Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 1 Chapter 4

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Chapter 4[edit]

I looked at the sign, which was just a piece of coarse, white paper with ‘No Entry’ written on it, that was stuck onto the door of the rooftop, and suddenly thought of something meaningless. Some people say that there are some things in life that can't be restored, and there are some people who don't think so, but I would unquestionably support the former. If the ‘something that can't be restored’ refers to death, the ‘something that can't be restored’ theory can't be established. Why is that? That's because the moment when a person dies, does not count as his or her life anymore.

But what about the deaths of other people? Are those things that could not be restored as well? Indeed, humans cannot revive from their deaths, so the emptiness that is formed in one's heart is filled by some other people or things; or they can close their own heart, sealing it with tape. As for the people who couldn't do that, they would choose to commit suicide, so life truly does not have things that can't be restored. If it was me from last week, I might have already let go, but after seeing a person who can't even die, I learnt a terrible lesson.

There are only things that couldn't be restored in life.

Although I don't really know if it's right or not.

The only thing that I could make sure of is, the door to the rooftop has already been locked up. It seemed that the rooftop is being temporarily sealed off. The rooftop where Ayaka jumped off of was not the rooftop of the south school building where we tended to the plants, but the north school building in the opposite direction, but that's not the point.

I turned the handle, gave up on opening the door to the rooftop, and went down the stairs. I'm probably just not suited to being a detective. For a more capable person, they would probably think of a way to borrow the keys to the rooftop, or even just climb up the pipes to reach their destination!

*

A detective's assistant.

The employment contract between Alice and I was established the second day. Alice called me over and asked me to tell her everything I know about Ayaka. Geez, she's such an inconsiderate person. After suffering for an hour, Alice said in a straightforward manner:

“Okay, I get it. All the clues have been tied up.”

So what's the answer? But Alice refused to tell me.

“What I know now is the truth, not the facts!” Alice's words had me at a loss.

“The truth and the facts…… What's the difference?”

“Really, to put it bluntly it's just my intuition. It's enough if I alone knew the truth, but my pride does not allow me to just report the truth to my clients.”

“Hmmm…… Is it because you don't have evidence yet?”

“Well, that's the case in short. So that's why I told you to help do the chores around here, which is your payment for the information by labor work. If I told you about the information right now, doesn't that mean that I don't get an equal payment? If you want to gloss through the facts, and only know the truth, you could just investigate it yourself! Go! Just work hard like a mule that has its eyes covered!”

The scene when Alice held my hand with tears in her eyes was like a scam. Today she used her usual tone and said to me:

“Just continue your activities in the Gardening Club as usual and observe closely the places where Ayaka has been. That's your first job.”

*

That was why I continued to walk to the garden.

There was not even one person at the courtyard after school. It might be because it's near the exams, or it might be because it's winter right now, but another reason would be the large, black stains spread on the ground between the garden and the school buildings. I stood beside the black stains and looked for awhile. It was the first time I saw with my own eyes the true feeling of death, and it was still present at the scene. Rain or snow might wash it away eventually, but right now the stains are still on the ground.

There's nothing else.

What could you do with this kind of thing? Alice had already explained that she'd already understood the reason for Ayaka committing suicide, but a will couldn't be found, the police were staying silent, while the magazines were just targeting Ayaka's family that couldn't be said to be favorable. The things that other people could not see, could you see them from the small room that was full of machines?

Just thinking about this is meaningless, so I walked towards my final destination— the greenhouse behind the school building. That was Ayaka's holy ground. I borrowed the keys to the greenhouse from the staffroom, and the strong smell of grass came upon me as soon as I opened the door.

The area of the floor was about twice as big as my room, and was about twelve tatamis big. The greenhouse looked somewhat desolate, I only saw a row of wilting tropical plants arranged on a rack, not even flowering. Probably someone sorted out the place after Ayaka committed suicide?

When I raised my head, I saw pipes interlacing on the ceiling, and there were something that looked like a sprinkler. They probably spray fertilizers or water automatically? There were also additional lighting equipments. This is obviously just a normal high school, so why is there such an advanced greenhouse? Is the school budget that big?

I sat down on the lower part of a rack and leaned against it. I closed my eyes, allowing my body to sink into the smell of the soil that was like warm water.

We couldn't find Toshi, and Ayaka was not even here anymore. There's only me left in the place that belonged to us, while only the drug addicts who were hospitalized or arrested increased gradually.

My phone in my pocket suddenly rang. I was startled, and bumped my head on the rack on top of it.

‘It's me. Are you working seriously? You aren't lying down thinking about meaningless things over and over again, are you? Although I'm a NEET, I'm very strict regarding other people's laziness, so please remember that.’

A young girl's voice came from the other side of the phone. I couldn't help but look around the greenhouse. There aren't any surveillance cameras over here, are there?”

‘You're probably still at school right now, right?’

“…… Yeah, I'm in the greenhouse. I followed your instructions to closely observe the greenhouse.”

‘Good. I want to confirm something with you, are there two entrances to the greenhouse?’

I stood up. Two entrances?

At the opposite of the door that I came in from, there is indeed another identical steel door.

Why did Alice know about this? Is having two doors in a greenhouse that common? Or did she find out about that by searching the internet?

“Open the other door.”

“But it's a wall at the other side of the door!”

The greenhouse was at a corner of the school, and looked as if it's squeezed by the surrounding walls.

‘Do you think I don't even know about something like that? Stop that nonsense, and just do it.”

