Finally, Sano managed to say what Hajime knew he’d wanted to for some time: “He’s not mad at you. I swear to fucking god on whatever you want me to swear on that it’s not you he’s mad at.” Of course with the way he said it, it sounded as if Sano was mad at Kaoru, but Hajime was sure that by now she must understand.
She remained utterly still for a long moment, body frozen, expression locked, apparently not even breathing. Then, finally, letting the air out of her lungs in another uneven sigh, she shook her head. “I don’t think I can believe that.”
“Mrs. Himura.” Even Hajime’s own voice sounded a little angry. The object of his wrath was distant and unfocused as yet, but that didn’t alter the emotion. “Whoever was sending you those notes was the murderer of your husband. There’s no specific word for what they did to you, but you were the victim, not the criminal. If your husband has the intelligence of a fly, he’s aware of that. He’s obviously angry not at you, but at the people who forced you into this situation.”
Again she shook her head, but this time said nothing; it was as if she had no ability to argue against a point of view she would greatly have preferred to espouse and yet was convinced, down to her bones, could not be true.
Though not the type to wish to be anything besides what he was, there were times Hajime couldn’t but be aware that other states of being, other states of mind he could never attain, would work more effectively toward certain ends.
Having been coerced, the woman was innocent; or at worst she was guilty only of prioritizing the life of the son for whom she was responsible over that of, as she believed, a total stranger. Perhaps a higher social consciousness would have dictated a complete refusal to commit murder under any circumstances, but, inasmuch as doing so might have been considered equally murderous — in that case of a dependent — he couldn’t consider that she’d made an immoral decision.
She hadn’t, as she believed, become evil; she’d had evil thrust upon her, and it was a shame she couldn’t feel more secure in her blamelessness. Not that it came as any surprise, human nature being what it was. If he’d been a different kind of person, he might have been able to reassure her; as it was, he just sat still and silent in her passenger seat while she wept.
A point of interest that vied with the misfortune of the situation for his attention was that her mental walls were as impenetrable as ever. It was often all or nothing with the untrained; she had probably spent the months since that first note fighting so hard against the idea of a discovery that would endanger the life of her son that even now, when she’d confessed all, she couldn’t relax her defenses. They’d become a default.
Sano, on the other hand, was like a beacon in the back seat: he projected pity and horror, in addition to the usual ever-expanding rage, so clearly that his radiating emotions were almost coloring the air; though he’d become capable of keeping Hajime from what he didn’t want detected under many normal circumstances, the emotional ups and downs of this day had rendered him perfectly easy to read. It was about time to get him out of this setting.
Somewhat abruptly Hajime said, “Reporting this to the police wouldn’t do anyone any good. We need to find out who might have had a reason to do something like this to you and your husband. Do you have any idea?”
“No,” said Kaoru. “No, not at all.”
Hajime had expected as much; with all the time she’d already mentioned she’d had to think about this, she would certainly have come up with an answer if one had been available.
“Everyone has people who don’t like them,” she went on helplessly, “but I can’t think of anyone who would hate me that much. And Kenshin… there were things about his past I know he never told me, but going through his legal documents and records hasn’t found anything.”
Sano, suddenly distracted slightly from his anger by wonder at the thought of a long-term relationship involving withheld information or even deceit, added curiosity and some disapproval to his lineup of noisy emotions.
Completely disinterested, for his own part, in how healthy Kaoru’s marriage had been, “I’m glad to hear that you’ve been looking, at least,” Hajime said.
“What else could I do? I haven’t heard from them since then, but I feel like if I leave town I might get their attention again… but if I had any idea who they were… I couldn’t investigate them in any way I could think of, but nobody would be suspicious of me looking at my husband’s records. But there’s nothing there that gives me any ideas.”
Hajime nodded. “If you find anything that might help…” From the pocket of the jacket that lay across his lap he withdrew a business card. As he handed it to her he added, “And we’ll use the resources we have to look for information as well.”
She also nodded, staring at the card with only the second or third smile he’d seen on her face. Like the previous, it was faint, and held no trace of happiness or entertainment. He thought it stemmed from bemusement at the circumstance of such a dryly professional business card for an exorcist.
“Thank you again for coming to talk to us today,” Hajime said formally. “We’ll keep you updated.”
As he slid slightly sideways and reached for the door, she looked over at him abruptly. Her movement and the expression on her face both seemed surprised, as if she hadn’t realized that her conversational companions were leaving so soon — or perhaps that they were leaving at all — and there was in her eyes the desperation of someone that, having just found a source even of slight relief from her pain, wasn’t quite ready to return to the latter yet or even sure that she could. It must have meant a lot to her to be able to unburden herself the way she had.
