Chapter 1: Chips, Wine and Kanji
After two weeks of intense work, without some free time or any breaks, Jodie finally got a Saturday all for herself. In the past weeks, she’d gone home solely to sleep. Now she got a weekend without work, without appointments, or any other kind of obligation. Instead, she slept into the day and even managed to wash some of her laundry that had grown into a mountain in her bathroom. Later at noon, she took advantage of the beautiful weather and the warm rays of sunshine to meet her colleague for a coffee they enjoyed on a, mostly silent, walk through a nearby park. Quite often, Jodie had stared at him from the side as he looked way too good in his black clothes. And on top of that, he wore an also way too tight white shirt under his light jacket that literally invited her looks. Shuichi caught her every time with a smug expression on his face. His eyes were hidden behind his sunglasses, yet she could feel his piercing gaze on her. He had the talent of making her feel both hot and cold in his presence most of the time.
Later, Jodie had lain in her tub, taking a relaxing bath with the thoughts of Shuichi on her mind – unsure if she was trying to drown her feelings for her co-worker in the water or whether she could allow herself a trip down memory lane and some dreaming.
Even after all those years, it was still a bittersweet experience for her to work with him, to see him every day, and still be nothing more than a friend. She was grateful for every day she spent with him in the office, when she heard his voice, heard him laugh – rare as it was – or when they went to lunch together. At the end of each day, however, it became all the more painful for her to realize how much she missed him and how far away they were from their old times. She no longer wanted to be alone but she had no chance to get to know men better when she couldn’t stop comparing everyone to Shuichi. She wasn’t always contended with his behavior, yet she didn’t want him any other way.
In the evening, Jodie found her place on her couch, with a bag of chips between her legs and a glass of wine on the coffee table. She ended up playing some video games, indecisively switching from one game to the other, and finally trying out a souvenir from Japan. A strategic fighting game set in Northeast Asia, with the aim of carrying out missions under different conditions. Jodie needed a moment to accustom herself to the Japanese settings and voice output, but after her first mission, the language didn’t make much of a difference anymore.
Jodie only noticed how time-consuming the game was at midnight when she interrupted her only second mission with the purpose to get her the remaining pancakes from the kitchen that Shuichi had brought to the office the day before. She smiled at the thought of it – Shuichi hadn’t said he’d done them for her, but he’d put the plate on her desk and no one other than her had eaten the pancakes. It was little moments like this that made her stomach tingle and the melancholy grow. Without a sign of guilt, she pitched into the baked goods. She had earned some food for her soul after barely getting to eat anything in the past weeks. Especially when it came from her co-worker.
The upcoming final of her mission involved a lot of concentration and the one or another curse when she almost lost.
“There we go!” She exclaimed with relief as she eventually beat the boss, jumping on her feet, euphorically.
A second later, she uttered a surprised but no less painful sound when her knee connected hurtfully with the edge of the coffee table. Her wine glass tipped over at the impact and shattered on the surface, spilling the dark red wine across the table. As if that mess wasn’t bad enough, the liquid soaked all her notes she brought home from work and which had been scattered across the table.
Cursing, Jodie pulled away all the sheets that came into contact with the wine and drop them on the floor next to where she stood before she went to get a rag to clean up the mess. At that moment, she felt too tired and stressed to pick up the broken pieces of glass and clean the mess. Still, it had to be done.
The game faded into the background while Jodie cleaned up the glass and wine. And eventually, she got busy patting her copies and notes dry. This frustrating case had already cost her enough time and nerves that she didn’t need to make all her thoughts about it disappear into nirvana.
Jodie sighed slightly as she patted the last sheet more or less dry. This case had been on her desk for months, and ever since there had been another murder in this series of murders weeks ago, she couldn’t let go of it. In front of her was the latest part of a code that was left on each new victim of this perpetrator. She didn’t know what it was supposed to represent; it could be a 3 or a 7. But as sloppy as it was written, it could also somehow be a T or a question mark – the previous messages weren’t helpful in terms of their legibility either.
Frustrated about it, she put the piece of paper to the side to let it dry and wiped the table the last time. Then her gaze turned to the TV - 任務完了 the game said.
Ninmu Kanryō, she read the words on the screen that informed her about the completed mission. Her eyes lingered on the last kanji for ryō, which looked oddly like the bloody sign that was left with the last victim. It was too late for her to draw rushed conclusions, but suddenly, she was frantically rummaging through her files and spreading out her transcripts of the messages left on each crime scene.
It can’t be, Jodie thought, her pulse rising – the signs seemed too familiar to her. Every one of her fastening heartbeats drove more and more of her sleepiness away, and instead, she sorted the weird signs in front of her and compared them with the message on her TV screen.
Regardless of the late hour, she took her phone and texted her colleague.
» Are you still awake? «
It took some time until she got an answer.
» What’s it? «
» I think we’re not dealing with a serial killer but a hitman. «
Despite her rather bad lighting, she added a photo of her incomplete puzzle and the kanji from her TV for Shuichi.