Opening the lock, a deep ‘dong’ sound came right after I turned the handle. I could only open it for about ten centimeters or so.

“Can't open it!”

‘…… Do you hear it? Yeah, it should probably be at that part…… A plank? It's probably just that, right?’

Alice suddenly said some incomprehensible words, and her voice sounded somewhat far. Ah, she might be talking with some other people. When I was thinking about meaningless stuff again, the door suddenly opened. Holding the handle, I was dragged forward and almost fell down.

Outside the door was a silhouette. Raising my head, I crossed eyes with the sharp gaze of a beast, and my mind went blank momentarily.

It was Yondaime.

Why is it Yondaime? And why did the door open?

Did something happen? I really don't understand.

Holding a phone, Yondaime said: “The door's open, yeah, that's right. Hmm…… No, they've been cleared away, nothing left. To continue tailing is just a waste of time.” I did just hear Yondaime's answering voice just now.

‘Then it's up to you after this. There's probably a surprised Narumi sprawled on the ground, so please explain things to him, I'm really busy, you know.’

“He- Heyhey, Alice!”

The voice stopped coming from Yondaime's phone. After a moment, there was an uncomfortable silence between Yondaime and I. Yondaime walked into the greenhouse after tch-ing, and I hastily stepped aside. Even then, Yondaime just glared at me, not saying anything. I shifted my gaze and looked outside the door, finally solving the mystery that was in front of me.

A tower-shaped wooden signboard and dirty tombstones covered with dust could be seen at the other side of the door— it was the graveyard beside the school. The wall that was close to the entrance of the greenhouse fell coincidentally, and was only blocked by a large plank.

But why did Alice know of this shortcut? Also, why did Yondaime appear here?

Yondaime ignored me, and used his phone to take photos of the interior of the greenhouse.

“Yondaime, why are you here?”

“Don't call me Yondaime.”

“Err, then should I call you Sou-san?”

“When did you become a part of our group?”

‘Narumi, Yondaime's surname is Hinamura, so you can just call him Hina. He'll be thrilled.”

Uwaah, Alice didn't hang up on me yet. With a ferocious expression, Yondaime snatched my phone and hung up on Alice. I though that he would just crush my phone.

“…… Hi- Hina?” “I'll kill you!” Yondaime stuffed my phone into my mouth. What is this guy doing!

“Your job is to open the lock of the greenhouse, right? Just get out of here since you've done your job.”

Facing Yondaime's comment, I could only stare.

“…… What's with that?”

“Didn't Alice say anything to you?”

Feeling miserable, I nodded. Yondaime heaved a long sigh.

“Then think about it clearly.”

The connection between Yondaime and Ayaka……

…… is Toshi. Only Toshi, and Angel Fix.

Then, did Ayaka commit suicide because of Toshi? But what's their connection with the greenhouse? Fragments of my memories swirled around in my mind, just like a puzzle that couldn't be completed.

“Wait, please wait!”

I hurriedly called Yondaime who was about to walk out of the greenhouse. Yondaime turned around, his wolfish eyes looking even more vicious.

“…… Is Ayaka related to the drug? Why, is there—“

“Of course they're related, you idiot! If it wasn't because of that thing, you could still continue your peaceful activities of the Gardening Club. Can't you see that something was wrong if things didn't happen?”

I didn't know how to answer him.

The door to the cemetery slammed shut, leaving me alone in the greenhouse along with the warm heat of the plants.

Is it because of the drug? Did Ayaka fall into a coma because of the detestable pink pills? Why? Is it because Toshi did something?

It was all the fault of Angel Fix.

No matter how I pondered, there was no progress. I gave up on thinking, went back to the staffroom and returned the key. When I was about to walk out of the staffroom, Sayuri-sensei called me.

“Although I know that it's not appropriate asking you about this right now, but what are you going to do concerning the Gardening Club?”

“What to do?”

“After all…… something like this happened, so you're the only remaining member of the club.”

Ahh, that's right. I recalled the day when I met Ayaka, and our promise.

“Of course, I hope that you choose to continue, and I would ask other students if they're interested in joining. Some teachers also said that the garden must have someone tending to it.”

I was silent, in deep thought. To be honest, I don't know a thing about gardening, so if I must continue club activities alone until April, when recruiting starts, it's impossible. But I didn't want to just let the garden and greenhouse stay bare, because those places belonged to Ayaka.

Even if she's not coming back anymore.

It seemed that Sayuri-sensei misunderstood my silence.

“Sorry for suddenly asking you about things like this. You probably have your own thoughts about it. If you don't want to continue being in the club, I won't force you to.”

“Err……”

Sayuri-sensei had already been a teacher for five years now. Even though she's single, there are rumors circulating her as she looked extremely pretty. Giving out a charming expression with her bright eyes is her weapon. Being stared at with this look, I surrendered.

“It's not that I don't want to continue……”

“Really?”

A relieved expression appeared on Sayuri-sensei's face.

“Those are Shinozaki's precious flowers, so I hope that we can leave them alone. Additionally, the flowers in the greenhouse are about to bloom……”

…… About to bloom?

“Almost all of the plants in the greenhouse have disappeared, weren't they disposed of by you?”

Sayuri-sensei's eyes turned round.

“Disappeared? Really?”

She balanced her pen on her lower lip and thought for awhile.

“Could it be Shinozaki who disposed of them?”

Ayaka disposed of them?

It might be because of that, for taking care……Wait, that's not right……

I recalled the words that Yondaime have said. He said while talking to Alice on the phone: “They were cleared away.”

