Stephen March nodded affirmatively. When the man lifted the white cloth with a tip to identify the corps his face paled from shock. He swallowed a few times to keep his stomach at ease. His half-sister Suzy was indeed almost unrecognizably mutilated over her whole body, but the little tattoo on her neck, the red round sickle around a green ball of mistletoe in the right down side of her neck, he would recognize it everywhere.
He searched automatically after something else and indeed found the little scar on her chopped off left hand. The white knurled cicatrix on her ring finger was, it’s true, less visible than when she lived and the blood still streamed through her limbs. But with this two identification marks he could officially confirm to the clerk of the coroner that these were unmistakable the mortal remains of Suzy Chang. It was strange that the memory of the scar occurred to Stephen at that particular moment, here in the proximity of her lifeless body. The scar was the result of a little accident with a broken glass. To try to rescue what already was lost! Was this the epitaph that he had to put on her grave?
His half-sister was naked, put together in pieces, like a macabre puzzle on the metal extension table from one of the cooled storage chests of the urban mortuary of Sanctuary. The new sister town of Tokyo and at the same time capital of the New World. He didn’t know what to say, he scarcely couldn’t control himself. His eyes became full and he swallowed difficulty to suppress the cry that searched a way out of him. Without realizing he put his hand over his mouth in a sort of reaction and stood there like this for a moment.
A jumpy, but soft voice tore him out of his torpor. ‘Sumimasen! Sorry, Mister March. I’m realizing that this has to be a difficult moment for you. Forgive us that we have to show this relative of yours to you in this manner. Yet we couldn’t make the remains decent because the coroner pathologist hasn’t closed the forensic examination. The Security Service has not given their permission yet, because of the running investigation concerning the cause of death of the victim.
The Japanese assistant was clearly annoyed with this situation. The man constantly wiped his hands in a gesture of despair. Stephen frowned surprised and waited impatiently for further explanation. As a diplomat, he heard unremarkable phrases and bombastic tainted information on a daily basis, sometimes willy-nilly, but this was far above his comprehension. He looked at the man who felt himself in a difficult position.
An aid, a messenger? From this man, with his neatly combed hair and the hair parting in the middle, with that nervous twitch around the left corner of his mouth, he had not to expect much. Luckily the man had covered already the mortal remains of Suzy and was closing the slide because inside Stephen there was something rising to the surface. Looking at the corpse, the recognition and the flashes of a living Suzy, it was something he hardly had in control.
That’s why Stephen had to lose his anger somewhere and he, unfortunately, aimed it at the man before him. ‘I presume that the ripping of a human must be ‘the’ cause of death or not?’ He asked snappily and abruptly, concealing his grief and his confusion when the man didn’t answer immediately.
‘Ie !’ the man answered negatively in Japanese. When he realized that Stephen was an American he said, ‘No… uh, yes… I mean, as far as I have understood, the mutilations have been caused post mortem, so after your sister passed away, Mister March. Maybe this conclusion can give you a bit of consolation at this sad moment. Possibly your sister hasn’t suffered as much as it looks… on first sight.’
Stephen suspected that the man was trying to calm him down and it felt as if the assistant was doing everything he could to reach his goal. He shouldn’t have treated the man in this way. ‘Could you please tell me who was appointed to lead the murder investigation and who the coroner is? To whom can I ask all my questions?’ A tired and affected Stephen March was a little less angry now. The impatient sound and anger that sounded still in his voice. He couldn’t hide these feelings. It was the rage of powerlessness in this whole situation. It was the rising understanding of a loss that was final and that would be from now on a part of his life.
‘Oh, yes, of course,’ the assistant reacted nervously. ‘Chief Inspector Norino Vastai has extended his umbrella to this case. If anyone can find this animal that has committed this barbarity, it’s him. I think Mister Vastai could arrive any minute now,’ he nervously spoke while looking at his watch for the hundredth time.
‘The coroner, Mister Huang, has just arrived when you were at the reception,’ Stephen received as additional information. ‘He had an appointment with Mister Vastai at ten o’clock. So you can meet with both of them at the same time… if it pleases you. Will you follow me?’
He led Stephen through different corridors to a little space where a dozen easy chairs stood around a low table. A sort of a waiting room, he presumed, sober and impersonal. A sound of music interrupted the awkward silence in the room.
‘You can wait here for a moment, I will inform my chief Mister Huang and Chief Inspector Vastai that you’re here.’ The assistant was clearly relieved that the shocking identification was finished and that his task was accomplished. He greeted briefly and disappeared hurrying away.
Stephen took a deep breath and supported his head with both hands. Despite of his one meter ninety and his hundred kilos, a giant of a bloke, he looked like he was sitting there, with bent shoulders and his head in his hands, as a broken and lonely man. A few days before he was still ignorant of the tragedy that would take place. Yesterday in the early morning when he landed at the airport of Sanctuary, after a long-distance flight from the Old World with an intermediate stop in Zaventem. He had an appointment in Brussels with the local ambassador. He didn’t know his diplomatic mission would begin with the identification of the body of his dead half-sister.
