This is a continuation of PART 12.
After that, Kashiwai continued to question Douno on every little detail about himself, but thanks to his mild tone of speech, it did not get on Douno’s nerves. Last time he had been arrested, he had felt sick to the stomach at the investigating detective’s arrogant attitude, not to mention the interrogation, which had practically been a blackmailing session. At the time, Douno had vowed never to get involved with the police again, but now he wondered if the police were kind to him because he was the victim this time.
Douno and Mariko stayed at home and waited expectantly for any news. Kashiwai came by again at eight in the evening to tell them that interviews with the nearby residents had yielded a witness. It was the first piece of concrete information they had since Honoka had gone missing.
Kashiwai repeatedly wiped his forehead with his handkerchief even though it was not hot out.
“The thing is, the witness is a child in second grade. Children’s eye-witness statements change every time you ask them differently, so I think we should take it with a grain of salt. Anyway, according to this child, Honoka was apparently seen walking eastward down the road in front of this building at around one-thirty yesterday, holding hands with a tall man wearing a dark hat.”
The first person Douno thought of when he heard “tall man” was Kitagawa.
“But to a second-grader, every adult is tall,” Kashiwai continued. “We don’t have an exact measurement of his height, but now we can say there’s a strong suspicion of a kidnapping. I’ve just finished discussing this with my senior colleagues, and we think it’s a good idea to take the leap and make this search public, if even just to put the kidnapper in the hot seat.”
Mariko showed no signs of breaking down as she sat beside Douno on the sofa. She only chewed her lip and listened to the detective speak.
“There’s a risk that we might agitate the kidnapper, but by making this search public, we eliminate the option for him to take Honoka out anywhere. If the kidnapper has done this for some unsavoury motive, this is when he’s most likely to release the victim. We think we have a better chance of rescuing your daughter this way, rather than just sitting and waiting. However―” Kashiwai went on, “as I said, there’s a risk we may agitate the kidnapper and drive him to do something impulsive. But since the victim is a four-year-old child, when we do rescue her, it would be difficult to make a composite sketch or have her match photographs from her memory. If the kidnapper knows he’s in no danger of being traced even after returning the child to her parents, I’m sure he won’t choose to silence her forever.”
Mariko, who had been silent until then, murmured quietly.
“The kidnapper is a tall man?”
Kashiwai twitched his right eyebrow.
“Ma’am, do you have an idea of who it might be?”
Mariko threw a glance Douno’s way. He sensed what his wife was implying, but he swiftly denied himself. It could not be Kitagawa. A man who had been so affectionate towards Honoka would never kidnap her.
“But he’s my husband’s friend and he’s been very good to Honoka.” Mariko modestly but firmly informed Kashiwai of Kitagawa’s existence.
“Mariko, stop it,” Douno said sharply. Mariko flinched at his stern tone. “Kitagawa is the last person who would do that,” Douno said.
“I―It’s not like I think Mr. Kitagawa kidnapped her,” Mariko said. “I don’t want to think he has. But I keep thinking about why he didn’t come over yesterday out of all days.”
“Alright, alright,” Kashiwai intervened. He flipped through the pages of the notebook he had been writing in.
“Mr. Kitagawa is the friend who dropped by earlier today, am I right? I got a glimpse of him, and you’re right, he certainly is tall. But that’s not the only reason you think it might be him, is it?” Kashiwai leaned in towards Mariko.
“Mr. Kitagawa always used to keep our daughter company on Sunday afternoons. But he didn’t come that day.”
“I see,” Kashiwai nodded. “Every week on Sunday, did you say?”
“Lately, every week, yes,” Mariko answered.
“Hmm,” said Kashiwai, rubbing his chin. “So a grown adult like him, playing with a such a young child as yours? He must really love children.”
There was an unpleasant ring to his last sentence.
“Honey,” Mariko grasped Douno’s arm. “Since we’ve come this far already, why don’t we let them investigate thoroughly? If they find out it’s not him, it would be a relief to both of us. Don’t you think so?”
Douno shook his head.
“Investigating him means we’re suspicious of him. Don’t you think that’s an insult to Kitagawa at all? He even took a whole day off of work to spend it looking for Honoka. I don’t want to stab my own friend in the back.”
“Then can you prove that Mr. Kitagawa definitely didn’t do it?” Mariko argued. “I understand you want to believe in him, but it bothers me. I’m not convinced, and I hate thinking that it might be him. That’s why I want to get rid of those uncertainties early on.”
