Detective X Cover

Detective X: Conclusion by Shirley Pesto

Setsuko and Komori rode the train, shoulder to shoulder, facing forward. The commute was mostly in silence until Setsuko felt compelled to ask, “How old was your son when he died?”

He turned towards her and looked perplexed. “Son? Oh, no. Noriko and I didn’t have any children.” He looked forward again.

Setsuko remained a little confused but didn’t voice it. She faced forward and watched the view as it sped by. They made a few transfers and she recognized the route. Komori was taking her to the seaside.

After some time, they made it to their destination. On the beach they toddled, arm-in-arm, through the sand. Locating no spot in particular, Komori knelt down and used his index finger to draw an X in the sand.

“X marks the spot,” he said while smiling and dusting off his hands.

Setsuko smiled back and scanned the rest of the beach before sitting down. It wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t particularly warm either. Because of this, there weren’t many other people around. Without a towel or beach blanket, their clothes would have to act as a sufficient barrier between their bodies and the sand. They settled in to sit and watch the water.

Komori sat with his heels planted into the sand, his toes facing upward and outward. His knees were propped up so he could rest his elbows on them. He twiddled his thumbs between his clasped hands. Setsuko was sitting similarly, except her heels were together, her toes facing forward. Her hands were resting, palm-side down, on her forearms. She bent forward a bit more so she could rest her chin on the backside of her wrist.

Setsuko pivoted her neck so she could look at Komori. His face looked blank as he fixated on the sea. She asked for confirmation of what he told her earlier at her apartment. “So, you met Noriko about twenty years ago in Hokkaido?”

Komori looked more at ease when she asked him this question and answered with his eyes smiling. “Yes. The construction company I was contracting with had just started us on a new job. We ran into each other in the street during my lunch break.”

“Ah yes, that’s right. And you started in construction in your forties?” Setsuko said with the side of her temple now resting on the back of her hand.

“Yes.” Komori laughed at a memory. “My colleagues would call me an ‘old duck’. I would respond with calling them ‘young chicks’ and tell them to respect their elders.”

She laughed along with him and then asked, “What did you do before you were a construction worker?”

Once again, Komori appeared confused. His brow knitted and his mouth formed a frown. “I… I can’t remember.”

He turned back to look at the water, so she did, too. Instead of putting her off, his confusing answers seemed to intrigue her. They both stared at the small waves as they swelled towards them and then sunk back into the sea.

Komori pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered one to Setsuko. She delightedly plucked from the pack. He popped one out for himself and rested it on his lip. After jamming the pack of cigarettes back into his coat pocket, he took out his lighter and leaned in close to Setsuko so she could light her cigarette first. Cupping his hand around the flame, he protected it from the wind. She cupped her hand on the opposite side of the flame and leaned a little closer, too.

Light reflected off of the surface of his lighter and she caught a clear view of it. It was made of chrome. On the face of it was an intricate engraving. Her eyes followed the well pronounced lines that had filled with dirt, soot, and oils from years of handling. The engraving was of a tree. Below the tree, entangled in the roots, was an X.

The sight of the lighter made Setsuko’s eyes widen and she momentarily lost her breath. Inwardly, she experienced an epiphany. Outwardly, she lost her balance and lurched closer to Komori. She anchored herself by resting her weight on the heel of her hand that drove into the sand.

Komori dropped the lighter and held out his hands to support her by her shoulders. She regained her composure and retrieved the lighter from where he dropped it. The heft of it felt familiar in her hand. She ran her thumb across the engraving before she relit the flame. She finished lighting her cigarette. That first drag felt like the first refreshing breath she had taken in twenty years. She exhaled and an all-knowing smirk rested on her lips. Komori smiled back at her as he leaned in to quickly light his cigarette before she capped it closed. She ran her thumb over the engraving again before putting the lighter in her own pocket.

At one time in the past, this same lighter had belonged to her. Many years ago, she gifted it to someone whom she loved dearly. Instead of causing more confusion, the fact that Komori had this lighter in his possession answered a plethora of questions. Through all the sadness and confusion she lived through up until this point, she understood now.

“You just verified something for me.” Setsuko curled her lips to get a good grip on her cigarette to free up both of her hands. She took a newspaper clipping out of her pocket and rested it on her knee. She tried to flatten it out by rubbing it with the palm of her hand. Placing it on the ground in between them, it landed right in the center of where Komori had drawn the X in the sand. She put a small stone on top of it so it wouldn’t blow away in the wind.