Ayaka and the greenhouse.

Toshi.

Angel Fix.

The fragments in my mind started to piece together.


*

It was January when I rode my bike to the ramen shop in a frenzy, while the sun was setting quickly. Looking past the red rays bathing the curtains, there was not even one customer in the shop. I rode my bike until I collided with the plastic barrel behind the shop, balanced my bike on the wall and ran to the stairs.

Just when I was about to run upstairs, Min-san called me from the kitchen.

“Come in and sit down.”

“I'm busy right now.”

“Stop blabbering and sit down, or I'll hit you.”

Because Min-san was waving her soup ladle vigorously, I went into the shop obediently and sat on the seat in front of the counter.

Min-san plopped a paper cup in front of me, a pomelo smoothie. The sour taste prickled my brain like frozen needles. It was as though the warmth of my body was absorbed by the smoothie, and then a mild spiciness came upon me, quite a mysterious flavor. I suddenly remembered that it was winter right now, and my body started to shiver.

“I've put ginger in the smoothie.”

“Oh……” As she said, it was the spiciness of ginger. Surprisingly, the taste of pomelos and ginger blend quite well together……

“It's a dessert made specially for winter that makes the body feel warm.”

Min-san smiled triumphantly, puffing up her sarashi-bound chest.

“My dad was an outdoor sports type of person who lived on due to his determination. He used to take me to snowy mountains or to swim in ice cold water, so I usually depended on chewing raw ginger used for cooking soup to support myself.” …… Was she training to become a ninja?

“But I was actually not that good at swimming when I was little.”

“Eh?”

“What's with that expression, everyone has something that they're not good at, don't they?”

Well, that's not really wrong, but I absolutely can't imagine how Min-san looked like when she was little.

“A person who can't swim always flails in the water when drowning, right? I always got scolded by dad because of that. Don't move if you don't know how to swim, and you'll float naturally. But for a person who's drowning, you can't think of these things.”

At that moment Min-san stopped and stared at me. That was when I realized that Min-san was lecturing me, although she didn't say so clearly.

My brain calmed down.

Indeed, I wanted to see Alice just minutes before, driven by impulse, and to grab the pajamas-clad girl by her throat and tell her to explain things clearly. But I am completely unsure of what to ask, as I haven't even thought about it. What an idiot I am.

My shoulders sagged. A person who can't swim could just not move and float naturally, but what should I do?

“Min-san……”

“Hmm?” Min-san who was cutting onions stopped and raised her head.

“About…… Ayaka not being here, what do you think about it?”

“Are you an idiot? You don't need to ask another person's opinion for this.”

Min-san's voice seemed as if she was really angry.

“If I tell you that I would go and visit her, crying my eyes out, would you feel that you would do that too? If I tell you that I feel okay about it, would you feel that it's okay if you didn't do anything?”

Min-san's words were like Yondaime's fist, heavily pushing against my abdomen. I lowered my head while holding the cup of ice cream and felt that I kept repeating the same stupid thing these few months, surprising the other people.

I lowered my head and stood up.

“I'm going to Alice's office for awhile.”

“Okay.”

Min-san's outstretched hands appeared before my eyes. She placed a paper cup that was closed with a lid— a pomelo smoothie like what I've just eaten just now.

“Take it to that girl, I think she's in a bad mood today too.”


*

As Min-san had guessed, Alice looked terrible. It was a cold month, but the air-conditioner was still going strong. Empty cans of Dr. Pepper were stacked in front of her bed like a beehive. The bed was led by Mocha Bear (Yondaime used his professional skills to fix the ears on again), while an army of other dolls and plushies surrounded her. A cooling paste was stuck onto her forehead, while black circles appeared below her eyes.

“How courageous you are, coming into my territory wearing thick clothes like a Russian soldier. I'll give you two choices, take off the sports get-up that makes people feel hot as soon as they see it, or you can get out of my room.”

“…… I want to ask you every time, why do you make your room feel so cold?”

“Are the things that are at the two sides of your head handles used for moving? I'm asking if you're going to get out or to take them off!”

I glumly took off my sports jacket. Brrrrrr, it's so cold. Alice waved at the wall that was full of machines.

“My eyes and ears would give off heat so long as they could move. Compared to the eternal darkness and silence, what's a little coldness going to do."

“But I think that humans do not need to work in coordination with that.”

My teeth clattered while I was answering due to the cold.

“How arrogant. You're really a surprisingly self-centered human, and can't be helped at all. Do you want the environment to cooperate with humans? That is a stupid behavior. According to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and Gödel's incompleteness theorem, from the moment when humans lost to God, they found that changing themselves would be better than using philosophy or natural science to change the world. Everyone has already changed direction, but you alone are still standing on a sinking ship, blankly waving the flag of an alchemist. That's rare. If I made your life into a movie, we'd probably get all the prizes.”

“Argh……”

Hehe, so I'm an arrogant and self-centered human. So that's it, I've just noticed when Alice said that about me. Although all of that just sounded like Alice making excuses, I've already surrendered to the coldness and Alice's articulate debates.

“Okay, sorry. I'll even take off the sweater, okay?”

Alice widened her eyes.

“…… What an oddball you are. An air conditioner is obviously one of the assets that humans use for the nature to coordinate with humans, but why did you give up on debating so quickly? You could at least say that I'm the one who's self-centered.”

“No……”

I've suddenly realized that I feel better after Alice scolded me, and could not help but feel somewhat impatient. I'm a hopeless cause.

