AN: With this story, I wanted to write a thriller- something fast-paced, with real forward momentum in the plot. It's a murder mystery like Broken Glass, but won't rely on slow reveals and gradually building paranoia like that and its sequel/reimaginings. This will also be a bit more horrorish than that, so I've rated it at M.
The park in the story is of course invented, but was inspired by the infamous Aokigahara suicide forest near Mount Fuji. The cases are also entirely my own invention; we'll have to see how people react to them, as apart from Broken Glass, I don't have much experience with mystery creation. I was going for something more visceral this time, where the mysteries are less about who and why more about the gruesome methods of the perpetrators/how that reflects on the main characters.
Other details: I re-used the high-school (Izumi) that I introduced in Flicker of the Streetlights, just for convenience. It seemed a bit pointless to come up with a new one. The title of the story, "A Doll's Eyes", is a reference to the famous USS Indianapolis speech in Jaws. You'll see why it's relevant later on.
Hachiman, now a self styled "personal investigator", has never forgotten the event which inspired him to solve crimes. A late night walk had brought him and the Service Club near the infamous Chiba 'suicide forest'- only he knows it isn't a suicide forest. It's something much, much worse. Now, he has a chance not only to find proof, but to reconnect with the woman he still loves…
A Doll's Eyes
Chapter 1- Yamanishi Koen
It is a night not unlike the one that changed her forever. The city sky, so often consumed with smoke and light pollution, is unusually clear. Stars glimmer above Chiba with whatever meaning a person could force onto them, symbolising fate, love, death, anything conceivable. In truth, they are just shining. Meaninglessly and endlessly.
She is walking fast, her steps hurried, her thoughts burning with a memory she has never been able to erase. Why can't she forget? Why can't she forget what she saw that night, when she was only eighteen years old? Why can't she forget the only thing she wants to forget? The sight, the smell, of death.
Her clothes aren't well-suited for a late-night walk through the city, and the chilly air bites the patches of exposed skin, but she doesn't care. Her mind is full of one thing, and one thing alone. She needs to return. She needs to go back to the place where it all began. Perhaps then, the memory will leave her alone.
A few more streets and suddenly, she has arrived. She stands there, momentarily still, staring at the park before her. The trees are tall and looming, the shadows long, the light lacking. The gates are still open, beckoning people in, but no one will be walking through the park. Not this one. Not at this time of night.
Everyone knows it, thanks to the rumours: this is the place where people come to die.
Only she knows that isn't true.
She walks up to the gate, and then through it. Her footsteps have finally slowed, crunching on the grass, leaving a noise in their wake no louder than a whisper. Her panicked thoughts are quite the opposite, echoing and bouncing off the walls of her skull, screaming with the hope they might escape from inside her.
The first time, there had been two people accompanying her to the park. They were the people she trusted the most, but not even them, or the recollection of them at least, can ease her mind. The park's trees and undergrowth are so thick it may as well be a forest- no wonder it's come to be seen as one. It frightens her.
What frightens her more is what she might find within.
For when she was eighteen years old, she lost something amidst these trees. Or something was taken from her. Perhaps she had hoped that, by coming back, she would find the scattered remnants of the person she used to be, and somehow find a way to stitch them back together. Now that she's here, all that greets her is fear and helplessness.
Her feet stop.
She sees the tree.
She remembers. She remembers the body that had been hanging there, and then what she saw beyond it.
Why can't she forget?
Why can't I forget?
Hikigaya Hachiman has asked himself this question thousands of times. He is not a man who shrinks from self-analysis, from introspection. He has a rule when it comes to his job: no one is above questioning. Therefore, neither is he. Should a suspect in one of his cases ask ten questions, he will ask himself a hundred.
But this is the biggest question of all. The one question that can never be erased from memory.
It can't be any later than 10 in the morning, but Hachiman has already been awake for what feels like a century. His job has grafted many strange idiosyncrasies onto his daily routine. He finds that, more often than not, his mind works faster when it's just been woken up, so if there's something to think about the twenty six year old will be awake at the crack of dawn. Usually with the help of several MAXX Coffees.
He's lying flat-out on the couch of his apartment, fingers interlocked behind his head, eyes flicking wildly over the ceiling as if chasing a fly. His mind is rarely going at anything but full tilt. The flat is a mess, but gives off the contrary impression of order. The strewn clothes seem precisely strewn. The old ramen packets seem tossed to the floor with care. The Asahi and aforementioned MAXX Coffee cans are piled around the couch, but in an arrangement rather like the Parthenon.
If there were a case to solve, he would probably be thinking about suspects, or a suspect's possible motive, or a suspect's window of opportunity.
Hikigaya Hachiman doesn't have a case at the moment. Such a state of affairs is reprehensible to him; if there isn't a crime at hand, he doesn't know what to do with himself. With nothing to think about, there's also no reason to get up early, but force of habit has ensured that his body's internal clock be scrambled beyond all repair.
What to do when there's nothing to think about? Watch the young tenants in the apartment block opposite, who have some amusingly loud arguments, or watch whatever crap happens to be on TV?
No. Instead, Hachiman is busying himself by thinking about another case. Not a current one… rather, this is the case. The one that has always been so important to him. He would probably sacrifice everything he'd ever known to solve it.
Why can't I forget?
A familiar frustration bubbles, because he knows that the answer to that question is, ultimately, I don't know. That's been the answer for however many years now.
