Better Angels of Our Nature
Four Months Earlier
Ken stood in the entry way, unable to move, unable to talk, unable to really even think.
He was running late. He had not intended on even taking his shoes off. He had a plan. Get off the train one station early, swing by his mother's new apartment and return the cooking magazines that Daisuke had borrowed last week, go to work.
It was supposed to be so, so simple.
Because. There was a plan. He had had a plan. He would knock on her door, but he wouldn't wait for her to answer. He would just go inside and she would already be hurrying in his direction, wondering who had knocked when it wasn't even 8:30 in the morning. He would hand her the magazines, neatly arranged in the canvas tote she'd originally sent them in, tell her Daisuke was grateful, mutter something vaguely apologetic about being in a hurry and then he would leave.
No need to even take off his shoes.
"Did you go to her?" the query jarred Ken back into the present. He looked at the plainclothes detective who had asked the question, one of two that had wedged themselves into the tiny interrogation room with him. Or, at least, they had told him it was an interrogation room. Ken had seen larger closets in downtown Tokyo apartments.
Between the close quarters and the fact that one of them reeked of stale cigarettes while the other stank of burnt coffee, Ken was beginning to wonder how much longer he'd be able to hold down his breakfast. Would plastering their shoes with Daisuke's sweet egg omelette suggest undue anxiety? Fear? Guilt?
Ken already knew that he would not have been brought down to this room from the much nicer one upstairs in victim services if the two detectives in question had not already decided that he was the individual mostly likely to become their so-called person-of-interest. It made sense really. Ken couldn't say he faulted their logic.
Ken willed himself to take shallow breaths. No, he definitely couldn't risk losing his breakfast now. Not judging by the way these two had been looking at him for the last hour and a half. Splattered egg would probably be all the "evidence" their little minds needed.
"Did you go to her?" the detective asked again, a bit more forcefully this time, after Ken had failed to answer, "Maybe check to see if she was breathing?"
It was not that Ken was not hearing the questions posed by the one he had dubbed Tweedle-Dee, or even that he could not understand them. No, if asked, he could say that he understood the meaning of each and every one of the words put forth. It was just, when they were strung together in that fashion, or maybe when they were forced past the detective's thick tongue, something changed, something refused to click. His brain just couldn't go from perfectly reasonable question to even moderately reasonable answer.
"And here I thought he was supposed be some big genius," Ken heard Tweedle-Dum mutter. He almost smiled at the man. Thank goodness he stopped himself before that happened.
Ken's attention turned again as Tweedle-Dee began snapping, his fingers clicking against each other scant centimeters away from Ken's nose. "I know a lot has happened," the detective admitted, "But I need you to focus for me, okay?" Ken was almost sure he nodded in response.
"You saw her on the floor," Tweedle-Dee stated, "Did you go to her?"
"She was dead." Ken's monotone remark shocked him even more than it seemed to shock the detectives.
"You're sure?" this time it was Tweedle-Dum who asked. Ken nodded. "Because I've got to tell 'ya," he continued, his face miming a look of no-doubt practiced disbelief, "I've been doing this job for nearly 20 years. I've seen a lot of dead bodies. I walk into my mom's apartment and see her lying, what'd you say," he looked to the other detective for conformation, "twenty, twenty-five feet away?" Tweedle-Dee nodded. "I wouldn't trust myself to know if she was still breathing. Maybe barely alive? I see my mom lying on the ground, hurt," he continued, "I go to her. I mean," he raked a hand through his greasy hair, pinning Ken with his eyes, "she's my mom for fuck's sake."
Ken nodded his agreement. It wasn't that he didn't understand what the detective was saying or even, had their situations been reversed, what he was thinking. He did. But at the time, he had not been thinking rationally. Ken wasn't even sure he was capable of thinking rationally even now.
"So you didn't go over to her body." Tweedle-Dee confirmed. Now they were both trying to stare holes into his brain. Ken shook his head, uncertain, thinking.
"I don't know," he admitted after a nearly thirty second pause, "I don't think I did."
"You don't think you did?" Tweedle-Dum threw his hands up in the air in exasperation, nearly whacking Tweedle-Dee in the process. "Let's get this straight," he insisted, "Did you or did you not go up to your mother's body?" He paused for Ken to answer, but Ken did not know what to tell the man. After a few long seconds of silence, Tweedle-Dum had had enough, "For crying out loud," he complained, "This isn't ancient history we're talking about here. It's not even been four hours! Did you or did you not go over to your mother?"
Ken closed his eyes, trying to focus his mind back to the events of that morning, but, try as he might, there was not anything there. He could recall what he ate for breakfast. He could even vaguely recall what he had been dreaming about when Daisuke's alarm had woken him up. Ken remembered that the station had been more crowded than usual that morning and that there had been a foreign man sitting in the back of the train car. He remembered he had opted to stand and that he had gotten off one stop early. He remembered his plan. Knock on the door, go inside, hand her the bag, apologize, leave.
