Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 2 Chapter 1

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One day in the spring holidays, a client suddenly appeared at the NEET Detective Agency, an odd Thai girl who was always unusually excited.

The bag that her father left behind after disappearing was filled with a hefty sum of money— two hundred million yen.

The girl’s request was— “Please save my dad.”

The young NEET detective, Alice, who wore pajamas and wouldn’t take a step out of her room and I, as her assistant, borrowed the power of Tetsu-senpai, Major and Hiro of the NEET Detective Squad to start our investigation. Even the leader of the juvenile delinquents, Yondaime was dragged into it, the matter developed into an unexpected direction—

This is the second episode youthful NEET- Teen Story that was somewhat unbearable, somewhat funny but also with a hint of courage.

Narumi Fujishima

Until last year, I was still an ordinary high school student.

Due to the incidents that occurred during last winter, my whole third semester was ruined.

Even so, I still managed to advance to second year, just like a miracle, but I still couldn’t follow what the teachers taught, and failed in almost all of my exams. When I finally came to my senses, my tragic life was already at the edge of a cliff.

I knew that I couldn’t just become a useless bum, so I put in more effort and accepted two part time jobs.

One of them is a worker at a ramen shop, while the other is…… a detective’s assistant.

……. It seems like I might have chosen the wrong place to have a part time job, and one of my employers is a NEET too.

Furthermore, NEETs walk all around at the place where I work, everyone trying to bully me into being a NEET.

As for who they are—

Alice

This girl is a NEET detective, and is one of my employers.

She’s a hikikomori that almost never went out, so her way of ordering people around is quite impolite.

She thinks that a detective’s assistant (me) is just a useful vacuum machine that can talk.

Being physically weak, she can’t live by herself but she is good at arguing; whenever I complain even a bit, she immediately gives me a five thousand times scolding.

Really, why must I do things for this fellow?

Actually, I’m not really sure myself, but if I’m not at her side, she probably won’t even eat her meals properly……

NEET Detective Squad

Surrounding Alice’s side, the group of people at the boundary of society who would not lose to Alice.

No matter what difficulties they encountered, they still wouldn’t give up, wouldn’t turn back and wouldn’t work; those are their principles. Sigh~ I really can’t stand this.

Tetsu-senpai

He studied at my school a few years ago and dropped out, and is now an unbeatable pachinko master.

He learned boxing before and has acute vision like a superman but it is only used to bet on slot machines.

Although he’s quite reliable sometimes, his view of money is absolutely terrible.

Major

Although he looked like that, he is definitely a university student, and an unbelievable military otaku.

Has programming skills that even university professors admire, but it is only used on wire tapping and taking photos secretly.

Hiro

Though he is often mistaken as a model, he’s actually just a gigolo who stays at women’s houses.

Has an appearance that makes people want to look twice at him and speaking skills that are like mellow wine, but they are only used to hit on girls.

He made many women cry for him before, and really might be stabbed somewhere some day.

Min-san

The boss that opened a ramen shop below the detective agency, my second employer.

She’s one of the rare normal people around me. She kept taking care of me, so I really couldn’t raise my head in front of her.

Her temper is quite terrible, so I’m somewhat afraid of her, and that’s why I can’t say that her ramen is actually not really good.

Yondaime

The leader of juvenile delinquents in the town, and has a deep connection with the people in the detective squad.

He’s very foul-mouthed and impatient, but I’ve heard that he’s very good at taking care of people, even better than the guys in the detective squad.

His hobby is sewing, and he has professional-level skill. I might be killed by him if I accidentally said that out, so I dare not mention it to anyone.

Meo

On the first day that I started to work at the ramen shop, I was ordered around by Alice as usual, and was having doubts about my life. On that boring Saturday afternoon, she appeared before me.

She’s a girl who gets excited abnormally easily, and had lived in Thailand. Also, she even asked the detective agency for help.

Although I’m a detective’s assistant, I was still taken aback…… I really didn’t think that someone would actually have a request for us.

I originally thought that it wouldn’t be anything big since she looked for the NEET detective.

In the end—

She brought a Boston bag that was stuffed full of reality—

Two hundred million yen.

That amount of money could just mess up anyone’s life.

Meo said: “Please save my dad.”

And so— the matter started to develop.

Developing towards an unexpected, heartbreaking darkness.



Miracles can happen once to anyone, but when it happens, they never notice.

  • from "My Name Is Shingo" by Kazuo Umezo.

Chapter 1[edit]

A small portion of people misunderstood that the twenty third district of Tokyo is just a city full of buildings from north to south, and I was one of them before I moved here. In reality, the only place where there are skyscrapers piercing the skies is the area near to the station, while flat, short houses surround the place. The asphalt road that was uneven because of the subsidence of the land, the smelly rivers that were emitting a pungent, sour odor, and the cultivated fields that I’m not sure if anyone is tending to and the high school that I’m going to, all of these are in a two kilometers radius of that area; but it was just separated by a street, the radiance of the neon lights couldn’t be seen anymore.

Though Hanamaru Ramen Shop is also at a place five minutes from the station, it is also surrounded by broken down buildings, one of the shops that is shrouded in darkness. It is just a small shop that has only five tables in it, aside from the occasional drunken people going inside the shop at night, I almost never see anyone going into the shop in the daytime.

So my employment test was held on the thirty first of March in the spring holidays, at about one thirty in the afternoon when there was nobody in the shop.

“Listen, if even a little thing spills out, don’t you even think that I’ll pass you.”

Min-san said while piling trays onto my hands; and bowls that were still puffing out white smoke were placed on the tray. She’s the young owner of the Hanamaru Ramen Shop, with her long hair tied into a ponytail, wearing a T-back vest and showing her fit shoulders. White sarashi is used to bind her breasts. It really isn’t hard to see that she went for body building classes, and is really not a person that a physically weak high school person can go against. But I still couldn’t help but retort:

“Erm…… Why am I doing a thing like this for my employment test?”

“Don’t you know how many bowls you’ve broken before!? You’re just not concentrating enough! So if you can get all of these to Alice safely, I’ll hire you.”

I once helped the shop to do things like washing the dishes and serving them, I caused great losses at the same time. Actually, I should really thank the kind Min-san for giving me a chance by testing me.

“Ready, start. The time limit is five minutes.”

“There’s even a time limit!?”

Being glared at by Min-san, I could only carefully walk out from the kitchen backdoor.

Alice lives in the eighth room on the third floor of the same building in Hanamaru Ramen Shop. You could reach it after walking up the stairs and then going about five meters in the direction of the corridor, using not even one minute when going there from the shop on the first floor.

But at this moment, I used two seconds just to walk up a step, so my back was soaking wet when I reached the signboard with ‘NEET Detective Agency’ on it.

As both of my hands were holding trays, I could only press the doorbell with my elbow. Nobody answered, but only a blue light flashed.

“Alice, please, open the door for me.” I begged.

‘…… Just enter yourself. The door isn’t locked.’

The impatient voice of a young girl came from the other side of the intercom.

“I can’t use my hands, I’m holding two trays.”

‘You could just place them on the floor!’

“No, it would definitely fall down.”

‘What are you talking about? It’s just placing the tray on the floor, don’t you even know how to do such a simple thing?’

“There’s a tray on my head too!”

Hearing my tragic shout, the door finally opened. A young girl stuck her head out of the door. She had long, black hair that flowed to the ground, large eyes that could sparkle, and wore pajamas with cute pictures of bears on it that showed her pale, sickly skin.

“…… Are you performing an acrobatic stunt?”

My hands were holding a tray each, and there was another on top of my head. Cooly looking at the trays that I was holding while trembling, Alice said in an annoyed voice:

“This scene is actually quite interesting. I feel like taking a commemorative photo of this and showing it to Tetsu, Major and the others. They would be delighted. I’ll get my digital camera, and you just maintain your current posture.”

“No, that’s not important!” I frantically called Alice who was about to walk into the room: “Anyways…… Erm…… Can you please help me take it?”

I used my gaze to point at the shaky tray on top of my head, but Alice shrugged.

“Please think of the difference in height between you and I, and of my arms. Isn’t that just impossible? Just walk into the room and find somewhere to place it! Remember to take off your shoes first. If you dare to spill anything, I’ll have you in charge of cleaning the place until you wax the floor.”

As usual, Alice was still being merciless.

