Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 6 Chapter 3
The hospital we were looking was located in a corner of the buildings located in Shinjuku Hyakunincho. The abandoned building was practically devoid of any human traces, and the display board with broken, faulty neon lights were mostly filled with Korean words. It was nearly evening, and entering my ears were the sounds of the people in the pachinko parlors by the roads, with some squabbles in Korean and the exhaust gases echoing. This place was a station away from Shinjuku, yet it felt so different.
“Over here? Really? I don't see a hospital signboard here.”
Tetsu-senpai was the first to get off the car, and said this as he lifted his head up to look at the building.
“Most likely, he's without a license. Of course he can't possibly hang his signboard out there!”
Major said as he slipped to the side of the building's shutters, and scanned his surroundings before reaching his right arm gently for the keyhole. It felt as though there was a flash between his fingertips before the shutters opened with a clattering sound. Major's a military nut, and also a specialist at gadget creation and illegal intrusion. Amongst us in the NEET detective agency, he's the closest to being a criminal (or I'll say, he is a criminal). It's way too easy for him to unlock the doors of this abandoned building.
Inside the basement carpark was a wagon car covered in blue vinyl sheet, and one could be certain of who the owner was without looking at the license plate. We lifted the sheet to look at the car, and found an entire black stain on the chair of the co-driver seat.
Blood marks. They could be seen on the seat, and the floor leading from the bottom of the car door to the stairs .
I gulped hard.
“We'll stay put here. Go upstairs to look.”
Yondaime said to me, and beside him were a few Hirasaka-gumi members clad in black T-shirts nodding at me. Hiro had already gone for the stairs, and I again lifted my head to look at this building that was covered with black stains on the wall.
Having obtained news of the escaped vehicle from Huang Hong Lei, we immediately deployed Hirasaka-gumi and the network of the many female friends Hiro made, and spent two days to find this place. Of course, locating the doctor would help improve efficiency, but the scale of our network was still rather surprising.
“Why choose such a nearby place? Even without us getting involved, if he's hiding here, he'll be found out immediately, right?”
Tetsu-senpai muttered as we went up the stairs. Actually, I was a little curious about that. The place was a ten minute walk from Kabukicho in Shinjuku, and this place was really too dangerous a hiding place for someone trying to hide from the Chinese mafia.
“This place is Korea town, that's why. The Huangs are from Hong Kong, and they probably won't be able to take action too easily, right?”
Hiro said as he walked in front of us.
The reason why we were able to find this place was due to an eyewitness account from a Korean girl Hiro knew. On the night of the incident, a car drove into this building, and on the third floor, that typically didn't have any lights on, there were a few shadows.
The fireproof door on the third floor of the building was tightly shut, and Major spent a lot of work just to unlock it. We entered the pitch dark floor, and immediately scented a whiff of disinfectant. The long and narrow corridor was made even more narrow due to the crude black sofa and the stacked cardboard boxes. Major entered the room first, and came out again.
“Nobody inside at all.”
So, all members of the detective agency entered at the same time.
In front of us was a messy, filthy hospital room,and we couldn't tell where the clinic was, where the bed was, where the toilet was. The fact that there was electricity and potable water available was surprising in itself. The shelves, tables and desks were all covered in dust, but at the basin, there was clearly signs of blood that was washed away recently.
“They dealt with the wounds here, and drove off in another vehicle?”
Tetsu-senpai flipped through what appeared to be a patient log as he asked this.
“That should be the case, right? Now, the problem is, where's the doctor? Did he run away as well?” Major answered as he rummaged all over the tables.
“Narumi, have you contacted the mafia?”
Hiro asked me, and I shook my head.
“No. I want to try finding all the beneficial evidence and hide them, so after a complete search I'll give a call.”
We're only pretending to help the Huangs because we didn't want to help them, and that was why we asked about the escape vehicle. Because of that, I hoped to use that little extra time we had.
“It feels like you've been saying a lot of scary stuff recently, Narumi...”
“If the mafia finds out that you're acting on your own like that, you'll definitely be killed.”
“Ah, ye-yeah, but...”
“Don't worry.” Hiro smiled. “I'm the requesting party this time, so I'll bear half of that price.”
“Hiro...” Even if that was a joke, this guy's really kindhearted.
“I'll just take half of your chopped body then!” I'm an idiot for trusting this guy!
“Speaking of which, how did you know that the girl who should have been dead is still alive?”
Tetsu-senpai asked, I want to know too, and Hiro gave me such an expression. Everyone had been running around over the past two days, so I didn't have the time to explain the details to them.
“It's not that I'm completely certain she's still alive, but,”
I turned to look out of the dim window.
“It's just that Xiao Ling-san definitely lied.”
Back then, what she told us was this,
Hong Lei's fiancee, Huang Xiang Yu was staying in the house of the siblings Huang Hong Lei, Huang Xiao Ling in Shimo-ochiai. However, this marriage was a political marriage by the Chinese mafia to establish bloodline relationships. In fact, Xiang Yu had another boyfriend, and a few days ago, that boyfriend, the man named Umeda Kouji held a gun and barged into the Shimo-Ochiai residence. Hanada Masaru, hired as a bodyguard to Xiang Yu, killed them in accident because Xiang Yu got up to protect Umeda Kouji. He then loaded their corpses onto the car and drove off, and these events were witnessed by the helper in the house.
“I heard that too.” Tetsu-senpai nodded.
“But the problem here is that the siblings don't have a helper in their house.”
“So in fact, the real witness of the incident was Xiao Ling-san. Hong Lei only returned home after receiving Xiao Ling-san's call, so back when the incident happened, she was at home.”
“The why did she have to lie that a helper saw it?”
“Because she's a fan of Ichihara Etsuko?”
“Major, stop interrupting!” This is serious business I'm talking about!
“You really like humor like usual, Vice-Admiral Fujishima. You just shot down this deliberate joke from me with the precision of an M24 sniper rifle.” He's annoying. I guess I shouldn't bother with him.
“As for the reason why Xiao Ling-san would lie, it's still a guess for now...” actually, everything after this was just a guess, “Hanada Masaru killing Xiang Yu might be just Xiao Ling-san lying.”
“Lying? Then, that guy with the slick hair was fooled as well? Tetsu-senpai said as he folded his arms in front of his chest.
“That's likely the case. But Alice is a detective. If Xiao Ling-san has to lie about a witness in front of her, it'll be troublesome if that's to be seen through or suspected. That's why she went ahead to create a fake witness.
Hiro lifted his head and stared into space.
“But this lie can only work once, right? If her explanation doesn't tally with what her older brother said, it'll be seen through. In fact, you saw through it, Narumi. That person doesn't look stupid, and probably won't be so careless as to believe such words, right?”
“I'm feeling strange about this too. I grabbed my hair messily. “That person's words and actions were really too weird. Even till now, I still can't figure out why she came to look for Alice, and I don't know what she hoped for us at the NEET detective agency to accomplish. She said that she's very close to Hanada Masaru, but she didn't look as though she was worried about him. She heard from us that we wanted to assist in looking for him, and immediately got us to Hong Lei without hesitation.”
“But Narumi, you can more or less guess the reason for that, right?”
“Hm, I guess.” I really had no confidence at all, and could only look down at my toes.
“As Hiro said, that lie could only work once. I guess this might be what Xiao Ling-san's real objective is? In fact, she remains in contact with Hanada Masaru, and even knows his whereabouts, and assisted him fully. The reason why she came to the office was to let us know what happened, and for us to do whatever we wanted. I guess that's to buy some time? That was a flimsy lie she made, but she got the time she needed. It probably doesn't matter even if everything was seen through now.”
