About 20 days after the end of summer vacation, on a school day, for the first time in awhile, I spoke with Morino.
Before the start of morning homeroom, having come to school, through the crowd of noisily chattering classmates, she unexpectedly approached my desk.
We didn't have any history of exchanging greetings. Morino stood in front of me, took a notebook from her pocket, and placed it on my desk. It was a notebook I'd never seen before.
It was palm sized; the cover was fake brown leather. It was an ordinary thing you'd find in any stationary shop.
"I found this," She said.
"Well it's not mine."
"Well I know that."
Presenting the notebook to me, she somehow had a cheerful air about her.
I picked the notebook up from my desk. The cover was smooth to the touch.
I flipped briefly through the contents; the first half filled with small, meticulous writing. The second half was completely blank.
"Read from the beginning!"
It was as she said, the owner was unknown; I looked carefully through his writing. Line after line of itemized writing.
- May 10th
- In front of the station, I meet a female named Kusuda Mitsue.
- Age 16.
- I started talking with her; a short while later we walked to my car.
- Just like that, I take her to T mountain.
- She keeps staring outside the window, all the while telling me about a newspaper column her mother is interested in.
- I stop the car near the summit of T mountain.
- When I took out the bag containing the knife, nails, and other tools, from the trunk, she laughingly asked me what it was.
The words continued like that.
I recognized the name Kusuda Mitsue.
......Three months ago, a family went on a hiking trip to T mountain. It was a family of one boy and two parents. Since it was a long-awaited holiday for the father, he slept as soon as they arrived at the mountain. The boy tried to wake up the father so they could play, but it was no use.
In the afternoon, the boy took a walk alone into the forest.
The mother noticed her son missing. And then, she heard a scream from deep in the forest.
The couple searched the forest, and then found the boy. He was found looking slightly upwards, unable to move.
Following their son's gaze, the father and mother immediately noticed the nearby tree trunk was stained dark red. And then, they noticed something strange nailed to the tree at eye-level. Looking around, they saw that all the surrounding trees had things attached to them with nails.
Those 'things' were Kusuda Mitsue. Someone had done a dissection on her, deep in the forest. The eyeballs, tongue, ears, thumbs, liver... They were all attached by nails to tree trunks.
On one tree, in order from the top, the left big toe, upper lip, nose, and stomach were attached; other trees had the rest of her remains, arranged like Christmas tree decorations.
The incident quickly had the entire country in a panic.
Inside the notebook Morino had brought: how Kusuda Mitsue was killed, which parts were attached to trees, what kind of nails were used; page after page of dry, detailed notes.
I knew a lot about this incident, since I had followed it on TV, magazines, and the internet. But still, this notebook spoke exhaustively of details that no media outlet had covered.
"So as I see it, her killer dropped this notebook."
Kusuda Mitsue had been a high schooler in a neighboring prefecture. She had been last seen by friends who parted with her at the building in front of the station. And then Kusuda Mitsue became the first victim of the bizarre murders, even now able to cause a stir throughout Japan.
There had been one more incident with the same modus operandi; they were believed to be serial murders.
"And there's something written about the second victim too."
- June 21
- I talk with a female who was holding a shopping bag, waiting for the bus.
- She called herself Nakanishi Kasumi.
- I offer to take her home in my car.
- Upon realizing that I was heading towards H mountain and not her house, the girl begins to cause a disturbance while in the passenger seat.
- I temporarily stopped the car and struck her with a hammer; she became quiet.
- I took her to a shed in H mountain.
The name Nakanishi Kasumi, a student at a vocational school, became known nationwide because of what happened one month ago. From the wildly spreading gossip sparked by the news and newspapers, I already knew about the discovery of the second victim while coming home from school.
She was inside a shed in H mountain. The building's owner was unknown, and remained that way for a long time. The roof leaked badly; the inside was covered with mold and stains. The walls and floor were wooden planking, and it was three meters square.
An elderly man who lived at the base [of the mountain] had come to H mountain to collect wild vegetables, and in the early morning, had discovered that the shed's door had been unexpectedly left open. Wondering at this, he tried coming closer, and then a terrible stench hit his nose.
The elderly man checked the inside of the shed through the entrance. In the beginning, there was no way he could have realized what had happened.
On the floor of the shed, Nakanishi Kasumi had been arranged. Like the first victim, each part had been separated. She had been distributed methodically, in 10 centimeter intervals over the floor, in a 10 by 10 pattern. In short, her body had been turned into one hundred small clumps.
Inside the notebook, the scene of the production process was described.
In two incidents, no one had seen the criminal; the person who had killed them had not been caught.
The mass media was still making a fuss about these two cases, as a bizarre serial murder case.
"I like seeing these kinds of cases in the news."
"Because they're abnormal."
Morino said indifferently.
