Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 6 Chapter 1
"Who knows? Maybe we still feel things, after our death. I’d like to rest, considering that ‘rest’ is the right word, in that little cave up on the tall mountain, overlooking Verrières."
'Le Rogue et Le Noir' Stendhal/ Translated by Kobayashi Masaki
The protagonist of the story I am going to say next was a man who really amazed me.
To be honest, I am not too familiar with this man, and I never met him and talked with him. Moreover, the little information about him was all rumors. The most ridiculous thing is that he practically never appeared in this story. Even so, this is still a story that belongs to him.
His nickname was the “Bear Punch” (Bare Knuckles), and it was said that he earned this ridiculous nickname because he once beat a bear to death with his bare hands. However, that was what everyone called him as, no matter whether he was in Afghanistan, Yugoslavia or Congo. Perhaps that is because Japanese names are harder to pronounce?
He used to be a mercenary that went through many countries, but retired once when he was in his thirties, the age of his physical prime. That was because, when he returned to his hometown of Japan, he met a woman, and fell in love.
Nobody granted their blessings for this romance, but they still conceived a girl. He could not engage in illegal acts while raising a child, so he decided to wash away the stench of cigarettes and the stains of blood as he settled down in Tokyo.
Nobody knew why they chose to run a ramen store. Perhaps there might be some sort of significance to it. The history of Japanese ramen was that it inherited the essence of Chinese ramen, came over from the mainland, from the seas, but the soup absorbed the food cultures from all kinds of different countries, and finally became an authentic Japanese cuisine. Unexpectedly, this matched the background of the daughter both of them had.
However, after his wife died earlier, he abandoned his daughter and the ramen shop on a certain day and went back to the battlefield as the “Bear Punch” again. The only proof of him staying in this peaceful country, running a ramen shop, was the shutters of the shop.
His actual name was Hanada Masaru.
It was said that when he thought of using his own name as the shop’s name, his wife complain that it was too ‘primitive’, and got rid of the ‘da’ and ‘sa’. .
The story of Hanada Masaru began and ended here, at this shop with that name.
In any case, though I had forgotten about it recently, I was a high school sophomore, about to turn 17. I only recalled that when chatting with my classmates in the classroom. This is ridiculous. Do I have a psychological disorder.
Anyway, the conversation was as such.
"So Fujishima-kun, one month later, please come help out too. Don't spend too much time on your part time work in October."
The bell indicating the beginning of lunch break started, and I heard to voice of a girl. I lifted my face, and saw a short haircut, feisty eyebrows and friendly looking eyes. It was Ayaka. I was sleeping throughout the morning classes sleeping, and my head was in a daze. Thus, I could not understand completely what she was saying, and also, the reason why Ayaka and the other girls gathered around my desk.
"...One month later?" Will something happen?
"Listen to what I say! You were sleeping during homeroom period again, weren't you, Fujishima-kun? Why do you always come to school just to take a nap?"
I'm tired from all the troubles recently,, I tried to retort, only for the girls to interrupt.
"Doesn't look like it's a nap anymore when he's been sleeping since morning, right?"
"Sometimes, he sleeps till 7pm, after school."
"I heard he sleeps through PE too."
"Really? That's amazing! How do you do that?" I want to know too. That's quite some exaggerations from you guys."
"Fujishima-kun's really talented when it comes to sleeping"
For some reason, Ayaka raised her chest proudly.
"There was once when we had a conversation while he was sleeptalking."
"You should have woken me up!" I retorted inadvertently, as if it was about someone else. "Erm, back on topic, next month? Is there something?"
The girls' eyes immediately descended into the ice age, and I shunned them by looking at the table, desperately trying to remember.
Today's the last day of September right? Erm, if it's one month later, in October...the end of October...
"Oh, my birthday."
"I didn't know that!" "Yes yes congratulations." "How old are you? Looks like you're an old man with onset dementia, are you seventy-seven-years-old?"
Why are they ganging up on me now?
However, thanks to that, I remembered. I would be seventeen soon. Come to think of it, I'm still a High School student, right? Merely a year had passed since I transferred to this high school.
It's a long story, but I'm doing a part-time work to a private detective agency, serving as an assistant. Looking back at the case files that I myself wrote, it seemed that over the past year, I was involved with more than 10 disputes that would have required prosecution. There's still half of my high school life to go. Looking at this pace, I estimate that I'll be involved in another 15 cases or so before graduation. I'm starting to feel dizzy about this. What would I do if I graduate into life before I graduated high school?
However, Ayaka brought her face to me, dragging me back to reality.
"It's not about you, Fujishima-kun! It's about the 3rd of November. Do you know what that day is?"
"...A day of good birth?" 
"It's the culture festival! I guess you aren't sure when the public holidays are held anymore because you're on holiday all year long like a NEET." "I don't have the right to forget a little anymore...?" "But you don't remember when the culture festival is!"
Eh, culture festival?
The detective agency that employed me was located in the same building as the ramen shop where Ayaka worked part-time. To the east of a massive station where the JR, the private railways and the subway intersected, I head past a park filled with stragglers, to a backalley that was sparse in numbers. The shop itself was located at a diminutive, unimpressive gray multi-tenant building. The landmark here was a red curtain with amazing embroidery, unraveled at the front of the first floor. The words "Ramen Hanamaru" were written. There were only five counter seats in this small shop. The owner, Min-San, had her hair tied in a pony tail, a black apron over her a tank top, and a sarashi wrapped around her breasts. She was a dazzlingly, healthy older sister.
"Ayaka said she would be a little late these days because of the preparations for the Cultural Festival. So Narumi, why are you here so soon after school?"
I showed my face at 4pm, and Min-San asked me from behind the counter.
"Is it because there's no place for you in class?"
"Th-that's not it! I raised my voice anxiously. "What the class will do was decided when I was sleeping, they told me that I didn't have to do anything, and my table's used as a cutting table. That's why that's not the case!"
For some reason, there are tears coming out. Is that because of the onions Min-san was chopping?"
"There's no use of you staying in my shop either. If you're not going to order, scram. You're interfering with my preparations."
Why are you saying this to me when I'm an ex-employee? But But I can't leave just yet.
"Eh-eh well, you see, I'm here today with a request for the Cultural Festival, Min-san."
"Our class is doing an Ice Cream Shop."
Min-san stopped the hand holding the chopper.
"Hanamaru" was a strange ramen shop, famous for its ice cream dessert rather than its ramen. I heard that before her father disappeared and she inherited the shop, Min-San had been training hard to become an ice cream maker.
"Well, it'll be reassuring if Min-San will teach us how to make ice cream, that's what the girls in class said."
"...I don't have such time available. What about the shop?"
Min-San said with an exasperated look, and the sound of onions being chopped echoed again.
"No, won't it be fine if everyone went to "Hanamaru"?"
"Are you an idiot? That's the same thing. If I'm stuck with dealing with a bunch of brats, who's going to make the ramen?"
"E-erm, then I'll do it--"
"What are you saying? What are you going to do, Narumi, when your specialty is dropping and breaking a bowl every thirty minutes?"
"I'm sorry, please forgive me. I won't say anything else."
Right. I knew that it would end up like this. She's not pulling any punches.
In other words, this was the one job I was assigned with for our Culture Festival preparations. Convincing Min-San.
"Anyway, our shop has always been a ramen shop, not not ice-cream shop. I do have some pride as a ramen shop owner, you know? It's done. Bring this to Alice."
Min-San poured into the bowl a dash of chopped green onions, and pushed the bowl to me. All I could see in the bowl were cooked beansprouts and onions added in. This was always the case, but Min-san would always explain it to me.
"Onion miso ramen without noodles, soup, roast pork, bamboo shoots, or miso."
"There goes your pride!"
I got beaten up.
This Alice would be my employer, and she stayed on the third storey of this building. The door of room 308 had a signboard of it that read 'NEET Detective Agency'. Recently, I had been entering the room without knocking on the door, for I started to think of it as a hassle. The heat of late summer was about to end, yet the air conditioning in the room was chilling to the bone. I passed through the right, a narrow corridor in the kitchen, and inside there was a little room.
"Alice, I brought food."
I brought the tray with the bowl on it into the room, only to hear a flustered voice from the bed. What's she doing?
The three walls of the bedroom were crammed with shelves, and the computer equipment on the shelves covered everything to the ceiling, while most of the floor was occupied by the bed. On the bedsheet were cute bear, dolphin, cat, capybara dolls, stacked in a hill. A petite girl was sprawled on the bed, trying to backtrack into this pile of dolls. We exchange looks, and the pale face under the black cap was instantly flushed red.
"N-next time, don't just come in so suddenly! I do have personal privacy to be respected too!"