But after that: fog. Nothing but grey, rolling fog. Until the uniformed officer had walked him out of the apartment. And then some other uniformed officer had driven him back to the station and left him upstairs with victim services. Then there had been a knock on the door and Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum had taken him down to this interrogation closet and introduced themselves as the detectives that would be handling his mother's case.
"I don't know," Ken answered, opening his eyes again, comforted, almost, in a way, by this tiny cocoon of a room, "I just don't know."
Tweedle-Dee sighed. "Okay," he held a calming hand up in Tweedle-Dum's direction before continuing, "Let's start back over at the beginning."
Tweedle-Dee smiled at Ken. That's good, Ken thought, he wants me to trust him. Ken offered the detective a small smile in return, thinking, and I want him to think that I do.
"Tell me a little about your mother."
Ken thought. Facts he knew. But the detective wasn't looking for facts. He wanted details, personal details, the kind of personal details that only sons, family members were supposed to know. He wanted to know what sort of woman Rika Ichijouji had been, what she liked, who her friends were, what she did for fun on her days off.
Problem was, Ken had no idea.
It wasn't that he didn't love his mother. They just did not have that sort of relationship. Ever. Not even when he had been a child. Not even before Osamu had died.
Theirs had always been an oddly formal relationship. A relationship based solely on society's defined roles of what was a "mother" and what was a "son". And, frankly, that was the way Ken had preferred it. He had never bothered to wonder if that was what his mother had wanted or if, maybe, she had hoped for something more...familial? Loving?
He had been beyond surprised when she first mentioned wanting to move to Odaiba to be closer to him and Daisuke. It never occurred to him that she might leave the little apartment in Tamachi where he had grown up, where she, as far as he had ever known her, had always lived whatever life it was she lived.
"She worked part time at the flower shop just around the corner from the W station," Ken hoped that what details he could supply would satisfy them, "She didn't have a lot of friends that she ever told me about," he hedged, "but she always got on well with people, I guess." Ken shook his head, "You should really ask Daisuke. He and Mother…" Ken stopped himself before finishing that thought.
"Daisuke," Tweedle-Dee repeated, flipping though his note pad, page, page, another page, "Daisuke... It says here you had stopped by your mother's apartment to return some magazines that 'Daisuke' had borrowed." The detective glanced up and Ken nodded his agreement. "And who is Daisuke?"
Ken knew the question was going to come up sooner rather than later. He should have been more prepared. Still, he found himself hesitating.
"Daisuke is..." Ken did not understand why he always found this so difficult to explain. Daisuke never seemed to have a problem telling anyone, their friends, the landlord, even the exterminator who or what Ken was to him. But Ken had never been even remotely as comfortable. He would jokingly tell Daisuke that he was just too damn Japanese, that it was Daisuke who was the odd one, and Daisuke would laugh, but Ken knew that the truth was that his hesitation invariably hurt the curly headed man. Ken's compromise had been to become adept at some of the more benign euphemisms. He went with one now, "Daisuke is my roommate."
"Roommate?" Tweedle-Dum's eyebrows all but shot off his face. "Your roommate knows your mother better than you?" he asked incredulously. Ken ignored the question, refusing to even glance in Tweedle-Dum's direction. He had already decided while neither detective was to be truly trusted, he need not be particularly subtle about his dislike of the overtly obstinate Tweedle-Dum. After all, it would give Tweedle-Dee reason to hope their good-cop/bad-cop shtick was working.
"So..." Tweedle-Dum continued when it became clear that Ken had no intention of answering, "When you say 'roomate', I'm just gonna go ahead and assume the two of you are fuck buddies." He leaned in closer, trying to get some reaction out of Ken, but none was forthcoming. "Isn't that what it means when two grown men are roomates? Eh?"
Ken glanced over at Tweedle-Dee, wondering if, when the man would step in. Did he really think Ken might be stupid enough to take Tweedle-Dum's bait? Was he holding out in the hope that the right pejorative might push Ken into suddenly cracking? Please. Ken had been ignoring taunts and ridicule since childhood. He had learned long ago that nothing frustrated a bully so much as being ignored.
"Be honest with me, Ichijouji," and it was obvious that Tweedle-Dum did not like being ignored, "Do you hate all women? Or just your mom?" he elbowed Tweedle-Dee, tossing his chin in Ken's direction with a look that asked, 'can you believe this guy?' "Is that why you like to fuck boys? Because mean mommy was mean to you?"
Tweedle-Dee still did not comment, but he did offer Ken a faintly chagrined roll of the eyes at Tweedle-Dum's stunted foray into pop psychology. 'See?' his look tried to say, 'I'm not like this Neanderthal. You can trust me. I won't judge you for being some fudge packing fag. Really. You can tell me everything. I'm on your side.'
Thankfully Ken's childhood had also taught him the art of hiding his contempt for idiots who thought they could manipulate him into thinking they were actually his friends. So he brought out the noncommittal half smile that heretofore had been reserved for news correspondents, overly familiar teachers and excessively eager fan-girls. It would, no doubt, work just as well on half-rate detectives.
