave way to gravity.

“His stroke order doesn’t match the correct spelling. You can see clearly where he started to write and where he stopped.” Shuichi pointed at the thick end of one of the bloody strokes that ended in a round shape of his used fingertip.

Sighing, Jodie sank down onto the edge of his desk. “And how does that help us? Looking for an idiot does not significantly limit our pool of suspects.”

Shuichi dropped the pen he was holding in his left hand. With his other hand, he rubbed his eyes and leaned back while his gaze kept resting on the spread-out photos, taken at the crime scenes.

“Not significantly,” he admitted. “I just think that this guy is not familiar with what he does. I would guess that we’re not looking for a native.”

“That only leaves us with just 95-somewhat percent of the US,” Jodie mumbled sarcastically. She gave Shuichi an appraising look. “Besides, you don’t look like you’re not a native yourself.”

“Hah!” Shuichi gave a short, rough laugh. “I’m not?”

Jodie glared at him defiantly. “Say watashi wa .”

 Shuichi just snorted and looked away.

Wotoshi wo ,” she went to shamelessly imitate him when he didn’t do her the favor. She had too much fun teasing him with his accent, which broke through time and again – especially when he wasn’t fully awake yet or when his mind was preoccupied with different things. “Atotokakatta.”

“You like the danger, don’t you?” Shuichi asked with a smile. “What does that even mean?”

“Ohh,” Jodie exclaimed with a playful but faked concern as she leaned over the desk to get closer to him. “Do we need another Japanese cla–“

Suddenly, Shuichi’s cold hand covered her mouth and stopped her from speaking. At the same time, he pushed her head away forcefully until she slid off the edge of the desk, laughing.

“In any case,” he said, in order to bring the attention back to the essentials, “a lot changes when we look for a hitman instead. Do you have anything else?”

Jodie stretched her arm out to point at one of the photos. Somewhere near any of these bloody characters were a small circle – also drawn with the blood of the victims.

“I think this symbol doesn’t read zero like it was assumed to be,” she continued to talk about the things she found out. “It could be a sign for the moon. I know for a fact that it was a full moon when the last victim was murdered.”

“Only that night?”

Jodie rolled her eyes. “Of course not! I checked the other dates and, believe it or not, it happened to be a full moon every single time.”

“Without exception?”

“Without exception.” She nodded.

“Any idea why he only kills when the moon is full? Or why he is leaving us the message?” He kept asking. “No wonder we thought him to be a serial killer.”

“Hmm, maybe the message isn’t meant for us,” Jodie mused aloud. “But as far as I know, these pictures never ended up in the newspapers.”

 

Shuichi gathered the spread photos in a neat stack and handed them back to Jodie.

“Maybe,” she thought out loud, “we should talk to the stepson of the first victim again. His mother is American, but his name didn’t sound very American. Wait.”

Jodie put the pictures aside and searched the file on her desk until she found the name she was looking for.

“Here! Masaru Inazumi. He’s 28 years old and lives alone in Binghamton. We have nothing about his father though. He might have moved out of the states after his divorce.”

“Do you think his father has something to do with the murder of his ex’s new husband?”

Jodie sighed and pushed the papers away. “I don’t know, Shuu. But I think there is a possibility that one of them has something to do with it and we should try to talk to the boy again. I’ll talk to James about it later.”

 


 

Over the course of the next few days and weeks, Jodie spent a lot of time learning more about the stepson of their first victim. James had arranged an observation by colleagues from the area near his home, while Jodie tried to find clues and a connection to a possible hitman.

“Shuu?” She asked when her colleague threw his jacket over his arm and went to the door.

“Hm?” Shuichi stopped.

Jodie had spent the full morning thinking about the message of their perpetrator, trying to make sense of it or finding a hint to his identity. Anything .

“Are you allowed to write single kanji from left to right? The opposite way of how it gets taught. Wouldn’t that be easier for you?”

“No.”

“No, as in you’re not allowed to or no, as in it’s not easier for you?

Shuichi chuckled. He put on his cap and stepped over to her. Jodie watched him as he took the pen and started writing on her pad, hunched over slightly. At first, she was curious about what he was writing, but when she recognized his name, written from left to right but each letter written from back to the top, she looked up at him dumbfounded.

