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Lost and Found Lunchbox[]

Times were changing and I couldn't keep up. The little girl that I used to be able to pull off the ground using just one hand, who would giggle inbetween being swung back and forth, was now a moody teenager who definitely did not want much - if anything - to do with her father. I couldn't tell if it was just teenage angst (we all go through it, sure), or her "fuck the police" phase (which I hoped would end soon), or her obsession with foreign pop stars (who I could never tell apart, they all looked so similar).

I missed that little giggling girl who actually wanted my attention, made me feel like I was a father. That she needed me. That she didn't see me like how I felt about my own father later in life. It reminded me that I hadn't seen him in years, and brought up all that old guilt over not missing him. I hated that feeling the most. I just hoped the reason my daughter and I had grown apart wasn't because of me.

My wife, her mother, the ever more thoughtful of the two of us, tried to soothe me one night while we were sitting in bed. I'd grumbled something or other about how I couldn't understand kids these days like the crotchety old fuck I was - god, I really am turning into my father - and she turned to me, looking over that cheap harlequin romance novel with those arched eyebrows. If you've ever been married I'm sure you don't even need to close your eyes to imagine that expression. With a loud, exaggerated sigh she said, "You just have to try getting to know her interests. Just watch a few shows about something she's interested in, try to talk about it with her over dinner. You don't even know what she likes anymore, do you?" I remember I wanted to grumble back that work had been hell, and you'd be distant too if you had to investigate so many dead bodies. So many corpses that used to be someone's daughter, someone's son, someone's lover. That recently the ones with no insides started showing up again, with their freshly laundered clothes and lack of injuries. Hell, not even a bruise could be - But I stopped my stupid big mouth for once and thought about it. She was right. I didn't know much about her foreign pop stars, the ones in boybands who all looked the same, or the weird new language and terminology she used, or hell even who she was friends names anymore. Was she still friends with that Dillon kid? Or did she stop talking to him altogether in the fourth grade? Christ, she was going to be graduating highschool soon wasn't she? I mumbled and grumbled and turned to face away from her, unable to give her an answer but my wife, ever so thoughtful, just rubbed my back with one hand and held that shitty romance book with the other. I didn't want to think about the shirtless adonis adorning the front cover, mocking me with his long flowing hair all puffed up like a lion's mane. I'd been going bald since my late 20s.

So I started watching some of those culture shows on my breaks at lunch, on the weekends, whenever I had a spare chance. I settled on a series starring a soothing, gentle voiced elderly English man who spent each episode of his show explaining a little aspect about Japan. Even the guys at work started to joke about how I was into this stuff now, and how I had picked up the odd habit of bringing up little odd cultural facts at inopportune times. Maybe I was practicing trying to talk to my daughter again.

"Hey Speers, what'd you learn about Japan this weekend? Want to enlighten us 'gay-jeans' about glorious Japan?" Clancy would bark out when he came in to the changeroom on mondays. He was a bear of a man with more hair on his back than his chest, which clashed with that baby face. I'd always assumed the thin, curly mustache was an attempt to make him look older. "Gaijins," I'd bark back with a chuckle, "And yes, it's cherry blossom season now." A few of the guys would hoot and holler, joking about how that sounded gay, maybe snap each other in the ass with a towel all while I summarized the episode I had watched the day before. Sure, I'd learn gaijin was an outdated term a little too late to correct it, and Clancy's "gay-jeans" joke had already become a thing between us all, but the guys were mostly good natured about it. Any excuse to be drinking out in the park in the middle of the day sounded like a good time, someone yelled from behind the lockers. Maybe the Japanese had the right idea. Maybe we should take a break from these cases and do that, clear our heads. Just not in that little wooded patch, deep in the park, where those empty bodies were being found.