"Eh, a-ah, sorry."
I nearly toppled the tray in my hand, and hurriedly turned my back on the bed as I return to the kitchen.
This little girl was the private detective who employed me--Alice. She was always living in this room, dressed in pajamas, but I had a peek at the clothing she was wearing just now...and for a moment, I was in disbelief.
She was wearing a black Tricorne, and a black laced shawl was draped over her shoulders. I guess it's not my eyes, but why would Alice be dressed up like that? Does she not wear only pajamas, mourning clothes or rich looking Japanese clothing?
"Woah, I'm caught by the zipper! U-uu, my hair, hurts. Narumi! Narumi!"
Hearing the call for me, I got to my feet.
"Don't come here! Don't look! Hurry up and get me out somehow!"
"What do you want me to do?"
Alice was in agony under the pile of dolls, and not only was the hair caught by the hook of the garter-belt, the zipper on the back was caught in the eye button. Truly a deplorable state.
Hurry and get me out, and don't hurt my friends (those dolls) no matter what, cover your eyes! Alice gave me one difficult task after another, and I decided to ignore the last one as I crawled onto the bed to carefully remove her long hair from the hook, freeing the dolls.
"Stay out there, and come in only when I tell you to!" Just like that, I was shooed out of the office. A few minutes passed, and Alice looked peeved as she opened the door and poked her head out, now dressed in the usual blue bear pajamas.
I was invited back into the bedroom, and for a moment, I could not say anything. Alice too curled her lips as she took out her chopsticks, stirring the onions and beansprouts in the bowl.
"What? If you have anything to say, say it."
Right behind a fuming Alice was a black hem revealed under the towel. I guess she hurriedly stuffed them underneath.
“Erm...is that some new mourning clothing?”
“If these look like mourning clothing, your funeral's going to arrive soon. Death by dementia.”
Is it trendy to deem me as having dementia recently? That's heartbreaking.
Speaking of which, those clothing certainly don't look like mourning clothes. There's no way there is such a strange hate. I guess it's more like a witch that appear in American cartoons.
“Enough already. Forget everything you just saw! Your specialty is at forgetting things, right?”
Alice finished the food in the bowl, and angrily turned her head away from me. The slender shoulders were completely submerged in the rich black hair.
Finally, the sound of rapid-fire typing echoed, and a messy garble of text appeared on the many monitors on the walls. Only when Alice reaches out for the crimson can placed on the side table—Dr Pepper would the typing stop. This hikikomori was so picky with her food, it's unbelievable. Every day, she would eat a little amount of vegetables, and it was common of her to order ramen that could not be considered ramen at all, no noodles and soup added. I was told that she could obtain most of her nutrients from Dr Pepper alone.
Alice's not an ordinary detective, but a NEET detective. She hardly leaves this cramped server room, but she's able to hack into all kinds of sites, and extract massive amounts of data all day long. And I'm the assistant to this detective.
As for what a detective's assistant does--
“Narumi, stop spacing out there! First off, clean up the bathroom!”
I started to feel skeptical about my work as a detective's assistant and my own future as I scrub the bathtub with sponge in hand. At this moment, a doorbell rang outside the ground glass.
“Alice, I bought all kinds of them!”
A boy's hearty voice could be heard, followed by footsteps and the sound of a paper bag being ruffled. It's Hiro. Most of Alice's acquaintances were NEETs with no livelihoods, and amongst them, Hiro is one of the more approachable ones. I guess Alice requested him to go buy something?
I switched the shower on to wash away the cleaning fluid in the bathtub, and once I stepped out of the bathroom, I saw his back, dressed in a strap-jacket, taking out something from the bag and laying it out on the bed. Alice saw me standing behind Hiro-san, and immediately jolted.
“Hiro! Narumi's here! Hide it!”
Hiro-san turned around, spotted me, and quickly kept the thing on the bed back into the bag.
However, I saw it, even if it was just for a moment. Clothes wrapped in a vinyl pack. The coloring's really bright too. Wonder what's that?
“Oh? So you're here too, Narumi?”
“...Clothes for Alice? Hiro?”
“Eh? Well, yeah.”
“Narumi! This has nothing to do with you!”
Alice said as she snatched the bag from Hiro's hands, and stuffed it under the towel. Why's she being so sneaky about this?
“You're starting to get interested in fashion trends now? There's no need to be so embarrassed about it now, right?”
“Stop spewing nonsense there. Once you're done cleaning the bathroom, clear up the empty bowl!”
And so, Hiro and I were chased out of the office. What was that about?
“So now Alice's starting to get interested in clothing other than pajamas? Did you select those weird clothes for her, Hiro?”
I tried asking Hiro as we descended the emergency staircase. This guy may be a NEET, but he's a gigolo who would take advantage of his good looks and bluff women to maintain a livelihood, and he's very sharp on current fashion trends. It's hard for me to believe that those weird clothing were chosen by him.
Hiro finally gives off a snicker, but his answer was vague.
“Well, it's Alice's request! Don't get too deep into this, please!”
Then, he patted me on the shoulder.
“Alice's starting to think of how to attract looks from the opposite gender now.”
No, I don't think that's the case here.
If I had thought about it a little deeper as to why Alice's actions were so strange, maybe I would have realized. Back then, what Hiro took was not a bag from a clothing shop, but a bag from Tokyu Hands.
However, back then, I forgot that I had to think deeply. As Alice said, my specialty is forgetting.
We returned to the old gathering spot at the dark bottom of the emergency staircase, and I explained the matter of the culture festival to Hiro, quietly discussing about how to convince Min-san. Hiro folded his arms in front of him, glancing back at the shop from time to time as he answered,
“I guess it's going to be difficult. See, for Min-san, ice cream is well, complicated, in many ways. A lot of things happened back then.”
“Yep, that's right.”
Min-san had to give up on her dream, for the sake of taking over the ramen shop, which her father left behind without saying anything.
“If you're to do it, Hiro, are you able to convince her somehow?”
“I don't have the sweettalking abilities you have, Narumi. Also, I think it's bad to coax a woman with empty words.”
“Aren't you the gigolo? Whose mouth is that talking here?”
While we're trading remarks, the autumn sun descended quickly, and Ayaka came by.
“Ah, Fujishima-kun. You're here too, Hiro? I'll take your orders later. Sorry for being late today. I'll go in first--”
Ayaka energetically greeted us, and entered the kitchen from the backdoor. Soon after, the sound of water rinsing something could be heard.
“Yes, Min-san, did you hear from Fujishima-kun? We really hope that you help us.”
I could hear such a conversation, and pricked my ears.
“I heard that.” Min-san's voice could be heard. “Unfortunately, I don't have the time for that, and I'm not a professional ice cream maker. I really can't afford the time to teach others now.”
I lowered my shoulders dejectedly, and Ayaka suddenly opened the back door, walking out.
“Fujishima-kun, can you think of some way to coax Min-san? You really have the talent to be a conman, so you can probably say some strange chant by her ears or something.”
“That's no longer conning, that's a magi.”
“So you aren't denying that you're a conman?”
“I can only retort one by one! I'll be able to win 2 M-1 Grand Prix championships If I'm able to retort more than once!”
“Narumi, that little retort seem to be a little difficult to understand, you know?”
“You can stop nitpicking too, Hiro!”
“Hmm, I thought it'll be fine if you were requesting, Fujishima-kun. What do we do now? I already went ahead to invite our classmates to Hanamaru tomorrow. If they're here to eat ice cream, I think we can learn something.”
Ayaka frowned, and was about to return to the kitchen, only for Hiro to immediately show the eyes of a hunting bird.
“Your classmates are coming? To Hanamaru? Girls?”
“Eh?” Ayaka turned her head around. “Well, yes. I thought that we could get Min-san to teach us how to make ice cream, but we can't let her leave the shop alone. I guess there's no way...”
Hiro folded his arms in front of his chest, and pondered a little.
Then, he suddenly stood up, blinked at Ayaka with enough charm to overwhelm 500 girls at once, before heading into the kitchen.
Hiro passed by Ayaka, and even bothered to cautiously close the door. Thus, we didn't know what sweet talk he would bask Min-san with.
After that, what we heard was an unbelievable line from Hiro,
“Welcome! Please have a seat inside! Your order please. Yes, one roast pork ramen. Eh? Yes, I'm a new employee. Yes, starting from today. But it's a probation period since it's the first month...”
Dumbfounded, I stealthily nudged the door aside. Ayaka and I could see Hiro wearing an apron, tossing the ramen skillfully at the same time.
October began, and 'Ramen Hanamaru' was engulfed in a strange passionate vortex of pink.