I could only maintain the posture of my upper body, lightly take off my shoes, walk to the table in the small kitchen, place the trays on my hands on it and then lightly take down the tray on my head. I heaved such a huge sigh that my soul almost came out, and I felt like curling up on the chilly floor in this air-conditioned room.

“…… Ah, Master? Mnn, Narumi just came.” The sounds of Alice and Min-san talking on the phone came from the room: “…… No, I don’t think he spilled anything. You’re so kind, Master. If it were me, I would just tell him to take buckets and not bowls.”

This girl really does like to joke around. While complaining in my heart, I placed the three bowls on the same tray and served it to the bedroom.

Three walls in the room are covered with racks that are as tall as the ceiling, and some odd machines are placed on it, while countless wires tangled together around them. A large bed is placed in the middle of the room, while teddy bears of various sizes and types are littered on the carpet; Alice sat in the middle of it, like she was surrounded by a sea of bears.

“You’re not asking me to eat all three, are you?”

Alice glared at the bowls that I served her. Not only is this pajamas-clad girl picky and have a tiny appetite, every time I have to put in a lot of effort so that she finishes all the food. A small amount of different-flavored ramen were placed in the three bowls.

“Perhaps Min-san thought that I would spill one or two.”

“Why didn’t you spill them? You’re even so slow that you wouldn’t notice when a praying mantis stops on your nose too!”

Why am I scolded even for this…..?

I pulled out the moveable table that was like the ones in a hospital ward, placed the tray onto it and pushed it in front of Alice:

“Just choose a bowl that you like, I’ll eat the other two.”

The pajamas-clad girl looked so closely at the bowls that her face almost fell into them, observing each bowl in detail.

“I would like the ramen to be lighter.”

She looked at me with a pleading expression.

“I heard that all of them are new creations, so I don’t know how’s the taste.”

“Ngh—”

After wavering for a long time, she finally chose the bowl with a clearer soup. But after she took a sip, she couldn’t say anything.

“What is it?”

“…… so sour.”

Sour? The ramen is sour?

Ah! When I think about it, Min-san is indeed making odd ramen these days.

“Uuu…… I’ve been tricked by the color of the soup. I’m too careless, there’s actually such a trap in it.”

Alice’s eyes were full of tears, but she still placed one noodle after another into her mouth.

“These two seems to be more normal, do you want to change?”

I held my portion of the ramen while sitting in front of the bed. But Alice glared fiercely at me with her tearful eyes:

“How could I trust a person who can eat the bowl of noodles as if nothing had happened!? I chose this bowl myself, so if I listened to your advice and changed it, but still don’t like it, wouldn’t I be in a bigger predicament? How would you compensate for my reservations then?”

I originally wanted to rebuke her: It’s just a bowl of ramen, nothing special, but after seeing Alice sucking in the noodles while going ‘Uuu— Uuu—‘, I really felt that she’s quite pitiful, so I shut my mouth. I speedily finished the two bowls of ramen and walked to the small kitchen.

Opening the door of the fridge, I saw that the fridge was full of 350ml red cans of Dr. Pepper. I took out one of them and handed it to Alice. Recently, I’ve learnt the subtleties of opening the can first before handing it to her. Alice snatched the can from me with trembling hands and drank it to the finish.

“Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.”

Alice breathed out deeply, becoming relieved as if her brain had melted. She continued: “Narumi, get me another two cans .” and swung her empty can around. The eating habits of this pajamas clad girl are terrible, and she almost lived on Dr. Pepper. Being said that my sense of taste shouldn’t be tasted by a person who drank unhealthy drinks while eating ramen really is unpleasant.

“Humans can only live while supporting each other, I strongly feel I agree with this statement at this moment. Good thing you’re at my side.”

Alice said after finishing her ramen and her third can of Dr. Pepper, crawling into the mat while smiling at me. For such a sudden movement to happen, I was shocked and almost spilled the bowl with my elbow. Calm down. This fellow would always say these meaningful things once in a while, and besides I haven’t even been supported by Alice before. No…… Well, I can’t really say that, but how should I say it?

“That’s right, you said that you want to work at Hanamaru, so what brought you here today?”

Alice said, with her head sticking out of the mat.

“I can assure you that you’re a person that lacks any wish to work from the day you were born, so you don’t need to trouble Master just to prove this.”

“I don’t need these assurances.” It’s more like you’re deciding on my life randomly. “I really think that Min-san has too much work, and it’s more convenient for me to work here.”

“Convenient?”

“Then I could come here almost every day.”

Because of the case that Alice solved this winter, I’m now Alice’s assistant. Although Alice is a detective, she’s still a hikikomori who doesn’t go out or meet society, and I’ve never seen other clients having any requests for her. So the job of an assistant is usually to help to carry food and Dr. Pepper, and also to be bullied by Alice. Compared with this, it might be better if I find some other place to work at, and wouldn’t waste time so much.

“Hmph! I didn’t even know that you were that passionate about your work as an assistant.”

You’re the one who told me to come everyday!

“Anyhow, not many people are willing to work at the ramen shop with such meager wages at this time, so it’s a help to Master, at least. But as soon as Ayaka’s out of the hospital, you’ll get fired at once.”

My hands that were collecting the bowls stopped.

As I was unable to immediately respond to the name that Alice mentioned suddenly, I gazed at the soup in the bowl and turned my head away to look at the bed.

“What’s wrong? Aren’t you just planning to work there until Ayaka returns?”

“No…… Mnn, erm…… I’ve never thought about that before. Because……”

Ayaka.

She jumped down from the top of the school building at the start of this year, and is still lying on a bed in the hospital, in a coma. She’s my classmate, and also my only friend. It’s just that she wouldn’t talk right now, and couldn’t walk around.

Ayaka who’s like that…… would she still come back?

“The doctors said too that there’s still a chance, didn’t they? And weren’t you the first person to hear that?”

“It’s not wrong, but……”

I did some research myself too. If Ayaka’s current condition continued for three months and above, it would be called a continuous block of consciousness— people in a vegetative state. If the doctors deemed that there’s no chance of recovery, most hospitals would force their family to handle the necessary procedures for exiting the hospital. Although there were cases of recovery, most of them just recovered to the extent that they could use their facial expressions to convey their emotions, or use their mouth to eat food, that’s it.

If she could return to her normal life, THAT would be a miracle.

“You don’t believe that miracles can happen?”

“Alice, so you believe in them?”

“Of course. Miracles can happen once to anyone, it’s just that most people don’t notice it when it happens.”

I’m not sure who said that, but it’s a really stupid way of thinking. Telling me that miracles would never happen might make me feel better. If things go that way, doesn’t it mean that the miracle of Ayaka and I has already been used up during the time that we spent on the rooftop, and things couldn’t be turned back anymore?

“It doesn’t matter. Since it happened the first time, it would happen a second time. Believe it!” A woolen mat was on Alice’s shoulders, and she smiled while hugging her knees. “ Rainfall in the Sahara Desert, the Golden Gate in the United States and the Taj Mahal in India, test tube babies that are given birth after their parents pass away, Jimmy Hendrix and the Tower of Babel, all of them are miracles, miracles and miracles! So there would be one day when all of mankind would become friends with each other.”

I still can’t understand what’s with Alice’s habit of using allusions, but I still forced out a smile to answer her.

“Our meeting is one, the fact that you are willing to come here is another, and even the fact that you didn’t spill any of the bowls and safely brought the bowls up here is one— all of them are miracles.”

“…… Well, wasn’t that smooth.”

I stood up. That’s right, since I’ve passed the employment test, I should hurry up and get to where Min-san is! I can start work from today.

As I was about to walk out of the room with the three bowls and trays, Alice halted me:

“Master said in the phone just now……”

“What did she say?”

“She said, you must put the bowls on your head when you’re going back too.”

“I’ve never heard about that!”

*

Even so, saying that encountering other people is a miracle is quite a nice way of putting it. Especially to Alice, a hikikomori, while I’m about the same, as we would feel uncomfortable after speaking to a stranger for over twenty seconds.

The people who I've met in the past had some influence on me, more or less, and it’s because of this that I’ve not fallen to even lower depths right now. Though I didn’t become a decent person because of this, and I just lived groggily until my sixteenth year. In the wilderness that is filled with limitless possibilities, if I really lived up till now because of meeting other people, then these flags in my life are really precious— although I don’t really think that those are anything to be thankful for.

So the girl that I met right on the day when I started working after passing Hanamaru’s employment test, would probably be a miracle too?