In the end, Kashiwai said he would talk to Kitagawa once about it. Douno and Mariko’s argument about whether they would have Kitagawa interviewed or not left an awkward air lingering between them even after Kashiwai left. In the end, Douno could not bring himself to forgive Mariko for stubbornly insisting on having Kitagawa questioned.
He admitted he too had imagined Kitagawa when he was told that the kidnapper was a tall man with whom Honoka was friendly enough to hold hands and walk. Maybe it is him―the thought had indeed crossed his mind. But Douno felt he owed Kitagawa his trust―that was integrity.
At eleven at night, Honoka’s disappearance was broadcast on the news with their real names for the first time. Douno and Mariko watched it together in the living room.
“Yesterday at around two in the afternoon, a little girl was reported missing. Honoka Douno, aged four, is the eldest daughter of Mr. Takafumi Douno, an office worker from ― City, ― Prefecture. The police suspect this is a case of an abduction of a minor...”
Honoka’s name came up in the subtitles, and the newscaster read it aloud. Until now, Douno had watched countless similar newscasts of abducted children. As a parent himself, they had made him feel afraid and conscious about his own child’s safety. However, in the end they were always the “unlucky kids”―he had never quite been able to feel the reality in them.
As soon as the news of Honoka began airing, their home phone and cell phones began ringing at once. Relatives and friends were calling, concerned about Honoka’s safety. Douno saw it coming, since Kashiwai had informed them beforehand that they would be bombarded with calls once the news aired on TV.
“I’m sure Honoka is alright. Be strong, both of you.” Each person said the same typical words of consolation. Each time, Douno thanked them and hung up the phone. He was careful to be polite, since they were calling out of the goodwill of their hearts. He was grateful for their concern, but he and Mariko had hardly slept these past few days. Douno only wished they could be left alone.
The phone rang incessantly for an hour, and finally past midnight, the calls began to die off. Mariko looked utterly exhausted from her own worries coupled with the burden of taking phone calls. Douno encouraged her to sleep in bed.
Mariko insisted she was not tired, but Douno managed to push her between the sheets anyway. He then put his cell phone and the cordless handset on the table so that he was prepared to receive any calls from the police or acquaintances, and lay down on the sofa in the living room.
Douno’s lack of sleep these past few days caught up to him, and he lost consciousness once the clock struck three o’clock in the morning. In the early hours, at around five-thirty, he woke up to his cell phone ringing.
Douno had been dreaming right up until then. It was a dream that Honoka had been found on the jungle gym in the park. Wondering why they had been unable to find her all this time, he had hugged Honoka firmly to his chest and gone around to thank and apologize to every single neighbour he had caused trouble to, and to each person who had helped him search for his daughter.
“Mr. Takafumi Douno? This is Kashiwai from the Seinan Division,” Kashiwai said over the phone.
“Good morning,” Douno answered. “Thank you for your hard work this early in the morning. Have you gotten any news on Honoka?”
For some reason, there was a short pause on the other end before Kashiwai answered.
“I wish I didn’t have to break this to you, but...” The detective’s voice dropped a level. Douno had a foreboding feeling. He swallowed hard.
“What is it?”
“This morning at around four-thirty, the body of a young girl was found near the mouth of Minanogawa River. Upon comparing her physical features with photos of her face, we think it may be Honoka Douno. We would like both of you to confirm her identity.”
Douno heard all the blood in his body rush to his feet.
“Would you be able to come to the address I’m about to give you?”
“Oh, but―” His hand shook as he held his cell phone. “It just happened to be a little girl, and you’re not definitely sure about whether she's Honoka, right?”
“Well, yes, but...”
“I’ll head over right away. The place?” Douno wrote it down, and hung up his cell phone. Just then, Mariko’s voice spoke from behind him.
Douno spun around in surprise.
“Who was that from?”
Douno was unsure of whether he should tell his exhausted wife what he had just heard. But either way, he would have to explain why he was going out. He could not hide it from her.
“It was from the detective.”
Mariko’s face lit up. “Has Honoka been found?” She rushed over to him and clung to his arm. “So, has she? Has she?” Douno shook his head.
“They found a little girl’s body. He asked me to come and confirm if it’s Honoka.”
Mariko turned white as a sheet and cried shrilly as she fell to her knees.
“We don’t know if it’s Honoka for sure yet,” Douno said. “That’s why we have to go and make sure.”
Mariko clamped her hands over her ears and shook her head vehemently.
