Warnings: somewhat graphic descriptions of anxiety/panic and other symptoms of PTSD.
The phone rang for a long time in Izaya’s ear. Like an extension of the buzz in his head, the flat note in the receiver felt like a headache made into sound. His temple was starting to throb but his eyes never left the screen of his laptop. The light was already dimming as it settled into sleep mode; he managed to read Mizuchi Yahiro’s words again before they left.
I have a few questions to ask you.
Then Namie picked up. And Izaya wasn’t as ready as he had thought, because the mere sound of her strained breathing was enough to make bile rise up to his throat and linger, bitter, painful.
“Yes,” she said.
He couldn’t answer.
It wasn’t that his mouth couldn’t open or that his tongue was dry. He made no move to reach for the glass of fresh water that Sozoro had helpfully set atop the windowsill. It glinted in the sunlight, getting warmer by the second no doubt—and Izaya looked at the rest of the room to his right and met the old butler’s clever eyes, and for the first time since he had met him, he felt apprehension.
“Leave,” he said curtly. He only realized his mistake when he heard Namie breathe in harshly in his ear—he had forgotten to mask his voice from her.
“I don’t think I will,” Sozoro said pleasantly.
Izaya clenched his teeth and pulled the phone away from his ear. “If you don’t leave—”
He stopped, because he could hear Namie’s voice talking loudly but unintelligibly, and he put the phone back to his head by reflex.
“I swear to God if this is is an accidental call—”
“It’s not,” he growled before he could stop himself, and she fell silent immediately, with another gasp. “Give me a second, God damn it.”
But he didn’t turn back to Sozoro after that. He listened to the sound of her breathing and gripped the arm of his chair until his knuckles turned bone-white. His breath was caught in a vice and he knew that once he released it it wouldn’t come out without a whistle or a wheeze.
Namie would hear it.
Izaya pressed the screen of his phone against his knee and exhaled loudly, hoping that by some miracle he hadn’t hung up on her. He didn’t think Namie would take a second call if he had.
“All right,” he said, placing the phone back against his ear. “We can talk now.”
“You took your sweet fucking time,” she replied angrily.
And if it had been two years ago he would’ve laughed at her. If it had been two years ago he would’ve felt empowered by her lack of composure, but he wasn’t two years ago, and he was still reeling from how precisely he could hear her in spite of the disembodied coldness of static and distance.
He hadn’t realized how starved he was for that.
Namie waited for a moment. Then she barked, “What?”
“Izaya,” and that was something else again, the sound of her calling his name like this. He hadn’t been able to recall it to perfection. “Did you call me after all this time for nothing?”
“No.” He blinked. “I called you because…”
He couldn’t remember. For a while he blinked at the laptop on his knees without knowing why it was there or what he was supposed to do with it. His breath was coming fast and shallow, and from the corner of his vision he saw the way Sozoro hovered, the way his hand toyed with the opening of the pill case where the anxiolytics and antiemetics were. Izaya sucked in a breath and powered his laptop up again.
“You gave someone my contact information,” he said. Mizuchi Yahiro. That was why he had called. “You gave my info to someone from Ikebukuro.”
Namie didn’t answer. He could still hear her breathe, and she sounded pacified now. Somehow the thought was enough drag anger out from the floating remnants of his focus.
“I told you not to talk to anyone about me, especially from Ikebukuro,” he finished, and he knew he sounded cold.
“Well, I did,” she said. Unbothered.
Izaya drummed on the arm of his chair with the pads of his fingers. It was better than clenching them into a fist. “Who are they?”
“I have no idea who this guy is,” she continued with satisfaction on her voice thick as syrup. “He emailed me yesterday. Got my address from your sisters, apparently.”
Izaya didn’t say anything in answer. He read over Mizuchi’s message again and tried to forget what Namie had just said even though his mind wanted nothing more than to settle on her voice and grab. It was hard to pinpoint anything specific out of the ridiculously polite message except maybe for age. Mizuchi did sound like someone who could be his sisters’ age.