“Buy time? For what?”
“Probably—to get Xiang Yu as far away as possible.”
Hiro remained rooted, Tetsu-senpai's mouth remained ajar, and Major, flipping through the patient log, stopped.
“...Eh? Eh? Erm?”
The first to recover was Hiro.
“So it's the fiancee who escaped willingly?”
“That should be the case. She probably doesn't want to marry Hong Lei, whom she doesn't like anyway, right?”
“Were Masaru-san and that woman Xiao Ling secretly helping?”
Tetsu-senpai asked, and I nodded.
Xiao Ling-san and Hanada Masaru-san collaborated in establishing a lie that Huang Xiang Yu was killed, and other than that reason, I couldn't think of anything else. Xiao Ling-san probably hated such political marriages that were unbefitting of the times. When Hanada Masaru got married with Min-san's mother, he suffered a lot due to the Huangs' pickiness.
“You too are really something to be able to continue deducing like that, as if it's the real thing...” Tetsu-senpai seemed to have given up.
“Erm, no, that's.”
“Do you guys really think Narumi's smart now? What he said were all my hypothesis.”
Suddenly, I heard Alice's voice, and literally jolted.
“Ahh, sorry that I didn't mention it to you. I'm connected to the voice channel from the detective agency.”
Major pointed at the mini-device hanging at his waist as he said this. Eh? Th-that means, did Alice hear everything I just said?
“Stop wasting time and get to work. Crafting the truth based on facts is my job, and your job is to copy everything you see as fact. Also, what was with that explanation, Narumi? Couldn't you have been more orderly with what you said? Your points are as erratic as the mosquitoes in late Autumn flying around, and you even put your hypothesis up front as though it really happened—”
Alice continued to rattle on, but we still had to continue work. The sound of exhaust gases from the cars could be heard outside, followed by some frantic footsteps running up the stairs.
The boors to the clinic was slammed open roughly, and Yondaime barged in.
“Huang Hong Lei found us! They're here!”
Everyone present was startled by those words, and the files, notes and patient records in our hands nearly fell to the floor. I didn't contact them.
I heard the voices of the Hirasaka-gumi members downstairs, and this time, a few of them could be heard running up the stairs. Slamming aside the clinic door and shoving aside Yondaime was Huang Hong Lei, dressed in a gray suit and long coat. The men following behind had either shaved eyebrows or bald heads, and clearly, they were not decent people.
The long narrow eyes under the slick head scanned the room like a Qinglong sword, and stopped the moment they spotted me. Huang Hong Lei took large strides towards me, and I shrank back in fear.
Tetsu-senpai noticed that something was amiss, and wanted to shield himself in front of me, only for Huang Hong lei to knock him aside with his shoulder as he closed in in my. Sparks seemed to fly in my vision, and my back was slammed into the wall as I was unable to breathe. There was a scorching burn on my face, followed by pain, and my brain finally understood that I was beaten up.
Tetsu-senpai yelled, but I hurriedly reached out to stop him.
“Wait, stop, calm down, senpai!”
Something seemed to be busted in my mouth At first, I felt the taste of blood stinging my mouth. Tetsu-senpai frowned, and I cautiously turned to look at Huang Hong Lei.
“Since you found this place, why didn't you contact me immediately?”
Hong Lei's words seemed to stab deep into my flanks and organs. I could only look away, because there was no point in giving any excuses.
“Hey! Drop everything you have in your hands!”
Hong Lei turned to yell at Major and Hiro, and the latter silently put the info they had in their hands onto the table and shelf respectfully. Hong Lei then turned to me, tilting his head with a stoic look.
“I told you that if I'll kill you if you dare do anything funny, right?”
He grabbed my shoulder.
“Hey!” “You bastard!”
Tetsu-senpai and Yondaime's voices echoed. At this moment, the voice of the girl suddenly came from Major's waist.
“Huang Hong Lei.”
The shoulders under the longcoat reacted. After calling him, Alice started rambling a bunch of words, but I could not understand anything at all. She was (probably) speaking in Chinese.
Alice's voice continued for a while, and the communicator went silent. Hong Lei immediately lifted his head to look at Major.
“...What was that?”
Major leaned on the wall, reaching for the equipment hanging on his waist.
“That's our commander, the NEET detective. She's somewhere else right now, only connected with us through voice.”
Hong Lei frowned.
“Is that the kid hacker Xiao Ling mentioned?”
Major nodded. Hong Lei spoke a few words of Chinese to the communicator, and after a few exchanges, Hong Lei shoved me to the wall, and turned to leave.
“I won't kill you yet. Now scram.”
“—You idiots! Do you have to understand only when you're killed?”
We returned to the detective agency;I was caught by Min-san at the emergency staircase, and took a beating from her.
“Didn't I warn you that they're mafia? They'll dig out eyeballs without flinching!”
It appeared that Min-san already knew where I came back from, and what I encountered too. I was shaken by her by the collar, and suddenly heard a rattling of the emergency staircase as footsteps came downstairs.
I turned back to look, and found a figure dressed in blue pajamas leapt towards me with the light behind her.
“You were beaten? Did you suffer any fracture? Do you need the hospital?”
Alice hugged my waist, and asked with a teary look on her face. I was taken aback, and for some reason, my mind thought of something ridiculous. Hasn't she been running outside for a while recently?
“Alice, ca-calm down! I haven't had any major injuries, just another cracked skin in my mouth.”
“I was careless of our actions! I didn't notice that Huang Hong Lei already knew of our actions! I won't be sending you over to such dangerous places again. Stay inside the ICU obediently for the rest of your life!”
“What are you thinking of my life as!?”
“You two idiots. Now's the time for idle chit-chat, huh?”
Min-san proceeded to exert more crazy strength on us, and hung both Alice and me on her shoulders.
And just like that, we were carried off into the agency, and thrown onto the bed. With Min-san's anger showing no signs of subsiding, Alice and I immediately got to our knees.
“What about the other idiots? Didn't you come back together?”
Min-san went straight to the point and asked that. She clenched her fist as she asked, and I could only pull my head back in as I answered obediently.
“Well, we'll definitely get scolded by you when we return to 'Hanamaru', so Senpai, Major and Hiro went straight home first, and left the job of being scolded to me.”
“I see!” Following that was another punch. The wound in my mouth ached again.
“Master, if you have to beat him up, please beat the stomach! What'll happen if Narumi won't be able to talk again? It'll be troublesome when he has to order full packs of Dr. Pepper!” “There's more troublesome things than that, right?”
“And then? What were you investigating that made Hong Lei rough you up? Was it that you're looking for my dad?”
“Actually, that's right.”
The moment I said it, I instinctively cupped my head. Min-san merely sighed.
“And even if you did find him...what can you do?”
Min-san's voice sounded like water that had accumulated for quite a while, trickling from a crack.
I glanced aside at Alice, and the petite detective nodded. She lifted her head, and said to Min-san.
“Master, actually, Hanada Masaru didn't kill Huang Xiang Yu.”
Min-san widened her eyes slightly, and for a moment, was silent. I stared at her face, not daring to gulp for breath.
“Hanada Masaru and Huang Xiao Ling put up an act to get Xiang Yu to escape from the marriage she was unwilling to participate in.”
“...Why did he do such a stupid thing?”
“Because Hanada Masaru's wife too did the same thing when she chose between the Huangs and her love. You should know this better than anyone else, Master.”