“No! I won’t go. I won’t go, no matter what.”
“I don’t think it’s Honoka, either. But I’m going just in case. You can stay here.”
Douno left his wife and began to prepare to go out. Right when he was about to leave, Mariko stopped him.
“Wait,” she said. “―I’ll go, too.”
Without even bothering to put on makeup, Mariko draped a coat over her shoulders and climbed into the passenger seat. While they drove to the hospital according to Kashiwai’s directions, Mariko sat trembling in her seat with both hands clasped tightly together.
When they arrived at the hospital’s after-hours reception desk, Kashiwai and another young detective were waiting. A man who looked like a clerk then led them down the hall and to a desolate-looking place.
It was a barren room. Even the lights did not change its cold atmosphere. A small cot was placed in the centre of the room, and a white sheet was draped over it. Ushered by Kashiwai, Douno approached the small lump beneath the sheet.
“If I could ask you to confirm her identity, please...”
Before Douno could even brace himself, the cloth over the face was pulled away.
Her pale cheeks and drained purple lips were not features of any living human. The girl’s eyes were closed and she almost looked as if she were sleeping. She looked a lot like Honoka.
“Is she your daughter?” Douno was asked.
“It looks like her. But I can’t say for sure.” Douno told the truth. Kashiwai scratched the back of his head.
“Did your daughter have any distinguishing traits? Like a mole, or a bruise anywhere on her body...”
Mariko, who had been behind Douno this whole time, came quietly forward. She slowly and cautiously stepped closer to the body. She stared intently at her child’s ashen face, then suddenly flung her arms around the body and burst into tears.
“Ma’am, is she your daughter?”
Mariko did not answer. In this lonely room, only his wife’s sobbing echoed painfully.
Mariko stroked the wet hair on her small head over and over.
“I’m sorry, Honoka. I’m sorry we couldn’t find you sooner. I’m sorry...”
The detective turned to Douno. “This is your daughter, then, am I correct?” he said gravely.
Douno did not want to admit that the body before him was Honoka. He wanted to think that it was just a very similar-looking stranger, and that his own Honoka was still alive. Only two days ago, she had been scurrying about, bursting with energy. She was a strong girl who had never suffered any serious illnesses.
“―Once your wife calms down, we’d like to send the body out for an autopsy,” Kashiwai said quietly beside Douno.
“You mean... you’re going to cut her up?”
Kashiwai sighed apologetically.
“It’s the rules to perform autopsies on bodies that have died unnaturally. But by performing an autopsy, we can find the cause and time of death. It’ll give us important clues as to who her killer might be.”
Mariko was still clinging to the small body. Douno put his arm around his wife’s thin shoulders and drew her away from the body.
Mariko trembled violently as she shook her head.
“N―No! I’m going to take her home right away!” she sobbed. “What do you need to investigate her for? She’s dead! What more are you going to put her through?”
“But they need to investigate her, or else Honoka can’t come home.”
“Mariko!” Douno called his wife’s name loudly. Mariko, who had been screaming and clawing at her hair, stopped and looked fearfully up at him.
“Let’s wait outside. We’ll be able to take Honoka home soon. Come on...”
Douno put his arm around his wife’s shoulders and led her out into the hallway. They were taken by the clerk to a small waiting room near the after-hours reception and told to wait there until it was “all over”.
Mariko staggered on unsteady feet and collapsed onto the sofa.
“Her cheeks... they were cold,” she whispered shakily while she gazed at her fingers. “Like ice. So cold...”
Douno put his arms around Mariko as she broke down into tears. He closed his own eyes as tears welled up in them. Why did Honoka―why did his own daughter have to go through this? Had it been painful when she died? Had she suffered? He wished he could have taken her place if he could.
Douno looked up as his name was called. Kashiwai was peering in from the entrance to the waiting room.
“I was wondering if you could spare some time to talk... is that alright?”
Douno rubbed his tearful eyes with a rough hand.
“But I’ll be leaving my wife by herself.”
“Ah, that’s right,” Kashiwai murmured. “Hey, you stay with the madam,” he said to the young officer beside him. He left the officer in the waiting room and took Douno out to the hallway.
“It’s about the killer,” Kashiwai began as they stood in a corner of the dark hallway.
“Have you caught him?” Douno sniffled as he spoke.
“I wouldn’t say caught, but we have strong suspicions that it’s a man we’ve been questioning as a material witness.”
“What kind of person is he?”