I also constantly watched the news for that same reason. And so I understood well what she was trying to say.
People had been killed, and then separated into pieces. People who had that done to them, and people who did that, actually did exist.
Morino and I held a special interest in these kinds of miserable stories. We would always seek out episodes that you'd want to hang yourself out of misery upon hearing.
I had never directly mentioned this strange trait, but we had both silently sensed it in each other.
Perhaps normal people would grimace at this. Our emotional sensitivity was out of sync. Which is why, when talking about, for example, the different torture devices around the world, and different methods for execution, we would talk in especially low voices.
Morino raised her face from the notebook and looked out the window. I knew that she was imagining the scene of Nakanishi Kasumi's various parts being arranged on the floor.
"This notebook, where did you find it?"
When I asked, she began to explain.
It seems that last evening, Morino was at her favorite coffee shop. The owner wasn't nosy, and the shop was gloomy and quiet, she said.
She was drinking coffee that the shop's owner had poured, while thumbing through the pages of "Cruel Tales of the World."
Suddenly, she heard the sound of rain. She looked outside through the window to see a furious evening shower coming down.
Morino watched the customers that had been standing up to leave, sit down again. They were likely thinking to wait a little for the rain to stop.
At that time, there were five customers in the coffee shop, not including herself.
Morino left her seat to go to the restroom. On the way, she felt something strange under her shoes. On the floor of black wood, someone had dropped a notebook, which she had happened to step on. She picked up the notebook and put it in her pocket. Apparently she wasn't planning to return it to its owner.
Even returning from the restroom, the customers were just watching the rainy scenery through the window; their number hadn't changed.
She could tell the fierceness of the rain by looking at the clothes of the shop owner, who had gone outside for a moment for some errand. They were completely soaked.
Morino forgot about the notebook and returned to reading.
The rain stopped, and once again, the sun came out.
Several customers stood up and left.
The summer sun's rays quickly dried the road.
It seems that it was only after she had returned home that she remembered the notebook, and read the contents.
"I went to the restroom twice. The first time, there was no notebook. Immediately after that, the rain started; which means the number of customers were fixed. When I went the second time, the notebook had been dropped there. The murderer was in that shop. The murderer lives in this neighborhood."
She made a fist in front of her.
Two corpses had been found in places that were 2 or 3 hours away from the town we lived in. One couldn't ignore the possibility that the murderer lived in this town.
But still, it wasn't realistic to say that.
This incident had doubtless been talked about far and wide. Much was still unresolved, and there were seekers-of-the-bizarre still interested in it. It had been discussed all across the country, even in elementary schools.
It had become overly famous.
It was hard to believe that the murderer would be living here.
"Couldn't this notebook just be a work of imagination based on the news reports?"
"Just read the rest of the notebook."
"Please, welcome." It was with that kind of feeling that Morino spoke.
- August 5th
- I gave a ride in my car to a female named Miguchi Nanami.
- I met her at a soba restaurant near S mountain.
- When we went to the forest on the south side of the mountain, we found a Shinto shrine.
- I took her into the forest.
Inside the forest, the owner of the notebook stabbed a knife into the abdomen of the female named Miguchi Nanami.
According to the contents of the notebook, her body had been destroyed. In meticulous handwriting, the way both her eyes had been plucked out, the color and luster of her uterus, and so on, had been described.
And then her body had been disposed of in the forest.
"Are you familiar with the name Miguchi Nanami?"
Morino asked. I shook my head.
There had, as of yet, been no reports of the discovery of Miguchi Nanami's body.
My first introduction to Morino was when we ended up in the same class upon graduating to the second year. I had felt from the beginning that there was someone else like me, living life unconcerned with others. Even during break time, even walking the halls, she would always shun others. In short, she didn't seem to like crowds.
In our class, I only noticed this particular trait in Morino and I. Even so, I didn't coldly regard our classmates' merry-making like Morino did. For me, if someone struck up a conversation, I would reply, and to smooth the mechanism of human relations, even joke. I did the minimum required to have a normal life.
However, the superficial socializing, and the smiles I gave to my classmates, were essentially lies.
From our first conversation, Morino had seen through to that part of me.
"Could you teach me how to make that same expression too?"
One day after school, Morino had stood in front of me, expressionless, and said that. Maybe she was scoffing at me inside. That was around the beginning of May.
After that, we would talk from time to time.
Morino only wore black. Everything, from her long, straight hair, to the tips of her shoes, was wrapped in darkness. In stark contrast, her skin was whiter than anyone's I had seen; her hands were as if made of porcelain. There was a small spot under her left eye, in a similar design to that of Pierrot, giving her an atmosphere of black magic.