The article was from twenty years ago. When it was written, there had been a nonsensical string of murders that occurred in Tokyo. The people who were responsible for the actual murders were all easily apprehended, but none of them could explain why they committed the crimes. The murderers didn’t have any connection to each other. The only commonality of the crimes was that each of the murder victims’ bodies were marred with an X that had been carved into them. At the time, investigators thought it may have been one person that was in charge of the others, orchestrating them to perform the murders. The headline of the article read “SERIAL KILLER SUSPECT ARRESTED” and below the headline was a photograph.

“Do you recognize anybody in this photo?” Setsuko asked.

Komori tucked his knee closer to himself and tilted his head so he could get a better look at it. As he peered closer at the photograph, he saw two men. The image was taken with a full flash, so the man in the foreground was blown out and the man in the background was almost lost in the shadows. One of them looked to be the assailant and the other man looked to be the detective that apprehended him. Komori looked up at Setsuko and shook his head. “No, I don’t.”

She looked almost impressed at his answer and nodded. “About the same time you found love with Noriko, I actually lost someone that I loved,” she said as she leaned forward to rest her chin back down. With her chin resting on her wrist, her head bounced slightly as she spoke. “He was murdered.”

Komori inhaled sharply and furrowed his brow. “Oh. I’m very sorry.”

Setsuko lifted her head and straightened up slightly. “Yes. Me, too. He really was the love of my life. He came into my world at a moment when I thought I would never be able to love again. You see… when I met him, it was shortly after I found out my boyfriend had an affair with my sister. She got pregnant and they eloped soon thereafter…”

She looked upset at this memory. He remained silent to give her the space to continue.

“The situation took my mind to places I hadn’t experienced before. I ended up seeking help from an experimental therapist. The help she provided me guided my interests into learning more about different areas of psychology. She referred me to a school to study the science.” Setsuko smiled. “That’s where I met him.”

It made Komori feel warmth when he saw her smile. He smiled back at her, but she wasn’t paying enough attention to notice. She was too caught up in her memories.

“When he came into my life, he helped me get fully connected to my power. When we were together, we were powerful enough to convince people to do anything.”

Komori’s smile faded as he concentrated on what she was trying to tell him.

Setsuko’s nose crinkled, almost as if she felt embarrassed. “When I met John. I thought… I thought I got that feeling again from him. That powerful feeling.” She shook her head and clicked her tongue in disgust. “How naive I was—like a lovesick puppy. When John completely rejected me back in California, I felt like I had lost my only chance at feeling that connection again.”

Komori felt like he was starting to understand her current troubles and chimed in. “I felt a connection with John, too. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

She appreciated him trying to empathize with her and nodded. “I know why you felt a connection with John. He gave you a space to be somebody else; to be ‘Tom’ without judgement. But no. I’m not talking about that feeling… I’m talking about the feeling of power.”

She let the emphasis on the word “power” linger for a moment and was sure to make eye contact with him. An expression of cautious curiosity washed over his face.

She broke her eye contact and looked back towards the water. “The first time I felt it, as I told you, was with the love of my life—a little over twenty years ago. That feeling… well, it’s hard to describe.”

With her cigarette clasped between two fingers in one hand, she created a fist with the other hand and brought it close to her chest. “It was like I had all this energy inside of me, but it had no where to go. When I met My Love, he was like the conductor. All of my energy was able to flow through him to others.” With a straight back, she slowly put her arms out forward, trying to mimic the flow of the energy.

She brought her cigarette to her lips and took a drag before bringing her other hand back to settle casually on her knee. Her posture slumped. “Then, when he was murdered, the connection was severed and I no longer felt it…”

She took another drag and spoke through held breath,“… until recently.”

She exhaled fully and continued. “Even I didn’t know what to make of it at the time. It was a little while ago at the metro station. There was this man forcibly humming in my ear. It wasn’t the first time that man, or other men like him, pulled that act on me. I could tell he was a pervert, just trying to get a rise out of me or cop a feel. He was a man that had so much inner turmoil and pain. I used my power to convince him to throw himself in front of a train. And he did it.” She flicked her cigarette to knock off some of the ash that collected at the tip.

Komori looked very concerned now, but he didn’t speak and only let out an audible exhale.

Setsuko tilted her face to the sky with her eyes closed. “It was exhilarating to feel the connection to my power from so long ago.” She opened her eyes and tilted her face back towards the sea. “Now I’m realizing the power that I felt at the metro station, in John’s classroom, all of it… it was you. It was all because I was in close proximity to you.”

Komori shook his head like he was politely denying something that was offered to him.

“I wasn’t so sure when I was back at my apartment, but I got this feeling off of you. Something special. I grabbed this before we left.” She tapped the newsprint, forcing it slightly into the sand.

She pointed to the man in the foreground of the photograph. “This is the man that I loved, with all of my heart. His name was Kunihiko Mamiya. And behind him is the man who murdered him, Detective Kenichi Takabe.”