“He’s someone you know, Mr. Douno,” Kashiwai answered. No―Douno thought. It can’t be―
“Are you saying Kitagawa’s under suspicion?”
The detective nodded.
“Are you sure you’re not mistaken? He could never be the killer, it’s just impossible. He was very affectionate to Honoka―”
“The man has several suspicious points. According to your wife, he used to come over to your house every Sunday without fail, but the one day Honoka got kidnapped, he failed to show up. The man himself says he’d been drinking until morning, and was asleep since getting home around nine in the morning that day. Yes, he has an alibi right up to when he parted ways with his fellow workers in the morning, but there’s nothing to prove he was actually asleep afterwards except for his own testimony. He doesn’t have an alibi.”
“But logically, wouldn’t it be difficult to prove that you were sleeping?”
“Yes, but you see,” Kashiwai continued. “On the day of the disappearance, your wife called Kitagawa’s house once past five in the evening. But he didn’t pick up. He says he was sleeping so soundly he didn’t hear the phone, but isn’t it possible that he couldn’t pick up because he wasn’t there?”
Douno remembered that Kitagawa had also not picked up when he called that day.
“And additionally, we’ve also had the primary-school student come in, the one who witnessed Honoka walking with a tall man. We had him look at Kitagawa through a one-way mirror. The child testified that Kitagawa looked ‘a lot like’ the man walking with Honoka.”
“Yes, but―!” Douno clenched his fists. “When Honoka disappeared, he was the first to volunteer to help look for her. He even took time off work.”
Kashiwai shook his head slowly.
“Have you considered that it might all be a performance to disguise the fact that he did it?”
Douno’s eyes widened in shock. His clenched fists trembled.
“But he has no reason to kidnap and kill Honoka.”
“From what your wife has told us, Kitagawa seems to be very nice to children.”
“Yes. Honoka also liked him very much.”
“Sure, he may have simply liked being with children, but can you rule out the possibility that he may have had unsavoury impulses?”
“But Kitagawa of all people―”
Kashiwai scratched his balding head.
“This is incredibly difficult to say to you, as you are the father, but we think Kitagawa’s unsavoury objectives are at the root of his crime and this case.”
Douno felt ill. It was more sickening to know that his own child had been seen in that way than to hear Kashiwai suggest that Kitagawa was responsible.
“There’s also the possibility of lust murder. He has a former criminal record for that, and―”
“His record doesn’t matter!” Douno found himself snapping, with a voice loud enough to startle Kashiwai. “It has nothing to do with it. Kitagawa’s served his sentence properly. Besides, if he’d been investigated properly earlier on, right after he’d been arrested, it might’ve turned out that he didn’t kill anyone at all. That’s how it could have turned out.” Douno was out of breath after his outburst.
“No one knows him better than me.” Douno placed his right hand over his chest. Kashiwai looked curiously troubled at Douno’s earnest plea.
“I can see how you don’t want to admit that he’s done it because you know him, but it is true that Kitagawa is a suspect. He has no alibi, he has an eye-witness statement against him, and a criminal record of murder. We’re not pulling things out of thin air here.”
Douno chewed his lip.
“You can say he didn’t do it because you know him, but if our evidence becomes concrete enough to suspect him, we will arrest Kitagawa. That’s the law.”
Crushed by the detective’s words and by the truth, Douno returned to the waiting room. He drew his wife close as she continued to cry. Douno was also sad, but even more than that, he felt uncontrollably angry.
Why would Kitagawa kill a child whom he had seriously talked of marrying? How could he ever?
Why won’t they believe me? Douno thought. Was it because Kitagawa did not have an alibi? Because he had a criminal record? Did the police think they could conveniently draw up Kitagawa as the killer?
Kitagawa didn’t do it. He definitely didn’t do it. But in a corner of Douno’s heart there was still a tiny black stain―the black stain of “maybe”.
Douno refused to think of anything anymore.
They decided to take Honoka’s body home once. It was ten in the morning by the time they returned to the apartment. The sky, heedless of the grieving family, was a clear, cloudless blue.
They tucked Honoka into her child-size futon, just like they used to when she was alive. Douno and Mariko knelt on either side of the futon without a word.
“Who put Honoka through all of this?” Mariko murmured softly. Her words stabbed Douno’s heart. “She was only four. Just four years old. What did she ever do wrong? Why did it have to be her?”
Mariko dissolved into tears over the tiny body. Douno was not sure whether he should tell her that Kitagawa was a suspect.