He leaps to his feet like a horse from its paddock, dashing over to his desk in the corner of the apartment. This is the hub of his operations. Thanks to a desk-light, it's one of the only places in the apartment that isn't dimly lit. Covering the desk is a landline phone, a laptop, fields of scrap paper and stationery. Above it should be the wall, but the plaster has since been buried under a thick layer of maps, pictures, lists and photos relevant to previously solved cases.
The desk is where most of the organising, if you can call it that, goes on. The solutions are often arrived at while laid out on the couch, or pacing about the room, but the solution can only be found once all the information has been organised at this desk. Hachiman drops to his knees and looks underneath his hub, where his various folders are kept.
They are not coded or arranged in alphabetical order, but he knows where each one is instinctively. He moves his finger over the case of the impotent fifty year old who spent two years murdering women at Shinto shrines, before Hachiman caught him. Then there's the case of the elderly nurse who smothered babies in care units before Hachiman realised her trick with the security footage.
And if there is one case folder he knows the place of, then it's this one. He pulls it out. He places it on the desk. He runs his finger down the familiar edges and grooves. He sees how the writing in the early pages is the writing of an eighteen year old. He sees how he has made so little progress since he first put the folder together, coming out of Sobu High.
His system for arranging a case folder has changed over the years. It has become more stream-lined, more efficient. He keeps loosely titled sections with the suspects, the relevant locations, the motives involved and any other details that may eventually come into play. This is the first case folder, and as such reads more like a scrapbook than an investigator's train of thoughts.
But, Hachiman supposes, I wasn't an investigator back then. I was a teenager. It was only after that night and the months that followed that I realised this what I wanted to do with my life.
No. That this was what I had to do with my life.
He goes on the nigh on weekly pilgrimage of reading through the folder. He remembers why him and the Service Club had ended up in that forest in the first place. It was down to a stupid dispute with Miura Yumiko; she had come to their clubroom with a request concerning Hayama, and a question about the history between Yukinoshita and him had turned into an argument.
He only vaguely recalls the shouting match. Miura's accusations. Yukinoshita's icy denial that she ever felt anything for Hayama. And how while it may have been true that she felt nothing then, it was plainly clear that she had felt something for him in the past.
Later that night, his phone had rung. A Friday night. Yukinoshita and Yuigahama had made plans to stay over at the president's apartment, and had called him to insist he showed up too. They soon found themselves on a midnight walk. It had been a twilight awash with stars; they'd wanted to enjoy it.
They had, of course, heard the rumours about the old park in Chiba only a couple of blocks away from Sobu High. It was a larger park than most, thick with trees and undergrowth, and at night the shadows consumed it until you could barely see two paces in front of you. It may have been pretty in the day, but it had become notorious thanks to what happened there under cover of darkness.
Yamanishi Koen- the so-called 'suicide forest' of Chiba. In its most recent form, the park has been around since the 1980s, but there are records of the site being used for similar purposes as early as the 19th century.
The deaths are a comparatively recent phenomenon. Since 2001, there have been approximately 74 corpses found there, the overwhelming majority of them hangings. One of them had even been found disembowelled, in a clumsy attempt at the traditional seppuku ritual. He knows all the statistics well-
The door to his apartment knocks, and Hachiman practically hisses in frustration at the breaking of his train of thought. Who would be disturbing him at this hour? Soon enough, a voice accompanies the knocking, and he feels his frustration reluctantly evaporate.
"Hachiman? You awake yet?"
It's his landlady. Again. Damn that woman, he thinks half-heartedly, before picking himself up and making his way over to the door.
"I'll be with you in a moment."
He opens the door by about an inch and peers through it rather childishly, then flinches from the sunlight outside.
"What, Hachiman? Never seen the sun before?" His landlady says, her hands on her hips.
"As a matter of fact I have, Kawasaki. It just happens to irritate me. Rather like how you're irritating me at that moment, despite us speaking only yesterday."
"Oi, zip it with the attitude. You pay me rent, remember? I can up it if I want."
"Sure you will."
The blue-haired woman sighs. The hair in question is currently worn down, instead of in her customary bobbing pony-tail. He thinks it looks nice, but dishing out a compliment is something Hachiman has long since forgotten how to do.
It never occurred to the two ex-schoolmates that they would keep in touch after Sobu High. They went to different universities, and followed different life paths. The current development in their sort-of-friendship is a recent one; he's only been her tenant for a year, after looking for a new apartment and noticing, with some shock, her ownership of a reasonably priced block in the suburbs.
He'd called up, hoping their previous acquaintance would get him a place on the cheap. It had, only without the desired reduction. Kawasaki is a stern landlady, but sometimes a generous one.
She sighs, a common occurrence when in his presence, and lifts up the chock-full plastic bag in her hand. "I thought I'd get your shopping from the FamilyMart. Was going that way anyway."
He eyes the bag suspiciously. "What's in there?"
"Instant ramen, Asahi, a couple of frozen pizzas, some MAXX Coffees. Like I said, it's your usual shopping round."
"Nothing else? No hidden vegetables? No shady attempts to smuggle vitamins into my diet?"
"No, Hachiman. I gave up on that two months ago." She huffs, lifting up the shopping bag for me to take. "Honestly, just take a kind gesture for a kind gesture."
"In my experience, a kind gesture is very rarely that simple… But thanks, Kawasaki."
She lets loose her biggest sight thus far. "Hachiman, why do… why are you still not calling me by my first name? I told, it's fine. I d- don't mind. I really don't."
