Today was the day.
Raindrops chaotically assaulted the windshield of Cameron’s car before being periodically wiped away by the rhythmic sweeps of the wiper blades. But even the blades’ orderly march lagged behind the beat of the pop music playing faintly from the radio.
“For the record, this is a very shitty idea,” Cameron grimaced, as he and Madeline sat in his Mazda, parked in a metered space across the street from Taro’s building. “I doubt I could go in and get you if I had to.”
“What makes you think you couldn’t?” Madeline questioned, watching the heavy rain continue its onslaught against the passenger side window. “It’s a public building, for the most part anyway.”
The swollen clouds had rolled in last night just as Cameron began escorting her around the city in a very well planned effort to take her mind off Levi for good. After taking her out for an extravagant dinner, he effectively pointed out every good looking man who took more than a casual notice of her, hoping she’d realize that compared to what she might have thought in the past, she had a tremendous amount of options in front of her. He then insisted they visit a host club in Shinjuku, where a friend’s little brother worked. Even though the “little brother” was about Madeline’s age, he acted much younger, lavishing attention on the redhead as if he was a smitten schoolboy. She couldn’t deny he was cute, and he absolutely took her mind off her troubles for the few hours she spent in his company, but leaving the club spawned thoughts of Levi as if the incoming rainstorm itself carried them to her.
Cameron glared out through the storm, eyeing the entrance of the Tetsugawa building.
“Well, the doorman is a werewolf. I can smell him,” Cameron elaborated.
“Even in this rain?”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t just hear you insult me,” Cameron grumbled.
Obviously, Madeline hadn’t been around any canidae long enough to know how acute their sense of smell was. Of course, felinae senses were sharp too, but canidae like Cameron had olfactory systems second to none.
He decided not to ride her too hard about it, however. He had more important matters to discuss with Madeline before she left the comfort and safety of his automobile for the danger and uncertainty of Taro’s property.
“By the way,” he began, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, ”When you went to Aokigahara, did anything bizarre happen? And I want the truth.”
Madeline fell silent as she gathered up her thoughts, trying to figure out what would be the less damaging way to say what needed to be said. It was essential to choose her words very carefully, avoiding all possibility that her tongue might give Cameron cause to pull the plug on her independent investigation into Taro’s library.
“Yes, but it was just a strong feeling of foreboding,” she began. “Anxiousness.”
“Anything else? I need all the details.”
“Why?” she asked, turning to look at Cameron directly. “To be perfectly honest, I’m nervous about telling you because I don’t want to pass up this chance to get inside that library. Will you give you your word that no matter what I say, you won’t let it affect me going inside?”
“Is it something Taro did to you while you were there?”
“No,” Madeline answered, shaking her head. “It would have been impossible even for him.”
“Okay then, explain,” Cameron said removing his hand from the steering wheel and crossing his arms.
“I felt really nauseous while I was in that forest,” she described. “Like I could feel all the pain and sorrow that people left there. I was finding it increasingly harder to breathe to the point it felt like a physical force on my body. It got worse the further away I got from the car. Then when I got close to the grave marker, a kubikajiri showed up.”
Turning his gaze from Taro’s building, he focused on Madeline’s face.
“You saw a kubikajiri?” Cameron asked bluntly.
“N..not exactly,” Madeline stammered. “Something was talking directly into my mind, telling me I was unclear, and getting pretty mad about it. It was trying to draw me away from my task. That’s when Taro appeared. He grabbed my arm, stopping me from being tricked into following it. He was the one that told me it was a kubikajiri.”
“Head eater of the living and the dead?” Cameron quizzed, making sure Madeline knew what a kubikajiri was.
“Yes, that’s how Taro described it too,” Madeline confirmed. “That’s also why he invited me to the library to study up on local yokai. He said I should be aware of such things for my own safety. I’m sure that’s not his only motive, but I am also confident he couldn’t be behind the overwhelming sickness I felt in that forest. That was something else entirely. Do you know what it could have been?”