“Aren’t you going to ask me why I did it?” Namie said.
Izaya finally noticed the lack of noise in the background, as if she had locked herself inside somewhere.
“Didn’t you do it just to keep your spot as the number one pain in my ass?”
“I thought that spot belonged to Heiwajima Shizuo.”
And Izaya was in the process of chewing on his lip but he bit through the flesh instead and tasted warmth and iron on his tongue. He swallowed.
“Shizuo doesn’t belong in this conversation,” he said tightly.
“Do you plan on being my shrink now that you’re not my secretary, Namie-san?” Izaya spat out. “Wanna hear all about the disgusting little symptoms?”
“You’re being ridiculous—”
“Ah,” he cut in. He sat back into his chair and rolled away from the window, pushing on the floor with his toes, biting his lips through the crawling pain from his ankles to his shoulders and the frozen air in his lungs—”So did you miss me, then?“
It was her turn to breathe as if she was spitting blood. For a while he listened to the sound of her anger and felt his own grow in kind, felt as if she was breathing rage right into his skin and into the warm blood in his veins. It traveled through his body and nestled in his belly, hot and inviting.
“You call me,” she started, voice trembling with it, “after almost two years. You call me after months of treating me like I’m nothing more than a string of letters on a goddamn computer screen—and all you have to say is insults—”
“Is that the sound of you caring?”
“You shut the fuck up, you creep!” she yelled.
Izaya closed his mouth, and through the distance he knew she had heard the sound of his teeth knocking together.
“I don’t give a crap anymore.” Her voice had the same quality it did in those last few days before he left—when she was drunk from lack of sleep and split apart between mania and rage. “You’re the stupidest person I’ve ever met in my life and you don’t deserve any consideration. From me, or from anyone.”
Izaya tried to grab the lukewarm glass on the windowsill; but all he did was push it over the edge and fall wetly onto the carpet. Sozoro walked up to the stain immediately, cloth materializing in his hands.
“So you’re betraying me,” Izaya said. “Again.”
“Yeah,” Namie replied shakily. “I am.”
“What’s your goal, then?” His heart was beating in his throat, and his chest had started aching, his head brimming with pain and nausea running up into his mouth. “What are you trying to achieve? Do you think a kid can do anything to me?”
Namie didn’t answer. Izaya took the pills Sozoro gave him wordlessly and swallowed them dry, but he pushed the man’s hand away when it tried to take hold of the brake of the wheelchair. He didn’t want to lie down even if it would make the attack more bearable. He breathed tightly against the pressure and tried to ignore the taste of bile at the back of his tongue. He hadn’t eaten anything worth vomiting.
“Namie,” he said.
She took a while to answer. “Yeah.”
“I don’t get you.”
It made her chuckle joylessly. “Fuck you.”
Izaya pressed between his eyebrows with the tips of his fingers. The headache didn’t abate at all, but he hadn’t expected it to. “Who is Mizuchi Yahiro?”
“A friend of your sisters’,” she replied automatically, and it felt nicer than anything else had to think that she wasn’t rid of this habit yet. As if she was still hunched over her desk on the other side of his Shinjuku apartment. “He says he wants to talk to you about Ikebukuro.”
“He says he wants to talk to me about Konotami Kuon,” Izaya said. He had to strain to associate a face to the name, and when he did it wasn’t Kuon’s but his sister Nozomi’s that he remembered.
“I don’t know who that is.”
“You wouldn’t,” he muttered.
Izaya had never told Namie about those girls. Nozomi, and Saki, and the others. She had to know anyway—she had probably dug into his files when Saki made her move years ago and learned all she could about his ‘fanclub’. But Izaya had never been the one to tell her, and she had never mentioned it to him outright.
He had never managed to understand why he had shielded her from them. Why he had thought of Namie’s history written stark in her body and her temper and felt the need to keep her away from those girls, away from the truth of what he’d done to them.
