Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 2 Chapter 4

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Chapter 4[edit]

On Wednesday morning, a bitter taste like when I first took the drug remained in my mouth. I started my day with that unpleasant taste. As I couldn't sleep until three in the night, it was already half past eight when I woke up; my sister went to work ages ago.

Walking downstairs to the living room and turning on the television, the news, of course, weren't broadcasting the news that an ex-yakuza, currently the vice-chairman of a company, ran away with a large amount of cash. All of this started from darkness, and will end in darkness. To be honest, tragedies like this happening in the world, probably they happen more than someone being in the spotlight, right?

I blankly stare at the television screen that is playing a TV drama for about fifteen minutes, then changed clothes and walked out of the door.

The words that Min-san said yesterday were still echoing in my mind-- 'Don't meddle.'Yondaime told me something similar to that before, but I just couldn't stay at home, doing nothing.


*

A dead alley was formed in front of Hanamaru Ramen Shop because of the not-too-tall buildings surrounding the shop, and it was so silent there that it's eerie. I parked my bike beside the main road, then inspected if there are any yakuza underlings in front of the shop, but I didn't even see the shadow of a kitten. There weren't even anyone in the windows and balconies of the surrounding buildings, but that might be just my imagination-- Isn't it like that usually? Nobody was outside drying blankets or mats, and there weren't any potted plants placed outside.

The only thing that remained was a yellow stain on the steel door of the ramen shop and the road in front of it. Going to check out the place because people thought that something happened there, only to see that the shop had been splashed with paint. What a malicious way of harassment.

"Min-san, outside--"

When I pulled open the sliding door and was about to walk inside, Meo and Min-san raised their heads at the same time to look at me from the other side of the counter, causing me to be somewhat surprised. Min-san had taken off her sleeveless vest, leaving only her white sarashi wrapped around her chest. From her right shoulder to the side of her abdomen and her arm, all of them were stained with blood. Meo was helping her with cleaning up.

"What happened to you!?"

"I was ambushed when I was coming back from shopping!" Min-san answered while frowning. "I was too careless. If it were to be me from the past, beating up two or three of them should be easy."

Besides being shocked, I felt the flames of anger burning as well. A strong dizziness came upon me, making me feel as if the universe is warping.

"It's okay, they just pushed me a bit. And they ran away immediately as well, so it isn't anything serious."

"This is far from being okay!"

Meo answered in a crying voice. From cleaning the wound until bandaging it, Meo continued to cry.

"It's so noisy! You're not the one hurt, what in the world are you crying for!"

"But, it's because of me......"

"It's not your fault. Listen, it's obviously the fault of those guys. Making you feel that it's your fault, that's their aim. So don't think like that!"

I thought to myself, why is this person so tough? While I- I--

Min-san turned her head over after hearing the sound of the kitchen backdoor opening.

A young girl wearing pajamas stood in front of the door, staring at the not-completely-bandaged, painful-looking wound on Min-san's body with widened eyes, causing her white skin to appear even paler than usual.

"Hikikomori? What are you doing here?"

Min-san said in a forced voice, while Alice stayed silent. Her upper torso trembled slightly all of a sudden, and I immediately ran into the kitchen past the counter, holding onto Alice before she collapse.

"Narumi...... Sorry."

Alice held me tightly while trembling non-stop and said:

"I saw that Master coming back drenched with blood, so I came to verify the blood that flowed because of my own stupidity and idiocy, and also to confirm my own helplessness......"

"I'm not here for your viewing pleasure, so just stay obediently in your room, idiot."

Min-san heaved a long sigh after saying that and sat on the the round chair. At the instant when she sat down, I saw her frown because of pain.

"This isn't...... Miss Detective's fault."

Meo shook her head while wiping away her tears.

"Meo, it's alright, this girl is an incurable idiot, so our statements just now is useless to her. She thinks that all of the misfortunes that happens in the world is due to her being unable to solve them."

Min-san said half-jokingly. But I understand that to Alice, that wasn't a joke, but the truth. All of the sorrow in the world is because of her own helplessness-- and this caused Alice to play the role of a detective. My hands that were supporting Alice tightened subconsciously.

"I checked the contact log of Hello Corporation. I finally understand."

The words that slipped out of Alice's mouth were such hollow words.

"What do you understand?" Min-san asked expressionlessly.

"The source of the money, the things that Hello Corporation did, and the reason that Tahara-gumi and Kishiwada-kai are involved in this. The only thing that I cannot understand is, what was Kusakabe Masaya trying to do?"

I breathed in.

"It's only when everything is too late, when the veil of mystery is uncovered. Sitting alone in an empty cinema, such is the role played by a detective. Even so, I still have to say this...... Are you willing to listen?"

"Suit yourself."

"Narumi, please give me a chair. This matter is somewhat complicated."

The delicate Alice hugged her knees while sitting ont the round chair, and started to explain the complicated story that she spoke of.

"Hello Corporation is like a large filter, which is why many people who dirtied water approached them."

I placed both of my hands on the table and cocked my head. I have absolutely no idea what she just said.

"Have you heard about 'money laundry'?"

"Somewhat." Min-san answered, while Meo wore a mystified expression on her face. Actually, I'm not too sure as well, but the only thing that I could understand is that this is probably more serious than defalcation.

"Simply said, that means to launder dirty money, allowing them to be used legally."

"I still don't really understand, are there dirty money and clean money?"

This is also the part that I didn't understand. Alice 'Hmmm'-ed while looking at the ceiling, then continued to explain:

"Then I'll explain from the beginning. There is a simple way that people can easily evade tax. Do you know how, Master?"

"How would I know? Do you think that my shop is a famous shop that needs to evade tax?"

"You have a point. But please remember this, it's really very simple-- not reporting the money earned, and 'absolutely not using them'. That's all."

As Alice stopped explaining after this, I asked after thinking for awhile:

"But then...... Wouldn't the meaning of earning money be lost?"

"That is correct, but tax evasion is mainly about this point-- how to pretend that they didn't earn money, then pretend they don't have money to spend."

"Then, is money laundering the same as tax evasion?"

"Not so, it's just that money laundering can launder the money from tax evasion, and can also purify the money that cannot be released to the public, such as income from drug dealing and so on; the basic concept is similar to tax evasion. To understand the need for money laundering, you have to first understand two concepts-- the first one is 'there is no meaning if money is not used', as for the second point, as the tax collection department in our country is very outstanding, so 'as long as someone is using money for certain purposes, they will sniff it out immediately'."