“I'm somewhat tired right now, so I don't have the energy to rebuke you.”

As Alice started to talk again, I hurriedly handed the smoothie to her so that she would shut up.

After opening the lid, Alice's eyes sparkled because of the sweet fragrance of the pomelo, but right after she ate a mouthful, she made a ‘Wuwu~’ noise, and her eyes squinted into a straight line.

“What is it?”

“It's spicy……”

Alice said with tears in her eyes. Is it so spicy that it could make people cry?

“Master is so impressive……. An amazingness that even I could not predict…… Wuwu……~”

“Are you okay?”

“…… I'm alright. It's just too tasty, I'm going to eat them all up!”

Alice ate the smoothie with her mouth pouting, looking like she wanted to cry out. Her whole body contorted for each mouthful that she had.

“Don't force yourself to do it. I'll eat up the rest of them for you.”

“Why are you so greedy! You've already eaten some downstairs, but you still want to eat up my share. I won't even give you one mouthful.”

Alice stuck out her tongue at me, then used ten minutes to eat it all up. It seemed that the spiciness still lingered on her tongue even after she finished eating it. Alice pouted, her eyes almost squinted into a line. She waved her hands while sitting on the carpet like she wanted to say something, so I took out a can of Dr. Pepper and handed it to her.

After drinking the whole can of Dr. Pepper in one gulp, Alice sighed, and seemed like her mood was much better.

“As my assistant, it seems that you've accumulated much experience. You could even finish your main job without me even saying anything. Your performance as an assistant is passable like this.”

“So the main job of an assistant is to get Dr. Pepper……”

“Do you think that I'm wrong about this?”

No, it's clear what you're going to say!

“So next, let's solve your problem! Yondaime probably didn't explain anything to you, so just ask if you have any questions! Although I might not answer you.”

Then what does this count as?

I sank into deep thought. Indeed, I would be taken as an idiot by Alice no matter what I ask, and might not answer me. But sometimes, not answering is also an answer.

And also……

I'm not always fumbling in the dark.

“Don't you have something you wanted to ask me?”

Alice bent her knees, placed her chin on them and tilted her head.

“I'm thinking of what to ask you.”

“Well, that's some growth!”

That's probably because of Min-san's pomelo smoothie. If I straightaway rushed in here, and said whatever I thought, Alice would probably make me as an idiot again.

I thought for a long time and said:

“Can you give me a copy of the information about Angel Fix? The one with the photos.”

The smile vanished from Alice's face. She didn't answer at first, and the room was just filled with the sound of the cooling fan of the CPUs. I thought in instinct: Ahh, I've asked the right question. At the same time, I felt as if my heart was stuffed to the bottom of my shoes.

Finally, Alice muttered:

“Are you mentally prepared to dig the grave of the deceased?”

I—

nodded slightly.

Alice showed me her sad eyes, nodded and answered me.

“I understand, here's the information. But before I give it to you, there's something I need to ask you.”

Being an assistant needs a heavy price. Alice sat on her bed and beckoned at me. Eh? Wait a sec? To the bed? Is she telling me to get on her bed?

“What are you dilly-dallying for? Are your hands so long that you could press the keyboard from there?”

“…… Keyboard?”

“The job that I'm requesting you to do requires the use of a computer, so I'm asking you to come over here.”

“Ah, oh……”

So that my embarrassing misunderstanding would not be found out, I turned around and stood up.

“Err, may I get on your bed?”

“Just hurry up.”

On the blanket, I politely shifted over to Alice's side by using my knees. Being on the same bed as a girl, that makes me really nervous.

“You're good at editing photos, right? Then I'll hand this picture to you.”

Alice pointed at the bottom of her screen. She had opened Photoshop, and a young man with a sharp chin was shown on the screen.

“Editing?”

“That's right, because this information is going to be photocopied and distributed. Haven't you heard of it before? Humans don't remember things by their original appearance, so a person would have a stronger impression on something if the facial features are more emphasized. It's the same with a portrait.”

Ahhh, I think I've heard of that before. My gaze fell on the screen again.

At that moment, a chill crept up my back. I've seen this man before. But where?

“…… Who is this guy?”

“His name is Shirou Hakamizaka, a researcher.”

I stared at Alice in surprise. Hakamizaka?

I looked at the screen again. A sharp chin, a face that looks intellectual, this probably came from a driving license or something, huh? There isn't even the hint of a smile on his face. I tried to put on a pair of frameless glasses in my mind…… I've got it! That's right, on the day that Toshi disappeared, I spotted this guy who makes people feel uneasy near the zebra crossings.

“He enrolled into T Medical University seven years ago, not in Pharmacy, but Life Sciences. It's somewhat strange if you say that it's a subject for researching genetic inheritance. I've heard that his results are quite good, and even went to Iran to study abroad. He probably found that there.”

Found? Found what?

“That's it!”

Alice handed a pile of papers to me, and the photo of a red flower was on the topmost paper. It was the papers that I saw that time.

“Originally, the flowers on the photo aren't that rare, and wouldn't have any medical effects, so Hakamizaka probably found its mutated variety. At the research center, we found it from plants that had similar alkaloids. This is the payment for your labor, I'll just give it to you first! So let's ignore the information for now……”

“Hakamizaka is not the only person that is related to this incident. I've thoroughly investigated the people that might have relations with him. I'm not sure if every one of them are related to the drug, but anyways, this is a family business-type drug organization. Hakamizaka's father is a powerful second-generation politician, so their modal probably comes from Hakamizaka's usual pocket money. I've investigated the assets under his father's name, but couldn't find their current location yet. It's both thoughtful and daring, a mere researcher starting from zero, looking for people online, nurturing the raw material, manufacturing, and then selling them cheaply. This is why they haven't been caught until now.”