A group of high school girls began invading after school, and also, even the number of female customers have obviously increased. Initially, most of Hiro's girlfriends wanted to see this strange scene of 'Hiro working', but through word of mouth, more girls were lured into seeing this handsome chap who cooks ramen.
“...In other words, Hiro, you gave up on the NEET lifestyle and proudly began work to interact with many high school girls?”
One week later, Major finally popped by at the back door of 'Hanamaru', asking this in displeasure as he glared at the girls of our girls hollering and crowding the kitchen.
“Hm, yeah, that's the case.”
“You're so weak!”
Major reached his hand out for the goggles, shaking his head.
This baby-faced guy, wearing a splinter camouflage helmet and a deep green army jacket may look like an elementary school kid, but he's actually an active college student. His nickname is Major, one of the irresponsible people around Alice.
“You sought the path of a hikikomori, Hiro, and now you are willing to turn yourself from being the one who leech a woman dry into someone who is leeched. You disappoint me.”
Well, I didn't find it disappointing, but I did find it strange somewhere. Was Hiro the kind of person who would ignore his own image for the sake of wooing girls? Well, speaking of which, starting work is a good thing, but I just couldn't help but wonder if there was some other intention to it.”
“Vice Admiral Fujishima, why didn't you stop him? Hiro's one of the important leaders to us NEETs. Now he's going to disappear due to the bubble called capitalism!”
“It'll be better for this world if that vanishes, right...”
As his attire might imply, Major was a bonafide military nut, and for some reason, he kept calling me Vice Admiral. Despite the rank of a Vice Admiral being higher than that of a Major, I never saw him show me any respect (and if he did, I'll be really troubled.) Major rattled off on me, and suddenly slammed the kitchen door, saying, “I shall go save Hiro myself.”
“Min-san, is the meringue hard enough now?”
“I added too much lemon juice by accident!”
“Wait! Didn't I say not to squash the strawberry? The juice will dampen the cheese's flavor.”
“There's quite a lot of liquor here. Is it alright to sell this at the culture festival?”
“It's fine. It's delicious after all!”
“Hiro~ Two more plates of fried dumplings please!”
“Okie! Ayaka, three bowls of Tsukemen coming up!”
“Okay. Sorry to keep you waiting!”
There were cheers of girls who seemed to be optimistic about their lives filling the steamed scent of ramen, and Major literally fainted on the spot.
Even Alice was caught amongst the collateral.
“Listen, Narumi! Don't ever let those girls near the office from now on!”
Alice said as she stood on the bed, her hands on her waist, fuming so badly her black hair was trembling.
Ayaka would occasionally mention Alice in the classroom, and our classmates felt interested as a result. Those girls got increasingly daring, barging into Min-san's house to learn how to make ice cream, and also entered the NEET detective agency on the pretense that they wanted to bring their ice cream to Alice. Well, that happened yesterday.
“I admit that it was my failure to be lured by the temptation of sweets and let them in. However, have they really gone through the necessary education of a cultured civilization? Your classmates couldn't distinguish between me and the dolls!”
Whenever they saw Alice, the girls eyes sparkled, exclaiming things like “So cute!” “Like a doll!” “Let me hug you!” and leapt towards her, cuddling her.
“Goodness! Master, Ayaka and even Mao are all the same. Why do girls want to hug me the moment they see me?”
“...Well, I guess that feeling is understandable. After all, you're cute, Alice.”
I tried explaining, and Alice froze up, her face reddened immediately, steam rushing out as though there was a whistle.
Her lips were quivering.
“...Wh-wh-wh-wh-what did you say?”
Now she's not speaking in proper Japanese. Seriously. What's with her? If she's still embarrassed, I can understand, but why is she so agitated?
“What did you just say? Wh-what did you say about me?”
“Well, you're as cute as a doll, so it's no wonder the girls want to hug you--”
“Wh-wh-wh-wh-what delusions are you thinking about you?”
“That's not a delusion. Didn't I say that about you before?”
“I never heard of it!”
Eh? Really? Now that she mentioned it, I guess I never actually told Alice this straight to the face. But did she never have any realization of her own appearance?
“I-I-I never thought you would say that, yo-you want to embrace me.”
“No no, what are you saying now? That's impossible.”
“What do you mean by impossible?”
Why are you getting angry because of this? There's reason for girls to say that, but if a guy is to say that, that's criminal.”
However, Alice started throwing empty cans of Dr. Pepper at me, and I had no choice but to run away from the office.
On October this year, the final month of my birthday, a lot of shocking things did happen. A week after Min-san started teaching my classmates how to make ice cream, an incident happened on Monday.
That day, I came to 'Hanamaru' immediately after school.
“What? So you're even shunned by everyone during your culture festival preparations?”
“That's not it.”
I slammed the counter table hard to refute Min-san's claim.
“My work's mostly about making posters and pamphlets, so I need to go home and work on the computer!”
“Perfect timing though, Narumi. Come try this new ramen flavor I developed.”
Hiro, dressed in an apron, poked his head out from the kitchen to say this.
“Looks like you're already adapted to working here already...”
“I never thought this guy would be able to take over the preparations.”
Min-san shrugged as she said this.
“If you have the ability, why didn't you start working in the beginning?”
“I had a thought before that I would practice in case there's such a chance! It's 'Hanamaru', so I'm willing to help. It's not because I have any intention to work, you know.”
“Do you really like the idea of having a group of high school girls come here? So the reason behind your actions is just for the sake of women?”
“Of course it's for the sake of women.”
And so Hiro got a flick on the forehead from Min-san, the smile on his face brighter than I have ever seen.
However, I tried eating the Cantonese noodles Hiro made, and the doubt in my heart grew. Why was Hiro willing to go this far? If he started showing off his abilities as a gigolo, it wouldn't be difficult for him to woo many high school girls on the main streets. Even if he does intend to know many girls by working at a ramen shop, he didn't have to develop a new ramen dish, did he?
It seemed like,
He intended to run the ramen shop along with Min-san in the future?
No no no. That's impossible, right? Min-san can't possibly continue taking care of this irresponsible gigolo.
Right when I'm about to finish the sample ramen, the girls from my class arrive at 'Hanamaru'.
“Ayaka told us! We heard that you developed a new ramen dish?”
“I want to try it too.”
“Glad to hear that, but too bad I didn't cook that much today. How about coming over to my house next time? Next time, I'll treat you out for a meal, and then we'll go out together, okay?”
“I'll definitely go!”
I never thought there'll be someone who would woo girls as naturally as it would take to breathe. I had the intention of putting the bowl discreetly on the counter, only to see Ayaka and the culture festival committee member approaching Min-san awkwardly.
“Min-san, there's something, we have some apprehension talking about...” Ayaka fidgeted as she rubbed her hands.
“What is it again?”
“The Student Council People seemed to have been notified by the health department, that no food other than instant heated food can be sold.” The culture festival member said.
“Erm, so for raw foods, we need someone with some food license who can sell them.”
“Ah, someone in charge of food hygiene?”
Min-san scratched her head.
“A lot of raw ingredients in my ice cream, huh?”
I inadvertently leaned over the counter, listening intentively. Does that mean our class' activity won't be approved? Why didn't they say so?”
“We're troubled to be notified now!” “The student council members said that they got careless in their checks.” My classmates added on.
“Now then, what will you do? Stop selling?”
“Erm, about that.”
Ayaka lifted her eyes.
“Min-san, you have a chef permit, don't you?”
“...So I've to do it?”
“Please do so!”
Ayaka, the committee member girl and a few girls who may or may not know what's going on, a dozen of them or so immediately clap their hands together and bowed.
A chef could be in charge of preparing the ingredients, and at the same time, did not have to attend the relevant lectures. In other words, all we could was to boldly ask Min-san and hope that she would come to M high school and help man the ice cream stall on the day of the school festival.
“But that is your school activity. There'll be issues if an outsider like me is to be in charge, right?”
“We really did our best to fight this one from the student council. It all started with their neglect, so it looks as though they'll specially accommodate this for us.”
Ayaka's methods are as amazing as ever, but is this request really alright?”
In any case, Min-san folded her arms together, and looked up at the oil stains in the ceiling, letting out a sigh. After that, she said to Ayaka,
“...November, 3rd and 4th, I guess?”
Ayaka's face immediately dazzled like a strawberry.
“Thank you very much, Min-san.”
The incident happened a few minutes later. Maybe it was not something that could be considered an incident, but it was a trivial matter nobody ever thought of being confirmed.
However, that major incident that occupied the final month of my 16th year did start off on this very day.
Before the lesson on how to make ice cream began, the culture festival committee told Min-san,
“We'll need the student council and the teachers to watch. Min-san, can you lend us your chef license to photocopy?”
“Okay. Narumi, go copy this.”
