Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 6 Chapter 2
A long time back, I once asked Hiro about the difference between infatuation and love.
Hiro was a thorough gigolo--he could be wearing a Cartier necklace from his ex-girlfriend together with the Rolex from his second ex-girlfriend and Arnami clothes from his third ex-girlfriend, driving a BMW from his fourth ex-girlfriend, and then have a lover's tiff with his fifth ex-girlfriend. To be expected of a men amongst men (though there are people who call him a scumbag).
“You're in your Sophomore year of high school, Narumi, and you showed more talent than I did. I really want to teach your some skills here!” Hiro once said that when I was holed up at the usual gathering spot outside the back door of the kitchen, wolfing down the salt-flavored ramen.
“Let's promote the way of the gigolo and rope in more buddies!”
“That'll cause a disturbance to society as a whole, so please don't. And having gigolos as buddies isn't really a good thing, right? Won't you be troubled if there's more of them?”
“That won't be the case. Didn't Motonari Mori once say that it's easy for a rope to snap, but difficult for three to break?”
“It's easy to break 3 too!” He's talking about arrows, not ropes!
Because of Hiro's personality, he had a unique viewpoint on relationship between males and females.
“In the trade of being a gigolo, the most important thing is how to control a girl's feelings!”
“You're talking about how to make her think of you as a boyfriend at one moment and a partner in another, depending on the time and place?”
Hiro widened his eyes, his lips quivering with emotion.
“I didn't teach you anything, and you already understood the ultimate skill behind this...you are a genius after all! There is nothing else I can teach you!”
“Didn't you tell me that when you were drunk!?”
“No, I guess that this definitely is something I learned from you!”
This guy's starting to make up memories now!
“How do you make a girl treat you as a boyfriend? Don't you often stay over at a girl's place and take their money, Hiro? That makes you look like a lover there, you know?”
“This has nothing to do with money! The target of infatuation is a boyfriend, but for love, it's a lover.”
“Oh, so anyway, what's the difference?”
“You're saying that there's a difference in infatuation and love?”
I guess the only one I know who would say such a disgusting line unabashed would be Hiro. It was too embarrassing, and I decided to lower my head and not look at him.
However, Hiro answered without a second thought,
“There's nothing different. Both of them are lust.”
“That was unfiltered.”
Then what was with that tall talk?
“For example, no matter how you look at me, from right or left, I'm still Hiro Kuwabara, you know? That's the case. Infatuation and love are just two sides to lust. My job is to show women the side they want to see.”
He was able to round things off so perfectly. Of course, there was a likelihood that all of it was nonsense he believed.
Thinking about it, the words Hiro added on at the back was probably his true feelings.
“So...I'm unable to face them directly. If I meet someone I can face directly, I probably wouldn't be a gigolo.”
The reason why I thought of this was because Hiro's eyes were ever so serious when he said this.
Hiro went about at an abrupt speed, trying to convince everyone who was at the meeting at the bed in the NEET detective agency...he asked us to wreck the marriage, but how are we supposed to do that? What if that Huang Hong Lei has already set up a sweet trap for Min-san to fall into? If us getting involved was to be found out by her, she'll definitely ignore you, right? There's no meaning to this. Min-san only intended to be a replacement and didn't want to marry for real. In that case, shall we spread rumors of Min-san's flaws to the old heads of the Huangs? Like how her hands are hands and feet aren't clean, or that she can't hold her liquor? No, that'll make Min-san very pathetic. Shall we barge in on the marriage like Dustin Hoffman and swoop away with the bride! Idiot, they're mafia! We'll just end up getting carted out with holes all over us...
I stared at the sidelong face of Hiro wordlessly, and was only able to listen to their passionate discussion quietly. I didn't have the strength to interrupt. Why wasn't anyone retorting about this? Why was Hiro being so seriously?
Finally, Yondaime spoke,
“So basically, master was forced to be the substitute because of the debt her dad owes? In that case, can't we just find her dad and tell him to clean up his own mess?”
The surrounding stares gathered upon Yondaime, and the echo of the air conditioning temporarily overwhelmed the silence that filled the room.
“Our specialty is in finding people.”
“But wait.” Tetsu-senpai interrupted. “So that means we're handing Masaru-san over to the mafia? He'll get killed, you know?”
Amongst everyone, Tetsu-senpai was the only one who saw Hanada Masaru's face. Yondaime shrugged.
“He gets what he deserves, I guess.”
“Can't say that now? He's master's dad.”
“Definitely can't let Min-san shed any tears.” Hiro tersely stated.
“You idiot, how can master probably cry? Her dad's practically nothing to her, or even a load.”
“That's impossible. Min-san has tears and blood unlike you, Yondaime.” Hiro said. “And Masaru-san's going to be my sparring partner in the future!”
I felt a bowling bowl hurled right at the back of my head. Hiro's...for real. He's serious about Min-san. How's that possible? Wasn't he someone who was called a gigolo by everyone? Nobody actually retorted him. Does this mean everyone knew?
“Is this the time for such nonsense? This is your request, right? Calm down!” Yondaime lashed back.
“Eh, erm, wait—”
I was finally able to interject, yet Alice, who remained silent all this while, suddenly spoke up.
“No, let's do this.”
Everyone turned to look at Alice. The petite detective had her blanket draped over her shoulders, looking at me, before staring at Yondaime opposite her, and then to Hiro at her left.
“Let's do as Yondaime said. We'll look for Hanada Masaru.”
“...Why? Didn't you hear? Hiro said not to.”
“Don't you understand. I'm helping Hiro with the request, to look for Hanada Masaru.”
Alice's eyes were filled with starstreams that filled that night, that might break upon contact. I did see such eyes before, and so, I did not know what to say.
Work was quickly allocated, and once that was done, everyone left the agency. Alice and I were the only ones left in the cold server room. Dejected, I sat in front of the bed, staring blankly at the closed door.
“What are you spacing out for?”
This series of sudden scare rendered me unable to speak clearly. Hiro suddenly revealed his true feelings, and Alice's reversal of the request caused me to feel as though I was lost in a world of mirrors. Well, I would say that Hiro's reaction wasn't completely unexpected. Without knowing, he suddenly became an employee of Min-san at 'Hanamaru', but...
“Hurry up and work! Move 20 cans of Dr. Pepper over here. No need for them to be chilled.”
“20 cans...” Was she planning to drink them all? 7 liters of Dr. Pepper is about the total amount of blood within Alice!
“It might be fatal for me if I leave the bed now. This is an all out battle.”
“...All out battle?”
“Yes. I'm hacking into Huang Xiao Ling's system.”
I was shocked, and stared at the black hair covering the back of Alice's figure. Huang Xiao Ling, the one who came immediately to the office to put in a request after receiving contact from Min-san's dad, but her motivations and thoughts were still vague.
“You started to realize something too, right? That woman's hiding something.”
“Hm...I guess so.”
“She's probably still in some form of contact with Hanada Masaru. Probably knows where he is right now.”
Where Hanada Masaru was.”
And so, this became the current objective of our NEET detective agency. Alice made a request that Hiro agreed with.
“...What was that all about?”
I could only ask her. Typically, it was illogical for the detective to be the one asking.
“I'm not an ordinary detective. I'm a NEET detective.”
“I know that...”
“Once I receive a request, I can become the all-seeing eye that oversees the ends of all 3,000 worlds. Without receiving a request, I am merely an empty, silent window.”
“I...know that too.”
“This matter is a little strange. There are too many words shrouded in darkness, and Hanada Masaru is hidden at the center of it. I'm afraid that everything might be buried along with him, slowly rotting in the mud. Without receiving a request however...”
Alice's voice seemed to be yearning for something, only to vanish in the strong cold breeze.
I sighed, and went back and forth between the fridge and the bed, moving a large number of Dr Pepper, and stacking them in a pyramid.
She couldn't help if there was nobody who made a request.
A request would be the reason why this NEET detective would take action, and the shackle that bound her down. Alice said many times that the detective had to be limited to the position of a representative. The power of words is too powerful, it can shred, carve, sculpt, or even shape a person's heart.