Min-san looked aside. I stealthily peeked at Alice's sidelong face. Didn't she tell me not to state my guesses as though they're reality? Now she's concluding everything from the beginning to the end. Is this really alright?
“And then? What can he accomplish by doing this?”
“Didn't he betray the Huangs again? He left his job and ran away, didn't he?”
“But Master, at the very least, you don't have to feel guilty over it, and you don't have to let Huang Hong Lei have his way with you.”
“Stop acting like you know what's going on.”
She hissed her voice.
“Do you know why I'm really feeling guilty? It's debt.”
“...Eh? Debt? I exchanged looks with Alice beside me, and saw that she was biting her lips. It appeared she knew nothing, just like us.
“When dad and mom opened 'Hanamaru', they took a loan from a creditor.
“Creditor? What's that?”
“Chinese who came to Japan to develop came together to establish a credit association. When the business first started out, or whenever there was any emergency, they could borrow money from them. I didn't know about this at all. It was only recently that I learned about it from Hong Lei.”
I was inadvertently speechless.
“The one running that credit association is the Huang Coalition, which means that our shop still owes the Huangs money! That bastard went ahead and disappeared while hiding such an important thing!”
Saying of that, and it might be embarrassing for him, but I guess Hanada Masaru vanished and returned to the underworld because the ramen shop hasn't been earning much money?
“B-but, recently, 'Hanamaru' has been doing well. If you continue on, you should be able to pay back the debt, right?”
“The term had already expired a long time back. The reason why they haven't been asking for money is because my dad has been acting as a bodyguard there. That's the main reason why my dad told them not to target me. As long as the Huangs had that intention, they could take back 'Hanamaru' as interest!”
I sighed weakly, and collapsed onto the bed. I just felt that I had no strength to continue kneeling.
“In other words...Min-san, you can only let the Huangs do as they please/”
“Why do you say that?”
“What do you mean letting the Huangs do as they please? Hong Lei hasn't asked for anything that outrageous. I just need to dress formally and have a meal with grandpa's generation! Since I have a debt with them, I should help them that much at least, right?”
“No, but that Hong Lei's actually—”
“Using this as an excuse to force me into marriage is just your own nonsense, right? Hong Lei hasn't said that!”
Of course. If the plan went well, he could marry her. It would be too early to tell her that.
“So stop being a busybody here!”
Min-san said these words, and was about to leave the office, only to be called by me.
I clasped my hands together, and separated them, cautiously picking my words.
“Just in case...if Huang Hong Lei really plans to marry you, what do you intend to do?”
Again, Min-san turned her face away and bit her lips, showing...quite an adorable face. Was she really being bashful?
“How would I know? Who'll really think of such wild guesses anyway?”
Min-san's back vanished outside the door of the agency, and I slumped onto the bed as though my shoulders were weighed down by the cold air of the air conditioning. Alice, who kept silent beside me till this point, sighed.
“It's rare to see you being quiet for so long.”
“Looks like I still can't imitate you.”
Alice curled her legs, her chin leaned on her thighs as she said weakly.
“Right? The 'story'.”
“Oh, just now?”
What was Hanada Masaru trying to accomplish? And was Huang Xiang Yu really alive? These two weren't confirmed facts, but Alice told her as though they were truth.
They were not lies, but neither were they truths. One they, they would become a certain thing's—mold, a mold of reality, happiness and despair. Alice called it a 'story', a fragile dream that would break apart upon contact from the tip of a rake. It was no different from the things a graverobbing detective would be unable to deal with.
“Once it comes out from my mouth, that story would just be a lie nobody can really laugh at. It's really strange. What's the difference between you and me saying a story?”
In fact, I really didn't get what Alice was trying to imply, so I could only give vague, casual replies.
“Maybe it's because, I don't have a future in me, I guess?”
I was shocked. No future?
“A story needs an ending before it can be recited, but I can't write out that last page. Do you know? Actually, I don't really have any hope on what Master would do. I simply have an unmatched thirst for the truth, the water from the sea of curiosity that could kill if I continued drinking. For this world, I'll probably forever be a reader...”
Alice continued to stare at my backhand that was holding down the bedsheet. The air conditioning continued to breathe. It appeared that she was waiting for this foolish detective assistant to start talking, like before.
“So, I'm thinking, well, can I think of that, right?”
The shoulders under the blue pajamas shook slightly, and a few strands of hair drooped upon them.
“Back then, I was so terrified of being beaten up by Master, but now I'm being so boastful now, am I not?'
“Well, whatever. I have an endless curiosity, and this is Hiro's request. I don't care how much beating you take, but we need to proceed with the investigation. We got to the scene first, and there are a few useful bits of information we obtained.”
“Really? We were chased out by Hong Lei after not too long. We practically found nothing there, you know?”
Alice turned around to face the monitors behind her, and began tapping at the keyboard.
“First, the obvious facts—the escape vehicle was certainly there, which means that Hanada Masaru once hid at that place. The hospital phone still works, and I can begin tracking the records from here.”
I see. A phone can reveal the location, so it's not good to use for escape. A fixed family phone wouldn't have such issues however. It can be used to contact and make preparations for escape.
“Who exactly is that doctor anyway?”
“A Korean called Choi, and if I may guess, a doctor without a license. It's just a rumor, but I heard that he handles some indecent work.”
“Wounds that can't be openly dealt with, like gunshot wounds, abortion, falsification of patient records...and even dealing with corpses.”
I inadvertently frowned.
“He's also someone of the underworld, and probably someone Hanada Masaru knew when he was a mercenary. Anyway, his whereabouts now are unknown. It's said that he's often not at home, and intel states that the last time he was seen at home was during the weekend.”
“This guy...I guess it's better for those mafia guys to look for him, right?”
It's a little strange to say such words now, but things seem to be perilous all around. Alice nodded stoically.
“What we investigated about this doctor won't be as much as what the Huang Coalition knows, so it will be wiser for us to begin investigating in other areas. Besides, I still have a foolish assistant who barges in without thinking of any possible dangers...”
I inadvertently lowered my head.
“Leaving that aside, the second important point is that there's blood on the co-passenger seat only.”
“So...what does that mean?”
“I saw, your brain is more hollow than three degrees of vacuum! Can't you just think for yourself?”
I sat on the bed, and folded my arms.
“At the very least, I can be certain that Xiao Ling-san was lying when she said 'Hanada Masaru killed them both'.”
“Right. That's the first place. There isn't a dummy in the world who would put a corpse, or even two into the co-passenger seat. Thinking more about it, there should be 2 people on that car.
“Assuming that there's 3 people on the car, and one of them is wounded, would anyone let the wounded sit in the co-passenger seat?”
“Ah...yeah, I guess.”
And also, Huang Xiang Yu and that thug whose name I forgot are lovers. If they both got onto the car, and one of them was wounded, they would both be in the back seat, right? There's a need to stop the bleeding or obvious. However, the co-passenger seat's the only one with blood on it, so this excludes the fact that there were any more than two people riding in the car.
“But there's something I really can't believe about this guess.”
“Even if there's only the wounded and the driver, it's more logical to put the wounded in the back seat. With that much blood flowing out, someone might find out about them in their middle of the ride. Furthermore, it was because he put the wounded at the co-passenger seat of the car that the lie was seen through...”
“Hm, that makes sense.”
I put my hand at my chin, pondering for a while.
“Is it possible that there were actually three people on the car, but they just pretended that there were two instead?”