Mariko was suspicious of Kitagawa, but probably did not wish him to be the killer. When Douno thought of the despair of being betrayed by a trusted person, he felt it better not to tell his wife, who was already barely coping with her daughter’s death.
He wondered what he could do instead, and realized he would have to tell his parents. Then, he would have to plan the funeral―
His own daughter was dead, yet Douno felt like he was almost too calm. Perhaps it was out of a sense of duty to be strong for his wife because she was crying.
“Let’s call our parents.”
Mariko lifted her face.
“And then we have to arrange the funeral.”
“Don’t say that word!” Mariko covered her ears and put her head down. “I don’t want to hear any of it!”
Douno could not blame his wife for not wanting to accept reality. But neither could they sit here and do nothing.
Douno called both of their parents, who had been worried ever since finding out Honoka had gone missing. After telling them that she’d been found dead, neither Douno nor his and Mariko’s parents had any words to say.
After giving their parents the news, Douno contacted a nearby funeral home. Once he had completed all of the procedures, he glanced at the clock and realized it was already four in the afternoon.
The house phone rang suddenly. He picked it up. It was Douno’s mother.
“I saw on TV―they caught the killer, didn’t they?”
“What?” Douno uttered in disbelief.
“One of our relatives phoned―I heard you know this man?”
Douno did not remember the rest of what they talked about and how their conversation finished. He vaguely recalled his mother mentioning something about coming down here sometime within today.
He hastily went over to the TV and turned it on. He flipped through the channels searching for a news program.
“Two days ago in the afternoon, a kidnapping was reported. The victim was a four-year-old girl, Honoka Douno, daughter of Mr. Takafumi Douno, an officer worker of ― City, ― Prefecture. Honoka was found dead near the mouth of a river about fifteen kilometres away from her home. There was no apparent damage to the body, and the cause of death is thought to be drowning. A man in his thirties, a construction worker living in the neighbourhood who is an acquaintance of Mr. Douno, is thought to be connected to this case and is currently undergoing questioning.”
As Douno sat fixated on the television, he heard his wife call him from behind.
Douno whipped around.
“Was Mr. Kitagawa the killer?”
“―They don’t know for sure yet.”
“But they just said he might be connected to the case. It’s him, isn’t it?”
His wife grabbed both his arms and shook him roughly.
Douno answered without looking at Mariko’s face.
“They told me it’s likely.”
“I knew it,” muttered Mariko. “I knew there was something funny about him from the beginning. He was a bit strange. He never talked to us, but always played with Honoka. I thought he just liked kids, but that was all a show, wasn’t it?”
“No, I really think Kitagawa cared about―”
“Does a man who care about kids kill them?” Mariko shrieked. “What’s wrong with him? We always invited him over to eat. He should be thankful―what reason does he have to hate us? Why did you ever become friends with someone like him?!”
Douno could not bring himself to say they were not old friends, and that they had actually met in prison.
“Answer me, please!” Mariko pressed tearfully to the man unable to respond to her.
Douno and Mariko’s parents both arrived by eight that evening. Douno’s father handled the funeral processes in Douno’s place, as he had no idea how to go about it.
On the nine o’clock news, Kitagawa began to be referred to as “the suspect”, and his real name and picture was released. His criminal record for murder also came to light. Mariko flew off the handle when she heard the fact.
“You knew, didn’t you?” she screamed.
Mariko’s mother held her as she broke down.
“You knew that that man killed someone before. How could you still introduce him to us, knowing what kind of man he was? How could you have let him play with Honoka?”
“He’s atoned for his crime,” Douno protested. “Besides, Kitagawa actually might not have killed―”
“But he did this time, didn’t he?! He killed Honoka!”
Douno could not argue back. He could only bow his head as the blame was piled upon him. Mariko’s parents also shouted at him.
“How could you let your family associate with a murderer?”
Even Douno’s parents bowed their heads to Mariko’s parents, apologizing on behalf of their son.
It was too late now to say that Kitagawa had helped Douno immeasurably while he was in prison.
Rather than be pitied for the death of his child, Douno was blamed by the people around him for being acquainted with an ex-convict, and to have involved his wife and child with the likes of such a man.
Even at the vigil, he could hear voices whispering around him. The man was the husband’s friend. It was unbearable for Douno to hear. He was just as heartbroken from losing his child as Mariko, yet Douno had to be blamed and turned into the scapegoat.
Mariko cried throughout the vigil and the funeral. A television reporter came to the funeral asking Douno to comment, but he was unable to say anything.