But despite this, I often saw her leap beyond that boundary, and got deeply hurt as a result. As I was as useless as a tattered plastic umbrella.
I knew how useless I was, but I tried saying to her,
“I once had a thought, I was sure that NEETs had to be either like this or that. Isn't it stupid that NEETs have to take action only when they're asked? That'll only make things complicated. I don't know how to stop Min-san from being coerced into getting married, and I don't know what we can do if we find Hanada Masaru...bu-but, we can't just leave this aside, right? He's Min-san's dad after all, you know? Isn't that enough reason to help him?”
I said that unabashedfully, and lowered my head, rubbing my palms on the pants of my uniform. I didn't spill anything, yet there was a moist feeling. Maybe it was the humidity from the depressing words I said?
What was the point of saying such words? I could not help but wonder, and I did not dare look up at Alice's face.
“...Sorry for getting too carried away.”
“Whoosh!” a little air could be heard rushing out. It was the sound of a Dr. Pepper can being opened. Following that was Alice's unexpectedly gentle voice.
“It's fine. That's your job!”
I lifted my head. The stars were no longer to be seen in Alice's eyes, just a white moonlight at the cusp of dawn.
“Us NEETs are too used to not knowing what to do, and too used to thinking that all will be fine if we do this. A car without a steering wheel needs a rear view mirror.”
Then isn't it useless even if there's a rear view mirror? I wondered, but I nodded silently.
“One day—one day, I might be able to break out of this prison, overcome the tall walls I built up, and step out to the vast lands without having to protect anything. Until that day arrives, only you—”
Alice swallowed her words, and I still remained silent.
“Just take it that I didn't say anything,” Alice shook her head, and wrapped herself in the blanket as she turned her back on me. The tapping of the keyboard again separated us.
“So what do we do once we find Hanada Masaru? Any way other than to hand him over to the Huangs?”
Alice did not answer immediately as she merely gulped down an entire can of Dr. Pepper. The gulping heard from her throat seemed to change the tense atmosphere in the office.
“Right now, I don't know. Maybe there's another way.”
The detective lowered her head, putting her fingers together as she said this.
“We know too little about this incident, so there are a few points I can't accept. Amongst them, the strangest part is Hanada Masaru's motives. Why did he run away? If Huang Xiao Ling's words are to be trusted, Hanada Masaru's murder was on accident, right?”
That was the case.
A man acting as a bodyguard shot an intruder, and unfortunately killed Huang Xiang Yu who protected that intruder. If this statement was correct, Hanada Masaru's sin was not unforgivable, but taking the two corpses away would be really suspicious. Was it because he ran away that others suspected him, and wanted his head, and even his daughter Min-san got involved? Why run away?
“Maybe...even if it's out of carelessness, the mafia will continue to persist until the very end, so he can only run away?”
“Maybe, but that's just a guess. Anyway, the truth lies in Hanada Masaru himself, and we have to find him. Listen, our aim is ultimately to prevent master's marriage, and there's no need to settle the entire incident. We just need master to understand that she doesn't have to oblige with the Huangs.”
Dejected, I sat on the floor in front of the bed. So that's it, that's how it was. In that case, we needed to know the truth, and then we figure out the rest once we sort everything out.
“In other words, once we find Hanada Masaru, the real battle follows. Right now, we don't know who the enemy really is, and even Hanada Masaru himself may be on the same side as us...”
I nodded firmly.
Right, there's a chance the Hanadas will be reunited! I suddenly thought. But does Min-san really want to see her dad, or not? She likes to act tough aft all. However, Hanada Masaru had a promise with his daughter. In April, when he slipped back to 'Hanamaru', I saw the words he left us. “Next time, let me try out the ice cream you made as well.”
Finally, I thought of a future development that might be a little better, and my lips could not help but curl into a smile. Min-san probably wanted to let her dad taste her ramen, and not just the ice cream. Maybe she might even tell him that she found a reliable partner who would make ramen with her? No, I seemed to be imagining too much. But if this keeps up...
“What? Why are you leering away?”
Alice's voice caused me to cover my mouth in shock.
“Ah! Just had a thought, the one who'll ask everything from Hanada Masaru, might be Hiro.”
“Hm? Why's that?”
“Eh? No, well, you see, didn't Hiro just say that Min-san's dad will be his sparring partner in the future?”
“Speaking of which, he seemed to have mentioned it before. What does that mean? Does Hiro have some grudge with Hanada Masaru?”
Dumbfounded, I stared at Alice. Right, this girl seemed to be very dull about this aspect, I guess?
“Eh, erm, anyway, that's it. 'Dad, please hand your daughter to me!' or 'who'll marry his daughter to someone like you!' and something like that...”
Speaking of which, Hiro himself never admitted that he was serious.
Alice was dumbfounded, her mouth agape for a while, and then, she sighed with much reluctance.
“That's an exaggeration. A daughter doesn't belong to a dad! And no matter what Hiro thinks of master, eh, no matter how much he likes her, he doesn't intend to get married with her, right? That guy's an unanchored playboy by nature.”
“Bu-but he started work recently, and it seems that he was already learning how to make ramen for a long time already. I'm thinking that this, well, he intends to run the ramen shop along with Min-san?”
Alice was dumbstruck, unable to say anything.
“...Hiro? Umm...impossible...no, but...”
All kinds of inexplicable emotions were flashing on Alice's childish face.
“Erm Alice, don't tell me, that you don't know Hiro's serious about Min-san?”
“Hm? Wh-what are you saying!? I knew that already! I could tell from his demeanour!”
For some reason, there was some obvious panic in Alice's answer. She should have known about this, right? She knew Hiro for a longer time than I did. Tetsu-senpai and Major, and even Yondaime never showed much shock. Was it because nobody was shocked about this? Speaking of which, I suddenly remembered something. When Min-san was attacked by the yakuza and got hurt, I remembered Hiro panicking, right? Maybe there had been many similar cases of such incidents.
“In that case, why hasn't there been any development between those two?”
“Development? What do you mean?”
“Haven't they known each other for a long time? If he likes master, can't he just confess to her? Don't you find Hiro to be a little useless?”
“Does the one being crushed on not know anything at all? Even though they were together for a long well...”
“And they're still buddies! They probably assisted each other in many ways, not just in work alone, but if she didn't realize her buddy's feelings for her, isn't that too much? Eh, is it that Min-san's very sharp when she is, but very dull at boy girl relationships. What's wrong Alice? Your face's red.”
Alice's fingertips were quivering, and it appeared that she was crushing the empty can of Dr. Pepper. However, because of her feeble strength, the can showed nary a budge. And at that moment, Alice suddenly threw the empty can in her hand right at me.
“D-do you have the right to talk about others like that?”
What's with that? I hurriedly ducked my head as I evacuated to the back of the fridge.
“Someone without senses like you can't determine the difference between a male peacock and a female, and you're gleefully talking about relationships between men and women? Unforgivable!”
“I-I get you! That's not something I should be yapping about, but you don't have to be so angry, right? This has nothing to do with you.”
“You're saying that it has nothing to do with me?”
“Uuuuu, fo-forget about it!”
Alice turned her face to the monitor on the screen, and the hill of plushies fell.
“Anyway, I'm going to go through a long battle of endurance on the internet. Get out and stop disturbing my work!”
“Do you have to be so agitated?'
“Our opponent's Huang Xiao Ling, the developer of the Zodiac Group's Security system.”
Alice's voice was rather agitated, her eyes flickering with dangerous excitement. One of the monitors right in front of her showed the portal site of the Zodiac group, the Chinese Astrological Signs that signified the group's name. The logo of the website was showing different signs based on the month, and right at this point, it was Libra. I was already well acquainted with it. It was said that there was a daily increase in the number of people using this site as a search engine, currently closing in on yahoo and google.
It's true that till this point, Alice was invincible when it came to the internet, and only in this case did she finally meet a formidable opponent. If the other party was deliberately hiding some message, it would likely be a troublesome one.
