“It’s kinda totally unfair,” Sano was grumbling, “that to get anything from this guy we had to take him to a medium who had to cut through the shade energy with a scalpel or something and then fucking fainted after getting impressions from him for, like, two minutes… but ghostie-guy here can pick up on things we say no problem as long as they’re about him or whatever.”
‘Unfair’ wasn’t exactly the word Hajime would have chosen to describe it, but it certainly was interesting.
Kenshin Himura, whose short biography provided by Chou matched Aoshi’s assessment of their ghost, had been shot in the head, an innocent bystander in a brief, unexpected gunfight near the bus stop he’d been waiting at one day last November. He had left behind a wife and three-year-old son. And to the verbal mention of this information, the ghost — Kenshin himself, presumably — definitely reacted.
And this seemed to represent an inexplicable aberration from the previously-noted inability for any information to pass the barrier of the shade energy without great effort. They still couldn’t deliberately communicate with Kenshin in any way, despite this development, but Kenshin was visibly agitated — and, if Sano’s state was anything to judge by, emitting anger even more strongly than before — at the presentation of facts about his death and surviving kin. It was just one more thing to ask the ghost about if they could ever manage to get him to a point where questions and answers were possible.
Toward that end, the next step had not changed: they needed to get in touch with Mrs. Himura, find out what she could tell them about her husband and his death… and take note of how he would react to her. Why did Kenshin’s anger appear to increase when his untimely end was discussed? If that increase was significant, what did it indicate? Hajime tried not to jump to conclusions when even the mere verbalization of the ghost’s name prompted the same reaction.
With that same seemingly uncharacteristic carefulness Hajime had mentioned to Sano before, Chou hadn’t included contact information for the various people listed in the email, waiting for Hajime to inform him specifically of which one he needed to talk to instead of handing out addresses and phone numbers wholesale. But as he hadn’t answered when Hajime had called, they were once again sitting around waiting to hear from him. Sano was very annoyed.
It was, however, only after a few unnecessary comments from Misao about how agitated the ghost was, and an equal number of insults from Hajime aimed at releasing some of Sano’s anger, that his cell vibrated and displayed Chou’s number.
“Kaoru Himura,” was the entirety of Hajime’s greeting.
Chou must have had the information to hand, because there was barely a pause before he was reading out the address and phone number. These he followed up with, “And you didn’t get this shit from me.”
“I won’t expose your crooked dealings,” Hajime promised sarcastically.
“Oh, and you’ve gotta tell me about this ghost shit when it’s over.”
“We’ll have lunch sometime.” (Hajime ignored the subsequent unspoken query from Sano, Wow, what does it take to get this guy to ask you to lunch?) He said his fairly rude goodbyes with Chou, pulled the top paper free of the pad on which he’d been writing, and stood. “Let’s go.”
Kaoru Himura lived in an old, drab, but not necessarily uncomfortable-looking apartment complex in the Asian district, a part of town Hajime had been seeing a lot of this week. Sano grumbled when he realized where they were going, and — more from the thoughts the young man didn’t bother to hide than from his mostly-unintelligible verbal complaints — Hajime picked up that he felt like he’d wasted a drive of his unreliable car by going to Hajime’s house in it and then coming all the way back to the Asian district in Hajime’s car. There really was nothing to be done about this, though, and the grumbling was entirely rhetorical.
While they waited for the ghost to catch them up, they sat around for a while watching apartment-dwellers come and go through the parking lot, arguing about whether they should have called ahead. Hajime won that argument with the dry query, “If you couldn’t see ghosts and probably didn’t know they existed, would you agree to meet two total strangers who called and said they were dragging around your dead husband?”
The afternoon sun was shining full on the western side of the building in which the woman lived, rendering the outdoor staircase up to her floor quite warm. Later in the year this place must get intolerably hot. As they climbed and then looked for the correct door, Sano’s jaw gradually set so firmly that the muscles stood out at the corners; he was clearly taking a very hard grip on the ghost so as to prevent it from doing anything he didn’t want. Hajime nodded his approval.
The door, probably metal beneath its drab grey paint, was also hot as Hajime’s knuckles contacted it sharply three, four times. Then the two men stood still. Traffic on the nearby street made it impossible to hear any movement within the apartment, but Hajime had other senses that could inform him of what might be going on in there.
Eventually, after several minutes of tense silence waiting for any response to Hajime’s knock, Sano muttered, “You think she might not be home?” He shifted, uncomfortable and angry. “I mean, it’s the middle of the day… she might be at work or something…”
“No, she’s on the other side of the door,” Hajime stated flatly. “She’s just standing there wondering why people can’t leave her alone.”
Sano craned his neck as if he might see through the door if he looked from an angle that was different by a couple of inches. “She doesn’t know who we are, though!”
“But she knows we want to ask her questions, and she doesn’t want to answer any more questions. It’s a little suspicious.”
“Well, I don’t know about suspicious, but–” Sano cut himself short and turned a puzzled gaze on Hajime. “Why would you think it’s suspicious? It makes sense she wouldn’t want to answer more questions, and she probably doesn’t know we’ve got her husband with her, so…”
Hajime’s brows went down slightly as he attempted to catch any additional idea from the mind on the other side of the door. The woman’s mental guard, at least at the moment, was fierce and desperate; it didn’t feel as if she had formal training, just a solidly protective personality and a strong desire not to share anything with anyone. He shook his head. “She’s much better than you are at keeping her thoughts to herself.”
“Don’t you fucking start with that,” Sano growled, distracted from his suspicion about Hajime’s suspicion. “Not when I’m already practically lifting weights keeping this goddamn thing away from her.”
He was, too. Hajime had been peripherally aware of his struggle, but now, focusing more completely on him, he noticed the small beads of sweat that had broken out on Sano’s forehead. Some of them, rolling slowly down from beneath his hairline, were red from where they’d picked up bits of his colored hair gel, and looked a little like blood; but this, while morbid and somewhat interesting, was not relevant. Obviously it was a much greater effort than usual for Sano to restrain the ghost, which was rigid in the air just behind him.
“He wants to go to her, I take it.”
Sano made another growling noise, this one completely inarticulate, but his clearly projected mental reply was, No shit, genius. And it was equally clear that Sano would continue to prevent the ghost from attaining this goal with every ounce of his psychic strength, and that it would be no good for Hajime to suggest he let the thing go just to see what would happen. His control might break eventually, but Hajime didn’t think it wise to test his limits at the moment — mostly because Hajime, for his part, wouldn’t be able conjure the ghost back away from the woman once they’d seen what it planned on doing to her.
Turning, he said instead, “Let’s go, then.”
Sano didn’t slacken his grip on the ghost until they’d made it back to Hajime’s car, and kept it in such a rigidly-controlled position all the way there that Hajime was able for the first time to observe the effect it had on a person moving through it: an apartment-dweller they passed on the way down the stairs, after walking through the ghost and surrounding shade energy, could be heard a moment later swearing vigorously at her keys as she struggled to open her door above.
Even once they’d reached the car and taken their seats inside, Sano kept a dark, careful eye on the presumed Kenshin, obviously still concerned that the ghost would want to return the way they’d come and do whatever it was he wanted to do to his widow. The glowing figure, however, simply took up its usual orbit of Sano in its usual relative calm.
Sano watched Kenshin’s leisurely movements around and through the frame of the car for several moments with furrowed brow and distinct frown. Finally he gave a frustrated noise and turned toward Hajime, his expression bordering on thunderous to match the thick aura of anger around him, which in turn almost perfectly matched that of the ghost.
“Well,” he growled, “what the hell do we do now?”