Case File #2: In Vino Veritas
Part 2


A couple hours later…

ワインのくちづけ

"Kiss of Wine, huh? Nice name," Katsu commented, nodding her head approvingly at the insignia on the napkin she'd lifted from the bar. "And it matches the décor, too – very classy. Nice, relaxing atmosphere; definitely good for the customers." She looked over to Mai curiously. "So what's the low-down on this place? Floating glasses or disappearing corkscrews?"

"Well…"

"This is a family business that was previously owned by Akira Shinoda's uncle, Keisuke Shinoda," Naru answered, effectively cutting off his younger assistant. "According to the couple currently in ownership, they'd heard of past disturbances but chose not to believe the accounts."

Yasu raised an eyebrow. "Didn't pay attention to the disturbances in general, or didn't pay attention to the whole supernatural aspect?"

"They'd have to be pretty crappy entrepreneurs to turn a blind eye on anything involving their business," Katsu remarked under her breath.

"The latter; Akira Shinoda and his wife were skeptical about the purported stories of the establishment being haunted and went about as if everything could be solved by normal methods. They commissioned the city to send in an inspector who instructed them on the necessary upgrades and areas to be remodeled. The Shinodas spent quite a bit of money to remodel the establishment."

Katsu turned to him with a look of dark amusement. "Let me guess: it didn't help."

Naru nodded. "Not long after ownership of the bar went to Akira, they began experiencing the disturbances that had been reported by employees and a few customers. Since then, Kiss of Wine has undergone a significant downturn in clientele and earnings."

Yasu flipped through one of the files he'd filled with information prior to their arrival. "When your business starts losing profits in an economy like this, it's a real pain trying to get back up to snuff. Kiss of Wine's been an extremely profitable establishment for well over fifteen years. I'm actually pretty surprised by that, to be honest. Usually small-time businesses get bought out."

"Well, this is Golden Gai," Monk pointed out as he entered base, Lin just behind him. He looked over to Naru. "We finished setting up the cameras." He then returned his gaze to the other three. "This place is pretty high-end and expensive; buyouts like what you'd expect in places like Roppongi or Shibuya don't happen all that often over here."

"That's why Golden Gai has been able to maintain its status for so long as an icon for blending a traditional atmosphere and modern luxuries," Naru observed, looking over at the monitors.

"That and the whole Yakuza thing back in the eighties." Several pairs of eyes turned in the interloper's direction.

"Yakuza?" Mai blinked.

Katsu stared at her in mild surprise. "What? You mean you didn't know about how the Yakuza burned buildings in Tokyo and Golden Gai was one of the lucky survivors?"

"What? Seriously?"

"Jeez, even I've heard of it." Yasu shook his head in disbelief. "You really are hopeless, Mai."

Mai glared at the college student.

"Care to enlighten us?" Naru prompted, looking between his volunteer and his stand-in expectantly.

Yasu gave a jolt. "Oh, right. Back in the 1980s, the Yakuza set fire to several buildings in Tokyo. Their purpose behind the arsons was to make a profit by selling the land off to developers. Golden Gai was spared only because its supporters would take turns standing guard at night to protect the area."

"The area was originally known for prostitution prior to around 1958 – when the practice was considered illegal – and since then it's been developed into the drinking area you see now," Monk continued, stealing the seat to the right of Mai. "Considering it's always been an attractive spot for nighttime activities, I suppose it was only natural that there were those who would want to protect."

"Considering the clientele, I wouldn't have been surprised," Katsu said, a bit sourly. "You've got to be rolling in money just to get in here, and a lot of these joints won't let you in unless you're introduced by one of their existing patrons. Even when the rest of the world is in a pinch, there are still a few lucky bastards who –" Bonk! "Hey! Monk!"

"Language, young lady," he reprimanded, pulling back his hand.

"Geez, sorry," she said sarcastically, rolling her eyes. "Anyway, that's the reason why Golden Gai's the way it is. End of history lesson."

"Do you think that what happened in the eighties might be connected to what the bar's been experiencing?" Mai asked.

"It wouldn't surprise me any," said Yasu. "And if it isn't a spirit from the eighties, maybe during the time when prostitution was illegal; there may have been dozens of unsolved crimes that we aren't aware of."

"Given the details of the case, I'm not willing to commit myself to saying that Kiss of Wine is haunted," Naru interjected, sitting down in the chair next to Lin's over by the monitors.

"So what exactly are we looking for here, Naru?" Monk inquired. "You were pretty vague on the details."

"Knocking noises were the biggest complaint, followed by flickering lights, clattering glassware, the doors sliding open and shut and often times shuddering when the bar is empty. There have also been reports of strange shadows and whispers coming from the stairwell leading up these rooms."

"That sound like noisy neighbors and people pulling pranks," Katsu remarked, unimpressed. "Everything except the clattering glassware, but that could be attributed to a rowdy upstairs party."

"True, but we've already checked into these theories," said Naru. "While we were bringing in the equipment, I had Lin watch to see if our movement caused any significant movement."

