Eden’s End: The Empty Cell
by J. H. Zech
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Thanatos’s quiet footsteps echoed subtly like the sound of ripples as one walked over water. The culprit sat on the sofa, reading a book in the living room softly illuminated in the ceiling’s light.
When Thanatos arrived in front, the culprit looked up and dropped his book. Before he could do anything else, she held the scythe to his throat.
“If you move or scream, it’ll be the end of you, Akechi Sekimaro.”
“W-what do you think you’re doing? You were with that police officer earlier!” he cried. “Your name was... Kawakami. Yes, I remember your name tag. I’m going to file a complaint to the department!”
“My name is Thanatos. I am Shanatto Kawakami, yet I am not.” She could see the glowing darkness in Sekimaro’s Essence. The world was a sea of connected lights of Essences, but here was an isolated emptiness, one that would consume everything. He had filled it with money, yet it was still empty.
“What do you want?”
“I am here to judge you for your crimes.”
Sekimaro swallowed. His sleek visage from earlier looked ghastly now. “I haven’t murdered anyone.”
“You’re going to deny it? Very well. I’ll tell you why you murdered Soichiro Watanabe. He was in debt to the yakuza, and he told you about it.”
“Yes, but why would I have any reason to kill him? He committed suicide.”
“Shortly before he died, he called Chief Iwashita’s office about something urgent. I wonder what that was about?”
“How would I know?”
“When he called, he sounded afraid. He wanted to talk to Chief Iwashita in person.”
“Whatever he was afraid of, he didn’t tell me about it.”
“Now that I believe,” Thanatos said. “Kenji Mishima said Watanabe claimed to have damning evidence against him. Mishima also said he asked Chief Iwashita to investigate these claims. Watanabe must have known what he was doing was dangerous. He wouldn’t let anyone know who didn’t need to know.”
“So, what does this have to do with me?” Sekimaro said, defiant.
“What if Mishima simply hired a goon to give Watanabe a trashing and take the evidence or, worse, simply kill him? Watanabe surely must have thought of the possibility. That puts the call to Iwashita in context. Insurance. If something happened to him, he needed a way of guaranteeing the evidence would see the light of day. Who better to tell where he hid the evidence than his senior from college and the chief of police? Unfortunately, Watanabe never got the chance to meet him.”
“Shouldn’t you be talking to Iwashita then?”
“Iwashita was on a different case when the call came in, and he never met Watanabe. His alibi is solid. After the murder, he did look around for the evidence against Mishima but couldn’t find it. That’s why he was so insistent on closing the investigation as a suicide. A thorough investigation might turn up this evidence against Mishima in an official capacity. Someone took the evidence before Iwashita could, and that someone had to know that this evidence existed in the first place.”
“Soichiro didn’t tell me about any evidence or wrongdoing. I keep telling you I don’t know anything.” Sekimaro was getting agitated.
“Kenji Mishima made suspicious withdrawals around the times the company got contracts for redevelopment work. As the accountant, you would’ve known about that.”
“I took my boss’s word for it that they were for contracting consultants. I haven’t done anything wrong. And how is that related to anything?”
“Two days before the murder, Mishima made another withdrawal, but the company wasn’t bidding for a development contract this time.”
“It’s his company. He gets to decide what to do with the money.”
Thanatos continued, “But surely you wondered what that money was for. And I heard from Mishima that he received a message about Watanabe’s death: ‘Dear Mr. Mishima, Soichiro will be a nuisance to you no longer. He is dead’.”
“Anyone could’ve written a message like that.”
“No, not anyone. Mishima is addressed with honorifics and his last name, but Watanabe is addressed by his first name. Someone with no relation to either of them would’ve used the same form of address for both. But no, the sender had a familiar relationship to Watanabe and a relation of respect for Mishima.”
Sekimaro clammed up.
“Since Watanabe is described as a nuisance, the sender must have known that Watanabe was blackmailing Mishima. What would he blackmail about? The bribes for the development contracts. The tone of this message suggests the sender wants to help Mishima but, at the same time, it means the sender knows what the blackmail was about. ‘He is dead’ has an implicit threat there. The sender is saying that he has put Mishima in his debt and knows his secret.”
Sekimaro said, “I want a lawyer.”
Thanatos chuckled. “I’m your lawyer now.”
“You won’t get away with this.”
“Are you in any position to say that? The evidence of the bribery that Mishima was worried about disappeared. Who would have it but the murderer? In addition to putting Mishima in his debt, the culprit is now going to blackmail Mishima himself. Now, who is this culprit? Someone who knew about the strange withdrawal that Mishima made and could tie it to Watanabe’s desperation for money. Someone who could have known Watanabe blackmailed Mishima. Someone who is close to Watanabe and shows respect to Mishima.” Thanatos pointed at him. “No one else can be the culprit but you, Akechi Sekimaro!”