It felt a lot like shame, as much as he wanted to deny it.
“Something’s happening back there,” Namie said.
Izaya closed his eyes. Kanto smelled clearer and nicer than the big city ever did, and every breath felt cleansing and remarkable this high above street level. He thought about smoke and fire and the pain in his chest grew, clawing at his lungs.
“I’m not going back,” he answered. He made a fist of his free hand and banged it softly below his throat, between his collarbones. The burning sensation flared but didn’t back down. “Ikebukuro has lost all interest to me.”
She snorted. “You mean Ikebukuro’s lost interest in you.”
“Either way,” he declared between his teeth, “there’s nothing for me to gain by going back.” He ignored the mocking hum coming out of Sozoro’s throat. “No secrets left for me to play with.”
“Now you’re just fooling yourself.”
“None that I’m interested in,” he continued, cutting her. “We’ve had this conversation.”
She stayed silent for a moment. And then she said, “No, we haven’t.”
“We’ve never had this conversation because you’ve avoided conversation with me for twenty fucking months,” she continued hotly. “You don’t want to come back there and face the consequences of what you did to yourself, fine. I get it. But don’t lie to me.”
“Izaya,” Sozoro said, soft and uncaring.
Izaya must look terrible. His head felt dizzy and his face cold, but his hands were sweating and the ache in his chest wasn’t gone despite the drugs, and now his belly was shaking, or spasming softly, with every beat of his heart. He swallowed. “You don’t know anything.”
“Don’t I?” Namie replied. “Can you honestly tell me that you’re feeling peachy right this second?”
He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “Don’t act like you care.”
He heard her take a breath and hoped for a wild second that she would deny him, that she would say, But I do care. But all Namie did was shake over her own end of the line and breathe, and though the sound of it was loud in his ear, it meant nothing at all. She was breathing, thousands and thousands of miles away. That was all.
“I am peachy,” Izaya said. “And I’m not going back to Tokyo.”
Namie didn’t say anything.
Izaya grabbed the controls of his chair with a trembling hand and wheeled himself away from the window. Sozoro watched him like a hawk from his rigid stance near the opening of the kitchen. Izaya felt the man’s amusement on the back of his neck when he strained to reach the coffee machine and cups.
And then, though he knew he shouldn’t, he said, “I’m not the one who moved an entire continent away from home.”
She exhaled harshly. He heard the sound of something rustling—sheets on a bed, maybe, it was late in the night on her side of the world—and then a chair scraping against wooden floor and the unmistakable tone of a computer booting up. There was a loud noise, as if she had dropped her phone on a table or a desk, and she started typing.
The silence stretched for more than a minute. Izaya’s coffee was done. He was drinking it with distaste but in hope of his headache abating somewhat.
Finally, she grabbed her phone again. “Are you still here?”
“Yes,” he said immediately.
She hesitated for a second.
“In the last few months, and from what I could glean over the quickest search, at least three inexplicable events took place in Ikebukuro.”
Izaya pressed his fingers tighter around the cup of coffee, until the ceramic burned against his skin and turned it red.
“People disappeared en masse and then came back,” Namie continued without waiting for him to speak. “Then there were assaults—a guy dressed like an owl, like a character from some stupid movie, started hitting people across the head with a hammer. But the attacks stopped a couple weeks ago with no explanation. There’s speculation that it was actually several people. Apparently one of them was sent flying by Heiwajima Shizuo.”
“I’m not interested,” Izaya said.
“But you don’t even know the best yet,” Namie replied coldly.
She typed again, louder and faster. She must’ve put him on speaker, for him to hear her move so clearly.
“Every website is talking about a new monster,” she said. “Calling it Snake Hands, a new urban legend, comparing it to the the Black Rider. Some say it’s her sibling or her boyfriend.”
