As if deliberately to provoke him, Hajime didn’t answer Sano’s question, elaborate on what he thought the next step was, with any sort of promptness. Instead he just sat there, pensive, his eyes seeming to stare at nothing except whenever Kenshin’s roughly circular drift brought him into the exorcist’s field of vision. Then the golden irises locked onto the ghost’s figure and followed it until it was again out of sight. But still Hajime said nothing, and Sano was about ready to explode.
When Hajime did speak at last, what he had to say was, “She probably saw your stupid hair and decided it wasn’t worth her time opening the door.”
“Your hair’s the one that looks like you just bought four separate black extensions and just glued them to your forehead.” Sano could actually feel the angry energy filling the words, departing from him in his voice, dissipating in the air. There remained plenty where that came from, but it was still a palpable relief.
Hajime gave a startled chuckle, as if he’d never heard his hair described quite like that before.
“Besides,” Sano grumbled, “there weren’t any windows.”
“There was a peephole in the door, idiot.” Seeming to judge (quite accurately) that even ‘idiot’ wasn’t enough to work through the worst of Sano’s current level of anger, Hajime added cuttingly, “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you weren’t perceptive enough to notice it darken when she looked through it.”
“Yeah, in case you didn’t notice,” Sano growled, “I was too busy holding onto some pissed-off dead fucker to really be watching for things like that.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t come here alone, then; you would have completely botched this.”
“I didn’t botch anything! I didn’t do anything, except hold the fucking ghost! You knocked!”
“Like I said… she probably took one look at you and decided to stay safely inside.”
“You’re the one who looks like a CIA agent or something in you stupid suit!”
“No, we established earlier that I look like a faceless office drone. To look like a CIA agent I’d need sunglasses.”
Though Sano was still some distance above even the level of anger he’d been at earlier, this exchange had helped, and the last statement made him laugh. “Well, whoever’s fault it was,” he said in a tone somewhat less irate, “that still totally failed.”
“So the next step is to call her.”
“Just a minute ago you were saying we shouldn’t call her.”
“I said we shouldn’t call ahead,” Hajime corrected. “But now calling is our only option.” He held out the paper on which he’d written Kaoru’s information. “So call her.”
“What, me? You want me to call her?”
“But… you’re the exorcist. And the one who understands professionalism.” Sano couldn’t help throwing that comment from earlier back at the other man.
“That’s certainly true…” Unexpectedly, the deliberate smugness drained from Hajime’s tone and was replaced by a serious pensiveness as he went on. “There has to be a reason this man you don’t know is haunting specifically you rather than anyone else. It doesn’t seem plausible that he just chose you at random; there has to be some kind of connection. It may be that he sees something in you — god knows what — that drew him to you. Some characteristic that might have drawn him to you in life as well.”
“So, what, like, he’s… got a crush on me or something?” Sano wondered dubiously.
“At this point we have no way of knowing exactly why he chose you, but the fact that he did makes you less of a complete stranger to his wife than I am, so you probably have a better chance of convincing her than I do.”
Still uncomfortable with the thought of calling up a recently-bereft person — to whom, no matter what Hajime said, he would still come across as a total stranger — and start talking about her murdered husband, Sano broadened the subject. “And what if we can’t convince her?”
“That’s when we start behaving like cads.”
“Like what?” Startled even out of his anger by the unexpected terminology, Sano laughingly repeated, “Behaving like what?”
Hajime smiled faintly. “Just giving up and not talking to her isn’t an option, of course.”
“So we ambush her or something?” Sano wondered with a grimace.
“We’ll be walking a fine line. We have to talk to her, but we also have to be careful not to get ourselves indicted for harassment.”
Sano tried to think of any method of talking to an unwilling stranger that wouldn’t constitute harassment. It was an annoying train of thought, but that was probably more because of the anger he’d been absorbing than because the prospect was maddening in itself.
Right on cue Hajime said, “I guess I should have expected that the very idea of calling a woman would terrify someone like you.”
“‘Someone like me?’ I’m bisexual! I am not scared of women!”