In any case, and I started to doubt, if Xiao Ling-san already knew Hanada Masaru's whereabouts, what was the reason for her withholding it from us? If she told us directly, the matter would have been a lot easier, and we would be able to help Hanada Masaru. Thinking about this, I started to wonder if Xiao Ling-san really didn't know anything.
“Enough. Stop thinking too much and do what you're supposed to do.” Alice seemed a little peeved as she said that. “Also, listen up. I'll keep reminding you this. You might end up dealing with more than Huang Xiao Ling. The opponent is the Chinese mafia. We don't know what'll happen if they got their eyes on you. That dangerous man especially, Huang Hong Lei, don't ever get near him.”
“Right. Got it.”
I heaved a sigh, and dragged my feet out of the office. It was the night of a slightly breezy early winter, but due to the frigid cold in the office and the difference in temperature outside, I felt as though I was surrounded in a warm sense of security. Far away, I could see the bright lights of the skyscrapers in front of the station. It was late.
I went down the emergency staircase to the back door of the kitchen, and just so happened to encounter Min-san moving the beer crate out. There were the sounds of drunk customers in the shop, and Hiro being a listener. I nodded to Min-san, and intended to step on the bicycle. We made a decision during the meeting not to let Min-san know that the NEET agency would be taking action, because if she knew, she would be utterly furious, and would yell at us, why are you getting involved with the mafia, you brats.
However, Min-san put down the beer crate by the wall, and turned to call me.
“What are you planning again?”
I held the handles of the bicycle, rooted to the ground. This is bad.
“Why are you anxious to get away? You don't want to answer my question?”
I was about to get onto the seat of the bicycle, only for my belt to be grabbed from behind.
“N-nothing? Nothing at all!?”
Even I realized that nobody would believe such nonsense. Min-san dragged me to the back door, grabbing me by the collar.
“Those useless guys, and even Sou came by. How's it possible that there's nothing? Is it something to do with the Huangs again? Don't you guys ever learn? Listen, they're the Hong Kong mafia, you know? They'll chop limbs and tongues without warning, without flinching!”
Min-san's furious glare was right in front of me, and I could only think of what to say. She would definitely find out, so I guess I should tell her mostly truth? Just hide the critical matters first.
But before I spoke, I had to be sure.
“...Did you hear anything from Hiro? Well, the request this time is by Hiro, so I have an obligation to keep it a secret for him.”
Min-san glanced aside, through the back door that was ajar, at the kitchen. Hiro, wearing a black apron around his waist, was drinking with the regular customers. I didn't know if he noticed me, or if he pretended not to.
“That guy never said anything.”
“Ah, I see. Well, I expected that.”
Hiro probably wouldn't be that careless,
“Though he did tell me to get married with him.”
“Saying that he'll run the ramen shop with me forever, and got Alice and Sou involved to woo me. Stop trying to pull a fast one with such unimportant stuff.
Hiro...you're really serious! You were being honest all the way, and she wouldn't believe you. Well, it's an outcome to be expected, but even you proposal was ignored completely. That's too pitiful. Was that karma for fooling around with the hearts of so many girls?
However, since this was the current situation, I probably knew how to continue. Taking a deep breath to calm myself somewhat, I spoke up again,
“Well actually, he's being completely serious.”
“Hmm?” Min-san frowned.
“Min-san, you're going to be a substitute for the wedding ceremony, right? But that guy called Hong Lei might be using this chance to force a marriage with you. That's why everyone's worried.”
“Are you guys idiots? How's that—” Saying that, Min-san stopped herself.
Then, I saw something very rare. Min-san looked aside, and even curled her lips. Was she embarrassed?
“You probably had an idea about that.”
“No...but that was when we were kids. Back then, Hong Lei and I were still brats in middle school.”
“See, I guessed so.”
“Like that's the case, you idiot.”
I got flickered on the forehead. I couldn't see very well due to the dim lights all around, but I got the feeling Min-san was looking red.
“Me getting married has nothing to do with you guys anyway?”
“Well, you've been taking care of us all this while, so nobody wanted to see you being harassed by some strange guy and be in some unhappy marriage. That's why we needed to investigate in many ways. Like whether he has other women, whether there'll be domestic violence, things like that...”
“That's enough already.”
Min-san pushed my chest heart, and entered the kitchen without looking back.
“I said that they're mafia. Someone died, and my dad's on the run. If you're going to investigate such useless stuff, what'll happen if Hong Lei and his cronies set their eyes on you? Stop butting in!”
Min-san's tone was like a master telling off a pet cat, and I reached out to close the back door, heaving a sigh. It looked like I managed to get through somehow.
I went to the front of the ramen shop, and exchanged looks with Hiro who was moving some ramen out of the shop. He waved at me with a wry smile, and I too raised my hand in return, before stepping firmly on the pedals. The chilly night breeze tickled my neck.
Of course, I did not go home. During the prior meeting, I was assigned only one job, to obtain more information from Xiao Ling-san. Thus, I went up the Meiji Street, towards Shinjuku.
Behind me was a tall standing skyscraper, and the right side was the Shinjuku garden. I cycled for approximately 3 minutes, and a 7 level building appeared at a cross junction with little traffic. All the lights from the 4th level and above were lit, and they looked as mysterious as a UFO floating above. The name of the company was printed on the glass panel, Zodiac.
I parked in front of the building, and took my cellphone up. I wonder if she would be willing to meet at this time.
“How did you obtain my cellphone number?”
Xiao Ling-san's voice stabbed at my ear through the speaker.
“Well, actually, I guess it's better to find some intel that's not really hard to find, and easier to talk about proper business. No, it wasn't me, it's the detective.”
I inadvertently lifted my head, trying to find someone from through the windows. I got the feeling someone was looking down, glaring at me, though I did not tell her that I was at the ground floor.
“Haven't you heard the rumors about the Huangs? This isn't a place where a high school kid can just snoop around!”
It's my job to provide the retorts. I nearly spat out those words, but I guess this person probably wouldn't bother with this lame joke of mine.
“We aren't here to obstruct or influence the Huangs. Please understand!”
There was a deep sigh from the speaker.
“Erm, sorry to disturb at such a late hour, but I'm actually in front of your company. There's something I'll like to request, so I'm wondering if you're available at the moment?”
Saying that, I realized very well that this job was tough to deal with. The one most suited for this job would be Hiro himself, but he could only be asked to be an obedient employee so as not to let Min-san find out, and I was in charge of asking.
“What's wrong? Didn't that kid already reject the request?”
“Actually, you should know where Min-san's dad is now, right?”
“Didn't I say that he didn't tell me?”
She denied it immediately. Unlike me, it looked like everyone knew how to ask. What do I do? Try talking to her again? Erm...
“Well, as you know, that detective's a hacker, and she managed to hack into your cellphone and obtained the call record from Hanada Masaru-san.”
After saying that, I immediately regretted it. Nobody would record a phone conversation, right? That would certainly be seen through.
However, something unexpected happened. Xiao Ling-san did not speak up for another 2 seconds, and clearly she was startled by my bluff.
“How's it possible to record a phone conversation? Stop spouting nonsense.”
Did she really record the conversation? If Alice was able to hack into her phone, we'll find some clues. After hearing those words from me, I guess she probably deleted it? Alice at this point should be tussling with the security system, so I'll continue talking. I summoned my courage, saying,
“How about you consider exchanging information with us? Regarding Hanada Masaru-san, I know some things even you don't know about, Xiao Ling-san. That man came back to 'Hanamaru' this April, and said a few things.”
Those words were completely made up, but Hanada Masaru did show up a few times in Spring, and Xiao Ling-san knew about that. Within this lie was 80% fact.
At that moment, while looking up, I spotted a figure at the windowside of the 6th level. Due to the backlight, I could not see clearly, but the profile appeared to be female, and she's holding the phone by her ear. I could even sense her lowering her head, looking down at me.