His thoughts floated away as a seagull over a sea of time, at a moment somewhere thirty years ago. Around this time, his father, Thomas March was married for the second time. After a successful diplomatic mission in the East, he had met a woman and had set up a second life. His new wife was Kathy Chang.
Thomas’ first wife, Maddy Silverstone, was deceased five years before he met Kathy. It had been a short and unequal battle. Bone cancer identified too late and with metastasis in the whole body. After ten weeks, his lovely Maddy had passed away, a hollow-eyed creature, in nothing to compare with the beauty she ever was.
Stephen had kept over a little sister from this marriage. Her name was Suzy and she was the child of Kathy Chang and her first man.
A good-for-nothing, who had left his stepmother four months pregnant with a child and had absconded. Years after, Kathy once had heard of him. It was when she read that during the escalation of a scuffle between two gangs he was murdered. All he deserved, she had taught angry and embittered.
Suzy Chang was the result of this relation, a little delicate ten-year-old girl, the same age of Stephen at the time. Somewhat shy with a disarming mysterious smile and raven black hair that was twisted in a ponytail. It was in this way Stephen remembered her at this moment. The tattoo of the red sickle around the green mistletoe in her neck had at that time also attracted directly his attention. When he had asked her what it meant she’d simply but proudly had answered with one word:
Later he had found out more about this group of people through his stepmother and Suzy herself, about their special way of living, their beliefs and about the rules of their teaching, where they stick to as best as possible during their life as Akai.
Alas, Stephen’s father and stepmother had died six years ago. They were the unfortunate victims of an accident with a prototype glider or autobot. The new means of transport were at that time in a testing phase. As often with new things, something went wrong. That one time for Thomas March and Kathy Chang with disastrous consequences. Now he was the only survivor, his family was gone. He felt literally and figuratively orphaned. The loneliness that suddenly took him by surprise felt like a heavy weight on his shoulders, it was so touchable that he collapsed still deeper in his chair.
He had no idea how much time was passed when he was pulled out of his memories by a sound that brought him back to the present.
‘Mister March, Stephen March?’ a voice asked again. He looked up and nodded affirmatively at the same time he rose difficulty out of his chair. It seemed that he dozed off for a moment and was dazzled to be surprised afterward. The shock of the facts and the following identification left clearly his marks.
‘I sympathize with your loss, Mister March, I realize it must be difficult, but I’m afraid I have to ask you a few questions about your half-sister… the victim, in this case, Suzy Chang?
The man spoke perfect English and was dressed in the uniform of the Security Service. He took a seat and he lifted a little black gadget out of his pocket of his coat, pushed a button and laid it before him on the table.
‘Better than all that paper waste in past decennia, you agree?’ he started the interview. ‘I’m Chief Inspector Norino Vastai. May I also introduce you to our coroner-pathologist Mister Kim Huang, who has performed the autopsy?’
Huang made a short bow with his hand on his heart and then gave Stephen also the Western handshake that was customary in the Old World and took a seat beside the Chief Inspector.
Chief Inspector Vastai was a little corpulent Japanese man with short shaved military hairstyle. His eyes were very attentive and they looked at Stephen in an observable manner. Professional deformation probably. The coroner-pathologist Kim Huang, of Chinese origin, was more the opposite type of the Chief Inspector. Kim Huang was rather scrawny with a hairstyle that could be described as a ceiling mob. The absent-minded professor type… maybe? Stephen knew that appearances sometimes could be deceptive.
‘Make yourself comfortable,’ the inspector pointed at the seat where he came out, ‘I presume you have a lot of questions concerning the death of your half-sister Suzy Chang. But let me summarize what I may or I can tell you about this case. Maybe what I tell you will answer already some of your questions.’
It hadn’t escaped Stephen’s attention that the policeman used the phrase ‘I may or I can tell’. At that moment, he felt that there was a matter of a special case. In spite of his grief and a burdensome tiredness he sharpened automatically his attention. He shook his head briefly - but not unnoticed by the examining look of Norino Vastai - to clear his thoughts. His diplomatic background and influence would be more than necessary here, with a view to unearthing the truth.
‘I’m listening,’ he answered awaiting and looked the Chief Inspector right in his perceptive eyes.
‘The human remains of Suzy Chang, daughter of Kathy Chang, your passed-away stepmother,’ Mister Vastai began, ‘were discovered yesterday morning in the ‘Deeplands’ on a distance of five kilometers from the ‘Catacombs’ by an accidental passer-by. She was found…,’ here he stopped a moment to formulate his words as tactful as possible, ‘in the condition you’ve established during the identification. She must have died between ten or eleven according to the first examinations. The victim was mutilated… presumably… after her death, to conceal the identification as we suspect. About that we’ve no decisive answer. Maybe it could also just be a sadistic act from a psychopathically killer.’ Here he stopped a moment to give Stephen March some time to digest the facts.