The girl appeared at about three in the afternoon, when I was melting pieces of chocolates using the double boiling method in the kitchen. Min-san stood further inside, and was using an electric blender to blend egg white and make meringue. The true selling point of Hanamaru is actually the ice cream that is even tastier than the one made by a professional dessert chef. The sweet smell that fills the whole shop caused the whole shop to become unlike a ramen shop, and there was nobody on the seats anyway.

And it might be because of this reason, the girl that kicked open the door while saying “Sorry for bothering you!” stared for awhile after seeing the scene in the shop. She seriously stared at the steel pan that was filled with chocolate for two seconds, and then took two steps back to reconfirm the portiere in front of the shop.

She was a striking girl who had coffee-colored skin. She looked about one or two years younger than me, and her hair that reached her chest was casually tied into two braids. White words were printed on the blue shirt that she wore, it seemed like words used by a minority race; while very, very short Denim pants were on the lower part of her body. The girl’s legs were long and slim, if she said that she just swam past the Pacific Ocean to the Tokyo Bay, I might have really believed her. A coffee colored Boston bag was slung on her shoulder, and it felt somewhat uncoordinated on her.

When our gazes met, the girl clapped her hands together , said ‘Sawasdee’ and nodded her head slightly.

When our gazes met, the girl clapped her hands together , said ‘Sawasdee’ and nodded her head slightly. I subconsciously answered her with the same sentence. Eh…… Where is she from?

The girl reconfirmed the words on the portiere hanging on the door and asked:

“Erm, are these words supposed to be read as ‘Hanamaru’?”

Her pronunciation of Japanese was quite accurate. But the question suddenly made me feel somewhat guilty, and I could only hide the steel pan filled with chocolate beside the sink and answer:

“Well…… Probably?”

“Probably!?” the Boston bag on her shoulder almost fell down. "Sorry, I’m not really good at reading kanji.”

Huh? Is there even a kanji on there?”

“Oh? Then how should you read this?”

The girl pointed at a corner of the portiere and asked.

“…… That’s a drawing of Naruto.”

“So you read this as ‘Naruto’ huh? Japanese is really deep……”

“Not really……”

“That’s odd, or did I just mistake the place? I’ve heard that it’s a shop owned by an understanding, beautiful big sister.” The expression on the girl’s face seemed troubled, and she looked around repeatedly.

“Mnn, then it’s probably not this shop. Min-san is not understanding at a— OUCH! That hurts!”

Min-san who walked out of the kitchen vigorously knocked on the back of my head.

“What are you doing, why did you lie to her?”

Min-san pushed me, who was hugging the bump on my head, away and put on her apron:

“Welcome. It’s still business time right now, so please have a seat!”

“Ah, sorry, I’m not here for ramen.”

And then the unbelievable words came out from her mouth.

“I’ve heard that there’s a detective agency above the ramen shop.”

Min-san and I looked at each other.

That was the first client of the NEET Detective Agency that I came into contact with.

*

“It’s rare that we have a visitor. Narumi, give her a can of Dr. Pepper too.”

Although she never did offer me cans of Dr. Peppers (I don’t really want them, either) , Alice told me to give the girl a can. She kneeled on the mat, probably because she thought that it was courteous when dealing with visitors?

As she was about to step into the air conditioned office, the girl hesitated in front of the door because of the coldness of the room; while after she walked into the room and saw Alice’s appearance, she was so surprised that her jaw fell open, the Boston bag on her shoulder dropping onto the floor. What an easily read girl.

“…… You’re the detective?”

“I’m a NEET detective. I’m Alice, and my assistant standing there is Naru…… Uwaaa!”

The girl supported both of her hands on the bedside and stuck her face close to Alice. She observed Alice in detail in an extremely short distance, and seemed like she was sniffing the smell of Alice’s pajamas.

“Wh- What are you doing?”

“Can I hug you?”

“What nonsense are you talking about!?” Alice pushed the girl away with her whole face red and stepped back a few steps.

“Sorry, because I’ve never seen a detective like this, so……”

“So what? A client should behave like a client!”

“Can’t I? What about just a hug?”

“I’m not a doll!” Alice used the dolls nearby to build a wall and went back further to the direction of the bed.

“Really, Ayaka and Master are also like that, why do girls like to hug me so much? It’s so incomprehensible.”

No, I can understand why it’s like that. But I didn’t want to change the topic, so I didn’t speak.

“Hurry up and reveal your identity and the contents of your request. You aren’t here to play, are you?”

Alice said at the other side of the dolls while pouting.

“Ah, that’s right!” the girl shifted her elbows away from the side of the bed and said: “I’m Meo.”

When she was pronouncing her name, the tone of ‘Me’ was prolonged, while the end of the ‘o’ was closer to the tone of ‘u’, a pronunciation that isn’t present in Japanese. Next, she placed her hands on the two sides of her head and waved, just like the ears of an animal.

“Meo? Is that your name?” I couldn’t help but chip in.

“Yes, it means cat.”

“You’re from Thailand, right?” After Alice finished saying that, Meo’s eyes immediately widened:

“You know it? As expected from a detective.”

“It’s just Thai. What does that have to do with being a detective?”

“The way that Thai people gave names is so strange.”

Her name meant ‘cat’, is this a common thing in Thailand?

“Narumi, it’s called cheuulehn in Thai, and it means nickname. Most people in Thailand call people by their nicknames, because the names of some people are too long. Their culture doesn’t really care about names, and it’s said that hiding one’s true name could protect them from danger. As they didn’t want to be caught by the devil, they would intentionally give names of animals or arrange meaningless tones for a name.”

“So it can protect us from danger?” Meo said in surprise: “I didn’t even know that.”

…… Are you really a Thai?

“I came to Japan when I was about five, so I’m not too clear of things in Thailand.”

“Ah, so that’s why your Japanese is that good.”

“I learnt Japanese from my dad, and the big brothers who live in the same block as us. There are many ladies from Philippine and China there, but the big brothers there are mostly Japanese.”

“Mnn? You aren’t staying at the ‘Hello Palace’, are you?”

“Whoaaa, Miss Detective knows everything!”

Meo supported herself on the bedstead, her legs fidgeting non-stop.

“No, Hiro told me once before, he said that there’s a unique worker’s hostel there. What a small world this is.”

“Ah, I’ve heard of this detective agency from Hiro-san.”

Hearing Meo’s words, Alice and I looked at each other. So that’s how it is. Now we have some idea of what’s happening.

“A big sister from China live next to me, and Hiro lived there for a month or so too. It’s probably some time last summer? He taught me a lot of Japanese, and said that his job was difficult, and is called being a gigolo.”

“A gigolo is not an occupation!”

I unintentionally shouted out loud. Hiro is one of the NEETs who always hang out behind Hanamaru Ramen Shop, and is also a gigolo who always stays at women’s houses. What strange Japanese did he teach Meo?

“After that, Hiro was found by the security and was chased out. He told me when he left: If I have any problems, I could just ask for help at Hanamaru Ramen Shop.”

“So that’s how it is.” Alice sighed and shook her head: “Well, just ask Hiro to come over later, I have something to ask him. Anyhow, tell me about your problem first! That’s your reason for looking for me, right?”

After Alice finished speaking, Meo’s cheery expression suddenly clouded over.

“About noon, I received a phone call from dad.”

Meo sat in front of the bed and started to explain:

“He suddenly told me ‘Get the bag in the safe and look for a safe place to hide.’ I was really confused about the situation, but dad’s voice sounded really fierce, so I could only obediently listen to him……”

“This is the bag in the safe.” Meo pointed at the Boston bag at my foot and said.

“Mnn, it’s so heavy that it made me exhausted.”

“Did you try to contact your father?”

Meo’s expression clouded up even more:

“He told me not to contact his company, don’t go home temporarily, and then I couldn’t reach his phone anymore. Although he told me to hide, I didn’t really have any place to go to, so I remembered the detective agency that Hiro-san told me to go to.”

“What is your father’s name? What is his job?”

“His name is Kusakabe Masaya, he’s working at a company called Hello Corporation.”

Alice knotted her brows.

“I think Hiro mentioned this name before. He said that a yakuza man and his daughter lived next to him, probably those are you guys.”

“He’s not a yakuza anymore.”

…… not one anymore?

“I think he entered the gang when we were at Osaka, but he said that he got out of the gang already.”

