Kaori stared at the table and at the dishes in front of her and was contemplating how it was often the little things that had the most impact on a person’s day.
Today that little thing was a piece of toast.
The morning had started out like many others. She got up and peeked into Ryo’s room to find him sleeping before going to the kitchen to make breakfast. She hadn’t heard him come home last night, so she was certain that he had not gotten back until almost sunrise.
‘Probably spent another night at the cabarets,’ she told herself. ‘Well he better not have spent too much money on alcohol. We may be out of debt, but we don’t have money to burn.’
Kaori prepared some food and ate it by herself to give him a little more time to sleep. After making some eggs and toast along with some strong coffee she headed back to his room.
“Ryo! Time to get up,” she called out as she walked in. “Don’t sleep the day away.”
Without opening his eyes, Ryo turned over in his bed, pushing his face toward the pillow. He let out a couple more loud snores before starting to giggle.
“Yes…do that again, Rie-chan,” he slurred out drowsily. Kaori shook her head and sighed.
“Come on, Ryo,” she said as she pulled at his bed sheets. Her face immediately turned red when she realized that he had chosen to sleep naked yet again.
“Ryo,” she growled as she turned away. Ryo slowly opened his eyes and blinked several times.
“Ah, Kaori, I got in late last night,” he grumbled. “I’m going back to sleep.” He tried to snatch the blankets away from her, but Kaori yanked them out of his grasp.
“I already made you breakfast,” Kaori replied. “So come on, get up. There might be a job today, so you can’t spend all morning lying in bed.”
“But I was having a wonderful dream with Rie-chan,” Ryo whined. “We were all alone on a tropical island, and she was using these two coconut halves to….”
Ryo was cut short by a blow from Kaori’s hammer knocking him onto the floor.
“Don’t tell me about your perverted fantasies!” she yelled at him. “Hurry up before your breakfast gets cold.”
A couple minutes later, Ryo skulked down to sit at the table and sipped at his coffee for a few seconds before starting to eat his food. Kaori cleared away her own dishes and then sat down across from him.
“Say Ryo, you haven’t spent much time around here recently,” she said. “You’re out almost every night now, all night, and you take off right after breakfast every morning. What have you been doing with all of your time?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Ryo asked as he chewed. “Fall is already here and soon it will be winter. I have to use what little time I have left to find a vision who will help keep me warm on those cold, cold nights.”
“Be serious,” Kaori said after giving him a tap on the head from her one ton hammer. “Are you saying that you’re using all this time just to chase girls? Maybe you’re doing another job on the side?” A flash of anger appeared in her eyes.
“You better not be working for Saeko,” she said. “All she does is use you. Nothing good ever comes out of working for her.” Ryo swallowed what was in his mouth and drained his coffee cup before standing.
“Nah, Saeko owes me too many mokkori points right now,” he said. “There’s no way I’d work for her unless she pays me back at least of a couple of them.”
“Then what are you doing?” Kaori asked. “I can’t believe that you’re only chasing women the entire day or have you really degenerated that much?” Ryo turned and walked toward the door.
“I’ll be back later,” he said. “Let me know if you’ve got a job lined up.” He then walked out.
Ryo left before Kaori could say anything else. For a moment, she thought about rushing after him and giving him another pounding with her hammer. But then she happened to look at Ryo’s plate which still had a half eaten piece of toast on it.
Kaori leaned forward, placing her elbows on the table and resting her head in her hands. Leaving food on their plate would not have seemed strange with anyone else, but it was not the same with Ryo. Despite his sarcastic remarks about her cooking, Ryo always cleaned his plate and would often ask for numerous additional helpings. His appetite for mokkori was perhaps the only thing more voracious than his appetite for food.
For the past month though, Kaori had noticed that Ryo did not eat with the same gusto that he once did. He often turned down additional helpings and once in a while he even left food on his plate…much like he did this morning. At first, Kaori didn’t think much of it and was actually somewhat relieved that they were able to save on their food budget. This morning, however, put this thought at the forefront of her mind, and she could not stop thinking about it after that.