"So," Tweedle-Dee decided to continue when it became obvious that no amount of awkward silence would entice Ken into responding, "You stopped by your mother's apartment to return the magazines that your roommate, 'Daisuke', had borrowed." Ken nodded his agreement.
"Does your mother live alone?" Ken nodded again.
"No husband? Boyfriend?" Ken shook his head.
"What happened to your father? Divorce? Is that why she'd only lived at that address for a few months?"
Ken shook his head again, but it was clear that Tweedle-Dee wouldn't continue without more details so he answered, "My father's dead."
Both detectives pretended to be surprised at his answer, but Ken doubted they truly had been. His father's death was a matter of public record. It had likely been one of the first things that had come up when they pulled his mother's information. They had only wanted to see his reaction, to see if he'd lie. But why would he? His father had died of natural causes, in the office he'd worked at for more than 40 years, surrounded by coworkers.
"When did he die?"
"Eight months ago," Ken had been ready for that one. Maybe his brain was finally starting to focus again, "At work. He had a heart attack. He was dead before the ambulance could show up."
"And how did your mother handle it?" Tweedle-Dee pressed.
"She was sad," Ken shrugged, "I don't think she'd ever really thought about what she would do when he was gone. My mother…" Ken trailed off, trying to think of the best way to put what he was trying to say without sounding cold, unloving, "My mother was always the sort to always put others before herself. She wasn't the sort to talk about herself. She put her everything into caring for my father and my brother and myself."
Tweedle-Dee began flipping through his notebook again, "You have a brother?" he asked, "What's his name and where does he live?"
"Osamu," Ken answered simply, "He's dead."
"Also!?" Tweedle-Dum scoffed. This time Ken heard the thunk of Tweedle-Dee's boot connecting firmly with Tweedle-Dum's shin. 'Shut-up', the look Tweedle-Dee shot Tweedle-Dum seemed to say, 'I've finally got the damn poof talking. The last thing I need is for you to send him into another sulk'.
"When?" was all Tweedle-Dee said out loud, turning his attention back to Ken, his pen poised over the notepad.
"Twenty-one years ago in March."
"How?" the detective was too busy scribbling in his notepad to even look up.
Ken sighed. He wanted to tell the would-be gumshoe to just go look it up and to leave him the hell alone already. He'd spent years trying to put that day out of his mind. Now these idiots had to go and drag everything back up. And for what possible reason? To see what he'd say? To pass judgment on his reaction?
"He was hit by a city bus. He was walking me home from school and he was hit by a bus." That second part came out a tad more forcefully than Ken had intended. Tweedle-Dee seemed to catch that.
"You were with him?" he asked, though his tone suggested that that wasn't really his question.
Ken sighed. "I was five," was his only answer.
Tweedle-Dee nodded, but something about the way his eyes narrowed just ever so slightly made Ken angry. Tweedle-Dee must have sensed this because he offered a vaguely apologetic smile before quickly moving on.
"Was there a settlement in your brother's case?" He asked.
Ken shook his head in confusion, "I—I don't know," he answered, "I was just a child. My parents..." Ken trailed off, thinking, brow furrowed for a moment before answering, "Probably. I guess. We never talked about it."
"It?" Tweedle-Dee pressed, "The settlement? The accident?"
It took every ounce of will power for Ken not to toss his hands in the air in frustration. How do you explain to someone who's never experienced his kind of family that it wasn't just that they never talked about this one thing or that one thing? They never talked about ANYTHING, ever.
Not once could Ken remember sitting down and having a real, honest talk with either his mother or his father. The Ichijouji house had always been a silent one and Ken didn't dare say, but he liked it that way. Feelings, emotions, opinions, beliefs? What good did they do? Honesty? What family's relationship had ever been improved by honesty?
Ken sighed, "Osamu," he finally answered, for lack of a better option, "We didn't talk about Osamu."
There was a long silence as the detectives considered Ken's statement. Finally Tweedle-Dee shrugged, turning to Tweedle-Dum to remark, "If nothing else, that explains where she got all that money."
Ken was getting tired of these silly games. "My mother didn't have a lot of money," he assured the detectives. "Even after selling the old apartment, she still was having to work part-time." Truth was, Daisuke and he had even started discussing moving her in with them.
Or rather, Daisuke had started discussing it and Ken had been trying his best not to let his annoyance show. Ken mentally chastised himself for small bit of pleasure he felt when he realized his mother's death meant he would no longer have to struggle to come up with reasons why now wouldn't be a good time to invite his mother into his and Daisuke's home. That conversation was officially over. Finally.
Ken's mind was jerked back to the present once again, this time by Tweedle-Dum's bemused chuckle.
"On the contrary, Ichijouji," Tweedle-Dum grinned, leaning forward, elbows braced against the table with his chin resting on his upturned palm even as his eyes watched, eager, for Ken's response, oblivious to the stench of stale cigarettes wafted from every pore of his body. "You just became a very, very rich man."
That was when Ken felt his gut plummet.