A yakuza delinquent who exited his gang suddenly called his phone to hide, and to bring a big bag of luggage. This situation is unusual.

I looked at the Boston bag again— there wouldn’t be a bomb inside, would there?

“Have you seen what is inside?”

“No.”

“Then……” Alice lowered her voice, and shifted her foot from her bed to the floor. “If you don’t mind showing me, then please open the bag. But I need to tell you two, opening the bag is like pressing a switch, and you can’t turn back anymore.”

Meo and I looked at Alice at the same time. She still likes to suddenly say incomprehensible things that people don’t understand.

“…… A bomb wouldn’t be inside, would it?”

Meo and I asked at the same time. Alice’s lips curled upwards and shook her head:

“What do you think the thing that made the most people die in the world? It’s not a bomb or a poison, but information— the people who know must die. Even so, I still need to know what happened to your father before I could help you. If you are firm about this, then open it.”

It was as though I could hear the sound of Meo swallowing her saliva. The room was filled with an smell that was hard to describe— I really can’t differentiate the smell at that moment, was that the smell of danger? The smell of desire? Or is it what they call—

“Uu…….”

“Uwaa…….”

Meo and I made a shocked noise at the same time. There were countless Yukichi Fukuzawas staring at us from inside of the dark bag , and the bag was stuffed messily full of wads of cash. Although I knew that the atmosphere of money that was spread in the air was just an illusion, it was still the first time that I saw that much— probably about a hundred million in cash, so I couldn’t help but feel slightly drunk.

Meo’s mutterings broke the silence.

“…… Why is there so much money……”

“Is your family so wealthy that you have so much savings?”

“Our family is not rich!”

“Has this bag always been kept in the safe?”

After interrupting, I immediately realized that it was a stupid question. If the bag was always in the safe, how would Meo know about it? Meo closed her eyes, used her index finger to massage her temple, giving out a ‘Mnn—‘ sound and said after that:

“Sometimes, I would see dad bring the bag from his company….. Ah, I think it’s on each payday. I just felt: Wow, dad has so much wages! That’s so awesome.”

Who would have that much pay anyways!

“Alice, would this be the company’s money……”

“There is a possibility.”

A father who suddenly vanished told his daughter to hide with a hefty sum of cash, he’s probably hiding somewhere himself…… And this guy was once a yakuza too.

“That’s bad, should we call the police?”

I said lightly beside Alice’s year. Meo seemed to have heard my words, and walked slowly towards me while holding onto the bedstead.

“What do you mean? How’s my dad?”

“Nothing……” I couldn’t answer her for a moment, and stared at Alice.

“Your father might be involved in a crime.”

Hearing Alice’s words that were said in my stead, Meo’s expression suddenly froze.

“I think it’s better if we just tell the truth— your father might have cheated the company’s money, and ran away because his plan failed.”

“My dad would never do that!”

Meo forcefully pushed the dolls away and leapt onto the bed, grabbing Alice’s shoulders and shouting loudly.

“Please calm down, I’m just saying that there’s this possibility. Since your father told you not to get near your house or the company, that means that he doesn’t want anyone to know where you are, and there’s no news about him either—“

Meo seemed to ignore Alice’s words. She jumped down from the bed, grabbed the Boston bag and rushed to the entrance.

“Narumi!”

Not waiting for Alice’s words, I rushed over and caught hold of Meo’s shoulders. I, who was usually somewhat slow, could actually take action reflexively, I, myself was somewhat surprised too.

“Let go of me! Freak! Pervert! Old lecythus man! Machikane Fukukitaru! Nagoya chicken meat!”

Where on Earth did you learn these odd vocabularies? And you even pretended to be bad at Japanese ! Is it Hiro? Hiro must have taught them to her! And the ones she mentioned last aren’t even used to scold people! Ouch! Blast, don’t scratch me! Calm down! Stop fidgeting!

Although I was worried that the walls wouldn’t filter noise perfectly due to them being too thin, but I still caught hold of Meo and shouted in her ears:

“CALM DOWN! You don’t even know where your father is, so what can you do if you go out?”

“I’m going to look for him! My dad is not a thief!”

“What could you do even if—“

“Let go of me—“

Her shouts then (probably) changed to Thai, so I really couldn’t understand what she said. In addition, she was struggling frantically, and really stretched me to my limits as I wasn’t too strong.

“Meo, have you forgotten about what your father told you?”

Alice’s loud voice came from behind us. Hearing her words, Meo froze instantly.

“Didn’t he tell you to hide? I am sure that he’s in some sort of trouble right now, and might even put your life into danger. If you just rushed out, wouldn’t that be a waste of your father’s effort?”

“…… But!”

Meo twisted her body and escaped from my hand. I could tell that she was crying.

“It’s best if you just called the police, better than you rushing around like a deer in headlights.”

“…… Call the police?”

Meo’s face clouded over.

“Don’t call the police, dad told me not to call the police too. Those people always do mean things just because of the difference in skin color. The people in our building have permits too…..”

Meo’s tone suddenly became solemn, like she turned into another person.

“……. What happened?”

I tried to observe Meo’s expression, but she only shook her head violently:

“Because dad was once a yakuza, so that’s why he’s being suspected, that must be why.”

Suddenly hearing the cruel fact, I could only stay silent.

To people from south-east Asia, Japan is indeed not a country that they could live in comfortably. Take myself as an example, for instance, I’ve just heard that Meo’s father was once a yakuza, and I immediately thought that he would steal his company’s money. It’s somewhat ill-conceived, but—

Don’t call the police? Even telling her something like that, is there really something that couldn’t be spoken of?

“That’s why I have to look myself.”

“You don’t even know where he is—“

“Turn around and look over here. Shall I remind you who’s the person in front of you right now?”

Alice suddenly said.

Looking back, Alice had got off her bed and was standing at the entrance of her bedroom, with her back to the light that was emitted by the countless monitors behind her.

Being interrupted while speaking, I heaved a small sigh, then left Meo leaning beside the table of the small kitchen. I couldn’t say anything to Alice who had gotten off her bed.

“Miss Detective……”

“I’m not just an ordinary detective, but a NEET detective. Even if I stay huddled up in my bed, I can search through the whole world and find out about the real truth.”

Meo kneeled on the floor, tearfully staring at Alice for awhile. Nobody spoke. Although I wanted to say something, I couldn’t think of anything to say. Between a client an a detective, there’s no room for a mere assistant to interfere— Alice was not looking at me, but her expression said just that.

“Can you find my dad?”

Meo’s voice sounded like she was choking.

“Is that your request?”

Alice’s tone of speaking was still as cool as a cucumber.

“If a NEET detectives accepts a case, he would search for the truth after going through three thousand worlds to look for an answer. If there’s no request, I’m only one of the countless windows that couldn’t speak.”

Meo wiped away the tears in the corner of her eyes with the back of her hand.

“I’m giving you a request—“ She said clearly: “Please save my father.”

A relieved expression was shown on Alice’s face, and I think I know why she felt like that. The hikikomori detective could only come in contact with the outside world through cases. If there’s no official request, she could only save the information alone on her bed. Alice’s loneliness, and her fear of being unable to help out with anything although the world continues to change, I have heard of all of these during the incident last winter.

But—

I really couldn’t stand aside without saying a thing.

“Are you really planning to solve this on your own without telling the police?”

Meo and Alice looked at me at the same time, but the first to answer was Alice:

“A detective must act according to his client’s wishes.”

While Meo just shook her head vigorously . I sighed again and scratche my head.

“So what if there’s really a crime…….”

“Dad is not a bad person.”

Stop that, I get it already! But he could be involved in a crime even if he’s not a bad guy! I just hope that Alice would not face something dangerous.

But Alice said coolly:

“I’ve already decided to accept the case, so there’s no room for you to interfere.”

A dizzy spell came upon me. This guy is serious, and doesn’t even care that other people are worried about her.

“Think properly, why are you actually staying here?”

“……. Isn’t it to serve food and Dr. Pepper for you?”

“If you really think that way, then you should hurry up and leave in my disdain.”

That’s what you said before! I wanted to say that but restrained myself. I sank into a temporary contemplation: No matter what, a detective’s assistant exists just to aid a detective, and not to worry about the detective. Even so……

That made me think about the incident that occurred last winter. At that time, I was to absorbed in my own thoughts and didn’t notice, actually Alice and the others aren’t just relying on the power of the police and were still doing dangerous jobs. Probably Alice, Tetsu-senpai and the others are already used to these dangerous things?