“To be perfectly honest with you, no. I have no idea what could have caused that,” Cameron replied, both puzzled by the mystery and disturbed by the toll it had taken on Madeline. “But Taro did stop you from wandering off after the kubikajiri, which says something at least.”
“I know he’s up to something, and I shouldn’t trust him, but this is a rare opportunity for information.”
Seeing as Madeline was shifting in her seat, Cameron assumed she was going to get out of the car shortly and head across the street. Reaching out, he lightly gripped the sleeve of Madeline’s coat, causing her to pause.
“How long are you going to be in there? We need at least a loose plan.”
Looking down at her watch, Madeline mentally calculated how long it might take being escorted to the library, and any niceties she would have to act out with Taro if he was going to be present.
“It’s a little after 11 a.m. now,” she stated, “So assuming I use the excuse that I have a late lunch date, how about I aim to be out around 2 p.m.?”
Cameron pulled his hand back from her black coat.
“That will be fine,” he agreed. “Just please be careful. I figure your asshole cat friend taught you at least how to handle yourself around vampires? Since that’s the biggest danger to you, being human and all.”
Opening the car door, Madeline poked her umbrella out first and popped it open before stepping out. Looking over her shoulder, her blue eyes conveyed a look of courage to Cameron, hoping to put his mind at ease.
“I’ll be around, okay?” he said to her.
“I’ll call you if I’m able, and you can track me,” Madeline reassured. “I’ll be fine.”
“You better be.”
After giving Cameron a kind smile, Madeline closed the passenger side door and stepped away from his vehicle, briskly making her way to the crosswalk and then across the street to Taro’s building.
Looking up through the rain that dotted her clear vinyl umbrella, she counted roughly twenty stories. From her research on the structure, it not only housed the corporation’s headquarters, but also three acclaimed restaurants, a day spa, meeting space, and even a nightclub right below the ground floor. The spa, nightclub, and restaurants were all public spaces requiring no security access, but everything else was reportedly locked down tight. The meeting rooms could be rented out, but required badges to access, and of course, the corporate offices were off limits to anyone unauthorized.
As she approached the main entrance, she found herself under a generous awning, giving her the time to carefully collapse her umbrella, tapping its crown on the concrete to rid the vinyl of droplets. Satisfied she’d gotten as much of the rain off as possible, Madeline approached the doorman, who graciously held the door open for her and politely demanded her umbrella. This was actually expected in Japan, so she handed her umbrella over without much thought, giving an appreciative smile to the door-wolf.
The lobby had pristine white tile floors, though large area rugs woven with spiral patterns of warm browns and reds were laid beneath the handful of seating areas and in front of the concierge desk. The walls were painted a neutral gray, but sections of it were visually broken up with black, white, and gray glass splashes of tile. The furniture was elegant and black, giving a professional look.
Madeline worked the buttons on the front of her coat as she stepped confidently to the concierge who had acknowledged her with a pleasant smile the moment she walked through the glass doors, the epitome of customer service. His hair was styled in a very typical business pompadour, and he wore a dark gray, three-piece suit. Greeting Madeline as she approached, the concierge bowed his head politely.
“How may I help you?” he asked in English.
“Mr. Taro Tetsugawa has invited me to his library,” she answered with a matching smile.
Madeline was hoping to see something flicker in this man’s eyes when she mentioned Taro’s name, some clue as to how his employees regarded him, but there wasn’t even the slightest change in the man’s expression.
“Of course. One moment please, Miss,” he replied smiling cheerfully as he picked up the internal phone, pressing a single button. “Mr. Tetsugawa’s guest has arrived.”
Still not ripple in his mask, the concierge hung up the phone.
“A gentleman will meet you momentarily.”