Once the funeral was over, everyone disappeared like the receding tide. As soon as things quieted down, Mariko collapsed as if a tense thread had snapped. Douno rushed her to the hospital, where the doctor informed him that it was likely due to mental fatigue.
“―Also, your wife is pregnant,” he added. She was in her second month.
Mariko, who was still unable to accept Honoka’s death, appeared unable to accept the fact that there was another budding life inside her. She remained expressionless at the news, nodding and responding as if it were about someone else.
But Douno was glad that Mariko was pregnant. Before, he had thought it a bad idea financially to have a second child, but after all that had happened, he felt it was better for Mariko to have something to live for. He had been careful with contraception, but he now felt like this timing couldn’t have been better.
Three days after the funeral, Douno went to work for the first time in about a week. Tatsuta, who knew what he was going through, was more attentive than necessary, which made Douno feel even more suffocated.
By the time the day was over, Douno was mentally weary. At seven in the evening, he had returned home and was parking his car in the lot when he saw a familiar face approaching him from across the street. It was the detective, Kashiwai, who had handled Honoka’s case.
“Hello.” Kashiwai ducked his head.
“Thank you for everything.” Douno bowed his head as well.
“There’s actually been a new witness statement concerning Honoka’s case, and I’d like to ask you two or three things about it.”
Douno wondered whether he should bring Kashiwai to his house or not. Mariko had finally calmed down. If they talked about Honoka in front of her and she broke down, she could harm her pregnant body.
“Um―well, my wife has only just started to return to normal. Is it alright if we talk here?”
“Oh, of course,” Kashiwai answered. Douno ended up talking to Kashiwai in his car.
“I’m sure you know that the police have arrested Kitagawa as a suspect. He had no alibi during the time he abducted Honoka, and also during her estimated time of death at four o’clock in the evening. There’s also the witness statement from the primary-school student. The man himself denies it, but no matter.”
“He’s saying he didn’t do it?”
“Well,” Kashiwai tilted his head, “since there was an eye-witness statement, we moved ahead with the arrest. But as of two days ago, we’ve had gotten a new witness account.”
“A new one?”
“We had a phone call from a middle school student. He’s told us he saw someone standing at Gancho Bridge on the day of the incident.”
The media had aired Honoka’s death as due to drowning from being pushed off a bridge. Gancho Bridge was the nearest bridge to the river-mouth where Honoka had been found.
“He was about to cross the bridge on the way home from his club activities when he saw a tall woman in dark clothes looking below the bridge and smiling. He remembered it because of how disturbing it was.”
“Woman?” Douno repeated.
“The student’s parents called the police two days ago, saying it bothered them. There were numerous other points of note, so we’re still investigating.”
“So does that mean that Kitagawa might not be the killer?”
“We don’t know,” Kashiwai said. “We still think it is, but you can never be too certain.”
Kashiwai rubbed the top of his nose.
“So... it seems your wife quit her part-time job―the month before last, was it? Have you heard from her why she quit?”
“She said she didn’t get along with her co-workers.”
Kashiwai listened to Douno talk about his wife, then left without asking anything more. After the man had gone, Douno sat alone in his car and thought. Once the police decided on a possible perpetrator, they looked for evidence to prove that he was it. Either that, or they fabricated it. But if the police were still investigating even after catching the suspect, it was likely that the killer was another person.
Douno leaned his forehead against the steering wheel. Kitagawa may not be the killer after all―that fact alone was enough to make Douno’s heart feel lighter.
Four days after Douno returned to work, he got a call from Kashiwai again. Douno was still at work when his cell phone rang, and he scrambled hastily into the hallway to answer it.
“We’ve arrested the suspect.” Kashiwai’s voice was brisk and businesslike. “We’d like to talk to you about it. Would you be able to come to the police station with your wife?”
“My wife is pregnant and in delicate condition. Would I be able to go alone instead?”
“Your wife is also involved in this case, and we’d also like to confirm two or three things with her. I’m sorry for the trouble, but we’d like the both of you to come.”
Douno could tell from Kashiwai’s tone that he was not going to budge. He gave in and took Mariko to the police station with him.
“Why do we have to go to the police again?” Mariko asked. Douno decided against telling her everything at once, and only told her that the real killer had been found.
“Isn’t the killer that man?”
“The detective will tell us the details. I don’t know them myself.”
Mariko wore a dubious expression in the car throughout the journey. When they arrived at the police station and gave the reception Kashiwai’s name, they were shown into a small room. Douno and his wife sat down beside each other.