It's not that her face was less expressive than that of normal people. For example, when happily reading a book about the horrific murder of 52 women and children in Russia. There was no trace of the deathly green face she had when in the midst of noisy classmates. Rather, her eyes sparkled.
Only when talking to Morino would I not fake my facial expressions. If I was talking to someone else, they would probably wonder why I had such a blank, unsmiling expression. When talking with her, there was no problem with that.
Perhaps she had similar reasons, because during idle times, she would choose to speak with me.
We both disliked standing out. In the classroom, we were hidden in the shadow of our boisterous classmates; we quietly lived our lives.
And then, summer vacation came, and then I came to read the notebook.
Following the school day, after we met at the station, we boarded a train headed for the base of S mountain.
Both for meeting outside of school, and seeing Morino in normal clothes instead of the school uniform, it was the first time. As usual, she had chosen dark colored clothes. I noticed from her glance, that she must have thought the same about me.
The inside of the train was quiet; it was free of crowding. Without talking, we both started reading. She read a book about child abuse; I read a book written by the family members of a famous juvenile delinquent.
Upon getting off at the station, we asked an old woman working at the tobacco shop in front of the station, how many soba restaurants there were near S mountain. We learned that there was only one, and that it wasn't far. Afterwards, Morino made a sharp observation.
"Tobacco kills many people, but tobacco vending machines snatch away and kill that old woman's livelihood."
An especially clever reply didn't seem to be necessary, so I ignored her remark.
We walked along the side of the road until we reached the soba restaurant. The road began to slope upwards; it was curving near the mountain side.
The soba restaurant was part of a row of restaurants at the base of the mountain. Business looked to be bad there; the atmosphere was lonely, without many people or cars. The soba restaurant's parking lot was completely empty, yet even though it might as well have been closed, there was still an "OPEN" sign. We went inside.
"Ah, so this is where the murderer met Miguchi Nanami."
Morino looked around the restaurant as if sightseeing some famous place.
"Excuse me. I'm just speculating; what you would call the hypothetical stage. Since whether it's true or not is what we came here to find out."
I ignored her and read the notebook.
It was written with a blue ballpoint pen.
Inside the notebook, there were more than just the accounts of the murders of the three women. In addition, the names of a few mountains were written. That was on the first page, so it seemed to have been written before any of the accounts of the women's murders.
In front of the names of the mountains, there were markings like ◎ and ○, △ and ×. For the three mountains where the bodies had been disposed of, ◎ had been marked, so I inferred that maybe this was a list of mountains that were convenient for disposing bodies.
There were no indications as to the owner of the notebook.
There had never been any thought of giving the notebook to the police. Even if we didn't do anything, he would be caught sooner or later.
If we sent the notebook to the police, perhaps the murderer would be caught sooner. And the number of victims in the end would probably be less. Obviously, there was an obligation to give this to the police.
Unfortunately, our consciences didn't bother us for acting as if we hadn't picked up any kind of notebook, and keeping silent; we were cruel, reptilian high school students.
"If there's a fourth victim, that would definitely be our fault."
Morino and I slurped at our soba while having that talk. She didn't have any "That's terrible" face; her voice was casual, as if only interested in the soba of a second-class restaurant.
We asked about the Shinto shrine at the soba restaurant.
While walking, Morino looked at the notebook. She traced the front cover many times with her fingertip, perhaps touching the same place that cold-blooded murderer had touched. From those actions, I could tell she felt a sense of awe for the murderer.
Inside, I felt a little like that too. I also knew it wasn't proper to feel that. Criminals, of course, must be punished. One should not think of them as revolutionaries or artists.
At the same time, I knew that famous murderers would be worshiped by some abnormal people. I knew that it was wrong to become like that.
However, we were in thrall to the horror of deeds of the notebook's owner. This criminal had, in the moments of everyday life, crossed over a line; crushing people's individuality and dignity, and completely destroying the bodies.
It had the irresistible charm of a nightmare.
In order to reach the Shinto shrine, from the soba restaurant, we had to walk even further towards the summit, up a long flight of stairs.
For both of us, the idea of moving our bodies stirred up an almost irrational anger.
So we had no love for the mountain slope and the stairs.
By the time we reached the shrine, we were exhausted. We sat for some time at a stone monument that had been constructed on the grounds, and took a break. On the trees that had been planted on the grounds, high branches spread out, and looking up, you could see the midsummer sun peep through the leaves.
We sat beside each other, unconcerned by the voices of the cicadas falling from above. Drops of sweat started to form bit by bit on Morino's brow.
Before long, she wiped the sweat away while standing up. The search for Miguchi Nanami's body had begun.
"Ah, so the murderer and Miguchi Nanami walked in this place together."
Morino walked beside me while humming.
Leaving the shrine, we headed towards the forest.
For what distance, and in what direction the murderer walked, I did not know. For that reason, the search was fumbling and uncertain.