"It's not a question of you minding. It's a question of me minding."
"But we've known each other for years-"
"You're forgetting the long interim period where we didn't speak at all. Meeting you again a year ago was essentially like meeting a new person. And typically, I don't like new people."
"Dress it up however you want. I'm your landlady. If I ask you to do something, you should do it."
"You- uh, whatever. You're not worth get annoyed over."
She's a little red in the face. If she wasn't so fun to tease, Hachiman would probably feel guilty, especially considering the shopping in his hand. Instead, he settles for thanking her again, which seems to soothe her a little.
Suddenly, Kawasaki shifts, and her voice turns a little more awkward. "So, uh… are you… have you got a job?"
"Nope. I'm as free as a bird."
"You don't sound very happy about that."
"Of course not. There's nothing I like less than being free as a bird."
She opens her mouth to retort, but decides against it. Hachiman adds an extra footer under Kawasaki's name in his mental notebook: doesn't know how she feels about me being a personal investigator.
When Hachiman had first moved in, an ongoing theme of their conversation had been her mocking him for being unemployed. He realised a long time that it's easier to keep his job a secret. He's a strange, unsociable guy besides- revealing he willingly involves himself in murder cases isn't exactly endearing. Thus, it has become his policy not to mention it.
After eight months, his landlady's curiosity had overpowered her respect for his privacy. How was it he could pay her rent without trouble despite claiming unemployment? Why did he sometimes disappear for days on end? She had cornered him at a time like this one, coming to his apartment in the morning, and Hachiman had decided he trusted her enough to tell the truth.
She still hasn't quite wrapped her head around it. He can't blame her.
"You don't have to ask."
"You don't have to ask about my job. It's a weird thing to have chosen to do. In that sense, I suppose it suits me."
"… It just seems polite, is all."
"I'm used to dealing with people much less polite than you, Kawasaki."
"Yeah. I guess you are."
And things were awkward again. In conversation, Hachiman has always been like a blind leading a blind.
He fiddles with his fingers, and then opens the door properly. "You can come in for a bit. If you want. I don't mind."
She's surprised. She's only been in his apartment a couple of times; that in itself is a wonder. Only people that Hachiman truly trusts are allowed in, and that list has always been short.
"Come on in, then."
He steps aside and lets her through, then hears the familiar gasp of admonishment as she sees the bombshell of rubbish around the couch. He closes the door behind her and the light is dimmed to the gloom which helps him think.
"Hachiman… is tidying up really so difficult?"
"I'm an inherently messy person. I need consistency in my surroundings or my thoughts won't be consistent either."
"Can't your surroundings be consistently tidy then?"
"Theoretically, maybe." He moves past and her and leaps onto the cough, lying out again. "But there's one big reason why not."
"I can't be bothered."
She rolls her eyes. "That's your life motto, right?"
He smirks. "Nope. There are some things I care deeply about- too much, in fact. That doesn't leave me much time to care about anything else."
"What are those?"
"My job. My sister."
"Is that really it?"
She averts her eyes, gently shifting an empty beer can with her feet. "… Could you learn to care about something else?"
"… Again, theoretically."
He hates it when Kawasaki gets like this. Not just because she's an objectively attractive woman, and they're both single and in their twenties. That leads to a whole host of problems for a person like him, problems which he should have anticipated before moving in. It's also because, should Kawasaki say something along these lines, he'll be reminded why she even bothers to reach out to him.
"… How are you feeling, by the way? About the, y'know…?"
"You realise you don't have to ask?"
He blinks, inverting her own words from earlier. "It just seems polite, is all."
Kawasaki nearly smiles, taking a step closer to the couch. "You'll be surprised to hear this, but not bad, actually. I'm feeling better about it. A lot better about it. Maybe I'm being naive, but I can't help but think the rough patch is over. The really rough patch, anyway."
"Wasn't it a month ago you were barely sleeping?"
"A lot can change in a month. And it helps to have good people to talk to."
"I fail to see how I'm a good person to talk to."
"No. Guess you're right about that."
"I've made it a habit of mine to be right."
Kawasaki isn't sure what to say to this, so she turns away from him and looks into the kitchen. The slight movement reveals a lot more of her figure than he'd like; it doesn't help that she always manages to wear clothes that flatter her. Today, it's a pair of tight fitting jeans. The curves of her body are plain even through the dim lighting.
He averts his eyes.
"When was the last time you cooked something, Hachiman?"
"… Oh, um… I can't remember."
"I… I could throw something together for you, if you wan-"
"That won't be necessary. You do enough for me as it is," he replies sharply, nodding to the shopping bag.
"I- it wouldn't be something too complicated, I promise-"
"There's no need to mother me."
It's a cruel thing to say, and the expression on her face only makes it more apparent. "I'm not mothering you, Hachiman. It's called being a friend. Read up about it, you might learn something."
"I'll do that when I have a chance. Thank you for the shopping, Kawasaki."
"Are you kicking me out?"
"I have things to think about."
"You said you didn't have a job."
"Perhaps not presently."
"It's possible not to talk in riddles, y'know. You might be a…" She takes a moment to wrap her tongue around the phrase, then says it quickly enough to betray her discomfort. "… A… aprivateinvestigator or whatever, but you can still talk in plain Japanese-"
"I'm a personal investigator. I only take hired jobs when I need the money. Otherwise, I work for myself, and myself alone."