Kaori stood and cleared the table. It wasn’t just Ryo’s reduced appetite that had her concerned. Other things, like the way he spend most of his time away from the apartment building and the fact that his drinking had increased, had also weighed on her mind. Up until now, she had mainly been annoyed at him for his new habits, but now that she considered them all together, a new feeling had overtaken her: worry.
‘If only I knew what he was doing while he was gone,’ she thought to herself. ‘I could follow him for a day…No, that’s not the answer. Ryo would know that I was following him and would make sure to lose me. Besides that, I’ve invaded his privacy so many times. Do I have a right to keep doing that?’
Kaori washed the dishes and then began dusting and vacuuming around the rooms. She couldn’t deny that she was also angry at Ryo for being so secretive, but her worries quelled that anger. She tried to remember the last time she had been this worried about him and the first thing that came to mind was the incident with Sonia Field.
Her hands gripped the dust cloth she was holding in an effort to stop them from shaking. Almost six months had passed since Sonia Field, the daughter of one of Ryo’s old partners from America, had come to Japan seeking to settle the score with him for killing her father. Her blind hatred for Ryo and lust for revenge had led to a duel between him and Umibozu that almost cost Ryo his life. All the months that had gone by had not been enough to erase the images of blood running down Ryo’s face and of his body collapsing to the ground from Kaori’s mind. These images still haunted her nightmares, nightmares that had a much more terrifying end for that duel than the draw that actually happened.
Kaori dropped the cloth to the floor and sank onto the couch. She knew that a lot more had happened during that time than just the duel itself. She had wanted to talk to Ryo about it, but could not find the courage to do so. After it was all over, she had been so grateful that he survived and so touched by his gift of promising to spend the rest of their birthdays together that she convinced herself that it was best to move on and not dwell on it.
Looking back on it now though, Kaori realized that she had begun to see subtle changes in Ryo not long after that incident. The changes were not consistent or long-lasting, so she had been able to chalk them up to his usual eccentric behavior. These days, however, it was becoming impossible to rationalize it away.
‘What happened during that time to change things?’ she wondered. ‘Did something happen between him and Sonia? Or maybe the duel with Umibozu make Ryo see him, and maybe even Miki, in a different way? Does he not trust them anymore?’
‘Or maybe it was something I did. No matter what Sonia said to me, I know that I wasn’t a very good partner to Ryo at the time. Maybe he’s decided that too.’
‘Maybe it’s me that he doesn’t trust anymore.’
Kaori hung her head, tears swimming in her eyes. The more she thought about it, the more she became convinced that there was definitely something wrong. Worse yet, she wasn’t entirely sure if she could do anything about it. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
‘Ryo…whatever this is, please…be careful. Don’t push yourself too much….’
Kaori then stood and picked up the cloth from the floor. She resumed her household chores while trying her best to clear her mind.
An hour later, Kaori changed and headed off to the Shinjuku station to check the message board. She was still worried about Ryo and hoped to find a job request waiting for her.
‘If nothing else, it could give us some money and give Ryo a much needed distraction,’ she figured.
She scanned the chalkboard three times before accepting the fact that there was nothing waiting for her this time. Kaori let out a sigh and scanned the notebook that she usually brought with her. There had been a couple of offers earlier that week, but after meeting with them, she had determined that they wouldn’t be good clients.
‘And that means that we don’t have anything right now,’ she thought with a frown.
“Would you be willing to grant me a request, Kaori-san?”
Kaori jumped and whirled around to see Saeko standing behind her.
“A job offer? No thanks,” Kaori replied. “I already told Ryo that we weren’t going to accept anymore offers from you, so there is no way that I’m….”
“It’s not a job,” Saeko said softly. “What I would like is to have a talk with you…about Ryo. Would you be willing to have a cup of coffee with me?”
A few minutes later, Kaori and Saeko walked into the Cat’s Eye café.
“Good afternoon, Kaori-san, Saeko-san,” Miki smiled at them.
“Ah, hi Miki-san, Umibozu-san,” Kaori replied. She then looked around the room, her shoulders slumping when she realized that there was no one else there.
“Kaori-san?” Miki said.