And Izaya couldn’t help the soft laugh that came out at this, no matter how painful it felt coming out. He bit his lips immediately after. “We both know that spot’s taken. Probably a hoax.”
“There’s a video.” She must have opened it, because he heard unintelligible static and something like the murmur of a group of people that must have been shouts in reality. “It’s blurry but there’s—” And then Izaya almost threw away his phone because someone—something—was screaming an ice-cold, broken kind of wail, and his heart jumped in his chest and his back hunched over as if he had been punched in the plexus.
His phone fell out of his fingers and onto his lap, almost slid down from his legs and clattered onto the floor. Sozoro caught it with a flick of his hand and a sneer.
Izaya breathed in short gasps through the iciness in his bones. His arms were shaking.
“I’m going to hang up now,” Sozoro said dispassionately. It took Izaya a second more to notice that he was speaking to Namie.
“No,” he replied. His own voice sounded very away from himself. “Give me the phone.”
Sozoro looked like he wanted to argue; but either he disliked Izaya enough to want to see him fall into full-blown panic or he just didn’t care, because he gave the device back, and Izaya almost let it fall again through his damp fingers. He breathed in deeply and clenched all the muscles in his arm and his hand until he was sure of his grip.
“My apologies,” he said when he stuck the phone back against his ear.
“You all right?” Namie asked.
His mouth was dry. He made himself swallow and exhale before saying, “I just got surprised.”
Two years ago she would’ve laughed at him. He didn’t know if he liked her silence any better.
Izaya cleared his throat. “So what was that?”
“Right,” she said. And then again, in a firmer voie, “Right.” She didn’t comment on him showing curiosity and simply moved again, the sound clear against his ear like no international call should be. “It’s blurry. But it looks human. It’s going around beating every single person there into a pulp.”
“What does it look like?” Izaya asked, because it was better than lingering on how cold he felt.
“Look for yourself. I just sent you the video.”
He had a new message in his inbox and his phone buzzed loudly against the side of his face.
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Sozoro called from his side of the room, and in Izaya’s ear, Namie bristled.
“Is that your new assistant? Because I didn’t think you’d settle for such incompetence—”
“Sozoro is every bit the gentleman,” Izaya replied, and the smile curling the corner of his lips was genuine this time. “Everything he does he does with perfection in mind. I’ve never had such brilliant service in my life.”
She was silent, but for the first time in months it wasn’t hard to summon her face in his mind and how her lips thinned and whitened when she was disappointed. Izaya laughed.
“Oh, don’t be so angry. He’s only indulging me until he has a good enough chance to kill me and get away with it.”
“I despise him,” Sozoro confirmed. “But I like it better when he can move around by himself and I don’t have to carry him around because he was foolish enough to put himself into shock.”
“I’ll be fine,” Izaya said. He turned off the sound of his laptop and opened the video, and if the lowest of his back was slick with cold sweat he was the only one to notice or care.
The monster on the screen was but a black blur in the distance, surrounded by the same shadows that Celty always had. But Celty was nowhere to be seen. The thing screamed its awful scream atop an old rundown building and jumped straight from the roof, and then, the camera started shaking.
It wasn’t enough that Izaya couldn’t see details. The thing had a head, and a human-shaped body, but all of it was black, as if it was sucking out every light—it was the way Celty’s body looked at night in the city, the way the Coiste Bodhar looked when you’d expect it to gleam. This monster was like this all over. It flew from one person to the next and took each down with ruthless strikes—violently enough that Izaya saw blood fly into the air and heard bones snap cleanly; and then it stood in front of whoever was holding the camera and looked straight at it with wide, cold eyes. The entire thing only lasted forty seconds.
It wasn’t anything like Shizuo. It aimed to kill and cut and take down where Shizuo only ever cared to punch and throw. Izaya watched it again twice, and when he paused onto the beast’s eyes again he thought he saw fear in them rather than rage.
He exhaled slowly. There was a phantom ache in his arms, not enough to hurt, but just enough to remind him of the possibility of pain.