Ah— so that’s why.

I’m not really worried of Alice. I’m just worried that I can’t follow their footsteps. To be exact— I couldn’t follow them at all. It’s because I don’t have knowledge, contacts or even talents.

Actually all of this doesn’t mean anything, it’s just that I’m cowardly.

“…… Sorry.”

Meo looked upwards beside me with an uneasy expression while Alice looked coldly at me while sitting on the bed. Paranoia started to form in my heart, and it felt like they were trying to tell me, a pawn, to shut up. I could only hide behind the fridge, showing only half of my body.

“The- then…….” I felt that aggrieved when I started to say: “If we’re accepting the request, I have a condition.”

“Why are you giving a condition?”

“No, it’s because……” Alice’s gaze was like the freezing wind on February, tearing people to shreds. “Since Meo’s father wanted her to hide, what should she do after this?”

Meo shook her head non-shop: “I never thought about it.” You should think about it first!

“It’ll be troublesome if she rushed out like just now, so if we can’t ensure Meo’s safety, we can’t accept the request.”

Meo looked at me doubtfully, her eyes fluttering. Searching for an ex-yakuza would probably be hard, but if it’s just looking for a safe place for a girl, I should be able to help with that. I looked guiltily at Alice’s expression.

“Are you imagining despicably that you could just use Meo’s safety as a shield on times of need, and then we can just give up on searching for Kusakabe Masaya?”

“Of course not!”

Well, maybe a bit…… Why is this fellow always so sharp?

“Forget about it, you’re not wrong. Meo, so it’s settled.”

“…… How is it settled?”

“You just say that you wish to be protected, or I’ll hand you to the police.”

“Wh- Why does this feel like a threat?”

“I’m not threatening you, this is a necessary precaution to look for your father. So now you have three choices. First, you can just go back. Second, call the police. Third, hand it to us.”

Meo stayed silent while hugging her Boston bag for a moment, then kneeled down and said:

“Please take care of useless ol’ me in the future!”

…… Where did she learn THAT? Really, who taught her these things? Was it Hiro? It’s Hiro, isn’t it?

“So— Narumi, you’ve started this, so hurry up and complete your mission?”

“Huh?”

“Didn’t you say that we should hide Meo? There should be some empty rooms at Master’s place, so you go ask her!”

“Ask Min-san?”

Min-san lives at the ground floor of an apartment just behind her ramen shop. Since her father disappeared, she had some rooms empty. If we want to hide Meo, it would be suitable there. But…… Must I be the one to ask her?

*


“Why didn’t you just call the police?”

Min-san didn’t even look at me when she answered, but just continued to cut the celery in her hands. I didn’t know what to answer her all of a sudden, and Meo stuck her head from the kitchen back door, an uneasy expression on her face. I turned around and looked at her, then stared at Min-san again.

“Well…… There are a lot of reasons.”

“What reasons?”

“Ngh……”

I told Min-san about the disappearance of Min-san’s father and him telling Meo to run away, but how could I tell her about the next part?

“You’re expecting me to give her shelter without giving me a reason?”

When I think about it, it does seem like I’m asking for a mile when I just took an inch.

“Forget it, my dad’s room is still collecting dust anyways, just sleep there for now.”

…… Huh? She agreed just like that?

“Erm…… I might give you some trouble.”

Meo’s voice that was full of uneasiness came from my back. Min-san turned her head over only when she heard Meo’s voice, and she said:

“Don’t you mind, if there’s any problem I’ll beat up Narumi first. The room’s a bit dirty, but you can use it as you like, as it’s empty from the start anyways.”

“She said that……” I turned my head over to look at Meo. Her face that had the color of coffee ole was immediately lit up with a smile.

“Thank you, Min-san.”

“But you’ll only get ramen for your meals. Narumi, get a blanket for her from the storeroom in my room.”

“Ah, alright.”

Thus, I brought Meo from the back of the kitchen to Min-san’s house. Min-san ordered me quite naturally, and I didn’t think much about it— but is it really okay for me to go in and out of a girl’s room like this?

Min-san’s father abandoned his daughter and the ramen shop and went missing until now, so his room is now being used as a storeroom, and it was stuffed full of bookracks and cardboard boxes that were once used to fill foodstuff. I randomly stacked together the cardboard boxes that were used to fill dried fish for soup, and finally managed to clear up some space so place the mattress. Meo stood in front of the door with her Boston bag slung on her back, curiously looking around the room and said:

“Is it really okay? It seems like someone is using the room.”

“But you have nowhere else to go, right? And you can’t go home too……”

Meo’s expression turned gloomy, and I hurriedly continued:

“I’ll go check out your home later. And Alice knows a lot of busybody oddballs, so don’t worry!”

As I was about to leave Meo there and walk out of the room, She grabbed the sleeve of my shirt.

“…… Hmm? What is it?”

“Everyone is so kind, Min-san, Miss Detective and also Mr. Assistant……”

Kind? Me?

“I’m really sorry for just now, making trouble all of a sudden. So you were just worried of me…… Thank you.”

I couldn’t say a word for a moment. Actually I wasn’t worried about Meo, so her direct gratitude made me feel somewhat flustered, not knowing what to say.

“I’m just feeling somewhat jealous. Hiro-san kept showing off to me, saying that he’s a homeless gigolo, but he has Hanamaru. Because there’s a beautiful and gentle Mother here, although she only knows how to cook ramen for him.”

I really don’t want a scary mother like Min-san…… the thought suddenly surfaced in my mind.

“Then what is your mother doing right now, Meo?”

Though it seems to be too late for this question, nobody asked this before anyways. Meo’s expression suddenly froze. She lowered her head while sitting on the Boston bag on the floor, then raised her head to look at me.

“…… Mother…… she died due to an illness not long after she came to Japan.”

I gasped. The strange thing is, the girl beside my foot smiled. Her smile was like fog on a summer morning, hiding a faint sorrow.

“It doesn’t matter, I’m still living with the big sisters in the same building.”

People look lonelier when they smile, that was what I learnt from the winter this year.

Though we might be able to find Kusakabe Masaya after calling the police, Meo might have to be all alone after this— I’ve only understood the fact at this moment.

But then, what should we do? I have no idea. If we really could locate Kusakabe Masaya, if he really did take part in a crime, what should Alice do?

As for me— what should I do?

“What’s wrong, Mr. Assistant?” Meo looked up from below at me, who had shut my mouth and was not speaking. As I couldn’t meet Meo’s eyes, I turned my head to the other side and said:

“Nothing. Sorry for asking these strange questions.”

*

Not long after that, Hiro appeared at the ramen shop on about five in the evening.

“I’ve heard that Me-chan is here?”

The person who ran into the shop was a tall, nineteen year old man, and he wore a beige denim jacket and a pair of white silk khaki pants. I’ve never seen anyone more suited for wearing white clothes, including male artists. His appearance was like a model or a hustler, but he’s actually just a NEET, and also a gigolo.

“Ah, Hiro-san!”

Meo, who was eating ice cream in the kitchen, poked her head out.

“So you’ve finished work?”

“Being a gigolo is a job that requires creativity, so our working time is more flexible.”

“Hiro, get over here. I want to make you unable to embarrass the Japanese anymore!”

Min-san glared at Hiro while holding a kitchen knife, scaring him so much that he rushed out of the shop and hid in the alley behind the ramen shop. The back door of the Hanamaru Ramen Shop kitchen was located between two buildings. There, it was stacked full of worn out tires, large flipped over steel buckets, plastic buckets and wooden stands that were used as tables. It’s the best place for the NEETs to gather.

Although it’s the time when I should prepare for opening time of the shop, since there’s nothing much to do, I walked out of the kitchen backdoor to look for Hiro; Meo followed me outside too , for some reason.

“Alice told me about the situation on the phone……” Hiro said while sitting on the plastic bucket. “But I’m still not sure about some parts of it.”

I nodded.

“How much money is in the bag?”

Hiro looked at Meo who sat beside him.

“Hmm, I don’t know. I didn’t count……”

“Seeing as there’s so much, I’d wager that there would be about a few hundred million yen.” I answered for Meo.

“Is Me-chan that rich?”

Meo shook her head frantically.

“That’s true! The company isn't big, and you even live in the same area as the people who left home to look for a living.”

“I think it’s the money of their company?”

“Money of their company? Then how could he get out so much? And it’s cash, to boot!”