While randomly searching, one hour passed.
"I think it might be over there."
So said Morino in parting; before long, from far off, she called my name.
I walked towards the voice, and then, at the bottom of a cliff, I saw her from behind. Her arms hung loosely by her sides. She turned to the side, so I looked there also.
And there was Miguchi Nanami.
In between the forest and the cliff, in the shadow of a large tree, in the middle of that faint summer gloom, she sat naked.
Her lower half was resting on the ground; her back was resting against the tree trunk. Her arms and legs, devoid of power, were sprawled carelessly.
From the neck up, there was nothing.
The head had been separated, and placed in her stomach.
Both eyeballs had been plucked out, and placed respectively, in the left and right hands.
Instead, the eye sockets, now just holes, had been packed with mud. Even the mouth; moldy leaves had been plastered inside.
Around the tree trunk that the back was leaning against, something had been wrapped. That something had once been the contents of Miguchi Nanami's abdomen.
Signs of blood remained black upon the ground.
Slightly further off, her clothes had been dumped.
We stood in front of her, unable to move, looking quietly.
Unable to say anything.
Only looking quietly at the corpse.
The next day, I got a text message on my cell phone from Morino.
"Give me back the notebook."
Her text messages were always concise and short. She never added anything unnecessary. Likewise, I knew that she held a kind of hatred for clattery and noisy keychains and straps.
I was the one who had taken the notebook home. When we had left the place where Miguchi Nanami was, I hadn't returned it to her. On the train home, Morino, not yet recovered from the shock, had only stared into the distance.
When we were leaving that place, Morino had picked up Miguchi Nanami's fallen clothes, and stuffed them into her bag. The clothes had been almost completely torn into pieces, but the hat and the bag, and its contents, were untouched.
Inside Miguchi Nanami's bag, there were things like makeup, a purse, and a handkerchief. On the train home, I looked through them.
According to the student card in her purse, I found out that Miguchi Nanami had been a high school student in a neighboring prefecture. Inside the bag, there was also a notebook for sticking photo booth pictures. From her student card, and the photo booth pictures, I could see what her face had been like when alive.
Miguchi Nanami's many friends were all smiling in the small photo booth picture.
The afternoon that I got the text message, Morino and I met at the McDonald's in front of the station.
Morino, unlike usual, was not wearing dark style clothes. Because of that, I didn't realize who she was at first. Since the hat she wore was the same as the kind she had picked up from beside Miguchi Nanami's corpse, I realized that the clothes she picked were meant to resemble hers as well.
Her hairstyle, makeup - everything resembled the Miguchi Nanami in the photo booth pictures. Since the original clothes were torn up, she must have searched for something similar.
She accepted the notebook, and seemed extremely happy.
I asked about that.
"Are you going to tell Miguchi Nanami's family about the corpse in the forest?"
She thought for a moment, and then announced her intention to stay uninvolved.
"I wonder when the police will find her."
Morino, while looking like Miguchi Nanami before her death, talked about her death.
I wonder what Miguchi Nanami's family is doing right now? Does she have a boyfriend? I wonder what her grades were like?
Morino was a little bit different from usual. During the conversation with her, her style of talking and gesturing had diverged from her usual manner. She paid attention to how her bangs fell, and created the atmosphere of a couple sitting in separate seats, with the topics she brought up. This was behavior that Morino had never displayed up to now.
Miguchi Nanami and I had not known each other. Still, looking at Morino, I had to wonder if Miguchi Nanami would have created the same impression.
Morino placed her elbows on the table, while acting cheerful. She had beside her what was once Miguchi Nanami's bag. Attached to the zipper pull was a keychain mascot.
"So are you planning to stay dressed like that for awhile?"
"Of course, it's amusing, isn't it?"
This was Morino's make-believe play. But it was more than just a normal smiling manner, and looking into the mirror, checking her eyelashes type of imitation of a normal female high school student. It was more as if Miguchi Nanami had encroached upon Morino's basic nature.
When leaving McDonald's, Morino suddenly and spontaneously took my hand as we walked. She herself didn't notice this until I pointed it out.
I was almost certain that I was being embraced by the dead Miguchi Nanami.
After parting with Morino in front of the station and arriving home, I immediately turned on the TV. On the news, they covered the bizarre murder case.
There was a report about the first and second victims. Up until this point, they were still going over old news; nothing new was being said.
Miguchi Nanami's name didn't appear at all.
There was a slideshow about the two victims, pictures of grieving friends and family.
On the TV screen, a large picture appeared -- photographs of the two victims......
I thought of Morino, and a bad premonition came over me. Yet, the odds of something like that happening were extremely low. And so I dropped that thought from my mind.
The two victims, as they had appeared in the photographs, in their hairstyle, and their clothes, both resembled Miguchi Nanami.