Izaya held his phone up once more. “What is this?”
“I have no idea,” Namie replied.
“Oh, come on,” he said. He rubbed his forehead. “You have more contact with Ikebukuro than I do.”
“Do you really think your sisters kept talking to me after you left?”
“Why wouldn’t they?”
“How can you be this stupid?” Namie spat at him. If he’d been with her physically, he had no doubt that she really would have spat in his face. “You know the only reason they ever bothered with me was because of you.”
He chuckled hollowly. “They don’t care about me. Which is good, because I don’t care about them either.”
“Right,” Namie said with disgust on her voice. “Keep telling yourself that.”
Her ignored her tone and her words. “Well. While this is amusing, I still have no intention of doing anything about it.”
“You’re not curious at all.”
“Curiosity is one thing,” he answered truthfully. “Interest is another.”
There was nothing waiting for him in Ikebukuro. Kine would’ve contacted him if anything arose that would put Izaya at risk, and Izaya hadn’t heard of Kine since the man took him to a disgusting back-alley clinic outside of Tokyo and held him down as the surgeon ripped Varona’s knife out of his ribs. That had paid the last of Kine’s debt to him. The man had made himself scarce since then, and even Manami had only stuck around long enough to make sure that Izaya would live.
Haruna was back with her father. Saki carefully kept herself out of caring distance, with Masaomi’s help. Shiki would have found proof of what he did to Akane a long time ago and put an end to any personal inclination he felt toward him as a result.
Shinra was too complicated to even start thinking about.
“Never mind how much of my clientele I must’ve lost,” he spoke again, voice even, “I’m just not willing to risk my life for the pleasure of getting my hands on yet another piece of the supernatural. There’s plenty of that to go around.”
“I’m sure,” Namie said. She sounded bitter now.
“Some of the people there would kill me on sight. You know that.”
“They say Heiwajima’s softened up.”
Izaya’s grip on his phone tightened. “Shizu-chan could be spending his days petting kittens and I’d still refuse to get within a hundred mile of him,” he declared.
It was more than he had wished to say. Namie welcomed his words with heavy silence, long enough for Izaya to compose himself again.
“I’m—” sorry, he almost said again. He shuddered. “I don’t know what you’re trying to prove with all this. Even if I went back, it’s not like you would be around to see it—whatever you’re trying to achieve.”
Namie took a while to answer. “What if I was?”
He stopped tapping his fingers against the controls of his chair.
“I could come back,” she continued hurriedly. “Nothing especially interesting’s happening here.”
“Your brother is there,” he replied, baffled.
She exhaled harshly. “He’ll survive.”
Will you? he wanted to ask. But it was a more important use of his diseased brain to make sense of her words and her commitment—that she would be willing to put an entire ocean between herself and Yagiri Seiji just to see him again.
“Did you miss me?” he asked. His heart was beating hard in his throat and he felt light-headed.
Hope felt weirdly like nausea.
She didn’t immediately answer. In the few seconds it took her to speak Izaya’s mind went through a loop, from hope to misery and back to hope again, because Namie lied like she was born with dishonestly on her tongue. She never hesitated. Lies came to her quicker than the truth.
“I miss feeling like I matter,” she finally admitted. He had never heard her sound so miserable.
Izaya lifted his laptop up from his thighs just long enough to cross one knee above the other. The pain the movement caused grounded him, made him aware again of the ache in his back and the tingling along his arms. It made his computer’s screen come alive and Mizuchi Yahiro’s name flash before his eyes. From the other side of the room Sozoro’s eyes were fixed on him, heavy with malice.
“I can’t go back,” he said at last. His throat felt tight, felt painful. “I’m sorry.”
He knew what she had meant. He knew what she missed from him because he missed the same thing from her. But it wasn’t enough. Namie could crumble all she wanted under the weight of her own loneliness, could offer him the first inch of the light year he truly wanted—it wasn’t enough. Nothing was.