“What's the point of pretending that much? On the night of the incident, the nearby residents heard the growls of a young man, so there should be someone barging in. Was it really that thug called Umeda Kouji? What happened after that? We don't know about that.”
What exactly happened on that night? This doubt became the knot on our theories.
“Looks like we can only get Huang Xiao Ling to tell us. At this point, she should be willing to tell us a few things.”
“Will she really tell us? That person doesn't trust us at all.”
“That woman has no choice but to tell us the truth now, right? Huang Hong Lei already has the information we found.”
I see. Huang Hong Lei isn't as stupid as me. He probably would have immediately realized that Xiao Ling-san was lying, just as Alice did.
“So...why did she lie anyway? To hide the fact that Xiang Yu's still alive and make sure nobody looks for her?”
“That's the motive I thought of immediately.”
“But if Hong Lei knew that Xiang Yu isn't dead, he'll send in all his men to track her down, right?”
“That's why Huang Xiao Ling really believes that her brother would help her let Huang Xiang Yu escape.”
What does that mean? That Huang Hong Lei would help Huang Xiang Yu to escape? Wasn't she his fiancee—
Hong Lei had been aiming for Min-san all this while. The actual fiancee got killed—that situation was the perfect outcome for Hong Lei.
Thus, he would help out.
In other words, Xiao Ling-san's lie was just to bluff the old men of the Huangs? Their parents and granddad and such?
“That's just the 'story' in your heart, right?”
Alice turned back to look at me before I knew it, smiling at me.
“Then let's have it take shape now. See, she came to look for us now.”
Alice said as she pointed at the surveillance monitors placed by the bedside. One of them showed a woman wearing a light-colored coat, standing at the entrance of 'Hanamaru' on the first floor. From the dark night, she entered through the curtains, and into the gentle light, showing her face. It was Xiao Ling-san.
She came over to us, so that meant that she was willing to tell us the truth? In that case, we finally had a chance to move forward.
A while after Xiao Ling-san vanished from the monitor, Alice suddenly remembered something as she turned her head around abruptly.
“Narumi, go welcome the guest!”
“Welcome? Why? You never did so before.”
“Hurry up and go!”
I got kicked off the bed. I left the agency, and peered back to look. Alice took out a set of clothing from the hill of dolls. Oh, I see. She wanted to change her clothes and avoid having Xiao Ling-san nag at her for wearing pajamas? The problem's that she only had mourning clothes and Japanese clothing. What would she do?
And just like that, two minutes later, when I brought Xiao Ling-san back to the office, I was left in a scenario where I was completely speechless. Alice was on the bed, wearing a light blue dress with a white apron. Though it was not tied in a butterfly knot, wasn't that the costume of the famous Disney movie 'Alice in Wonderland'? Hm? Did she dress up as Alice because she's called Alice? Speaking of which, is this cosplay?
Xiao Ling-san's fiery glare hit me right in the cheek.
“...Is that your fetish? Making a little girl wear such clothing in the middle of the night?”
“Why is it that your retorts seem to end up with more misunderstanding!?”
“Isn't that because you have been complaining about my thighs every time we meet?”
Alice and my growls echoed. I see. So, since Xiao Ling-san once chided Alice for being rude by appearing in front of her guests in her pajamas, Alice decided to change clothes? But—
“Is that all the clothing you have?”
“It's just a dress up. How can I possibly be always dressed up in such a stupid manner!” Alice huffed and puffed. So she was just cosplaying? Has she been addicted to this recently? As an assistant, well, I had conflicted feelings about this. Xiao Ling-san turned her stare towards me, and frowned.
“And why are you staying in a girl's room at such a late time?”
“I'm the detective's assistant! It's work!”
“What work? Aren't you just fooling around outside in the middle of the night!? Don't your parents have anything to say about that?”
As a member of the NEET reserve forces, I was really troubled to have someone ask me such a question so formally.
“My parents aren't at home...”
For a moment, Xiao Ling-san couldn't reply. Luckily, she did not apologize, and that caused me to heave a sigh of relief. I heard that despite this reaction, that would be for the best.
“Anyway, hurry up and state the reason why you're here! You didn't come all the way here just to correct Narumi's living attitude, right?”
Xiao Ling-san sighed, and seemed to be a little lost as she scanned the freezing computer room. There was nothing like a chair in this room, so it was rather troublesome when guests showed up. Because of that, they could only stand.”
“Regarding the matter of lying to you in the beginning...I do apologize for that. I was the one who kept Xiang Yu hidden, but I can't tell you where. Also, I have no idea whether I can trust you.”
I could not help but sigh. So she was involved right from the beginning?
“Do you intend to inform your brother?”
“I won't say anything.”
Alice suddenly raised an eyebrow.
“Your brother already knew that you're lying.”
“I know. But even if he asks me, I won't say anything. Hong Lei will have to continue pretending not to know anything in front of our grandfather, and the elders. Thus, I wasn't lying, and Hong Lei didn't find out about anything. The situation has to continue like this.”
Alice narrowed her eyes, and kept staring at the chest of Xiao Ling-san's coat. She then slowly got off the bed, went to Xiao Ling-san, and suddenly reached her hand for the latter's chest, grabbing the coat and the collar of the shirt underneath, tugging hard at them.
“Wh-what are you doing?”
Xiao Ling-san shook off Alice's hand, and darted back towards the kitchen. However, I, who remained seated by the bedside, already saw it. Xiao Ling-san's shirt was seeping with a scarlet red, and there should be some bandages wrapped around them, below the collarbone. It wasn't obvious, but it appeared her flanks were wounded too.
“So even when interrogated or beaten up, you wouldn't talk. Is that what you mean?” Alice's voice was several times colder than the air conditioning.
“Even when interrogated, you can't answer. Is this unspeakable truth so important for you and your brother?'
“Since you know, why do you keep asking?”
Xiao Ling-san tugged at the front of her coat, and turned her head aside. Even against his own sister, Hong Lei wouldn't hold back? Did this person quietly accept that as a necessary ritual just to maintain her silence? This sensation was beyond mindboggling or astounding for me, and I was starting to respect her for that. She looked like a well-educated careerwoman, but she certainly had guts, to be expected of someone with the bloodline of a mafia.
So Hong Lei left it as that. He merely punished her, and accepted her lie.
In that case, Alice's prediction came true. Hong Lei assisted Xiang Yu in escaping—because he was aiming for Min-san.
Alice returned to her bedside, and sat down beside me as she stared at Xiao Ling-san.
“What about Umeda Kouji? Was it true that he barged into the house that night?”
Xiao Ling-san raised an eyebrow, and immediately nodded.
“I initially wanted to chase him away, but Xiang Yu said that she wanted to meet him no matter what, and that man looked rather normal back then. He did not appear to have been drinking or taking drugs, and with Masaru-san around, I thought it would be fine...”
“So when Huang Xiang Yu and Umeda Kouji met, was Hanada Masaru present?”
“Yes. I was in one of the rooms, and I wasn't sure of what they were talking about. After that, I heard gunshots, and I when ran to Xiang Yu's room to have a look, I found blood on the floor and the glass shattered...”
Hanada Masaru instructed Xiao Ling-san to hide Xiang Yu, and bluffed everyone into saying that he killed the duo, before taking the grievously wounded Umeda Kouji away to escape—or so we were told.
“Why did he fire at Umeda Kouji?”
Xiao Ling-san shook her head, indicating that she did not know.
“Anyway, Hanada Masaru's actions were too quick. It felt as though he already decided to help Xiang Yu escape.”