Hajime stilled. Little comfort as he knew she was likely to take from anything he could offer, he had to say something; Sano was in no state to do it, and something had to be said. Eventually he decided on, “Remember that you had no choice. Try to believe your husband isn’t mad at you. Hope that when we find out the truth it will help you both.”
The act of steeling herself to go on with business as usual was visible in the movement of her body, audible in the long, slow breath she drew. And her voice was perfectly steady as she said, “Thank you.”
Outside the car after that intense conversation, Hajime suddenly found himself wanting a cigarette, as he occasionally did when his emotions were aroused. But he pushed this urge firmly away and began crossing the parking lot toward his own vehicle. “I’ll drive you home,” he told Sano.
“It’s not far,” the young man growled. “I’ll just walk.”
“And harass everyone you meet on the way? Don’t be an idiot.”
Without any further protest Sano gave in — there’d been no reason to refuse in the first place besides his angry desire to be contrary — but as he got into Hajime’s car with the ghost firmly in tow, he was still scowling. Hajime thought he was at a level that could be dealt with verbally instead of through further violence, though, which was good since they were both by now a little ragged.
But before Hajime could start in on a calculated barrage of insults so as not to leave Sano in a worse state than when he’d found him, Sano had a comment of his own to make: “That was good.” With his crossed arms and his bruised and glowering face, the words sounded amusingly out of place. “It was good,” he went on very gruffly, “that you tried to make her feel better. I mean, it didn’t make her fucking feel better, but… it was good that you tried.”
Oddly, surprisingly, Hajime found himself… pleased… by this somewhat inarticulate expression of approbation. He wouldn’t have thought Sano’s opinion could mean much to him on this or any topic, and yet he was distinctly pleased. Therefore it was a little ironic that he replied with the most cutting insult he could come up with. And he wondered, possibly for the first time, to what extent Sano was aware that he did this mostly to deal with the anger rather than out of any real desire to tear him down.
It was not, indeed, very far to Sano’s apartment, though they would have reached the place quicker if its resident had been in any fit condition to give proper directions. Still, reach it they did, eventually, and Hajime was able to take his initial look at Sano’s ‘kinda shit’ home. It was about what he’d expected: old, disrepaired, undoubtedly cheap, creeping toward complete disrespectability. He circled the lot until he located Sano’s car (whose general appearance matched that of the apartment complex with entertaining precision), and pulled into the space next to it.
Several moments had passed since either of them had said anything, and now Hajime gave Sano an assessing look in continued silence. With a slight nod as he decided that Sano was probably back to or at least near his standard levels, he reached out and hit the voice command button next to the radio. “Call Chou,” he ordered.
Sano, who had been about to open the passenger door, subsided with a grunt to listen.
To the surprise of both men (and possibly of Chou himself), the police officer actually answered after only two rings. “You wouldn’t be shit without me on this case, would you?” was his somewhat taunting greeting. “I don’t remember the last time you called me this much. Or is this a new ghost today?”
Sano snorted, but Hajime lifted a hand to silence him. As funny as he thought it would be to see what happened if he let Sano voice his developing opinion of Chou, he couldn’t risk alienating his police contact just now. “No, still the same case,” was his calm response. “Listen. Kenshin Himura was probably just made to look like an innocent bystander during the gunfight that killed him; he might actually have been a deliberate victim. Do you have any more information about him? Anything that might have connected him to the gangs involved, or anyone involved with them?”
Chou made a reluctant noise like a verbal headshake, but promised to look into it. “I’ll get back to you probably in the morning,” he added, “since I still got shit to do.”
“Thank you,” Hajime replied.
With another noise, this one a sort of ‘Whatever,’ Chou hung up.
Sano shook his head, opened his mouth to speak, then shook his head again and said nothing.
“I’ll call you when I hear from him,” Hajime offered as Sano reached for the handle.
“Good.” Sano stood from the car, but caught the door halfway from the closure he’d jerked it toward. He bent and regarded Hajime through it as if for a proper goodbye, yet still had nothing to say. In fact his mind was in such turmoil that Hajime couldn’t even pick up a definitive parting thought; it had been quite a day for him so far, and probably wouldn’t get much better now that they were, yet again, waiting on a phone call.
And unexpectedly the thought drifted across Hajime’s mind that they didn’t necessarily have to wait separately for that call; they could just as easily return to his house, tease the cats, discuss the situation, drink some beer, order pizza again once dinner time rolled around…
But Chou wasn’t likely to call until tomorrow, and Hajime had better things to do than babysit an angry non-paying client until then.
Just as if Sano had been reading his mind — and Hajime would have to decide later to what degree that idea was unsettling — he nodded abruptly and, backing away, closed the door. And the exorcist was left to watch him stalk toward the building, dragging the apparently unresisting Kenshin behind him, in a mixture of emotions and a solitude he suddenly felt a little more keenly than he thought even the events of the day entirely accounted for.