Before she was even given the opportunity to take a seat, the elevator to the right of the concierge desk opened, and out stepped a familiar face. It wasn’t Taro, but the man that removed Scott’s body the night she was attacked in her apartment. He was also the same man at the club she and Levi scouted earlier that same evening. Dressed much like the concierge, only in an unmistakably more expensive suit, he gestured toward Madeline indicating she was to join him in the elevator.
“Mr. Tetsugawa is pleased you have accepted his offer, and humbly apologizes for not being able to accompany you to the library personally. He hopes you will forgive him and accept me in his place,” the man spoke in English. “My name is Takeshi Mito, and it is an honor to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Madeline replied. “Thanks for opening up your library to me. I’m sure Mr. Tetsugawa is an extremely busy man, and I truly appreciate this invitation.”
As the elevator doors closed, Madeline took note of the panel of buttons. The floors were numbered, as expected, with labeled descriptions of the three restaurants. Two were on the lower floors, but the third was on the top floor, likely to offer a rooftop view of the city. The spa was on the twelfth floor, and the nightclub was below the lobby level, underground, but didn’t have a floor number.
The button Takeshi pressed was actually below the nightclub, requiring a fingerprint scan as well as a magnetic key card.
Waiting for the elevator to descend below ground, Madeline wondered if there were any accessible emergency exits from the library. By law there should be, but who knows how far Taro was able to twist building code to meet his own needs.
The doors opened, revealing two security guards, one on each side of the elevator. Madeline couldn’t tell if they were armed, but it would be highly unlikely for them not to be. If she had to guess, they probably weren’t human either.
“The library contains important information,” Takeshi said, feeling the need to explain the enforcement. “A great deal of this information is known to others, but there is no place in the world you will find it collectively presented.”
“Thus the location,” Madeline reinstated.
“Yes. Access is controlled solely by Mr. Tetsugawa, and protected by extensive security measures.”
Leading her past the guards, Takeshi directed her down a short, sanitized hallway to a solid white door she assumed led to the library. To the right of the door, on the wall, was a security panel with a keyboard, optical scanner, and what appeared to be a shallow drawer. Takeshi stepped up to the monitor and spoke his full name in Japanese. A female-modeled computerized voice confirmed his voice print and then asked him to present his right eye to the scanner. He did so, and Madeline watched as his eye was scanned as a secondary confirmation step. He was then asked to place his hand through an opening inside the contraption, one that Madeline hadn’t noticed until now. After a moment, the screen displayed a confirmation of DNA and fingerprints then asked him to deposit his cell phone into the drawer, which he did before closing it much like a post office drop box.
“Requesting guest access,” he said speaking clearly towards the security device.
Guest is required to stand on the platform.
Takeshi stepped back and gestured to the slightly discolored square on the floor. It was some sort of panel that Madeline assumed was to make a note of her weight. Stepping onto the plate, she found herself right in front of the intimidating machine.
Guest, please state your first name.
Confirmed. Madeline, please look forward for optical mapping.
Fuck. Mapped and fingerprinted? she thought, not expecting this.
“Override code 583,” came Takeshi’s voice from over her shoulder.
“Thank you,” Madeline whispered to Takeshi with genuine sincerity.
Confirmed. Madeline, please place any electronic devices into the drop box.
“I give you my word we do not attempt to access them,” Takeshi assured. “They are stored right here until we leave the library.”
Begrudgingly, Madeline took her cell phone out of her purse and placed it in the padded drawer of the drop box, closing it.
Confirmed. Guest, please remain still for five seconds. 4… 3… 2… 1… Confirmed. Access to the library granted on condition of escort by Takeshi Mito.
As the female electronic voice went silent, Madeline could hear an audible click as the mechanism securing the door to the library unlocked. Holding her breath, she followed Takeshi inside.
Upon entering the room, which was about twenty feet wide with eight-foot ceilings, the first thing Madeline noted was that it was designed to accommodate both a leisurely reader and a scholar. There were a handful of rather cozy looking sofas and chairs, as well as work tables and desks. The floors were hardwood, and the walls a richly designed red and brown fabric adorned with what appeared to be very faint kanji. So faint, in fact, that even squinting Madeline strained to make anything out, and was convinced the kanji changed as she read it. Most peculiar.
At the far side of the room were three long hallways.
“The library is divided up into sections for ease of navigation,” Takeshi explained as he led his guest deeper into the chamber. “The left aisle contains general information about yokai and other creatures, in a reference format. The center aisle is where records of significant places and events are kept. The right aisle is where you will find files regarding specific individuals and entities. We have a card catalog in the file system to your left to make finding information easier, organized by kanji of course.”
“Amazing,” Madeline responded in awesome. She was genuinely impressed that they had such a manual system in place for such important historical accounts. “I assume you have all of this digitally backed up somewhere as well? Just in case of a natural disaster or something?”
“We have many safeguards other than what you see here,” Takeshi confirmed. “However, we appreciate the traditional way of doing things when it comes to information and study.”
“Of course,” Madeline smiled.
“Although there are some records that I must require you handle with gloves,” he continued. “If you come across any of those, they will be clearly marked. Now please, make yourself at home, and I will prepare some tea.”
Madeline set her purse down on the nearest sofa and slipped out of her coat before walking over to the card catalog, while Takeshi headed in the opposite direction, rounding an immaculate counter area to prepare the hot tea.
Familiar with how card catalogs worked from her public education, she noted right away that pursuing her information from this angle was going to be difficult, without assistance from Takeshi, so she decided to try her luck browsing the sections on yokai instead. Starting simple with her most recent discovery in mind, the kubikajiri, Madeline went down the far left aisle, gaze brushing over the many spines protectively displayed behind glass-paneled cabinets. The order of the books, for the most part, began with the common Japanese vowel sounds. Then, as expected, they went in the order of ka, ki, ku, ke, and ko sounds of hiragana. Surprisingly, some of these books were dedicated solely to a single type of yokai. Madeline withdrew a thick book on kappa, and as she carefully thumbed through the pages, she found the history and details staggering. The book was more of a journal listing, containing information on which of the water-head-filled kappa had dealings with whom in the Tetsugawa clan and other clans. And there were a significant number of blank pages to add more to the list.
At the end of the k section, there was another hefty book which was more of an encyclopedia. Exactly what Madeline was looking for. Removing it from behind the glass door, she carried it back to the sofa and sat down next to her purse. Crossing her legs, she leaned back and cracked it open.
Despite a bit of a struggle remembering some of the characters at first, she was pleased to find the majority was in hiragana, so she was able to make perfect sense of most of it.
There were a lot of yokai just in this single volume.
She’d heard about some through books, video games, and movies. Like the kappa and their love of cucumbers, the beautiful and mysterious kirin, and the tricky kitsune; so she began to read about them first to see how her expectations matched Tetsugawa accounts. For instance, the book revealed that kappa are not the goofy water spirits she had figured they were. Aside from their love of cucumbers, their second choice of food tended to be young children. Methods were mentioned on befriending kappa, who were highly knowledgeable in medicines and irrigation, which was of vital importance centuries ago. There was also information on how to successfully avoid them since apparently one of their hobbies were drowning people.
Looking up from her book, Madeline reached for the teacup Takeshi had set down while she was browsing the aisles, inhaling the aroma with calculated scrutiny. One thing Levi had insisted on training her on was detecting oddities in food and drink, and although a majority would be nearly undetectable by human senses, she learned as much as she could. This tea was a simple green variety, nothing peculiar at first inspection. Taking barely a sip, she let the air mingle with the infused hot water unable to distinguish anything that would have made her suspicious.
So between sips of tea and glances at Takeshi who had taken a seat at one of the desks and appeared to be making some file entries, Madeline flipped through the pages to get to the kirin. She expected to see drawings of what she was familiar with - a unicorn looking creature. What she found were drawings of many chimerical beasts. Their heads all seemed very dragonesque, but the horns weren’t uniform in any way. Some had a single large horn with multiple prongs coming up from the back of the head, while others had two horns, as would be traditionally seen in deer. Some had feathers, some fur, and some scales. All appeared to have hooves, however. The notations indicated that kirin were divine creatures, able to determine the good from the evil and to pass judgment. They appeared only for benevolent leaders, however large or small.
She was just as surprised to read about kitsune. They were tricksters yes, and looked exactly as she expected, but also had the potential to be divine creatures. Intelligent, magical creatures, kitsune were capable of astounding benevolence, or unspeakable evils, with the number of tails signifying power or age, or both. The danger with them, the book pointed out, was that you couldn’t tell which were good, and which were evil. The evil ones, or nogitsune, were just that clever. In short, the book divulged that although the benevolent ones provide eternal loyalty once befriended, the risk of having a nogitsune in your midst instead was just too great of a danger.
Then she read about some of the lesser-known yokai, and a few of them sounded so ridiculous that she would not have believed a word had it not been for the fact she was in Taro’s library. There were toilet peeping-tom spirits and umbrella yokai. There were even monsters that resembled paper scrolls, and a giant flaming cat who liked to steal the corpses of evil people.
And of course, there was the kubikajiri. The book said it was a ghost-type yokai, and mentioned that to see one usually meant death. She never actually saw it on the mountain, didn’t even smell the scent of fresh blood that was supposed to accompany it. Perhaps it had something to do with the cryptic accusations the kubikajiri made? She wasn’t honestly sure, but she wasn’t about to share that information with anyone she didn’t trust.
Reaching into her purse to instinctively check the time on her phone, she stopped abruptly remembering she had relinquished it at the door. The walls of the library were barren of clocks as well. However, there happened to be a springs-and-gears clock sitting on the desk where Takeshi was working. From a distance, it looked to be ten-minutes-to-one. Closing her book carefully, she rose from the sofa and walked past Takeshi to the aisle she’d borrowed it from. After placing it back on the shelf and order she retrieved it from, she headed down the far right aisle, where records tied to specific individuals were organized in file folders. She was aware Taro expected her to look up information on Levi, so she didn’t feel like she was giving too much away by doing so. However, she needed to be cautious with any other choices.
She wasn’t about to grab anything with Orimura in the name but needed to confirm whether or not the Tetsugawa clan actually possessed that intel. Starting on her path down the row, she drifted her gaze casually over the shelf that would contain them. She counted four Orimura-labeled folders.
One of the only three was exactly how Cameron had described the Elder. There was no mistaking it. So why would there be four?
Purposely moving on as to not draw attention to the perplexing number of folders, Madeline searched for her own last name next. Surprisingly, there were two folders. One was marked with only her last name, and as she slid it away from the folders that flanked it, Madeline assessed it was a general collection of McCaffrey's. The first names were unfamiliar to her and contained basic information about residences, careers, and the dates they were observed by the clan. The vast majority of those listed had records that ended with words like “irrelevant” and “insignificant.”
But then she discovered an entry referring to Cameron. It referenced a separate folder that wasn't found on the shelf, which was both odd and unnerving.
She struggled with the idea of looking into her own folder but convinced herself to wait until she could be sure that the information she’d already found was verifiable.
Continuing on, she decided to look for another familiar last name and grabbed a folder labeled “Desjardins.” Opening it on the spot, Madeline read the names of assumed family members, as well as “Caslon” and “Tiffany.” There wasn’t too much information, but surprisingly Caslon’s record noted he fulfilled his mating duties with Karima Bassir of Morocco at the age of eighteen, producing twins.
Madeline’s eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets.
Caslon’s a father?! You have GOT to be shitting me!
Shaking the disbelief from her head, Madeline slipped the folder back into the same place she’d found it.
Enough of that. She was here for one reason, and she only had an hour left.
Searching for Fukushima, Madeline found a single folder inscribed with the characters. Upon opening it, she noticed one of the pictures matched the host who had been flirting with her last night, though the name was different. The fact he was apparently working under an alias didn’t surprise Madeline since he was employed at a host club after all. Aoi Fukushima was his older sister, which the clan’s research had noted was a “high-quality canidae specimen” from a “long-standing canidae line”. It went on to mention, in the description of her younger brother, that he was an “unfortunate exception” to the lineage, which likely led to his career as a host.
That ought to do it for what Cameron wanted to confirm, Madeline thought, placing the Fukushima folder away.
Proceeding a little further down the aisle, she found the folder labeled “Leviticus.”
It had been so long since she’d spoken with or seen him. After spending a couple of years with him, his departure blindsided her, but as she considered what the history this folder might reveal, she realized she had no idea what to expect. He never talked about his past. Never talked about his family. She convinced herself it was okay to appease her curiosity when Taro first invited her here, but now that she was about to delve into Levis’ story, she felt guilty for doing so.
Carefully sliding the folder away from the rest, she realized it was much thicker than Caslon and Tiff’s. Holding it in such a way as to be sure not to spill the contents onto the wood floor, she carried it back to the sofa where she had laid her purse and coat.
“Would you care for more tea?” Takeshi asked with an empty smile, noting what was in her hand.
“No, but I appreciate the offer,” she replied with an equally unreadable smile of her own.
Sitting, Madeline lightly touched the upper edge of the cover with her fingertips and opened to the first sheet.
This was it, no turning back now.
The account began by first stating the fact that the earliest documentation was purchased from an outside source and not firsthand information provided by an official clan member. Following the disclaimer, it provided an actual storage location and box number for the original documentation which a clan member had scribed ages ago.
After a detailed description of his appearance, the Tetsugawa clan explained how they assumed Leviticus was actually a bastet, a term Madeline wasn’t familiar with, rather than a felinae. They surmised that he adopted the name “Leviticus” sometime during Roman rule of Egypt, which at the time would have made it part of the Byzantine Empire, ascertaining that his Asian looks could be easily attributed to the bastet’s cat-shaped eyes, apparent when they take human form.
At least I’m in a library, so looking up what a “bastet” is should be easy, Madeline thought to herself as she moved on to the next page.
The next sheet was titled “Local Lore,” with unverifiable stories passed down verbally. But whether they were accurate or not, the reputation they painted was grim. Extortion, kidnapping, burglary, and womanizing were among the list, with assassination leading the pack.
The first clan verifiable account was in the 1300s. A European merchant looking to expand his unsavory business to Cairo hired Leviticus with the intention of scaring an Arabian competitor out of town. The merchant suggested killing one of the man’s many wives as a warning until the Arab agreed to the European’s terms. However, Leviticus choose the quickest path to his client’s goal - murdering all of the Arab’s wives and children in a single moonless night.
All of them.
Madeline blinked a few times as if refreshing her vision would paint a different set of hiragana on the paper.
This can’t be true, she thought to herself, feeling suddenly light-headed and unable to draw breath.
And what followed was no better. There was an entry where a client had refused to pay for Leviticus’ kidnapping services, so rather than return the victim to her fiance, Leviticus ended her life, sending a bloody hand wrapped in silk to the groom along with the client’s name and the location of the rest of the body.
And there were dozens upon dozens of similar stories that carried well into the years the Black Death ravaged the city. But by the time the Ottoman Empire controlled Cairo, Leviticus’ cruelty declined significantly. There was still the occasional assassination, but nothing dramatic, and no innocents. His focus turned to extortion and theft, but again, no innocents. The Tetsugawa clan hypothesized that because European and Turkish officers controlled the city during this period, Leviticus wasn’t able to be so free with his binges, fearful of being caught and persecuted.