“I’ve already spoken a little to your husband about it, but we’ve arrested the suspect who is responsible for murdering Honoka.”
Mariko’s lips were pursed stiffly as she clasped Douno’s hand.
“It wasn’t Kitagawa?”
Kashiwai shook his head.
“The suspect’s name is Eri Taguchi. Do you know of her?”
Douno shook his head, but Mariko suddenly turned pale.
“Mariko, do you know her?” Douno asked her, but Mariko shook her head in a way that neither affirmed nor denied knowledge.
“Eri Taguchi is the wife of Hiroyuki Taguchi, the manager of Sun Supermarket, where your wife used to work. She was apparently a former model, close to 180 centimetres in height. Her hair is short. With a black hat on, a grade school student could easily mistake her for a man.”
“You weren’t getting along with the manager’s wife as well?”
Mariko bowed her head and covered her ears with her hands.
“You haven’t heard anything, have you, sir?”
Douno still could not perceive what lay behind the knowing words between Kashiwai and his wife.
“Your wife and the manager of Sun Supermarket, Hiroyuki Taguchi, have been in an extramarital relationship for two years. This is clear from witness statements from other employees. Your wife quit her job because rumours of their relationship were starting to circulate―am I right, ma’am?”
Douno froze with his eyes wide open. His mind could not keep up with such an unexpected turn of events. He managed to jerk his head toward his wife and ask her, “Is that true?”
There was no answer.
“Eri Taguchi has testified to feeling hatred towards your wife for being her husband’s extramarital partner, and has testified to killing Honoka to teach your wife a lesson.”
Mariko’s face was white as she trembled violently.
“The Taguchi couple doesn’t have children. They’ve been getting fertilization treatment for close to ten years now. When Eri Taguchi found out her husband was having an affair with a young woman, she confessed the anger got to her head.”
Douno’s wife burst into tears beside him. He could hear her sobbing. Douno looked down at his own fingers, white from clenching his fists.
His wife had said at every spare moment that she loved him. She had called him a kind husband. She had said she was happy. If she was satisfied with her life now, why had she carried on an affair for two years?
Douno could not understand the woman crying beside him anymore. He could not even fathom what his wife was crying about.
When they returned to their apartment, Mariko shut herself up in the bedroom. Douno sat in the living room drinking liquor while sorting out the facts in his head. Mariko had had an affair with her boss at work. The man’s wife had found out. Consumed by wrath, the wife had killed innocent Honoka.
Douno wondered who was to blame. Was it his wife, who had betrayed him and continued an affair for two years? Was it Douno himself, who failed to realize he was being cheated on for two years?
In retrospect, there were numerous clues of an affair. The necklace he did not recognize―perhaps that was a present from her lover. When he had pointed out the red mark on Mariko’s neck the night she had gone out for dinner with a friend, Mariko had panicked. Perhaps that was a sexual mark. And the phone, which had always been conveniently hung up just as he came home...
Should he have been more cautious? His own wife, who had not made a single complaint about his low salary―Douno had thought she would be the last person to have an affair.
I’ve been betrayed. The thought refused to leave him. He had tried to protect his family, but he had been betrayed. Douno drained the liquor in one draught. Did all this happen because of his inadequacy? Was the other man more attractive than him?
Douno cradled his head. He was angry, hurt, and sad. He thought and thought some more, and a possibility arose in his head. He headed to the bedroom, where his wife was.
Mariko was curled up in a corner of the room like a child.
His wife lifted her tearful face. Douno kept about a metre’s distance as he stood across from her.
“Um―” The next words were stuck in his mouth. It was humiliating to even have to vocalize them. “Did you love him?”
There was no answer from Mariko.
“If you really loved him, you should have told me you wanted to end our relationship. Sometimes people fall in love after they get married. Sometimes, you just feel that way and... there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Mariko shook her head.
“I didn’t love him that much,” came her answer in a thin, quiet voice. “I love you more. You probably won’t believe me, though.”
It was beyond Douno’s understanding. If she loved him more, why had she cheated on him? Why had she slept with another man?
“But every day was so dull,” she went on. “I was happy, but every day was the same. When I wondered if I was going to grow old spending every single day like this, I was terrified. That was when he asked me. I’d only seen affairs on drama shows and magazines, and I was surprised these things could actually happen, but... I wasn’t serious.”
“You continued a relationship you weren’t serious about for two years?”