Shuichi tossed the pen to the keyboard and straightened up to his full height with a stifled laugh.

“Okay,” Jodie muttered. “I got it. You just don’t do it. Do you think our murderer could be left-handed? You said he was drawing the characters from right to left the other day.”

“I’ve thought about it, yes. Let’s talk about it later, I’ve got to go.”

Jodie nodded and let him leave, always feeling a touch of concern when he was to meet informants. Sometimes she was left restless, and she could feel the fear of seeing him walk through the door the last time, grow. The memory of that fateful day, Friday the 13th, was still as present as it was that night, even months later. Leaving him behind unaware of what was going to happen and coming back to the news of his death had felt like a shot through her heart – unprepared and still not yet completely healed.

Jodie was aware of the risk their job came with, but the past had shown her how precious the time they shared was and how fragile their lives were.

 


 

They treaded water despite their best efforts. Whether the hitman was left-handed or not didn’t matter as long as they had no clue of his identity. Neither did they find anything concerning the stepson of the first victim. His name alone was not enough to accuse him of hiring a killer for multiple murders.

It was a mess and made Jodie almost go gray and caused her to spend long days in the office, along with all the other work she had to do. Especially, when she was having a meeting at four in the morning to go through a search warrant with her co-workers and carrying it out at seven o’clock sharp.

Coffee was only of limited help to cope with the day. She felt the tiredness and exhaustion gnaw at her on her way back to the office at noon. The notion of sitting in a heated box until the evening was therefore not an attractive thought. Least, because Shuichi would most likely not be with her for the longest part of the afternoon either. He was busy at court – Jodie didn’t know when he would be back.

As expected, she found the office deserted. Shuichi wasn’t back yet and didn’t seem to have been back before either, because of a note from James she found stuck on her keyboard.

I put something for you in the fridge since neither of you had been back yet. James

Jodie’s heart skipped a beat. She loved gifts, even if it was just a piece of cake. Urged by her curiosity, she went to the kitchen and found a large, plain box. James had stuck another post-it to the top of it with her and Shuichi’s names on it – important so their other colleagues wouldn’t help themselves and eat from it. Aside from their names, there was also a little note, some words of thanks for their hard work over the past weeks.

As exhausting and long as the day had been, James made up for it with an appreciating gesture. He had bought them a whole large platter of sushi that made her mouth water.

Back in her office, Jodie toyed with the idea of sending Shuichi a photo of their lunch but decided against it, eventually. Maybe, if she didn’t mention anything, he might never find out their supervisor had bought them expensive sushi and she didn’t have to justify herself for eating it all.


She was almost disappointed when Shuichi trudged through the door, looking bored somehow, with both hands in his pockets.

“Schuu,” Jodie said with her mouth full as she had just helped herself to a large piece of nigiri sushi.

“Ah– as soon I’m not here you’re treating yourself to some good food.”

Jodie felt the heat in her face rising. She chewed and swallowed quickly before anything fell out of her mouth.

“Actually, this comes from James,” she told him. “For my good work.”

Shuichi stepped up to her with raised eyebrows. “Your good work?” He repeated skeptically. “The note reads our good work.”

Jodie clicked her tongue – it was impossible to lead this man on. “Details,” she replied, waving her hand in a dismissive gesture. “He can’t leave you out, it’s just courtesy.”

She laughed. Whether or not Shuichi wanted it or not, his mere presence brought a better mood and some spirit into the office.

Before her co-worker could help himself to the buffet, however, Jodie reached out to fish for the last piece of her favorite sushi. She’d rather gulp it down before he took it!

Jodie guided the roll to her mouth but saw Shuichi leaning to her from the corner of her eyes. He had his hands still in his pockets and opened his mouth expectantly. A tender smile grew on her face. He could be lucky to be in her good books. Jodie stared at the sushi appraisingly before she laid it into his mouth with a sigh.

She watched him closely as a satisfied expression crossed his face.

“I hope you’re aware of the sacrifice I made for you.”

Shuichi huffed roughly for he had his mouth still full, but he returned her look with an amused twinkle in his eyes.

“You already ate half of the plate,” he argued as soon as he swallowed.

“Yes, because I’ve been working hard,” Jodie assured him. “All while you were killing your time in court. By the way, we’re going to pay Inazumi a visit on Thursday. Get ready for it.”