Of course, she called me. I appeared to be the one with the least to do, and I was already used to being a runner. Thus, I had a chance to first witness that fact.
Main Residence, Tokyo.
I widened my eyes, and started at the 3 words beside the residence. At first, I didn't understand the meaning of that line of words.
“What is it? Hurry up!”
I stammered as I pointed at that part on the permit, and Min-san frowned for a moment, before she appeared to have understood.
“Speaking of which...you guys never knew my real name, huh?”
I see, so this is the real name...well, I suppose. Anything printed on a license has to be a real name. Ayaka and Hiro leaned over, looking confused as they peeked at the documents in my hands.
“My mom's from China! This name is really inconvenient though, so I always told everyone else my dad's family name, Hanada.”
I had a peek at Hiro, and even he widened his eyes. Looks like even those that knew her for a long time did not know. Min-san too looked awkward, probably because both Ayaka and I were giving unnatural looks, and Min-san could only turn her head aside.
“I wasn't deliberately trying to hide it! It's troublesome to explain, and I didn't really have to, so I didn't!”
“...Hm, yeah, I guess...” I muttered to myself. It's true that there was no chance for Min-san to actually mention it, and even if we already knew, it wouldn't be much different from now.”
“How do we read you name, Min-san?”
Ayaka went straight to the point and asked.
“Huang Ming Li.”
“So that's why everyone calls you Min-san...” Hiro said with a sigh,
“Ah—seriously, why is this happening? Is there really something to hoorah over? Have you heard any Japanese with the name 'Ming'?”
She's right, now that she mentioned it. I knew her for a year, but I never noticed this.
“Alright! Go photocopy this now!”
Min-san obviously was unhappy, and tilted her head as she went down the corridor where her listeners were waiting, vanishing. I guess she's frustrated about this because she encountered this situation so many times in her studies? I barely managed to eke out a wry smile at Hiro and Ayaka, and left 'Hanamaru' for the convenience store. I felt that I was doing something wrong here. No matter whether Min-san was a Martian or an Earthbound, it wouldn't matter to our past or futures. At least, that was what I assumed back then.
Back then, we did not know something. We did not know the heavy significance of the family name 'Huang' Min-san bore.
Only on the next day did we thoroughly realize it. That man came to our NEET detective agency.
It was 4pm when those men suddenly entered 'Hanamaru', and back then, only Hiro and I were in the shop. Hiro was preparing the roasted pork, and I was on the corridor linking the kitchen to the house, taking photos for the menu to be used for the culture festival.
The shutters could be heard sliding aside, followed by Hiro's voice.
“Welcome! Sorry, but we have yet to open shop--”
That voice was overpowered by the sound of a bowl breaking on the floor.
Shocked, I poked my head into the kitchen, and saw three men outside the counter. There were two men dressed in black suit, hunks with muscular faces, and the young man leading them was standing in the middle, reaching his hand out, grabbing Hiro by the collar.
“Hey! Where's Ming Li? Who are you? Her man?”
“No no no, unfortunately not. Min-san isn't someone like that! Oh, and who may you be?”
Hiro answered with a nonchalant tone. I really didn't have such reckless guts, and I guess that my legs might quiver, and I wouldn't be able to say anything.
Who are these people—Yakuza? They did mention Min-san's actual name, and though their Japanese in fluent, but the name 'Ming Li' was clearly of Chinese pronunciation. Even I, who didn't know Chinese, could hear. Are they from China?
“What else? What do you mean? Hey, are you planning on putting a move on her?”
The young man growled. He had a slick hair, and eyes as sharp as a raptor. He's wearing a branded suit, but clearly, he was a shady person.
“Young Lord, this isn't the time to say such things now, right?” The men in black suits behind the young man both chimed in advice.
At that moment, I heard a voice from the other end.
“Hey! What are you doing? Let go of him!”
The man in suit let go of Hiro, and turned around. Min-san was standing at the door, holding a grocery bag, her eyes widened as she saw his face.
“...Hong Lei? Why are you here?”
The man with the slick hair sounded elated, and deliberately flicked his hair back.
“Did you just come back? It's been a while. How have you been recently? You should have paid us a visit from time to time. The Dragon Head, grandfather and everyone was worried about you.”
“Why do I have to show up at the Huangs? I got nothing with them. Anyway, why are you here?”
Min-san shoved the trio aside, and entered the shop, past the counter, and into the kitchen. The man with slick hair shrugged.
“Don't say that now. How many years has it been since you last came back? Oh yeah, I'll be in Japan for a while recently...”
“Young Lord, we aren't here to look for Miss Ming Li.”
“Please don't forgot the reason why we're here? We're looking for Masaru.”
“Shut up! I understand.”
The man retorted unhappily, and kicked at the thighs of his subordinates.
“Masaru? ...What about my dad?”
Hearing that, Min-san could not help but ask. Min-san's disappeared dad, yeah, I remember his name is called Masaru.
“Masaru hasn't been here?”
The man with slick hair asked, his eyes narrowed. I was scared. For a moment of breath, I saw the atmosphere surrounding this man to drop below freezing point.
“He came by once in April, and vanished without saying anything.”
“I'm not talking about that long back. I'm referring to yesterday or today.”
“No. What happened to my dad.”
“Ming Li, I guess you may not know about it, but Masaru's hired by the Dragon Head, acting as a bodyguard for the main family in Hong Kong.”
Dragon Head? Hong Kong? Bodyguard? What's going on? Who are these people? From Min-san's family? This guy probably knew Min-san for a while, so I guess they're relatives? Hiro and I exchange looks, and we could only gulp as we watch Min-san's sidelong face.
“I don't know about this...when did it start?”
Min-san's voice sounded bitter.
“5 years ago. Our standing in Hong Kong was not very stable, and the Dragon Head was often targeted...”
5 years back. That was about the time when Min-san's dad abandoned the ramen shop and vanished. Right, I remember. Hanada Masaru once snuck back in April, and even showed up at the shop. According to Alice, he had a surgery to change his appearance completely, and 'went through intensive, unique training'.
In other words, he's one from the criminal society?
“What about that bastard? Did he just sneak back to being involved with them again?” Min-san stirred the soup in the pot impatiently. “Why did he just vanish without saying anything? Can't he just think about how much trouble it would have cost me?”
“Masaru had a deal with the Dragon Head.”
The man with slick hair said, and Min-san frowned.
“A deal? What do you mean?”
The Dragon head really admired Masaru's abilities, and felt that it was a waste for him to be the boss of a ramen shop...”
“So I'm asking, what deal is that?”
“That is to not bother with you, and at the same time, Masaru is to be a personal bodyguard for the Huangs.”
Min-san's black ponytail fluttered in the air, and then leaned on the cutlery rack weakly.
“...Who asked that bastard to do such a thing!?”
“Masaru doesn't want you to get involved with them, I suppose?”
“Enough with that nonsense! In that case, I don't have any relation with you, and you guys probably know him better now, right? Why are you looking for me now?”
“Because that Masaru vanished again.”
This time, the man shot a sharp look at Hiro and me, and coughed,
“I revealed too much. This isn't for any outsider to know about. We'll have a word.”
Min-san was silent for a moment, and finally nodded, taking off her apron before handing it over to Hiro.
“Take care of the shop for me.”
I felt a chill from the bottom of my gut. Is this really fine? Would be fine to let her go alone? Those men didn't look decent, and even if they were Min-san's acquaintances--
“Don't worry. He's my cousin.”
Min-san pointed her chin at the man. She probably read my emotions because of my teary looking face, I guess?
“Understood. Be careful.”
Hiro replied with a smile.
“I'll prepare the dumpling ingredients for you as well.”
An hour later or so, Min-san returned. By this time, Ayaka and the other girls from our class came to the shop.
“You're back, Min-san!”
“Where did you go?”
“Oh yeah, Hiro tried making some ice cream. Try it out, Min-san.”
Min-san merely answered them carelessly however, Ahh, yeah and stuff like that. Soon after, I heard her act as though nothing was wrong,Sorry for being late. We're making Parfaits today.
After that, Min-san walked out of the back door of the kitchen with a beer case in tow, and our eyes met while I was squatting on the emergency staircase.t
“...Did something happen?”
I asked cautiously, but Min-san merely shrugged.
“Nothing happened. Don't worry!”
If nothing happened, why are you showing such a tired face? I really wanted to ask her, but I couldn't. I wasn't trying to lecture her, and if I did so, she definitely would not answer me.
Then, what shall I say?
I didn't know.
It was only when Hiro served the ramen I ordered that I whispered softly to him,
“Min-san looks like she's in some big trouble, doesn't she? That cousin of hers doesn't look like an ordinary person either...”