At that moment there came the buzz of Hajime’s vibrating phone. When he’d glanced at it once it was out of his pocket, he informed Sano, “I have to take this.”
Sano grabbed the paper with Kaoru’s information, which Hajime had eventually set down on the dashboard, and stepped out of the car. They hadn’t really gotten back around to the argument about his being the one to make the call, but he knew it would only have been a matter of time and what the outcome would have been.
At least with Hajime simultaneously on the phone, Sano wouldn’t have to put up with an agitating audience. It was already going to be difficult enough not letting on how angry he was or how much of a jerk he felt or how stupid he knew it was going to sound. But he couldn’t stand around worrying about those points, or he would lose his chance at making the call in solitude. Before he could change his mind, he forced himself to dial the number.
With each subsequent ring, Sano became more nervous, but the tension eased out of him somewhat when there was a click followed by a recorded message. It was the default computerized greeting rather than a personal recording; he wondered if Kaoru had been harassed over the phone a lot since her husband’s death, by the media or the police or whatever. That certainly didn’t make Sano feel any better about what he had to say.
Eventually he did have to say it, though. “Hey,” he began. “This is… well, you don’t know me, but my name’s Sano Sagara, and I was at your door just a little while ago with a… friend… and… OK.” He took a deep breath. He really should have planned out his wording before he started. “This is probably going to sound completely crazy to you, and it may hit a nerve or two also, and I’m really, really sorry about that. I swear to god I’m not making this up, so just please hear me out.”
Again he took a deep breath, and began talking quickly. “I have this ghost that’s been haunting me for a while, and I think it may be your husband. We’re pretty sure it’s you that’s keeping him here, so he’s going to have to contact you sooner or later if he’s going to pass on, but we’re having problems actually talking to him, so we need to talk to you and get some information about him and how he died. Obviously if he really is your husband, you’ll want to help for his sake, but you’ll be helping me too, since I can’t get on with my own life when this guy’s hanging around all the time. And I really am so sorry if this hurts you; I promise I would never bug someone about something like this, especially so soon after what happened, if it wasn’t really–”
A beep similar to the one that had signaled him to start now cut him off. Evidently he’d run out of time. He found his breathing a little unsteady as he listened to the options regarding the message he’d just recorded; he’d gotten worked up at the end, there, trying to convince her that he truly regretted any pain he might be causing her, when what he should have been trying to convince her of was the truth of his words. But, then, what more could he say than he already had on that score?
Apparently he had the option to re-record his message if he wanted to try again. Half on impulse, however, he hit the button to send it instead. It was candid, at the very least; if she valued honesty, that might do more to win her over than a smoother and more measured explanation. After a few moments’ thought, though, and a glance through the window of Hajime’s car that confirmed the older man was still on the phone, he did call a second time.
“Hey, it’s Sano again. Sorry if I sounded a little crazy before. This is really important, and I’m not lying or schizophrenic or whatever. Please call me back and at least we can talk things out a little on the phone.”
Hopefully that didn’t seem too… well, OK, it wasn’t very likely, in this scenario, that he would ever sound not totally weird, unless by some remote chance she happened to be a magician and knew that ghosts existed — but in that case, would her dead husband really have been forced to a total stranger? Anyway, Sano left his number and hung up, and couldn’t say he was terribly impressed with his own general performance. His one consolation was that at least Hajime hadn’t been there to overhear… though the exorcist was likely to get at the crucial details in any event.
He stood watching the ghost whenever it passed, much as Hajime had a few minutes before, in brooding silence for a while, pondering the wisdom of making another call. Would three be overkill? Two had probably been overkill. Poor woman must already think he was crazy and cruel. But he could reiterate the urgency of the matter… maybe mention a little more definitively how difficult this was making his life…
He hadn’t come to any real conclusion when Hajime suddenly stood out his door and asked across the roof of the vehicle, “Are you done?”
“Yes,” Sano grumbled, allowing this to make the decision for him, and got back in the car even as Hajime did. Settling back into his seat and glowering out at Kenshin as the latter adjusted his trajectory, he gave an angry sigh and asked, for the second time, “Well, what the hell do we do now?”