Tokyo Demons: Book 3, Chapter 6, Part 2
A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #030 back issue.
We could not trail Touya into the building, but we think he broke in. Investigate carefully.
Zayd’s last group text message bounced around Jo’s brain, an infuriatingly simple thought that he couldn’t tether. Jo knew–or thought he knew?–that it was probably also a layered message, an order that only Jo–or someone besides Jo?–could decipher with the extra information about Kado and Kiri. Zayd hadn’t sent Jo a private message to follow up, which only strengthened Jo’s fear that Zayd expected Jo to read between the lines.
Was Zayd or Kado expecting Jo to do something? Investigate carefully. Did that mean something different for him than it meant for everyone else?
Jo brain was a quagmire of conspiracy theories by the time they arrived at the Shinbashi apartment. To his dismay, there was even commotion outside the building–a few people huddled near the ground, a few more crowding around them and talking on mobile phones.
“Shiiiiiiit,” Shouri murmured, huddling deeper in her raised collar. “Looks like the crime scene’s already drawn attention.”
Jo tried to listen to the overlapping sentence fragments from the crowd. Someone on a phone seemed to be talking to cops… She paused to turn to the person beside her and said, “The police need a little longer, but they’re sending an ambulance first.”
Just then, a heavyset man dressed as a construction worker rose from the sidewalk. The kneeling members of the crowd rose with him, their hands reaching out in support.
“I don’t need an ambulance,” he grunted, right before gripping his head and wobbling on his feet. The crowd pressed in.
“What the hell happened here?” Jo breathed. Whether it was coincidence or not, the bystanders seemed to be ignoring the actual building nearby; Jo saw the stairs to a walk-up apartment that matched the description Zayd had sent.
“If that’s the place, no one’s paying attention to it. Maybe this isn’t about the break-in?”
Ayase limped up behind Jo, her shoes scraping awkwardly on the pavement. She leaned her hand against a low concrete post for stability.
“If the cops are coming,” she said flatly, “we don’t have much time. We’ll split up.”
Jo tried not to look at the new pink scars on her skin. He tried not to look at her other arm, noticeably absent under the long sleeve she kept tucked against her body.
And he tried not to remember her angry transformation back in the hotel, where she’d insisted on coming on the mission…and then, in front of everyone, had forcefully rebuilt the flesh of her legs with bugs ripped from her arm and skin like a scene from a horror film.
He swallowed. “R-right.”
Shouri pushed her sunglasses up her nose and cocked her head at the building. “You kids go up. Adam and I will keep watch out here and figure out what happened; I’ve got my police scanner in my bag to hear what the cops are saying, too.”
Kiyoshi hesitated. “Maybe Ayase and Sachi shouldn’t go–”
But Sachi was already rushing toward the walk-up apartment, checking his phone as he did so. Ayase pushed off Jo to hobble after him on her new legs.
As Shouri translated something for Adam, Jo carefully slid over to the apartment building. He had to run up the narrow stairs to catch up to Ayase, despite her shaky legs.
There was a single door at the top. Sachi had already put on latex gloves and carefully jiggled the doorknob.
The door creaked open, revealing a sliver of darkness.
Jo squeezed past Ayase to peek at the doorjamb. The receiver for the deadbolt was mangled, like someone had shoved the door so hard that the bolt had ripped through the thin metal and crumbling concrete.
“Looks like he did break in.” Jo took a careful breath and clicked on his flashlight.
Sachi pushed past him and flipped on the light switch.
Jo tensed. “Wait!” he hissed as Sachi stepped into the apartment. “We have to be–”
“Careful,” Sachi finished as he snapped open a switchblade. “I know.”
A small shiver ran down Jo’s spine as he stepped past the threshold. Far from the cold, neat horror of the Core office, this place had been ransacked–furniture was knocked over, chairs and cushions were flipped, pictures had been ripped from the walls. As Jo picked his way around the shattered ceramic on the carpeted floor, he saw trails of furniture stuffing leading into the dark bedroom.