Mariko shook her head.
“At first, it was just for fun. But he got serious about it, and said he’d divorce his wife. I didn’t want anything more to do with it, so I tried to break up with him. But then he threatened to let you know, and by that time it’d already been a year, and I was attached to him, so I just kind of kept...”
Douno bit his lip.
“You ended up hurting his wife and me as a result of what you did ‘for fun’.”
“I never knew,” Mariko mumbled.
“You know having a relationship with a married person would end up hurting someone, don’t you? You’re not a child anymore.”
As Douno scolded his wife, he wondered whether she had always been this kind of selfish woman. To him, she had always been an observant, responsible person who cared about others.
“You’re angry at me, aren’t you?” Mariko glared at Douno. “Honoka was murdered because I cheated on you. It’s all my fault, isn’t it? You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I’m suffering, too,” she said shrilly. “Don’t look at me like it’s all my fault! I know it’s bad to have an affair. If I knew my daughter was going to be killed, I would never have cheated in the first place. But is it all my fault? Does everyone who cheat have their child killed? No! His wife just happened to be jealous and disturbed in the head, and that’s how it ended up like this!”
Mariko banged her fists on the floor.
“Why do I have to be the one to go through all of this? My child was murdered―I’ve lost my daughter! Why do I have to be blamed by everyone?”
Douno could not think of any consoling words to say to her. Her selfishness exasperated and saddened him. Every human had weaknesses―he knew that. He knew, but...
A horrifying thought crossed Douno’s mind as he looked down at his wife. She had been cheating all this time. There was a possibility that―no, of all things, she would never―but once the seed of suspicion was planted, it was impossible to erase no matter how hard he tried.
“That baby in your stomach... is it really mine?”
Mariko’s shoulders twitched.
“We’ve always used birth control, haven’t we? But they say it’s never a hundred-percent guaranteed, so I thought this time was just...”
“I don’t know.”
She did not deny it completely. Douno could not help but press further.
“Did you use birth control with him?”
“How could you ask me something like that?” Mariko snapped.
“It’s important. If you didn’t, it might be his child.”
Mariko chewed her lip hard. “We didn’t,” she mumbled. The world went dark before Douno’s eyes.
“He said he physically couldn’t have children... that he barely produced any sperm, so he could come inside me and it would be okay. That’s why...”
“Why didn’t you tell me that it might not be my child?”
“It was hard for me, too!” Mariko insisted. “But how could I say that after what we’ve been going through? Tell you I’m pregnant with someone else’s baby right after Honoka’s died?”
“Then, what were you planning to do?” Douno demanded. “If I hadn’t known anything, if I hadn’t found out, would you have given birth to that man’s baby and raised it as our own?”
“You want me to abort it, then?” his wife shot back challengingly. Douno felt like he had been punched in the face.
“This baby is probably his. Timing-wise, I feel like it is. When I told him, he cried and begged me to have it. He pleaded with me not to kill it.”
Douno’s breath caught in his throat.
“But I’m your wife, so if you tell me to abort it, I will.”
Douno’s lips trembled in anger. Why was his wife trying to unload a matter as important as a human life entirely upon him? Why was she trying to thrust upon him her part of her mistake, her responsibility, when Douno had played no part in it? Was this decision one that he necessarily had to make?
At first, he had been glad to hear about the budding life inside Mariko’s belly, despite their situation. The fact remained the same, there was still a child there; yet Douno felt his sympathy begin to diminish rapidly at an almost alarming rate.
“You’re telling me to love it?” Douno said quietly. “You want me to love that child, that living proof that you betrayed me?”
“My body might have betrayed you, but my heart hasn’t,” Mariko pleaded. “I still love you. I love you so much. I was so happy every time my friends and everyone told me ‘Mariko, you have such a kind husband’.”
“Kind”―Mariko’s words passed through his ears unheard. It stirred no happiness in him; in fact, it stirred no emotion in him at all. Douno left the bedroom and returned to the living room. He sat on the sofa for a while, but unable to bear it anymore, he grabbed his car keys and burst out of the house.
He jammed the key into the ignition and violently started the engine. He was not set on going anywhere. He only drove wherever the car would take him, repeatedly making the kind of reckless passes he could never have imagined from his regular self. Cars honked at him from behind as if to yell at him.
Soon, it began to rain. The traffic lights turned red. Douno slammed on the brakes, sending his car spinning out into the middle of the intersection.
* See the project page for In the Box (Hako no naka).