So, in short, you could say that today, Morino was the same type that this cold-blooded murderer went for.
One evening, 3 days after having met at McDonald's, the ringtone sounded on my cell phone, indicating that I had received a text message from someone.
It was from Morino.
A short message with only that, showed on my liquid crystal display.
My reply message was a question.
I waited for awhile, but she didn't reply.
I tried calling her, but her cell phone wasn't connected. Did the power get cut off, or was it destroyed maybe?
That night, I called Morino's house. She had told me her home phone number previously. I hadn't been told it in case I wanted to call her home. She had told me previously that her home phone number, unexpectedly, using wordplay, worked out to a deranged sentence. And so I had remembered that.
Her mother answered the phone. She had a high voice, and a fast speaking style.
I said I was a classmate, and that there was a message from the teacher, so I would like to speak with her to pass it along.
She had not returned.
I started to wonder if maybe she had been attacked.
Because what was written in the notebook was truth, it could also be true that the murderer had been in the same coffee shop as she had. The potential that the criminal had unexpectedly happened to see Morino's current look somewhere downtown was not zero. For the criminal, to see Morino in her current style, a girl dressed in exactly the same clothes as Miguchi Nanami, who he had killed a few days ago, must have seemed miraculous. And then it must have moved his heart, I think.
There was a low chance at best that this would cause the criminal to decide to aim for Morino. Probably it was a trend for girls to be dressed like that, so you would expect to see that kind wandering around town.
If we considered the only possible way Morino might have been attacked by the criminal, it was the potential that Morino and the criminal had some overlap in their normal routines. After all, they had been in the same coffee shop. Unless the criminal had made a special long-distance trip, and just happened to stop by that coffee shop, then in his normal activities, Morino would have walked into a place he would have noticed her. In other words, the chances of the two meeting were high.
I thought about it late into the night.
Probably, about right now, Morino had undoubtedly been killed. I suppose her body has been scattered at some mountain.
I imagined that kind of thing while I fell asleep.
The next day, I called her house one more time.
As expected, she still hadn't returned. From what her mother said, this was the first time she had stayed out for the night without calling. Her mother was worried.
"By the way, are you her boyfriend?"
From the other side of the receiver, Morino's mother asked that.
"No, definitely not, ma'am!"
"Now, now, you don't have to deny it that strongly! I can still figure it out."
Morino's mother had no doubt that I was her daughter's boyfriend. She explained that her daughter, had no friends to be truly called 'friends', and that getting a house telephone call from someone was something that hadn't happened since elementary school times.
"Lately that girl's clothes have gotten brighter, so I'm positive she must have found a boy."
I started worrying about the telephone bill.
"In her room, would there happen to be a small brown notebook?"
Her mother immediately went to check for me. She left the telephone receiver, and there was a moment of silence. Before long I could hear a voice again.
"There's a notebook like that on that girl's desk, but I wonder if this is the one?"
It seems that Morino had not been carrying the notebook. If that hadn't been so, I would have considered the possibility that Morino had opened the notebook somewhere outside, and had been accidentally seen by the criminal, who had then attacked her in order to keep her silent.
I am going over to get the notebook, so I would like to know the address, I asked Morino's mother.
After hanging up the phone, I headed to Morino's house. I already knew that she lived close to the station, but this was the first time I had visited her house.
Her home was on the third floor of an apartment building in front of the station.
When I rang the doorbell, the woman with the voice I had heard on the phone answered while she opened the door. This was unmistakably Morino's mother.
"My my my, welcome!"
Morino's mother wore an apron; a normal household-centered housewife. This was quite different from the atmosphere of the Morino I was used to seeing, so I started wondering how, with a mother like that, that Morino had turned out that way.
I was invited inside, but I declined. I intended to complete my business at the entranceway.
When I mentioned the notebook, she immediately brought it, as if already prepared. While receiving the notebook, I asked her if she had read the contents, to which she shook her head.
"Since it's hard to read small words."
It seemed she was far more interested in me than the notebook.
"That girl, ever since she became a second year, she's decided to be conscientious about going to school, so it must have been for that reason, right?"
When Morino had been a first year, she had said school was boring; she didn't seem to have attended very often either. This is the first time I'd learned of that. Her tastes were a little unique, and on top of that, she wasn't good at blending in with the people around her. So no matter what, it would have probably turned out like that.
I asked when Morino was last seen.
"Yesterday, sometime past noon maybe. I saw her leave, too!"
"Did you ask her where she was going?"
Morino's mother shook her head.
"So you'll look for my daughter?"
When I parted from the entranceway, Morino's mother requested that.
I replied with a nod.
However, it's possible she won't be alive, I added. Her mother thought it was a joke, and smiled.