Hachiman lifts himself off the couch and approaches her without warning. Her eyes dilate, and her breath quickens. "H- hey, what are you-"
"Thank you for the shopping," he asserts, taking the shopping bag, ignoring the way their hands brush lightly. "Now please, let me think."
Kawasaki stays silent for a moment, then mutters something insulting under her breath and re-opens the door. "It's pay day for the rent next week. I want it in on time."
She slams it just afterwards. Hachiman blinks. When have I ever missed paying the rent?
He checks the shopping bag. There's vegetables in it.
Damn that woman. Kawasaki knows like few others how to get under his skin. He shuffles into the kitchen and gets himself an early beer, another Asahi, and then slips into a rhythm with his pacing; a good technique for getting his mind off things. Namely, his head-ache inducing landlady.
This doesn't work, so he heads back to the couch. This doesn't work either, so he winds up just leaning against the wall, his eyes blank. Hachiman can't help but linger over how, until recently, it wasn't Kawasaki who collected rent from the tenants. It was her who did the background work, and her husband who did the collections.
The guy was a stubble-ridden thirty year old whom Hachiman had recognised instantly as bad news. His sixth sense-like judgement of people (his 104th skill, to be precise) does not fail him very often: with her husband, he'd deemed him a sloth-like being who would run from commitments at the first sign of trouble.
It wound up being another woman that prompted him to run off. Kawasaki had woken up one morning to find him and his suitcase gone. The text telling her about the affair and subsequent elopement to Kyoto had arrived two days later, along with a bout of depression that left him deeply worried for Kawasaki's well-being.
She had always been too good for the guy. If asked, Hachiman would struggle to explain why they'd ever fallen in love in the first place, but love is one of the few things to which there is never a right answer.
He knows that as well as anyone.
Whatever the reason, Hachiman tells himself, Kawasaki needs someone far more reliable than that. Far more deserving. He is by no means dense. Even if his landlady really does think of him in that way, there is such a thing as the suspension bridge effect. He won't let her settle on the first sucker who lends her an ear.
Half the can of Asahi has already disappeared. Didn't I promise to only have beer in the evenings?
Blackness peels away into the murky green colour of trees. Stars burn and shift across the stars as if threaded by a needle on fire. Here he is again. It's the same nightmare. The nightmare of Yamanishi Koen.
Every time it's identical, only with tiny, terrifying variations. His vision will be blurred, flickering with the indistinctness of sleep, and he will see the park. Or he will see the park that has come to be invented in his mind. The real park can't be so surreal, so twisted. Surely not.
Every time he will run. He will run in the vain hope of escape, despite knowing he has never escaped from the trees previously, despite knowing the forest, the park, the nightmares, will probably never cease. Every time he will end up in the exact spot he doesn't want to be.
It's the same tree. The overhanging tree. The one where they saw the corpse. He and his friends. He and the closest friends he's ever known.
Only the one strung up, the one whose life has been taken, won't be the person they saw. It will be someone he knows. Someone he loves.
Who will it be this time? Which loved one will the nightmare take from him this time? His sister? His mother? His father? Once, he even saw his old cat, Kamakura.
This time it's…
This time it's… it's her-
A noise. Something is waking him up. Something is tearing away the trees, the seams of the nightmare. What is it?
Hachiman opens his eyes. His senses and his perception return. Oh… it's the phone. The phone's ringing.
Slightly delirious, he glances around him and realises that he must have fallen asleep on the floor. He's definitely staring at the ceiling of his apartment. Memories flood back, and he remembers how he'd got so bored of doing nothing that he decided it would be just as productive to take a nap.
He likes taking naps, especially when he doesn't have a case. Shit. I don't have a case.
He rubs his eyes and then sits up, recognising that he should probably answer the phone. It's not like he has anything else to do. He fell asleep at 6 in the evening, and there's no longer any sunlight protruding underneath the window blinds. It's night-time. He's slept and wasted away another day. Fantastic.
Getting to his feet, he walks over to the desk and picks up the phone, cutting short its incessant ring.
"Yo," he grunts, yawning.
"Same-san? You free?"
Instantly, he is wide awake.
"Yes. Always. What's going on?"
"Uh… one sec…" The voice muffles. Through the phone line, he hears the sound of a police siren, and then the sound of footsteps as the person calling him moves away from it. Hachiman's anticipation builds.
"… Sorry, I can't hear a thing-"
"Answer the question. What's going on?"
"… Well, I wouldn't be calling you if there hadn't been-"
"Gimme a location."
"We're down by Izumi High, just off the-"
"I'll be there in ten minutes."
"W- wait, I didn't say the street name-"
Hachiman hangs up, grinning. Finally. Something to do.
The crime scene is much like all the rest. It has the same hastily strung up tape, reading "DO NOT CROSS- CHIBA PREFECTURAL POLICE DEPARTMENT" and the same parked police cars, turning the surroundings into a cacophony of shrieking sirens and flashing blue light.
Hachiman tries to avoid driving when he can, so he'd grabbed the metro over to Izumi. From there, he arrived at the high-school building at a practically buoyant jog. From there, he only has to follow the noise.
A small crowd of gawking on-lookers has built up around the tape, pushed back by a brawny officer he vaguely recognises. Hachiman shuffles his way through the crowd, blending in as effortlessly as always, until he arrives at the front. His dark brown jacket and jeans make him unremarkable to anyone who cares to look- a useful gift for an investigator.