“Who knows? I didn't ask...”
All Hiro could do was shake his head.
“Since she said it's fine, we shouldn't be poking our noses and asking her! It does look like something between them.”
My sigh was mixed with the steam coming up from the roasted pork ramen.
The NEETs that gather at this shop really respected each other's privacy, to an unbelievable degree. This was the case even for Hiro and Alice, and thus, nobody knew of Min-san's real name and family background. They cared about the distance from each other with the frosty, sweet aloofness of an ice cream; this was the little piece of survival wisdom in this city. Sometimes, I would be envious about this, and other times, I would be infuriated.
However, the day didn't end as such. At 11.30pm, shop closing time, another rare guest came to visit 'Hanamaru'. This time, Ayaka and the other classmates had already left for home, and Hiro was preparing the ingredients for the next day, while I was in the corridor, cleaning up the items used for the ice cream making lessons.
“Sorry to bother. Is Ming Li around?”
The sound of the door being slid aside could be heard, followed by the voice of a young lady. Hiro, chopping the cabbage at the basin, and I walked into the kitchen because I heard the name 'Ming Li'.
Standing at the door was a woman dressed in light brown suit, probably of a similar age to Hiro. She had short black hair with a neat fringe on her forehead. The face with a terrifying stare seemed familiar to me.
“...She's not around? May I know who are you? An employee? That's strange. I heard that the one working here is a high school student?”
The woman looked around the dim shop in surprise, and questioned Hiro without courtesy. Since she's calling Min-san as 'Ming Li', I suppose she has something to do with those yakuza-like men in the day? There was some anxiety in her words, and I could not help but stand up and look at her face.
“Ah, I was just hired recently.” Hiro answered. “Min-san's off to the beer shop now. Eh...are you her relative?”
Hiro too seemed to have noticed. The man who came by this morning was the same; there seemed to be something they had in common with Min-san. It's like a heroine in a kung-fu flick who has some stunning valor to them.
“Are you really just an employee?” The lady ignored Hiro's question, and questioned back.
“Do you really have this kind of relationship with Ming Li? Are you her boyfriend or something?”
The man who came by in the day was concerned about that too, and why's that? “Well, Min-san's some powerful enemy who I still can't capture”, Hiro in turn responded, and the lady raised her eyebrow once she heard that. I had no choice but to enter the kitchen, and interrupt,
“Erm, who are you again?”
“A-are you the high school student working part time?”
“Eh, no, I used to work here, but I'm just an ordinary customer. That's not important, so please...”
“Why is it that there's still an ordinary customer here so late at nigh? Isn't this supposed to be Ming Li's house?”
Eh, that's the case, but why are you so angry?
At this moment, a voice from behind rang, “What are you doing? You're going to disturb the neighbors!” Our savior has arrived. Min-san walked in, lifting the curtain, only to meett the eyes of the lady who turned around.
“...Xiao Ling? Why are you here?”
“Ming Li! What are you doing? Why did you leave this stranger of a man in your house before going out? And what's with your outfit? Your breasts are exposing!”
“How are they exposed? I keep them under wrap. You're nagging at the small stuff like usual.”
Min-san noted in amazement as she pushed the lady into the shop.
“You're always like that, seriously.”
“Hong Lei came by in the day. Same topic, I guess?”
Min-san said, and the lady covered her mouth in shock. She glanced at Hiro and me, before turning to look at Min-san aside.
“...R-right. Sorry. I shouldn't be nagging at these details right now.”
Huang Xiao Ling, that was the name of the lady, Min-san's cousin.
“I don't know anything, and I said that to Hong Lei. He didn't tell you that?”
Min-san said as she put the beer bottles into the bridge. The man in suit, Huang Hong Lei appeared to be the older brother of Xiao Ling-san.
I was seated at a chair by the back door, peeking as I leaned on it, and saw Xiao Ling-san with her arms folded. Looking at the tone of the conversation, it appeared that they haven't met in a while. Min-san seemed to be distant from her old family.
“...What does Hong Lei plan to do with Masaru?”
Xiao Ling-san asked, and Min-san's shoulders shivered a little, her hand movements ceased as well.
“Who knows? I never asked him. They probably will catch him, interrogate him, and kill him, I guess?”
Suddenly hearing these words from Min-san's mouth caused me to shiver. They'll capture him and interrogate him?
“Why can you be so nonchalant about this? He's your dad!”
“What else do you expect me to do? My dad deserves that, right? Hired by the mafia, and betrayed them. He knows exactly what would happen to him, right?”
So Min-san's mom's family...was a member of the Chinese mafia?
Hiro and I could only overhear the conversation of the two women quietly, and we had no thought on leaving our seats politely.
He was a bodyguard of the Chinese mafia, and betrayed his employers. In that case, the man called Hong Lei came by in the day for this particular reason? All I could feel was a chill climbing my spine. What did Hanada Masaru do exactly?
“I have no involvements with the Huangs anymore. Right now, why are you still looking for me, Ming Li--”
“Masaru-san, contacted me yesterday.”
Min-san widened her eyes. It appeared she slammed the fridge door hard, and turned around, supporting herself on the counter as she leaned forward.
“Why did he contact you alone?”
“If he contacted you directly, those guys would have involved you when they came looking! So,”
“He already did!”
Min-san could no longer contain her voice.
“If he didn't want to cause me trouble, he could have surrendered himself to the police! He's just sneaking around, hiding somewhere, right?”
“So listen to me already! Masaru-san requested me because of you!”
Min-san gulped stiffly. Hiro and I probably had the same reaction.
“Yes, that's what Masaru-san said. There should be an amazing private detective in this building, right?”
We were speechless.
Min-san left the ramen shop to Hiro, and brought Ming Li-san to the emergency staircase at the back of the shop. Of course, I intended to follow.
“Why are you coming along?”
And I was caught by Ming Li-san.
“Actually, I'm the assistant to that detective agency.”
“Aren't you still a high school student? Stop spouting nonsense. It's late, and you aren't going home? What are you thinking?”
Well, what can I say? I guess it was surreal because nobody actually looked down on me from above and formally lecture me on my lifestyle. Even so, I can't just turn around and leave.
“Narumi, don't get involved.”
Even Min-san said so.
“It's fine if Alice alone knows, since she's just going to stay at home, check stuff on the internet, and won't show up. You're going to barge in on the scene however you want, right?”
“You don't have the right to say that about me, Min-san.”
I argued back.
“In any case, it's Xiao Ling-san's request, isn't it?”
“You're great at such useless comebacks, huh?”
Min-san spat those words impatiently. My neck shrank back as I ducked beneath her, and I climbed up the stairs. Unlike Hiro's straightforward tendencies, I would only cling onto the flimsy fact that 'a detective accepts requests, and I'm her assistant'. Ultimately, I still want to know what happened.
“This isn't something we can let a high school boy partake in so casually. You don't understand our family's situation, right?”
Xiao Ling-san said as she stomped up the stairs to give chase, letting out a loud sound.
And despite being a cautious person, the moment Xiao Ling-san stepped into the NEET detective agency and saw Alice on the bed, she was left dumbfounded for a moment. Well, it was to be expected, since Alice certainly looked like an elementary school kid.
“It's rare for Master to come up personally, and rarer to have a guest come along.”
Alice-san stared at Min-san and Xiao Ling-san's faces as she said this. The latter said to Alice what nobody else have ever said.
“Y-you're dressed up like that!? That's not an attire to be shown to others, right? There's also a boy here. Don't you find it embarrassing?”
Such words shocked Alice.
“Wh-what do you mean? What's embarrassing about?”
“That's to be worn when sleeping, right? Your thighs are exposed!”
Xiao Ling-san went around the bed, and drapped a blanket around Alice's body, wrapping her up.
“Wah! Wh-what are you doing!? This is the first time I'm seeing a visitor say such a thing!”
“You can't be showing your pajamas randomly to anyone else, other than your boyfriend or husband!”
Alice's face immediately turned as red as Arashiyama in late Autumn. What's this woman saying? I felt danger, and hurriedly went to the kitchen to hide.
“Uuu, I-I never heard of that one before!”
“Even if you have a relationship with that boy.” Xiao Ling-san pointed at me. “You should only be wearing this when both of you are alone!”
“Wh-wh-wh-wh-what are you saying!? Narumi and I don't have that kind of a relationship! What are you here for!? If you're here for a request, act like you have one!”
Back then, the situation was dire. If I was at the bedside at that inopportune moment, there would be an empty can of Dr. Pepper thrown at me. Unable to watch on anymore, Min-san finally slapped Xiao Ling-san hard on the back of the head.
“Is this the time to bother with others? Someone's already dead, what are you thinking?”
Shocked, I turned to look at Min-san. Someone's dead?
“Ah, th-that's right, but this kid is really,”
“That brat in pajamas is the detective you're looking for! Get straight to the point!”
Xiao Ling-san pointed at Alice as she turned back to look at Min-san. Her mouth was half ajar, and she was at a loss of words.
“...Th-this kid? Isn't she in elementary school? Such a little kid's actually a detective?”
“I'm not an ordinary detective.” Alice, curled up in the blanket, pouted unhappily,
“I'm a NEET detective, an observer who is all knowing and without power. Huang Xiao Ling, I know a lot about you. I know the 6 crippling weaknesses of the secure communications program your company developed, the malfunctioning issue of your language identification system, more than the developers you hired.”
Xiao Ling-san was really stunned.
After a while, she turned to Min-san with a slightly perturbed look.
“Ming Li...did you tell her that? No...it's impossible for you to know that so well...”
“She specializes in such things! She's not just a pale brat.”
Alice then followed up on what Min-san said,
“The monitor there shows the visuals of the surveillance cameras set up in this building. When Huang Hong Lei and you came to 'Hanamaru', I saw your faces. I checked up on you through the internet, and learned that you are the grand niece of the leader of a Hong Kong mafia caled the Huang Coalition, the Dragon Head. Master never told me anything, and she probably doesn't intend to do so.”
I could not see Xiao Ling-san's expression as she watched Alice. Was she showing fear, or faltering because she was at a loss of what to do? No matter her reaaction, I could only remain sprawled on the icy floor in front of the fridge, unable to say anything.
“So, Huang Xiao Ling, please reveal all the details. Do not worry, for I'm merely a pair of eyes drifting in the sea of information, and I shall not interfere with anything. That dumb-looking high school boy sprawled there may be of no use to anyone, but he has spent more than 10 years with loneliness as his only friend, and he understands the importance of silence more than anyone else.”
I got the feeling that Alice was really badmouthing me. Thanks to her, I was barely able to grab onto the fridge and get to my feet.
Xiao Ling-san knelt by the side of the bed weakly, and from her back, I could see Alice gave an unbelievably gentle expression, saying,
“I can assure that I won't say anything about this.”
The Dragon Head seems to refer to the leader of a Chinese mafia, or that was the meaning I could derive from Xiao Ling-san's words. Min-san's the granddaughter to that Dragon Head.
“Ming Li never told you anything about the Huangs?” Xiao Ling-san again looked back and forther between Min-san and Alice's faces.
“Because there was no need to mention about this before now!”
Min-san had her arms folded in front of her chest as she leanded on the bedroom door, and could only turn to Alice wordlessly.
“Anyway, Masaru-san used to be a mercenary who went about fighting in Center and South Americas, and the Middle East. He met Wen Li-san in Japan, and they got married, so he decided to settle down here...that was more than 30 years ago.”
Huang Wen Li, the youngest daughter of the Chinese Mafia 'Huang Coalition' that was based in Hong Kong.
And Hanada Masaru was a wandering mercenary.
And between them, born was--
“Heh, looks like you understand my dad better than I do, huh? Mercenary? That bear bastard told me he was a ninja! He treated me like an idiot.”
Min-san pointed her finger out to roll an empty can of Dr. Pepper, but from her tone, it was unknown if she was being sarcastic or furious.
“Yeah...Masaru-san often came to play with me when I was younger, and he said he was a ninja too. I really believed it.”
“He has always been like this. Always omitting the important part, getting us all confused. That stupid dad of mine never considered the feelings of others.”
Xiao Ling-san inadvertently raised her voice.
“Masaru-san isn't that kind of person.”
It was unexpected that Xiao Ling-san would show such an expression. Was she so close to Hanada Masaru?
“What do you mean? You don't know anything, do you?”
“But I knew Masaru-san longer than you do, Ming Li.”
Xiao Ling-san's voice got softer.
“When I was a child, we practically lived together. Later on, when he was hired by the main family, we usually met...”
Min-san didn't seem surprised as she looked aside.
And Alice's monotonous voice broke this awkward silence.
“So Master once stayed at the Huangs?”
“At Shinjuku only. I've never been to Hong Kong.”
Min-san replied with a vague tone.
It was said that the Huangs were divided into the main family in Hong Kong, and the branch family in Japan. The head of the main family in Hong Kong was Min-san's maternal grandfather, the Dragon Head. The head of the branch family in Japan was his younger brother, Xiao Ling-san and Hong Lei's grandfather. It was said that both families often had intermarriages, so not only are Min-san and Xiao Ling-san cousins, their preceeding generation were cousins. This family relationship is probably as complex as spagetti jumbled together, I guess?
Min-san's mom was born to the main family in Hong Kong, but back then, the underworld in Hong Kong was rife with bloodshed, so she kept staying in the branch family in Japan. Min-san thus lived in Japan, and grew up with Hong Lei and Xiao Ling-san.
“Over there, we had brats around my age like Xiao Ling and Hong Lei, and my dad's often out, while my mom wasn't feeling well, so when I was younger, I was practically staying at the Huangs the entire time. I was still a brat, but at the very least, I could tell that it was a yakuza family. Whenever something happened there, there would be a whole bunch of savage looking people gathering.”
“To be precise, the Huang Coalition can't be considered Chinese Mafia nowadays, I guess? They're chased out of Hong Kong, and the Dragon Head and his subordinates have moved to Shinjuku over the past few years.”
Alice continued on with a monotonous tone,
“The Huang Coalition was excluded from the Triads for a long time, and most of their earnings were from finance management and communication services. You should have heard of the Zodiac Group? Ahh, I guess Master wouldn't know. What about you, Narumi?”
I nodded. Zodiac's a company that had been growing rapidly recently, and they not only developed the most advanced language identification software, they bought a certain portal site, and if I remember correctly, they opened a security company. Eh? So these are all managed by Chinese mafia?
“Recently, there has been a few cases of Chinese mafia members migrating here and setting up businesses. Almost no different from ordinary mercahnts too.”
Xiao Ling-san shook her head.
“We do not traffick or sell drugs, but the Dragon Head and my grandfather have lived in the underworld for many years, and will ultimately resort to violence to solve problems. More than a hundred are armed with guns, searching for Masaru-san.”
Guns? Then, even during the day?
In this chilling air, I opened my palm, and closed it into a fist, barely realizing that my body retained its senses.
I once heard that the Chinese mafia were ruthless, to the point where the Japanese yakuza could be considered charity organizations. It was to be expected that Min-san and Xiao Ling-san warned me sternly 'not to interfere'.
“...So, what did Hanada Masaru do?”
Alice's hissed voice seemed to pass through the cold air in the room.
Xiao Ling-san and I glanced aside at Min-san, but the latter merely looked away, giving a look that was saying, just say whatever you want.
Xiao Ling-san lowered her eyes, biting her lips several times, and said,
“He murdered the Dragon Head's granddaughter, and ran away.”
A fatal metallic sound echoed. It was the sound of Min-san crushing an empty can beneath her feet.
“I'm fine. I knew about this already. Hong Lei told me.”
Min-san threw the flattened can to the door, and the faint metallic sound echoed in the cold air of the detective agency.
Xiao Ling-san finally spoke up again.
Huang Hong Lei.
Xiao Ling-san's older brother was the man with slick hair and sharp eyes who barged into 'Hanamaru' during the day.
He was the eldest son of the branch family of the 'Huang Coalition', and though he was born with the blood of the branch family, he was destined to return to Hong Kong and rejuvenate it.
“However, isn't Huang Hong Lei the founder of Zodiac? It looks like he got quite a few brilliant technications. Is he really going back to the underworld?”
Alice's words shocked me, and I could nto help but turn to Xiao Ling-san. That savage looking man, who had no intention of hiding his true nature as a member of the underworld, was actually the boss of an IT startup company with rising reputation?
“He'll probably hand Zodiac over to me, and take over the “Huang Coalition' himself, I suppose?”
I see, so she's an employee there too? Speaking of which, I guess there's a ferocious predator face beneath her smart office lady facade? I felt goosebumps rising up my arms as I rubbed my palms together, thinking about this.
“The Huangs' thinking are more old-fashioned than you can ever imagine, and there is no other organization in Hong Kong that values the concept of bloodline more than it. The problem is that the main family couldn't give birth to a male heir that could continue the family business, so when Hong Lei was born, grandfather-sama seemed to have pinned him to continue leading the 'Huang Coalition'.”
Suddenly, I remembered a friend of similar circumstances. He's the son to a Kansai Tekiya, and everyone half-jokingly called him the Fourth. The impression I had of him might be similar to Hong Lei, and if he did not run away from home and was thoroughly trained to take over, would he become like Hong Lei?”
