Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 5 Chapter 2

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The Detective and the Love Professor[edit]

Actually, there were times where I was curious as to how old Alice was. I heard that she never attended elementary school, but I had never heard about her not attending middle school, so I guess she should be around twelve or so. She was always saying all sorts of big stuff with a haughty attitude, stunning me, so maybe that was the reason why I never thought of her to be that old. Also, with those ridiculously poorly eating habits and undeveloped body, she might not be as young as she appeared? In any case, she didn’t seem to be older than me.


Alice’s the girl who lived in the room above the ramen shop I worked at. The Room 308 had a stupid ‘NEET Detective Agency’ signboard, and every day, she was holed up alone in the room. Alice called herself the NEET detective, but she was always dressed in pajamas, sitting on the bed, facing the keyboard; in fact, she was merely in charge of hacking passwords on the internet. She hardly had a tan, didn’t exercise, and had an unbelievably small appetite; her limbs were astonishingly white and thin.

I didn’t know the environment Alice grew up in, and I didn’t know her real name, family and age; even I found that part unbelievable. I get tired whenever I was around Alice, due to various factors, so I didn’t have the time to ask personal information like her name and age, things that I should logically know.

Despite this, there were times where I would be curious about them. Like this one time,

 

On a certain evening in the beginning of May, I, working at ‘Ramen Hanamaru’, entered the shop, and was ordered by the lady boss Min-san to deliver a takeout to Alice.

“It’s Chinese don. She doesn’t like rice, so if she doesn’t eat, tie her up and stuff it into her mouth.”

Min-san’s dressed as a fighter, the sarashi wrapped around her, and a tank top over it, her hair tied in a ponytail; she might be acting as Alice's mother, but she often said some overbearing things. It's no wonder, for if she did not force Alice to eat, the latter would spend the rest of her days living on Dr. Pepper. I didn't know when it started, but the job to get Alice eating had become a daily routine for me.

Min-san doused soup on the rice that was the size of a baby's fist, and I put the bowl of mini Chinese don on a tray, carrying it to the detective agency on the 3rd floor.

"Alice, I'm going in. It's time to eat."

The office's a one room flat, and there was a little corridor from the entrance. The bedroom acted as an unpleasant server room, three walls were buried behind various equipment. The strong cold winds were blown downwards, and on this day, Alice was sprawled on the bed, typing at the keyboard, her long black impressive hair like a plant growing in the shadows, and the bare slender legs beneath the pajamas suddenly reached towards me just when I was about to enter, and I turned my face aside. "...Put on some clothes before you work."

"I'm busy now. Electronic signals pass through the circuits at lightspeed, and this is a absolute law in the universe. Ordinary values will not put on my clothes for me.

Alice said without giving me a glance. A torrential downpour of keyboard tapping could be heard along with the words.

"No, won't you catch a cold if you don't put on socks?"

A pile of previously used pajamas was on the floor at the end of the bed, and the brand new white knee socks were taken out and tossed aside. This room filled with electronics had air conditioning on the entire time, so it was really cold. Even if her tolerance to the temperature was inhuman, she should be feeling cold since she's barefoot, right? Alice actually said this to me at this moment,

"Put the socks on me. My hands aren't available."

"Ehhh? Me?"

"Who else is around? Don't ask the obvious."

"No, but."

"Even if I do explain, I think you won't understand. Time is of the essence when I hack in while the system is undergoing maintenance. Miss by a second, and the fate will differ. You aren't telling me to wear my socks and have me verbally command you on how to operate? Considering the work efficiency, you should know this isn't possible!"

Nobody thinks that, okay. I'm telling you to pause and wear your socks.

"Narumi, hurry up."

Alice's eyes never left the monitor as she kept kicking her legs to prompt me. I sighed, hesitated for a long while, picked up the socks, and climbed onto the bed.

Good thing she was wearing shorts. That made me relieved.

Objectively looking however, this really isn't good. So I put the socks on Alice without touching her skin, somehow. If there just so happened to be someone entering the room while I was putting her socks on, I would have been punched all the way to India.

"And wash my clothes."

Once she's finally done with dress up, Alice ordered me as she continued to tap at the keyboard. I lowered my head, and could vaguely see some frills under the pile of pajamas, probably underwear or camisole. I'm a guy after all, doesn't she have a sense of shame or something...?

Kami05 092.jpg

So on that day, I dumped the clothes into the washing machine of the office, thinking about something. I guess she never thought of the opposite sex as she's still a kid. No, Alice never thought of the concept of a boy because it's Alice we're talking about here. Likewise, I never really thought of her like that, I guess?

 

"What? Why are you looking at me? You really like watching others eat. I'm too lazy to correct that blatant habit of yours."

"Eh...ah, no, sorry."

Alice was seated on the bed, holding a spoonful of the Chinese don that cooled off. (but had no intention to put into her mouth)

I stared blankly at her, not realizing this at all.

"And I ordered for Chinese don without rice..."

Alice continued to grumble away, not willing to eat a mouthful, so I could only take out a can of Dr. Pepper and hand it to her. I guess it's not that farfetched to say that half of Alice's body was nurtured through this carbonic drink.

Alice pulled the ring, and was suddenly giving a pained look as she raised the can up high, intending to pour it onto the rice. Hold it right there! That's desecrating 4000 years of Chinese history!

Luckily, Alice put away with those thoughts before that, and I heaved a sigh. I turned my back on Alice, who was by the bedside, and started pondering.

Alice’s a NEET, one who never left the house, but she was surrounded by guys of all kinds—the ex-boxed Tetsu-senpai, college military nerd Major, gigolo Hiro, and the young yakuza gang leader Yondaime.

Hm, all of them are older than me, and always enter this room at well, so they’re already used to Alice’s antics—I guess that’s why they never thought of her as a dating partner? These NEETs…why are they so careless about this?

“It’s all because of you.”

The sudden voice from behind caused me to turn around in shock. Alice was grimacing bitterly. Eh, me? Eh, what, what did I do?

“It’s because you’re watching me eat nowadays that Master’s been ignoring my orders, always adding noodles, rice, causing trouble for me!”

Alice continued with tears in her eyes,

“Ah…that.”

I dropped my shoulders hard.

“What’s with the gaudy look? You’re acting stranger than usual today.”

“Shut up.”

Once she cooled down, she realized she was embarrassed, and could only retort haughtily. Goodness, I was really off on that day. Maybe it was because I had anticipated what was going to happen, I guess?

*

I took the empty bowl and tray back to ‘Hanamaru’, which had began operations for the day. There were already people at the seats of the cramped counter soon after business started; that was a rare sigh.

“—So I guess I had to close the shop.”

“Since you’re closed for the time being, go on a trip! Bring your mom along!”

“I don’t have that money! Eh, this is troublesome.”

Conversing with Min-san across the counter was a young man. He was probably of the same age as her, about 25, 26. His energetic, bearded face gave a wild impression. I would guess he’s her acquaintance.

I entered the kitchen from the back door, “welcome”, nodded towards him, and put on the apron.

“Uh, huh? You hired a new part-timer? A boy this time? Hello there.”

This man before me showed a hearty smile, so hearty he was unlike those loitering around ‘Hanamaru’, and that surprised me.

“Hello.” I responded politely, and glanced aside at Min-san.

“He’s my classmate in high school, Tomozou. What’s your family name again? I forgot after calling you Tomozou, Tomozou all the time.”

“How cruel of you. Okabayashi. Same as the shop name.”

“Ah, I see.”

I stared blankly at Min-san, who was exchanging looks and smiling with Tomozou-san. Min-san during high school? I couldn’t imagine…no, even if Min-san did have her youthful teenage time, it’s just…woah! I got a lot of questions to ask, what kind of girl was she like during high school? Did she have a sarashi wrapped around her chest since then? “Ow!” I got punched in the back of the head, and squatted due to the pain.

“What was that about!?”

“You’re thinking about something stupid again, so I’ll just beat you up.” Min-san responded with such harsh words. But well, she’s right.

“You know the Okabayashi Sundries? It’s a little hostel, near the high school you’re at. He’s the boss there. A shoddy little shop, but it has all kinds of imported alcohol. Back in high school, I was always drinking what’s stolen from his shop.

No, erm, shouldn’t you be at least twenty?

“My dead dad always went to places like USA all the time! It’s troublesome to keep importing for personal use, but I did inherit this business. The most expensive ones always end up finished by me though.”

Tomozou-san explained with apprehension. I see, so this hearty attitude’s due to his non-NEET background, huh?

“Troublesome? I see that you’re enjoying yourself there, aren’t you? This guy’s always boasting about his knowledge on booze all the time, even called the booze professor. Once we talk about booze, there’s no stopping him.”

Min-san interjected, and Tomozou-san grimaced.

“If you want to try your first wine in life, come look for me! I’ll pick a strong one for you, not so much that you’ll die, but that you’ll understand how terrifying it is.” The booze professor kindly told me, “Did Hanada get your drunk before? She’s bad at holding her liquor, so be careful.”

Hanada, so I momentarily wondered who it was. I guess it’s Min-san’s name?

“Tomozou, one more word and I’ll beat you up. Your shop’s doomed if they find out you’re selling booze to underaged kids. Anyway, your shop’s about to close, isn’t it?”

You’re saying that…wait. Close down?

“Ah, yes.”

Tomozou-san gave a wry expression, scratching his head.

“There’s a supermarket opening next door. Some strange things happened recently, so I had to close for the time being.”

“—Something weird happened?”

“Something strange—” I asked, only for the back door to the left of the kitchen to open suddenly. Steam floated outside, lifting the long black hair.

“Tomozou, you could have said you were coming! Why didn’t you discuss such an urgent matter with me? Didn’t I say I’ll do anything as long as it’s for you? Don’t you trust me?”

“What! Even Yuuko was told…?”

I could hear Tomozou-san grumbling as I stared blankly at Alice. It was the first time I saw Alice rush downstairs for a customer, and someone actually addressing her by her given name. Also, erm, anything for you…what’s with that? Anyway, I was so shocked that I turned around, momentarily rooted, only to recover when Min-san hit me in the back of the head.

*

The following day, I took a detour to Okabayashi Sundries to have a look.

So I had seen this shop often, and it was a five minute distance from the back door of my high school. It sells beer, cold drinks, miso, sauces and other condiments, a little, old-school merchant shop. While I had rode past it a few times, high school students would never enter this shop, and the signboard was long faded due to the sun, so I had no impression on the shop’s name at all.

Next to the Okabayashi Sundries was the new supermarket, ‘Ricomart’, the banners at the door promoting its special prices fluttering around, with lots of cars at the parking lots nearby. I was thinking that such a strong competitor wasn’t a good thing, but I parked my bicycle at the parking lots of the supermart opposite.

Okabayashi Sundries just so happened to be located at the supermart deep inside. I tapped at the glass door with the ‘closed’ sign, and heard some movements before the door opened.

“Righto…huh, isn’t this Narumi?”

Appearing at the door was not Tomozou-san.

“Senpai? What are you doing here?”

“Testing the goods.” Tetsu-senpai said as he pointed at a dark corner of the shop. Soon after, I saw Tomozou-san excite with an apron wrapped around his waist.