The coroner had given a sign in the course of the commentary from the inspector to add something when Vastai was speaking about the time of mutilation. The inspector, however, gazed with a warning look at him, so that the man swallowed his reaction and looked a bit dazzled to the ground. Strange?
‘We did find a short note in the lining of her coat. The note probably fell through a hole in the pocket of this coat. I don’t suppose this was the intention. But clearly the murderer had overlooked it if he wanted to avoid the identification of the victim. By this way, we’ve laid a link to you. On the other hand, we were practically sure for a hundred percent that it was Suzy Chang. Her identification-chip, planted in her, when she was in the Old World during her stay with your late father and Kathy Chang….’ He took time to consider, frowned and looked a moment very deep in the eyes of Stephen and went on. ‘… Indeed was damaged in an attempt to remove it, with less success than originally meant. Our it-department has after a few failed efforts and a lot of brain-racking, managed to bring out her name. What confirmed our supposition by finding the note,’ he declared in his statement. ‘But you understand that we needed an independent and personal identification for our records.’
Stephen had let this flow of words came over him and remembered only a few words: ‘Deeplands’, ‘note’ and the ‘Catacombs’, ‘Identification-chip damaged’. The Deeplands and the Catacombs were neighborhoods you didn’t frequent after dark. What was Suzy doing there? About the note, he was still most amazed.
‘A note or a letter? What do you mean when you say it was linked to me? I never wrote letters or notes to Suzy. We keep in touch through our mail or mobile phone. When I was in the New World on a diplomatic mission, I always came to visit her, but that was it. What was written on the note?’
Mister Vastai hesitated a few moments, a thing Stephen noticed obviously. It was one of his skills to read the body language of human beings. One of the required and highly esteemed qualities as a diplomat, a skill that had given him on multiples occasions the upper hand in a discussion.
‘Your name, let’s hold it to that, Mister March.’ He wouldn’t hear more, not now, but Stephen March had his sources, that came later. They weren’t done with him, yet.
‘I suppose you haven’t yet located the perpetrator, otherwise you should’ve told me so. In any case do you have already a suspect?’ Stephen March didn’t even blink his eyes when he asked this question. His senses and observation qualities were now in overdrive. He pushed away his fatigue and felt that something special was going on here. They want to disorientate and appease him. Despite his grief, he was very attentive. Nor the Chinese or the Japanese would play with him. Then they didn’t know Stephen March yet.
‘No,… I’m sorry, Mister March, but we’ll keep you forewarn if something happens,’ answered Vastai while he looked a moment at Kim Huang. Again, that instant of doubt and the looking to the left. His father Thomas was a good teacher and he had explained it to him. A right-handed looks to the right when he uses that part of the brain where memories are stored, then he speaks the truth or tries to remember the truth. The opposite, in this case, indicated that Inspector Vastai wasn’t telling the whole truth or that he came up with something.
‘If you have still any questions, feel free to ask them,’ the Chief Inspector added, ‘we wouldn’t risk to harm the fragile friendship between the Old and New World, not even a bit,’ and again a glance was exchanged between Norino Vastai and Kim Huang.
They kept something from him. Stephen had no more questions for Mister Huang. It wouldn’t bring Suzy back if he asked more details about her injuries, but he had still one for the Chief Inspector of the Security Service.
‘Okay, I understand! You won’t say no more,’ what resulted in a deliberate look from the inspector. ‘Maybe I have still a little question that you can answer. Have you released her apartment yet? Can I visit it without obstructing the ongoing investigation?’ he asked, clearly weighing his words to not compromise the inspector because he had seen Norino Vastai tightened after his short accusation.
Stephen had reserved in advance five days to catch up with his half-sister. He hadn’t known that he would spend it like this. In this way, he hadn’t to account for his absence to the home base. In the case of an emergency, they could reach them on his mobile.
‘Of course. Mister Huang will hand you over the necessary things, what is left of her clothes and the rest of her personal belongings she had on her. If you have no more questions…?’ the Chief Inspector finished the conversation.
Stephen had, after all, still a question for the coroner pathologist. ‘May I ask just one last question at Mister Huang?’ And so he did, seeing that Mister Huang nodded affirmatively. ‘Have you established already the real cause of death?’ Stephen asked. Again he looked at the wordless communication between the two men before him. There was each time a moment of some secret tension, especially before answering his questions.
‘Your sister has died by the implications of an arterial bleeding, Mister March,’ answered Huang. ‘I can assure you she hasn’t suffered a long time. We’ve found a substance in her body after the toxicological investigation that indicates she was drugged.’
Stephen noticed that the coroner pathologist didn’t mention if the drug still worked when Suzy was killed. The answers he was getting here weren’t satisfying. He had to investigate the matter himself otherwise he would stay even ignorant as he was when he arrived a few hours ago. For his own peace of mind, he had to know more than they told him here. Still, he thanked Mister Huang in his own language: ‘Xiè xiè, thank you.’
‘Bù yòng xiè, you’re welcome,’ answered Kim Huang without thinking, but surprised back in Chinese.
copyright Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere