Salsa's on the trail of a local killer, but why has he been shutting Taketo out of his investigation? Taketo wants answers, but he may not like what he learns. (slash!)
Taketo had never been down this street before. This wasn't somewhere he was likely to walk with Salsa; the high walls abutting the sidewalks on both sides with apartment buildings tucked behind them left nothing but gray concrete and utility poles for a view, broken only by a red splash of postal box. He'd expected to see at least a few people walking around, but the street was empty, except for two kids on bicycles who disappeared into one of the enclosures farther down the street and a few crows sitting overhead on the utility wires. Farther down yet, several blocks away, he could see the chilly plastic light of a convenience store.
Taketo felt out of place and claustrophobic here. If Salsa was anywhere in this vicinity, he wasn't going to be easy to spot unless he came out onto the street. Obviously he wouldn't appreciate Taketo calling for him if he was trying to lay low at the moment.
So Taketo decided to leave it to Salsa. He'd walk the street a few times; if Salsa was here, he'd let him come out on his own. Taketo was just passing by the small row of shops closed for the evening, when he discovered that he hadn't been alone after all -- he walked right into side of a man who'd just stepped backward onto the sidewalk from the shadow of a shop entrance.
"Ah!" the man said, just as surprised. "Excuse me!" Then he doubled over, coughing.
"No, it was my fault," Taketo said hastily. "I didn't see you were there -- hey, are you all right?"
"Fine, fine . . . yes, it is getting dark," the man agreed, pulling out a handkerchief and wiping his mouth. "I've just dropped my key, and now I can't seem to find the stupid thing."
Taketo shrugged. Why not? He wasn't in a hurry. "I could help you look," he offered. "You dropped it right around here?"
"Yes, it got stuck in the door, and I pulled on it too hard. Went flying right out of my hand," the man said, wheezing a little and scanning the ground. "It can't have gone far. I heard it hit the sidewalk."
"It's not on a keyring?"
"No, just the one key . . ."
Taketo was the one who found it. Off the curb, the last few rays of sunlight glinted off the tarnished metal. "It must have bounced a few times," he said, holding it up.
"Ah! Thank you, thank you very much," the man said, retrieving it from him. He turned, and, breathing heavily, jabbed it back into the door lock. Taketo hovered, unsure whether to simply leave as he wrestled with it. "I don't know . . . why this is sticking," he muttered. "I have to get in here tonight. I'm getting tired . . . of the complaints."
Complaints? Taketo blinked. The windows of the shop were empty and dusty. What complaints could there be about an empty shop? Looking up, he now saw the number over the door was the one that Salsa had mentioned the day before at Karasuma's clinic. Well, what were the chances? Taketo thought. Salsa might be somewhere around this very place, and if the man had been puttering with the lock for a while, he might be the one to ask.
"There, finally," the man huffed, as the door's latch clacked open, the bell inside clanking tinnily. He reached in and in a few moments a small entry light popped on.
"Um, excuse me," Taketo said, "if you've been here a while --"
"Yes?" the man said, peering back at him over his shoulder, his tone leery.
He could think I'm the one who's been breaking in, Taketo thought suddenly. He had to admit that he probably did seem suspicious, loitering on this mostly empty street just as it was getting dark. "I'm looking for a lost dog," Taketo said quickly. "I was wondering if maybe you'd noticed one while you were here."
"A dog?" the man said, an odd note of strain in his voice.
"Uh, yeah," Taketo said. "He's a large --"
"-- black and tan dog?" the man finished in a rush. "That dog is yours?" he said, turning to get a better view of Taketo.
"You've seen him then?" Taketo said, relieved. "Was it tonight?" Yes! he thought. Salsa might still be here somewhere.
"Uh, yeah, I . . . yes," the man said, sagging against the doorframe. "Tonight. Yes. That dog was . . . I saw it in the alley out back. Behind the shop."
"Great, thank you!" Taketo said. "Sorry to have bothered you, I'll just find the --"
"The access is down the block," the man said. "You could get there faster through the store."
"But I don't want to bother you," Taketo said, "I'll just --"
"It's no bother," the man said quickly. "I have to check the place out anyway. You could just go out the back door." He added, "You helped me find my key, so, so . . ."
"Oh, well," Taketo said, "if it's really no bother, thank you very much."
"No trouble," the man muttered to himself, using his handkerchief to wipe his face. "I can't believe this."
"Sorry?" Taketo said.
"Nothing, nothing," the man assured him. "It's in the back, so just go around there and through that door. I'll be right with you. The light switch's on the left." The man still hadn't turned on more lights than one in the entryway, and the store was rather dark; but Taketo could make out the empty glass cases that had been the main counter and displays.
As it turned out, the light switch wasn't on the left side of the door.
Because this wasn't the first time someone had clouted Taketo on the head from behind, his last thought, Salsa's going to be mad at me again, was more resigned than surprised.