"From what I could see, the glassware did indeed shake a bit," Lin supplied from his spot in front of the monitors. "For reference, I had the bartender and the owners watch as well. According to them, it wasn't the same."

"And we can eliminate faulty electrical wiring and plumbing," Yasu added, going through his pages. "They fixed those first."

"So you really think this place is haunted?" Katsu looked to SPR's leader skeptically. "I don't buy it."

"At the moment I'm not certain, although I'm inclined to think that we may be dealing with a poltergeist," he said. "However, it doesn't hurt to check things out."

"Well, if checking things out is what you want us to do, I guess there's no time like the present." The interloper rose from her seat and stretched. "I'm gonna go 'check out' that bar before its gets all crowded. Maybe that bartender's got something to say."

"I'll go with you," Yasu volunteered, eagerly jumping up.

"Don't go trying to get any alcohol, you two," Monk joked.

"Aw, but that's part of the fun! OW!" The college student rubbed his upper arm where Katsu had hit him. "Wow, Takigawa wasn't kidding about your punches!"

"Before anyone goes exploring, I'd like to make one thing clear." They all looked over to Naru expectantly. "Because of the Shinodas' request to maintain the utmost secrecy, it's been agreed that we investigate without anyone knowing. So we don't attract any attention to ourselves, only Lin and Takigawa will be allowed at the bar during regular business hours. Unless it's an absolute necessity, the rest of us will be limited to investigating the upstairs, the service stairwell, the kitchen, and the outside perimeter. Just as an added precaution, we should avoid the main stairwell, which leads directly into the bar itself."

"But we can go down to the bar when it isn't opened, right?" Katsu asked.

"So long as you return before anyone sees you, it should be fine."

"Excellent." The interloper looked over her shoulder. "Hey, Mai, wanna join us? I don't particularly like the idea of being alone with Four-Eyes here."

"Hey!"

"Yeah, sure thing." Mai jumped up and grabbed her pen and notepad, happy to be doing something other than just sitting around.

When the shoji door slid shut and their footsteps faded away, Monk looked suspiciously over to the black-clad youth across the room.

"All right, Naru, why'd you trick Katsu into working for you this time? And don't tell me it's just because Ayako told you she couldn't make it."

The narcissist looked over to him dispassionately. "All I said was that Miss Matsuzaki wouldn't be able to make it to assist us. I never said anything that wasn't true."

"No, you just failed to mention the fact that Ayako won't be here until tomorrow. And don't tell me I'm wrong, because I talked to her over an hour ago." The bassist frowned heavily. "This is a really small establishment, Naru. What do we need Katsu here for, anyway? It's not like she has anything significant to contribute like she did back at the construction site."

The teen turned around to view one of the monitors. It was a moment before he spoke again.

"It wouldn't have been appropriate to leave an acquaintance outside in ruined clothing after being humiliated. And besides, it's always a good idea to have an extra hand." He turned around and pulled the door open. "I'm going to go check on the camera in the main stairwell. The image looks to be distorted."

"All right," Lin responded, not even looking up.

Takigawa continued to frown as he watched his raven-haired boss exit from base. Naru wasn't the kind of person given to being spontaneously benevolent; in general, he tended to do things in a manner that ultimately gained his business a certain amount of benefit. Getting the job done efficiently was the boy's lot in life – being a Good Samaritan simply didn't seem to fit into his repertoire.

Knowing this, Takigawa couldn't help but wonder what kind of benefit there was in bringing Katsu of all people to the team. She just wasn't the kind of person you dragged willingly into a paranormal investigation group.

Of course, that was the same kind of thinking they'd all had before they'd discovered Mai's latent psychic abilities, now that he thought about it…

Unlike Mai, however, Katsu didn't come across as the self-sacrificing, friendly kind of girl. She was way too damn defensive. As to why she acted that way, Takigawa hadn't the faintest.

"So what exactly are you doing in Shinjuku, Katsu?" Mai asked as they made their way down the stairs leading into the bar. "Meguro's about half an hour away by train, isn't it?"

Katsu looked over her shoulder in mild amusement. "Who the heck said I live in Meguro?"

Yasu and Mai halted.

"Wait a minute," Yasu said, now very much confused. "If you don't live in Meguro, then what were you doing at the construction site?"

"Hanging around," replied the interloper. "That's actually what I was doing here in Shinjuku before that ramen incident. A friend of mine thought it would be a good idea for me to check out the scenery around here, so I took him up on the suggestion. I wound up in Golden Gai on accident."

"So where do you live?"

"Nowhere in particular. Wow, this place is really something else when it gets dark outside!"

Mai and Yasu stopped just behind the dark-haired girl and couldn't help but agree. What they'd seen of the bar in the dying daylight hours paled in comparison to the pristine, glowing visage before them.

"This is why Golden Gai's such a popular attraction." The three looked over to the bar, finding a man in his late twenties looking over the room almost lovingly. Dark hazel eyes shifted onto the trio, brightening considerably. "You're from that ghost chasers group, right? I'm kinda surprised at how young you guys are; I was expecting balding old Buddhist exorcists and a shriveled up Shinto priestess!"