“Whatever,” she breathed. “Fuck you.”
“Yeah,” he said softly.
She stayed silent for so long then that he thought she must have hung up. If it weren’t for the lull of her breaths and the occasionally crack of static indicating background noises he would have cut the call short as well. It was already going to cost them both a fortune.
But then—“I’m not giving up,” she said.
“On what?” he replied tiredly.
“Anything. And especially not your ungrateful self.”
“Drop it, Namie.” He felt exhausted now, all through his body. “You’re just being pathetic.”
“I’d be more pathetic if I let the person who held me hostage for years slowly die just because he can’t face his own mistakes,” she hissed.
“You’re free now,” he snapped back.
“You should be grateful that I’m willing to even give you this much attention.”
Just because she was right didn’t stop him from clenching his jaw until his ears rang and blood flooded his face hotly. “Get lost,” he growled.
His thumb hit the end call button before he let himself think about it.
He kept breathing hard for a while after that. Sozoro moved, stepping smoothly around the chair so that he could pick up the empty cup of coffee that Izaya hadn’t realized he had dropped. Izaya pressed a weak hand against the side of the half-wall cutting the kitchen from the living-room and pushed himself away from it. He wheeled the chair back to the window manually and silently dropped his laptop on the coffee table there.
The screen lit up when he did. Namie had sent him another email. He opened it despite himself; all it contained was a link to a website called IkeNEW!.
Sozoro watched above his shoulder when he clicked it. “That was enlightening,” he said. He sounded strained between amused and disgusted as always.
“How so?” Izaya replied evenly.
Sozoro chuckled. Izaya turned his head to look at him.
“I never thought you of all people would have a friend,” Sozoro murmured. His eyes were gleaming unpleasantly.
Shiki could count the people he considered friends on one hand and still have fingers left. Even the very few who made it to that list were more partners and trusted colleagues than people he spent time being friendly with.
Aozaki used to joke that Shiki was married to the job. In truth, Shiki was not only married to the job, he was friends with it too.
So when Kine disappeared on the day they were supposed to go drinking together, Shiki didn’t stop at asking Dougen and Mikiya for their help in finding him. He also summoned Celty Sturluson to meet him a few streets away from Raira Academy.
She came silent and regal and shrouded in absolute darkness. None of the golden sunset light touched her or her steed no matter how she moved. It was like watching pure blackness ride across the empty streets, and Shiki found himself distracted by the sight for a moment. He had only ever seen her in the quiet of his office or deep in the night—in places where light was scarce and danger was plenty.
“I need you to help me find someone,” he said before she could even take out her phone to greet him.
She nodded her helmet slowly, and he felt a pang of regret. He rubbed a hand over his face as he sighed.
“I apologize,” he muttered. “Today has been stressful.”
She tapped his elbow lightly and held her phone up for him to read. It’s nothing.
He liked it better when she wasn’t wearing the helmet, but he didn’t comment on it. They were out for everyone to see, even if the alley itself was deserted, all students from the high school long gone home from classes and clubs. It made sense that she would prefer to hide herself.
Shiki took a cigarette out of the golden box in his pocket and lit it. For half a second the sun reflected off the metal surface and blinded him, making him cough around his inhale. “Do you know a man named Kine?” he asked when the itch had gone from his lungs.
She hesitated visibly. When she typed again it was for too long for the answer to be a simple yes or no.
It didn’t surprise him.
I don’t know him directly, she told him. But I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Shinra and Shizuo say his name.
And though it pained him to ask, Shiki said, “Not from Orihara?”
She shook her helmet.
“Well.” He sucked in the sweet tobacco smoke and felt his head swim. “Kine’s gone missing.”
She flailed. Not that I don’t want to help, but I really wouldn’t know where to start looking—
“You did fine with me and those girls, didn’t you?” he cut in with a smile.
It wasn’t the same, she replied. I had help then. And you didn’t even need me to free yourself from these people.