Alice enlarged the other windows for me. Most of them are not taken from the front, and are parts of a group photo or some very unclear photos.

“Where did you find all this?”

“I've already said that I'm a NEET detective, right? The hardest thing was to find out Shirou Hakamizaka's phone number, while the others were a cinch.”

I was taken aback. So she DOES know how to check phone logs?

“So you're really a hacker……”

“I'm not a hacker. A hacker is originally a name the students in Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave to the people who do large pranks. What you're saying is probably a cracker who steals information. I'm different from a cracker, which I've told you a lot of times. I'm a NEET detective. So stop that nonsense and turn your attention to the screen.”

Alice caught hold of my face and turned my head to the computer screen.

I wouldn't mistake the person on the last screen, it's Toshi. With the same eyes as Ayaka, the same outline as Ayaka, I almost cried out loud. Even though I knew that from the start……. Even though I knew that from the start……

“Are you…… sure?”

In the end I still asked. Alice answered me with a gentle voice:

“We're not sure yet. The world that I can see is only the limited scenes of the limitless small windows on the network. In chance, Toshi bumped into Hakamizaka at a drug discussing website, and then became friends. Toshi might have just gotten the Angel Fix straight from Hakamizaka, and did not take part in the manufacturing or dealing of the drug. I cannot deny the possibility of this.”

Alice's words were like she's reading from a script, making people feel empty.

“There are a few places in Toshi's behavior that are perplexing. Additionally, when he came to the ramen shop that day, he probably wasn't trying to get money from Ayaka.”

“…… Eh?”

“Toshi did ask you, right? If Yondaime came to my office or not. And then he said that it's the only thing that he wanted to ask, right?”

“Ah……”

I remembered, Toshi DID say that. At that time, I wasn't sure why Toshi wanted to ask that, but knowing what Toshi hid, I understand now.

“He's here to check out…… if Alice and Yondaime have started to investigate the matter about the drug?”

“This is still speculation, and not the truth. But this hypothesis has a contradiction. Listen, if Toshi was already guarded against me, why did he still let you see the Angel Fix?”

I became silent.

It was indeed strange. If he felt that Alice had started to investigate the matter, he probably wouldn't be so careless that he'd show me his confused look after he took the drug.

Hakamizaka did say that he finally found Toshi or something like that, so that's probably Toshi's own free will?

I don't get it.

If the person who heard about Angel Fix was not me, but a more sensitive person, they would probably think of Yondaime or Alice, who were investigating this matter, and it would not turn out like this. If it wasn't me……

Why me?

Why did Toshi—

I don't get it.

“You don't get it, and I don't understand either, so……”

Alice lightly raised my hand and placed it on the mouse. The pointer on the screen shook.

“I'm the same as you. You wanted to use the information and your own eyes and ears to confirm the truth, and to learn the truth, I want to find Toshi.”

Editing six photos and combining them into one took two hours. Alice squatted by my side, staring at the edited pictures on the screen. Usually, she would not stop talking even for a moment, but only at these times would she be silent. That made me so nervous. I tried not to look in Alice's direction, and focused my attention on the computer screen. My neck aches… This is the first time that I felt uncomfortable when the other party isn't talking.

“Alice, I'm done.”

“Hmmmmmm…… Mnn.”

So she fell asleep. That's why she was so silent.

“You're so slow that you made me fall asleep. Hmm, that's not bad.”

Not even a word of consolation. Never mind. Alice pushed me away, activated the mailing system and mailed the zipped folder. After that, she pulled out a phone from behind the messy computer rack.

“…… Yondaime? Mn, it's me. We've finished editing the photo, and I sent it there already…… Hmm? That's a zipped folder! Zipped. Eh? Just double click it with your mouse and print it in A4 size. Nonono, there should be paint on your computer right? No? Ahhh, that's right, your computer was picked up by Major and then remodeled right, so at least just download a free editing software! What? You don't get it? At least get me a person who understands……”

When she was talking on the phone, Alice's voice was sometimes so low that it's scary, and sometime it rose like she's angry. In the end, Alice screamed: “I had enough! Forget it! I'll just tell Narumi to go there right now. Just you wait!” and then hung up. Eh? Wait a minute……How does that concern me?

“So it's like that……”

Alice looked at me and said determinedly. So what?

“The people in Hirasaka-gumi don't even have basic knowledge about computers, it's terrible. Even if it's God who's educating idiots, He would feel frustrated too. Therefore it's better for you to go.”

“Err, no, wait a sec……”

“This is also the job of an assistant, so hurry up and go.”

Without giving me a chance to rebuke her, I was chased out of the detective firm.

*

“I didn't think that there would be a day when we needed your help……”

Yondaime said with a bitter expression. At the interior of Hirasaka-gumi, there were simple beds, a small kitchen, and a bridge, while there was a desk and an old computer further inside the room. As though we were attracted to the rays of light emitted by the monitor, the followers were tidily arranged by my side, led by Yondaime, while I sat on the chair in the middle with my body curled up.

“Sou-san, we've already gathered down here.”

The lackey who opened the door and went in reported.

“Hey! Hurry up and fix it!”

The tall lackey crossed over my shoulders and said with his eyes glued to the screen, and even knocked on my head. It was one of the bodyguards that I saw before, the one who was as tall as an electric pole.