"No further," the officer says, following procedure, as Hachiman reaches him. "This is a crime scene-"
Hachiman lifts his head. Within moments, the officer has recognised him back. Regrettably, everyone in the Chiba Police seems to be able to at this point.
It's him, after all. The creep with the dead fish eyes, the terrible posture and the hair that doesn't seem to have ever been cut. He's the guy who turns up when the best in the force are baffled. The guy who comes back two days later with the name and address of the perpetrator.
"… Go on in, Same-san."
That's what they call him. It came from a joke in forensics- doesn't it always? Someone made the very original comment about his eyes being like a fish. Then someone said he was more like a shark. Shark's eyes are cold, black and lifeless. What's more, sharks never stop moving, and at crime scenes, Hachiman is always pacing around, never standing still.
Then there's the fact that sharks nearly always catch their prey.
The rest is history: one night, Hachiman turned up, and everyone was calling him "Mr Shark" in bastardised English. Soon, they got tired of constantly switching languages and went back to the Japanese equivalent, "Same-san".
It's got so bad that most people don't know his actual name. He's just Same-san. The guy who doesn't work for the police but solves all the hard cases. The guy who works for free, whose never asked to be paid.
Well, I guess it beats being called Hikigerma-kun, he thinks, ducking under the tape.
He finds himself looking at a regular back alley, the kind that someone in-the-know about the area might use for a shortcut. It's quite narrow, and at times of night, clearly visibility would be low. An ideal place to commit a crime; not that he knows what the crime is yet. The first responders have done their job to the book.
Hachiman is just about to find someone to give him the lowdown when someone taps him on the shoulder. He turns around and sees the exact person he wanted to be there: Detective Sakiyama Nobu.
"Hikigaya-san," he says, offering up a short bow. "Glad you could come down at such short notice."
Hachiman's hand twitches. "For the trillionth time, don't call me Hikigaya-san, and don't bow. I've done nothing to get that kind of reception."
"The fact you think that means you deserve it all the more."
"Just call me Same-san, like everyone else."
"But Hikigaya-san, there's nothing about you that remotely resembles a shark." He pushes his glasses up his nose, almost too earnestly. "A smaller fish, perhaps, but a shark? No."
Hachiman smirks. If ever there was proof that weirdos attract weirdos, it's that Sakiyama Nobu is the closest person to a friend that he has in the Chiba Police. Pedantic, statistical and rigorous to a fault, the detective seemed to have more in common with a computer than a human being. He'd been elevated to a detective earlier than most thanks to his work ethic, but a humourless streak has led to him being mocked almost as much as Hachiman.
Once, the personal investigator had asked Sakiyama why he'd joined the police, despite his character not seeming very appropriate. His bafflingly formal response: "I'm afraid I've never been able to resist a good murder mystery. I wanted to be the next Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, the Chiba police force don't issue dear stalker hats as uniform."
"Who was it that called me down?"
"I believe it was Uyeno-kun," Sakiyama asks, as they head deeper into the alley, lit artificially by the first responders. "At my behest, I admit."
Hachiman scowls. "Let me guess. The Chief Inspector thought he could handle it himself?"
"Indeed. I happened to disagree." He hesitates. "I'm… afraid to tell you, Hikigaya-san, that I should have told you about this case earlier. This happens to be the fourth attack."
He stops dead in his tracks, gnashes his teeth and then bursts out into a fit of pacing. "… The fourth?! Shit, the fourth?!"
"How recent were the others?"
"They've all been in fairly quick succession. All four took place in Chiba. All of them in the last month." Sakiyama blinks. "On second thought, with the pacing and teeth gnashing, I think I can see the shark resemblance."
"… Well, no point sitting on my ass longer than I have. Take me through the details-"
"You will do no such thing, Detective Sakiyama."
They turned around to see none other than the object of their frustrations, Chief Inspector Kudou, standing behind them. His face is contorted with a scowl so deep you'd think someone had stabbed him in the back. If the murderous look directed at Sakiyama is any indication, he thinks this is exactly what the detective has done.
"I seem to remember saying very clearly that we didn't need any… outside assistance."
Sakiyama dips his head. "My apologies, Chief. I have no excuse for this-"
"Your excuse is sane, rational thought," Hachiman interrupts, glaring at the Chief Inspector. "Are you seriously going to tell me I'm not needed again?"
Kudou glares back just as fiercely. "… Dismissed, Detective. I'll discipline you later."
As Sakiyama leaves, the personal investigator finds himself unpleasantly reminded of the large, pulsing vein on the Chief Inspector's forehead. He is a man in his late fifties, bald and unnaturally thin from out-of-sync eating habits, with thirty years of experience in the force. He is never to be seen without pursed lips and an intensely serious expression.
Hachiman wouldn't do the inspector a disservice by saying he's unintelligent. The exact opposite is true. Kudou is as sharp as a tac, but his intolerance for out-of-the-box thinking leaves him a curiously narrow thinker.
He maintains that the one time he expressed an open-ness to new ideas was letting Hachiman assist on a case. He also considers this his life's greatest mistake.
The glaring match lingers for what feels like hours, before Kudou spits out, "It seems you've managed to make yourself part of my crime scene's furniture, Hikigaya Hachiman."
"That would be your fault, wouldn't it, for listening to me on the Otaku Kidnapper."
"Yes… Regrettably, I did do that. I remember when you were just a nutcase who used to follow the police around, spouting kooky theories in the hope that someone might listen to you." He chuckles spitefully. "We all thought you'd ending up killing someone back then-"
"Before you realised all my 'kooky' theories were right." Hachiman smirks. "Must be awful, right? Whenever you and your perfectly trained detectives can't figure it out, there's me waiting at the side, not a day's academy training in my life, showing up how incompetent you are."