“One…bedroom,” he noted aloud. “Looks like a single bed in there. We need to figure out what Touya was doing here.”
Ayase hobbled toward the attached kitchen, Kiyoshi threw open a closet; when Sachi opened the bathroom door without so much as flinching, Jo drew his own knife and barged into the bedroom.
It was just as devoid of life as the rest of the apartment–resting in a state of post-rampage chaos. The futon mattress had been knocked off its frame, but Jo’s quick lift proved there was nothing below to find. He turned his attention to the drawers ripped free of their dressers.
They held feminine clothes.
Then a woman lives here, Jo thought as he dug through the few bras and skirts that remained. And she probably lives alone, based on the size of the mattress.
But something bothered him as he moved to the closet, which held a few dresses. He scraped the hangers aside to see if there was anything behind them.
The closet was…mostly empty. Like the drawers. He barely found enough clothing for a few outfits.
“Jo?” he heard Kiyoshi call from the other room. “Did you find anything? We think a lady lives here.”
Jo did a thorough check of the closet floor before leaving the bedroom. Kiyoshi was in the kitchen, staring into the open refrigerator with a confused look on his face.
“Not finding much,” Jo admitted as he looked past Kiyoshi’s arm. “What’s in the fridge?”
The refrigerator, like the closet, was mostly empty. Kiyoshi pulled out one of the only items gracing the shelves: a half-eaten sushi bento covered in convenience store price tags.
His fingers traced a bright red sticker. “This was a last day mark-down,” Kiyoshi realized aloud. “Y’know how food gets cheap when it’s about to expire? But they can only sell that for a day…”
Jo checked the expiration date. “Which gives us a timeline. She bought this a week ago.” He shook his head. “Even if Touya took shit from here this morning, most of her clothes are gone. I doubt he was loading up on eggs and pantyhose.”
“Then…” Sachi stepped out of the bathroom, a hairbrush in his hand. “You think she’d already packed up and left by the time he got here?”
“Yeah. And she probably left sometime in the last week.”
Sachi closed the hairbrush up in a plastic bag. “Maybe she left when she heard that Zero was dead. That definitely sounds…incriminating.”
“What’s with the hairbrush?”
Sachi’s jaw tightened. “DNA. She didn’t leave much in the bathroom other than maxi pads, but I’m not leaving here empty-handed.”
“Fuck,” Jo muttered as he opened the kitchen cabinets. “I wish we could find a single piece of mail in this place. Then we could at least get this lady’s name, maybe connect Touya to that. There wasn’t a mailbox by the stairs, so maybe nothing actually gets delivered here?”
That was when he heard clattering noises in the bedroom–Ayase, apparently, had moved her investigation in there. He gestured to the living space for Sachi and Kiyoshi to search while he ran back into the bedroom.
Ayase was already on her knees, examining each piece of clothing Jo had abandoned. She tried to lift the futon mattress, but struggled with her single arm; Jo ran over and helped her.
“I already checked there,” he explained. “And I searched the room. There’s nothing here.”
“I don’t believe that,” she said evenly. “This woman left enough stuff behind for us to figure out something.”
“Then help us out in the common area–”
“I’m not done in here.” She gestured to the strewn clothes. “We know she’s skinny, taller than me, and a B cup. Sachi found used hair ties in the bathroom, so she might have long hair. If she’s still using maxi pads, she’s under fifty.” While Jo held the mattress aloft, Ayase ducked under it and reached between a few slats of the bedframe.
A tiny, dusty piece of metal winked in her fingers as she plucked it from the tatami mat. She held it aloft for Jo to see.
“Earring back. Her ears are pierced.”
Jo slowly lowered the mattress, his mouth closing as he did so.