In-between the snorts of laughter, Mai found herself hoping Monk hadn't heard the man's comment, and was overly grateful that Ayako wasn't around to have even caught wind of it.

"Actually, sir, we're ghost hunters," Yasu corrected, quickly switching into his professional mode. "I don't believe we've been introduced. I'm Kazuya Shibuya, the President of Shibuya Psychic Research. These two young ladies with me are Mai Taniyama, one of my assistants, and Katsumi Shinomori, our volunteer."

"Toshio Akamatsu," the bartender replied cordially, and gestured for them to sit. Yasu and Mai accepted; Katsu chose to meander to the other side of the room. "Anything I can get for you?"

Yasu pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "Actually, Mr. Akamatsu, I was wondering if you wouldn't mind telling us about some of your experiences at the bar here."

Akamatsu placed aside the glass he'd been cleaning and leaned against the counter thoughtfully.

"Well, there isn't much that you guys haven't heard about already. I was with that one tall guy earlier when you all were setting up your equipment, and he was asking me if the glasses were shaking like what we'd been seeing." He indicated the rack hanging above, supporting what must have been over a hundred gleaming wine glasses. "Sure it shook, but not anywhere near what it was like before."

"What exactly is it normally like?"

"All glasses start clattering together and we've even had a few shake loose and shatter – one of them almost hit a customer. And it isn't just the glasses shaking – it's the whole damn rack. There were a couple of times I thought that thing was going to drop on my head!"

"Wow, that's got to be pretty nerve-wracking," Mai commented.

Akamatsu laughed. "Yeah, but I wouldn't give up this job for anything, even if it does turn out this old place is haunted."

"You really like it here that much?" Yasu inquired, somewhat surprised. "Most people would leave if they thought they were being haunted."

"Yeah, but it's different for me. I've been working here for a few months now, but Kiss of Wine's kinda like my second home. Akira and I have been friends a long time, so when he offered me the job, I took it just like that." He snapped his fingers.

"I really love working in this place," he continued, gazing over at the currently empty seats wistfully. "It's a great way to get to know people, and the tips really help a guy out. I don't think I would've done all that well for myself if I hadn't decided to work here; having a little extra cash to save up really makes me feel good about myself. Not only can I afford to pay rent, utilities, and groceries, I can also spend a little on my folks in Koishikawa."

Katsu turned around, suddenly interested in the conversation. "I think I've been through there… that's one of the neighborhoods in Bunkyō, where the Kōrakuen Garden is, right?"

"Bingo." Akamatsu smiled broadly. "You're a really smart kid."

The interloper shrugged and turned back to the painting she was looking at. "I just know my Tokyo geography pretty well."

Yasuhara continued his pleasant, bantering style of interrogation as Mai jotted down notes. Seemingly forgotten, Katsu wandered about the bar pretending to look for clues or points of interest.

In reality, she was thinking back to that incident in the bathroom. The encounter she'd had with the boy in the mirror had been enough to give her a jolt, and not a very pleasant one at that. Despite all the things she'd encountered in her life even before she'd become entangled with that charmer, Katsu found herself bothered.

The look on his face had said it all; their encountering reflections hadn't been done on purpose. There was no hidden joke playing in his eyes, no triumphant smirk relayed across that piece of glass. He'd been just as confused as she'd been and even more startled upon disappearing again. Just as she'd feared, he really didn't have control of where he wound up at half the time.

Katsu frowned at wall. Stuffing her hands in her pockets, she consciously clutched at the fabric. She'd have given anything at this point to forget the look on his face. She could handle him being angry with her over getting scalded by cheap ramen, but confusion and panic were two things she never wanted to see etched into his features ever again.

The door to the girls' room slid open, admitting entry to the silent intruder. The black-clad figure slid the door shut slowly, careful not to make any noise. Slinking past the two bags belonging to his assistant, he made his way to the other side of the room.

Naru looked around in the semi-darkness before finally finding the object of his search. He knelt down next to the worn tan rucksack and narrowed his eyes.

Katsumi Shinomori was a very paranoid, though decidedly crafty young woman. A variety of combination and keyed locks weaved and interconnected with one another, effectively halting anyone interested in rummaging through her belongings. As if that wasn't enough, she'd done it in a way so that the entire setup wouldn't come undone by simply undoing one lock alone.

With his abilities and intelligence, Naru knew very well that he could undo the setup in a matter of seconds. Putting it back together again, however, wouldn't be quite so easy. There was no doubt in his mind that the interloper would notice if anything were out of place.

Taking an overly calm breath, he extended his hand and lightly brushed his fingers against the worn fabric. He closed his eyes, concentrating on finding whatever images and sensations he could. After a moment he frowned and retracted his hand.

Naru rose and quietly left the room, looking back around to make sure he'd left nothing out of place. Satisfied, he closed the door and proceeded down the hall, aware of the dull headache that was beginning to form.

The headache was the only thing he'd gained from his effort.

That… and the smell of rain and freshly cut grass.