“This…… that is…… that……” I really don’t know how to answer. “Alice seemed to have found out something just now, that Meo’s father is one of the Directors of the company. If that’s true, then isn’t there a possibility?”

“…… Even if we say that he pocketed the company’s money, does the company even earn that much anyways? I remember that the financial status of the company isn’t really that good.”

“What does ‘pocketed’ mean?”

Meo’s expression was truly innocent, and caused Hiro and I to be unable to answer her for a moment. I could only choose a more suitable way of answering:

“Erm…… That means using his position to take away the company’s money.”

“You’re saying that again, Mr. Assistant! My dad would never do that!”

Meo kept hitting my arm with her face red. Hiro tried to be the peacemaker at this moment, and forcefully caught hold of Meo’s shoulders.

“Are you really sure that he wouldn’t do that?” he asked in a solemn tone.

“Absolutely.”

“Do you trust him that much?”

Medo nodded so vigorously that her neck almost snapped into half.

“Mnn, I get it.” Hiro’s voice regained its gentleness. “Trusting people is Me-chan’s job, doubting people would be our job. There are many things that we can’t be sure of if we don’t doubt it, so just let us handle this nasty job!”

Hiro met Meo’s gaze for awhile, and then showed her a gentle smile.

Meo hesitated for awhile, then nodded.

This guy is really good— I suddenly felt that. To be frank, I wasn’t too sure about Hiro’s statement at that moment, but he always had a way to make people calm down. He probably always uses this talent on indecent things, right? He’s a public enemy for women.

“No matter what, we must still check out the condition of the company and Meo’s family.”

“Hiro probably knows the location of the building, right? And know the people there.”

“Ah— me? The security there already remembered my face, and I’ve already deleted the phone number of my ex-girlfriend.”

When I think about it, he had been chased out by the security. Then what should we do now?

Hiro stared at me silently.

Meo stared at me without saying a word too.

This is……

“Should…… I go?”

“There’s no choice, there’s nobody else.”

“I don’t mind going, but I’m currently at work.”

“What? At work?”

Hiro’s reaction was really too exaggerated, and really hurts my fragile heart. I tapped the words ‘Hanamaru’ printed on the black apron.

“Mnn, Narumi, you’re working here? Really? Why? Becoming a NEET isn’t an illness, so don’t mind it, you don’t need to force yourself to get therapy.”

I’m telling you I’m not a NEET!

“And you don’t even look like you’re working right now.”

Being said that, it made me speechless, because the truth is as Hiro have said.

“So what are Tetsu-senpai and Major doing right now?” I frantically changed the topic.

“I’ve just called Tetsu, he’s at the Tokyo Racetrack.”

Ah, to today is racing day. Since it’s the spring holidays right now, I even forgot what day it is today.

“He said that he lost the money used for taking the train on his last match, so he’s walking back. Really, he could just go bet at WINS, why does he need to specially run to that place that haven’t even started racing?”

The hopeless gambler…… Wouldn’t it take at least four hours for him to walk from there to here?

“I couldn’t find Major too, perhaps he’s playing a survival game?”

“Can’t I go after I finished work?”

“She works at night, so she’ll be out if you don’t go now.” Hiro said. I sighed. It’s like there’s a pair of invisible hands controlling me, not letting me work. I know, I know! I’ll go right now.

I walked back into the kitchen and asked lightly to Min-san who was concentrating on scooping out the dregs in the steaming pot.

“Erm……”

“You’re skipping work the first day at work? You really have some guts!”

Min-san said without even looking at me. Probably she heard our conversation just now.

“So- sorry, just pretend I didn—“

“There’s no difference, since we’re so free right now. But you’re fired if you’re not back by seven!”

Hiro lent me a jacket and a pair of cool glasses before I set off. Perhaps those have been given to him by his ex-girlfriend at that building?

As I was about to bring my bike from the alley to the main road, I faintly heard the conversation between Min-san and Meo from the shop”

“Meo, would you like to work in my shop?”

“Eh, that won’t do, I’m working at a Thai restaurant right now…… Ah, but I’m on leave these days, so I might be fired…….”

“Just tell me if you change your mind, I’ll fire Narumi instantly.”

That’s just too much…… She’s so cruel. While suppressing my sorrowful feeling, I pedaled towards the road that was dyed red by the setting sun.

*

Pedaling from the southern exit of the station towards the slope, I turned right after passing through the post office. I got lost between a middle school and an embassy, and went back and forth on the same road for quite a few times, then I realized that the four storey building that was about as big as the school building further to my left was a collection of residential rooms, which is also my destination – Hello Palace. I stopped at the roadside, staring blankly on my bike with my jaw open. I’ve heard that the people who live here are mostly women foreigners from south-east Asia, and thought that it’s just a broken down apartment with seven or eight people squeezed in a six tatami room. I actually had that kind of prejudice, how impolite of me.

So that I wouldn’t be noticed, I parked my bike at a corner of a building that couldn’t be seen from the guardroom.

When I stopped my bike, the large amount of cash that Meo brought suddenly surfaced in my mind. It’s too unusual, what if it really involved a crime? The police haven’t came to Meo’s house yet, have they? If so, I’ll just act dumb.

I took out the pair of glasses that was used for ornamental purposes and put it on.

The guards’ restroom was beside the entrance of the building, and there was nobody in there. But for some reason I naturally started to walk on tiptoe, so what’s the difference between me and a person who sneaks into other people’s houses? I could only console myself that I’m not doing anything, and walked to the forth room of the third floor. The words ‘Kusakabe’ were written on the signboard. Not even a person could be seen there, and that made me a bit more relieved. I pressed the doorbell, waited for about three minutes but there wasn’t any answer; so I turned the handle and found that the door was locked.

Actually, Meo handed me the keys to her house, but I really don’t feel like going in. If I was spotted, I really couldn’t explain why I have the key.

It couldn’t be helped, I could only press the doorbell of the room next to it, the house of the person that Hiro once lived in. After about twenty seconds, the door opened a crack, and a young woman was standing behind it.

“Hi……”

She sounded rather sleepy. The lady wore a baggy T-shirt printed full of simplified characters and a pair of shorts, her long hair tied up messily with a rubber band. Although she didn’t have any make up on, I could see that she was a Chinese beauty with a great figure.

“……. Who are you?”

“Ah, so- sorry!” Was she sleeping just now? “Do you know Kuwabara Hiroaki-san?

When I mentioned Hiro’s name, the woman’s eyes finally focused.

“Hiro? Eh? …… Ah, that jacket……”

“Erm…… Meo is at my place.”

The woman’s brows suddenly twitched, then speedily shut the door before I even finished speaking. After that, the sound of her removing the chains on the door came, and then this time, the door was opened wide.

“Ah— Mnn— I’ve heard about it, wait for awhile, I’ll get it here.”

Eh? Wa- Wait a sec, what’s with this situation?

When I was supporting the door, the woman walked into the room and took out a coffee colored paper bag.

“You can eat this directly, but it’s even better after you heat it.”

With my brain in a muddle, the paper bag was stuffed roughly into my hands.

“Eh, ah, erm……”

I’m still not sure what was happening, but the girl hugged me all of a sudden. I immediately felt that she wasn’t wearing lingerie, causing me to freeze. At this moment, she said quietly in my ears:

“I can’t talk to you here, so just pretend you’re just here to get the bag, go home for now!”

I immediately came to my senses. The girl then let go of me, and said to me with a tone like a salesman: “Say hi to everyone for me!” then pushed me out and closed the door.

I was left alone in the corridor with the weight of the paper bag in my hands.

Can’t talk to me here?

Does that lady know of Meo’s current situation? But what did she mean by can’t talk to me here? Did she mean that there’s someone in her room, and it’s bad for our conversation to be overheard?

I couldn’t make head or tails of the matter from the start, but I still followed what she said, took the bag and left ‘Hello Palace’ obediently.

After walking out of the entrance, I immediately tore open the bag. There was a small bun in the bag, while a business card was placed on it— ‘Exotic Pub, Shanghai Love’. The logo on the card was a shining pink, while the name on it was a name written in romaji: Rin. There was also a sentence written below the name in an untidy scrawl—

Wait for me behind the shop at 4.00 am.

It was written on the card that the pub’s business time was until three thirty at night, so does that mean she’s asking me to wait until she finished work? But why did she use so much effort to act out that play just now?