As Ayase pulled a branded mobile phone charger out of the wall socket, she scowled. “We might have to identify this woman on sight,” she snapped. “I’m not ruling out anything. And if finding her gets us ahead of Touya…”
Jo winced. “Ayase–”
“…then we’ll get ahead of Touya. Us. Not Zayd-san, not Nakajima–us.” She shoved the phone charger into Jo’s hands. “If we skip ahead and find the damn Pitch, then we won’t have to enact your stupid plan of manipulating Touya. We’ll already be at the finishing line, destroying it.” A low growl rumbled up her throat. “And he won’t have anywhere left to go.”
Jo’s eyes widened. When Ayase struggled to push herself back onto her shaky legs, he gripped her only elbow to help her.
“Um…yeah,” he murmured. “That’s basically the plan.”
She whipped her head to him. “That is the plan. Find the Pitch, stay far away from Touya.”
He nodded. “Stay far away from Touya.”
“Until the end,” she snarled.
Jo stared at her for a long moment. Her dark, hard eyes burned into him.
Then she dropped her gaze and rifled through the crooked bedside table.
Jo’s phone buzzed. He flipped it open to see Shouri’s text message pop up on the screen.
Cops are here. They’re ignoring the apartment right now, so come down casually.
Jo relayed the message to Ayase. “Guys!” he called out of the room. “Time to go.”
When he turned back to her, she was squinting at a small, tear-off notepad from the bedside table’s drawer. Jo had already flipped through it earlier to find it empty.
“What?” he asked.
Ayase tilted the notepad in the light, her brow furrowed. “She charged her phone here, so maybe she took messages here. The top page is gone, but if she pressed her pen down hard… I can almost see the imprint.”
Jo blinked. “Oh, shit. Hang on.” He rifled through the drawer for a pencil.
Carefully, he pressed the side of the pencil’s point against the blank paper and started to shade. Under the thin layer of graphite he scratched across the page, the depressed imprint of a few kanji remained white against the gray.
“Doctor Kagome,” they read in unison.
Even better, a date had been scrawled beside it: the day after Zero’s death.
Jo looked up at the same moment that Ayase did, an unusual sense of hope bubbling up in his chest. “If the page with the original message on it was here when Touya was,” he realized, “with the way he tore everything up, I think he would’ve grabbed the whole pad. I think she took the page and Touya missed this, Ayase.”
One corner of her mouth twitched. “And it’s ours now.”
They stood there a few seconds, even as Sachi called for them to hurry. Ayase raised her only hand.
Jo high-fived it.
“Coming,” Jo called as he shoved their few clues into his bag.
He had to help Ayase out of the bedroom, since she was shakier than before–her “regeneration exhaustion” was clearly catching up to her. When they left the apartment, everyone pushed him in front to walk down the stairs first, so he tried to make his steps as not-suspicious as possible.
A few police officers and EMTs were talking to the dizzy construction worker, now blissfully farther away at the back of a parked ambulance. None of them so much as glanced in Jo’s direction.
He sighed in relief. Adam was off to the side, clearly trying to flag a taxi, but Shouri was closer and anxiously trying to catch Jo’s attention.
“Touya attacked that guy!” she hissed as Jo jogged up. “The construction worker! They literally ran into each other and had a scuffle on the street–”
“What kind of scuffle?” Sachi interrupted. “Does that guy know Touya?!”
“Let me finish! No–he just described a sick-looking teenager with a face mole and super strength who came out of a nearby building. That’s not what’s important here.” Shouri glanced at the police and EMTs before lowering her voice.
“A minute ago, the cops got a report that someone matching Touya’s description was seen in an alley, puking his guts out. The officers were about to go after Touya when Nakajima suddenly came on the frequency and told them she was handling it.”
“Guys…” Shouri’s jaw clenched. “I’m sure Nakajima’s trying to keep him alone so she or Zayd or whoever can keep stalking him. But I don’t think she expected us to hear Touya’s location. And that alley Touya’s curled up in right now…” She held up her mobile phone, revealing a black dot flashing on a tiny map on the screen.
“It’s two blocks away.”
Proceed to Chapter 6, Part 2, page 2–>