Paying close attention to where she was pointing, he still didn’t recognize either of the people, nor their names.

Setsuko lowered her head to make sure she could see Komori’s face as she stated, “The man who killed Kunihiko… is you.”

Not understanding the accusation, Komori looked lost and backed away in denial.

Setsuko clarified and touched the center of Komori’s chest, “You are Detective Kenichi Takabe.”

There was a pain that surged through the base of Komori’s neck and up into the back of his head. It was the same pain he experienced on the night that he fell and was taken to the hospital. He grabbed at his head, as if he were trying to scrape out the pain. His cigarette fell to the ground. Small pieces of lit ash scattered and instantly burned out in the sand.

She looked far out on the horizon as she went on. “Kunihiko told me about you, way back when. He said you had the same abilities he did. He wanted me to meet you, but said we needed to be careful because you were a detective. Many people don’t understand what Kunihiko and I did together. Others viewed our actions as murderous and heinous acts. But that wasn’t it at all. With my power of persuasion and his ability to deliver it, we took away other people’s pain.”

Komori raised his hands towards his face. Remnants of sand clung to his palms and fingernails. He studied his hands as if he didn’t know who they belonged to.

“You see, Kunihiko was also somebody who couldn’t remember many details about his past nor recognize himself in photos. He told me when he was around me, he didn’t feel the need to remember. It was like I took away his pain. He took away my pain, too. And when we were together, we could take the pain away for others.”

Komori was in a frozen state of shock. It was too much for his mind to handle.

“I’m sure you saw how sad Boss was after Mika broke things off with him. Your psychokinetic connections were so strong. You were just trying to dilute his pain. You told me that Boss died on the same night you and I met, right? That’s how powerful you and I are together. I don’t think you realize what you did or how you did it. With my power going through you, you were able to free him from his pain, even from afar.”

His eyes welled up with tears and spit gummed up around his open mouth. He looked as if he wanted to scream, but no sound came out. He appeared to have little control over himself.

Setsuko dished out another fact for Komori to digest. “After you murdered Kunihiko, I couldn’t dig too much into who you were. Like he said, I needed to be careful. I could only find a few fuzzy photos that you were in from the newspaper. By the time I tried to find out more about you, all I discovered was that you disappeared after your wife, Fumie, had died.”

Hearing Setsuko mention “wife” and “Fumie” brought Komori out of his shock. His memory wormed back to the dream he had while he was in the hospital. He realized the woman in his dream, the woman sitting on the beach with the long hair blowing in the wind, was Fumie.

Even through the look of terror on his face, Setsuko noticed a glimmer of recognition in Komori’s eyes and used this opportunity to let another one of her long-forgotten actions be recognized. “I anonymously donated money to bury Fumie’s cremains. I couldn’t bury my own love, so I decided to help bury yours.”

Komori looked overwhelmed. All of the realization and emotional pain came at once.

She switched to speaking in a very matter-of-fact tone, “When you told me about your son earlier, but then got confused and said you didn’t have any children, I assume that was a little bit of Detective Takabe slipping out. If I had known at the time that you had a deceased son, I would’ve tried to find a grave for Fumie that was closer to him. Oh well, we won’t let this bother us. It has been a done deal for so long now. I can show you where Fumie’s resting place is sometime, if you’d like. It’s quite nice.”

He thought of Noriko’s neighbor, Fumie Takabe, and now realized who she was. Fully remembering Fumie and their son emotionally crippled him.

“And Kunihiko… well, he ended up in a potter’s field—along with other unclaimed ashes that the city didn’t have enough room to store any longer. That’s where he ended up. And this is where I ended up. Here, with you.” She nodded to herself as if she was finally accepting it. “It’s amazing how you have managed to convince yourself that you were somebody else for this long.”

Setsuko was so caught up in her monologue that she looked like an embarrassed host that had overlooked her guest’s needs. She quickly put out her cigarette butt in the sand and reached over to touch his shoulder. From her pocket, she took the lighter out as a remedy. Komori looked at it and, for the first time in twenty years, recognized it for what it was. It was the lighter that he had confiscated from Kunihiko Mamiya during an interrogation so long ago.

Setsuko slowly brought her hand from Komori’s shoulder to his face and caressed his cheek. With her other hand, she lit the lighter and nestled it into the sand. Like a child building a sandcastle, she created a little mound to keep the lighter stabilized. The flame remained ignited and flickered like a single candle lit between two lovers at a romantic dinner. She pulled the newspaper clipping from under the stone and lightly held it over the flame. Coaxing it to burn evenly, she kept a grip on it for a while before letting the wind take the remainder of it from her fingers.