I placed the business card into my pocket, walked to my bike parked at the side of the road and suddenly felt a chill on my back.

I really shouldn’t stop, and I should just ride my bike and leave ASAP; but I stopped walking because of that feeling. I saw two silhouettes from the corner of my eyes, and they were walking towards me from the direction of Hello Palace.

One of the men was wearing a grubby leather jacket, while the other wore a purple flowery shirt that had zero fashion sense, with curly hair on top of his head. I pretended not to notice and sped up. When I reached the shadow of the building, I felt the chill on my back again.

“Oi, you over there!”

One of the men shouted. Just like that, my intuition told me that these two are definitely not people to mess with. This is bad, I should really escape double quick. Just as I was about to ride away on my bike, the footsteps behind me quickened. I raised my head, only to see that the two men were horribly close to me.

“Kid, don’t move!”

Almost reflexively, I raised my hands and threw the bag that I was holding to them, then hurriedly pushed my bike down the slope and jumped onto my bike. I don’t know what happened with the bag, but I could hear the furious roars of the men coming from behind. I was afraid that they would quickly chase me down and grab my collar, so I accelerated the rate of my pedaling, rushing down the slope without even pedaling and sharply turned right as soon as I reached the road. A car flew by my side, leaving behind only the loud sound of the horn.

I steered clear of the main road and circled around the alleys that I didn’t really know that well, and I only stopped and looked around after I reached the four line lane(?) .Of course, the two people are already gone. I gasped for breath, trying to slow down my breathing and my heartbeat, and I felt bouts of pain coming from my lungs.

Who are those two anyways?

The reason that I wanted to run away was not only because the men’s actions gave me a bad premonition, the attitude of the Chinese onee-san caused me to be suspicious as well.

I took out my phone.

“…… ah, it’s me.”

‘How was it? Did you see Yi Ling?’ Hiro asked.

“Erm….. Ah, yes, I did see her.”

So that’s why— her name is Yi Ling, that’s why her nickname is Rin. While thinking of these meaningless things, I adjusted my breathing rate and answered:

“Meo’s house is under surveillance.”

Hiro, who was at the other side of the phone stayed silent.

“They might be yakuza. Hiro, you should really tell Meo not to go out.”

‘Got it. Things are really not that simple, we might need to ask for Yondaime’s help……’

I told Hiro that I’m going back right now, and hung up.

We might need to ask for Yondaime’s help. Although there’s this possibility, I really don’t wish for things to turn out like that. When the shonen yakuza leader of the juvenile delinquents start to take action, it would be hard to prevent bloodshed from occurring.

But my premonitions are the most accurate in these bad situations, and of course it’s the same this time, too.

*

The Hotel Street at four in the morning felt like an insomniac patient who couldn’t sleep, its eyes swollen and bloodshot. Walking along the curved road on the slope, pillars of streetlights were towering over two sides of the road, illuminating the signboards with fee and service content written on it; the side view of a hotel that looked rather blurred due to the blue and pink rays of light shining on it was visible further up the slope.

Walking alone in this place at night, it felt like I would get crushed by the psychological pressure soon, so I forced myself to focus on the fees written on each hotel. I’m not sure if it’s because of the strong competition, there’s a lot of mystifying side services. It looks like not only each hotel provided a microwave, Dreamcast was written on some of the signboards! What type of couples are they trying to attract, anyways?

I came here once before during that incident, but I don’t really have much of an impression of it anymore. There really aren’t much people at these places at this time, so it was extremely quiet.

Climbing onto the slope after walking out of the Hotel Street, I walked to an inconspicuous pub on the road. This place is away from the dazzling grandeur preferred by the young people, a street that exists for the sake of ojisans (probably).

According to Hiro, due to the special revision of the industrial law, the pubs on the streets have decreased, and have now almost disappeared or have changed to providing various services for the hostels nearby..

The pub that’s like an endangered species, ‘Exotic Pub, Shanghai Love’, was just at the corner of the street. Having electric lights that are modeled on oil lamps and an arc-shaped door, it feels just like a pub that any grown man could go. The pink neon lights weren’t too flashy , and it didn’t feel like it’s a suspicious shop. Is this really an indecent place? But the signboard says that it’s a pub.

I looked at the time on my phone, the date had advanced a day, becoming the first of April. It’s now three forty five in the morning, that’s early.

A middle-aged man passed by my side, accompanied by a woman wearing a low-cut shirt, and it looks like she’s occupational. Seeing the two walk to Hotel Street at the same time, I squeezed into the cramped alley beside the shop and hid.

Just at that moment, I remembered the scene when I returned to Hanamaru in the evening. I showed the card given to me by the Chinese onee-san— Yi Ling san, to Hiro and told him about what occurred. Hiro showed me an awkward expression and said: “I think it’s better if I go. You probably won’t be able to go out that late, right?” Maybe his experience of breaking up with Yi Ling-san wasn’t too good?

Although I was worried that they would feel awkward if they met, but the main reason that I went was that I wanted to go. If I need to trouble Hiro for such a simple matter, then I’m truly useless.

To be honest, sitting on the separator of the charged parking lot, I was somewhat regretting my decision to accept this request. What if I were caught by the police and to accept counseling? They’d probably inform the school, right? And I ran out without even telling my sister, what am I doing……

“Waited for a long time?”

Suddenly hearing the voice of a woman, it startled me so much that I nearly fell down. I raised my head to have a look, and I saw Yi Ling-san wearing an extremely short mini skirt that would be almost invisible in the morning streets and a light beige jacket. She bent down slightly and looked at my face:

“Sorry, are you okay? It’s so late right now. I originally thought that Hiro would come.”

“Hiro’s because…… erm……”

“I know, he didn’t want to come, right? Can you help me beat him up for me next time?”

Yi Ling-san said while smiling.

“It’s not that convenient talking out here, I think it’s better if we go to a restaurant.”

She dragged my hand and started to go forward. All of her actions were overly natural. Though I still felt uneasy, I could only follow her obediently.

Then I slowly realized something— the way that Yi Ling-san was walking was somewhat unnatural. You won’t notice if you don’t look closely, but her back was a bit bent when she walked, and the steps that she took didn’t match.

“Erm…… Are you sick? Or do you have a stomachache?”

“Eh? You can see that?” a wry smile was shown on her face. “Well, since I’m still the bread and butter of the shop, only my face wasn’t beaten up.”

“Huh……?”

“I’ve heard that you ran away, didn’t you? That wasn’t good— I even pretended that I knew you very well too, in the end I had to put in a lot of effort to explain, but they didn’t even believe me.”

“Er…… Were they the ones with the leather coat and the curly hair?”

“Correct. Those two are the racketeers of our shop, and they’re monitoring the building to see if Meo comes back.”

Racketeers?

“They’re yakuzas who collect protection rackets. I really don’t know what they would do, so remember to tell Meo, don’t come back here for the moment.”

They’re indeed yakuza. But why are yakuzas looking for Meo? When I wanted to continue asking, a voice suddenly came from my back:

“Sorry for the wait.”

“Who is this child?”

When I turned my head around, I saw two women who were dressed similarly to Yi Ling-san going past the buildings, and were walking to us.

In the restaurant during late night, at a the innermost table of the smoking area that didn’t have any other customers there, I was surrounded by three onee-sans who work at a pub, and I sat among them with my body curled up. Yi Ling-san asked while eating a large bowl of tekkadon: “So who are you, actually?”

There were also a hamburger set meal, clam spaghetti, tomato soup, French fries and a whole lot more food on the table, causing me to be rather shocked because of their astoundingly big appetite. The three of them were rather slim, how could they eat that much food?

“What’s your relationship with Meo? Are you Hiro’s friend?”

Hua-san, who seems to have came from Taiwan, asked in a rapid fire tone.

“Middle schooler? High school?” the onee-san who seems to have came from Philippine interrupted, asking more questions.

“Ah, I’m a high schooler.” Do I even look like a middle schooler? Though I HAD been misunderstood sometimes. “Erm…… It’s hard to say…… Have you heard of the detective agency in the same building as the ramen shop?”

“Oh—“ Yi Ling-san nodded and said: “I’ve heard of it, I think the detective’s a girl, right? What’s she like?”

“What’s she like, huh……”

Actually I don’t really know Alice that well, and I don’t even know what age is she.

“She’s a small, delicate girl who’s about twelve or thirteen, wears pajamas and is cooped up in her room every day. Though she’s quite malicious, her skill of using the computer should be quite good.”