While walking towards the station, I opened up the synthetic leather front cover, and turned to the page where the names of the mountains were lined up.
The criminal had made a list of mountains he was thinking about dumping bodies at. The ones with a ◎ mark were undoubtedly mountains that the criminal had judged were especially convenient for dumping bodies. Because there were four mountains marked with ◎, and three had already had bodies dumped there, meaning up until now, the mountains where bodies had been found had been chosen exclusively from those.
So then, from the four mountains marked with ◎, three had already had bodies dumped there. So that meant that you had to wonder if Morino had been taken to the last remaining mountain.
And that was N mountain.
I asked a station employee which train I should take to get to N mountain, and I bought a ticket.
I got off the train at the closest station to N mountain, and from there, had to ride a bus. At the base of N mountain, grapes were being grown; I saw many "grape picking" signs from the bus window.
Riding in his car to visit N mountain, where would the criminal leave the body? Probably the criminal would perform his ceremony somewhere remote where no one would hear the screams. I had no idea where that place might be.
The only ones on the bus were the driver and me. I looked at the route map attached to the inside of the car, talked with the driver; I decided to try a place I thought the criminal might have stopped.
From the area Morino and I lived, to N mountain, most cars likely went by the prefectural road that passed by N mountain's east side. Originally, there were not many roads that went to N mountain; aside from that prefectural road, there were no others in the area we lived in.
Whatever place the criminal was taking Morino to at N mountain, undoubtedly he must have taken that prefectural road. According to what the driver said, the road the bus was on currently was definitely that prefectural road.
I got off the bus at a bus stop. If I was headed by car to a place deep within N mountain, there was one wide road that went near the peak. The bus stop was very near to that road.
I walked on the road to the summit. The surface was asphalt, but a car would almost not be able to make it.
There were a few side roads that stretched towards the inside of the deep forest. I considered which one the criminal and Morino could have entered.
As I climbed the ascent, the altitude gradually increased. Looking from in between the trees, the town had grown small and hazy.
It was a struggle to get near the summit. There was a small parking lot, and building that appeared to be a viewing platform. A car would not go beyond that point. Since it had not been much time since I'd started walking, I wasn't tired.
I searched for Morino's corpse.
I walked down a road that went into the trees; on the way, I entered a side road I had noticed.
The sky was cloudy, and the forest was pushed into darkness. A dense stand of trees peeped from in between a tangle of leaves and branches.
There was no wind; only the voices of cicadas filled the surroundings.
N mountain was too vast to find a one human body that had been rendered into pieces. Perhaps it would be impossible in the end to find Morino, I judged.
On the way back to the bus station, my entire body was sweating, tired from walking.
On the prefectural road that the bus ran on, there were a few scattered private houses. Even near the road going towards the summit, there was one house, and in the garden, there was an elderly man, who I asked whether there had been a car on this road last night, headed into the mountains. He shook his head. Afterwards, he called some of his family regarding my question, but in the end, it didn't seem that a car had been seen.
What kind of situation was Morino in yesterday when she sent that text?
Was she kidnapped by the criminal using brute force, I wonder?
I didn't think she was that weak of a fool.
Or maybe, her having been caught by the criminal was just me over thinking things?
I sat near the bus stop and reread the notebook. From the descriptions of the three murders, I was not skilled enough to be able to understand the criminal's personality to the detail of a psychographic analysis.
Sweat fell onto the notebook, and the ink blurred; part of one sentence became unreadable. Apparently, the criminal had used water-soluble ink to write his descriptions.
In the first place, where did the criminal write into his notebook? Right after the crime, in his car, or after returning home, maybe? Probably he didn't write them in the middle of the crime, right? Without a doubt, he recalled the crime, and then while completely entranced in imagining, wrote.
Since the bus had come, I stood up. I looked at my watch; three hours had passed since noon.
I decided to come down from the mountain.
Just maybe, it was also possible that the criminal was keeping Morino locked in his house without killing her. The only way to determine whether or not that was really true would be to ask the criminal himself.
If she had already been killed, I needed to find out where her body had been dumped.
Because I wanted to look at it.
Either way, I had to descend N mountain, and meet with that criminal; there was no other way. Of course, I had every intention of doing so.
The coffee shop that Morino had become a regular customer of was located far back from the shopping district in front of the station. I had heard of it before, but this was my first time entering.
As I had been told, it was only lit moderately, and wrapped in a comfortable darkness. Peaceful music played, blending in with the unassuming atmosphere.
I took a place at a counter seat.
In the store's interior, there was an indication showing where the toilet was. I examined the floor in that vicinity. Morino had told me that that was where the notebook had been dropped.
There was one other customer in the store besides me. A young female customer, wearing a suit. She was sitting by the window drinking coffee while reading a magazine.
Since the store owner was coming by, bringing an order, I tried asking him.