“Well, that isn't impossible. Masaru-san had been Xiang Yu's bodyguard for a long time, and he was living with her the entire time. I think they chatted about many things. Xiang Yu too told me that she didn't want to marry because of the Huangs. I personally feel that such traditions are so dated...and she has a boyfriend, which would be harder for her to accept this.”
“So you don't know what happened to Hanada Masaru and Umeda Kouji?”
Xiao Ling-san shook her head.
“Masaru-san told me that he would contact me once everything's settled, and I'm to hide Xiang Yu the entire time. As for Umeda, I heard nothing about him.”
Speaking of which, when Hanada Masaru mentioned to 'wait for a week', did he mean to wait for him to prepare an escape for Huang Xiang Yu? Alice narrowed her eyes, and muttered,
“Maybe Umeda Kouji died.”
Xiao Ling-san's face paled slightly.
“Impossible. Didn't Masaru-san take him to a doctor?”
“That doctor doesn't have a license, and even deals with corpses. How can you be certain that Hanada Masaru took Umeda Kouji to treat his wounds?”
“There's also another possibility, that to make it look as though Huang Xiang Yu died, there had to be a lot of blood trails. So Hanada Masaru had Umeda Kouji—”
“Masaru-san definitely won't do such a thing!” Xiao Ling-san leaned over to the bed, her face reddened as she said. I was shocked to a point where I was at a loss of words, and could only watch Alice, and back at Xiao Ling-san again.
“How can you be certain?”
Alice's questioning voice was like a sigh. Xiao Ling-san's voice was quivering slightly.
“Because Masaru-san...isn't that kind of person.”
Why? I could not help but wonder. Why would this person show such unrestrained feelings from time to time? She could lie to us and her brother so nonchalantly, yet when Hanada Masaru was mentioned, she would show a fragile side. Were they so intimate? I really had difficulty trying to piece a complete image of Xiao Ling-san in front of me. There seemed to be something missing.
“That man called Umeda might look indecent...but Xiang Yu had been telling Masaru-san the entire time that she wanted to elope with Umeda, so Masaru-san must have let him escape somewhere first, and when the situation calms down, reunite them. That has to be it!”
After a while, both Alice and Xiao Ling-san were simply staring at each other's thighs, not saying anything at all. I sat by the bed, gulping, holding my breath as I sorted out the thoughts in my mind.
Assuming that everything Xiao Ling-san had said was correct.
They were pretending that Huang Xiang Yu died, but had her escape. There was a large amount of blood, a powerful evidence, and Hong Lei appeared to be helping in concealing the truth. The escape itself would be handled by Hanada Masaru. What? Isn't this going well? In that case, what are we doing? Running around, getting beaten, threatened, scolded. For whose sake are we suffering so much for?
Of course it's for Hiro, I answered myself. For the sake of that unbefitting love that gigolo deemed for himself.
...But was there a need to go this far?
This fatal doubt rose in my heart.
“In that case...”
Alice's muttered, and it seemed she read my mind.
“Why did you come here? What are you here to do? What do you want us to do, having us tear apart the lies little by little with the sharp blade of truth?”
Xiao Ling-san hesitated for a while. It appeared she sensed the dissatisfaction in Alice's words.
“I want you to help Ming Li. This is Masaru-san's wish.”
“As I said, we can't accept such vague requests. Master never indicated that she needed our help, and never once did she say that she hated this marriage or didn't want to get involved with the Huangs. Do you want us to make the conclusion that Master's troubled about this, and take action? That's beyond the duties of a detective.”
“But, you may be the detective, but aren't you Ming Li's friend? If you just go up to her and chat, ask what she intend to do—”
“Who's her friend?”
Shocked, I glanced aside at Alice.
“If a request is made, I'm the detective, and Master's the requestor. Without her making a request, our relationship is just tenant and landlord. I'm unable to be so defenseless to interact with this world without a contractual relationship!”
Xiao Ling-san was startled, and with her arms firmly folded, she retreated to the corridor. Alice covered her mouth, and lowered her head sadly, shaking her head as though saying. It's all useless now.
“Well, whatever. I have a rough idea.”
“Wh-at?” Xiao Ling-san seemed to be groaning.
“The Objective of you coming here. That's to 'pass the message'. It was the same the last time out, right?”
An unspeakable, frozen expression appeared on Xiao Ling-san's face.
“You intend to tell us some information and achieve some objective. I don't know if it's Hanada Masaru commanding you or of your own will, but there's some other fact you're hiding, right?”
Alice's words echoed in the absolutely freezing air, like an icicle hitting the asphalt.
“If you don't have anything else to tell us, just leave already. Also, from now on, remember this. We're acting based on Hiro's request now, and we'll prevent Master and Hong Lei's marriage no matter what, no matter how unscrupulous the means. If we have to, I can choose to tell the Huang elders that Huang Xiang Yu is still alive.”
Xiao Ling-san glared at Alice with a sharp glare.
“I can't let you do it. Also, there's no way grandfather and the others will believe your words. Hong Lei and I will testify to say that she's dead.”
“That may be the case, but who knows if we don't give it a shot?”
Hearing Alice's words, Xiao Ling-san bit her lips, and then turned to leave.
Only after Xiao Ling-san left the office without saying a word did I finally heave a sigh of relief, and slid from the side of the bed onto the floor. Just hearing the conversation beside Alice was enough for me to be so tense my joints ached.
I lifted up my eyes slightly, and the petite detective continued glaring at the door.
“...Do you really, intend to say that the fiancee's still alive?”
I asked softly. Not only would Hanada Masaru's hard work be for naught, a girl we never met would be pushed back into an abyss of unhappiness. Even if we were to complete Hiro's request, it's not a good feeling.
Alice shook her head.
“That's the last, worst resort. I don't want to do that either. As she said, the Huang elders might not believe us. Doing this may end up bringing unnecessary wrath from Huang Hong Lei, which may end up causing Master more trouble.”
I let out a huge sigh.
“You really care about Min-san!”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You just said that she's not your friend, or something.”
Alice pouted her lips, and turned her head away.
“She's not my friend in the first place. I don't have any. But Master has been taking care of me all this time, you know? Of course I'll try my best not to cause her any trouble.”
Alice turned her back on me, but her slender fingers on the keyboard didn't move. I suddenly felt a little sad.
There were a lot of people around me that I was able to be comfortable with, and so I often forgot about this. This strange girl often had a layer of loneliness around her, as untouchable as amnion.
What about me?
From her perspective, was I, who often stayed beside Alice, merely a detective assistant who shared a relationship of employer and employee with her?
That might be the case. Even in such a moment, I didn't know what to say.
But despite this, I closed my eyes a little, and tried to continue on with some words.
“Well, I'm not sure how to say this.”
I intertwined my fingers, and released them again, opening my eyes as I continued,
“At the very least, when I'm with you, I hope that you can let your guard down, somehow.”
I could hear Alice's voice trembling somewhat behind me.
“What are you trying to say?”
“Ahh, sorry. I'm not too sure what I'm saying either...”
“T-think of what you want to say before talking! What? What do you want me to do? I don't understand.”
I could vaguely see Alice grabbing the bedsheet tightly, and I was increasingly unsure of what to do. I hesitated for what felt like an eternity, and Alice suddenly shook her long, black hair as she turned around.
“Can't you finish what you say? Do you even know that I'm waiting for you to speak!?”
“E-eh? Ah-ahh, sorry. My mind's in a mess. So...”
“Y-you idiot! I had enough of you already!”