"Watch it, Hikigaya," he warns. "I still might ask you to leave."
"But you won't. Cause deep down, you know you're stumped. You've had a month to catch this person, whatever it is they're doing, and I'll bet you're no closer than you were after the first body."
"Body?" Kudou shakes his very slowly. "… Looks like Sakiyama-kun really didn't get around to telling you."
"What do you mean?"
"The victims are alive. All of them, alive and well. Except for their dignity, I suppose."
The Chief Inspector twists and strides confidently towards the alley, but Hachiman can see its feigned. He's been forced to enlist the person he hates again, for the price of answers. Hachiman's involvement with the Chiba Police is something of an open secret, at least in the force. But there's nothing secretive about the pressure from the higher ups when Kudou can't find someone to prosecute.
The sound of heavy, pitiable crying echoes out before they reach the spot of the 'attack' itself. The forensics team scuttle about looking for clues, but their faces are vacant, perhaps because they already know they'll find nothing. Kudou flicks his wrist at them.
"This is the fourth time they've dusted down the same crime scene. Exactly the same story for each one. No fingerprints, no evidence, no nothing."
"And the girl crying?"
"She's the victim, alright." A flash of pity appears in his eyes. "No point in asking her questions at the moment. She'll be haunted for the rest of her days. Doubt she'll tell us anything the last three haven't anyway."
Sakiyama is sat with his hand on the girl's shoulder, whose face is covered by a shock blanket. He stands to attention as they approach. "… I see Hikigaya-san has been allowed to stay-"
"Shut it, Detective." Kudou snarled. "I still haven't decided how I'm going to punish you yet."
"Again, my apologies, Chief Inspector. Might I inform Hikigaya-san of the details?"
He exhales loudly, but doesn't protest. Sakiyama asks one of his colleagues to escort the victim to a quieter spot. She passes Hachiman, heading up towards the top of the alley. He doesn't see her face, but her hair is frazzled, her spirit clearly broken, and her limping leaves little room for imagination.
Hachiman winces. "… Raped, I presume?"
"Yes," Sakiyama answers gravely, once he's at their side. "The girl's a high schooler at Izumi named Nakatani Maeko. She left her home at 6 to get a breath of fresh air. Upon walking through this alley, she received blunt force trauma to the back of her head, knocking her out instantly."
"And we know it's the same attacker?"
"Yes. The weapon used to knock the victim out was the same as the last three: a baseball bat. All the attacks have been conducted on high school girls, one for each of the main high schools in the area, and they're all the same age: second year. Furthermore, all the attacks have been in urban spaces about Chiba, alleys and backstreets. That suggests a local, familiar with the city's layout."
Sakiyama coughs uncomfortably, before continuing. "… The attacks were… drawn out, to say the least. We estimate it may have carried on for over an hour. The victims were all unconscious when it took place, and if this is the same attacker, as we suspect, then it's likely that Nakatani Maeko was only penetrated with sexual toys, rather than with the... um... genitalia."
"Did the attacker leave a calling card?" Hachiman presses. "Something to distinguish themselves by?"
"They did," Kudou says, reluctantly. He clicks his finger and one of the forensics team hands him a plastic bag. Inside is a normal piece of A4 paper. The inspector puts on a pair of rubber gloves and pulls the paper out, showing them what is written on it. One word only, in typed print, coloured red. Slut.
"They left that taped onto the victims back. It was there when the girl came round, and called the police. Suspect had abandoned the scene already, just like the previous three." Sakiyama adds.
"My profilers put together a picture for me. The systematic nature of the crimes and the pre-planning all suggest a classic sociopath. They suggest it's a male with a desire to control, rather than an obvious sexual motivation. They also think its possible that the perpetrator is impotent, or otherwise can't have sex normally, hence the use of sex toys rather than their genitals." The Chief Inspector pauses. "The only other thing of importance is that the blows to the back of the head were surprisingly light. That would suggest a woman, if it weren't for the nature of the crime."
Kudou then crosses his arms and gives Hachiman a long, drawn out look. "… Well then?"
The personal investigator doesn't even hear. He's already started pacing, round and round, his dead fish eyes flying this and way and that, never touching any person or thing for more than a second. A strange hush falls over the alley and everyone in it as he thinks.
And then, quietly, "… How popular were the girls?"
Sakiyama blinks. "What?"
"You heard me. How popular were the girls at school?"
He glances at the Inspector, and then back at Hachiman. "We… have no idea- wait, where are you going?"
The personal investigator is already turning around to leave, his footsteps hurried. "You'll be glad to hear that I'm leaving your crime scene, Chief Inspector. Oh, and Sakiyama, call me when you've got an answer to my question."
"Where are you going, Hikigaya-kun?" Kudou shouted. "What have you figured out?"
In the silence that follows, the Chief Inspector realises he isn't going to get a response. "God damn fucking… shark."
Hachiman doesn't hear the Chief Inspector's cursing of him either; he's too wrapped up in the theory slowly taking shape in his head. He reaches the end of the alley and steps back out into the wall of wailings sirens and blue light. Other detectives and officers' eyes trail as him moves over to the tape, stepping under it.
One of them turns to his colleague and whispers, "Looks like he's smelt blood."
"Y'know sharks can smell blood from, like, miles away?"