» What he left behind was only a part of the kanjis. What he’s trying to write her is “Mission Complete”. «
» That means two murders are still missing until he completes the typeface. «
Again, it took him a while to answer her. He probably only took a careful look at the sent pictures.
» Can we talk about this on Monday? I’m on my way home. «
Still full of energy and zest for action, Shuichi managed to bring her down from her enthusiasm with merely a few words. He couldn’t even tell her whether she was right or going nuts. On the other hand, she couldn’t blame him. After all, he had probably worked harder and slept less in the past weeks than she had.
Jodie had no choice but to spend the rest of the weekend worrying about the remaining parts of the left messages.
Chapter 2: A hitman
I feel a bit insecure about this chapter for multiple reasons. Please don't judge, lmao. I still like it 🥺
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.” 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, 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.”
Chapter 3: The Suspect
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.”
Chapter 4: The Needle in the Haystack
Jodie was reading through some more apartment ads in the newspaper Shuichi brought her that morning, again. Her search for an apartment was still going unsuccessfully. She had been to two apartments in the past few days, falling in love with one of them. The landlord had raised her hopes, making her mentally settle into that place, but ultimately, she’d been met with a refusal by mail. He was sorry, but he’d like to have a family living there instead. Reality was harsh and finding apartments in New York City was a pain in her ass.
Most of the time, however, she remained grateful to Shuichi who helped her out with bringing her his newspapers besides her efforts to find a good apartment online.
“He? Sh...u-u?” Jodie paused when her eyes roamed over a strange ad that neither provided any information about an apartment nor did it fit any of the private advertisements on the next page. “Have you read this?”
“No,” Shuichi replied tersely, without hesitating a second as he was writing something on his computer. “Why?”
“Here it says Nijuu in kanji,” she told him, frowning.
Jodie let out her breath in a deep sigh for the lack of attention he showed to her.
“There are two rows of numbers and then the kanji for twenty. Don’t you think that’s odd?”
Eventually, Shuichi stopped typing on his keyboard and looked over at her with a skeptical expression lying on his face. “If I found everything written in the newspaper odd, I wouldn’t stop racking my brains.”
“As if you ever stop thinking about anything,” Jodie replied teasingly. “I’m always wondering how your head isn’t going up in smoke at the end of the day.”
She smiled a fond little smile when she saw him tilting his head back and looking like he was trying to suppress the smirk that curled the corner of his mouth upwards.
“Idiot,” she called him affectionately. “But seriously, Shuu. Does 90012/15000 ring a bell?”
“90012 is a zip code of L.A.”
Jodie blinked. Once. Twice. Couldn’t he pretend like he had to think about a question she asked at least once? It was both frustrating and mesmerizing how much knowledge there lay in the depths of his brain.
“And what about 15000?”
“Definitely not a zip code. Why do you care anyway?” Shuichi asked and Jodie threw her hands in the air.
Disgruntled by his lack of interest, Jodie circled the particular ad, rolled up the thin page and tossed it on his desk – at least she tried. The single page was too light to make it all the way over to its designated place. Instead, it unrolled in the air and came flying a bit in her direction until it collided with a pile of files on his desk and rolled over the edge. Jodie groaned. She got up and picked it up from the floor to hand it to him.
“Take a look,” she ordered him sternly. “Call me silly, but you have to admit that the ad doesn’t make any sense.”
“Not for you anyway,” Shuichi shrugged.
But even he would have to admit, looking at those two lines, that there was no apparent use or logic in them.
8.07 / 03 二十
“The last line looks like a date,” Shuichi mused aloud.
Jodie nodded. “So July, 3rd. We’ve had seven murders so far, Shuu. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the eighth murder in early July would fit into the scheme.”
Shuichi was quiet. The look on his face had changed; he stared at the ad with narrowed eyes and Jodie could literally hear the gears in his head set to work.
She pulled her phone out of her pocket to check the current date and grinned broadly. It was June 3rd - a month before the possible date in the newspaper.
“Ah,” Shuichi uttered as he startled out of his thoughts, looking at her with wide eyes. “Did you see the two stacks of newspapers on the stairs when we talked with Inazumi? I didn’t think it was of any importance.”
“Neither did I,” Jodie admitted.
She got struck by a sudden dark premonition. Her heart skipped and she felt a new spark of enthusiasm awaken in her. “I’m gonna go try to find other newspaper articles!”
Jodie immediately got behind her own screen and searched the internet for an online newspaper archive and found some. She didn’t know how many ads had been published if there was a system behind it even, but she started searching with what she knew for sure: the dates of the past murders. She forgot to keep looking for an apartment and all the other work she abandoned for this case.
She was clicking and looking through the old newspapers until nightfall. Every now and then she got disturbed by phone calls or colleagues, but she remained consistent and wouldn’t call it a day until she at least found a hint that she was on the right track.
The sun was already setting when she saved the latest ad on her computer and printed the pieces she had found.
Their hitman had actually left messages in the papers. There was a report exactly three days after and a month before each murder.