A sigh came from the cellphone, followed by a hushed voice.
“Continue on in the phone. There's nothing much to answer since what I know isn't any more than what I didn't.”
Baited. So, did I realize my true potential as a con artist? For a moment, I was really amazed, and then I clenched a fist and punched my thigh to recover, switching my phone to the left hand.
“Before exchanging intel, tell me your group's motives. What do you intend to do? Will it not affect the Huangs at all?”
I gulped. Right, this was the point, the hardest one. Alice mentioned this in the meeting. How much information you want to inform Huang Xiao Ling of, that'll depend on your talent as a con artist.
“Actually, I want to know more about your motives, Xiao Ling-san.”
I hushed my voice as I said this. I really could not help but feel that it was inconvenient not to be able to see her expression at this moment, but at the same time, she couldn't see mine.
“Alice and I couldn't interpret your feelings, since you don't seem worried that Hanada Masaru will be killed by the mafia. When you made the request, you never mentioned the need for us to help him, did you? I don't know what your true intents are? You probably don't want Masaru-san to get caught, right?”
Following that, Xiao Ling-san began to ponder. This rally of guessing each other's feelings really drains the brain cells. Assuming that she already knew where Hanada Masaru was, there might be a few reasons why she wouldn't tell us, and the most definite reason would be that she didn't trust us. If she told us, there might be a chance someone would slip up, and the mafia would obtain the news. However, if she didn't trust us in the first place, why did she come to the detective agency?
“...Masaru-san, he probably won't get caught. Do you know how terrifying were his experiences? Even if all the members in the Huang Coalition is to be mobilized, it'll be useless, probably.”
There was a strange feeling in Xiao Ling-san's voice as she said this. She was quivering slightly due to some uneasiness, but there was a firm conviction. It was really paradoxical.
“There's no need to worry about Masaru-san. I just want to let things develop as he hoped, and not get Ming Li in some misfortune.”
She was simply repeating what she said in the detective agency.
I closed my eyes. Surely this person was hiding something, but her saying that it was for Min-san's sake, that she hoped to respect Masaru-san's wishes were both probably true.
Let's trust her. Or else there would not be any developments.
“Understood.” I continued. “Now then, I'll state our aim.”
I opened my eyes, searching the darkness, took a deep breath, and thought of how I wanted to start off.
“Your older brother—Hong Lei-san intended to have Min-san take over for his murdered fiancee—Xiang Yu-san. Did you hear that?”
“Yes, I heard from Hong Lei.”
“It appeared Hong Lei-san used to have some feelings for Min-san. Is this still true? Erm, in other words.”
“Will he really use this as an excuse to get married with Ming Li for real? I'm wondering if that's the case too.”
Even his little sister feels this way too? So our guesses were right?
“Erm, is such a plan really plausible? I heard that it's a political marriage between the main family and the branch family. Is it really alright to have someone be a substitute for such important wedding?”
“Wen Li-san—Ming Li's mother was the daughter the Dragon Head doted on. Back then, when it was known that she wanted to marry Masaru-san, it was said that the Dragon Head sent a few assassins after him.”
My jaw near dropped when I heard that. Doting on a daughter that much would be another level, right?
“However, it appeared Masaru-san took down those assassins, and finally gained the Dragon Head's consent. After Ming Li was born, the main family in Hong Kong wanted to take her back to raise her. So...I'm guessing the Dragon head would be really delighted with this.”
I could not help but sigh. That man called Hong Lei probably anticipated matters to such a level.
“If Min-san's to be married with your brother, I don't think she'll be happy, right?”
“About that, I don't know. I'm guessing it's up to Ming Li.”
At that moment, I recalled.
Before leaving the ramen shop, I had a little chat with Min-san, and mentioned the possibility of her getting married with Hong Lei.
Min-san never said that she didn't want to get married with Hong Lei.
“Masaru-san once asked me to see if Ming Li has any suitable partner, whether she's living a happy life.”
So that's why Xiao Ling-san went to ask Hiro directly? That Masaru-san killed someone, and is on the run, yet he's still able to worry about this, I could not help but wonder. Maybe this is the heart of a parent. Speaking of which, there's a likely chance that he won't be able to see his daughter again.
That—should be up to Min-san to decide. Objectively, Hiro's in a disadvantage right now. One side's Min-san's childhood friend and the boss of a startup, and wholeheartedly devoted to Min-san (I guess). The other one's a gigolo, the number of female he caused to cry in triple digits.
I continued to slam my thigh. Wake up already. What stupid things am I thinking of now? The one requesting this time is Hiro! I don't need to think of whether Hong Lei can bring happiness to Min-san, and I don't need to worry about Hiro's gigolo antics having a high chance of making Min-san unhappy. The important thing now is to get Xiao Ling-san to trust us, to tell us the truth and help us.
I gulped, and said,
“Actually, we're looking for Hanada Masaru-san.”
I said it. There was no room for me to regret at all.
“It's unreasonable to force a marriage because of a debt her dad left behind. Right now, Min-san has her own life. That's why we intend to bring Hanada Masaru back, and have him settle the issue he caused.”
I paused, waiting for Xiao Ling-san to speak up, but she didn't say anything.
“In other words, we're on the same side as the Huangs, and we won't get in your way. But—”
Taking a deep breath, I continued,
“Our ultimate aim is the same as yours, Xiao Ling-san. We definitely don't wish for any unhappiness to happen to Min-san.”
Saying till this point, I went silent again.
The cars and motorcycles continued to race down the Shinjuku street, and the exhaust gases tickled my neck along with the icy night breeze. By the time I realized it, the figure at the windowside had vanished, and the lights on the 7th and 4th levels vanished.
In the end, I stated most of the truth. I thought.
After a long while, I heard Xiao Ling-san mutter,
“How are you kids going to find Masaru-san? He might not be in Japan anymore.”
“Xiao Ling-san, if you're willing to reveal what happened at the scene, or the vehicle that was used in the escape.”
“Don't be silly. If any outsider is to know of this, Hong Lei will definitely kill me.”
And so, the call ended.
Not willing to go through the Meiji street that was filled with exhaust gases again, I chose to cycle slowly through the Gaien West path. I decided not to think about it, but I had a feeling that if it was Hiro, he might be able to get Xiao Ling-san to help. However, Xiao Ling-san's right in that the mafia intended to handle this murder case themselves. If any information was revealed to the outsiders, that Huang Hong Lei would not spare even his own sister. It was really unwise to request her of this.
Right when I could vaguely see the massive shadow of the National Olympic Stadium on my left, my cellphone rang suddenly. I parked at the side of the pedestrian path, and found an anonymous number shown on the screen. Who's calling?
“...Are you the high school kid at the detective's place?”
The voice from the phone was as raspy as rusted metals rubbing each other, and I could hear immediately that it was Hanada Masaru. Why call me on my phone?
“Ho-how did you—where are you now?”
The sound of the bicycle toppling cut off my words. Now's not the time to panic. Calm down. I reached my trembling hand to press the record button.
“Listen. Leave the interaction with Hong Lei to Hinamura Souichiro. This isn't something to involve him with in the first place, but that guy's too obvious... ”
“Ho-how did you know of Yondaime's past?”
“The Huang Coalition has eyes around 'Hanamaru', and they saw Hinamura and the others going in and out of the agency. You guys are being too careless here!”
How? How's it possible for him to know all this so well? Did he just contact Xiao Ling-san?
“Now that he's seen, forget about it. Let Hinamura meet Huang Hong Lei. Have him say that he'll fully assist in looking for me, and tell them everything. For the time being, that will make sure they won't get suspicious.”
“What are you intending to do?”
The phone line was suddenly cut off, and a ringing continued on for a while. No matter how I tried moving my phone away from my ears, or I took a deep breath, that sound never vanished. I looked down, and found that the wheels of my bicycle were spinning loosely. I stepped on the pedal to stop it, and dialed Alice's number.
“H-Hanada Masaru just called my phone!”