“Because of this, Hong Lei was destined to marry a girl from the main family, the granddaughter of the Dragon Head, Xiang Yu. They only met twice, and had to marry, which is really unbelievable. I really can't accept that rule. What do they think marriage is about?”
Was the branch family in Japan planning such a political marriage to strengthen the bond with the main family in Hong Kong, to seize the authority? This overly dated thinking still exist the world we live in, and really befuddled me.
“So, so that woman called Xiang Yu—she was killed?”
Hearing Alice's question, Xiao Ling-san nodded with a pale face. Right, they mentioned that someone died. Min-san's dad killed the boss' granddaughter, and escaped. But why?
Xiao Ling-san continued,
“About Hong Lei and Xiang Yu getting married, the family intended to announce and invite everyone. However, Xiang Yu was going out with someone else...”
That's...not something that can be handled easily, is it?
“Of course, this was discovered, and the Dragon head wanted Xiang Yu to leave that man. However, that man was a hoodlum who has a drug addiction, and they were fearful of him taking revenge. That's why they requested Masaru-san, who just returned to Japan, to be her bodyguard.”
Alice's voice was as deep as the bottom of the sea.
“Why would Hanada Masaru kill that woman?”
Xiao Ling-san discreetly glanced aside at Min-san, and lowered her head.
“I don't know...the details. But...”
She appeared to be forcing her voice out.
“I heard that the hoodlum went to Xiang Yu's place last night, armed with a gun. He was in a shootout with Masaru-san...I suppose Xiang Yu went to stop them, and they...”
“They were killed by Hanada Masaru?”
Alice's words were like a blowtorch closing in, and Xiao Ling-san could only nod as he chin shivered. At this moment, I started to sense something was amiss, though I couldn't describe it.
What's going on? Something felt amiss.
“The helper taking care of Xiang Yu said that Masaru-san dumped their bodies into a car, and drove off.”
“Why did he have to take the corpses away?”
Alice asked, but I wanted to ask something else. However, the doubt in my heart could not take shape, as I didn't know where exactly did it seem strange. What was it that caused me such concern?
“This is Hong Lei's guess. Maybe it's to hide the fact that Xiang Yu died. If Xiang Yu's still alive when she was taken away, the Huangs would be more cautious when looking for Masaru-san.”
“Pretending to take Xiang Yu as a hostage...is that what you mean?”
“It's likely...but there are blood stains in Xiang Yu's room, and a helper as the witness. I don't think such a plan would work.”
“You said that Hanada Masaru once contacted you alone, right?”
“Yes, this morning.”
Xiao Ling-san took out something from the inner pocket of her coat, a smartphone. She gripped firmly onto it, clutching it at her chest.
“Why did he contact you, Xiao Ling?”
“Actually, you don't know about this, Ming Li, but I do talk about a lot of things with Masaru-san. I suppose he knows that I hate being involved with the underworld.”
“So he thinks you'll definitely help him? And killed a woman? You got to be kidding. Is he insane?”
“I said it appears to be an accident!”
Xiao Ling-san could not help but turn to Min-san and argue back. At this moment, Alice's cold voice rang.
“An accident, or was that what Hanada Masaru himself said? Is he asking that you help him because he killed someone due to his negligence?”
Xiao Ling-san turned back to look at Alice, and shook her head.
“He wouldn't tell me anything about what happened. Just that...”
She hesitated, and was then able to barely carry on.
“He said that it is something troublesome that would definitely bother Ming Li if she was involved, and told me to do my best to help. He said that it would be fine if I'm to ask the detective agency here...”
“That's it? That's all that you were requested to ask?”
Xiao Ling-san seemed hesitant as she nodded.
Alice let out a long sigh, and from the blanket, she reached for a large bear doll, cuddling it.
“In that case, I won't be able to accept the request.”
I heard a little gasp, and it probably came from me. Xiao Ling-san continued to keep her lips sealed.
“Your explanation is basically asking me to barricade the entire world with a wall to prevent a meteorite from crashing somewhere. That is the job of a religious teacher or politician, not a detective.”
Xiao Ling-san remained silent as she bit her lips.
It's true that this wouldn't be enough to warrant a request. Min-san was hardly in any danger, and if we didn't know what would happen, we wouldn't know how to avoid it. In this situation, it's asking too much for us to 'find some way to help'.
I believe Hanada Masaru and Xiao Ling-san should know this very well. In that case, why did she still come here?”
The answer itself arrived when the cellphone rang in Xiao Ling-san's hand. It was a ringtone from her smartphone.
“...It's from Masaru-san!”
Alice was taken aback by Xiao Ling-san's voice, and she suddenly threw something over. It was the end of a cord.
“Switch on the speaker!”
Xiao Ling-san hesitated slightly, but nodded as she attached the cord to the smartphone port. A second later, Min-san snatched the phone from aside.
A shrill static could be heard in the room, followed by a man's growl.
“Dad? Damn it, dad, where are you now? What are you--”
“I'm on the run. Can't talk for much more. Listen. The Huangs might give lots of excuses and come look for you. Ignore them all.”
“What nonsense are you spouting now? Who's the one causing all this trouble!?”
“Anyway, I just need a week. Wait for me for a week! I'll contact you later. If anything happens, ask Xiao Ling, or the detective and the brats who tag along with her.”
“Hey dad! Dad!”
The man's voice suddenly stopped, and left behind was a weak beeping. Min-san was so furious, she nearly threw the smartphone onto the floor, only to recover at the last moment, and stuffed the phone hard into the pocket at Xiao Ling-san's chest.
“What kind of nonsense is that!? Does he not understand what he did? He's telling me to wait a week? What can he change in a week? Is he planning to fly to the sky?”
“Ming Li, Masaru-san--”
“Shut up. Just go back already, Xiao Ling.”
Min-san left those words as she stomped the floor and stormed out of the detective agency.
Only Xiao Ling-san's sigh broke this frigid silence.
The next day, I was worried about Min-san, and so I skipped the 6th period and hurried from school to 'Hanamaru'. When I went through the red curtains, I heard this converation,
“Well, she might look aloof, but she's cute. And she kept telling me off.”
“Heh. Does she look like Min-san?”
“She does she does. You'll know when you see her, Tetsu. Even the large breasts.”
“Hiro-san, don't tell me you bedded her while sending her home?”
“No no no no. Even I would have a look at the situation first! Besides, after talking about that kind of thing...”
“Wh-what are you guys talking about.”
I stopped at the door without thinking.
There were only two people in the ramen shop, after the lunch peak period. One of them was Hiro, wearing an apron and cleaning the air purifier behind the counter. In front of Hiro at the counter was a muscular guy seated there, with wire-like short hair and tanned, bulging muscles. It's Tetsu-senapi. 5 years ago, he dropped out from M High School where I study, and now he's a pachinko pro.
“Yo, you're early, Narumi. Oh yeah, you saw her yesterday, didn't you? Min-san's relative...the young one. You saw the guy too, right?”
“Eh, ah, yeah.”
He started asking without holding back his curiosity, and I really didn't know how to answer.
“Listen to me, that Hiro sent that woman, erm, it's Xiao Ling, right? Anyway, he drove her home.”
“Ehhhh!?” Aren't you going too fast? No, the atmosphere yesterday wasn't like that, right?
“No, I just sent her home. I'm serious okay?”
Hiro smiled as he explained himself.
After asking, I learned that last night, Min-san stormed downstairs in a huff, quickly tidied up the shop, shooed Hiro out, and brooded alone at home. Soon after, Xiao Ling-san came down from the third floor.
“She looked a little devastated...it was already past midnight, and I was driving, so I had to ask if she wanted a ride! It's gentlemanly courtesy.”
I sat down on the chair next to Tetsu-senpai, and could only sigh. I was really like a fool to think too much into this.
“That woman surprised me too. Didn't expect her to dare take Hiro's car home.”
“Oh, that's actually, it looks like she's curious about my relationship with Min-san. She kept asking if I'm her boyfriend, or that I had any intention to be that, whether I have such thoughts, stuff like that.”
“Speaking of which, she seems to be very curious about this. Why's that?”
Also, that mafia heir Huang Hong Lei seemed to be obsessed with this too.
“I don't know why either? Anyway, I told her that she could talk on the car, and since it was late, I'll send her home...and she did.”
Err. This woman's very particular about etiquette, but very careless.
“And then you went to the hotel?” Tetsu-senpai asked.
“I told you I didn't! She told me a lot of things about Min-san's childhood; I never thought Min-san would be so cute before...”
“Erm, was that only all you talked about?”
I interrupted, and Hiro and Tetsu-senpai widened their eyes, going silent.
