In which Souji Seta is further educated...
Souji Seta, even while busied with frantically scribbling, was quick to notice the most ephemeral of glances fired from Naoto's direction. If he had blinked at the wrong moment, he would've missed it entirely. He wasn't sure exactly how to interpret it...whether it was a glance meant to simply gage her freshly hired employee's reaction...or perhaps even to signal him into some sort of action, he was clueless. He decided it best not to glance in return...lightly clearing his throat as if to voice his acknowledgement of the gesture before continuing to scrawl sloppily across the notepad he'd been given. He wasn't proud of his handwriting. The invention of an affordable, portable personal computer had all been eliminated any pleasing aesthetic that his penmanship could've possibly possessed.
Naoto, in the very least, possessed the common decency to allow Ozu to gather himself...waiting patiently for a moment in which she'd feel comfortable in persisting her ravenous hunt for information. She stood stock-still...thin arms loosely crossed, looking politely away from Ozu until he steadied himself with a deep, warbling breath.
She continued. "Hemophobia...this is a clinical condition for your brother? Not self-diagnosed."
Ozu shook his head firmly. "It's for real. He's had it ever since he was a young thing. He sees a psychiatrist at least once a week for that and...a host of other issues."
Ozu took the time to smooth out his unsoiled silk handkerchief...holding it gently with the tips of his fingers. He flapped it around as if to dispel any suspicions. "He's a neurotic one...always has been. A great big bundle of phobias and...and 'conditions' and whatnot. Being afraid of blood is just the biggest of his many vices."
Souji Seta considered scribbling 'misuse of the word 'vice'' to the side with an asterisk...but given Naoto's keen sense of professionalism, he decided against it.
"I see. So, you are confirming that a trained professional can provide testimony proving that your brother has this phobia?"
Ozu sighed. "That's, more or less, what I just said...isn't it?"
Naoto took a short pause...her fingers drumming gently against the sleeve of her shirt before she continued. "...What can you tell me about the condition of the body when you discovered it?"
"...The police told me to reveal as little about that as possible, so...I imagine that you wouldn't mind if-"
"It would help me...a great deal."
Ozu winced...but gathering his stomach, managed to reply without much hesitation. "The cause of death, I guess...was probabl-"
"Excuse me. I didn't ask for what you think the cause of death is. I asked simply for what the body looked like when you found it."
"...Isn't that roughly the same thing?"
Souji's pen came to a halt. He wasn't quite sure if Naoto was being unnecessarily picky or if there was a definite logic beyond her statement. He chose not to worry about it. That wasn't his job.
Ozu grimaced...pondering for a spell, seeming to debate on the best way to convey what he saw in the way that the detective had specifically asked for. "...He was...laying on the ground...flat, on his back. His face was...well...it was...gone."
Naoto quirked an eyebrow...an almost invisible gesture beneath the stiff brim of her cap. "Gone...Mr. Vavasseur?"
Ozu shivered from head to toe...a cold, writhing shiver snaking up the curve of his spine before she spat it out. "Gone, it was gone! It was just...compacted back into his skull...like he'd been...or...like he'd been str-"
"Condition of the body. No theories about the cause, Mr. Vavasseur."
"...Tch...his face was caved in, okay? There was blood...everywhere, all over the front of his clothes."
"I see. The actual crime scene then? What was the condition of it?"
"You don't remember?"
"That's what I just said, isn't it? Stating what I say in the form of a question doesn't count as a question!" Ozu snapped sharply...teeth bared as he leaned forward on the tips of his toes, though he dared not cross the invisible mental line he had drawn. He elaborated. "...I was panicked, as would be expected from someone strolling in to find their father dead. I left the room immediately and phoned the police."
"The time was...?"
"...Sometime...after 8:00. We've been over this, detective..." Ozu Vavasseur gripped the ends of his handkerchief between his hands...stretching the material until it creaked before dragging it across the tip of his chin. He tugged it to and fro, a pale sound of friction accompanying each of the silken scrap's scrapes along his bare flesh.