"Is that person over there a regular customer?"
He nodded. And then he tilted his head in doubt as if to say "Is there something the matter with that?"
"Nevermind, I didn't mean anything by that. Anyway, won't you shake my hand?"
The owner was an honest-faced looking man. He wasn't young, but he certainly wasn't middle aged yet. His skin was white, and he was wearing a black T-shirt like those sold anywhere.
His beard was neatly trimmed.
It seemed that from the beginning moment, he had considered me to be a strange customer. I stared too much.
The coffee I had requested was soon ready.
"I'm a friend of a girl named Morino. You know of her, I think?"
"She's a regular customer."
I tried asking him whether or not she was still alive.
The owner froze. He carefully put down the coffee cup he was holding, and faced me squarely.
His eyes lost their luster, like holes, they turned black, devoid of light.
I had felt before that, more than the potential of any of the customers in that shop during that evening rain shower, that the potential that this person was the criminal, was the highest. I learned that I had been correct.
"......I wonder, what do you mean?"
He made a pretense of not knowing.
I presented the notebook. When he saw that, the shape of his mouth twisted into a smile. Sharp white canine teeth peeked out.
"Morino-san picked this up the other day."
He took the notebook in his hands and turned the pages.
"So you knew clearly that I was the notebook's owner, I see."
"At least half of it was guessing."
I explained how I had gone to N mountain to look for Morino's corpse and how I had thought it would be there.
What does the criminal think of this, I wonder.
I had first, exercised my imagination concerning the criminal who had dropped the notebook.
For what reason had this notebook been written? In order to commemorate? In order not to forget? Undoubtedly, he must have read it repeatedly, many times, so that it soaked into his memory.
Therefore, it is unlikely that the criminal would not have noticed having dropped the notebook.
In the first place, where could he have carried the notebook? Ordinarily, it would be in a pocket, or inside a bag. To have been dropped, it was possibly a pocket. While washing his hands in the restroom, or taking a handkerchief from his pocket, the notebook might have been dropped.
And then, about when did he notice that? A few tens-of-minutes later, a few hours later......? Probably less than a day, without a doubt.
And then, he would think back to when he last read the notebook, perhaps. And he would deduce that he must have lost the notebook at around that time. That meant, in short, that he would check the areas he had moved about in during that day, and he would, to some extent, start doing activity specific to the place where the notebook was dropped.
And then -- this is an arbitrary guess, but I felt the criminal must have dropped the notebook in a somewhat confined location. It was because he wanted to look at the notebook often. Every time the dark thoughts in his head became jumbled, he would reread the notebook and calm himself down. With this, frequently holding the notebook in his hands, confirming its presence, the time period and area in which the notebook could have been lost in were both restricted to a narrow range.
And then the criminal probably searched for it, checking the ground to see whether he had dropped the notebook.
But it wasn't there.
And then the criminal must have stopped to think. Someone must have picked up the notebook.
He absolutely could not let anyone read the contents of that notebook. Perhaps the police would investigate the third victim, and find the body. If it was just that, he wouldn't be particularly bothered. The problem was the possibility of getting fingerprints from the notebook. And also, possibly even handwriting analysis.
Had I been in that situation, what would I have done?
Probably I wouldn't attack a fourth person.
After all, it's possible that the police might be investigating around this area. Because he had lost the notebook within the area of his normal everyday movements, and so the police might consider that the criminal was somewhere around this area.
It would be unwise to do anything.
However, even a while later, the body of the third victim, Miguchi Nanami had not been found. Because Morino and I had not turned the notebook over to the police.
The criminal probably was waiting for the news to break, of the discovery of her body. If it was me, I would hold back until I had confirmed it was safe enough to try a fourth person.
And yet, Morino had disappeared.
Considering that the potential that Morino being missing was just a girl's prank was unthinkable, I tried to figure out why there was this discrepancy.
Putting myself in the role of the criminal, in what situation would I kill a fourth person?
- If I could not help myself no matter what.
- If I became over-confident, having not been caught, underrating the risks; making light of the police.
- If I didn't care whether I got caught by the police.
- If I thought that the notebook hadn't been picked up and read.
- If I thought the person who had picked up the notebook hadn't taken it seriously.
Or else, after all, I hadn't realized that the notebook had been dropped, perhaps. For any of these, the potential was not zero. However, I had tried betting on one final possibility. Couldn't the criminal have considered it this way?
- Someone had picked up the notebook, but had not read its contents. As a result of that, the police would not have been alerted, and also, Miguchi Nanami's body would not have been found.
The coffee shop's owner listened to my talk while nodding with a look of great interest.
"And so then, how can you say I'm the criminal?"
I received the notebook back from his hand, and turned to a certain page. A word had been blurred by sweat, and had become unreadable.