Taking her eyes off the text, Madeline reflected on the words but couldn’t imagine him so bloodthirsty. How could the same soft hands that bandaged her be responsible for slicing the throats of children? How could the person that freed her, not once but twice, needlessly murder innocent women for money? And his inspirational talk to her about returning things to needy people, was that all bullshit? Was she nothing but a toy to practice his convincing lies on?
Her instincts and her logical mind both slammed back at her with a resounding “No.”
Not at any point the entire time she’d been at his side had she ever felt unsafe or that he was being underhanded. And while she understood that hundreds of years had passed, and people change over time, she couldn’t imagine Levi in the shoes of such a demon.
Madeline closed her eyes and inhaled slowly, letting the aroma of the cold tea in the bottom of her cup mix with the volumes of aged paper unfurrow her troubled brow, but all she could see in the darkness was his Levi’s face staring back at her.
Was it possible she’d been wrong about him? She didn’t want to believe it, but signs existed. Like the terror in the eyes of the felinae twins at the Halloween party, and Scott’s remarks about Levi being a monster. Even Cameron’s hatred of him. Could his mischievous green eyes, the same eyes that looked upon her with such playfulness, be the same eyes that could look upon a pleading child and give no mercy? Did a bastet have the power to make ordinary humans believe the lies they were told? Could they charm suspicions away?
Without reading through the rest of the sheets, Madeline closed the folder in front of her, managing to successfully hide how deeply the information disturbed her.
She had to go.
Rattled, she didn’t want to give Takeshi, or whoever was undoubted monitoring her via CCTV, the privilege of watching her fall apart. Extruding only a calm presence, she returned to the aisle, sliding Levi’s folder back into place. But before heading back to the sofa where her purse and coat rested, she once again stepped down the first aisle, looking for a book on bastet. It was a bit tricky to find because if the name being in katakana, and the fact Madeline was internally crumbling wasn’t helping.
After a minute of looking, she found the volume that contained the information she was looking for.
Bastet were supernals that derived their name from the goddess Bast, originating from the Egyptian continent long ago. There had only been a handful of them, having either already died off, or entrenched themselves so deep into humanity as to never be found. Skimming through the details, Madeline learned they were beautiful, charming, and fed mainly on idol-worship. There was nothing regarding being able to bewitch their followers into blind admiration, but there wasn’t anything that said they couldn’t either. The possibility was there.
Closing the book carefully, Madeline placed it back on the shelf and walked back to the sofa to retrieve her purse and coat. Approaching Takeshi’s desk, she glanced over at the files he'd been updating. Directly underneath the one he currently had open was a folder labeled “McCaffrey, Cameron.”
Madeline paused for a moment as Takeshi looked up from his work, not making the slightest effort to hide the name on the folder.
What was he going to add to Cameron’s folder? Where they aware Cameron had been with her since she came to Japan?
“Please express my sincere thanks to Mr. Tetsugawa for the use of his library,” she said clearly, not allowing her shock to affect her tone whatsoever. “But I have a lunch appointment soon, and I don’t want to be late.”
Setting his pen down on the desk, Takeshi gave another empty, unreadable smile, leaving the documents open as he rose from his chair. Extending a hand in a gesture that indicated Madeline should step towards the door, he followed her. Exiting, he once again provided his security clearance and had her stand on the floor panel before allowing her to retrieve her cell phone. He then escorted her up the elevator and out into the lobby.
“May I stop by again?” she asked, feeling the last vestige of her composure start to waver.
“Of course,” Takeshi replied. “Mr. Tetsugawa indicated you are welcome to use the library at any time.”
“Thank you. I will try to stop by around the same time tomorrow then,” Madeline said bowing deeply as a staff member approached with her umbrella.
Coat still draped uselessly over her arm, Madeline exited the building, popping open her umbrella, but indifferent to the chill in the air.