...Souji Seta, for whatever reason, made a habit of not trusting anyone who made their love of silk that obvious. He had no logical backing behind it...no sound train of reasoning...but it was a simple piece of prejudice that hadn't failed him yet. Kanji Tatsumi, of course, was also fond of silk...but at least he didn't advertise with such unabashed pageantry. In a moment of weakness, Souji Seta's fingers failed him...pen poised without motion as his abhorrent imagination imagined exactly what kind of environment must've produced a man like this. He envisioned a room of silk...of silk curtains and silk carpeting and silk sheets that, if given voice, could tell a thousand tiles of perverse silk fetishism.
It was horrific.
He forbade his mind from continuing...lest his pen choose to move without permission and scrawl these terrible fantasies in absurd detail.
Ozu Vavasseur had quickly begun to regain his footing...his sense of aristocratic outrage. He turned his back curtly to the pair that had been questioning him...taking several high steps and beginning a distracted stroll about the hallway while holding his handkerchief to his face...not seeming to be satisfied until the piece of golden silk was pressed with a permanent imprint of his features. "Anything eeeelse, detective? Or may I be left with my thoughts?"
The detective stared, unamused. She'd lost him...perhaps pressed her influence a bit too much. She supposed there was only so much that a half-lie about the police's suspicions and a popping of the knuckles from a black-clad personal assistant could do to break down a man's personal defenses. She assured herself it was simply a sense of unwarranted accomplishment on Ozu's part. Perhaps he simply thought that he'd answered enough to satisfy the suspicions of anyone with a gun and a badge.
Naoto took a sonorous breath...chest puffing drastically outward before she released. Her focus had seemed to wavered. Her posture relaxed...though, compared to most, she still seemed to possess a stance that was far more straight and powerful than most. She rested a hand on one hip, her opposite hand scratching sensitively at her throat. "...Well...if your patience has yet to run thin, I'd like straighten out what I know so far. Daiki Vavasseur ate out at a local restaurant with business clients. You were there to witness this. You arrived back here at the manor at exactly 4:40 PM. Your father arrived approximately twenty minutes later, around 5:00 PM. Upon arrival, Daiki Vavasseur immediately retired to his study. At 5:30 PM...Yoshioka Yori, the head maid, personally delivered your father's evening meal...despite the fact that Daiki Vavasseur apparently helped to himself to quite the substantial meal beforehand. Sometime after 8:00 PM, you discovered the body of Daiki Vavasseur laying face-up, covered in blood. You immediately left the room and alerted local authorities."
Ozu shrugged nonchalantly. "Mm-hmm, you're on the right track."
Naoto continued. "In addition to this...only three people in the estate, other than Daiki Vavasseur himself, were permitted to be on the second floor after 5:00 PM...5:00 being the time that Daiki typically retired to his study every single day. These people would be you...your brother, Aoki Vavasseur...and the head maid, Yoshioka Yori."
Ozu smirked smugly. "Just because they weren't allowed doesn't mean that other people in the estate couldn't go onto the second floor. Killing someone is also against the 'rules', but it happens, doesn't it?"
Naoto glowered...nothing intense, but it was noticeable. A slow, smoldering heat flickered in the back of her eyes. "...I can't deny that...but, at the same time, there are only two people who we can supposedly confirm to have entered Daiki's study after 5:00 PM."
"...Ff...Yori and myself?"
"...Mr. Vavasseur...can you account for everything you did between the time you arrived at the estate and the time you discovered the body?"
"Hmph. 4:40, I arrived. I then conversed with several of the employees on my way to my room on the second floor. Eh, it was some...assistant chef and one of the young men tends to the landscape garden. We talked for...ohhhhh...ten minutes or so before I simply strolled on up to my room. I stayed there, alone, until...around 8:00, when I went down to my father's study and discovered what had happened."
"...Personal things, correct? You still refuse to elaborate on what you went to talk to him about?"
"...A son is allowed to meet with his own father, is he not? I don't need a reason."
"Hmm...can you account for the locations of either Yoshioka Yori or Aoki Vavasseur? Excluding the time that Yori visited Daiki, of course."
"...Could you tell me where either of them are now?"
"...No clue? No notion or logical guess where either of them may be?"
"Well...Yori could be anywhere. Aoki is probably in his room."
"Aoki's room is...?"
"Like I said, he couldn't have done it. So, what's the point of you knowing?"
"I'd be more comfortable if I could question him myself."
"No one's stopping you."
"Then the location of his room, if you will?"
"Hm...can't recall. It slips my mind. But, as I said, it's impossible for him to have done it...so there really is no reason for you to find him."
Naoto...snarled. Yes, that'd be the way to describe it...an under-the-radar rumble in the back of her throat accompanied with a distinctive upturn of her upper lip. It was something that was rare to see from someone who Souji had always thought of as cool and collected. Her shoulders shuddered as she spoke. "...Are you that protective of your brother?"
Ozu scoffed...beginning to mindlessly twist his handkerchief into a stretchy spiral. "I simply don't want you to end up wasting your time. He barely talks as it is. Even if he was capable of something like this, you'll get nothing out of him. Besides all that, I suppose I should mention that he weighs...oh...100? 105 pounds? Most of the female workers here outweigh him. My father was three times his size. Not to mention...chronic asthma and an overall weak, disease-prone disposition. He didn't get the best of the gene pool. He has neither the physical strength nor the sheer force of will. It's simply not in his nature."
"...I see. Then...in the very least, what can you tell me about Yori? Is there any way I'd be able to easily identify her?"
"Feh...sure, easy. Just follow the stench of cigarette smoke. She'll be the cosmetic-covered creature at the end of it with her skirt around her ankles." His words dripped with a hateful venom...cruel emphasis placed on the most insulting, disgust-inspiring words of his sentence.
Naoto presented her palm to the tall man standing aside her. He stared at her, dumbfounded, for several seconds before he realized what she wanted. Hectically, he took the time to flip through the thin pages. Not having an eraser, he nervously attempted to blot away any errors he may have made in big, blotches of wet ink before he finally gave up on his last-minute editing and handed both pen and pad to her.
She took the pad...refusing the pen. Souji hooked it into his vest pocket. She didn't look at the pad...simply taking it into her hand before turning away. "Thank you...very much, Mr. Vavasseur. You've been very informative. If you'll excuse us..."
Souji followed without hesitation...though, he was sorely tempted to crack his knuckles just one more time.
The detective and her assistant were on the stairs to the second floor before anything else was said. Souji figured that it would be best not to start any conversation unless there was no one in immediate earshot. Even then, he wasn't sure if even semi-casual words exchanged between him and his boss were appropriate when on an investigation...even when alone. He spoke lowly...not bothering to look directly at her as he descended the velvet-coated staircase.
"...Sorry about all that. Didn't sound like you got too much useful information..."
Naoto discontinued her stride, pausing on the stairs with her hand still clinging to the support railing. Souji grunted to himself, resisting the impulse to give himself a good, sound swat on the forehead. That was definitely inappropriate then, right? Never kick an investigator when they're done. He glanced over to mumble out a half-thought apology before he caught sight of her expression.
Naoto smiled...a big, wide, childishly happy smile. It was awkward to see. He'd become so accustomed to the subtle, ghost-like movements of her lips that to see them stretched that widely almost looked like it would be painful. She tipped up the edge of her hat to expose her forehead before turning...glancing in both directions to ensure that no one was coming before she leaned comfortably against the wall. "Really? You don't think I got any useful information?"
Souji Seta blinked rapidly...eyes twitching slightly before he cleared the gravel from his throat, a gloved hand groping at the back of his neck. "You didn't, did you? I mean...in the long run, didn't we just confirm a bunch of things that we already knew?"
Naoto's chest swelled...a slight rosiness throbbing into her cheeks. Happiness...he couldn't exactly place the origins of it, but what she exhibited was nothing short of unabashed joy. Whether it was the thrill of investigation...or simply to have someone to talk to about it...he wasn't at liberty to say. She loved her job...
She held up the notepad aloft, gripping the bottom edge firmly. "There's more to interrogation than simply what we are told. You must also take into account the context in which you are told these things. Body language, tone of voice...the way a person says something can often tell you more about them then what they are saying. There are many things I took from our conversation with Mr. Vavasseur that he may not have intended us to. I received answers to questions that I didn't even have to take the time to ask..."
"...Right..." Souji's reply was devoid of enthusiasm...the same tone of voice chiefly reserved for one-sided conversations with equally uninterested, but significantly more knowledgeable guest lecturers.
Naoto's smile thinned and slithered into a kind of cocky smirk...fanning her fingers towards her assistant with a modest embellishment. "Very well, Mr. Seta...based on our conversation with Mr. Vavasseur, please describe your impression of Daiki, Ozu, and Aoki as a family."
He blinked rapidly...unconsciously tapping the tip of an index finger against his temple. He didn't like this. This wasn't in his job description. He was here to follow a detective around, take notes, and make sure that no one tried to shoot her. "Well...is it necessary to ask me? You're the detective, aren't you?"
Naoto sighed...a deep, heavy-hearted kind of sigh. Suddenly, Souji was back in primary school...a 6'2" elementary student being lectured by a 5-foot-nada taskmaster of a homeroom teacher. His homework had been dissected and tossed upon his desk while Mrs. Shirogane impatiently tapped her ruler against her wrist and waited for him to explain why he'd gotten so many questions wrong. "Mr. Seta...just think. As I have said before, you're more intelligent then you give yourself credit for."
He made a painful expression...lips tightening as he bowed his head apologetically. As he spoke, he made a temporary habit of stating his thoughts in questions rather than confident statements. He walked on eggshells...knees shaking as if the slightest lapse in logical thinking merited a harsh lashing.
"...Ozu said that he thought of Daiki as more of a businessman than a father, right?"
Naoto didn't reply. Souji continued, blushing slightly. Show-and-tell all over again...
"I guess that's a side effect of relying so heavily on someone for financial reasons, huh? You start to think of them more as a walking pocketbook than a living relative."
Again, no verbal reply from the big boss in charge. Souji's patience was wearing thin. He decided to ramble...speaking whatever came to his mind.
Souji tilted his head to his side...averting his eyes to the ceiling as fingers grabbed big, wrinkle-inducing handfuls of his upper sleeve. "...A relationship like that...doesn't seem like it would function like a normal family. The relationship between a boss and an employee is drastically different from one between a father and son. An employee's only real incentive is money. They'll just do whatever they think will get them more money. Sucking up...agreeing without thinking...being a yes-man, right? Even in a situation where a father does normally hire his son...it rarely ever turns into something like that unless the father expresses his approval in nothing but money. Conditional love expressed only through monetary compensation...it doesn't sound like a healthy system."
Naoto smiled. "Keep going."
"...That would explain Ozu's behavior. Pretending to feel worse than he was...at first, I figured he was just the kind of person who leeches on the sympathy of others. Then the clothes...he really did look like just a clone of his father. I suppose Daiki was the kind of person who really favored people who took after him."
Naoto smiled wider...chuckled even. "...Exactly what I was thinking. The way Ozu behaved...I get the feeling that his father's 'love' was something entirely reliant on Ozu's behavior. In the end, it was more of a love of money than a love of family. Very well, Mr. Seta...what of Aoki?"
"...Keep in mind how Aoki has been described to us. Prone to illness...severely reclusive...with an interest in hobbies that his father didn't share..."
Souji finished the thought. "...You think Daiki wasn't very fond of Aoki?"
Naoto cleared her throat insistently...smile fading slightly as she gave a gentle tick-tock of a head shake. "I'd rather not say that outright...but considering the impression that I received from Ozu, it seems highly probable. If it's true that Aoki was the black sheep of the family, I'd imagine that the tension laying over the Vavasseur estate must've been quite thick. Keep in mind, I'm not entirely unfamiliar with the late Daiki myself. I don't think that kind of behavior would be beyond him."
"So...how is all this important?"
"...Very few things in the course of an investigation are 'exact'. For the most part...it's less a process of confirming information as much as it is simply adjusting the probability of something being true. In this case...I'm more suspicious of Ozu than I was before. He may very well have hinted at possible motivations for committing the murder."
"Financially speaking...he wouldn't get much from killing his father, would he? He seems to already be in the good life. I wouldn't think that he'd be so impatient as to go through all this trouble simply for a quick inheritance."
Naoto smirked. "Before I had conversed with Ozu, I was under the impression that his only motivation for patricide would be the appeal of an inheritance, yes...which wouldn't have made very much sense, considering his already lavish lifestyle. But with the possibility of tension amongst the family, many more possibilities have been opened up. Not to mention...I'm also very intrigued by his unwillingness to answer certain seemingly harmless questions."
Souji leaned forward...hands relaxing at his sides. Quite a bit of his reluctance and uncertainty seemed to be replaced with a genuine curiosity...a specific thrill that had become strange and foreign to him, but tingled energetically regardless. "The exact time that he discovered the body...and pretty much anything that'd lead us to a questioning of his brother."
"Hm...precisely. He seemed to be quite sure of himself when it came to the exact time of everything else that had happened prior to the discovery of the body."
"Well...he did say that he was in a panic, right?"
"That is true...but even so, he became unusually nervous when that subject came up. If he had used a cellphone to alert the authorities, it would've recorded the exact time that the call was made. Most any cellphone has a feature like that nowadays. It wouldn't be hard for him to figure out."
"He said he left the room to make the call though. What if he didn't use a cellphone?"
"...Also true, I suppose. I simply assumed that he was the type to carry a cellphone on him...but there is a chance that he didn't have one with him when he discovered the body. I should have asked..."
"We were told that the body was discovered at 8:15, weren't we? But now...I suppose that just meant the time they received the call, rather than the time Ozu actually went into the study and found the body. But...it's not like something like that would make much of a difference, right?"
"Don't be so quick to jump to absolute conclusions. Seemingly trivial information or small discrepancies will often prove to me more meaningful than you'd initially think. The fact that Ozu was so unsure about the exact time still...bothers me."
"...Maybe..." Naoto trailed off, punctuating her incomplete sentence with a kind of dreamy, distant smile. He could only assume that she felt something that she found difficult to put into words...something indescribably abstract.
Don't think. Feel.
He briefly considered saying it aloud...but he was fairly certain that Naoto would be the type to objectively disagree with that kind of philosophy.
Despite her words hushing into a floaty whisper, she didn't seem to budge. Souji presumed that she, in some way, wanted the conversation to continue. He took the initiative.
"You've grown to suspect Ozu a lot then, right? You really think he's the...'type' to do something like this? He isn't exactly the physically imposing type. I wouldn't really identify his disposition with that of a killer."
Naoto's shoulders shook...lips stiffening as she seemed to do her best to hold in a stomach-shaking laugh. Her face took on something unusual...a single eyebrow twisted upwards with a smooth half-smile to accompany it. She looked...'playful'. He wasn't sure if it suited her.
"Hmhmhm...Mr. Seta, I'm surprised. You, of all people, should be aware that you can't judge a book by its cover."
His expression became clouded. He could immediately think of a few examples...some more sinister and unsettling than others. Naoto seemed to cling to the negative brainwaves that spilled from her associates ears...her own face darkening as she spoke a bit more earnestly.
"Not too long ago...I was involved with a murder investigation. What started as a string of unexplained disappearances surrounding an unassuming suburb suddenly elevated into a frantic search for a serial killer once a dismembered body was discovered. On the first day that I was called in to assist in the investigation, I decided to spend a day around the town questioning anyone who might know something about the confirmed victims. After a very long day with little to no progress...an old man approached me. He must've been a man of around eighty or so...hunched over, soft-spoken...an old-fashioned, perpetually cheerful kind of man who smiled when there was nothing to smile about.. He complimented me very kindly on my success, despite my youth...invited me into his kitchen. He made a fresh kettle of barley tea and baked some frozen scones. I insisted that his generosity was entirely unnecessary...but he insisted on the grounds that if I didn't help him eat them, they'd simply go to waste. We drank tea and ate the entire batch of scones as he prattled innocently on...reminiscing and regaling me with stories of his youth. Over time, it became a routine. Every other day or so I'd visit him. We never talked about the case, only trivial things...nostalgic things, happy things. During the course of most investigations such as that, a detective doesn't make friends...only acquaintances. But him...he reminded of my Grampa. I enjoyed the time we spent together...looked forward to it. Given our current topic of discussion...I think you can imagine what it is that I'm trying to say."
Souji Seta's coiled his fingers together nervously. "...He was...?"
"The killer. Yes. Over the course of a year and a half, he killed sixteen people. Drugged them...dismembered them...froze them." She paused, presumably to stabilize herself. "...The freezer in which he kept the scones...was the same freezer in which he kept the body of his most recent victim. I saw him open that freezer countless times...but not at any moment did I suspect that a dead body had been buried and frosted inside. Back when I realized this...I became sick. He could've drugged and murdered me at any time, but he didn't. It wasn't until weeks after he'd been arrested that I realized just how close I came to being killed. Why he didn't do it, I don't know. He may have felt that it would've been too suspicious...or perhaps he received some kind of perverse pleasure from seeing me enjoying his company day after day. Either way, it's served as an important lesson to me. People often do things that seem contradictory to their nature. Bad people can do good things. In a situation such as this...it's best to keep your judgments in a secure pen. An adequate investigator must regard all possibilities with equal reverence. It's best not to allow yourself to fall into the trap of focusing on only one theory...lest you fall prey to self-fulfilling prophecy."