“You’re not exactly helping out when you’re dropping by uninvited, aren’t you? Just trying to steal a drink while I’m not around?” Tomozou-san grinned as he tapped at Tetsu-senpai’s shoulder.

Tetsu-senpai once studied at my high school before dropping out, and he’s a pachinko player. While Tomozou-san’s pretty sturdy looking, he does look a little weaker when standing side by side. As to be expected of a former boxer, I guess; those firm muscles are really different from ordinary people.

“You know Tomozou-san too, senpai?”

“Yeah. He’s the master who taught me how to drink.” So senpai responded. Aren’t you supposed to be 19?

“Did Yuuko ask you to come over?”

Tomozou-san asked, and I hurried shook my head. Actually, I was curious about Alice’s attitude, and wanted to know what kind of person Tomozou-san was, but I really couldn’t mention this reason.

“I decided to drop by. I wanted to figure out what’s going on here…”

“Oh, come on in.”

The shop, with air conditioning blaring, felt extremely cooling, while the cupboards and fridges were covered with cloth, making them seem lonely. There were Japanese wines, fruit-based wines, whiskeys and all kinds of various wines lined neatly in rows.

“Oh? Another customer?”

A middle-aged lady poked her head out from the noren at the counter, and once she noticed me, she immediately turned around, entered the house, and soon returned with three sets of cups and plates.

“My apologies, this shop will be closed if left unmaintained, yet you came all the way here…”

The lady served three cups of Oolong tea on the counter, and Tomozou-san took one to drink, yapping unhappily,

“And that’s why we can’t leave this be! Alright, mom, enough with that. Go do the accounts.”

Yes yes, so the old lady said as she returned inside. So she’s Tomozou-san’s mother?

“Only the two of you in this shop?”

I asked Tomozou-san, trying to do some detective work. I did remember he said that his father passed away.

“Yeah. But I’ve always been out delivering stocks, and mom can’t stay in the shop to keep watch, so we don’t know when that happened.”

Tomozou-san looked really grim as he looked towards the wine lined on the floor.

   

According to Tomozou-san, it was first discovered by an old customer who would order crates of Japanese wine every month.

“I heard that he assumed the color and taste was different without drinking it. As a seller of wine, it’s really a humiliation for me to not notice it.”

It seemed something black (probably soy sauce) was added in. The bottle’s brown, and it was to be expected that he could not tell from the appearance.

“How did the culprit mix it in?”

“Opened the cap and poured it in. Look.”

Tetsu-senpai picked up a bottle by his feet, and handed it over. The bottleneck was made of a normal, thin metal, and there was a little round hole at the bottom, such that it would be pried out upon squeezing it, allowing it to turn.

“…Ah, was it held down by duct tape?”

It was a simple method. After tightening the opened the opened cap, a quick adhesive was then added at the seal. It could be discovered on a closer look.

Surely it was the sign of someone destroying it.

“This is a terrible thing to do to such wonderful wine. I found five bottles like this.”

Tomozou-san said with a dejected look. I see. So that’s why he closed down, and even Tetsu-senpai dropped by to test the goods?

“Do we call the cops—”

But before I could finish my words, Tomozou-san and Tetsu-senpai shook their heads in unison.

If possible, try not to let the police know. Even I understood this situation immediately. If matters got out of hand, the shop’s reputation would also be affected.

But who exactly would do such a thing, for what reason? If it was just a prank, that would be too much effort, wouldn’t it?

“Any threatening letter received or anything?”

Tomozou-san gave a wry smile, shaking his head,

“Why threaten this poor wine merchant? No good comes out of this. Seriously, I don’t understand why this happened.”

While the three of us went silent, the shrill, rock n’ roll styled guitar roll suddenly blared in the dim shop. I flusteredly removed the cellphone from my pocket. The ‘Colorado Bulldog’ ringtone clearly indicated that the caller was Alice.

“You’re done with school today, right? Tetsu should be at the scene now, so before dropping by the office—”

“Ah, yeah. I’m at Okabayashi Sundries.”

I cut off the NEET detective, and she, on the other end of the phone call, was momentarily left speechless.

“…It’s rare to see you so sharp this time. Did something happen?”

“No, it’s nothing…” I tried to play dumb, “Anyway, I heard the details from Tomozou-san.”

I narrated to Alice about how the wine was tampered.

“Hm…I understand. Anyway, bring one of the tampered bottles back; I want to have a look. Also, I called Major and Hiro to come over, so tell Tomozou that.”

“Hey, wait, Yuuko. I don’t remember asking you for anything. Don’t escalate matters this time. This is our shop’s issue!”

Tomozou-san growled as he approached my phone.

“Are your problems not mine as well!?”

Alice was not going to back now as she yelled back, as I instinctively moved the cellphone away from my ears.

“You’re trying not to pretend how much I value you? If it’s just to protect your shop, you won’t have to submit a request to me. ”

She hung up, and I stared blankly at Tomozou-san’s face for quite a while.

“…She’s the same as before.”

“Well, since we got nothing to do, leave it to us. We won’t charge you for this Tomozou-san. Don’t mind.”

“No, it’s not about the money.”

“Just give me a bottle of Hennessey as reward.”

“I’m not giving you one drop at all, so go back now.”

I casually overheard their conversation, still unable to believe what Alice had just said. She said that…how much did she value Tomozou-san?

“…mi? Hey! Narumi!”

Tetsu-senpai slapped me on the face, getting me to recover.

“Eh? Ah! Wh-what?” I didn’t know why I was this stunned myself.

“What are you spacing out for? Here, it’s the wine with other stuff inside. Didn’t Alice tell you to bring it to her? She’s gonna be angry if you keep dilly dallying here.”

Senpai stuffed the brown bottle into my hands, and shoved me out of the doors.

“I’ll continue to inspect the goods here.”

“…Ah, okay.”

“What? You’re acting weird today, Narumi? You alright? Did the NEET virus finally get to you.”

“No, it’s fine, I’m completely fine.”

What’s the relationship between Alice and Tomozou-san? I swallowed this question back in. It’s really hard to ask Tetsu-senpai about this.

But I really should have asked at this point. It would have made the ending a little better.

 

As I was too dumbfounded, I did not notice the white foreign car while exiting the parking lots of the supermarket, and so the front wheel clipped the bumper, causing me to tumble hard.

“—Are you alright?”

A woman with long hair opened the door, and poked her head out of the door. I had fallen on my backside, and kept nodding away.

The woman parked her car at the outer end of the parking lots, and hurried out of the car. She was dressed in a white one piece suit, with a beige cardigan over her. She’s a posh, pretty lady.

“Are you hurt? Fine?”

“Yeah, I’m alright. Really sorry about that.”

I suddenly remembered the wine bottle on me, and patted my bag. Good thing it wasn’t broken.”

“Thank goodness…” The woman let out a sigh.

“Sorry for being careless…” I lowered my head repeatedly, and got onto the bicycle again.

I was about to cross the road, and casually turned back to look, only to be more confused.

“Hello, is Tomo-kun in?”

The young lady who was driving knocked on the door of Okabayashi…who’s she? Tomozou-san’s friend?

*

After having a whiff of the Japanese wine, Ugh, Alice stuck her tongue out, and immediately corked the bottle, returning it to me.

“It is said that humans began brewing wine once they discovered cereal, but I do find that incomprehensible. Why would people think of drinking such things?”

The girl saying such things was surrounded by walls of stacked Dr Pepper, and thus, her words were not convincing in the slightest.

“Anyone will have the urge to get drunk once in a while…”

I tightened the cap, saying pretentiously,

“Oh? It does sound like you seem very experienced?”

Alice draped her blanket on her shoulders, giving a mischievous smile, and I could only look aside awkwardly.

“I guess. Like when my mind’s in a mess.”

“Will it not mess with your mind further?”

“Well…I forgot if it was in ‘The Little Prince’ or something, but drunkards drink to forget all that’s embarrassing to them.”

“What’s embarrassing?”

“Like getting drunk, for one.”

Alice laughed out loud, her long hair sprawled upon the bed.

“That is amazing. Is life not like this?”

She said as she wiped the tears from her eyes. Was it that funny? As I stood amidst the cold wind blowing his, I gradually felt that my messy thoughts were meaningless.

“I really do what to see a drunkard fall into that trail of thoughts as a bystander. While that is a precious bottle, you can finish it youself, Narumi.”

“I’m not.” And anyway, isn’t there supposed to be soy sauce mixed inside or something? “And, you can’t be saying such things to other people so carelessly. Even I don’t know what I’ll do if I get drunk, you know?”

“Then give one example. What will you do?”

This one here actually asked with a bemused look,

“No, it’s nothing.”

Why ask me with such a serious look!? I’ll end up thinking about all kinds of this here!

“It’s fine. No matter how ugly you may become, I will record it all down with this highly potent digital camera, and upload it into the vast network to be promoted as your digital history.”

“Please stop.”

I sighed, and put the bottle back into the fridge. It really did seem that lots of things did not matter.

“Anyway, are we sure the Japanese wine isn’t the only thing touched?”

“Eh? Ah, ah, well, no.”

Alice suddenly reverted back to the topic, and I was a little giddy,

“Not just the Japanese wine. The whiskey and rum have been tampered with.”

“Hm. That eliminates the possibility of the imports being tampered en masse. Looks like they were tampered after they entered the shop.”

I see. It seemed the wine Okabayashi Sundries imported would vary based on type. If the Japanese and Western wines were both tempered, it’s easy to think that they were tampered after entering the shop.

“But…what’s the purpose of doing this here?”

“Who knows? It’s hard to tell before we analyse what was mixed into the wine? If it’s not to harm the drinker, it is to harm something else.”

“…The reputation of the shop?”

“This is currently the only possibility I can think of, and also a chance of the culprit to do this again. We got to get Major involved again.

Like Tetsu-senpai, Major’s one of Alice’s collaborators, an expert at taking illegal photos, eavesdropping, and trespassing, so naturally, he’s capable of self-defense. Looks like we need him to contribute again.

As usual, there’s a drop in what I can do now.

“It’s unforgivable to do anything to Tomozou-san’s shop. I’ll give it my all to find the culprit”

Alice seemed really riled up. Goodness. It’s for Tomozou-san—right?

In other words, she had special feelings—for Tomozou-san, right? Well, it’s nothing strange, since Alice’s a girl after all…

Feeling really sulky, I exited the office.

*

It was the following morning, and Golden Week was in its latter part. I had to drop by school to take care of the flower garden (it might sound unlikely, but I’m a member of the gardening club after all). Once I left, I dropped by Okabayashi Sundries again.

The opposing (?) shop ‘Ricomart’ remained rife with business, and the parking lots were filled, so much so that some vehicles were parked before Okabayashi Sundries…huh? Didn’t I see this white foreign car before?

Right when I was about to approach the glass door and knock on it, I heard a sharp voice of a lady,

“…Why didn’t you tell me? Y-you asked those children to help you out?”

“I didn’t!” Tomozou-san’s voice followed, “And this is my family issue, nothing to do with you.”

“You always say this! Nothing to do with me, all the time! Whatever, I get it.”

I was wondering if I should drop by at a later time, but the glass door before my eyes opened abruptly, and a woman stormed out, “Keep on acting tough! I’m not going to help you when it’s too late!” She stated with a huff, not noticing me, and not bothering to evade,

“Kya!”

The woman knocked me down from the front, and a cloud of dust wiped out, as all I saw was stars floating around.

“…So-sorry, are you alright?”

“Eh, ah, yes…”

Before I could finish, I could taste iron in my mouth. Guess I had a cut somewhere. The woman quickly got up, dusted off her short skirt, and held me by the arm, pulling me up.

“…Oh, you’re from yesterday.”

“Ah.”

She was the woman who was driving and collided into me at the parking lots. It’s the second time we crashed. Both of us averted our eyes in embarrassment.

“What are you doing?” Tomozou-san poked his head out from the door, “Nothing!” and the lady replied, running back to her car parked by the road.

“Ahh, looks like you saw something embarrassing.” Tomozou-san scratched his head in frustration.

   

“How is it possible for a nice princess to be dating my son ehre…?”

We were at the counter inside the dim shop. Aunty served me malt tea as she noted,

“Goodness, if you don’t treat her well, she’s going to run away. How did you end up like your father here?”

“Shut up.”

“The only one worried about you would be that lady, isn’t it? Think about her, and just leave this shop already. It’s weird to say this…but you can use this chance to close shop and marry her.”

“That’s nonsense. We aren’t done paying the loans.”

“Besides, the neighbour wants to convert this place into a parking lot, so you should just sell the shop…”

“Alright, just drop this matter.”

“Goodness, you should seriously think this through!” The old lady raised her voice.

“Shut up. I’m thinking now, no?”

“I’m saying you should hear out what a woman is suggesting! You’re always deciding things on your own, like a certain someone.”

“In that case, don’t come to this shop anymore, mom! Go retire and enjoy your tea. I’ll handle everything in the shop alone.”

“That isn’t what I’m saying! You should have discussed this through with Yumi-chan—”

I shrank my neck back as I overheard this conversation happening before me. It seemed aunty finally remembered my existence as she glanced aside at me, closed her mouth, coughed lightly, and averted her eyes, quickly darting into the house deep behind the right side of the counter.

Business, marriage…I guess the life and work of ordinary people isn’t easy either.

“…Is that person just now your girlfriend, Tomozou-san?” I whispered.

“Yumi? Ah, hm, well, sorta.” Tomozou-san seemed to have difficulty in saying this as he answered. I see…so he has a girlfriend? I guess Alice’s feelings…yep, in other words, just a one-sided crush? I see…but why am I sighing in relief? I was taken aback by my own feelings, and took up the malt tea, drinking it.

“What’s it about selling the land?”

“The shop next door feel that the parking lots aren’t enough. There was an old geezer, probably the shop owner or something, asking us before they began work…”

I began to think. The location for this shop is a hinderance (for Ricomart), and if the place can be converted into parking lots, the space will be much spacious. I guessed they started work after all the surrounding land was bought and scrapped.

In that case, we got one party that can directly benefit once this shop closes down. But would they really tamper with the wine bottles for such reasons?

“Anyway, thinking about this is getting me all the more angry…I’m selling wine not for business, but that I like them, and want to share them…”

“Too bad the security of this shop is as non-existent as the Italian army.”

A voice suddenly popped up, causing Tomozou-san and I to nearly jolt in surprise.

“—Major? Where did you come from?”

Tomozou-san exclaimed. A diminutive figure dressed in the camouflage colors of the People’s Liberation Army, along with a safety helmet, appeared between us without us knowing.”

“I pried the back door open and enter, no more than 5 seconds even. The thieves on this world are too arrogant and ruthless. You really lack a sense of security.”

Thieves like you?

“Well, since Vice-Admiral Fujishima is here, help out. I’m going to install surveillance cameras and strength the locks.”

Major’s the only one who would call me ‘Vice Admiral Fujishima’. He rummaged for various parts from his bag, grinning as he placed the items on the table, one by one. He’s similar to an elementary schooler in height, and was born a babyface, but he’s really a college student.

“Hey, Major, wait! Aren’t these equipment pricey or something? I don’t have that much money on hand.”

“Don’t worry, Tomozou-san, I will not take a single Perica [1]from you, all these will be on Alice’s tab. This time, I prepared a highly unnecessarily potent surveillance system that is exceptionally practical, to be tested while using it. It’s of this size, but very capable of detection within 1000 meters, and even lets you know if it’s Osugi or Peeko[2].

Even I can’t distinguish between them from 3 meters out. Wait, that’s not the problem. Alice is paying? This is a sacrifice worth crying over.

“It really does seem like the real deal.”

So we began to install the surveillance cameras, while aunty kept watch worriedly inside the house. There’s a corridor from the back of the counter, leading all the way to the storage, and on the left side, there’s a back door for goods movement. This would be the most probable point of entry, so we had a surveillance camera installed at the door frame, another three right outside the main door of the shop, and one right above the shop so that everywhere could be seen.

Major then opened a notebook PC, happily checking if all the surveillance cameras were working normally; Tomozou-san, whose shop had stuff installed everywhere, was looking displeased.

“Just in case, I want to install one more in the warehouse…”

Major stood at the end of the corridor, pushing the storage door aside as he poked his head to look inside the dark room.

“It’s really dark.”

“Hm? No lights?”

“There are, just that we normally don’t switch them on. Actually, we can’t have lights around when storing wine.”

Heh. Now that he mentioned it, wines are typically stored in the cellar. So other forms of alcohol need to stored in dark places?

“Eh, but to prevent theft—”

“No problems here. There aren’t any other entrances here.”

Tomozou-san switched on the lights, and led Major and me in.

The lights of the store were rather dim, and the air was dry and cool, probably due to the air conditioning. The undecorated metal racks were lined up, each level filled with various kinds of alcohol. Even so, not all could be stored, as there were cardboard boxes and plastic baskets laid out all over the floor.

Major scanned the storeroom, but could not find a single window. There was a duct on the ceiling, but it was impossible to climb in from there.

Positioned at the innerside of the shelves were wines, and other various goods like soy sauces, miso, and salad dressings, but I noticed something really intriguing over there.

There was something short, plump and round at the left side of the bottom shelf. I bent down to look, and found myself staring at a pair of round eyes, causing me to nearly tumble over in shock.

It’s about the size of two hands clasped together, something made of ceramic. Komainu—I guess?

“That’s not a Komainu, it’s a Shisa.” Tomozou-san noted, “This is something my dad left me. It was covered in dust on the shelves, and I just found this recently.”

After hearing that, I again stared at that strange, humorous face. A Shisa should be a guardian beast from Okinawa, right? I remember it’s similar to a Komainu, comes in a pair too, right?”

“Yeah, that’s right. It’s a limited edition though, since so few of them are made…dad tried finding them through various means, and seemed to have gotten one; he died before he could find another one. So now it’s my turn to look for it…”

Tomozou-san kneeled down, and took a plastic wrapper to cover it.

“Good thing this one here’s safe. I’m still hoping to find the other one by the Sunday two weeks later.”

The Sunday two weeks later? May 13th…some special day?

“It’s a secret.” But Tomozou-san noted as he stood up. Major climbed up the shelves, checking with a serious look to see if the vents could be entered, but Tomozou-san dragged him out, nudged me out of the storage, and switched off the lights.

 

While Major’s promoting and boasting about how capable his cameras were, I left him at the shop. Go on for the rest of your life.

I went to the back of the shop for my bicycle that was parked there, and a blue one-piece dress entered my sights. It’s the woman from before. She scurried off from the back door, and entered the white car parked by the roadside—the car that was parked there the entire time. What’s with her? Didn’t she head back?

The woman, seated at the driver seat, seemed to have noticed me too. She hurriedly started the engine and left, disappearing soon after.

…Or so I thought, yet she returned. What’s with her? The car was parked right before this dumbfounded me, and the window opened.

“Eh, e-erm…sorry, I thought…”

The woman poked her head out, looking back and forth between me and the rearview mirror as she spoke.

“Are you, Tomo-kun’s underclassman?”

“N-no?”

“Erm, then, well, maybe, the Ramen shop…”

“Ah, yes, that’s right.”

I’m one of those kids who’s up to something you don’t know , those you mentioned just now. But I could not bring myself to say so.

The woman nervously held the steering wheel, bit her lower lip, and struggled a bit, before she finally lifted her head.

“Eh, I’m really sorry, but may I have some of your time?”

…Ehhh?

 

It was the first time in my life that I entered a café with a woman. We were led to the innermost seats of the shop. Once the waitress left, the woman handed me a namecard.

 

Wakui Food Corporation Pte Ltd, Public Relations
Wakui

 

I heard of this company name. There’s a lot of their adverts aired on TV.

“Hm? Your last name…”

“Ah, yes, father’s the chairman.”

I looked back and forth between the namecard and Wakui Yumi-san’s face. So she’s the princess to the chairman? It’s the first time I saw one. Ah, I see. Hmm, she does have the princess vibe.

“…Whaaat is it?”

“Ehh, no, nothing…”

Yumi-san tilted her head in confusion, but she chose to continue with what we were discussing.

It was about three years since Tomozou-san and her were dating. Back then, Wakui Food Corporation was just a small level sundries wholesale distributor, and Okabayashi Sundries already had business dealings with them. It was said that while companies would purchase food products from Wakui Corporation, they would never purchase the alcohol products. Thus, when the next head of Okabayashi Sundries took over, Yumi-san, who was still working at the shop, went over to coax him, hoping and they would purchase some alcohol products.

“That was the first time I met Tomozou. He said that all the wine products we imported were terrible, and that he’ll never buy some, so we had a tiff.”

That man’s uncompromising when it comes to wines, huh?

“And after that, lots of things happened, and then we started dating.”

Ehhhhh?

“…Erm, sorry. I don’t know how it all led to that.”

“I guess. I myself don’t understand very well why am I with him. Also, we’re always quarrelling, every day, even until now.” Yumi-san chuckled. Seriously, are these two actually dating? Anyway, Tomozou-san’s mom did say she hoped for them to get married or something, so I guess they’re close enough to be at that stage, huh?

But Yumi-san showed a wry smile upon hearing these words.

“We did quarrel over that matter a few times. I was always prepared to take over Wakui…but Tomo-kun didn’t want to. He said he still had his shop.”

So she hoped to marry and have him take over? Ahh, so I guess getting married will basically meant closing shop for him…

“Also, recently, I have been feeling uneasy.”

The waitress just so happened to serve tea and coffee, interrupting Yumi-san’s words. The latter’s long eyebrows drooped, her eyes fixated upon the amber fluid in the filled cup. As for me, I took a sip of black coffee, with no sugar.

Why would I be discussing such a thing with a woman I had just met for the first time…?

“So, I do have some things to ask.”

Yumi-san lifted her head, earnestly looking at me.

“It is about the people gathered at the ramen shop Tomo-kun always shows up at. How are they like?”

What is she asking?

“Tomo-kun wouldn’t tell me anything. So, I have to ask.”

“Erm…”

If we’re talking about those people there, that’ll probably be the ex-boxer and pachinko expert Tetsu-senpai, the military otaku Major, and the gigolo Hiro. Also, there’s the young yakuza boss Yondaime who would drop by from time to time. All these guys are NEETs, not in education, and not in employment.