“E-erm, about Min-san's father, you didn't ask anything about this incident?”
“...I did try to ask casually.”
Hiro noted vaguely.
I leaned my upper body over the counter, inadvertently raising my voice. Aren't you going to help? However, I didn't say those words, and that notion remained stuck in my throat.
Again, I sat on the chair.
Min-san has yet to encounter any trouble, and Xiao Ling-san didn't make a formal request, so we had no idea of what to do. Hiro and the others were in the right.
But even when looking up at the clear skies, I still fretted over whether there would be something falling, faltering in my heart. I had a feeling that Hiro and Tetsu-senpai were still too aloof. If this kept up, Min-san would definitely be involved in something troublesome. Hanada Masaru said to wait for a week. What would happen in a week's time? There was no guarantee that the situation wouldn't take a turn for the worse, right?
Furthermore, Hanada Masaru himself was on the run, pursued by the underworld, and nobody could assure that he would come back safely—
At that moment, I suddenly realized what that irregularity in Xiao Ling-san's words were.
Xiao Ling-san and Hanada Masaru were rather close, so she should be worried about his safety too. However, she never once requested for us to 'save Hanada Masaru', even in front of a detective.
Was it because Hanada Masaru never requested her to do that?
No, that was impossible. If Xiao Ling-san was that cold hearted, she probably would not have showed up. Was it because she didn't trust the NEET detective agency? If that was the case, she wouldn't have talked to us with such great detail, and wouldn't have let us hear that phone call.
It was a baseless instinct, but there was something more to that woman.
Most likely—she was hiding something.
What's she hiding? I was taken aback by my own imagination. Xiao Ling-san didn't seem to be that kind of person. She seemed to be concerned about both Hanada Masaru or Min-san...
“...Oh yeah, where's Min-san?”
This was where I realized that I've yet to see Min-san.
“She went out. I think that man called Hong Lei gave her a call.”
I leaned forward to approach Hiro. Min-san was invited out by that savage-looking mafia man?
“Wh-why are you able to remain so calm, Hiro? Aren't you worried?”
“Worries are just worries. The issue is that we can't interfere, right?”
The frustration seemed to twirl my gut in a twist.
There was no request. Are you just going to let things be? An absurd sense of rage suddenly arose in me.
However, the developments progressed beyond my expectations. After 3pm, Min-san finally returned to 'Hanamaru'. She wordlessly folded her arms and stood in the kitchen for a while, either because she was fuming or brooding, and had no intention to start work. What did Hong Lei say to her?
I stayed at the gathering spot at the back door of the kitchen, peeking at Min-san discreetly. Increasingly worried, I nudge the door slightly, preparing to call out to her. However, Min-san pushed the back door aside, and spoke up before I could.
“I'll talk to you first, Narumi. Will inform Ayaka later...”
“...Is there something?”
“Your culture festival is on the 3rd and 4th of November, right? I won't be able to make it on the first day.”
For a moment, it appeared that Min-san didn't know where to begin with. What's going on? What happened? Did something happen with her family? Right when I intended to ask her, Min-san spoke up first,
“Just now, Hong Lei called me to the Huangs, and requested me to do something.”
“Well, isn't Hong Lei's fiancee—dead already?”
Min-san spoke, and at this moment, Hiro, who was preparing in the kitchen, stopped what he was doing as he lifted his head,
“Well, the invitations were already sent out to inform everyone to attend the wedding, so there's no way to cancel it at the last minute. They want to keep their pride, to the point of hiding the fact that something happened to the bride...”
I blinked, momentarily unable to comprehend the meaning of those words.
“So Hong Lei asked me to be a substitute.”
I was dumbfounded.
“Yes. I'll say first that it's just a substitution! I'll just help to make sure that wedding goes smoothly, and not really to marry him. Hong Lei said that it's just a meeting for the relatives, for the old heads with not many days left to relax.”
“Why do they want you to be the subtitute, Min-san?”
Min-san looked really displeased.
“I heard that it's because I have the blood of the main family anyway...but I don't want to be a replacement for the dead! Hong Lei said that it all started from my dad, and I really had a hard time refusing...that's basically a threat!”
Min-san said, and sighed.
“Then, you promised?”
“I had no choice. The unveiling ceremony will be held on the 3rd of November, so I can't help you guys with the culture festival.”
Once she said that, Hiro, who had been eavesdropping from behind, suddenly dashed to the corridor leading to the inner house without removing his apron. What? Did something happen? Min-san too widened her eyes as she entered the kitchen.
“Hey Hiro, why this out of a sudden?”
“Sorry, I got a call to make...”
Hiro took out 4-5 phones from his pockets.
“...Ah, Xiao Ling-san? It's me, Hiro. Thank you for yesterday. No no, I'm happy. You're welcome to look for me. Hm, alright, yes...”
Xiao Ling-san? He got her phone number immediately. That's impressive. No, wait, why a call to Xiao Ling-san out of a sudden?
Min-san and I remained rooted, blankly listening to Hiro's voice from the corridor.
“...Ah, Yondaime, are you free today? It's fine if you're very late. Mind coming to the detective agency? Yes, right, not 'Hanamaru', but the office.”
“Major? Are you able to come by today? Um, got it. Yes, yes. Right, no, it's about me. I'll pay everything. No, I haven't told Alice. Yes, I'll leave it to you.”
There were 6 people in the NEET detective agency.
First, the owner of the room, the NEET detective Alice.
Me, the detective assistant.
The organizer, Hiro.
The pachinko pro, Tetsu-senpai.
Fully armed military maniac, Major.
And last of all, a dangerous looking man with the eyes of a wolf, whose hair was bleached nearly white. He's called Yondaime, the teenage underworld leader who ruled the group of delinquents here.
“Unlike you guys, I don't have that much time.”
Yondaime said as he bared his eeth.
“Hiro, do you really have enough money to pay?”
“Yeah. If there isn't enough, I'll sell the car.”
Hearing Hiro's words, some were flabbergasted, and some gulped nervously.
It's true that we were called here because Hiro had 'something to request of everyone'.
“...What request is it this thing?”
Alice was buried in the hill of dolls in the innermost part of the bed, looking up at Hiro as she asked.
“Hiro, your motivations are completely based on women, right? I guess we won't be able to help.”
“Yeah, well, of course, this is for a woman.”
Hiro replied nonchalantly, and then, took out a piece of printed paper and laid it by the bed.
Printed on it was a young man with black hair neatly combed back.
“...Huang Hong Lei. What about him?”
In the midst of this silence, I asked.
“Min-san appeared to have been requested by her family to take over for the fiancee in this heir's wedding.”
“I just heard of that.”
“What's going on? Why replace the fiancee?”
Major practically didn't know anything, and frowned as he asked. Thus, Hiro explained everything from the beginning, including how the fiancee called Xiang Yu was killed, that he requested for Min-san to be a subtitute for a day to hold the wedding, and how the killer was Min-san's dad, that she was unwilling and yet unable to refuse, everything.
“Just a day? Are they idiots?”
“Even if they intend to pull a fast one, what else after that? Isn't that a wedding ceremony? If they can't marry, isn't it more embarrassing? How can the heir of a mafia be so stupid?”
I was dumbfounded, and then looked towards Tetsu-senpai and Major, who were similarly stunned. Yondaime's right; thinking about it carefully, we know that it's impossible.
“Right.” Hiro muttered. “It's impossible for him to do something that stupid. Min-san seemed to have believed his words, thinking that it's just a little family gathering to let their grandfathers let a future couple and get them to believe.”
Hiro looked around at everyone, and when I saw the atypical earnest eyes of his, I suddenly realized a certain possibility.
No way, but, that's impossible, right?
“I confirmed it with Xiao Ling-san. It's not just a simple family gathering; there are many people from the financial hubs and the top underworld leaders, and it's a very formal wedding ceremony. Huang Hong Lei never hid his fondness for Min-san even before she left the Huangs. After the Hanadas left the Huangs, he kept looking for all kinds of excuses to find Min-san.
In that case—that means.
“So, what?” Tetsu-senpai asked, “She's not really being a substitute, right?”
“That's likely it.” Hiro's start was fixated on Huang Hong Lei's photo. “Hong Lei intends to use the wedding to establish a fact, and in the midst of the confusion, get married with Min-san for real. But that's...”
Hiro slammed a fist onto the photo, startling Alice. Even I was taken aback. I've never seen Hiro being so agitated.
“I won't accept it, no matter what. I'll do anything to stop it. So, Alice.”
In the face of this unexpected development, the petite NEET detective could only give a blank stare from beneath the hill of dolls.
“This is my request, and I'll pay how much it needs to be. Wreck Min-san's marriage.”
Translator's Notes and References
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