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Whispers in the Bamboo Grove

3

Chapter 3: Echoes of the Past

1

**Sunday Morning**

 

The first light of dawn filtered through the narrow windows of Kaito Watanabe’s apartment. Kaito sat on the edge of his futon, the soft rustle of the city waking up barely audible over the constant hum in his mind.

 

The events of the past few days had left him restless, and sleep had been an elusive visitor.

 

He reached for a moving box at the foot of his bed, opening it to retrieve the essentials for the day—his keys, wallet, and a small, sleek folding knife.

 

His fingers brushed against the cold metal of his detective badge, the gold catching the light briefly as he picked it up.

 

Kaito’s eyes fell on a hardcover book, the same one he had been reading on the train.

 

He opened it to the marked page and extracted a pressed sprig of cherry blossom, its delicate petals now dry and fragile.

 

It was a keepsake from the mural at the old tea house.

 

The city outside was already stirring to life as he prepared to leave.

 

The persistent clang of a construction site, the distant chatter of early morning joggers, and the occasional honk of a car horn—all were part of the symphony of Tokyo that Kaito had come to know so well.

 

He pocketed his belongings and made his way out, the metronome from the previous night still ticking softly in the background.

 

---

 

The apartment building Kaito arrived at was a stark contrast to the modern skyline of Shinjuku.

Its faded façade and cracked windows spoke of years of neglect.

 

The air inside was thick with the scent of mildew and old memories.

 

Detective Aiko Tanaka was already there. She stood near the entrance with a look of grim determination on her face.

 

She nodded at Kaito as he approached.

 

“The call came in just before dawn,” she said, leading him inside. “It’s not pretty.”

 

They ascended the narrow staircase to the third floor, the walls around them yellowed by age and neglect. The door to the apartment was ajar, and as they entered, the scene unfolded before them—a tableau of tragedy and violence.

 

The room was dimly lit, the morning light struggling to penetrate the heavy curtains.

 

A large, dark stain spread across the tatami mats. It was a grotesque starburst of blood. Near it, a lifeless body lay under a thin sheet. A sawn-off shotgun rested nearby.

 

Detective Haruto Sakamoto, a seasoned veteran of the force, stood by the window, his face lined with the weight of too many cases like this one.

 

He glanced up as Kaito and Aiko entered, his voice steady but tinged with fatigue.

 

“Neighbors reported shouting for over an hour. When they heard the shots, they called it in.”

 

Kaito surveyed the room, noting the signs of a struggle—a toppled chair, shattered porcelain from a broken tea set, and scattered papers from a low table.

 

The air was thick with the metallic scent of blood and gunpowder. He moved closer to the body, careful not to disturb the scene.

 

“What do we know about the victim?” Kaito asked.

 

Sakamoto flipped through his notepad, the pages filled with hastily scribbled notes.

 

“Yoshio Takeda, 45, a local businessman. His wife, Michiko, was found beside him, in shock. She hasn’t spoken a word since we arrived.”

 

Aiko knelt beside the body, gently lifting the sheet to reveal the victim’s face.

 

It was a mask of final agony, eyes wide and mouth frozen in a silent scream. She covered him again and stood up, her expression somber.

 

“This wasn’t just a crime of passion. There’s something more here.”

 

Kaito nodded. The scene felt staged, almost too perfect in its chaos. He moved to the far wall, where a crude, bloody handprint stood out against the faded wallpaper. Is it a final act of desperation or a silent message from the victim?

 

“What about the son?” Kaito asked, “Did anyone see him?”

 

Sakamoto hesitated, a slight frown creasing his brow. “The patrolman mentioned a child’s room, but it was empty when they arrived. No sign of the boy yet.”

 

Kaito’s eyes flicked to a small doorway off the main room, barely noticeable in the dim light.

 

He walked over and peered inside.

 

It was a child’s room, simple and unadorned, with a low futon and a few scattered toys.

 

On the low table beside the bed, a coloring book lay open, its pages filled with bright, cheerful drawings.

 

He picked up the book, flipping through the pages. Each one was a glimpse into a world of innocence. Kaito’s heart clenched as he wondered what the boy had seen, what he had heard.