“No matter how much you pressure me, I still have my alibi.”
Thanatos grinned. To see criminals’ last vain effort to save themselves was always a pleasure. And to shatter their hopes was an even greater one. “Watanabe was murdered between one and three. There are records of you buying food at the café but not between one and three. And in the men’s bathroom, there was a window large enough for a person to slip through into an alley with no security cameras. In other words, your alibi is worthless. You visited Watanabe, abused his trust to get him to tell you his secret, and murdered him in cold blood for money.”
The color drained from Sekimaro’s face, twisted in rage and despair. “Why am I the one being punished? Watanabe was the one who couldn’t live without depending on others! He was the one who got himself into debt, while I did everything right. He blackmailed our boss. Everyone wants to move up the ladder. I only got rid of a leech on society as my means of promotion. What I did benefitted society! You have no right to criticize me.”
Thanatos looked at Sekimaro with disgust. “How pitiful. You have no path to redemption in this life if you cannot see your own evil. If you have no further objections, then it’s time for your judgment.”
“What? Judgment?” Sekimaro shrunk back in the sofa. “What are you going to do to me?”
Thanatos swung her scythe down as Sekimaro grimaced and closed his eyes.
A torrent of water rushed into the room. Sekimaro screamed. A fog rolled in, obscuring everything and, when it partially lifted, they were on a rowboat floating on a slow river surrounded by nowhere. Heavy grey fog cut off the world around them. A full moon shone above them, and its light scattered and glittered in the fog and the tranquil water. Thanatos stood at the front, rowing with her scythe. Sekimaro lay dumbfounded.
“What’s going on? Where am I?”
“This is the river of passage.”
“Passage? To where?”
“To the afterlife.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me! Let me off!” Sekimaro struggled but he could only writhe in vain; he couldn’t even stand up.
“I am Shanatto Kawakami. My last name is written with the characters for river god. I am the river god of passage, Thanatos.” She giggled and fluttered her black robes. “Or so I think. The memories of my past lives are rather hazy.”
“I don’t believe this. What are you going to do to me?”
“I will bring you salvation. Your Essence, the record of all your thoughts, actions, and bonds made throughout all your lifetimes, has become dark. You’ve committed a grave sin. To prevent you from sinning any further in this life, I will have you repent and give you a chance in the next life. Reincarnate, and live an upstanding life next time.”
“Am I going to die?” Sekimaro asked, whimpering.
“You will not feel any pain. Be reborn and try again. Now, relax, and close your eyes.”
Thanatos rowed, and the boat drifted toward a boundary of fog, slipping in and dissipating beyond the hazy abyss.
The night breeze waved her black robes as she stood on the roof of Sekimaro’s house, her judgment complete. A call rang in her head.
“I see you’ve committed another flashy murder,” the robotic voice on the other end said.
“What do you want this time?” Thanatos asked.
“Just a warning. The Supernatural and Alien Forces Unit has the technology to detect your energy signature. If you keep this up, you’ll make an enemy backed by the World Federation. That’s not something you can handle on your own.”
“So, what? You want me to join the Organization? I already said no to your recruiting pitch. I’m not interested in Project Eden’s End, or whatever other god-killing scheme you’ve cooked up. I pass judgment on humans to save them. The gods aren’t my concern.”
“That is... unfortunate. Pray that you do not become our enemy, Thanatos.” The caller hung up.
* * *
The next day, Hozuki and Shanatto faced each other on the roof of the police department building.
“Why did you call me out here?” Shanatto asked.
“You know exactly why. Sekimaro. Do you really expect me to believe he confessed his crimes and committed suicide all on his own?”
“He must have felt guilty after murdering his friend.”
“I wondered why you were so interested in this case. You wanted to poke for information and find the culprit on your own,” Hozuki said.
“Is it bad to take an interest in the cases?”
“All the incidents where the victim confessed to crimes and committed suicide were ones the police department was trying to cover up. In this case, it was to prevent an official homicide investigation from finding evidence of Mishima’s crimes. The other cases had similar corrupt patterns. I looked into it, and you requested information on all those cases.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I don’t know how you did it, but I know you killed them.”
Hozuki was smarter than she had thought. This would be interesting. “Those criminals confessed and took their lives as atonement. Hopefully, they’ll have a fresh start in the next life.”
“That’s why we have the law. So that people can atone for their crimes in this life. The cells where they ought to be are empty. You sent them to their deaths with a hollow confession.”
“Do you have any proof?”
“Not right now, but someday.” Hozuki pointed at her and declared, “Justice will catch up with you and, until then, I’ll catch the criminals before you do.”
This was the excitement she had longed for from her dull job. To see his fiery passion made the challenge worth the trouble. Shanatto smiled. “I look forward to it. Will their grave be empty, or their cell?”
Copyright © 2020 by J. H. Zech