The bodies with no insides were still showing up and we were just as clueless as we had been the first time we found one. If you found them early enough, before the decomp really started to set in, they smelled... fresh. Like someone who took a long, hot shower and jumped into clothes fresh from the dryer. Even the homeless guy didn't have a speck of dirt under his long, yellowed fingernails. That's what stood out the most to anyone on the scene, the cleanliness of it all. No footprints lead in to or out of the little patch of bushes and trees in the park, no signs of struggle, not even a single hair or fleck of dandruff on their clothes. Not a drop of blood spilled despite their... injuries. They still had their eyes and teeth - well, as many teeth as they had before they went missing - their fingernails, their appendages. They laid there with blank faces like barbie dolls, not twisted or frozen in the middle of trying to crawl away. But their insides were just... gone. From the back of the throat down to their asshole there was nothing in there, just... empty space behind those polished teeth, beneath the ribcage and all the muscles. No brain either. Hendricks once joked we should start looking for suspects at the Egyptian mummy exhibit at the museum. Guess pulling a brain out through the nose might have explained the brain missing, but could you have pulled someone's guts out through their mouth or ass that cleanly?

The guy in the morgue scratched his head when he told Pete and I about all this. "The optic nerve just... terminates, like it's a clean cut. The brain, brain stem, fuck even the spinal cord, it's all gone. How did they get it out of the spinal column so cleanly though?" Though we had to ask him to "speak English" more than once we found out bones were still there, and so was the bone marrow, and so was the muscles... but the rest? Just... gone. Just clean cuts. I'm not ashamed to admit all of us were confused and nowhere closer to catching whatever fucked up bastard was doing this.

Weeks after that conversation in the morgue, when I finally mustered up the courage to bring it up during dinner. My attempts to reconnect with her were met with confused stares and mumbling at first, but when she realized my mistake she laughed in that not-s- adorable screechy way like her mother used to. I learnt my daughter hadn't been into Japanese things. She was interested in Korean popstars, and Korean food, and Korean god-knows-what. She laughed so hard tears and snot were dripping all over the roasted green beans on her dinner plate. Her mother, my lovely wife, tried to shush her but whatever God was out there finally took pity on me and gave me an out from this personal hell. My work cell decided to go off right then and there, so I simply got up silently from the table and left to answer it. Clancy was grumbling about how another body had been found, but I didn't care, I just wanted nothing more than to leave that dinner table and pretend this all never happened. "Serves me right for trying." I mumbled as I finished pulling on my boots and left, my daughter still gasping for air with her bright red face with my wife sympathetically looking on, rubbing our daughter's back.

"Another one? Just like the others?" I slammed the cruiser door, rubbing my face with a free hand. Clancy held out a lukewarm cup of coffee to me, only leading me down to that forested area once I had taken it from him and gulped down a large mouthful. I realized he was studying my face. "Jesus Speers, you look like shit. Did I wake you up or something?"

"Yeah, you did." I didn't want him to know I nearly pulled off to cry my eyes out over everything. Like a pussy, my father's voice echoed somewhere in the back of my mind. Thank god it was dark out.

"I'll be fine."

When they reached the patch of bushes, tucked away in the corner of the park, they both silently stood beside the body and watched all the different technicians coming and going under the numerous stands of lights. It was a young woman, been missing for two weeks now. Just like the others her dress looked as if it had been dry cleaned and slipped back on, whatever makeup she was wearing gently wiped off. One of her high heels, with deep red soles, was slipped on her foot despite the broken strap revealing her bare toes, each one lovingly spotless. She most certainly had not been walking anywhere in those.

As Clancy and I looked on my mind wandered and I thought of that elderly English man talking about the Japanese subway system in the episode I last watched. How you could lose literally anything on any train and you'd be able to find it the next day, the next week, even the next month at the service counter. Wallets, umbrellas, bags, books, hell even lunchboxes. Scenes of that episode, with station workers lovingly emptying those hand made lunches and cleaning out those lunch boxes in their sink played out in my mind. The food will eventually start to smell, so we empty them out, an employee says as he carefully washes the box, the utensils, even the bag it was all in. Even if we just found it minutes ago we'll empty it out and wash them. You can never be too careful when it comes to food spoilage.

"Oh fuck." I muttered, so lost in those thoughts that at the time I didn't notice the look Clancy gave me.

"They're just like the lunchboxes."

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