And for the next few moments, Alice continued scolding me with some rather weak vocabulary. What happened to her usual feistiness when she scolds me? Was she really so angry that she's at a loss of words? I was starting to worry about that.
“If you are going to come up with some words you shouldn't say, get out right now! I want to change out of this stupid outfit!”
“I think this is fine...” This costume really fit her. However, the moment Alice heard this, her face was as red as ground cherry.
“Li-lik-like this? Are you saying that you're going to keep staying here? Wh-when you said that I can let my guard down, do you mean that you want me to change clothes in front of you?”
Hey! What's with that misunderstanding? Please calm down! Alice was flustered by the words she blurted out, and started spewing more really ridiculous words. Because of that, I could only jump off the bed and leave the office.
After walking down the emergency staircase and reaching the floor, I heard the sound of the shutters being pulled. The only light in front of me was from the gap of the back door. It was closing time.
I was about to walk down the alley between the buildings and head to the front of the shop, only to meet Min-san who just returned. It was a little awkward, and I nodded and tried to leave by the side. At this moment, Min-san spoke up.
“Xiao Ling just came by, didn't she?”
Did she notice? I guess it's easy to be noticed? Besides, anyone entering the agency would have to pass by the front door of the shop.
“You guys are still sneaking around with something? Seriously, and I'm busy with those brats from your class!”
I was at a loss of words, and I was pushed on the shoulders as Min-san went off to the back door by herself.
“That damned dad of mine's always giving me trouble too. When he comes back, I'm going to beat him real good...”
I instinctively turned back, only to meet the eyes of Min-san who stopped. Why? What am I trying to say? Am I going to tell her that Hanada Masaru didn't kill anyone, that Alice's guess was correct? What can happen? It doesn't change the fact that Hanada Masaru's running around, and caused Min-san trouble.
"What? What did my dad do again? Do you know something?"
I shut my mouth and lowered my head.
Suddenly, I was a little upset at Hanada Masaru. In the end, aren't all the problems caused by you running around and hiding? Shouldn't dealing with troublesome underworld stuff be your specialty? Why are you able to hide without a care in the world and push all your problems to your daughter? You work so hard to protect someone else's daughter, but let Min-san alone to fend for herself, and even requested for us to help her. Isn't that too irresponsible of you?
I turned my back silently on Min-san, and was about to walk onto the road when the cellphone in my pocket rang. I took it out, and found that it was from a private number.
“Is that the high school kid at the detective agency?”
“Ah—it-it's you again!”
Hanada Masaru's voice. Why call me again? I barely managed to recover, and wanted to switch on the recording function.
“Call Ming Li over. I got something to say to her.”
“If you got anything, come out and—”
I was about to yell back, only to hear stamps behind me, and the cellphone in my hand was snatched away. I turned back to look, and it was Min-san.
“It's me...ahh? You got to be kidding! Think of whose fault it is here! I'm not forcing myself! I don't need you to worry...what are you trying to say? Hey! Hold it! Damn dad!”
It appeared he hung up. Min-san looked utterly furious, and I thought she would throw the cellphone down onto the ground.
“That damned bastard caused me so much trouble, and now he's trying to play the good dad?”
A boiling sound landed by Min-san's feet. She stuffed the cellphone into my hand crudely, and I, completely flabbergasted, could only see the back door in front of me being slammed shut.
The next day, after school, I made a trip to the game center, and dawdled around in the bookshop and the records shop for half a day, before finally making my way to 'Hanamaru'. After what happened the previous day, I thought it would be awkward to meet Min-san.
I parked my bicycle right by the shop, and behind the curtains, I could hear many girls, and the steamed scent of chicken bone stock filled the shop.
“So there's still these ingredients inside the shop!”
“If we can prepare them just the day before, won't it be easy?”
“Min-san, did you develop this soup stock along with Fujishima-kun?”
“Really? So he's not just being the test taster?”
“Ah, the miso ramen recently is a soup I thought of! I guess soy sauce is fine too.”
“What? Don't get cocky there, Hiro.”
“You can't use two kinds of soups, right?”
“But I prefer the soup stock Hiro made!”
I didn't know what happened in the shop, so I discreetly ducked past the curtain. When I opened the door, I found all the girls in class staring at me, which startled me. One moment, everyone was on the corridor making ice cream, and today, everyone's in the kitchen. Some of them are stirring the stock in the pot, and someone's holding a chopper.
“Ah Fujishima! The taste tester Fujishima's here!”
“What test tester...eh, erm?”
I surveyed the shop again, and found the cramped kitchen filled with figures of sailor uniforms, Min-san frowning slightly, while Hiro looked delighted.
“Why is everyone making ramen?”
“You see, Min-san can't make it to the first day of the culture festival, right?” Ayaka said.
The first day of the 2 day school culture festival, November 3rd, and on that day, Min-san had to play the substitute of Hong Lei's fiancee, so she wouldn't be able to be in charge of food hygiene in our class 2-4's shop.
“The school said that heated items can be sold, so I thought we might as well sell ramen for the first day!”
Ayaka puffed her chest proudly.
“Why!? Isn't that crazy already? What kind of weird shop in this world sells both ramen and ice cream at the same time—wahwahwahwah, sorry, Min-san, I was joking!”
Min-san raised the chopper, appearing as though she was about to flip the counter, scaring me so much I had to cup my head and apologize.
Min-san snorted unhappily.
“I don't want to either! Making ice cream is one thing, but our ramen isn't that delicious that we can just teach others. I don't want to teach, but what to do? The pamphlets were already printed...”
Ayaka took a few printed copies of the pamphlets and showed them to me. They were to be placed at the school entrance on the day itself.
The super famous 'Hanamaru'!
Premieres for the first time!
...Well, those were the words written.
“We printed a few pieces, and 'Hanamaru' is actually rather famous!”
“It's famous because of the ice cream, right?” Min-san pouted. “Customers definitely come by for the ice cream. Won't they get angry at you for selling ramen?”
“No way. Your ramen's good too, Min-san.”
“Though it was somewhat bad in the past...”
“You can't just be honest like that.”
“We'll be selling ice cream the next day anyway.”
“Even though we are selling ramen, it's 'Hanamaru' flavor, so it's not conning them, right?”
Hearing the girls' honest feedback, all Min-san could do was to scratch her head reluctantly. Well, to be honest, I didn't know whether this was okay or not...Hiro could only give a wry smile.
I returned back to the old gathering spot outside the back door, and sat on an old tyre, letting out a long sigh. It's thanks to Ayaka that the awkwardness between Min-san and me was resolved. That really helped me out.
“What's with you, Vice-Admiral Fujishima? Forced out by the happy atmosphere in the kitchen?”
Saying that as he walked in front of me was Major, wearing camouflage clothing and carrying a huge backpack.
“It's a good thing. If you participate in the culture festival, you won't be able to become a capable NEET. When I was in high school, I was always skipping classes and staying at home to do proxies and programming.”
“Don't lump me together with you, Major. I'm just waiting to taste test the ramen.”
And speaking of which, how was this guy like during High School? I got the feeling that I could imagine, and yet at the same time, I felt a little terrified.
“Right, now back to the main point. The analysis of the recording's almost done.
Major sat down opposite me, took out a notepad computer from his backpack, and switched it on.
“It feels weird. The voice in the recording is clear enough to assume that a noise suppressor was used. Maybe he used a phone with some similar function to prevent anyone from knowing where he was, or maybe he was in the basement...?”
Major's current job was to analyse Hanada Masaru's phone recording. Maybe he might be able to obtain some clues from the background, so he had earphones on to be sure.
After Min-san had her phone call with Hanada Masaru the previous day, I listened to the recording again. Thinking about that caused me to feel heavy-hearted.
What Hanada Masaru said was,
“Don't worry about me. You don't have to care about anything!”
“There's no need to keep running the ramen shop. Just do whatever you want!”
“Just think of what's the best life for you!”
The conversation didn't mesh, and the phone call suddenly cut off. No wonder Min-san was so furious. What's he thinking, saying such selfish words?
Soon after, Tetsu-senpai appeared at the gathering spot in front of the emergency staircase.
“I found Umeda Kouji's hideout. As expected, there wasn't anyone there.”
Senpai noted confidently, and it terrified me.
“Is he a member of a gang?” Major asked.
“Right. He's a member of a gang in Kabukicho called the Daisei Association, and was in charge of collecting debt. I went to ask them, and heard that a few years back, he went out with a great beauty from China. Both of them had a long distance relationship.”
“That Daisei Association didn't help them to escape?”
“I heard not! He brought a gun to a squabble with some Hong Kong mafia, and was expelled. Even if the Huang Coalition don't kill him, the Daisei Association will take action, right?”
“Hm, well, yeah...”
“But in the past few months, he had been very effective in collecting debts, and he even got rid of the drugs. I heard that he saved quite a bit.”
“Was he preparing to elope?”
I heard Major and Tetsu-senpai carry out such a dangerous conversation, and at this moment, Hiro took off his apron and exited the back door. The members of the NEET detective agency were gathered. Is it fine for him to leave his work behind? However, Ayaka's in the shop, and there's a lot of attendants helping to work for free. I guess it's fine for him not to be around?
“And then, what do you intend to do, Hiro?” Tetsu-senpai asked. “You're the requestor this time, so you decide what to do this time, you know. We found all we could investigate. If you don't figure out where do we investigate, it'll just be a waste of time.”
Hiro sat on the first step of the emergency staircase, dropping his shoulders lethargically.
“There are a few ways next...”
Major raised 3 fingers as he said to Hiro,
“First, we find Huang Xiang Yu and return her to the Huangs. That'll make us enemies with Huang Hong Lei, but it's effective.”
“I can't let another girl cry because of my love now, right? Besides, she's Min-san's cousin, and should be a beauty too...”
“The next one is to find Hanada Masaru and hand him over to the Huangs. It'll be the same goal as Hong Lei, but finding him might not improve the situation.”
“If Masaru-san can't bear responsibility, there's a high chance of the situation being worse.”
“The third is just to return the money.”
“Ah...” Hiro scratched his head. “Will Min-san allow anyone to help her return the money?”
“Hiro. Do you have any? I don't”
“Tetsu-san, this isn't something you can say proudly. But I'm broke too...”
“Nope, but if I sell the Ferrari...ah, the Ferrari isn't bought under my name. How much can I earn by selling that BMW? I had that car for quite a while, so around 6 million Yen or so? But...”
“Hiro, you seem tired. Did you get scolded by Min-san?”
We're being busybodies due to Hiro's request. If Min-san's going to scold, she's going to start from Hiro first. However, Hiro merely shook his head.
“I didn't get scolded...but I just felt that there's nothing to worry. Masaru-san didn't kill anyone, and Hong Lei doesn't want to pursue that eloping couple. Even Min-san herself doesn't look like she detest that cousin...” Hiro's voice got less lively. “It's because of my own selfishness that things got so complicated, right?”
“N-not at all. Hiro, about Min-san,”
“Well, you're right, Hiro!” “There's a fourth way, and that's to get Hiro to shut up.” “You two are terrible! Are you even friends!”
“Narumi, think about it! We're just paving the road for Hiro to trick a woman again.”
“Right. Actually, I feel that if this keeps up, I'll be the one troubled.”
Hiro actually saying those words himself really disturbed us.
And there was something I was particularly concerned with. Was it really just Hiro being the only one troubled? Min-san might get married with Hong Lei for real, actually. Are we going to let her be?
Right when I was pondering, a shrill guitar riff entered my ears. 'Colorado Bulldog', the personalized ringtone of Alice. I lifted my head in surprise. So all the members in the agency had the same ringtone.
The first to pick up the call was Hiro, and the other phones went silent.
“Hello...yeah, everyone's present. Eh? Do we connect? Can't we just head up to the office? Right...I know.”
Hiro took out a cable, and Major connected it to his computer. With this, everyone could connect to Alice without having to listen to the phone.
“Report your findings to me.”
“Why report here?” Tetsu-senpai grumbled, and Alice immediately retorted harshly,
“For the time being, I've decided not to let that shameless assistant of mine enter the office.”
The trio's eyes gathered upon me, and I could only look aside and lower my head. I said it's a misunderstanding! It's Alice who misunderstood. However, explaining this would require me to start from the beginning, including the moment when Alice was dressed up as Alice...ah, forget about it. I'm starting to be confused about what's going on.
“I analyzed the phone called from Hanada Masaru—” Major was the first to report, and I heaved a sigh of relief. Couldn't hear the background, and the sound quality's good; couldn't find any hints of a location. Major's report was basically similar to before. Tetsu-senpai then reported, and Alice cleared her throat, saying,
“I've check the call records from the doctor's phone, It appears that Hanada Masaru was in the clinic for a long time.”
“Are we still going to track down Masaru-san?”
“Of course. Looking from a logical or risks standpoint, the most ideal method will be to find Hanada Masaru and have him clean up the mess.”
“Well, that's logical...”
I knew what mood Alice was in when she decided this. Hiro made this request based on Alice's request. Alice just wanted to know the truth, what happened on that day, what Hanada Masaru was thinking, and where he was, what was he doing. That was why she had to be so decisive in convincing the rattled requestor.
“I shall continue to explain then. On that night, Hanada Masaru called two places. One of them was Huang Xiao Ling, and it was for three hours long.”
“3 hours...” Major folded his arms.
“If he intends to bluff everyone and have the couple elope, 3 hours of conversation is considered normal, right?” Tetsu-senpai asked.
“But despite so, personally, I feel 3 hours is too long. Huang Xiao Ling probably is hiding something else, but I don't intend to pursue the matter. The second phone call was made to a shop in Yokohama called Matsugahara Tradings.”
Major and Tetsu-senpai tilted his head, and only Hiro's mouth remained open. I too had an impression on that shop name.
“It appears to be a shop that sells dried goods and flour.”
“...That's our supplier.” Hiro muttered. Right, I remember that shop. Back in April, when Hanada Masaru slipped back into 'Hanamaru' and left a bunch of rare ingredients, that supplier was one of the shops mentioned.
“Yes. That may be a shop Hanada Masaru knew of when he ran the ramen shop...but why called the supplier at such a moment? Did he intend to request the supplier for something—?”
I suddenly recalled something, and inadvertently stood up.
“This is bad, Alice! I-I told Hong Lei that shop name!”
The trio of the detective agency went pale, and I could even hear Alice gasp from the speakers of the notepad computer. Hiro immediately got up and ran past the back door of the kitchen.
“Sorry, let me through! Min-san, do you have the contact to Matsugahara Trading? By the phone? No, it's fine!”
I peeked in from the back door, and saw Hiro dash out of the corridor. The girls from my class peeked at the corridor nervously, and after a while, there was the sound of the phone being slammed, before Hiro shooed aside the many sailor uniforms as he went out of the back door.
“I couldn't contact him! I'll go have a look!”
“Ah! I-I'll go with you too!”