“…Are they all men?” Yumi-san looked really disturbed as she continued to press on.

Ah, I see. So she’s worried about that? Seriously, there’s nothing much to worry about—so I thought, but I suddenly thought of someone else.

“Well, it’s not like there aren’t women…”

Yumi-san’s face changed. Uh oh, how could I have told her that?

“How’s she like?’

“Well…she’s a NEET detective, always surfing the internet in her pajamas?”

Yumi-san’s mouth was agape. It’s a normal reaction.

However, after everything happened, I reflected on my actions, and could only say that I was being paranoid. The one lady at ‘Ramen Hanamaru’, the one who would be suspicious—

One would not be thinking of Alice, but Min-san instead, right?

The reason why I first thought of Alice was because she showed much affection to Tomozou-san several times before me. It’s scary to think too much into this.

 

After exiting the café, we bade farewell to each other.

“I’m really sorry for discussing such strange things to you during our first encounter.”

Yumi-san seemed really sorry as she said this, while I merely shook my head. I’m probably destined for such a fate in life, I guess? I’m like a trash bin at a park. Anyone I meet the first time, they will voice out to me like rubbish.

“Please do not tell Tomo-kun what we just talked about.”

Saying that, Yumi-san got into the car.

I watched the white cardrive down the road, towards the station, and walked off in the opposite direction.

Things were really getting complicated. The sense of helplessness piling up within me got increasingly dire, but why? I really couldn’t bring myself to deal with this case. No, I should say this goes for every case, but this time, it’s so serious that I can’t think of an excuse to motivate myself.

Was I so peeved that Alice was going to do everything for Tomozou-san’s sake? Why?

Even I felt I should not let this go on. It’s work, and I’m the detective’s assistant.

*

The following day was Friday, a work day for me. I had some matters to settle at home, so I was a little late; I arrived at the ramen shop, which would be opened an hour later. I was way too late, and had to be told off by Min-san.

There was a blue van parked before the ramen shop, with the white words ‘Okabayashi Sundries’ upon it.

Never thought the shop’s opened. There were the voices of a few men. I got to the back door, and slipped into the kitchen.

“You’re late, Narumi.”

Min-san yapped as she kept watching the Chinese wok atop the strong flames, and I shrivelled back in shock.

“Sorry for disturbing you when you’re not opened yet.”

Tomozou-san, seated at the counter, grinned away, while two uncles, our regular customers, were next to him, already drinking as they ate the dumplings. If I remembered correctly, one of them was a (self-proclaimed) antique car dealer, while the other’s a (self-proclaimed) real estate manager.

“Welcome.”

I quickly washed my hands, and put on my apron.

“Tomozou-san, is it fine for you to be drinking when you drove here?”

“I’m not drinking at all. And I’m at work here. I’m not going to do such a stupid thing. Since I can’t open my shop now, I need to deliver to earn some money.”

“It’s fine, drink up, young man.”

“Yeah, drinking. Might as well drink up when you don’t know when the shop will be closed.”

The two red-faced uncles were seated to the sides of Tomozou-san, yapping away.

“These are my regular customers. They caught me while I was doing my deliveries.”

Tomozou-san said with a wry look.

So the beer we sell was delivered from Okabayashi Sundries? I didn’t know about this at all.

“Nabeshima and Kubota rice wine just came in. I wanted to have a few sips at the back, but these guys came running after smelling it. Seriously, I’m still preparing.”

Min-san grumbled away as she stir-fried some pork liver, tossing it about.

“But speaking of which, it’s too bad Okabayashi Sundries is going to close down…”

The sun had yet to set, but he real estate dealer was completely red faced, sprawled over on the counter, muttering away.

“Oh yeah, that, vodka with the skull logo on the bottle, what’s the name again? Your shop is the only one that sells it, boss. I still want a few drinks.”

“I too started buying alcohol from Okabayashi’s since your father’s time. Don’t forget to look for me when you’re closing down. I’m going to drink a 4 ton truck there. Sell me at half price.” The antique car dealer quipped,

“No, it’s not closing down. Don’t worry.”

Tomozou-san smiled, looking sheepish.

“Alright, we’ll have a drinking party to mourn over Okabayashi’s closing!”

“Alright! Drink on! Min-san, bring in all the beer you bought today!”

Tomozou-san’s words fell on deaf ears as the two uncles created a ruckus. I continued to chop the onions and cabbage, staring at this scene dryly.

Finally, both of them were sprawled upon the counter. It’s only 5pm, you know?”

“Narumi, wring the wallets out of these two and throw them out. They’ll obstruct our business.” Min-san coldly stated,

“Ehhh…that’s impossible.”

“What’s with you, Tomozou? Why are you spacing out here?”

“Hm.”

Tomozou-san had his hand on his face, his head lowered in silence, only to lift it once he heard Min-san’s voice. For a moment, I was taken aback, as it seemed Tomozou-san was crying. However, it was just an illusion due to the shadows.

“…I’m just thinking that these drunks are hoping for me to import some fine booze, I can’t let the shop close down…”

“Say it isn’t so.”

Min-san retorted, and served a glass of ice cream to Tomozou-san. It’s crème brûlée with caramel sauce on it. Though this is a ramen shop, it’s famous because of Min-san’s handmade ice cream.

“Didn’t you say so at your dad’s funeral? That you’re going to keep selling booze so that you can send a bunch of drunks into hell, that your dad won’t get lonely in the other world?”

“Did I really say something that embarrassing?”

“Of course, but only I heard that.”

Tomozou-san chuckled, scooped a spoonful, and put the crème brûlée into his mouth.

“Why exactly? Before dad had that accident, I intended to go to college like an ordinary person, find a job after I graduate, like that. But after seeing so many of our old customers at the funeral, and mom saying that we can’t keep the shop running, I—”

Tomozou-san’s eyes looked as bleak as the winter.

“Ahh, when I thought that the shop’s gone, I just, well, made up my mind.”

“You sure shocked the teacher guiding you on your prospects, so much that a house visit was made. Your grades were good.”

“Yeah, that happened alright. Shocked my mom too.”

Both of them looked at each other, and laughed.

“Actually…on the day before my dad got caught in that accident, I was drinking with him, for the first time in my life. He was all drunk, even telling me his ideals of selling alcohol, “Anyone has a bottle of wine that really suits him. No matter the customer, I hope to sell him the bottle that belongs to him” that’s why he had so many brands crammed in that little shop. I dismissed him as spouting nonsense, that he just wanted to drink. Who knew he would die the following day? Despicable, isn’t it? Saying such words to me means that I have to take over now, right?”

Tomozou-san said with a slightly agitated tone, and sighed hard. Min-san in turn narrowed her eyes, nonchalantly stating,

“Well I’ve been thinking that even if uncle didn’t die from that accident, you would have taken over the booze business. You did like that shop, didn’t you, Tomozou? That’s the reason.”

Tomozou-san widened his eyes, seemingly surprised, and then nodded his head lightly.

“I guess…probably due to this reason.”

These two are so similar, so I thought.

Just like her father, who abandoned his ramen shop and vanished, Min-san continued to run this ‘Ramen Hanamaru’. To be honest, the fact that they had something worth protecting left me a little envious.

But Min-san again looked down at the chopping board, and muttered,

“To be honest, you don’t have any work later, right?”

Tomozou-san widened his eyes, and then inserted his spoon into the ice cream, sighing,

“Your instincts are as sharp as before.”

“If you had any work, you wouldn’t be spending the time here with those two geezers, would you?”

Tomozou-san grimaced, as though he had bitten charcoal.

“We have been receiving fewer orders recently. Maybe the customers nearby heard that our wine got mixed with stuff. Even if I can keep the shop opened, it doesn’t look good…and if that happens again, I really don’t know how to go about apologizing.”

Tomozou-san lowered his head, and placed his elbows on the counter, looking as though he had shrank some.

“So I say, Tomozu.”

Min-san showed a nice, kind smile I had never seen before.

“if you got some troubles, look for these guys. These guys are all useless dropouts, but they do have the time and determination to handle those rough things.”

Min-san grabbed my head and ruffled it. I was rooted to the spot, and looked back and forther between Min-san and Tomozou-san.

The latter scratched the tip of his nose awkwardly,

“You guys…are detectives?”

I hesitated for a moment, and nodded.

I’m not an ordinary detective, a NEET detective. Even in this vast, we’re still able to hear the voiceless words of a certain person.

“I see. Understood.” Tomozou-san stood up from the chair, “I shall leave it to you. Please help assist to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

I took a deep breath, and nodded again.

“Understood.”

This time, I had no hesitation in my reply.

It’s no longer a lack of motivation being the matter here. That little wine shop had the wishes of the dead, and the wishes of the living; I do want to chip in an effort, all to protect this wishes.

“So it’s decided. The one fooling around down there can come out and play detective now.”

Min-san suddenly said this as she looked beyond my shoulder. I turned around in surprise, and found a pair of eyes peering in through the door gap 15cm wide, taken aback as they blinked, before leaving the door.

I nudged aside the back door of the kitchen, and Alice, who came down in her pajamas, pouted as she lowered her head.

“What are you doing…no need to hide around, right?”

“I wasn’t hiding around. The shop reeks of alcohol, and I don’t want to go in!”

A blushing Alice hollered as she remained red-faced, and behind me, Tomozou-san chuckled.

“I’ll get these two drunks out then. Thanks Hanada. Nice ice cream.”

“Wait a minute, Tomozou, pay up.”

“Eh, I have to pay?”

“The beer you brought got them drunk, so it’s your responsibility.”

“What’s with that logic?”

While Min-san and Tomozou-san were bickering away, Alice’s legs probably went numb with the waiting as she suddenly shoved me aside and barged into the shop,

“Listen up, Tomozou, I’ll quickly settle this request and make you regret not asking me earlier. Prepare yourself.”

With Alice pointing at his nose, Tomozou-san blinked in surprise, and smile, saying,

“Right, got it. Never thought I’ll actually bother you, Yuuko. Leaving it to you then.”

Alice turned to leave the kitchen, her long black hair making an arc, “Narumi, come to the office for a meeting once you’re done with work!” She said to me.

*

Two days later, on Sunday, there was finally progress. After receiving Alice’s call, and without finishing my lunch, I got onto my bicycle and rode to Okabayashi Sundries.

I spotted the signboard of the shop, followed by Tomozou-san’s angry growling, and I had to brake abruptly.

“Shut up, you’re annoying. How many times did I say that I’m not going to agree? I’m busy.”

The door open, and a short middle-aged man dressed in a grey suit hurriedly exited.

“No, not at all. Our company does understand your predicament well, Okabayashi-sama.”

“Enough already, go back.”

The man kept lowering his head apologetically, and Tomozou-san tossed the namecard back at him, slamming the door hard. The piece of paper floated forlrning.

Fuu, the man sighed, and took out his handkerchief to wipe his sweat. Once he spotted me, he was taken aback, and hurried towards the supermarket.

…Who is he?

“Ahh, what, you’re here?”

A little crease opened, and Tomozou-san poked his head out of the door.

“That guy’s not wandering around anymore, right?”

“Eh, ah, y-yes.”

“Hurry in now.”

Tomozou-san grabbed and pulled me into the shop, and quickly closed the door.

“Who was that just now?”

“The store manager next door. I did mention him before, right? He’s the one going around trying to get us to sell the land. I don’t know how many times I shooed him, but he just kept coming back. Seriously, I’m not in the mood to deal with him.”

It seemed Tomozou-san was really peeved. It’s no wonder however, as there were a few sample of wine on the floor, like the last time.

Someone tamped with them.

 

“My mom found out this time. Good thing I haven’t caused any inconvenience to the customers.”

Tomozou-san laid out the bottles one by one, looking depressed as he said,

“Last night, before I went out, I had the wine I wanted to deliver placed there. This morning, my mom had a look, and found that there’s oil or something mixed inside. Argh, I wanted to open shop this week.”

“Where were they placed?”

“In the storage, of course.”

I stared at the corridor reaching deep behind the counter. So even the stuff inside the storage was tampered? The culprit went that far? For the sake of obstructing business?

Aunty appeared from behind the counter.

“Tomozou, did the shop manager show up?”

“I chased him away.”

“Seriously, how can you? Always chasing other people away without hearing them out…I should go over to apologize.”

“Don’t do anything unnecessary. Why listen to them? They’re aiming for our house. Are you really intending to sell the shop to them?”

“Instead of fighting on for the sake of pride, why not sell the land to use as a parking lot?”

“Are you serious?”

Tomozou-san approached the counter, utterly fuming. I really could not remain in the shop, and was seriously thinking of slipping away.

“This shop was opened out of your dad’s own interest, right? You’re causing trouble for your customers, and making Yumi-chan go through so much—”

“And that’s why I’ll can’t give up here.”

“Ahh goodness, I’m going to go over to apologize…”

Aunty removed the apron, and went into the house again. It seemed Tomozou-san wanted to yell something at her, but once he glanced aside at me, he was a little hesitation, and merely returned to testing the items.

After aunty entered the house, Major showed up.

“I was too careless. I should have defended the base for the entire night.”

Major gritted his teeth with much regret, and at the same time, took back the contents of the cameras installed at the three locations.

“Vice-Admiral Fujishima, bring these back to the office. I will stay here to strengthen the security, and not let a single ant in. I will dig up foxholes and set up booby traps, and make sure anyone approaching will be wiped out.”

“Enough already, you criminal.”

Good thing Tomozou-san retorted here, or nobody’s going to cut out on Major’s boasting.

“Erm, do I help out?”

“It’s more important to deliver the footage to Alice. Aren’t you more adept at handling video footage, Vice Admiral Fujishima? Tetsu will drop by later, so leave it to us.”

It just seemed like I was kicked out from the scene and acting as gofer for some reason, but Major’s right. I could only put the video memory card into my back, and left the shop.

There was a small white piece of paper on the floor outside the door; it was the card Tomozou-san just threw out. I picked it up to have a look, and found the words “Ricomart Holdings Private Limited, Business Promotion Chief Hotta Kiyoshi.”, along with the company address and phone number. I only heard that he was the store manager, but he’s pretty much an executive big shot in the company…

“…Hm?”

I had a look at the namecard, and felt that something was amiss. I tried flipping the namecard over and over again, even checking from various angles, but I could not figure out what was amiss.

What was it? While I was finally about to figure out something.

“Huh, you’re heading back?”

I heard a voice, and hurriedly stuffed the namecard into my pocket. I lifted my head, and saw aunty returning from the supermart.

“Sorry for having you witness something embarrassing. We have been arguing recently.”

She shook her head, giving a wry smile. Truly, I did not know how to answer. Did I really lack presence?”

Aunty stood at the door for quite a while, and lifted her head at the signboard, before lowering her head again, sighing. She probably felt awkward, I guess. They just had a quarrel, so it’s no wonder she’s like this.

“But it’s just some small, meaningless shop…”

Aunty’s smile was filled with melancholy.

“Alcoholics really aren’t suited to manage wine shops. That husband of mine, and Tomozou, both of them paid no thought to anything other than the shop.

Aunty let out a deep, reluctant sigh.

“Was his father…like that too?”

I asked without thinking too much. Aunty’s sidelong face was too depressing.

“Yes…while we did not have many customers, he would drive the truck everywhere, looking for the goods as long as he was requested. He never had a good sleep, and ended up in that accident. It’s stupid. I don’t want his child to end up like that either.”

I gulped.

“I should have struggled on alone and made sure that child went to college.”

Aunty shook her head,

“He probably had lots of things he wanted to do, yet he just kept working, and working every day after he left high school.”

I guess men are fools, no? Aunty muttered to herself, and I could not answer, except to nod politely, and escape to where I parked my bicycle.

 

I entered the office, and found Alice, along with another visitor.

“Oh, Narumi-kun, nice timing.”

Seated on the near side of the bed was the posh-looking, host-like youth Hiro, who was dressed in cream-colored short blouson, and grey slacks. He was holding a bath towel, holding a pair of scissors and hair care, gently combing Alice’s long hair.

“What are you doing…”

Kami05 137.jpg

“Taking care of the hair. This room is dry, and there is a need to moisten.”

“Hiro, are you done yet? I’m feeling stressed now that I can’t move my head around.”

Alice, facing the screen, did not sound too happy.

“How about you learn how to take care of the hair too, Narumi-kun? I can teach you.”

“Why do I have to do this?”

“Aren’t you the detective assistant?”

Yeah, I’m the detective assistant. So what?

“Am I going to experience such suffering every day if you teach Narumi? Stop that already!”

Alice kept tapping at the keyboard. So everyone thinks that I have nothing better to do?

“But hair needs to be cared for every day. Alice, your long hair is a work of art, and it doesn’t just belong to you.”

“If it doesn’t just belong to me, then who else?”

Hiro’s sweet talk should be able to sink the hearts of many ladies, but it seemed completely ineffective on Alice. I was a little relieved.

…Why am I feeling relieved?

“Actually, I got the camera recordings. Don’t you want to check them?”

The only thing I could assist Alice with was to handle the footage. Hiro gave me some room, and I was nudged the pile of dolls aside, finally having space on the bed.

When was it that I could get onto the bed and approach like that? While I was wondering, the mouse was moved over to me.

“You’re in charge of watching the video. If you see anyone on the TV, extract that part.”

“I know.”

*

Late at night, once all the customers at ‘Ramen Hanamaru’ had finally dispersed, the NEET detective team gathered at the back door. It was a long time since the trio were gathered. Tetsu-senpai looked grim.

“We figured out the likely period the wine was tampered.” Senpai said, “Only one was affected this time. We searched through all the stocks in the shop too. I don’t want to do this a third time.”

Speaking of which, it did seem senpai did help out with the testing the first time. To do the same thing twice in a short period of time is mentally draining.

“The tampered wine was one of those Tomozou-san brought out yesterday evening, to be delivered to the customer. Aunty discovered it this morning, so it’s like that’s the period it was tampered.”

“I had a rough check through all the footage, but the problem is that nobody actually approached the warehouse though?”

“And there aren’t any other cameras in the storage. I should have splurged and installed infrared cameras.”

Major obviously looked peeved, for despite installing the high grade equipment he was confident in, the shop was broken into.

“Are there any other entrances to the storage?” Hiro asked, but Tetsu-senpai shook his head.

“Then how did the culprit get in? Are we sure it was fine when Tomozou-san put it there? Was it tampered before he did so? Like if he missed out during the first tests…?”

“That’s impossible.” Tetsu-senpai concluded.

“Don’t be too hasty to conclude. Think about it again. The last time Tomozou-san saw those bottles of wine, they were fine, and nobody actually approached the storage until aunty found it. Didn’t you see it too, Narumi-kun?”

“Yes.” I nodded.

“Then isn’t this an impossible crime? There’s no other way to slip into the warehouse.”

Tetsu-senpai and Major appeared to have issues with Hiro’s ideas, but they remained silent.

“Erm.”

I suddenly thought of something, and voiced out. The trio turned to look at me in unison, and I was a little scared, but I took out a printed footage of the camera in the shop, and placed it on the wooden stool in the middle.”

“There’s a way to enter the storage without being seen on the camera.”

“What?”

Major asked, looking displeased.

“What method?” Tetsu-senpai folded his arms.

“Well…in other words…I pointed at a corner of the printout, the part where the cupboards of the shop was taken, “Isn’t there a blind spot behind the counter? If you bend down, head past the counter, and enter the corridor…”

The black noren and the back of the counter formed a blind spot the camera could not capture.

“But even if there is a blind spot, if you enter from the door inside, you’ll be seen on the cameras… ahh.”

Tetsu-senpai swallowed his words.

“So the culprit entered from the house?”

Hiro continued. I nodded.

To the right of the counter was Tomozou-san’s house. If one ducked down to evade from the camera, it would be very possible to enter the corridor leading to the storage.

“Okabayashi Sundries is closed for now, and it’s not like there’s anyone in the shop at all times. Anyone can enter if they want to, I guess?”

“Wait, Vice Admiral Fujishima.” Major cut me off, “We can’t just decide if it’s possible or not. This isn’t a quiz. If anyone’s to enter like that, he has to figure out where the cameras are set.”

Ah…I see.

My thought process was always based on ‘it’s impossible to be caught on camera’, but that’s only if there’s anyone who knows what’s going on in the shop. As Major said, this isn’t a quiz. To enter this way, one would have to know where the cameras are set, and also know ‘I won’t get caught on camera if I head at the inner side of the counter’.

“But right now, the only plausible method is suggested by Narumi-kun.” Hiro supported my idea.

“But Hiro, if we can’t be sure of where the cameras are set, it’s impossible to enter like this.”

“Got it, the culprit is Major.”

“Right!”

Tetsu-senpai concluded, and Hiro added fuel to the fire, resulting in a short skit. Hiro and Tetsu-senpai acted as constable, lawyer and judge, while Major half-jokingly protested his innocence. Finally, the cruel verdict was a denkianma for three straight hours, before the trio before me returned to reality and sighed hard. These guys really look like they’re having fun all the time…

So Major was trying to clear the mood as he suddenly changed the topic,

“Let’s not talk about how the intrusion was down. Hiro, didn’t you say the outside camera caught a suspect?”

Hiro glanced aside at me, and went from one folding leg to another, nodding away. I placed the printed pictures on the table; these were the footages I extracted from the front and back doors.

There were eight photos in total, all of them catching sight of the same middle aged man, the unimpressive looking supermarket manager.

“He was wandering around Okabayashi Sundries the past two days, twice per day.” I explained.

“Who’s he? Did you find out about him, Hiro?”

“Yeah I did. I went to the supermarket, checked with the company too. He should be innocent though.”

“So that’s why you’re in a suit.”

After the footage was checked at noon, Hiro changed into a suit and went out to investigate, only returning just a moment back. He’s a gigolo who had nothing to do, yet quick on the go at such matters.

“Hotta Kiyoshi, the business growth manager of Ricomart. He’s high ranked, but it’s the first shop they established, and they needed to get operations up and running, so he’s shop manager too. It seemed he’s dropping by the head office every alternate day, and showing up at the shop on other days. He’s really busy.”

“So he’s trying to get Okabayashi Sundries bankrupt so that he can get the land for parking lots?”

“That’s too far-fetched. He’s an executive of a big company here. If news get out, his life will be ruined.”

“But he’s really as annoying as a stalker here, telling Tomozou-san to sell the land every day. He just have the criminal feeling to him.” Major said.

“He was wandering around the shop over the past two days, and to be honest, he’s a little weird. But…even if the shop closes, the land won’t necessarily be sold. Is he that stupid?”

Hiro folded his arms again,

“Do you know when this Hotta went to the shop, and to the corporate office?” I asked.

“Hm? He was at the shop yesterday, and the day before. Three days ago, he was at the corporate office. Why?”

“Ah, it’s not.” I was dejected, “I was wondering if he did see Major installing the cameras…doesn’t seem that way though.”

The cameras were installed three days ago. If he did go to the corporate office that day, it would be impossible.”

“Are you still harping on the idea that anyone can duck under the counter to hide from the cameras, Vice Admiral Fujishima?” Major sounded a little impatient. Is that a bad thing?

At that moment, I suddenly thought of something.

Suddenly, I thought of something.

There was someone else who could have seen the installation of the cameras-.

Yumi-san.

She just so happened to be leaving Okabayashi Sundries when I arrived, and wandered around for a moment. Maybe she saw Major installing the cameras.

Also, she had a motive.

Once Okabayashi Sundries go down, the shackle preventing her from marrying Tomozou-san will be gone.

I swallowed this bitter feeling. So being a detective’s such an annoying thing?

“What is it?”

Hiro suddenly noticed me being silent, and looked at my face. I brooded for amoment, and finally spoke up,

“Erm…please don’t laugh if you hear this. It’s the same thought, but just a guess.”

I tried to defend myself before sharing my suspicions about Yumi-san. Major rolled his eyes at me, Hiro looked startled, and Tetsu-senpai just burst out laughing.

“I said it was a guess…”

“Hm…ahh, sorry for laughing. Yumi-san’s fine though. Definitely not her. After Tomozou-san sorted out the wine, he went out with her, until this morning.”

“Eh…?”

A perfect alibi.

I hunch over, and sighed, wanting to stick my head between my thighs. Actually, I too heaved a sigh of relief. I really didn’t want to suspect Yumi-san.

“He said they had a quarrel. Maybe it’s because they were dating? At this critical moment…”

“No, I heard it’s for work. Said that there’s some wine tasting. Even the businesses from Okinawa participated, and he had some wine he wanted to import. That’s why he had aunty watch the shop, and went out.”

I see. Since both of them couldn’t open a shop, and there’s no orders to deliver, so he could only focus on importing? Well, these two are kinda hardworking…

Hm? Okinawa?

“So both of them kept drinking until the next morning?”

“I really don’t know whether those two are on good terms or not…”

“Well, whatever. I’ll go have a chat with Yumi-san. Maybe she saw something on the day the cameras were installed?”

“Hiro, you know her?”

“No need to know a pretty lady beforehand if I want to hear her out.”

“Don’t hear her out in a hotel though. Tomozou-san’s going to kill you.”

“Well, got to look at the mood first. I can’t give any guarantees~”

Tetsu-senpai smacked Hiro in the back of the head, and they stood up, along with Major. The trio bumped fists right above the wooden, and quietly departed the valley between the buildings.

I was left behind, and was left strangely helpless, unable to escape the third floor of the emergency staircase, and could only look down at the ground blankly.

If Okabayashi Sundries goes down, will Tomozou-san and Yumi-san get married? I suddenly had this thought. Alice might be sad, right…? Speaking of which, that’s the reason why Alice’s working hard to investigate this, isn’t it?

So what should I do?

A thought suddenly appeared in my mind, but I didn’t know how to handle to. It was really way out there, such that I sensed that I could not just leave it as it was, that I had to investigate.

While the foolish thoughts in my mind kept swelling to the point of explosion, an icy object suddenly approached my face.

“—Woah.”

I tilted back in shock, and rolled down the stairs.

“Shut up. Keep it down, will you?”

It was Min-san. It seemed the ramen shop had closed for the day. Min-san had taken off her tank top, and was in a sarashi again. She shoved the cup of ice cream into my hands, and sat next to me. You know, I really had been thinking about this for a while, but I really don’t know where to look at when you’re like that.

“You’re not eating? I’m going to finish both.”

Min-san said as she put a spoonful of her portion into the mouth. I hurriedly picked up my spoon.

“This…is Japanese wine flavored?”

“Yep. Tomozou-san delivered some nice sweet wine, so I tried it out. I always wanted to, but it’s too bad I couldn’t find a matching Japanese wine…”

The ice cream melted on my tongue, and the scent of rice whiffed past my nostrils.

“Nice?”

I nodded. I really was grateful this person here did not give up her dreams on making ice cream while focusing on cooking ramen.

“I have a request too.”

“…Eh?”

“I will be bothered if that shop closes down too. Go help him out.”

I stared blankly at Min-san’s sidelong face, and after a long while, I nodded firmly.

Why say such things to me? I couldn’t help but wonder. But actually, there’s no need to think much into this problem. Min-san probably understood that I was brooding over such a stupid issue, I guess.

I really owed a lot of favors. I took another mouthful of this ice cream with a complex taste. Due to the alcohol, the warmness grazed my throat.

I’m a detective assistance, and had accepted Tomozou-san’s request. I swallowed the ice cream that was as sweet and bitter as this fact, and stood up.

*

That night, I did my own investigations in my room, a rarity at that. While it’s investigating, I might say that I was just searching the internet. I was being a small time NEET detective. Truth be told though, it’s better than relying on Alice all the time.

There were two name cards on the table, side by side. One of them was Yumi-san’s while the other’s Hotta Kiyoshi’s. The address of both companies were on the same floor. This was the strangeness I sensed when I picked up Hotta-shi’s namecard.

And I quickly found the answer.

The parent company of Ricomart so happened to be Wakui Food Corporation Pte Ltd, Yumi-san’s company.

It’s hard to imagine it being a coincidence, but the relationship between Hotta Kiyoshi and Yumi-san was established. I camped in this bedroom without lights sighing at the monitor.

There was something else I was concerned with. The Shisa display. Didn’t Tomozou-san visit the Okinawan businessman to find the other matching Shisa?

That answer remained hidden within the vast internet.

“…Ahh. May 13th. So that’s how it is, huh…?”

I recalled all the things Tomozou-san said, and muttered to myself as I nodded always. While this probably had nothing to do with the case, it blew at the necessary truth I was trying to come up with.

I guess that kind of a nice shop shouldn’t close down after all.

*

The following day, after school.

“The parent company of Ricomart?”

I finally summoned the courage to ask, while Alice, holed up under the blanket on the bed of the detective agency, nonchalantly responded.

“Wakui Food Corporation. Wakui Yumi’s father is the chairman.”

“So you found out already…?”

“What?”

I was feeling really jumpy, but I barely managed to continue my explanation. Yumi-san might have witnessed the cameras being installed, but had an alibi on the day the wine was tampered. On the other hand, while Hotta Kiyoshi didn’t see the installation, but he had been wandering around Okabayashi Sundries when the incidents happened. In other words…

“If both of them have colluded, that Wakui Yumi informed Hotta Kiyoshi of the installed cameras, and there might be a possibility of a break-in, so I may say.”

“Yes.”

Why was she able to remain so calm? While nodded away, I was left confused.

“So what should I say? How short-circuited your thought process is has left me speechless. Are those two the only suspects in your mind?”

“Ugh…well, it’s too much to dismiss it as a coincident.”

“How is this just a coincidence? Have you forgotten? Wakui Food Corporation and Okabayashi Sundries have been on familiar terms with each other since the last generation. In any case, that ‘Ricomart’ might have been opened as ordered by Wakui Food Corporation, aiming for Okabayashi Sundries.”

Opened--aiming for the shop?

Wh-what does this mean? A massive flag raised just to topple over a little wine shop? What’s with that? Isn’t that more ridiculous than my guess.

“But there is something I need you to handle. With that, you can get rid of that utterly pessimistic doubt.”

It appeared from Alice’s tone that my suggestion was an irrational delusion not worth considering.

She waved her hand, and so I got onto the bed with an abnormally tense heart.

“Erm.” So I asked without thinking.

“What?”

“About that, well, you don’t think of anything when I’m just getting onto the bed as I please, do you?”

Alice widened her eyes, blinking, tilting her head in confusion,

“Ah—no, sorry.”

If she was concerned, she wouldn’t have let me onto the bed, I guess? I sat down at the keyboard, right beside Alice, and appearing on the many screens were the surveillance footages of Okabayashi Sundries.

“Based on your assumption, nobody can be caught on camera if they bend down behind the counter and head to the storage. Am I correct?”

“…Yes.”

“But is it really a complete blind spot?”

Upon hearing Alice’s words, I tried enlarging the image of that part. As expected of a high definition camera from Major, even after enlarging, there were no mosaics.

There was a dark blue noren hanging at the entrance to the corridor at the back of the counter, and if something ducked down and slowly approached there to enter, the cameras shouldn’t be able to pick it up.

“No…it’s not a completely blind spot, I guess?”

The noren did not completely cover the corridor, and there was a gap between the walls, and also a partition between the norens, which I could vaguely see what was behind. If someone passed through the corridor, there should be some movements on the teeny gaps shown on the footage.

“So now, let’s start searching using the possible times the crime could have been done. I’ll edit the code, and you figure out the footage you can identify.”

“…Yeah.”

If we’re going to narrow our search for any particular range over a long time, it’ll be easier to write a code than it is to observe with the naked eye.

The search time would be the twenty hours since Tomozou-san was done assembling and left the storage.

About 20 hours passed until the following day, when aunty found that the wine was following day.

Within 30 seconds, the code Alice write quickly scanned through the footage over the past twenty hours.

But it did not stop.

“You know what this means, right?”

She muttered by my ear, and I could only nod blankly.”

“Oh, we got mail.”

She turned to the other screen. I really could not believe this outcome, so I ran the script again. The results were the same. A calculator could never make a mistake; the one at fault every time is a human.

Nobody approached the storage during the last 20 hours.

In that case, how did the culprit do it?

How did the culprit enter the storage?

“Hm? Sesame oil? Perfect.”

Alice suddenly noted. I looked over at the screen, and saw her close the email.

“…What was that?”

“The analysis of the impurities mixed into the wine. It’s said that it’s just sesame oil. Alright, time to see how to end this…”

How to end this…?

“The truth is out, isn’t it?”

“Ehhh?”

Alice shrugged.

“Please don’t make a fuss out of everything. Do you think that’s a prerequisite of a detective’s assistant or something?”

“No, but.”

“The path leading to the truth is always so simple, but the detective’s job happens after the truth is discovered.”

Alice took off the blanket draped over her shoulders, and opened the cupboard. It was the first time I had looked into the cupboard, and colourful dresses were hanging neatly there. So she has so many clothes after all…?

Finally, she took out one set, and laid it out on the table. It was a plain, black, nothing fancy on it.

The mourning clothes I always saw.

Alice returned to the bedside, and started undoing her pajamas, starting from the top button.

…W-wait a sec. I hurriedly got off the bed.

“Voice out before you change clothes!”

“Hm? Where are you going? It’s hard to pull the zip on the back of this dress. Wait, you.”

I say,

Anyway, it’s pointless to say anything more, so I hid in the kitchen and waited for Alice to be done changing. After a while, I heard her giving a call to someone else.

“Tomozou? It’s me. Come over to ‘Hanamaru’…hm? With your girlfriend? It’s fine, perfect. What’s with the courtesy…no, it hasn’t ended. Just a little longer.”

“…Yes, gather at ‘Hanamaru’. Tomozou seems free at 9 or so, so that time…yes, it’s over. I understand.”

She put down the receiver.

“Narumi, the zipper on the back, please.”

Alice probed her face from the other side of the freever. I sighed, and stood up.

Alice was wearing her mourning clothes.

In other words, the case was going to end.

*

It was 9pm when Alice and I left the office. We descended the emergency staircase, and heard the voices of many coming from “Ramen Hanamaru’.

“Never saw you go all out in a while, Tomozou-san.”

“No no, don’t tempt me.”

“It’s fine, tempt him, that’ll be good for business here. Hey Tomozou, drink up as much as you want. I’ll send you back home.”

“So who’s better at holding liquor? You or Yumi-san?”

“If it’s only Shōchū, I am better than Tomo-kun.”

“Stop lying. I’m better here. Bring them all here.”

“So a drinking contest?”

“Wait, I can’t drink much recently. Sorry…”

“It’s fine. Open that bottle I just sent over. I’ll finish it all.”

“Tomozou-san’s a goner!”

Yumi-san…you called us “the kids who’s up to something”, but you sure got them familiar, I guess? Beer’s really powerful. I was about to approach the back door of the kitchen, but Alice tugged at my sleeve.

“We’re leaving from the back door.”

“Eh? Aren’t you looking for Tomozou-san?”

“Be quiet. Let them drink all they want. We’re headed for Okabayashi Sundries.”

I didn’t know why at all. Then why call Tomozou-san over?

We passed through the buildings, and went to the parking lot at the back. Once she saw my bicycle that was parked there, Alice looked really mortified,

“…We’re going on a bicycle?”

“Not like we got any choice?”

How am I supposed to ferry this one here dressed in a fluffy skirt and holding a bear doll? What if my classmates see me?

“Can’t we get Hiro to drive you there?”

“Hiro’s the only one that if he’s gone, Tomozou will be suspicious.”

Alice sat sideway on the back rack, holding my waist with trembling hands. The bear doll was pressing firmly on my back.

“…Y-you hear me? Slow down. As slow as possible, and no sudden turns. If the ground is uneven, warn me beforehand.”

Good grief, I shook my head, and kicked the bicycle stand off.

*

Okabayashi Sundries was already buried in darkness. In contrast, the supermarket next door was lit, making this place a lot darker. I got off the bicycle, and the arms wrapped around my waist suddenly loosened, causing me to hurriedly reach for Alice, who nearly fell from the rack.

“…You okay?”

“Uu…yeah.”

Even through the black veil, I could see Alice’s pale face. Stop forcing youself.

“Do you ride such a barbaric transportation tool to school every day? This is unbelievable.”

“Your first time riding a bicycle?”

“I honestly wish this is the first and the last time.”

“We still have to ride once back, don’t we?”

“Uuu…”

As usual, Alice had the teddy bear pressed on my back as she grabbed my belt firmly.

“Let’s hurry, I have difficulty breathing at a place without a ceiling.”

We went to the back of Okabayashi Sundries, and pressed the doorbell.

“I’m here…oh?”

Aunty came to the door, and was mystified once she saw Alice behind me. It’s wonder though.

“…Tomozou went to the ramen ship.”

“E-erm, we’re aren’t here to look for Tomozou-san. I want to check the storage again. As for the one behind me, please don’t mind.”

Aunty remained perplexed, but she let us into the house.

“Are you Yuuko-chan? I heard from Tomozou…you look pale. Are you fine?”

“She’s always like this, don’t mind.” I spoke up for Alice.

We entered the corridor, and Alice nearly collapsed on the floor, so I just grabbed her and pulled her up.

The lighting in the storage was darker than usual, and the air inside was rather chilly.

“And then? What are we looking for?”

“Sesame oil.”

Sesame oil?”

“That sesame oil mixed with the wine? Over here? Maybe the culprit took it away?”

“It’s definitely here. Don’t ask, just look.”

It seemed Alice did not intend to take action personally. Well, she’s dressed like that, and can’t really be looking around like that, but for me, I don’t really mind…

The daily necessities were placed at the innerside of the racks. Sauces, mirin, salad oils, wheat, potato starch…these things were all stacked on the racks in boxes, unpacked, and finally, I found the box of sesame oil before me.

I opened the cardboard box, and immediately found it. A plastic seal on a bottle of sesame oil was ripped aside. I took it out, and found that the content had been reduced.

“…This one?”

I took the bottle out to Alice, and she nodded, looking pleased.

“Then it’s all solved.”

“What’s solved? Why don’t I get anything? You know the culprit?”

“Of course. Don’t you understand? The culprit can only tamper the wine in the storage, because that thing has to be in the storage.”

“Why?”

“Because of the camera.”

“Camera? Didn’t you just write the code? Nobody actually approached the storage.”

“Think about it again. The time Tomozou sorted the wine, left the storage, and until the time the wine was found to be tampered with. You did check through the footage with me, didn’t you?”

“So I say, nobody approached the storage…”

“Wasn’t there someone?”

Someone.

But of all the recordings I searched through, from the moment Tomozou-san left the storage, until the following day—

I nearly blurted out.

Right.

There was someone.

The answer was so easy, I took it for granted. That answer was something nobody had realized.

No, but, why?

“The other possibilities do not tally, and while the one possibility left might seem unbelievable—it is the undisputed truth. Don’t you think so?”

Alice’s final words were not directed at me. She slowly turned towards the entrance of the storage.

Standing there with a pale face was aunty, who then tumbled and fell on her back.

 

“But…why did you do this?”

I eked out a voice, and it shook the silence that had gathered in this icy storage.

Aunty covered her face with both hands, her shoulders shivering.

It was aunty who found that the wine was mixed with impurities on Sunday. In other words, this person here caused the commotion by boldly entered the storage before the cameras, added sesame oil into the wine so boldly, and declared that someone tampered it.

But nobody suspected her.

Other than Alice.

The problem is—why do this?

“You probably want to close this shop in a way Tomozou won’t find out, I guess? There’s no other reason.”

Alice’s voice was colder than the air in the storage.

“That’s because…I…”

Aunty stammered,

“It’s because that boy wouldn’t accept my pleas, always suffering for this shop…he-he has done enough, right? Why can’t he let himself relax a bit? Yumi-chan has been waiting for him all this time, no?”

“That’s it…you want to close the shop personally, just because of that reason?”

A strange sobbing sound could be heard from aunty’s mouth.

“He gave his dreams of college for this shop. It’s harder to do business now with a supermarket next door. There’s no need…to hang on to this torn little shop. He should just get married to Yumi-chan—”

“That should be for Tomozou-san to decided, right?”

“At first.” Aunty’s voice was quaking, “I thought that if the shop couldn’t be opened for the time being, Tomozou would slowly change his mind, so I just…took action without thinking…”

Without thinking? She actually said she took action without thinking?

“But that boy’s so stubborn, always thinking about this shop. That Yumi-chan already…so…so I just thought this shop isn’t…”

That’s it? That’s the reason? You rather close this shop Tomozou-san’s working hard to save?

The silhouette of the girl in mourning clothes stood forlornly before the sobbing aunty, not saying anything. I too didn’t know what to say. What do I do?

At this moment, something at a corner of my eye got my attention.

The black silhouette about the size of two hands clasped together was lying at the bottom leftside of the bottom rack. It was wrapped in plastic, and was a lot larger than the last time I saw it.

Tomozou-san found it, the other missing one.

I closed my eyes, and started to think.

Alice must have faced such issues lots of times before this, I guess? Do I have to break through certain people’s hidden heartfelt words with a detective’s arrogance? Is this really the right thing to do?

Or is there no need to?

I didn’t know. I might think it was a lie. But I really couldn’t think of anything, or maybe there wasn’t an answer no matter how much I thought into it. That’s the pain the speaker of the dead should bear.

“Narumi?”

Alice seemed to have noticed something as she turned her head towards me, but I shook my head towards her, knelt down and unravelled the plastic wrap. A colourful porcelain beast appeared before me—no, there was another. A pair of Shisas.

I carefully carried the two Shisas, and they were a lot heavy than I thought. Maybe it was because they carried some people’s thoughts?

I placed the Shisas before aunty, and they let out a clunk. She lifted her head upon hearing it, her eyes already red and swollen from the crying.

“Aunty, you remember this?”

My voice got softer.”

“…This…is…”

Aunty lowered her hands that were covering her face, and gazed at the Shisas.

“My husband’s…but why are there two?”

“This is the one uncle bought…and left behind as a memorabilia, right?”

I stroked the head of the left Shisa.

“I think this one here was the one Tomozou-san bought on Saturday”

The Shisa on the right looked a lot kinder.

“Actually, uncle wanted to buy a matching pair, but it’s said that he could only get one due to shortage. That’s why Tomozou-san has been looking for the other one, and found it on Saturday.”

“Ah…?”

“This isn’t just a decoration. It’s a wine flask. It contains the wine brewed in Okinawa.”

Aunty’s eyes widened a lot, and Alice gave a little gasp.

“Look, this is the cap. This wine is brewed by a company in Okinawa called Nakijin, and these two…are said to be husband and wife.”

Aunty’s hands landed weakly on her thighs. At this point, my eyes weren’t on aunty, but at the pair of Shisas before my eyes, and I was practically talking to them.

“I heard that Tomozou-san’s father once said, “Anyone has a bottle of wine that really suits him. No matter the customer, I hope to sell him the bottle that belongs to him”.”

That became the one wish he couldn’t finish. But—Tomozou-san’s here.”

“His father died without finding the female shisa, so Tomozou-san kept look. To look for that personal bottle of wine before May 13th—so he told me.”

The second Sunday of May, to offer this bottle of wine to his mother, in place of a red Carnation.

“So this is actually the wine bottle belonging to you, aunty.”

“Belonging…to me…”

I thought of something else I should do, and took a deep breath of icy air.

“Also, there’s another bottle.”

I took out another Shisa deep within the rack. Right before aunty were three Shisas resting on the icy floor of the storage. I stared at the last one, made up my mind, and said-,

“This is probably for Yumi-san. I heard they went together to buy it.”

“Eh?”

Aunty lifted her face up towards me,

“These three Shisas represent family, right? What uncle left behind symbolizes Tomozou-san.”

I quietly waited for the meaning behind these words to sink into aunty’s heart.

“So that means, that boy, and Yumi-chan will…”

I nodded to aunty, my heart aching. It was no longer speaking for the dead.

“I—”

I started, only to swallow my words. Could a detective express his own views? However, Alice kept looking at me, as though nodding. So I continued.

“I can’t drink. I did try once, but I didn’t know how to enjoy the taste. I don’t know if the ‘bottle that belongs to a single person’ uncle really exists. But…”

But I hope it really does.

For that represent Tomozou-san continuing his father’s wishes.

“I think this shop is great, to be looking all over the world for that one bottle of wine. I don’t want it to close before I can enjoy it, so…”

I looked at aunty’s face, which for some reason look hazy. Was she still crying?

“So, aunty, if you agree to it, please pretend not to notice this Shisa and put it back. Wait until next week, and when you receive it from Tomozou-san’s hands, when you show that look of surprise again—”

Continue to run the shop with him.

Aunty slowly reached out towards the Shisa, stroking the smooth surface of the porcelain. She brought it before her eyes, mumbled some words as she kept nodding towards me. Drops of tears kept falling upon the matching Shisas.

 

As I left Tomozou-san’s house, it seemed the neighboring supermarket was closing as the shutters slowly fell. The lighting shining upon the parking lots shortened as the shutters fell, finally vanishing, leaving behind a cold unbefitting of the start of summer. For a moment, I was unable to move when I was in the storage. If it wasn’t for Alice reaching her hand out to tap at my shoulder, I might not be able to stand up.

So we left aunty behind. I wonder if my words did reach her?

“Of course they did.” Alice chuckled, “You really aren’t suited to be a detective.”

“…Eh?”

“And because of that, I…”

It was rare to see Alice stammer, and she shook her head, making herself more vague.

“Now then, what do you think we should do?”

“What do you mean we should do?”

“Case is closed, and the NEET detective job is done for now. There is something else we have to do, as a normal detective.”

That was to inform the client, Tomozou-san, that the case was settled.

“I’m the speaker of the dead. Once I have complicated feelings to the living…I don’t know what to do.”

Alice, who was behind the doll, seemed so small and helpless. Her voice was right next to me, yet it seemed she was so far away from me.

So I sighed, and answered,

“I think I just need to report half the truth.”

I could not lie, but I could not state all the truths. So…

“I’ll report to him, okay? I’ll just say that we found out who the culprit is, and that the culprit won’t do this again. We can’t reveal the name though.”

But Tomozou-san might figure out who the culprit was if he heard that.

“I guess…well, I shall inform Tomozou instead. A detective’s reputation will be ruined if such an important job is left to the assistant, and furthermore,” with a thud, Alice patted me on the back, “You really can’t lie.”

Aren’t you the same? I wanted to retort, but whatever. Even if Alice did not lie, she could simply dismiss any questions with that arrogant attitude of hers; it’s something this useless assistant here will never be able to learn.

“But…I just said a huge lie.”

“Yes, I know.”

Alice showed a kind smile, and I sighed with relief, nearly crying,

“It just so happened to be one female and two male Shisas. It’s too much to say that the last one is meant for Wakui Yumi.”

“You realized…?”

Tomozou-san kept looking for the female Shisa for his mother; there was no doubt about that. About Yumi-san and the rest later one, it was all nonsense on my part.

“The other male Shisa just happened to be an extra, no? Very few will buy a female one, so by buying a pair representing husband and wife, there will naturally be an extra male. That’s just all, right?”

I knew that very well.

But my words distorted the truth. It became a lie made to touch aunty’s heart.

And even so, Alice showed an understanding, welcoming, kind smile,

“But, Narumi. That is not a lie. That is a ‘story’.”

Story?

“Yes, it is a sculpture of the happiness and despair of reality. One day, it will take form as something. Before then, it cannot be considered a lie, just words you blurted out. You can just wait for Tomozou and Wakui Yumi’s marriage. There is no need to feel guilty.”

As usual, I didn’t get what Alice was saying…no, but…

“Those two can’t get married, right?”

And…wasn’t Alice working so hard to prevent their marriage?

“Not let Tomozou get married? Why would I bother with such a stupid thing?”

Alice widened her eyes in surprise. Eh?

“The main point is, Wakui Yumi is three months pregnant, you know? Even if we let them be, they will get married.”

“Ehhhh?” Ho-how do you know that!?

“Didn’t you suspect Wakui Yumi before? I did consider that possibility before, but that was way before you did. So I sent Hiro to investigate, and found that she had been visiting the gynaecologist regularly.”

So the situation between them got that serious and urgent? No, but…

“…Is that okay? Don’t you feel anything about this, Alice?”

“What?”

“No, nothing at all.”

All I knew was that I was gravely mistaken about something. But, no, what’s with Alice’s attitude towards Tomozou-san? My mind was completely confused, yet Alice kept nudging at my back, prompting me to head towards the bicycle parked forlornly in the shadows of the roadside.

“Right, let’s get going. If we don’t hurry, those drunkards might go crazy and get a pregnant lady drunk.”

“Ahh…yeah.”

Alice cautiously sat on the rack, wrapping her arms around my waist as she made this unreasonable request, “Listen, don’t shake, and hurry.” Suddenly, I had a mischievous thought in my mind. Perhaps we could take the longer road…

Two people riding together doesn’t feel bad.

*

Okabayashi Sundries opened shop again the following day. After school, I took a bundle of celebratory flowers and went to the wine shop. They were Tulips grown by the gardening club.

I opened the shop door, and immediately heard Tomozou-san growl, shocking me enough to jolt back.

“How many times have I rejected you? What do I have to do with your company’s business?”

“No, erm, so I say, we won’t be bothering you over the land. About setting up a branch in our shop, please listen.”

“Impossible. Do we look like we have enough staff on hand?”

In front of the counter, kneeling before the round table Tomozou-san was at was that Hotta Kiyoshia-shi. Why’s he here again? Hasn’t he learned his lesson? Anyway, while this guy has nothing to do with the case, he is way too annoying, isn’t he?

“Ah-ah-ah, you do seem to have a guest. I shall take my leave for today. Next time, I shall return if there is an opportunity…”

“I told you not to come back already. Hey, dispense with the door gift. Take it away.”

Tomozou-san took out a long, narrow bag.

“Yah, I thought you would be delighted with it, Okabayashi-sama. It’s Moriizou.”

“Hm?”

Tomozou-san’s expression changed. Morrizou’s a famous, premier, Shouchuu.

“Don’t think you can bribe me with wine.”

“No no no, I definitely do not have such intentions My foresight is no match against yours Okabayashi-sama. I shall take back this terrible gift then.”

“No, wait, since you brought it here, I shall accept graciously, but don’t come back.” So you’re accepting?

So Hotta Kiyoshi-shi exited the shop in what could be described as a very artistic bunch.

“Ahh, why do you always see something embarrassing from me…”

Toozou-san slipped the bag under the counter as he said this,

“You say that, but aren’t you butting heads against the supermarket people?”

“Well, it doesn’t look like they want our land now. They want our shop.”

“Shop?”

“Not really.” Tomozou-san looked away awkwardly, “He said he wishes for us to open a stand inside the supermarket.”

“I see…”

“Seems like their alcohol sales aren’t too good, and they need our shop’s procurement routes and professional knowledge. That uncle really has it tough. I really am grateful that I didn’t choose to be a salaryman in the first place…”

At this point, I finally realized. Alice did mention this, that ‘Ricomart’ opened shop, aiming at Okabayashi Sundries. So that’s what she meant? Wakui Food Corporation had gone a long way back with Okabayashi Sundries, so they had seen the true value. Looks like things got complicated. It was slow of me, but I handed the flowers.

“Oh, what is it?”

“Well, it’s to celebrate the reopening.”

“Thanks. Mom went out to deliver, and can’t serve you tea. Sorry.”

What happened to Tomozou-san and aunty? Did he figure out the truth? Ultimately, I did not know. As for whether there were any customers at Okabayashi’s, that’s not for me to be worried about. As for how Tomozou-san, hard at work, and Yumi-san would deal with the pregnancy, I didn’t know.

But even so, I returned to this shop. That was because I was curious about the reaction from Alice. How should I ask?

“Thanks to you guys.”

Tomozou-san merely said this, and heartily laughed. I guess he found out who the culprit was, so my instincts told me. It’s only at such useless points that my instincts never went wrong.

“You had it tough too, being Yuuko’s assistant. While Tetsu and Hiro have known Yuuko for a long time, they never approached her as much as you did. I guess that’s a first for her, to have someone like you remain by her side.”

I see—so that’s it?

“Tomozou-san.”

“Hm?”

“Why do you call Alice, Yuuko?”

“She’ll get angry if I call her by her family name. She probably hates her own family.”

I see…no, this isn’t what I mean!

“No, erm, what I mean is, why her actual name?”

“Eh? Ah, you’re asking this? Before she started the agency, she came over to our shop to buy stuff, and left it on her tab. That’s why I know her name.”

“Alice? Buying things here? But she doesn’t drink alcohol, right?”

Tomozou-san immediately widened his eyes, and then chuckled as he pointed behind my back. I turned around, saw a glass fridge occupying a corner of the shop, and understood everything.

Behind the glass door were rolls of neatly arranged 350ml Dr. Pepper cans. There were the common crimson Dr. Pepper, low calorie Dr. Pepper with red outline and white words, violet berries and cream Dr. Pepper, brown decal Dr. Pepper, and red striped cherry vanilla Dr. Pepper.

“Eh…” My throat just let out a strange sound, “So many types…?”

“It’s normally impossible to get them in Japan. Got to import them. We’re probably the only shop that provides all kinds of Dr. Pepper.”

That’s the reason? That’s why Alice would go “I’m willing to do anything for this shop”, that’s all?

My face reflected on the glass panel of the fridge just broke into an unnatural smile. How else can I react other than to laugh?

At this moment, the cellphone on my chest pocket vibrated, and the ‘Colorado Bulldog’ ringtone echoed.

“Narumi, you’re about to leave school now, right? Okabayashi just reopened today, so before coming over to the office.”

“Ahh, yeah. I’m at Tomozou-san’s place.”

I cut off Alice, who was talking faster and faster, unable to hide her elation. If I had relaxed, I probably would have burst out laughing.

“Really? Great! I want—”

“How many cans of each? You want all the types, right?”

“What’s with you? Did you get infected with an illness that made you smarter?”

Shut up. None of your business.

“So, one case of each flavor.”

“Wha!?”

“Don’t forget the receipt.”

She hung up.

Tomozou-san quickly brought out the cases from the storage.

“Cash…probably not. I can give you a receipt.”

“Pkay…please leave this on the tab.”

I was planning to buy some for her to drink, but I lost the mood.

“You can’t carry all these cases with you, right? Maybe when my mom comes back, she’ll deliver to you?”

“No, it’s fine. I can move them all.”

Tomozou-san widened his eyes in surprise. At this point, I just wanted to punish myself.

I stuffed a case of drinks into my backpack, and the others were barely tied down onto the rack. I supposed the weight of these drinks was probably 3 times Alice’s weight.

But someone’s waiting for them. This isn’t a bad feeling. Let’s keep this thought in mind.

So I convinced myself as I kicked the bicycle stand off, and pedalled hard.


Translator's Notes and References[edit]

  1. the currency used in Kaiji
  2. Twins, artistes
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