 

The final page was half-colored, a scene of a family picnic, the crayons left haphazardly on the floor.

 

As he stood there, Detective Sakamoto’s voice broke the silence.

 

“Kaito, we’re all aware of your reputation for digging deeper than most. But sometimes, a tragedy is just that—a tragedy.”

 

Kaito looked up, meeting Sakamoto’s gaze with a steely resolve.

 

“And sometimes, it’s the smallest details that reveal the truth. We owe it to this family to find out what really happened.”

 

Sakamoto sighed, closing his notebook with a resigned nod. “Alright. But don’t get too lost in the weeds, Kaito. We still have a job to do.”

 

Aiko stood by the window. “We should talk to the neighbors, see if anyone saw anything unusual. And we need to find that boy.”

 

Kaito placed the coloring book back on the table. He turned to his colleagues. “Let’s get to work..”

 

---

 

The morning sun cast long shadows across the narrow alley as the body bag was carefully lifted into the waiting ambulance. A crowd had gathered outside the tenement building, their faces a mixture of curiosity and unease.

 

Detective Kaito followed the paramedics. His mind was already processing the details of the case. Behind him, Detective Aiko trailed, her eyes scanning the crowd for any sign of witnesses or trouble.

 

They walked past a man urinating on the side of a battered car, oblivious to the gravity of the situation unfolding nearby.

 

The street was lined with dilapidated buildings, their façades cracked and weathered by time. It was a place forgotten by the world, where shadows hid stories no one wanted to hear.

 

Aiko adjusted her dark trench coat. She then turned to Kaito. “I just got here,” she said, her voice tense. “Barely settled in, and they throw me into this mess. What’s the deal with this place?”

 

Kaito glanced at her, noting the fatigue etched on her face.

 

“Welcome to Tokyo,” he said dryly. “It’s not exactly the gentle introduction most people get, but you’ll get used to it.”

 

Aiko frowned. “I don’t need gentle. I need to get to the precinct and start making sense of all this. We don’t have time for leisurely introductions.”

 

Kaito nodded, though he kept walking without changing pace. “I understand. But sometimes, it helps to step back and take a moment. We can’t solve everything in one go.”

 

“I get that. But I need to meet the team, start piecing things together.”

 

Kaito stopped, turning to face her, the din of the street fading into the background.

 

“Let me ask you something, Tanaka. The last time we talked, you seemed eager to transfer here. Why Tokyo? What drew you to this city?”

 

Aiko hesitated. “I thought it was obvious,” she said finally. “I wanted to be where the action is. The cases here are… different. They have layers. They challenge you in ways that smaller towns don’t.”

 

Kaito’s eyes searched hers. “But why fight so hard to get here? Most people would run from the kind of cases we deal with, not towards them.”

 

Aiko took a deep breath, her shoulders squaring as she met his gaze.

 

“Maybe I thought I could make a difference. Maybe I needed to prove something to myself. Or maybe I’m just drawn to the challenge.”

 

Kaito studied her for a moment longer before nodding.

 

“Fair enough. But let’s get one thing clear. Tokyo is a different beast. You might have dealt with homicide before, but this city… it has its own rules, its own rhythms. You’ll need to listen and observe if you want to keep up.”

 

Aiko bristled slightly but kept her composure. “I didn’t come here to babysit the local sushi shop. I’m ready for whatever this place throws at me.”

 

Kaito gave a slight smile. “Good. Just remember that this isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. We take it one step at a time.”

 

They reached the end of the block, the crowd thinning out as the ambulance drove away, its sirens piercing the air. Aiko watched it disappear around the corner. “You’re in charge, Kaito. I’ll follow your lead.”

 

Kaito turned back towards the tenement building, his mind already shifting to the next steps.

 

“There’s a lot to unpack here, and we don’t have time to waste.”

 

They walked in silence for a moment, the city’s noise a constant backdrop to their thoughts. As they approached a nearby coffee shop, Kaito paused, glancing back at Aiko.

 

“One more thing. Keep your eyes open and your ears sharp. Tokyo has a way of surprising you when you least expect it.”

 

Aiko nodded, a determined glint in her eyes.

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