“They weren’t very good.”
It had been ridiculously easy to not only free himself of his chains but also control his subordinate—and even the child with green hair who had been taken with them. Though Shiki couldn’t shake the feeling that he would be seeing more of the kid in the future, in the end, his presence hadn’t made a difference. Good or bad.
Whoever had taken Kine was better. First of all because there weren’t any clues or leads like there had been with the cult months ago. Second of all, because Kine had been gone for at least fifteen hours, and had yet to resurface.
Either he was dead or his kidnappers were extraordinarily good at their job.
“We’ve all let ourselves become soft,” he groaned. He flicked the ashes off the tip of his cigarette and leaned heavily against the wall. “This city’s been so tame for so long, we forgot how to prepare ourselves for it.”
Celty raised her phone again. I wouldn’t have taken you for the superstitious type.
“You’d be surprised.”
He thought she might have smiled, then.
The last few days’ news came to his mind again, and he sobered right out of mirth. “Kine’s not the only one,” he said in a low voice. “People have started disappearing again.” Celty made as if to type frantically again, so he gently swept her hand away from her phone. “Not your fault. It could just be a coincidence. It’s not that many people, and they’re not especially remarkable, it’s just that there’s been more of them than usual lately.”
Her shoulders dropped slowly. Do you think they’re connected?
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “There’s nothing to link them that I can think of. No obsession with urban legends or zombie movies. Maybe I’m getting senile, but I find them suspiciously unconnected, though.”
Celty leaned against the wall next to him. Her body was neither cold nor hot against his. It didn’t feel like it had a temperature at all.
She typed slowly, so that he could read along as she did if he turned his head to the side. I feel like I’m living a repeat performance. A new urban legend, a new gang, a new serial attacker.
“Feels like someone’s playing with us,” Shiki agreed somberly.
I know not all of it is connected. He shot her a sharp glance, but she shook her helmet again. I won’t say more than this.
It made something tighten in his chest. Celty had access to a certain amount of intelligence, but it was a professional hazard rather than a profession, and not all of it was for sale. Rarely any of it was for sale.
“This is what we’re missing,” he said. He let the stub of cigarette fall to the dusty ground and crushed it beneath the sole of his shoe harshly. “A proper information network.”
Did no one take over after Izaya left?
He tried not to envy the ease with which she said his name. He shook his head and looked up to the empty black room behind her visor, where her eyes should be. “There are informants. It takes two of them to do the work he provided for Awakusu on his own, though.”
He was a jerk, she wrote back.
It ripped a chuckle out of him. His mouth tasted sour. “Maybe. But he was good at his job. Or at least he favored our group enough to be.”
Celty shrugged uncaringly. Shiki watched her walk back to her bike; the thing let out a soft sound, almost inaudible, like the neigh of a horse.
“I’ll send you a picture of Kine and some more information,” he called. She raised a thumb in his direction. “I’m not asking you to find him yourself, but any info you can get me would be helpful.”
She straddled the pitch-black bike and took out her phone once more, tapping the screen quickly with gloved fingertips. When she was done she threw it at him. I’m no Izaya, but I’ll ask around, she had written.
“Thanks,” he said, throwing the phone back to her. And, before she could leave: “Do you think he’s alive?”
She paused at the mouth of the alley.
“Orihara,” he clarified.
Shiki knew she had no eyes. No eyes, no mouth, no head. Still when she turned around he felt as if he was being looked at the way only Akabayashi could do—one eye closed and the other full of insufferable insight. He straightened his back and ignored the grey dust at his hip from leaning against a dirty alley wall like a common thug. Inside the pockets of his white suit jacket, his hands turned into fists.
She didn’t say anything. She bowed her head quickly in an unmistakeable nod, and then she leaned over her bike and took off quicker than Shiki could follow.
All the air rushed out of his lungs. The empty alley echoed his exhale; for a second it sounded to him like the city itself was sighing.