"...... Are they really that outstanding?"

"Of course they're outstanding. Using a sum of money on meaningful things-- such as buying houses, cars, shares, investment-- these activities must be done where people can see them. If there is a large flow of money, the Tax Department would know of it immediately, then they will start to investigate the source of the sum of money."

According to Alice, these people seemed to be people with supernatural powers.

"Checking back on the flow of money, they will treat it as tax evasion if they found money that haven't been reported, then ask for additional taxes; if they found out that the money came from shady sources, the people would be arrested. That is why these people try not to let them know how the money is obtained."

"...... Then what do they need to do?"

"For instance, they can pay the money to foreign workers as wages, which will then flow out of the country."

I breathed in.

I think Min-san probably had the same reaction.

"...... Is it Hello Corporation?"

"That's right, that is why they directly give cash to the workers. The tenants in Hello Corporation are mostly female employees who came here to work from other areas in Southeast Asia. Just like that, the company has another channel for money laundering. To the female workers, it is easier for them to stay in Japan through the arrangements of the yakuza and their company, so it's like killing two birds with one stone."

I sneaked a peek at Meo. She was already spacing out with her face pale.

"Kishiwada-kai probably gave financial assistance when Hello Corporation was established, and the money that they used was of course their dirty money. That is why they seem like they don't have any connections, it's just that Hello Corporation is doing the money laundering through Tabara-gumi. I investigated all the regular phone calls from the phone log, so it's definitely Kishiwada-kai who called them."

After saying that, Alice heaved a huge sigh.

It just feels-- This matter...... is already...... not something that we can handle.

"...... Do you have any proof?" Min-san asked calmly.

"No." Alice said expressionlessly. "If there's evidence, the government would have taken action already. All of these are my assumptions. Hello Corporation hid the matter quite well, and the only weakness of their money laundering is that it's not too efficient because of being much too careful. I've seen the savings that Yi Ling provided, and simply calculated the amount of money; No matter how I calculated, money of over a billion cannot be easily laundered. Since they didn't publicize it, their deeds were not brought to light; but since the money laundering was inefficient, they couldn't deal with the money that Kishiwada-kai gave them. In this situation, what do you think Director Mikawa who was troubled because of their large sum of debts did?"

The information that Hiro provided and Alice's explanations combined in my mind.

"He defalcated the money......!?"

"That's right, the defalcation wasn't done by Kusakabe Masaya, but the Director himself-- as there's still two hundred million cash that couldn't be dealt with and was stored in a safe. I have no idea how he tricked Kusakabe, anyways, Mikawa used one hundred million to clear the company's debt, while the two hundred million left over is in the bag."

Kusakabe Masaya knew that he was framed, which is why he ran away. But why didn't he prove his innocence? No, he probably couldn't do so. The one who is close to Tabara-gumi was Mikawa, and Kusakabe Masaya once left a Kansai yakuza gang. If only the Tabara-gumi and Mikawa agreed to say that it was the fault of Kusakabe, the chances that Kishiwada-kai would believe them is very large. Yakuza and the police aren't the same, after all.

"The problem is we can't help out in this when we know it only now, so all of this is too late. The only thing that we can confirm right now is that Kusakabe is already caught by Tabara-gumi, and then-- he will be killed sooner or later."

Meo stood up, her mouth trembling slightly. Min-san stood up as well, silently placing her hands on Meo's shoulders. I stared at Alice, speechless. He'll be killed sooner or later?

"That is essential. Think about it, saying that he defalcated the company is just a lie. If Kusakabe Masaya testified about this, the matter would be found out. To cover the truth, Tabara-gumi and Mikawa can only kill Kusakabe Masaya."

I thought about Shades' words, and suddenly felt a chill on my back.

-- 'It's nice if they can meet alive!'

They're yakuza. As long as they're in the darkness, they can do anything.

"And the truth that I am searching for will soon be buried in darkness."

Alice jumped down from the chair.

Her gaze didn't look like a detective who accepted a request anymore, but more like a doll who lost her soul, and is worried that the world will forget all about her.

"-- How can we let this happen!"

I chased Alice's silhouette out of the kitchen backdoor, and shouted at the silhouette wearing teddy bear pajamas who was about to walk up the stairs. Her black hair swayed, staring at me with her cold gaze.

"What is it? It's just walking up the stairs, I don't need anyone to tail me."

"No, I don't mean that......"

Why? Why did I halt her? I, myself, didn't even know what I wanted to say.

"I advise you to change your personality of taking action without even thinking. You just go back and do your responsibilities as a high schooler, finishing your homework in the spring break!"

Even Alice said that to me, it makes me feel utterly hopeless.

"Are you trying to ask me if there is anything that you can help out with?"

I could only bite my lips and nod silently as Alice have seen through my thoughts.

"Nothing at all...... If I said that, you'll probably start to pity yourself, sinking into a swamp of self-disgust, then act like an idiot, right?"

"So sorry for that!"

"Narumi, let me tell you. In truth, we are all helpless. Being a detective-- the most that I can do is to collect the words of the deceased, rearrange them then search for hidden meanings. Aside from using our brains to ponder about things, do we have any other use?"

"But I don't even know what to think about."

Resigning myself to being laughed at, I exposed the weak side of myself. But the Alice at this moment leaned onto the handrail of the stairs, looking at me with a kind, understanding expression on her face. Why does this girl like to make fun of me at unexpected times to pain me?

"...... Why do you think Kusakabe Masaya wants Meo to hide the two hundred million yen?"

Alice's gentle voice came over, but I couldn't understand the meaning of the question she just asked at the moment.

"You're asking me why......" I frantically recalled the question that Alice just asked and search for the answer. "Because he realized he fell into a trap, and then...... so that people wouldn't misunderstand that he defalcated it......"

...... Eh?

Seeing me press down my lips, staying silent, Alice nodded.

"That's right, isn't it strange? Because the things that he did cannot prove that he was not the person who defalcated the company, but is instead emphasizing that he did it. If he just wanted to save himself, he could just take the two hundred million yen and escape. If he wanted to clear his charges, he could just hand the two hundred million yen to Kishiwada-kai or call the police. He actually has a lot of choices. Among them, the only inexplicable choice is to tell Meo to hide the two hundred million yen, and hide himself as well."

It is indeed inexplicable.

What can he gain from this? Causing his own daughter to be in danger, and getting caught in the end. There should be better ways that he could use.

"Firstly, 'he did not leave Meo any way of contacting him'. As you have said, it's like he abandoned the two hundred million yen along with Meo. Why did he do that? I don't know. In this case where all the doubts have been clear, the only thing that I cannot understand is the key person, Kusakabe Masaya. This is the one and only mystery."

I don't get it either. Something that even Alice cannot explain, how could I understand?

"However, I suspect that his reason is irrelevant to the nature of the case."

Alice turned her face to a side, then said in a lonely tone:

"It's just like that time, I'm just trying to satisfy myself. As long as there is a hidden darkness, I cannot afford to not fill it in, what a sorrowful fate."

And then she smiled at me, like a starry sky that I saw a certain day before.

"And then the unneeded truth that I have dug out-- the true reason for Kusakabe Masaya's actions might deeply hurt Meo, just like that time......"

She kept repeating that time, I really don't know when that is. If she's talking about the day when we greeted the breaking dawn on the rooftop that day, I really want to tell her that it's okay.

"...... It doesn't matter." I couldn't suppress my emotions and the words slipped out of my mouth. Alice focused her wandering eyes on my face.

"It doesn't matter. Meo is strong...... much stronger than me. She kept believing in her father. No matter what other people said to her, it didn't affect her belief."

Alice tightly held the rail of the stairs, silently gazing at my face for quite some time. I nearly had trouble breathing. Did I say anything wrong again?

After that, a sigh came out from the peach-colored small mouth.

"Meo might have realized the answer on instinct."

...... answer?

"The answer to what Kusakabe Masaya is trying to do. In theory, a hundred years would be required to reach the extent that we can build a fortress with a bridge leading to it, but the wings of faith can bring us there in just one night. But I am a NEET detective, a messenger of the death. I am not interested in emotions that cannot be expressed in words...... So Meo, you can just keep your truth in your heart."

I turned around in surprise. Skin with the color of coffee ole was hidden in the seams of the kitchen backdoor that was open for a few centimeters. Her large, round eyes seemed to be blinking repeatedly in surprise.

When I turned my head around after again hearing the footsteps leading upstairs, Alice's silhouette had disappeared from the corner.

I heaved a huge sigh and sat on the second step of the stairs.

Meo slowly opened the kitchen backdoor and walked out. Feeling her utterly terrified gaze, I again felt angry because of the degree of my stupidity.

Just saying things that would make Meo feel uneasy from yesterday, what am I doing? Maybe I'm really a big idiot?

Though the person who's in the most pain is obviously Meo.

Being worried of her father's safety, being wanted by the yakuza herself, and couldn't even go home, she probably feels very uneasy. But at this moment, I still--

Ah, so that's how things stand. I finally understood, the words that Alice said yesterday--

'Nobody cares if you have strong resolution or not.'

'You can just feed realization to chickens, for all I care. What is the thing that we should do?'

Having strong resolve or not is really just my problem, and isn't Meo's business. But my whole brain was stuffed full of myself, and I even said bad things to Meo. What assistant detective! I'm just a thoughtless kid.

"Dad, would he be...... alright? Probably...... right?"

Meo's voice seemed that she almost can't talk anymore.

I silently stood up, caught hold of Meo's shoulders and pushed her into the kitchen.

"It's okay, he'll definitely be okay."

I finally said some words of consolations. Even so, I couldn't even do such a simple thing yesterday.

And then I continued with an empty promise.

"-- We'll definitely save your father."


*

Min-san told me not to go to the shop for the moment, and so I was chased out of Hanamaru Ramen Shop. Though I was worried about leaving the two there alone, Min-san said:

"Listen closely, if something really happens, I can still protect Meo, but what would I do if I have to protect you too? So you'd better scram and go home."

What a direct order for chasing people out.

Not leaving me even one centimeter of space to protest, I could only leave Hanamaru Ramen Shop. As soon as I reached the main road, I immediately called Tetsu-senpai.

'Alice just called me, so I'm coming to Hanamaru. Blast, I think I must keep guarding that place for now.'

Feeling as if he was saying 'Because you can't', I could only answer clumsily and hang up. Paranoia. Hiro and Major did not answer the phone, probably because they're busy setting up spying devices and looking for information from girls? I know that I'm just a burden. It can't be helped, I could only walk on the streets alone.

At the station during the spring break, there were a lot of people who seemed to be high school students. According to Hiro, a lot of kids from the countryside would come here at this time, causing the whole city to look different.

Anyways, I promised Meo to save her father.

I don't have any information on me, but I will not take action only when other people tells me to. I'll call Yondaime first. He kept an eye open since some time before, so he might have got some new information.

Just at that moment, the phone in my pocket started to vibrate.

'I heard that Min-san was ambushed, is that true!?'

Hiro's voice sounded rather agitated.

'Narumi, did you go to the ramen shop? How was she? What happened? I couldn't reach the phone of the ramen shop.'

"Er- erm......" It's rare to hear Hiro's flustered voice. "She said that she was pushed a bit, and is just a bit hurt. Tetsu-senpai already hurried there."

The reason that nobody answered the phone in the ramen shop, is probably because they're taking care of the yellow paint. A sigh came from the other side of the phone. What's with Hiro? It feels...... unlike him. Of course, it would be hard to calm down after learning that Min-san was bullied by the yakuza, but......

'Is that so? Lucky that it's okay...... Ah-- though I feel like going as well, I have some other place to go to, so what should I do? Would Tetsu be okay alone?'

Is it really okay? Though Tetsu-senpai is quite good at fighting, but the opposing party is the yakuza......

"Erm......"

I'll try asking.

"If there's somewhere that you need to go, I can go for you. Min-san asked me not to go to Hanamaru Ramen Shop, but you can go."

'Ah-- Hmm......' Hiro started to hesitate, as expected: 'I need to go look for the women, so I must go myself. I appreciate your offer, but this time there's probably......'

"Nothing that I can help out with?"

Even I, myself, knew that my voice right now felt shameful.

'Mnn...... The only thing left is to check out the situation at Hello Corporation. But there might be people from Tabara-gumi loitering there. All of us have been recognised, so it's somewhat dangerous.'

"They...... probably won't recognise me."

Because I was trembling together with Meo.

'Eh? Ahhh, no...... You're right...... But it's really too dangerous.'

"I'll just go and have a look."

'Narumi, wait a--!'

I switched off my phone after hanging up. I just can't wait here silently.


*

I've asked Major for the address of Hello Corporation before this, so I found it very quickly. It's at a corner of the district office, about ten minutes distance on bike. It seems like a normal company, and the signboard of the company is hung at the side of the building. The temporary employment company, Hello Corporation is located at a rather new building, of course not the whole building, but only the third floor is rented as their office.

I looked around the commercial building before crossing the zebra crossings. The only people who still remember are probably just the leather suit guy and the purple shirt guy that I met at Hello Palace. I was wearing Hiro's coat and glasses that time, so they probably wouldn't recognise me this time. And there's also the man in the dark brown sunglasses who came to Hanamaru Ramen Shop with the leather suit guy. I was hiding behind the kitchen backdoor that time, they probably didn't notice me as well.

But when the traffic light changed to the green light, my legs couldn't move. A bloodied Min-san surfaced in my mind's eye. Though I really feel ashamed about this, I feel really scared.

Though I said that I would check this out here, I don't even know what to do. Am I an idiot? What did I come here for?

I felt helpless about my own idiocy, then simply sat on the railings beside the road. Cars passed in front of me, while pedestrians walked back and forth behind me.

If only I could see a familiar face, I might just get some information. Thus, I decided to observe the entrance of the building here.

After sitting for awhile, my thoughts drifted back to the construction site at dawn. If only I could do something that time, the situation would not turn out like this. But what could I even do that time? Should I have just suddenly barge in the hut and talk things out with Kusakabe Masaya?

Thinking about this right now is already useless, and he even had a kitchen knife as well.

Kitchen knife, air freshening spray, sewing kit, scissors, lighter, two hundred million yen, Singapore, Thailand, Tabara-gumi, Kishiwada-kai, money laundering.

I really don't get it. What does Kusakabe Masaya want to do? In the incident last time, even a person as dumb as me could figure out half of the truth that Alice found out.

I suddenly noticed someone walking out from the entrance of the building, walking towards here after crossing the zebra crossings. Though wearing only a sporty summer shirt and jeans, the slender eyes really gave me a impression.

"Eh? Ming Hai?"

Yi Ling-san noticed me as well. It felt somewhat awkward.

"What's with you? What are you doing here?"

"Erm...... Uh......" Really, what am i doing? "You can say that I'm observing the enemy."

"Ah......" Yi Ling-san's face fell: "I heard that Kusakabe-san was caught, is it true? The people from Tabara-gumi mentioned that when they came over to have a drink."

"...... It's true. Did they mention where he's at right now?"

"Sorry, I didn't listen to them so closely."

I felt somewhat disappointed. Of course things wouldn't be solved that easily.

"Yi Ling-san, why are you here?"

"Didn't I tell you I'm one of their employees as well? Being suddenly called out here, it didn't bode well for me."

Ahh, I nearly forgot. She's one of the people who exists for money laundering, an employee in name.

If Yi Ling-san knew about this, what would she feel about that? Which means, they used the money that she sent home to make a false financial report, no wonder her wages are so high. Even so--

"Ah!"

Yi Ling-san noticed some other people at the entrance, and immediately turned around. It's a tall man of about forty who's wearing a bluish suit. His skin was whitish, and looked rather decent. Yi Ling-san nodded to him, and the man waved to her.

"...... Who is he?"

"Our Director."

Yi Ling-san answered me quietly, and I came back to my senses, and focused my attention on the man who was somewhat young for a Director. When the man opened the door of the black imported car parked by the road, I nearly cried out loud when I looked into the car from the seams of the door.

"Ming Hai, what's with you? Your mouth's open wide."

"Eh? Ah! It's nothing......"

The imported car left for some time, and the light on the traffic light changed, while other cars were now clustered on the road.

There was another man sitting in the car. Isn't that Shades? Though he wasn't wearing the glasses he was wearing that day, his sharp features were quite hard to forget.

"What an easy job, he can already go home now.I heard the girls from General Administration say that he went home about noon yesterday too. Probably didn't even stay at the company for one hour?"

"Yesterday too......?"

"What is it? Do you know our Director?"

"Eh? Ah, no, I don't know him. Oh yeah, do you know the the other man in the car?"

"Mnn--? I'm not really sure, probably a yakuza boss? It seems like he was talking to Director about something just now. Ah, that's right. Ming Hai, can you listen to my complaints? They really went too far!"

Yi Ling-san dragged me into a Mos Burger nearby. As usual, the table was piled full of burgers, hot dogs, salad and fries that were like small hills. Just seeing that would make people lose my appetite, so I just picked up an onion ring to eat.

"We might not be able to stay in Japan anymore."

After clearing away half of her food, Yi Ling-san finally said:

"I was told about this matter just now, but not the reason. Saying something like don't send the money back home anymore, and not continuing the contract anymore, it really troubles me, telling me all that all of a sudden."

"This is really...... bad."

"Isn't that right? It seems that most of the people in our building were called here to be told about this. They gained so much from us foreign workers too. It seems that the company is trying to change its style and become a more legal temporary employment company, so they probably want to get rid of burdens like us? Ah-- if Kusakabe-san is still here, he'd probably think of something to help us."

I sank into deep thought. Is this connected to the case? If Kusakabe Masaya is still here-- which means, it's because Kusakabe Masaya is not here anymore? But why is that? Aren't the women in Hello Palace just gears for the money laundering?

"And they don't even let us work at other shops. Isn't this my own freedom? But to tell you the truth, the company handles the matters about our visas, so we might just have to go home. Ah-- Really-- angry!"

Yi Ling-san then proceeded to stuff Mexican sauce hot dogs into her mouth.

"It seems that the yakuza was here just now to talk about this matter, that was what the General Administration people told me."

I subconsciously stood up, but my knee collided with the side of the table. Yi Ling-san hurriedly held the iced coffee that nearly toppled over.

"What is it, what happened?"

"No, nothing." It's indeed related to the case. "Erm...... What were they talking about?"

"I'm not too sure as I heard this from other people, but they mentioned something about checking the core or something. I wonder what that means. Maybe they thought that we ganged up with Kusakabe-san? Or maybe they thought we would call the police? But they don't need to chase me out of Japan like this!"

Checking the core?

"Ah......"

While staring at the surface of the orange juice, I slowly sat down.

I feel that-- I understand.

Alice said this before, money laundering through Hello Palace is inefficient, plus, the company defalcated the yakuza's money. Since the money was obtained from unlawful sources, the company must launder the money to pay their debts. What should they do then? Of course, they used Hello Palace for this. The method that was already inefficient was no longer used for Kishiwada-kai, but for the company's own gains; and Kusakabe Masaya who was in charge of coordinating the plan wasn't here-- the money laundering would of course come to a standstill, unable to be used. At least it would look like this from Kishiwada-kai's point of view.

So what would happen next?

To these people, the tenants of Hello Palace are like cotton filters that are full of grime after filtration (though this isn't really a good way of saying this). If the government sniffed out the matter and went through investigation, it would be troublesome. And things might happen as Yi Ling-san said, some people might be arrested because of Kusakabe Masaya's incident.

So, things that don't have any value would be tossed away.

The unlucky thing is (it's lucky for those people), the tenants of Hello Palace are all foreigners.

If only they just fire all of them and send them back to their original countries, investigation would be unable to continue.

Almost all of this is just my assumptions, but if it's really true, things are really bad. Drinking a mouthful of orange juice, it tasted unnaturally bitter.

"......Hai. Oi, Ming Hai!"

I was pulled back to reality from my thoughts by Yi Ling-san's voice.

"Eh? Ah, what is it?"

"Ming Hai, how old are you now?"

"...... I'm sixteen this year." Why did she suddenly ask my age?

"Two more years. I can't wait two more years, and you need your parents' permission. I can't get a visa like this, and we have to live together. I thought that Ming Hai would be okay too......"

Eh, wait? What is she saying?

"Ahh- I should've gotten a boyfriend from the start."


*

I parted ways with Yi Ling-san after exiting Mos Burger. Really, which were true? Probably all of them were jokes, right? I shook my head to fling out Yi Ling-san's calculating smile out of my mind, and walked while thinking about the changes surrounding Hello Corporation.

We must now concentrate on understanding the circumstances surrounding the matter.

But when I passed through the crossroads of the district office and reached the front of Tobu Restaurant, my thoughts started to come to a standstill, and my footsteps slowed.

I walked into a convenience store, pushed away an office worker who was taking lunch break and bought a can of coffee, then walked to the public phone in front of the shop to sit down and rest.

Picking up my phone and flipping open the cover, but then closed it again immediately.

Thinking about the matter of the young Director called Mikawa talking things out with the yakuza, Tabara-gumi, and the problem of the tenants of Hello Palace being fired and kicked back to their own country.

This might not be related with this case, and might not be directly related to Kusakabe Masaya as well.

Anyways, I would just need to send the information to Alice. I should just disregard if it is meaningful information, as she is much cleverer than me.

But--

Don't do meaningless flaunting. After saying that to myself for about fifteen times and above, my fingers still could not move. I don't really feel like calling Alice no matter what, but I'd probably get another lecture from her if I tell her any later, something like 'Your slowness is really amazing, I'd say even the speed of Venus rotating would be quicker than you' or something like that. Even so......

I finally understood that Alice knew that I would take action myself from the start, so I don't really dare to call her. Aside from this, the days when she treat me as an idiot would be better.

The empty cans beside my feet increased in twos and threes. The shopkeepers stared oddly at me, who just bought only one can of coffee each time.

As I was about to open my forth can, my phone suddenly blared the ringtone of 'Colorado Bulldog', startling me into throwing away the can accidentally.

'Narumi, where are you right now?'

Alice's voice seemed very harried.

"At a public restaurant, beside Tobu Restaurant. What is it?"

'Meo left!'

I immediately stood up, and bumped my head on the public phone.

"......!"

'What was that noise?'

"Nothing...... When did that happen?"

'About thirty minutes before this, I only noticed when I checked the surveillance camera just now. I only monitored the actions of the underlings of Tabara-gumi, what a mistake that was.'

The taste of the coffee in my mouth became bitter like charred wood.

'Her bag disappeared too. Can you think of any place Meo might have gone to?'

"...... What about her house?"

'I asked Hiro to go.'

Places Meo might go to. Meo...... left. Why? Unquestionably, it's to meet her father. Or she would trouble Min-san if she continues to stay there.

"Did she say anything to Min-san?"

'She took the chance to run away when Master was in the ramen shop, do you even have to ask? Master would stop her if she knew it from the start.'

Left without saying a thing. i felt a black, cold substance crawling up from the bottom of my foot, engulfing my throat at that instant. I could not continue to stand, tightly holding the public phone. Why? Why are they the same, leaving without saying anything? Thinking that they're sympathetic towards us but disappeared without a word, don't they know how much harm they did to us? Are they idiots!? What the heck! My anger that can't be vented caused my hands holding the phone to tremble.

'......mi, Narumi! What's with you!? Can you hear me!?'

Hearing Alice shout beside my ears, I came back to my senses:

"...... I'm okay. I'll go search for her."

But how can I find her?

I stare at the dark skies, then shifted my attention to the busy streets. Looking for a young girl in the crowd of this city, is as hard as separating teardrops and raindrops that flow into the sea; and Meo doesn't have a phone too.

I suddenly thought of something at this moment, then turned around to look at the public phone behind me.

"Alice, did you check Kusakabe Masaya's phone log?"

Perhaps I was too focused, but my voice was so loud that the couple entering the convenience store had a shock and stared at me.

'I almost checked all of it-- Ah, I see!'

The rapid fire sound of someone pounding a keyboard came from the other side of the phone. Alice noticed what I was thinking about in just an instant. Meo chose to leave Hanamaru Ramen Shop because she didn't want to trouble Min-san. To achieve her aim, what would she do? She can't let people see her leave, and can't be noticed by the yakuza monitoring the shop, so she must leave Hanamaru Ramen Shop stealthily. After she succeeded, she must let the people in Tabara-gumi know that she isn't in the ramen shop anymore. The only way that Meo can contact these people is--

'Stop talking, Narumi! She's at Lowson Supermarket opposite to Quattro Restaurant, understand?'

I started to run before Alice even finished talking. Passing through the crossroad for pedestrians, I entered the narrow alley beside Parco Supermarket.

"How long was the last call?"

'About ten minutes before. Wait, Narumi, don't go there. What if you meet the people from Tabara-gumi?'

"What's the use of saying things like this, is there even anyone else to help!?"

'It's quite near to the office of Hirasaka-gumi--'

I hung up and threw my phone into my pocket. Ten minutes before. Maybe she left the place long before this? Can I still find her?

Seeing the dark-skinned girl with a Boston bag in her hands standing below the signboard of Lawson Supermarket, I nearly shouted out Meo's name from the other side of the road in excitement. After realizing that she seemed to be waiting for someone at the public phone, I immediately swallowed the words that I was about to shout out back into my stomach.

I passed through the road and went nearer to Meo, only to see her looking extremely surprised, widening her eyes while tightly hugging her bag in front of her chest.

"Mr. Assistant, why are you here?"

I supported both of my hands on my knees with my back bent, trying to adjust my own breathing. As I ran suddenly, my head felt bouts of aches due to lack of oxygen.

"...... Meo, let's go back."

Meo shook her head violently with her braids swaying along.

"No, please leave, Mr. Assistant."

"You contacted the yakuza, right?"

Seeing Meo biting her lips without answering, my agitated heartbeat slowed helplessly. Meo plans to hand herself and the two hundred million yen to Tabara-gumi. Is her brain okay? Doesn't she know what would happen if she did that?

"You'll know if you just think about it, how could they let you and your father who knows all about this go? What are you thinking!? Idiot!"

"Bu- But......!"

"Anyways--"

As I was about to stretch out my hands to pull the strap of the bag, the sound of emergency braking came behind me, then Meo's expression went through a huge change: "Mr. Assistant, please let go!"

Turning my head around, I saw that the back door of a black van was open, and two men were walking over here from the van. One of them is the leather suit guy!

"Run!"

"Eh? Wa- Wait a minute!"

I snatched the Boston bag from Meo's shoulders and carried it on my shoulders, running away while holding Meo's hands tightly. Harried footsteps and the sound of an engine starting came from behind us. "Both of you, don't move!" ignoring the angry roars behind us, I dragged Meo into a slope in a narrow alley, jumped over a short wall, speedily going across the empty space in front of the entrance of a building.

"Mr. Assistant...... Do- Don't do this!"

Shut up and just run! Forcing out the sounds of the footsteps of the two men chasing behind us, my hands holding Meo's tightened. The strap of the Boston bag slided down slightly, and my lungs burned in pain. Anyways, we have to find a way to mix with the crowd, anyw--

Reaching a narrow road of a back alley after rushing down the slope, a loud horn sounded from the side, giving me a huge fright and stopped without being able to move. The black van from just now blocked our vision. We're surrounded! It was too late when I noticed it, and not waiting for me to turn my head around, the two from before reached our sides.

"You troublesome fellows......!"

The leather coat guy said while panting. A chill rose from the bottom of my heart, and it felt as if the parts below my knees disappeared. So it still can't be helped, it can't be helped......

"Wait, this person isn't involved in this, so......"

Meo's pleading was blocked by the man's hand. The door of the van opened: "Both of you, get on the car!"The rough voice of another man came from the van. I imagined ramming the stomach of the man on my right, then waving the Boston bag to hit the man on the left, finally running away hurriedly with Meo, but in truth, my hands couldn't even move, as if they were frozen. The man in the van extended his hands to try to snatch the bag from my shoulders, while I reflexively tightened my hold.

"Blasted kid, let go......!"

A hot fist punched my abdomen. Not even feeling the pain at first, a sense of wanting to puke started to come from my throat.

"...... (cough)......(hack)!"

` The yakuza grabbed myself, who was about to collapse, holding my shoulders and punching my belly again. It felt to me as if the sounds of my bones fracturing spread throughout my brain, and my mouth was filled with a sour taste. My vision turned blurry. What was Meo shouting about, I wonder? While being kicked by the two men beside me on the belly, I thought about Alice, not knowing why myself. Sorry, it's because I didn't listen to you, so I'm getting such treatment right now. I'm just too cowardly. A hand stretched out from the car behind me, trying to drag me inside.

It was at this moment, there was a loud bang. The whole van moved to a side, and the man who was about to catch hold of me fell to a side. I was also thrown on the road.

Showing a pained expression because of the pain on my whole body, a blue car was suddenly reflected in my eyes. From goodness knows when, a truck rammed into the back of the van, causing the bumper to become deformed, while the engine gave out white smoke.

"Wha......!?"

While the yakuza were still confused, the door of the truck opened quickly, then three men in black T-shirts jumped down from the seat beside the driver's seat and the rear cargo racks, while a man wearing a crimson coat looked out from the driver's seat.

"Gardening Club kid, get to the back!" Yondaime pointed to the cargo rack with his thumb.

"-- Damn...... What are you doing......!?"

Other silhouettes rushed out from the van. Two-- no, three. Angry shouts and fists met. Though they were people from Hirasaka-gumi, who were still quite good at fighting, they were still rather overwhelmed when facing real yakuza, two underlings were collapsed on the asphalt road in just an instant.

"Don't get so cocky, kid!"

The yakuza mercilessly kicked the young black shirted men. With my mouth full of blood of despair, I forcibly stood up and caught hold of Meo's hand. Since the yakuza shifted their attention, do we still have a chance to escape?

"Hurry up and get up!" I was grabbed from the back, and it felt as if someone forced an ice cube down my gut. "Oi, stop playing! We're leaving!"

A loud shout echoed, abut the members of Hirasaka-gumi were still fighting with the yakuza.

"-- Get down!"

A piercing voice echoed through the whole streets. It was Yondaime.

His hands extended from the truck threw a small, unknown object, and rolled to the side of my leg after drawing an arc in the sky. I saw the men in black T-shirts cover their ears and squat down. Thinking back on that moment, I still feel mystified now that I was able to do the same actions they did that time. Needless to say, I found out about the real identity of the small, cylindrical object very soon.

Tightly hugging Meo's head beside me and squatting down-- I didn't have enough time to cover my ears. The small object emitted a deafening noise and a piercing light. My mind went blank......

It was a flash grenade specially made by Major.