Komori sat with his body slack and hunched forward. His knees had spread to an open position under the weight of his elbows. His facial expression was no longer pained. He stared forward blankly.

Setsuko spoke in a calm voice. “Don’t worry, I don’t hold any animosity towards you for taking Kunihiko away from me. Life has brought us back together for a reason. You will love me as Kunihiko loved me. I will demonstrate how powerful we can be together. We will continue the legacy and take the pain away for others. We don’t have to dwell on sorrow.”

Komori felt Setsuko tap into his mind. Their bodies physically remained on the beach, but in their collective psyche, they were in a small room together. It was a private and closed off room with four walls and no door. The room didn’t have a ceiling and light poured through the opening. It was so bright that they couldn’t see past it. Drywall was hung and mud was applied, but the walls remained unpainted and bare. Without finished flooring, the subfloor was exposed. There was a sizable gap between the wall and floor that let in a small breeze. Though it was plain, it was a room that Komori was proud of; he built it.

Despite there not being a ceiling, both Komori and Setsuko felt the need to crouch as they stood in the room. He showed her how to sit comfortably in a crosslegged position. With the pride of a child showing a newly pinned up drawing on the refrigerator, he pointed at the only thing on the wall. It was a piece of paper adhered with a single tack. Setsuko saw some markings on the paper, but couldn’t make out what it was. It looked like written words, but they appeared in reverse. When she attempted to read it, her view was obstructed as the paper fluttered and distorted in the breeze.

Its illegibility didn’t seem to bother Komori. He stared at it with with a serene look on his face. His back was straight, legs crossed, and his elbows rested on his knees.

Setsuko allowed him to look at his paper for a moment and then softly put her palm on his shoulder to gain his attention. He was roused out of his meditative state and smiled at her like it was a new day.

Behind her, he saw there was a banister that led to a downward staircase that he hadn’t ever noticed before. It was made of unfinished wood. She motioned that they should go and check it out. He was slightly hesitant to leave his special piece of paper, but he complied. She held his hand and they shuffled to the ledge bordered with a railing. He looked over it and saw a lower level only a tad bigger than the floor they were standing on. If he reached out over the banister, with some effort, he could probably touch the wall on the other side of the ledge with his finger tips.

The stairwell down was built very steeply as to not run into the wall before it was through descending completely; it was more akin to a ladder. With the only light source coming from the absent ceiling opening, Komori could barley see that there wasn’t any drywall on the lower level. The light color of the exposed studs contrasted with the natural wall, which was made of earth and clay. Many sheets of crumpled up paper were strewn about the floor and some flat sheets lined the walls like papier-mâché.

Setsuko was already on the first step down of the steep stairwell. They were still holding hands, so he felt a slight tug as the distance between them grew. With one hand still on the banister and his other holding Setsuko’s hand, he carefully walked down the skinny, wooden steps behind her.

Once they made it to the end of the staircase, the soles of their shoes sunk under their weight into the damp, earthen floor. Like the upper level, there wasn’t much room for anything other than two people sitting next to each other. It was difficult to see, but Komori noticed that the sheets of paper lining the gaps in the walls had an X written on each of them. When his eyes did a full survey of the room, he discovered a door behind the staircase. It was a simple door, finished with a faux wooden veneer. The standard doorknob was of high polished brass and had a small lock in the center of it. It was in the locked position. Komori reached forward to unlock the door, turning the lock counterclockwise. Looking over at Setsuko, he viewed her backlit figure as it nodded back at him with reassurance. He turned the knob and opened the door.

He walked in first, and Setsuko followed. The only light that was able to permeate the room was coming through the door behind them. It slammed closed and Komori turned around with his hands out in front of him, trying to get his bearings.

“Setsuko. Please open the door. I can’t see anything.”

Setsuko struck her lighter and the flame revealed they were face to face. She smiled at him and cupped his cheek with her palm. “When you’re with me, you don’t need to see.” She capped the lighter and everything went dark.

Back in the physical world on the beach, Komori was now sitting with a straight back and the nonthreatening expression of a stranger. He looked at the sea and calmly stated, “My head no longer aches.”

“That’s good, Detective Kenichi Takabe.” Setsuko reached into his pocket and took another one of his cigarettes. With her lighter, she lit it and inhaled as she looked up towards the sky. She held her breath for a moment and let the nicotine swirl around in her lungs. Clasping the cigarette between her two fingers again, she rested her elbow at her side, and exhaled with a smile. She allowed her eyes to roll towards the detective before turning her head to face him completely. With her hand on her hip and a coy wink, she asked, “Or should I call you ‘Tom’?”


Continue to Epilogue

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