The detective gasped, and immediately hung up. Hanada Masaru knew of Alice, and probably wouldn't be so stupid to have her investigate the GPS signal, but just in case, there was a chance.
I lifted my bicycle, and slowly stepped on the pedal. At the same time, I tried reaching for the swirling doubts lingering in my mind, only to find that it was in chaos. What was Hanada Masaru intending to do? Why give us suggestions? Did he wish to be caught? Impossible. If that was the case, he might as well show up instead.
Right, the first time Hanada Masaru called over, he did tell Min-san to 'wait for another week'. What's he doing now? Raise enough money and get far away? Does he intend to use the NEET detective agency to mess up the mafia's sights. You got to be kidding! I really had the urge to say that to him. I don't know what you're doing, but it's because you never showed up that things aren't developing at all! Please show up and settle this, so that Min-san won't have to worry again.
Suddenly, I thought of a possibility.
Was Hanada Masaru running around because the reason of that killing wasn't due to carelessness?
It was just a baseless feeling, but if that was the case, what we're doing right now would be making the worst case scenario even worse, and might even end up trapping Min-san further until she's unable to escape.
I exerted strength as I pedaled, accelerating the bicycle. The chilly bright grazed my ears, but it could not erase this chill in my heart.
Two days later, after school—
On that day, I did not pass by the east entrance of the station where 'Hanamaru' was, but instead, I went west.
On both sides of the slope filled with many pedestrians, there were office buildings and all kinds of restaurants mixed among the many random buildings. There were already a few shops pedalling for businesses, probably because it was almost dusk. I tried to avoid the crowd as I pedaled hard up the slope, and at the Tokyu department store standing majestically afar, I turned at the left.
My destination was a short building. The first floor was a small convenience store, and the shop front was covered with white and pink artificial flowers that were obvious from afar. The 3rd floor of this building was the office of Hirasaka-gumi.
“Good work today, Aniki!”
“You've worked hard, Aniki!”
I opened the metal door and entered the office, finding some gnarling, savage looking men inside who suddenly stood up to greet me. We're about to enter the season of leaves wilting, yet they're all wearing short sleeved black T-shirts.
The Hirasaka-gumi was a gang of delinquents on this street. The leader, Yondaime, and a few other important members were at the age where they could no longer be called youths, and it's really uncomfortable hearing these people call me aniki, when I'm just a 16-year-old high school boy. Rather than being used to it recently, I guess I gave up.
“Eh? Where's Yondaime?” I scanned the office. There was a glass table in the middle of two sofas facing each other, right in the middle was a clunky table, and there were some framed calligraphy writings on the wall. This really was an impeccable gang office, but the most important leader wasn't around. In the study inside?
“Sou-san's off to get a car.”
Answering me was a hunk in a black T-shirt who's probably above 2m tall, nicknamed Pole.
“Aniki, are you two going somewhere to beat people up today?”
“No no no, we're not going to fight.”
If they knew that we're headed to the house of a Chinese mafia young lord, these guys would definitely be utterly mistaken and get ridiculously excited. Thus, I decided not to say anything more.
The reason was due to the call from Hanada Masaru two days ago. We took the initiative to request Huang Hong Lei to conduct a collaboration in the investigations. The risks were great, but it was worth a gamble—so Alice said. Thus, we had Yondaime call Xiao Ling-san. While I was feeling worried through it all, things got negotiated quickly.
However, I really could not shake off my doubts about Hanada Masaru. Why was he guiding us? To use us as a smokescreen for his escape?
I was really curious about this, but I decided to follow to Huang Hong Lei's house. Of course, I did not tell Alice about this. The meeting time was 4.30pm, about time then. I was feeling so tense, I was gasping for breath.
At this moment, I found a book on the desk, and the title was 'Crash Course! Wedding Ceremony Manners'. That was really a title that invited uneasiness.
I actually asked, using up all my luck. Pole answered with a grin on his face.
“Everyone's discussing about what to say at the ceremony.”
“E-erm, wedding ceremony? Whose?”
“Who else? Master and Hiro's, of course! We heard it all. It's on the 3rd next month!”
Where did they hear that from? And how did they end up misunderstanding like that?
“Alright, you guys, repeat what you just thought of and have Aniki hear them out!”
“Right! We'll train our manliness here!” One of the guys in black T-shirt opened a folded piece of paper.
“Ehh, congrats on getting married, Hiro-san, Min-san. People say that there's a need for three 'bags'. First, you need the 'stomach bag'.” “A stomach's needed even if you aren't married!” “Next, full black bags.” “Your T-shirts are already completely black!” “Finally, Uniqlo.” “Why are you helping with promotion here!?”
“Isn't there the three 'Saka' version?” Once those words were said, I decided not to retort anymore. If this kept up, it'll be endless.
“Three 'Saka'? Which three?” Pole asked.
“The first is Hirasaka, right?” “That's referring to us!” “What's next?” “Akasaka?” “Right, there's a lot of weddings held there!” “Right, what's the last one?” “Otokozaka?”
“Definitely not Otokozaka!” This is bad, I instinctively retorted again. Stuff that are on hiatus or completed are taboos to wedding. Speaking of which, nobody said anything about holding a marriage!
“What are you guys yapping about?”
The savior's voice entered the office along with the sound of the metal door being opened.
“Sou-san, good work.”
“Good work there!”
I turned my head around, and saw Yondaime dressed in a blue suit walk over to me, rounding around the sofa. The white bleached hair caused his savage glare to intensify by another 30 percent or so, and I cringed back in shock, only able to nod at him timidly. This time, we weren't going to play. Better maintain some tension.
“Do you have time to bother with those idiots? Hurry up and move!”
The glittering, posh body of a Mercedes Benz CL was parked in the narrow lane in front of the building.
“Wh-what's with this?”
Yondaime had a few foreign cars that ranged from pricey to cheap, but this was the first time I saw him drive a benz. Really, this car really was a dissonance from the alley and Yondaime himself. It felt as disgusting as having foie gras with sushi.
“I'll only drive this kind of car when dealing with such annoying stuff.” Yondaime said as he shoved me from the back into the co-passenger seat, while he went for the driver seat. This annoying thing he's referring to, I wonder if that referred to him having to show off his capability as a yakuza gang, and not letting himself be underestimated?
“...Having you on the co-passenger seat is enough to have anyone looking down on us even if I'm driving a Porshe or Rolls Royce, right?”
I feel the same. Sorry.
Yondaime stepped on the accelerator, and the car immediately sank, instantly rushing out to the road outside.
The Huangs' villa was located in a quiet part of Shimo-Ochiai, a unique, luxurious mansion built with hundreds of thousands of flat tiles stacked together. It was also built on a slope, and one had to wonder how many floors there were. The siblings Xiao Ling-san and Huang Hong Lei lived alone in this place, but it would not be strange to say that this place was large enough to house the entire clan.
“Are you really coming along?”
Yondaime asked me at the entrance,
“You definitely came here without telling Alice, didn't you? That girl's going to bawl her eyes out if she knows you sneaked into the den of a Chinese mafia.”
“Ehh, well...that's true.”
Don't approach Huang Hong Lei. Alice did warn me harshly before.
“I'm scared of a future mafia boss remembering my appearance! But I look like a high school kid, and he'll probably think of me as your lackey, Yondaime. I guess I probably won't be in any danger?”
“What lackey? I seriously have no idea if you're either scared or reckless.”
“My uneasiness is directed at Hanada Masaru. I just find that there's something I couldn't accept, and I don't know what he's planning anyway. If we're going to negotiate with Huang Hong Lei, that means involving him, right? We don't know what he's thinking. You don't mind about that yourself, Yondaime?”
“What's there to mind? No matter whose thoughts are they, we just need to make it work, right? Besides, if we don't do this, we're at our wits end. Alice couldn't hack into that woman's phone, right?”
In any case, I just couldn't relax. I had a thought, that if I could personally hear what Huang Hong Lei had to say, I might be able to grasp Hanada Masaru's plan. That was why I came along.
In other words, I completely directed my attention on Hanada Masaru, and completely underestimated Huang Hong Lei.
Yondaime glanced aside at me, glaring, and with a snort, he pressed the intercom button. I could only sense the numerous surveillance cameras hidden somewhere watching all over us.
Surprisingly, it was Huang Hong Lei himself who personally came to invite us. He had that slick black hair combed back, the color of his hair akin to iron. The deep, wine red shirt under the white suit had three buttons unbuttoned, revealing his chest. This was the second time I saw a man who's so suited to wearing white. However, the white on Hiro was of a warm glow, while the white on this person was a chilling, flickering light that was like a blade. Huang Hong Lei glared at Yondaime, the Benz, and me in turn, before telling us “come in.” Why did he not call in his subordinates or servants to open the door? Feeling startled, I followed him into the mansion. Speaking of which, did he not mind that I came over while wearing my school uniform?
Unexpectedly, the interior of the mansion was of Western furbishing. The waiting room too was the same, as there was a beige carpet on the floor, and a simple volume sofa was placed in the middle The surroundings were plants for viewing, and it was a simple yet classy Western-styled room. One of the 4 walls was a slab of glass, and I could see a garden of green grass carpet and potted Azalea. I originally assumed that the walls would have vibrant colored dragons, or that it would be a place filled with mafia goons. Unexpectedly, it was just an ordinary house, I guess?
“Is it that rare?”
Huang Hong Lei asked with an intimidating voice, nearly jolting me from shock.
“You aren't here just to sightsee, are you?”
He sat on the sofa opposite us, his sharp glare on me for half a second before he turned to Yondaime.
I would be fine keeping my mouth shut, but I just had to yap and explain.
“I just feel that this isn't a place a Chinese would live in. There's no decoration on the walls, and the lights are normal...”
“Do you Japanese all live in ninja houses? Enough with the crap.”
Hong Lei's words struck me right in the chest, and I could only shrink back into the sofa. After that, Hong Lei didn't say anything else to me. I'll leave the rest to Yondaime then! I guess I'll just shut up and pretend to be a lackey here.
“Hinamura Souichiro. I suppose you've heard of me from Xiao Ling-san.”
To be honest, this was the first time I heard Yondaime speak to anyone else with a respectful tone, and I sincerely hoped it was the last time. His tone and accent were not really that strange, but hearing it gave me a feeling of accidentally gulping down coffee powder. My mouth and throat felt really uncomfortable.
Hong Lei narrowed his eyes as he sized up Yondaime.
“Enough with that stupid polite tone.” Hearing Hong Lei say this, I inadvertently widened my eyes, “I find you to be an eyesore anyway, and since I'll figure out a way to crush you, let's save the hassle and just speak normally.”
Yondaime heaved a sigh.
“Well, guess you knew about me.”
“Having set up a business on such a scale, of course I would have made my investigations.”
“That's an honor. I already knew what kind of person you are, so let's stop wasting time and get to the main point as soon as possible. I don't want to work together with you again, so better to settle this as soon as possible.”
I overheard the conversation from beside Yondaime. What's with these two? Why do they look like they want to brawl upon meeting each other for the first time? Well, it's true that they couldn't treat each other as friends...
“I heard of it somewhat from Xiao Ling today.” Hong Lei spoke up first, “And then? Why are you guys going to help find Masaru?”
Yondaime suddenly nudged my shoulder with his own. Eh? He wants me to talk? He got to be kidding! I turned my head at Yondaime, who glared at me as though he wanted to gnaw me to death. I frantically turned forward, and didn't expect even Hong Lei to be staring at me. I want to go home...
No, but, he'll be suspicious if I don't say a single thing. Guess I got no choice here.
“...Erm, well, we got a member called Hiro. You know, right?”
I stammered, my mind again recalled what I should take note of.
First, Hong Lei probably knew that Xiao Ling-san came to 'Hanamaru' on that day. But I can't let Hong Lei know what Xiao Ling-san requested, or else the matter of her receiving contact from Hanada Masaru would be revealed. So, I just needed to tell him that Xiao Ling-san went to 'Hanamaru' that night because she was worried about Min-san. Alice, Min-san and I never heard the content of the call from Hanada Masaru, and never heard that he would call back a week later. Right. Most importantly, I couldn't let Hong Lei know that I received a call from Hanada Masaru. If I let it slip, I don't know what'll happen to me, and I might be interrogated, and my brain might get dug out.
As for anything else—as for what Hanada Masaru warned me—I guess I should be honest.
I cautiously began to explain.
Hiro has feelings for Min-san too, and he's worried that you'll try to have her pretend to be the bride before marrying her for real, so he's thinking of some way to prevent it—after I foolishly revealed it all, I realized, in my astonishment, and inadvertently shut up as I lowered my head.
Hong Lei's intentions were merely our guess right now, and I said it to him!
I timidly raised my head, and saw Hong Lei raise a leg over his other one as he gave me a stoic look. On first glance, he didn't appear to be angry, but he was more terrifying than just angry.
“Hmph. If you think you can bring Masaru back, I'll just give up on Ming Li, right?”
“Well, whatever. I already know what you stupid brats are thinking already. But Hinamura, your situation is different. Given your identity, I don't think you'll be bored out of your mind as to play along with these kids? Why must you get involved?”
“This is worldly loyalty. I don't think you understand how the people in this country behave.”
Hong Lei again turned to me, and I was so nervous, sweat was trickling out between my fingers.
“And then? How much have you learned? Since you know the information we have, you have to show your cards.”
Hong Lei suddenly leaned towards us, shocking me enough to lean back, and I found my chest being flattened. Why ask me? Please just continue to talk with Yondaime!
“E-erm, anyway, there's not much news we have that we can report to you...”
“Don't underestimate me now. Hinamura, the other hoodlums, and even you're taking actions openly. Obviously, you got some news on Masaru, don't you?”
“I know that you aren't just some ordinary high school student.”
“I'm really a normal high school kid! Just as you're seeing!”
“Are you intending to pretend not to know anything about Hello Corporation and the Tahara-gumi incident?”
I was at a loss of words.
On Spring this year, a Thai girl barged into the NEET detective agency with 2 hundred million yen in tow, and the incident that originated from this event ended up folding due to an auxiliary group of a certain gang.
This isn't good. I really shouldn't have come along. I guess I was too naive to think that I could pretend to be a lackey. What do I do? I couldn't just lie to him, and besides, my lying skills are atrocious to a point of despair. My own voice echoed earnestly in my mind. I had to say some truth.
“Around April or so—”
Saying that, I was praying that my voice could reach out successfully.
“—Masaru-san once sneaked in to 'Hanamaru'. I guess he had some plastic surgery on, and even Min-san couldn't recognize him. However, he left a lot of ingredients that could be used for new soup making, and even wrote the address of the importing shop. These import shops probably involve where Masaru-san's hiding now. I guess that's something you don't know?”
I lowered my head and peeked up at Hong Lei's eyes. There was no lie mixed in, but that information was probably useless. However, he didn't know this.
With Hong Lei interrogating me, I could barely nod my stiff jaw.
“Once you get back, send me a mail.”
I could only hold in a sigh of relief to prevent Hong Lei from noticing. Then, Hong Lei drew out something from his pocket, and threw it onto the table.
“First, for you.”
Two photos that were attached together with a clip.
“Photos of Xiang Yu, and her lover.”
Photos of their corpses? I was taken aback, but Yondaime reached out for them without a second thought. In the end, both photos were simply normal head photos. It was to be expected. The corpses were taken away by Hanada Masaru, and there was no way any photos could be left behind.
Huang Xiang Yu really didn't seem similar to Min-san or Xiao Ling-san in appearance. She's pretty too, but there was a sick gloominess to her. I felt that she would be seated on a Wisteria chair in the concubine quarters, with the female attendants serving her as she lamented “His Highness hasn't been seeing me recently.”
“Ah...erm. It might be a little late, but, well, my condolences.”
Suddenly, I recalled that she was dead, and so, I shrank my head back, trying to express some grief.
“Enough with that nonsense. The other guy's a lowlife called Umeda Kouji.”
Yondaime took out the second photograph, and it appeared to be ripped off from a driver's license, for the photo was terribly taken. Umeda Kouji's hair was dyed blond, and though he should be a young guy, his skin was rough, and his lips were drooping. His eyes alone looked slender, and did not seem to match his other organs.
“So this lowlife barged in to snatch your fiancee back—and they were shot by Hanada Masaru. Is that it?”
Yondaime said as he lifted his eyes from the photo.
“Right. I'll show you the scene. Follow me.”
Hong Lei got to his feet, while Yondaime and I followed suit. We passed through a simple, wide corridor, down several flight of stairs that were not too steep, and brought to a villa that should be located at the bottom of the slope. It was eerily quiet, and I could not sense anyone else around. I recalled the scenes after entering the house, and certainly, I didn't see anyone other than Huang Hong Lei.
“I don't think I saw a single house-servant or member here?” Yondaime asked. Huang Hong Lei merely snorted.
“This isn't an office. How can I let my subordinates in? The fewer people that enter, the safer it is, and I can take care of myself. Xiang Yu said she doesn't like to see the gang members, and later, she was left here. That's why the Dragon Head said to hire a bodyguard to protect her, and hired Masaru.”
I see. So the granddaughter of the boss was a young lady in her youth, and I guess she probably didn't wish for anyone to bring guns, walk around in black suits, wielding some green dragon blade or having bald heads with scary looks lurking around?
Hong Lei stopped in front of a simple cream white door, and turned around. The door opened, and inside was a luxurious bedroom as fine as a hotel suite. Opposite the bed was an entire glass window, and outside it was an unfurbished garden.
“Where was she attacked? Doesn't the room look neat here?” Yondaime muttered.
“Obviously the place was cleaned up, right?”
Hong Lei took out a photo from his chest pocket, and brought it to us. I guessed. That photo was taken from where we were, and the look in reality seemed to overlap with the disaster that was printed out.
The bed in the photo was covered in blood, and there was a large hole in the glass window, with scattered glass fragments all over the floor.
“It was already like this when I got Xiao Ling's call. Masaru, Xiang Yu, and that Umeda Kouji all vanished. Masaru's car was gone too.”
Hone Lei coldly stated, and put the photo back into his pocket.
“E-erm, do you mind showing that photo? Just to investigate...”
“Don't be stupid. Can you assure that you won't bring it to the police?”
I won't do that—the moment I was about to say those words, Hong Lei's hands flashed by. I could barely see a sharp metallic glint, and Yondaime's arm passing the corner of my eye.
However, while Yondaime intended to grab Hong Lei by the collar, his hand remained frozen in the air. I felt that even his facial muscles were stiff. There was an icy pain spreading on my tongue, and a heavy breath of gastric arose, stuck in my throat.
There were suddenly daggers in Hong Lei's hands, and the blade in the right hand was on Yondaime's neck—
While the blade in the left hand was in my mouth.
If any part above my head moved by a single millimeter, my tongue and inside of my face would have been cut apart. Time seemed to freeze, and I could only hear Hong Lei's hoarse voice.
“Listen up. Once you find Masaru. Report back immediately! Try any funny thing, and I'll kill you.”
I returned to 'Hanamaru' alone, and the curtains were pulled up, indicating that business was running as usual. I could see customers through the opened door, and the laughter of many girls could be heard from within.
Thinking about that blood stained room alone was enough motivation for me to return home. The taste of the dagger lingered in my mouth, and my tongue got cut; it bled. Thinking back about that moment, I felt as though my throat got wringed out.
Alice was right. I shouldn't have just showed up so proudly. No, Hong Lei already knew of my identity, it seemed. I guess maybe it would probably end up as how it is now. I don't know.
It appeared like it would be impossible to gain a foothold over the Hong Kong triad. Even if we did find Hanada Masaru, we could only hand him over to the Huangs, and even if did nab him, it appeared Huang Hong Lei had no intention on giving up Min-san. What's the meaning of our actions till this point then?
However, the situation had developed to a point where we could no longer stop. By now, Yondaime probably spread the information of the escape vehicle he obtained from Hong Lei. Even though the official numbers in Hirasaka-gumi was less than 30, if Yondaime was willing, mobilizing all the NEETs in the neighborhood would not be a problem. Furthermore, his territory was not limited to this area, but even the entire Yamanote line.
Maybe we could really find Hanada Masaru.
I slowly parked my bicycle in between the buildings, kicked the stand down, and heard the sound of the back door opening behind me.
“Fujishima-kun, welcome back! You kept us waiting!”
I turned back to see a girl dressed in uniform rush out. The brown short hair fluttered vibrantly. It was Ayaka.
“...I'm back...what are you waiting for?”
“You don't look energetic at all. What's going on? You look like the entire world has no need for you or something.”
“Thanks for the detailed explanation...” and she basically got it correct.
“It's fine. I need you anyway, Fujishima-kun. Come in!”
Just like that, I was dragged into the kitchen. There were so many girls from our class that the corridor was filled; Min-san continued to flip the wok in front of the furnace, looking gloomy, while Hiro was washing the dishes, a smile remaining on his face.
“Hey, it's impossible even for Narumi! Give up already.”
Min-san frowned as she said to Ayaka.
“Fujishima should be able to accept this, right?” “But even if Fujishima can accept it, it's pointless if we can't sell it to the customers!”
The girls whispered to each other.
“Eh...what's going on?”
“We win you to try it!”
Ayaka suddenly shoved a plate towards me, and a sweet fragrance entered deep within my nostrils. There was some mysterious object on the plate, and it appeared to be some burnt metal smile, currently corroding too.
“Fried ice cream.”
“Haa.” Apologize to the ice cream.
“But Min-san won't be able to make it to the first day of the culture festival.”
“Yeah.” On that day, she was forced to participate in Huang Hong Lei's marriage.
“So we don't have a food preparation chef on that day.”
“In that case, we can only sell food that's heated right before they're served. That's why I thought of ice cream!”
I suddenly felt pain in my neck, and had to hurry out of the kitchen. Sorry Ayaka! I got stabbed in the mouth just a while back. I'm not in the mood for retorts now!
“I heard everything from Yondaime, you idiot!”
I entered the detective agency, and Alice's growl came flying at me along with empty cans of Dr. Pepper. All I could do was cup my head.
“What do you think you're doing? You went to Huang Hong Lei's house without knowing the situation at all! What do you think the Hong Kong mafia is? Do you think they're as much of a gaming club as Hirasaka-gumi?”
After she threw a dozen of empty cans or some, a voice came from Alice's bedside, stopping her.
“Alice, that one's not finished yet. It's a waste to throw it.”
It's Tetsu-senpai. However, he wasn't stopping Alice, unfortunately for me, and instead was just handing the empty cans to her. Thus, the barrage continued for a while.
“Narumi! Kneel down there! What did you discuss with Huang Hong Lei? Tell me everything to the last detail!”
I climbed to Alice's bedside, and handed the two photos I obtained from Huang Hong Lei to her, explaining everything that happened, including Huang Hong Lei leading us to the scene, the bloody photo of the incident, and how I had a dagger in my tongue. Hearing this, Alice's eyes suddenly widened as she pried my tongue open, and then, she shrieked with a pale face,
“Your tongue got cut! Tetsu, get some Dr. Pepper to disinfect it!”
“That can't be used for disinfecting, right!?”
I shoved Alice aside, and escaped from Tetsu-senpai who approached me half-jokingly with a can in his hand.
“Sorry. I'm reflecting on my brash actions too. Don't give me Dr. Pepper! It's sting the cut!”
“Your imagination is inferior to a snail, and you're saying that you're reflecting? Funny. If your tongue really got tongue, you won't have the ability to even talk about such useless retorts. Do you really understand?”
Upon seeing me look so dejected, Tetsu-senpai let out a snicker, saying,
“I say, Narumi...you should more or less realize that you're very famous, you know?”