I didn't know how long I lost consciousness for.

Regaining consciousness because of the sounds of someone being beaten up, a weeping Meo was at my side, while the black shirted men were around us. After swaing around for some time with the others, I realized that I was at the cargo rack at the rear of the truck.

"Aniki, sorry for being late."

The underlings apologized to me with their face beaten black and blue. I wanted to answer him, but couldn't say a thing due to my dry mouth and trembling lips. My heartbeats brought about bouts of pain at my wounds.


*

There was a short bookshelf, a simple bed and a small table placed among some cardboard boxes in the dark study of the office of the gang, while only the monitor of the computer that hadn't been switched off yet is emitting a faint light.

The greenish white rays of light that shone on Meo, who was tightly hugging the bag to her chest, and made her face seem sickly. I found a bookshelf and sat down, not knowing what to say, so I just silently stared at the programs running on the computer screen. I now felt that Yondaime, who arranged us to have a talk alone, was rather over-sensitive. The pain on my belly due to the kicks from the yakuza just felt like an old wound that hurts occasionally to me right now.

I have absolutely no need to ask her why she left, as it wouldn't help with anything. Since it's Meo's own body, her own life.

But--

"Mr. Assistant, is your wound still okay?"

"Don't worry so much about that, it's just my own rashness. My own fault."

Why do I sound so impatient every time I answer her?

"Are you still angry?"

Meo looked up slightly while saying. I sighed:

"Why did you leave?"

And in the end, she still gave the answer that was already clear to us.

"...... Because...... if I didn't go, my dad would be killed."

Sniffs were mixed in between her words.

"He might be killed even though you went, and you might get tortured too. You should've been more careful."

I finished saying that while suppressing my emotions with some effort, my tone as flat as flattened clay.

"But it should be okay after we returned......"

"They're yakuza."

I interrupted Meo, while she buried her face in the bag.

"...... I want to see dad. I don't like this, dad being at a place where I'm not there...... These things, these things......"

Her words were soon replaced by sounds of crying, but I answered mercilessly:

"But you don't need to leave even so. Do you know how worried Min-san was!?"

"But......" Meo raised her eyes swollen with tears: "If I said that I wanted to leave, you guys would definitely stop me."

"Duh, of course!"

I got angry unknowingly. Meo's shoulders curled up in fright. Actually, I'm the one who's the most surprised, I didn't think that I would get so angry. Shifting my attention to the dusty floor, I adjusted my own breathing.

Though I was obviously one of the people who forced Meo into a corner.

Being angry wouldn't help out with things, I probably have other things that I should tell her. How should I start? Forget it, it doesn't matter even if she doesn't understand. Anyways, I'll feel like shouting at someone if I don't express my feelings accumulated inside of me in words.

Expressing in words.

Where should I start?

After thinking for quite some time, I finally opened my mouth. But it felt as if I wasn't saying that to Meo, but to myself.

"Have I told you about Ayaka?"

Meo gazed at my face while answering: "Just the name."

I couldn't stand Meo's innocent gaze, so I stared at the computer screen while saying.

"We're classmates...... and she's my friend."

Is the word 'friend' right? I stopped for a moment, thinking about it.

"I was a transfer student, and didn't have much friends. Ayaka invited me to join the Gardening Club, and the one who brought me to Hanamaru Ramen Shop was also her. That's why, it's because of Ayaka that I can meet Meo."

That should be-- a continuous miracle.

"...... Then where is she now?"

"Lying on a hospital bed."

Silence.

Sounds came from the CPU.

"She jumped down from the rooftop of our school. Though she didn't die, she wouldn't be able to wake up anymore."

Until this moment, I started to gaze at Meo's face. Her tightly closed lips, her attentive eyes.

"Alice once told me the reason for Ayaka jumping down the building, but I don't know if it's true, and these matters are already meaningless anyways. Ayaka just jumped without saying anything, without saying even a word to me. Do you know how I became after that?"

Meo silently shook her head.

"I became completely helpless, nobody could help me. I couldn't hate anyone, couldn't be angry at anyone, it's just that there's a large hole in my heart, only the coldness in my heart increased. It was very painful."

Meo nodded. White rays were reflected on her face, her face reflecting the weak rays of light form the computer screen.

"That might be easier for the people to go without telling the others. Making a conclusion themselves, just agreeing with your own conclusion. But after we make friends, shouldn't we leave some space in our hearts for our friends? After tidying all the matters, there's a lot of space left. So don't go without saying a word. If there's nobody in the space left over, what should we do then? If the results are like this, it's better if we didn't even meet."

Halfway through my words, I didn't even know who I was speaking to anymore. The darkness in the study, the Ayaka in my memory, or even my own self, listening to my own words, all of them didn't respond.

The one who responded was instead Meo.

"...... Sorry."

There's nothing simpler than this word. After hearing this, the knots in my heart loosened. If we could simply express these simple words, Ayaka and I might be living a better life right now.

"But you saying that it's better not to meet, that's probably a lie."

I smiled wryly in response. It's probably an okay smile, right? The surroundings were too dark, I couldn't differentiate whether Meo was crying or laughing.

"But since you handed the case to the detective, you should believe in her until the last second. We might be just delaying things right now, but we wouldn't hand Meo to the yakuza no matter what, and we would definitely save your father."

"Yeah......" And I'm sure that she was crying this time.

"Of course, choosing to leave is your own decision, we have no right to force you to stay. But if you really want to leave, remember to tell me first."

Then--

"And then you'll stop me, right?" There were tears in Meo's eyes.

The person that felt relieved might not be Meo, but myself.

I heaved a huge sigh and stood up.

However, Meo halted me, who was about to walk out of the study.

"What is it?"

"...... How did you know where I was so quickly?"

I originally wanted to say something to comfort her, but I really can't think of anything.

"Meo's thoughts are really easy to guess."

Meo showed me a shy smile, stood up and walked to my side, then caught hold of my left hand and raised it. My heart pounded for a moment, my spine touching the door of the room.

"What...... is it?"

Meo wrote out a few words on my palm, a complicated shape made of squares and circles.

Meo wrote out a few words on my palm, a complicated shape made of squares and circles. I realized that it was probably Thai.

"Charunee."

"What?"

"It's my real name, only my dad knows about that."

Meo closed my left hand, then tightly held my hand with both of her hands. Her hands were much warmer than mine.