“Really, she’s that young!? How does she count as a detective then, it’s so mystifying.”

With an annoyed expression on her face, Yi Ling-san stayed silent for quite some time. Then, she relit her cigarette, breathed in deeply and then puffed out a large amount of smoke.

“She’s really that young? Isn’t she a detective?”

“Mnn, being a detective should be a self-proclaimed.”

It should be normal when people have this reaction when they learn about Alice, right? The thought suddenly flashed through my mind. But aren’t they being a bit too surprised?

“So that’s how it is, I actually lost to that…… Uwaa, so Hiro is a lolicon! That’s so hurtful……”

She muttered while looking at the ceiling, while the contents of her mutterings really couldn’t be ignored. What does she mean? Does Hiro…… No, how is that possible?

“Yi Ling, you should just forget about that gigolo.”

Hua-san patted Yi Ling-san’s head, meant as a consolation but was pushed away by Yi Ling-san, and then she continued to ask:

“So Hiro is still helping that detective. Does that mean that Meo is there as well?”

“Ah….. yes.”

This afternoon— no, it’s on yesterday— I explained shortly how Meo went to the NEET Detective Agency, and while thinking about it, I really feel that it was really a long day.

“Is the place where Meo is staying at safe?” Jennifer said.

“Mnn— It’s probably quite safe.” If Min-san agrees to help , she is quite reliable.

“Meo is just like our daughter……” Jennifer continued: “I originally hoped to marry someone like Kusakabe-san, and then give birth to a child like Meo.”

“Didn’t your husband get addicted to drugs? He’s quite a match for you!” Hua-san said sarcastically at a side.

“I’ve told him to stop, and Kusakabe-san helped me to beat him up already.”

“But he haven’t found a job, have he?” Yi Ling-san frowned.

“Just tell him to get lost after getting the permanent resident visa!”

The conversation started to stray towards a direction that I couldn’t comprehend, and was mixed with bits of English, Chinese and Filipino. While feeling pressured, I drank my iced coffee with a straw.

“Meo doesn’t know what happened to Kusakabe-san, too?” Yi Ling-san steered the topic back to the main point.

“Nope.” I shook my head, and explained about the phone call from Meo’s father.

“I wonder what Kusakabe-san did……”

“Maybe he got into trouble with Tabara-gumi? But didn’t he leave the gang from Osaka already?”

“Those guys came to the shop just now. Our shopkeeper is an old friend of Kusakabe-san’s from Kansai, so he kept being badgered, and was asked if he’s keeping something for Kusakabe-san. Of course, he didn’t say anything. Hmph!”

The money is indeed the company’s— no, perhaps it belongs to yakuza?

I decided not to tell them about the bomb-like amount of money in Meo’s hands. People who know must die— I thought about what Alice said while interrupting them:

“Erm……”

I felt that my palm was sweating, but I must get this thing clear.

“Is the Hello Corporation…… How should I say this, a criminal company? Or yakuza?”

“Impossible!” The three instantly denied it.

“Then who in the world is looking for Meo?”

“I said that it’s the racketeers from Tabara-gumi. It’ll be troublesome if people make trouble in our business, so we hire yakuza racketeers. But those people are too avaricious, recently quite a lot of shops stopped working with them, but our shop…… It can’t be helped, there’s too many foreigners.”

This made me even more muddled up about Hello Corporation. They have connections with yakuza, opened a pub, and even rented some nice accommodations for their female foreign workers.

“Although I’m not that clear about it……” Yi Ling-san continued: “But those who are in our profession, more or less would have some connections with that side of the people. Hello Corporation. Hello Corporation provides labor services, and they even provide Japanese classes for us.”

“The pay is quite good too.”

“But we owe people quite a lot of money at first. Even if we send the money home, half of it would probably be taken away.”

“This is just an act of extorting money out of us.”

“There’s no choice, because it’s because of the help given by the guild that we can stay in Japan.”

“Guild?” I asked. Topics that I don’t understand crop up one after another, and I almost couldn’t follow it anymore.

“Hello Corporation is a cooperative guild that is formed from teams of women who work here, Kusakabe-san is the guild master, so he lives with us. Besides making it easier for us to get visas, the guild would also introduce marriage partners and so on.”

I noticed something odd from Yi Ling-san’s explanation…… Wait a sec!

“Isn’t this what they call a fake marriage……?”

Jeniffer and Hua-san laughed out loud at the same time and said:

“Well, we live together as well. If we don’t live in harmony, we can’t pass the visa check.”

“But how would this work out in the future? If Kusakabe-san is caught……”

“If a delinquent replaces him, I might not continue to work anymore. If it weren’t for Kusakabe-san, I really couldn’t deal with all this a long time ago……”

“Yi Ling, you’re still single anyways, so it doesn’t matter……”

The three ignored my presence and started to talk about solemn matters. I listened to their conversation from far away, and started to stir the ice cubes in my glass while relaxing somewhat. Not only was I unable to find out anything about Meo’s father, the outrageous topics that followed made me even more muddled up.

The incident that happened last winter was even simpler than this. Strictly speaking, it’s just that some people reaped the evil fruit that they sowed. But it’s different this time.

Can Alice handle this?

The horizon of the night sky was somewhat blue when we walked out of the restaurant. It was already near dawn. There weren’t anyone besides us on the sidewalk, but even at this time, the cars and truck were still busy on the road.

“That’s right, I forgot to ask what’s your name.” Yi Ling-san said.

“Ah, I’m Fujishima. Fujishima Narumi.”

“How do you write that?”

Yi Ling-san took out her phone, so I typed out my name on it.

“Oh— so it’s Ming Hai.”

Hearing someone reading out my name in Chinese— I feel that I’ve read something like that in a manga somewhere.

And so, Yi Ling-san and the others exchanged phone numbers with me while standing in the streets.

“Ming Hai, so you’re helping by the detective’s side too?”

“It seems that I’m her assistant.”

I, myself, feel embarrassed when I say that.

“Really? Then if you find Kusakabe-san, please save him. He should know yakuzas better than us, so it’s improbable for him to make trouble himself. He probably did what he did because of some pressing matters.”

Is that really so? If he knows of a way to stealthily take the company’s money but would not get noticed, the people who can do that would probably still do that— I thought while nodding.

“Really, why didn’t Kusakabe-san escape back to Thailand with Meo.”

Jeniffer muttered to herself.

“Yeah, although we’ll be troubled if he isn’t here, but looking at the situation right now, we can’t bail at all……”

“Narumi, tell Kusakabe-san if you see him……”

Hua-san held my hand and said:

“He’s working too hard at Hello Corporation, tell him to escape to somewhere else!”

“Really….. huh?”

“It’s best if he takes the ashes of his wife back to Thailand too……”

It was like cold water was splashed all over me. I looked at Yi Ling-san’s face.

Meo’s mother died in a foreign country.

“I’ll leave Meo to you.”

The three said so, gave me a hug each and then left.

After Yi Ling-san and the others left, I sat on the fence alone and stared blankly at the morning sky. I just felt that the sleepiness locked in my chest couldn’t be released, and couldn’t creep into my brain. Looking downwards, I could only see the slope that descended in a straight line from the southern exit of the station, and the city lights that were threatening the night sky along the slope.

The matter is utterly out of my comprehension, and it gave me a bad premonition. What should we do? Never would I have thought that both our client and the person that we’re searching for would be wanted by the yakuza. What could I do to help in this matter? Thinking back on the scene when the yakuza were chasing me— ahh, it’s impossible. If I meet them next time, I’d probably run away too.

Why did Alice hire me as her assistant? She was just following the flow at first, I understand that. But what about after the Angel Fix incident ended? I, myself, told Alice that I wanted to continue to be her assistant, and she accepted too. So what expectations do she have for me? I don’t know.

The noisy cries of a flock of crows surrounded me and bugged me. It wouldn’t be any help if I continue to ponder about this.

Anyways, this is my first official job since I became Alice’s assistant.

Could I still stay by Alice’s side— that would depend on this time.

During the incident that happened during the winter, I actually didn’t help out with much. Even so, Alice still said that I’m her assistant; no matter how much she abused me, she didn’t really abandon me. So I could only cling onto the small, hopeless possibility.

It’s the same even now.

I can only do what I can do.

Jumping down from the fence, I patted away the sand on me and took my first step on the sidewalk.



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