“I'm downloading the file right now.”

While thinking to myself why am I in such a mess, I opened the large enterprising website that provided free softwares and downloaded the simplest video processing software. It seemed that Major installed only the most basic applications on the computer. The hard disk was almost completely empty, only the mailing software has any trace of usage. I thought that young people nowadays were all good at using computers, but now I realized that wasn't the case.

As soon as I opened the picture that I've edited, the surrounding people made an astonished sound. You don't need to be so surprised, do you? I adjusted the size of the picture to A4 size and then printed it out. While being guarded in bated breath by the men wearing the black T-shirts with their emblem on it, the color printer slowly printed out the paper that had the faces of six people on it.

“Whoa!”

“That's so incredible!”

“A miracle!”

“It's so unbelievable that I don't even understand what I'm seeing.”

“Wow, print five more…… No, please print five more copies.”

After six copies of the pictures were printed, the person who rushed me just now, Pole, was now clutching at my shoulders with his eyes wet.

“Sorry! As expected from Ane-san's assistant! I've wronged you, aniki!”

“Thanks for your hard work, aniki!”

“Thanks for your hard work.”

Nonono, don't treat me like that. Yondaime took the six papers with a peeved expression on his face, distributed them to the others and said: “Don't be stupid. Take it to a convenience store and photocopy two hundred copies for each paper.”

“Understood! I shall go hone my manly aura right away.”

“Understood!”

*

There were quite a lot of people gathered at the parking lot below the office of Hirasaka-gumi. The empty space that could accommodate twenty cars at most was densely packed with people, who were muttering to each other in the darkness. They were all ordinary young people who could just hang out around the streets. A hundred…… Two hundred….. No, it should be more? The cold air of the winter evening was completely chased out of the parking lot. All of them were men, so they emitted an odd atmosphere. The place where the fans gather before a concert starts would feel like this too, probably?

“Aniki, please walk over here.”

A man wearing a black T-shirt pulled at my collar as I was standing at the entrance, flustered, and brought me to further in the right side. The guys with an emblem on their shirts were standing in a row like cheerleaders. But really, I'm just here to get back my bike. I'm now seriously regretting my decision. I should've parked outside!

“Does Hirasaka-gumi have that many people?”

The person seemed to hear my mutterings.


“No, the people who are truly in the group are just twenty something, but the small groups over here listen to Sou-san. Sou-san looks after the jobless people over here, so they would come over here if he called them.”

I sighed and looked at the crowd. The heat that they were emitting was giving me a headache. When I started to straighten my back, looked around and was thinking:: “I'll get out of here double quick, after I find my bike.”, the noise suddenly piped down.

The gazes of the people were all focused on Yondaime. With his back to the greenish white lights outside, Yondaime walked into the entrance of the parking lot from the slope. His crimson coat rolled up because of the wind formed by atmospheric pressure. It could be felt that everyone was waiting for Yondaime to speak, and the matter about my bike disappeared from my mind in a flash.

.“Some people were throwing rubbish randomly in this area.”

Yondaime said in a calm tone.

“It's pink trash that has grown wings. The police didn't do anything until someone was stabbed recently, because this kind of drug only appears on the streets, and is not sold in an organization. The people who made and sold it are nobodies like us.”

Two hundred men nodded at the same time, forming a small wave.

“So we'll just deal with this problem ourselves. Because the people who foamed at their mouths because of their addiction, the people who were hurt by the drug addicts who were clouded mentally after taking drugs, are all our mates. The police would only take action after four or five people have died, and it'll be too late by that time. Who could prevent this from happening?”

As an answer to Yondaime's question, quite a few types of answers interlaced in the air. Noise rang in the darkness as though an express train passed through, because of the angry shouts of the two hundred people with raised hands. Even in the din, Yondaime's voice still rang clearly.

“That's right, only us. If we handed things to the police, the stupid nobodies could continue their monkey business for a month or so, would be arrested and sent to the jail or youth detention center, and would be let out after three years or so.”

Angry shouts of ‘What a joke!’, ‘Kill them!’ and so on could be heard. I shivered. Over two hundred vicious beasts would be let out the streets at the same time because of Yondaime's orders.

“So have you got the photo already? We aren't sure if the ones on them are related to the drug, so don't act recklessly after finding them. Getting the truth out of them is Hirasaka-gumi's job, so don't you guys risk getting arrested. Just looking for them is okay, photocopying them and giving them to other people is alright too. If you find a person who's selling the drug, catch him even if he's not on the piece of paper. When things end, Hirasaka-gumi will take care of things.”

Yondaime looked at me—No, at the black shirted men beside me.

“Give them a warning, let everyone know better than to do things on this street.”

After the crowd of two hundred or so people went out, I collapsed onto the empty parking lot and rested for awhile. Long shadows of the members of Hirasaka-gumi that were left swayed on the ground. It was as though the angry roars of the beasts were still remaining on the floor and the walls.

“Aniki, is this your bike?”

One of the members pushed my bike from the depths of the parking lot here. I weakly nodded.

“Thank you for your help, we'll take care of the rest. Don't be a busybody, there's nothing you can help with.”

Yondaime said towards my back, and left.

“Hey!”

I stood up and called Yondaime, who turned around and glared at me wolfishly.

“If…… you found Toshi…… what are you going to do?”

“God knows, if he's lucky he'd probably not be sent to the cemetery, but just the hospital.”

Was that a joke? Don't you know Toshi? But I couldn't say it.