"The ink being water soluble, the words would vanish if it got wet -- You knew this. The criminal, after not seeing the notebook inside the shop, wouldn't he have thought he had dropped it outside? -- This is what I guessed." Morino had explained to me how there had been a evening shower happening outside during the time the notebook had been dropped.
Surely the criminal as well must have considered that he had dropped the notebook during the time of the evening shower.
If the criminal was applying the usual way of thinking, he would expect that someone in the store had picked up the notebook, and that the police had probably been informed of it. However, news of the discovery of Miguchi Nanami's body did not come out on the news.
"And so, that day, couldn't it be that the criminal concluded that he dropped the notebook in the rain? That is what I guessed at. And if that was so, the notebook would have become wet from the fierce rain, and the contents would have become unreadable."
That day, the only person who went outside during the time it was raining, was the shop owner; so Morino's story had let me know.
I had assembled this explanation almost completely by my imagination only, like tightrope walking, and after I had finished, the shape of the shop owner's mouth became a wide grin.
"I thought for certain the notebook had been dropped in the rain."
Morino-san was inside. He told me that.
The coffee shop's 2nd, and 3rd floors were his home, it seemed.
And then he returned the notebook to his pocket carefully. He turned his back to me, faced towards the store's entrance, and opened the door.
The sky that had been so cloudy before appeared to have cleared. The world outside lit by the rays of the summer sun, appeared white to eyes used to the shop's gloomy illumination. He exited the shop and walked out towards the street, and disappeared into the light.
The woman customer, who had been called a regular customer, rose from the table and stood in front of the cash register in order to pay. After looking around the inside of the shop, she asked me "Where's the owner?", but I merely shook my head.
The stairs were outside the building; in order to get to the top floor, you had to go outside the shop once.
Morino was tied up on the third floor. Her clothes were like Miguchi Nanami's, her hands and feet were coiled about with rope, and she was tumbled over on the tatami mat.
She didn't seem to have been roughed up.
Upon seeing my face, she gently squinted her eyes. That was her smile. Because there was a towel jammed in her mouth, she couldn't speak.
When I pulled out the towel, she took a deep breath.
"That shop manager, he faked having a bone fracture, and he asked me to help him carry something. By the time I noticed... this happened!"
The rope coiled around her hands and feet looked difficult to untie. I left her in that state, and took a tour of the inside of the room. From the state of the inside of the dwelling, it appeared that the shop's owner lived alone.
On top of the desk, there was a piece of white paper, like from a memo pad. And on that piece of paper, countless tiny crosses were drawn.
On a shelf, there was a knife set stored. It was easy to guess that those were used for killing. In the descriptions in the notebook, the word "knife" had appeared often.
Still lying on the floor, Morino raised her voice, blaming me for not freeing her hands and feet.
I picked out a convenient knife from the knife set, and used it to cut the ropes.
"If we don't get away fast, the shop manager's going to find us!"
"He's not coming, I'm telling you!"
He would probably never come here again. I was almost certain of it. There was the potential that maybe he might come back to kill Morino and I, in order to keep us quiet, but for some reason, I knew he wouldn't.
Because during the conversation we had across the counter of the coffee shop, it felt like I and that abnormal person, in some ways, had been able to communicate with each other's hearts.
Maybe the reason he exited the shop quietly is because he intuitively knew I wouldn't tell anyone.
Morino looked at me as if in wonder, when I declared that the shop manager would never come back here. She stood up while straightening out her clothes.
"I could only send you a mail, and then I got found out......"
On top of the desk was Morino's cell phone, with the power turned off. Miguchi Nanami's bag, that Morino had likely been carrying at the time, was there also. Had the criminal not noticed that the bag the 3rd victim had, and the bag of what was likely to be the 4th victim, were the same thing? Or maybe, it was because it was the same bag that he had aimed for Morino?
It seems that Morino had been tied up and left there all day. Walking unsteadily, she headed towards the stairs.
When we left the room, I took with me the knife set, and the paper on the desk. I had decided they would be my souvenirs. When the police find out everything and search this room, they might be bothered by not being able to find the murder weapon, I suppose. Naturally, I wasn't worried.
Upon reaching the first floor, we looked inside the shop. Inside the uninhabited shop, peaceful music played. I turned over the sign that was hung on the door, from "OPEN" to "CLOSED." Morino stood behind me rubbing her wrists while viewing their condition. Marks from the rope still remained on her wrists.
"What a horrible experience."
"I've decided I'm never coming back to this place again."
"But aren't you glad? That you were able to meet that person."
Morino tilted her head.
"That person? In the first place, why did that shop manager put me through that, I wonder?"
She hadn't realized that the shop manager was the cold-blooded murderer.
I let my eyes drop down to the paper in my hand, and gazed at the countless tiny crosses.