"I know. My theory's that he was born in the ocean."
"Yeah. Sharks are always alone, too. Bet he's never had a friend in his life."
For the first time since the investigator left his apartment, he recognises that the night is starkly cold. An unpleasant wind lashes along the roads, as fast as a moving car. Hachiman half-wishes for the warmth of the place he left, or the sound of a comforting voice. His sister. Maybe even Kawasaki. Something to lift the tension in his muscles.
It's always the same. He spends days on end longing for the ring of his phone, the arrival of a case at his doorstep, then finds himself longing for solitude again when its sickening details hit home. This person… this rapist… is evil. He's seen evil too many times.
Y'know what they say about evil's mundanity, he thinks, before taking out his phone. If he's going to deal with this properly, and get the answer they expect of him, then Hachiman will need all his dogs on the scent.
He scrolls through his admittedly limited book of contacts, then presses the call button of the name he needs. The whirring of the call lasts for less than a second. They pick up immediately.
"Hachimaaaan! What a joy to hear from you so late at night! I hope you're not planning on inviting me over?"
He winces at the feminine squeal which greets his call. "… Yo, Isshiki. I need som-"
"Wait… are you actually planning on inviting me over?! That was a joke, y'know! I don't really want your unsolicited attentio-"
"Come off it, I'm not hearing you're 'don't-hit-on-me' bullshit again. You say it every time."
"… Hmph. That was really rude, Hachiman. I was just trying to set a cheerful mood."
"A cheerful mood? Never heard of it."
"You got that right." She yawns dramatically. "Anyway, I guess you're calling me about something important? I actually have an article I'm supposed to be writing."
The thought of Isshiki writing an article still brings tears of grief to Hachiman's eyes, all dedicated to the editors who have to deal with her antics. Unsurprisingly, Isshiki managed to fox and manipulate her way into the realm of tabloid journalism. Her subject is mostly poorly written celebrity gossip, with a liberal approach to the truth.
The only time she's ever stumbled on a meaningful scoop was, typical of Hachiman's luck, about him. She's never told him how precisely she found out about the mysterious civilian who solves crimes for the police- he suspects she slept with an officer- or how she realised it was her old school-mate.
Whichever illicit method she used, the personal investigator values his privacy, and thus was forced to strike a deal with Isshiki to earn her silence. She wouldn't write a story about him if he provided her with details about cases the Chiba Prefectural Police would rather the public not know about.
It has proved a profitable deal for both of them. Isshiki gets a sometimes sensational story, and seeing as she's all too willing to find out the details of the cases herself, Hachiman gets another avenue of information.
There is, however, the downside of dealing with Isshiki Iroha. The personal investigator has never claimed to enjoy everything about his job.
"Of course it's something important. I never call you unless it's about a case."
"A case… you mean you have a story for me?" He can practically hear her sitting up straight. "I'm all ears, Hachiman. Always will be for you."
He gives her an overview of the case. As he reaches the ugliest details, he has to suppress the bile rising in his throat. Calm, Hachiman. Calm. The investigator can sense that his journalist partner is equally repulsed. The sound of her breath quickening down the phone line is obvious.
"… Hachiman… the police only ever call you up for the tough ones, don't they?" She lets out a nervous, unsettled chuckle.
"Of course. If it's routine, I'm not interested anyway." He snorts. "Chief Inspector Kudou… he may be proud, but that pride borders on criminal negligence. I know he hates my methods, but my methods get results when his don't. If he'd called me earlier, I might've saved one of those girls."
"You can still save more, Hachiman," Isshiki says, in a rare moment of calm. "I'll help you."
"You don't need to reassure me. I always catch them. Always." He shifts the phone into his other hand, seeing that he's nearing the metro station. "Isshiki… I feel like I'm having deja vu, but I'd rather you didn't call me by my first name."
And then the calm is gone. "No. Your name is Hachiman, and I will call you as such."
"No means no, Hachiman. And if you keep pressing the matter, I'll send the article about you off to my editor, and the whole world will know about your 'personal investigator' shtick." He can tell she's smiling with false sweetness. "How does that sound?"
"Still blackmailing me, then."
"It not blackmail. It's a partnership."
Careful, Hachiman. You nearly laughed there. "Well, if it's a partnership, how about you look into something for me?"
"Depends what it is," she says coyly.
"I want you to do some poking around the schools that the victims attended."
"Really… I guess that might be possible. Anything you want to know in particular?"
"The social dynamics of the schools. Particularly of the victims themselves. I've already got the police checking if they're popular in their respective schools, but I expect they will be, so I'd like you to go into more detail. Maybe set up some interviews with the guidance counsellors?"
"And how do you expect me to spin that, Hachiman?"
"Lie, presumably. Tell them you work for the police, or something. Besides, I thought lying was your hobby."
"Hachiman! Didn't your parents teach you never to insult a lady?"
"How convenient for me that you're not a lady."
She laughs. "So what's the theory behind all this? Why are you so interested in high-school gossip?"
"… It's just a hunch."
"Go through it for me. I'll be your sounding board."
"…" The personal investigator has trouble explaining his hunches at the best of times- most of them are based on pure instinct. He'd call them ridiculous if they weren't so often right.
"… It's mostly based on something Sakiyama mentioned. All the attacker's supposed calling cards could be utterly inconsequential. The baseball bat, the piece of paper on the back of the victim, the sex toys… they could just be red herrings to throw the police off. But the fact that all the victims are not only high-schoolers, but in their second year… that's too specific. Why does it have to be the second year? Why does it have to be that type of girl?