Souji's face had grown pallid...any vibrant color that had been throbbing in his cheeks bleaching away into a sickly bone-white. He nodded in understanding...finding that his leather-hugged fingers had begun to lace themselves together, hand to hand. Comfortless and stifling...the re-realization of the seriousness of his position caused his stomach to roll over.
Bodyguard. He was a bodyguard. That was okay, wasn't it? A big dog on a short leash was still a dangerous thing should anyone bearing ill will venture too close. Lurking dread...the stealthy fear and uncertainty that came with not quite knowing what in the world he was doing. He became uncomfortably mindful of the clothes he was wearing...the clothes that weren't his, the car that he didn't own, the estate that wasn't his home.
Naoto seemed to sense his worry, immediately changing the subject. "Yoshioka Yori! What do we know?"
"...Huh? Oh...the head maid? Nothing, I guess...besides that Ozu doesn't like her."
She nodded soundly. "He also implied that she was a heavy smoker...and possibly that she behaves or dresses quite...'lasciviously'."
"Mm-hmm...also, she delivered food to Daiki's study at 5:30, even though he had eaten a lot beforehand."
Naoto offered an expectant smile...giving a small hand gesture towards Souji. He took the hint. She wanted him to spill the rest of his thoughts.
"...Okay...so, Ozu pretty much told us that he thinks Yori did it. How do we know if he genuinely suspects her or if he's just trying to push attention away from him?"
"...Hm. Well, taking food to the man's room is pretty suspicious...but, from what we heard, she does it every day, doesn't she? That's kinda odd. Is Daiki the kind of person who eats out often?"
"Who knows then. Maybe she brought Daiki something he didn't want people to know about. Did he drink?"
"Yes. His love for...that sort of thing was quite notorious around Shintate. Keep in mind, Ozu also testified that he was drinking wine during his dinner with clients. He doesn't seem the type to keep that sort of vice below the radar. I doubt she'd be sneaking him alcohol. Keep in mind before you jump to conclusions...there still exists the possibility that she really does bring him dinner every single day, and today was simply a miscommunication between employee and employer."
Souji coughed gently into his fist, coming to his own defense. "I know, I know...I'm just trying to think of anything possible. Ozu hinted that she dressed kinda...'loosely', huh? Doesn't seem like what a proper maid would do. Maybe she was servicing the boss under the table?"
Surprisingly, it took more than a moment for the implication to register with the detective. She nodded to signal that she got the clue. "You think they were having an illicit affair?"
"Well...Ozu wasn't exactly subtle with suggesting her...umm..."
"Yeah, that. Was Daiki a womanizer."
Naoto hummed thoughtfully. "Yes...that wasn't exactly a secret either. As I've said, he wasn't particularly well-liked among the local community. Even when he was still married, there quite a few rumors about numerous affairs...though, to my knowledge, none of them were confirmed."
"So, maybe that then? Yori could've been gold-digging and Ozu, being the perfect son, didn't take too kindly to it. He might just be speaking poorly about her out of spite more than anything else."
Naoto raised her hand, palm forward and fingers clinging tightly together. "That's enough. We don't want to come to hasty conclusions...though, considering what we've seen thus far, it wouldn't be illogical to consider something like that. Let's just focus on the tasks at hand."
"Which are what, Detective?"
"Asking more questions or being called to the scene of the actual crime...whichever comes first, Mr. Seta."
He could see her mouth twitch as she spoke those last few words.
He couldn't tell if she enjoyed saying it or if she found it difficult to say. Before he could think to consider it, she turned away...removing herself from the comfortable railing and proceeding back down the stairwell. Souji followed closely, as if the pair were tethered together.
"Hm...how unprofessional." Naoto uttered.
"What's that, Detective?"
"The possibility that Daiki Vavasseur had begun an intimate affair with one of his own employees. Very unprofessional."
(AN: Don't really have much to say. More to come soon, if I find that I have the time.)