“I don't want to accept this as fact, you know...”
“Ah! Right...the rumors out there say that the one who dealt with Hirasaka and chased a bunch of guys out of Tokyo was you, Narumi.”
“That's just some baseless rumors now, isn't it!?”
“I think there should be some basis, you know. Besides, you beat me.”
“No, that was, well, wasn't there a lot of other reasons too...?”
I could only cup my knees and grumble.
“Tetsu, ignore that blockhead for now. Report the police's investigation now.”
Senpai nodded, and took out a tattered notebook from the belly under his T-shirt.
“Shinjuku is outside our territory, so it took a longer time to investigate. The incident happened in Shimo-Ochiai, right? It's true that someone did report sounds of gunshots and glass breaking to the police, followed by a growl from a young man.”
I didn't know the means Tetsu-senpai used, but he was often able to obtain intel from the police. He's able to ask for the important information easily every time, and I'm starting to be a little worried about the security of this country.
“How many gunshots?”
Alice asked as she continued to tap at the keyboard while looking at the screen.
“Isn't that enough to be considered a criminal case?”
“The cops are doing a thorough search as we speak, and even requested Huang Hong Lei to let them in to investigate. In the end, nothing.”
I felt a chill, and inadvertently recalled the sight of that photo overlapping with reality, causing the cut on my tongue to burn with a stinging pain. How long did it take for the police to respond to the gunshot? Was it possible to clean up the glass and bloodied bed so thoroughly before they arrived? I guess the mafia's probably very familiar with such scenes...maybe there are people who specialize in handling them. Even my arms were starting to shiver at this point.
I didn't want Alice to notice that I was shivering, so I treaded off the bed lightly and left the office. The air surrounded my skin like warm water.
I continued to sit on the turnabout of the stairwell, and tucked my head between my knees, sighing hard. If I continued to shiver inside the office, Alice would say those words again,
“Don't get involved.”
I didn't have the conviction, and I'm not used to picking fights with others. It was to be expected that Alice would say this.
If this kept up, I would simply be repeating my past failures! Got to pull myself together! Don't act rashly without being prepared! I continued to tell myself this, grabbing my thighs.
At this moment, the sound of someone coming up the stairs caused me to lift my head.
“What's the matter, Narumi? Heard your mouth got cut?”
It was Hiro. He had already taken off the apron at his waist. I wiped my lips with the back of my hand. Did he notice something?
“No, it's nothing. Nothing at all.”
Hiro sat down beside me, and sighed hard.
“I get the feeling that our positions are different. I don't think I'll be able to tell you not to force yourself like usual, you know? I'm the one making the request. It feels weird.”
Now that Hiro said so, that did seem to be the case. When we received his request, we didn't know how to face him. Luckily—or maybe not, we were so busy that we hardly had the time to talk, so we hadn't realized our issues before this.
I really wished that Hiro would continue to be that irresponsible gigolo of a big brother, always comforting others with a kind tone—that was what I really hoped—but even Hiro, who was so frivolous, would seriously fight for important things in his life.
“Erm, it may seem inappropriate to ask now, but, “ I said, “Hiro, you're serious about Min-san here, right?”
“Yeah.” Hiro smiled heartily.
“Please don't get angry.”
“Angry about what?”
“I still can't believe that you're for real.”
“Min-san doesn't seem to believe either...because I'm like the boy who cried wolf.”
So he knew that?
“So, well, I don't think I'm acting because of your request, Hiro. To be honest, I'm doing this for Min-san, and for Alice. You don't have to worry about me.”
“It hurts having you state so bluntly.” It's because this guy always said such words with a smile that nobody ever thought he was serious, I guess. Thinking hard about it, this guy really had it tough.
“I'm being very serious here, you know? There isn't a woman better than Min-san out there, you know?”
“See? That's what I'm talking about.”
“Ahh, yes. I see. I'm reflecting on that.”
“Why didn't you confess to Min-san right from the beginning? You starting learning how to make ramen since a long time back, didn't you? When Min-san was going out hiring employees, you could have signed up for it, couldn't you, Hiro?”
“The problem's that I didn't look like someone who'll work! That's why I kept waiting for the chance, and then I thought that if I can pretend to interact with girls, I'll be able to naturally work at 'Hanamaru'.”
I looked up at the evening sky, and sighed longingly. I see. So this is basically the 'my own kind of cage' line from a certain lyric, right? I'm guessing that it's a Mr. Children song.”
“It's because you keep insisting on such things that nobody thinks you're being serious, right?”
“I know that too...but when I said that I'm aiming for high school girls, it's partly true...”
This guy's really hopeless.
“Speaking of which, Hiro, your gigolo lifestyle hasn't changed at all. You're still staying at that bartender lady's place, right? How is that going to make Min-san think that you're serious?”
I inadvertently tossed aside my shame, and had the desire to tell Hiro off. At this point, I guess I gave up on myself, no? I didn't have the right to tell others off, and I'm just bullying the weak to make myself feel better. I'm really terrible.
“Actually, I went to see Huang Hong Lei today.”
“Eh-ehh? Then, the mouth injury was.”
“Ahh, no, it's nothing much. The problem is that it looks like he really wants to marry Min-san.”
Hiro frowned as he gave a bitter smile.
“And he said that even if we did find Hanada Masaru, he doesn't intend to let go of Min-san. He's an entrepreneur, has an amazing number of assets, and probably isn't as much of a playboy as you. I'm guessing that he isn't the type to fool around like you. It looks like Xiao Ling-san and him were the only ones living there, so he does seem to be able to do some housework at least—”
I suddenly stopped, and covered my mouth.
Something seemed amiss, but what? I instinctively stood up on the stairs. “Narumi?” Hiro called out to me in surprise. However, I continued to stand still and look up high. What did I think was amiss?
I turned around, and opened the detective agency door before rushing in. Alice, sitting on the bed in the room, was taken aback as she jolted, while Tetsu-senpai beside her widened his eyes.
“What's with that commotion—”
“Alice!” I leapt to the beside. “Remember when Xiao Ling-san came here? She described what happened that night, and said, “The helper taking care of Xiang Yu said that Masaru-san dumped their bodies into a car, and drove off.”
Alice widened her eyes, answering,
“...She did. So what?”
“Only Hong Lei and Xiao Ling-san live in that house. There's no helper around!”
Alice's expression changed drastically, and she immediately went for the phone.
“...Yondaime? It's me. Check everywhere for a doctor, from near Shimo-Ochiai. I'll explain later! Hurry!”
Doctor? I see. A doctor...
The sound of the door being opened could be heard from behind, “What's wrong, Narumi?” It was Hiro's voice. Before I could turn my head back, Alice hung up the phone, and stood up.
“Perfect timing, Hiro. Gather all the Chinese girls you know. We're looking for every single doctor near Shinjuku, and list them all whether they're private or unlicensed.”
“Hurry! If the Huang Coalition get a move on us, it'll be all over. We need to hurry.”
Overwhelmed by Alice's tone, Hiro nodded, and hurriedly left the office. Right, Hong Lei must have noticed this soon. He's sharper than us all. That's why we have to be quick.
“Hey! What's going on? Why are we looking for a doctor?”
Tetsu-senpai, seated by the bed, raised a question, but Alice was already forced on the monitor in front of her, tapping at the keyboard like rain in a thunderstorm falling. She probably didn't hear Tetsu-senpai's voice, so I could only answer her,
“Hong Lei and Xiao Ling-san are the only ones living in the villa in question, no servants at all.”
“So when she said that the helper saw it, that was a lie. Don't you understand? In other words, 'only Xiao Ling-san' said that Hanada Masaru killed two people and drove off to escape.”
Tetsu-senpai's eyes popped.
I didn't know how much of those words were a lie, but that amount of blood, gunshots, and a young man's growls were true. If she had to lie that two people were dead just to cover up the truth, the truth should be—
“Huang Xiang Yu might still be alive...”
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