"From there, I started wondering about the fact that the attacker is probably local to Chiba. Since they know the area, that narrows down our field of suspects a lot. Did you know that the overwhelming majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows? Then there's the fact that the blow to the back of the head was quite light… maybe the reason the attacker uses sex toys is much more simple than it seems."
"You think it's a woman?"
"Not just that. I think it's another high-school girl."
"That's a bit of a jump, isn't it?"
Hachiman sighs impatiently. "Of course it is. Like I said, it's a hunch, but I've learnt to trust my hunches over the years. And… there is something else. I'd suggest the baseball bat is used more out of practicality than anything- they're a very practical, methodical person- but the use of the word 'slut'… there might be something in that as well. I can't say what yet, but it seems deliberated. Intentional. It's a crime committed with the intention to control, and that word in particular seems awfully important to them."
"… Alright, Hachiman. I guess I've learnt to trust your hunches too."
"How considerate of you," he drawls. "After however many cases solved, I think I've more than earned that trust."
"You have, Hachiman. You have."
There's an emotion located, locked within those words, which the personal investigator isn't sure how to react to. An image of Kawasaki in his apartment from earlier returns, in tandem with the notion of Isshiki Iroha sat up attentively on her bed, hanging on to his every word. Then comes the face of his sister, so close and personal, edging into the spotlight.
People care about me far more than I need.
"… That's all, Isshiki. I've gotta catch a train back to my apartment."
"… You have?"
"I hope you're not hinting that you want me there too?"
The joke is half-hearted, and so is his response. "Absolutely not."
The call ends with a stutter of finality from the static. Get a grip of yourself, Hachiman. Get a damn grip.
His apartment, what with the sheer amount of hours he spends locked in its confines, is beginning to resemble something of a hermit's cave. Hachiman has convinced himself that the oxygen in there is of a different kind, an oxygen far more pleasing and aromatic than the kind in the outside world. He breaths it in upon stepping back inside, his heart now steady again.
Perhaps he has a developing case of agoraphobia. The prospect is almost funny. That would certainly get rid of my problem with social interaction, albeit by removing it completely. Like a tumour operation.
The morbid details of the case collapse over him as he resumes his pacing. He circles the couch, as if trying to conjure for himself the gills, the teeth, the body and the jet-black eyes of a shark. All the features that those in the Chiba Prefectural Police seem to think belong to him. If I actually were a shark, what breed would I be? A Great White? Nah. Probably something small and pathetic.
The baseball bat. The piece of A4 paper. The sex toys. The baseball bat. The piece of A4 paper. The sex toys.
The sight of the victim, that poor girl, Nakatani Maeko. Another nearly nameless victim in his many nearly nameless cases. One part of being a personal investigator that he doesn't like is how victims become nothing more than numbers. Nothing more than statistics. 4 victims attacked by a sociopathic rapist with a baseball bat. So what?
… 74 corpses found in in Yamanishi Koen. That's a statistic too. Only those hanged corpses… it's not just the one that the Service Club and I saw that night.
No, don't think about that case. You have a new one.
Baseball bat, Yamanishi Koen, piece of A4 paper, 74 corpses, 4 victims…
… Shit. I need a drink.
He goes to his fridge and pulls out a beer. Not an Asahi this time. A Heineken. He doesn't like Heineken very much. Why does he have them in his fridge, again?
I wish Komachi were here.
The thoughts arrives in his subconscious unexpectedly. He stalls for a moment, wondering where on earth it came from. He's successfully avoided thinking about the absence of his sister for the last couple of weeks. Superficially, anyway.
She's lost to him at the moment. In some obscure corner of America, if he remembers correctly. Some place in the South? Texas? Utah? Whatever. What matters is that she isn't here. At high-school, his sister had realised that she was interested in learning foreign languages. Fair enough. At university she had carried on studying English. Fair enough.
But leaving him to work as a translator for a car company abroad? Leaving him for months at a time? That didn't seem fair at all.
Hachiman supposes it's natural that the world would conspire to take his sister away from him. She is brilliant, after all, a real light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel kind of person, the kind of person you can't resist being in the presence of. He doesn't want to interfere in her happiness. He would never do that. If she's interested in languages, let her be a translator. It will make her happy.
Komachi always returns from her trips mightily enthusiastic, brimming with the sum of her latest life-changing experience, and on several occasions with an attractive new six foot boyfriend. The boyfriend typically doesn't last very long, and neither does her stay back in Chiba. She's too good at her job for that.
And their relationship had, without a doubt, turned rocky before she started going abroad. She's never been fond of his work as a personal investigator. According to her, it puts him at unnecessary risk, under unnecessary mental strain. It keeps him chained to the whims of an obsession he's had since he was eighteen years old.
Since Yamanishi Koen, and what they found there, burst the idealistic bubble that was the Service Club.
Get a grip. Get a damn grip, Hachiman.
Baseball bat. A4 piece of paper. Sex toys.
Yamanishi Koen. 74 corpses... Yukinoshita Yukino...
… You've got a case to solve. Those 4 girls… they need you to catch the one who hurt them. The police aren't going to do it. Chief Inspector Kudou isn't going to do it. You're the only one who can do it.
Hikigaya Hachiman continues circling his couch. He's forgotten how to do anything else.
Chapter 1- Yamanishi Koen
Introducing: A Doll's Eyes