After her long-lasting excitement all day, she felt the tiredness creeping through her bones by the time she safely stored the prints in the file. Yet, she felt content with her progress in this case. However, their guy hadn’t left any more kanji in his ads, which had made it a little more difficult to find them. But once Jodie noticed the pattern, it had become easy.
A glance at the clock made her realize in horror how late it was, though. She would be back in the office in less than half a day.
Yawning, Jodie stretched her arms over her head, before she tidied up her desk. She left all documents in the office deliberately so as not to get tempted to keep working on the case at home. It needed a few hours of good rest and sleep before she’d spend another long day at work.
The next day, Jodie got hold of James as soon as she clocked in, and told him – and Shuichi – what she found out the previous night. As Shuichi had already suspected, the first number was the zip code – the zip code of the next place he was heading to murder a victim.
“The second number might be the price for the job,” she explained to the other two agents, pointing at the slightly varying numbers. These ranged from seven-and-a-half to fifteen grand. “The same thing is written in the advertisements published three days after each murder. The first payment may be a deposit?!”
James stroked his gray mustache with a clearly surprised expression on his face.
“If that’s true he’s getting paid well,” he muttered thoughtfully. “This means, he uses the newspapers to communicate with his client?”
Jodie nodded. Unfortunately, the ads couldn’t be traced back to a person. It was still like a search for the needle in a haystack. And despite their recent progress, this case would end in inactive status if they didn’t make a significant move towards the identity of their preparator.
She sighed and glanced at Shuichi. He was very quiet the whole time and seemed to be pondering about something.
“What do you think, Shuichi?” James asked, eventually. “Do you think we could get to his identity through Masazu Inazumi?”
Shuichi looked up to him and leaned back in his chair, shaking his head. “I doubt we’ll find anything at his’. He’s careful enough not to give himself away.”
“What about the newspapers?” Their supervisor pointed to the stacks of papers they both had missed.
“Those have been his smallest risk,” Shuichi replied. “We should check his account, but I would be surprised if we’d find anything there. He knows exactly what he is doing and how to hide it from us. That’s the only reason why he let us in and talked to us in the first place.”
“So we still have nothing?”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Jodie interjected. “I will call the victim's families and see if I can find the common thing that ties these murders together. Maybe I can figure out the motive.”
At the moment they only had a real estate agent, an architect, a corporate architect, three unemployed and a saleswoman who had been murdered in this case. There was nothing these victims had in common at first glance. There had to be something, however, and Jodie wouldn’t stop until she found it. Inazumi had given them the information they needed, whether he said it or not. He seemed good at leaving no traces, but he couldn’t cover up his motive - the reason he went over corpses and even paid money for it, no matter how well he kept his secret.
“And what about you?” James turned to Shuichi.
He shrugged and took a quick look at the many files on his desk. “I’m going to read through some military files. Maybe we can find something about our hit man in there.”
Jodie gave him a sympathetic, crooked smile. Rummaging through a pool of names without even knowing what to look for was an ungrateful task, and much more vague than finding common ground among the victims.
Their supervisor nodded in agreement. “I’ll have his account checked. You’ll get a call.”
Jodie’s phone calls were all disappointing, as was Shuichi’s search for a suspect. There were far too many former soldiers for him to go through without knowing if their perpetrator was among them. Jodie’s gaze rested on him for a while- his mood seemed to drop further with every hour passing that day. He didn’t look as if he wanted to read through the many files but still got on with his work.
“When we went to Binghamton, you said you had expected that Inazumi would jump on sexist behavior,” Shuichi suddenly broke the silence in their office. “How did you know?”
Jodie hummed. “That’s been a guess,” she admitted with a sigh. She propped her elbows on her desk and rested her chin on her hands. “The local police had received repeated calls about domestic violence over the past few years. He told them his stepfather would beat his mother. Yet her mother never confirmed that. I thought that could have been a motive for the first murder, but it wouldn’t explain the others.”
“What about the doctor who signed the death certificate for the girl?” Shuichi asked. “Has it been checked?”
“Not that I know of,” Jodie muttered. She went right to attack her files right away. “I think he hadn’t played a role in the investigation so far. It’s been more than ten years ago or something.”
Finding out the name of the doctor was not difficult. Just one phone call to the right authority later and Jodie had the right person on her phone.
“Satoshi Kogawa?” Jodie repeated the requested name and wrote it down.
Her gaze briefly met Shuichi’s. He regarded her with a faint nod and proceeded to type on his keyboard while she kept listening. She ended the call just a moment later and started at the name.
“Satoshi Kogawa was a surgeon at a Pennsylvania hospital,” Shuichi told her over the edge of his monitor. “And guess where he last worked.”
“Los Angeles.” Nothing else made sense.
“Exactly,” he confirmed. “He moved to LA. nine years ago and worked as an ER surgeon until just last year. He seemed to be retired.”
“And now we also know in which district he lives in,” Jodie added, tapping her lip with her index finger. “Where is 90012?”
“Chinatown,” Shuichi answered, grinning. “We might not yet have the hitman yet, but the victim for sure.”