Cameron knew something was wrong as soon as he saw her step outside. She walked sluggishly, and although the heavy rain mercilessly assailed her with every empty step, he could smell certain emotions conflicting within her. A numbing shock was the best way to describe them, and it was agonizing for Cameron to wait for her to slide into the passenger seat of his car.
After she tapped the end of the umbrella against the sidewalk, folded it up and set it at her feet on the rubber floormat, Madeline closed the car door.
“What happened?!” Cameron asked anxiously, starting his car with the twist of his key in the ignition.
Madeline raised her hand, directed him to wait as she retrieved her phone from her purse. Dialing her contact with a single screen press, she didn’t give herself time to overthink her question, knowing that the person she was calling was always brutally honest and straightforward.
It rang only twice before Caslon picked up.
“Cas? This is going to be a really awkward question, but I‘m trying to verify other information that I found out along with it, so here it goes… do you know a Karima Bassir?”
Surprisingly unphased by her inquiry, Madeline listened to what Caslon had to say on the other end.
“Nothing is wrong,” Madeline reassured him. “I promise I’ll call you back in a few hours and give you all the details. Will you be available? Thanks, Cas.”
“What was all that about? And who’s Cas?” Cameron asked, pulling out of the parking spot.
“He’s a trusted friend,” she responded, ending the call and slipping the cell phone back into her purse. “Taro’s family had information on him and his family, so I wanted to confirm whether it was true or not. The best way to do that is to go to the source. I also found the Fukushima information you wanted me to look for.”
“The guy you introduced me to last night? He works under an alias, but I am sure you already know that. Has an older sister named Aoi who is considered a high-quality specimen by the Tetsugawa clan according to their notes. Goes so far as to say her brother is an unfortunate failure.”
“Correct assumption, as cruel as it sounds,” Cameron confirmed as he made a turn at the stoplight. “Anything else interesting?”
“Loads,” Madeline responded as she made herself comfortable in the seat. “They had four Orimura folders, though from what you told me, there should only be three.”
Cameron couldn’t hide his bewilderment. There should not be four.
“Did you happen to catch the names?”
“I didn’t want to bring attention to the fact I was looking at them, so no.”
“There should only be three,” he reiterated, though mostly repeating the information to himself.
“I’m going back tomorrow, so I’ll get the names then. I take it it’s crucial to know what they are?”
She was expecting some sort of resistance to her going to the library again, but he put up none, and was suddenly extremely quiet, deep in thought. After a couple of minutes of silence between the two, Madeline felt the need to tell him what other uneasy event occurred there.
“I was escorted to the library by one of Taro’s V.I.P.’s, a man named Takeshi Mito,” she began. “He’s someone entrusted with updating records and information in the library. He was updating your folder.”
“I have a folder?”
Pulling onto one of the main arteries, Cameron drove in the direction of Madeline’s hotel. He needed to drop her off so he could head back home and make a call to the Elder.
“Yes. Separate from the main McCaffrey folder. Only you and I have individual ones. I didn’t look through mine, or yours for obvious reasons, but I really want to know what he was writing in yours.”
After seeing their guest off, Takeshi took the elevator up to the executive floor and made his way to Taro’s office. Opening the mahogany door, he stepped into the room quietly, so as not to disturb Mr. Tetsugawa, who was reading through some documents.
“I take it things went well?” he asked Takeshi, only glancing up momentarily before etching his signature to paper with a flourish.
“Yes, sir,” Takeshi responded. “And she did read through the Leviticus file as you predicted.”
“Excellent. I assume she’ll be returning?”
“Yes, sir. She indicated it would be around the same time tomorrow.”
“After escorting Mr. Gideon from the airport early tomorrow morning, I plan on meeting her personally at the library when she arrives. I’m sure Mr. Gideon would be delighted to meet her as well.”
Edited by Sinajfae