"So that Meo would not be caught by demons, please remember my name, okay?"

Being stared at by the eyes that were wet because of tears just now, I could only feel a hot flow on my face. I shifted my gaze, and nodded.

Hitting something when I opened the study door, I heard someone saying 'Ouch!'.

"...... What are you guys doing?"

About four black shirted lackeys were squeezed outside the door, eavesdropping. As I was about to walk to the office, all of them showed me an embarrassed smile and went back a few steps.

"Well, it's because aniki is alone with another girl."

"That's right. If anything happens, we have to report to ane-san."

Huh?

"We heard that you've already reached the state when you're sleeping together on the same bed."

"Second Brother Hiro said that aniki has potential, so it's dangerous like this."

What in the world are these people talking about!?

"Erm...... My relationship with Alice isn't what you imagined."

"What happened?"

Unable to exit the study, Meo asked behind me, while I turned my head around and waved my hand, telling her that it's okay.

"What are you guys doing?"

The steel door opened, and Yondaime walked in with Pole and Rocky. I can finally relax. "I still have something to discuss with Yondaime, so you just wait inside for awhile." I pushed Meo back into the study and closed the door after saying that.

"Gardening Club kid, finished talking to her?"

"Finished."

Yondaime sat on the sofa in the opposite. About ten members of Hirasaka-gumi surrounded us, and it made me feel as if I was at a deep, dark well.

"I've contacted Hiro, he'll come get you guys immediately."

"About this,..... Mnn...... I have a request."

After I said that, Yondaime's gaze sharpened.

"It's impossible for me to hide the girl for you."

Whoa...... I was rejected immediately. Am I really such an easy person to read? I feel that I'm living like an open book, it feels really depressing. But this time I continued to plead:

"Can't you do it?"

"So what's our relationship with that woman? It's because Alice asked me to save you just now that I let the girl tag along just now. Troublesome people should just scram!"

His way of talking is really merciless.

"But you said that you owe me one......"

"Do you think I have to do anything for you because I owe you? Are you an idiot? Didn't I tell you before, the only people that I will help are my people and the their friends. I might just help you if you were in trouble, but I don't care about that woman. I don't have the obligation to fight things out with Tabara-gumi just to save her."

I really have nothing to say. As Yondaime is a yakuza, he has a clear boundary between moral principles and his own people.

I started to think with my fist supporting my forehead. I just need to talk things out, so I have to think of a reasonable reason.

Seeing us in a silence, the black shirts around us started to get anxious. But since they know that the end result of talking too much is to get beaten up by Yondaime, nobody dared to say anything. These people are related in name in their world, so as the leader, Yondaime's words are extremely powerful.

...... Ah, that's right.

Examining all the reasons that I could think of. Is this reason okay? I might get beaten up, but since they're not really yakuza, I could just pretend that we're playing family.

I crossed my arms in front of my chest, thinking carefully of the words to say.

"Erm...... Is it okay if it's related to me?"

"Speak."

"Please do that...... what is it again......? Undergo the sake ceremony with me."

Yondaime's brows twitched, while the lackeys around me started to make a commotion.

"Aniki finally......"

"It's great."

"Sou-san, we beg you too--"

"Stop joking!" Yondaime roared, and the commotion stopped immediately. "I said this before, I will not let a high schooler join us!"

"I don't want to join your gang." I immediately answered: "It's not that I want to join the gang, but to become sworn brothers. Please do it!"

A shocked expression appeared on Yondaime's face all of a sudden, then he started grinding his teeth.

"Then we'll not owe each other anything...... Is that okay?"

I continued in pursuit. But I could obviously see that as Yondaime's degree of anger rises, I felt rather scared that I said too much.

"So that's it, becoming sworn brothers."

"Then we can't call you aniki, but Second Brother(?)."

"It's easy to confuse it with Second Brother Hiro, aniki, so can we continue to call you aniki?"

The friendship betweens sworn brothers. Just like this, Yondaime and I would become 'relatives'. Saving my friend-- the reason for saving Meo is thus born.

As the members of Hirasaka-gumi were dancing in joy because of this, Yondaime stood up, and all of them became silent immediately. The sharp gaze of a wolf stared at me furiously, causing me to be unable to breathe.

Even so, Yondaime said in an embarrassed tone:

"Going through the sake ceremony with you would make us even, you'll owe me one when I protect the girl for you, understand?"

Unable to hide my excitement, I nodded. Thinking back about it calmly, isn't it more terrifying to owe Yondaime one? But I just didn't think of so much at that time. The black shirts cheered.

"It's great!"

"Let's go celebrate!"

"Shut up. It'll be on tomorrow morning, hurry up and prepare!" Yondaime roared.

"Understood!"

"I'll go hone my manly aura right away!"

After that, Yondaime asked the lackeys to do some stuff, then they rushed out of the office. As for me, I leaned against the sofa, staring at my palms. Things can't be turned back anymore, it felt just like that.

"Gardening Club kid, do you have Kusakabe's phone number?"

When all the people left the office, Yondaime sat on the sofa and asked.

"Eh......? Ah, I do."

I opened my contacts in my phone and handed it to Yondaime, while Yondaime immediately dialled the number using the phone in the office.

...... Eh? That's not right, wait, what is he trying to do!?

"-- I'm Hinamura from Hirasaka-gumi. Tell someone who's in charge to answer the phone."

I don't know if the phone got through, but Yondaime said in a deep voice:

"Shut up, who are you? Are you from Tabara-gumi? That's right, I'm Hinamura Soichiro. You heard about the matter about the van, right? That's even better, Kusakabe is probably still alive, right? What? Of course it's for our ties of friendship. None of your business! The woman and the cash are on me. Listen closely, look for Hirasaka-gumi directly if you have any problems. Try to do anything to the ramen shop again, and I'll exterminate you!"

Yondaime hung up the phone and placed it back onto the table.

He glared at me with ferocious eyes, then said:

"Are you sure that you can win?"

I stared at the silent phone on the table, then shook my head.

"You're the one who raised the stakes, so think of something yourself."

It's the same words that Min-san said to Meo.

I really don't know what to do. It was only at times of need when I thought of solutions, not to mention matters of tomorrow. But I could only nod silently at this moment. The person who caused us to be unable to turn back is no longer Meo, but my own self.




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