“Do you think I would have mercy on Toshi just because I know him?”

Yondaime saw through my thoughts.

“One of my followers was stabbed, and his own sister has been harmed by himself and gone into a coma. Can you still forgive him then?

The words pierced deeply into my heart.

Ayaka, was harmed by Toshi?

“I don't care how you think, but taking care of the person we caught is our freedom, and our responsibility.”

The other members of Hirasaka-gumi nodded seriously.

After Yondime and the other members walked out of the parking lot, I caught hold of the handle of my bike and stood up.

Ayaka was harmed.

Ayaka…… was harmed by Toshi.

*

The next day, I took the papers about Angel Fix I got from Alice to school.

During recess, I went to look for Sayuri-sensei at the staffroom, who had just come back.

“What is it? Do you want to have lunch with me because you don't have any friends? I'm sorry, but I have to prepare for my afternoon class.”

Sayuri-sensei is just as usual, I don't know what she's so excited for. Mind your own business, and stop fussing.

“I'm not here to have lunch with you, but to ask you something.”

“What is it?”

“You saw the plants in the greenhouse before right? During the second semester.”

“That's right, I've gone into the greenhouse quite a few times.”

I took a piece of paper out of my pocket. It's the picture of the flower that I've cut out from the information about Angel Fix. After I handed her the photo, Sayuri-sensei tilted her head and looked at it for a moment, then nodded with an “Oh~” sound.

“There were a lot of these flowers in the greenhouse before this, all planted using hydroponics. There was also a pile of boxes on the floor…… But the color of the flower is bluer than in the photo.”

“…… It's probably a mutated variety.”

My voice sounded like a bubble that drifted up from the bottom of a swimming pool. So the flowers there were a bluish color…… Even if it's Alice who seems like she knows everything, probably doesn't know about this, right? In despair, I remembered the bluish purple flowers swaying in the air-conditioned greenhouse.

The flowers that Ayaka planted.

“What type of flower is this?”

“I think its scientific name is Papaverbracteatum Lindl.”

“Uwaah, it sounds like you're eating screws when you read its name, although the flowers are pretty.”

Seeing as it's a mutated variety and has been successfully grown, it means that this is a new breed. Shouldn't we have a new name for it? While thinking of this, I left the staffroom. A crowd of girls were holding their trophies from the Welfare Society, happily chatting away and walked past me.

What name would Hakamizaka give them?

Because of the flowers, Ayaka—

I subconsciously clenched the photo that I've cut down.

*

After school, I went to Hanamaru Ramen Shop. There wasn't even a customer in the shop, and only Tetsu-senpai, Major and Hiro were doing something while surrounding the gas tank. I could hear crackling sounds and black smoke wafting up from there.

“What are you guys doing?”

“We're trying to raise a fire. We don't know when we're going to become vagrants, so this is a drill for that time.”

Tetsu-senpai said with one hand on the gas tank. There were newspapers, dismantled chairs and table legs burning brightly.

Major said: “Next we just have to learn how to make a cardboard house, then we won't have to worry when we become vagrants.” What an annoying drill, and it does seem quite realistic.

“Doing these things at the back of the shop would get you a scolding from Min-san!”

“Never mind, never mind. There's no customers here anyways, and we're burning the stuff to help clear up the shop. It's the fifteenth of January today, coincidentally the festival of the dosojin.”

“It's because of people like you that customers aren't coming.”

Min-san's scolding came from the kitchen, even saying that she'll burn us altogether. It's now just five in the evening, when the sun sets later, there'll be customers, right?

“Vice Admiral Fujishima, you could just throw anything you want to burn in here!” Don't call me vice admiral……

“I burned the posters of the girls that I went out with. I feel so contented right now.”

“I burned the horse racing tickets that I didn't win for. The blasted Japan Racing Association should remember this, I'll definitely get back at them this year!”

“I wanted to burn my student ID, but was stopped by them…..”

Don't burn your student ID, Major. Did you encounter something annoying in school?

I gazed at the crackling flames for awhile, then took a stack of papers from my bag and put it inside. The photocopied papers full of chemical equations and words disappeared in the flames in a flash, turning to ashes.

“That's for the drugs……”

Hiro seemed to have noticed.

“Alice gave you that, right? Is it okay to burn it?”

“It doesn't matter, things have already finished.”

“Have you found out about something?”

I nodded dubiously, then squatted down due to a sudden wave of tiredness. Some warmth came from the surface of the gas tank, making the coldness even clearer.

We silently surrounded the burning gas tank, until the sun slowly set. The sounds of customers ordering food from Min-san came from the shop, while the sound of the crackling flames eventually disappeared, as if absorbed by the dark air.

“I finally understand. You're very similar to Alice.”

Tetsu-senpai muttered. I was taken aback, and raised my head.

“Handling everything yourself, keeping everything to yourself, forcing yourself to the limits but not seeing the others, feeling that everything is your fault, so that's why you resonate with each other.”

Similar? Resonate? I, myself, don't think so.

“But Alice is really capable, unlike Vice Admiral Fujishima.”

“Major, that's too direct of you.”

Tetsu-senpai laughed, but I didn't. It is indeed as he had said.

“It's about time we get inside.”

Hiro said, and the customers came in threes and twos.

We couldn't move the gas tank for now, so we just left it there for now. We shifted to the backdoor of the kitchen. Tetsu-senpai said that he wanted to treat us all to ramen. It seemed that he lost money from gambling on horses and pachinko lately, so he's treating us to change his luck. I ordered a Chinese garlic naengmyeon. Min-san was about to walk out and complain about something, but went back into the kitchen to make it after she saw me. What acute sense she has.