“Oh sorry,” Kaori said. “I guess I half-expected Ryo to be hanging around here. Have either of you two seen him today?”
“No we haven’t,” Miki answered. “The truth is, Saeba-san hasn’t been in here much these last couple of weeks.”
“I see,” Kaori said, her eyes turning toward the floor. She and Saeko each ordered a coffee and went to sit at one of the tables toward the back. A couple moments later, Umibozu served them their drinks and Saeko took a long sip before speaking.
“Kaori-san, do you know if something has happened to Ryo recently?” she said. Kaori’s mouth fell open in shock, but then she closed it and resumed her downward gaze.
“No, I don’t know anything,” Kaori replied. “Did something happen between you and Ryo? Is there something going on?”
“That is what I am trying to figure out,” Saeko replied. “Although, if you don’t know what is going on, I’m not sure how I will find the answer. But I take it from your response that you are worried about him too.” Kaori nodded her head.
“He hasn’t been home much,” she said. “And he’s not eating like he used to…and he’s drinking even more than usual….”
“I see,” Saeko nodded. “I had a feeling that it was serious and this confirms it. You see, I approached Ryo about a job last week…”
“Come on, Ryo,” Saeko pleaded. “It’s just a simple undercover operation. It will take maybe two days at the most.”
Ryo sat on bench next to her in the park, smoking a cigarette. He leaned back and looked up at the sky.
“Saeko, do you have any idea how many mokkori points you owe me by now?” he said. “There’s no way I could consider taking on a job for you without some kind of upfront payment. Especially since Kaori would kill me if she found out about it.”
“But Ryo, there’s no one else I can ask on such short notice,” she said. “Listen, I’ll make this count for three mokkori points instead of just one. Besides, the setting is perfect for you. We’d be spending most of our time at a pool lounge.”
“Pool lounge?” Ryo asked, his eyebrows going up. Saeko smiled.
“Exactly,” she said. “You’ll be surrounded by women in high-cut bikinis for hours at a time.”
“High…cut…bikinis?!” he said, his eyes growing wide.
“Yes,” Saeko said. “Who knows, maybe you can have some fun before we have to get to work. So what do you say, Ryo?”
Ryo’s face contorted into an enormous grin as he breathed heavily and Saeko was convinced that she had him.
Suddenly, his smile disappeared and he stood up, tossing away his cigarette.
“Sorry, but I’ll pass,” he said. “The job isn’t that dangerous. You can handle it on your own. Maybe next time…after you pay me some of those mokkori points.”
He then walked away without saying another word.
“So…you were trying to sneak in a job after all,” Kaori said, glowering at her.
“That’s not the point, Kaori-san,” Saeko said, raising her hands in front of her and smiling. “The point is, this job was exactly the kind of thing that Ryo would normally beg to take on, and he acted like he couldn’t care less about it. Besides that, you know him, usually he won’t turn down a request from me.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Kaori said, her frowning deepening. Saeko laughed nervously before taking on a more serious expression.
“This isn’t the first time that I’ve thought that Ryo wasn’t acting like himself here recently,” she said. “But up until that point, I hadn’t really worried that much about it. Now, however….”
Kaori nodded and took a sip of her coffee. Hearing Saeko’s story made her even more concerned than she was before.
“Kaori-san, I think you should talk to him,” Saeko said.
“Me?” Kaori said.
“Of course,” Saeko responded. “You’re his partner.”
“Yes, but….,” Kaori murmured, her eyes fixed on the table top. “That doesn’t mean anything. Ryo...he doesn’t trust me, not that way. He won’t talk to me, not about something like this.”
“He trusts you, Kaori-san,” Saeko said. “Believe me. He trusts you more than anyone else. If you don’t talk to him, I don’t know who else could.”
Kaori wrapped her fingers around her coffee cup and stared at the mahogany liquid inside. She agreed with Saeko’s idea that someone needed to talk to Ryo, but she still harbored doubts that she was the best one to do it.
The two of them finished their coffees and engaged a few minutes of small talk before Saeko walked out of the café. Once she was gone, Miki walked over to Kaori’s table.
“Kaori-san, we need to talk,” she said.