“In this weather, you want to eat that……”

Tetsu-senpai looked at the dish on top of my knees and stuck his tongue out.

“…… Major, do you remember the day that you ordered this?”

Because of my question, Major and Hiro looked at each other.

“Major got some information from his school. Hiro, Ayaka and I were eating ice cream, then Alice called……”

I thought about that day— when Ayaka was still healthily working in the kitchen and the shop.

“Hiro and I took some stuff to Yondaime, and Ayaka went home early when we came back. It's probably been since that day that Ayaka's behavior became strange……”

I knew that I shouldn't do so, but I couldn't help but look at Hiro.

“Ayaka saw the information of Angel Fix lying around, so she found out that the flowers that she were growing in the greenhouse are the raw material for the drug.”

“Is…… it my fault?”

Hiro started to moan. I shook my head while smiling. The smile is okay, probably?

“Leaving the information in the shop isn't your fault, because the only person who noticed that we couldn't let Ayaka see it was me.”

“But, Narumi……”

“The following ones would just be my own speculation. About summer or fall last year, Ayaka accepted the request of Toshi who didn't go home for a long time, to plant flowers in the school greenhouse. Toshi used the back door of the greenhouse to collect the plants on a regular basis. Ayaka knew a bit about Hakamizaka's identity, so she thought that Toshi was helping in an experiment for the university or something like that…… But, she found that things are not so that day.”

My words stopped at this moment, then there was a silence. Behind us came the sound of bowls colliding, eating noodles, ordering and eating ice cream.

And then? I don't understand. What would Ayaka who found out that her own brother told her to plant drugs do? Probably she went to question Toshi about it? And then—

I don't understand.

Where did it go wrong, causing Ayaka to commit suicide?

Alice said that she knew the reason. Did she have a piece of the puzzle that I don't have? Or did I miss something? I don't get it, why must Ayaka commit suicide? Why did she do that without even saying something to me? Even though I'm so useless, there's something…… there's something that I could help with……

“Then it's confirmed.”

I raised my head because of Tetsu-senpai's statement.

“It's confirmed that Toshi is one of them.”

I weakly nodded.

Alice said that Toshi might have no connections with the drug dealing, but being unsure of Toshi's reason he let me see the Angel Fix, everything is unsure.

Yondaime also said that the person they were searching for might not have any connections with the drug.

That's quite the white lie that they fed us.

Angel Fix.

Growing pink wings, it took away Ayaka.

“So what are you going to do then?”

I stared at Tetsu-senpai's face with my mouth half open. There was not a hint of anger or pity on his face, his eyes were just like a crane game machine that takes coin without an emotion. I couldn't help but shift my gaze, and lowered my head.

What— am I going to do?

I don't know. Because there's nothing more that I can help with. If there's something that I could help with, I should've done it earlier. Before Ayaka committed suicide, before Toshi's disappearance.

The only thing that I could do for Ayaka right now, is to find out the reason for her suicide, and to search for Toshi, who should know the truth.

“Is that really for Ayaka?”

Tetsu-senpai's words rang out. My back froze.

For Ayaka?

There's no such thing, because Ayaka's heart is already dead. Only her body is left in the ward, while her soul has already disappeared in the winter sky.

That is why—

That's why, the things that I'm doing are for myself. To relieve my own emotions, because I'm impatient right now.

“That's great!”

Tetsu-senpai said. I raised my head.

“I've said that before, right. I wouldn't help a person who wouldn't even ask for himself.”

“Then……” I looked at Tetsu-senpai, Major and Hiro. Their faces were somewhat blurry for some reason. “If I ask for help, you guys would help me?”

“Of course! Vice Admiral Fujishima is also a part of the Japanese army!”

Hiro smiled and said: “How could us NEETs not help each other?”

But can three NEETs and an idiotic high schooler who might become a NEET in the future do anything? What can we do if we just combine four weak hands—

“There's definitely a way.”

Tetsu-senpai said.

I bit my lips. At this time, at such an important moment, I'm still a useless person who can't even see them in the eye.

“Please….. help……”

A sound like using a thread to rub my teeth came from my throat.

“Please help me.”

I felt the three of them standing up.

When I raised my head, I saw Tetsu-senpai on the phone. Alice's voice could be faintly heard on the other side.

‘I don't think I've told you guys to help out.’

“We've accepted the request directly from Narumi.”

‘Then there's no payment this time. If you want payment, just get it from Narumi. You should know that he can't pay, right!’

“It's okay, I'll ask him to waive the money that I owed him from gambling in dices.”

“Eh? Wait a sec, then the only person who benefits from this is Tetsu!”

Hiro interrupted.

“I'll treat you all to roasted meat.”

“But that isn't fair, right? A debt of two hundred and seventy thousand exchanged for only roasted meat.”

“The model gun that I wanted is eighty seven thousand.”

“Shut up! Those aren't important!” Tetsu-senpai said, annoyed. “You too, how long are you going to dawdle there, hurry up and stand up!”

Catching hold of my hand, Tetsu-senpai dragged me up forcibly.

Weakly raising my head, I was shocked when I saw the faces of the three people. In front of the dark ramen shop door, the eyes that exist for the sake of looking at pachinko machines, the eyes that exist for the sake of reading information about the militaries, the eyes that exist for the sake of looking at girls, they were all gleaming together.



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