Hiro drove the car down the Tomei Expressway, and I was in the co-passenger seat, explaining the situation to Alice. When I went to Huang Hong Lei’s house and requested to investigate the scene, they asked for information regarding Hanada Masaru as collateral, so I informed him that Hanada Masaru brought some rare ingredients from a few suppliers to ‘Hanamaru’.
“I-I never expected that information to be related to this incident! Hong Lei was pressuring me back then, and I just said a few random things about Hanada Masaru, trying to throw him off…”
“I’m not berating your cowardice since I already knew about it. Why did you only mention it at this time!”
Alice’s fury was no lesser than the turbulent headwinds that rattled the car windows.
“I’m really sorry!”
I hung up the phone, and groveled into the seat. I glanced aside, and found Hiro holding the steering wheel, looking on grimly.
Hong Lei must have questioned those suppliers one by one. He asked them whether they had received contact from Hanada Masaru.
I never expected that Hanada Masaru actually gave a call to the suppliers. Why? What did he want with the suppliers? Did the suppliers tell Hong Lei about this? What will happen after he knows? A nauseous feeling rose up along with the unrest within me, only to be pressed down by the car accelerating again.
We got off the expressway at the Yokohama-Aoba interchange, and followed the traffic signals down the riverside. The short sunset in October was about to fade into the West, and simply opening the car window of the co-passenger seat was enough to let the frozen air in. Many cars and Middle School students released from school passed us by, and we barely managed to glide into an alley that might be too narrow for a foreign car to drive through, meandering around the residential area that was devoid of crowds.
Matsugahara Tradings was located in a back alley next to the shopping street in front of the station, and would look like a rusted, dated garage if not for the old carved wooden signboard. The shutters of the shop were closed, and Hiro parked his car in front of it.
We went to the back of the shop , and pressed the doorbell there. After a while, there was still no response, and Hiro, being impatient, yelled.
"We're employees of 'Hamamaru' in Tokyo! Is Matsugahara-san in there? We're from Tokyo, and we just called over."
The door opened slightly, while Hiro and I remained rooted there. Appearing there was a diminutive man entering old ages, a jumper draped over his shoulders. His lips were cut and bruised purple, while there were bruises around his eyes. It wasn't obvious, but it appeared that he was unable to move his right arm, and he could only open the door weakly with his left hand.
"Please go back!" The man exclaimed, "You're Hanada-san's men, aren't you? Go back!"
"Erm-did something happen? Your wounds..."
"Don't worry about that and just go back already. I've known Hanada-san for a long time already, but I won't be doing business with you ever again."
"Wait!" Hiro begged earnestly. "Please, just tell us what happened."
"Enough! Go back! I don't ever want to get involved with you people ever again! l had enough of some Yakuza or Chinese mafia already. I only helped out because Hanada-san requested me, so why did I end up getting involved with them?"
The door was slammed shut, and following that was the sound of the door being locked, followed by a chain.
"Matsugahara-san, did Hanada-san request you to do something? Please tell us that at least!"
Hiro continued slamming at the door.
"I have nothing to say to you anymore, if you aren't going to leave, I'll call the police!"
We heard this voice from beyond the door , followed by the furious footsteps gradually fading. Hiro slammed at the door, gasping hard, and I could do nothing to console him.
Chinese. Did the Huang Coalition drop by? The boss even said that Hanada Masaru did request him.
Suddenly, I felt a sensation, that the ground beneath became liquid.
It was all my fault.
I had a feeling that my careless giveaway of the information to Huang Hong Lei resulted in ruining something- Hanada Masaru planned, and even resulted in an ordinary civilian being hurt. It was all my fault.
Let's go back, Hiro said. I was spacing out, so Hiro's words sounded like the strange sound of a cassette recording being replayed.
The sun had already set by the time we returned to 'Hanamaru', and all that was left was the light in the shop shining onto the street through the windows. The customers dressed in working attire was crammed outside the shop, and a group of people were seated on overturned beer crates and chairs, slurping their ramen. I could hear the sounds of drunk people ordering more gyoza or beer.
“Ah, Hiro, you're back? I had to stay and help because you ran out just now! I'll be collecting pay from you later!”
Ayaka, dressed in a black apron, walked out of the shop as she said that. She then looked at me, and then at Hiro, blinking as she tilted her head.
“...Did something happen? Both of you look weird.”
I shook my head weakly, while Hiro forced a rather perfect smile.
Between the buildings, at the gathering spot outside the back door of the kitchen, Tetsu-senpai and Major were facing each other, eating a bowl of ramen each. They noticed Hiro and me, put down their chopsticks, and lifted their heads.
“So how?” Senpai asked.
Hiro's voice was as shriveled as ever, and he sat on a beer crate. I felt that I wouldn't be able to stand again if I sat down, so I could only lean on the wall beside the back door.
While explaining the events at Matsugahara Tradings, and Tetsu-senpai and Major silently stared at the surface of the steaming salt-flavored ramen. Once Hiro was done, everyone went silent, and the laughter of the drunk customers, Ayaka's cheerful voice and Min-san's growls felt so distant.
Tetsu-senpai lifted his eyes slightly.
So, what do we do? I couldn't hear the voice, but it seemed he was asking that.
“I want to cancel the request.”
I got up from the wall, and Major pushed his goggles up onto his forehead, while Tetsu-senpai kept staring at Hiro's eyes.
“It's because of my stubbornness that got innocents involved...I can't take this anymore. This isn't some great request, and even if I give up, I'll be the only one troubled...”
“Wait, please wait!”
I inadvertently approached Hiro.
“It's not just you, Hiro. Everyone's troubled. If Min-san's really going to marry that mafia heir—”
Min-san's voice could be heard from the back door.
...Yes, spring onion and salt ramen and gyoza. Ice cream today is raspberry flavored. Anyone wants it? Raise your hands. Why everyone? This is a ramen shop! Seriously...
“If they really got married, Min-san won't be able to run 'Hanamaru' anymore.”
A damp silence filled our surroundings. Tetsu-senpai and Major curled their lips and stared at the light coming out from the back door.
Finally, Hiro stood up, smiling as he shook his head. He reached his arm out to me, patted me on the shoulders, and passed by me to walk out of the alley. I saw him take his cellphone out of his pocket, talking on the phone.
“...Alice? It's me. There's something I got to say...yeah, it's about that.”
The white half-coat became as distant as Hiro's voice.
“Let's stop with the investigations. As for the expenses...you can calculate it, and I'll pay it all...no, I'm serious. Yeah...don't be so angry. Yes, I'm really sorry...”
Starting the next day, there was an abnormal ceremonious atmosphere in 'Hanamaru'. Starting off was the Hirasaka-gumi.
“So Master's marriage partner to be isn't Hiro-ojisa?”
“I heard 'Hanamaru's going to close down. Is it true?”
“That's what Tetsu-ojisa said.”
“Master, I don't know what's going on, but first off, congratulations!”
“Scram back right now!” Min-san glared at the many guys in black T-shirts, lined in a single file, and frowned.
“It's a joyous occasion, so let's drink up!” Pole was the first to speak up. Min-san ruled that the Hirasaka-gumi members were not allowed inside the shop, so everyone was seated outside on beer crates. Even so, that wasn't enough, and most of them could only order while standing up.
“I'll have some wedding ramen!”
“Wedding ramen too!”
“Min-san, I don't know why, but 23 people ordered wedding ramen!”
Ayaka returned to the kitchen, saying so happily.
A furious Min-san prepared 23 bowls of terrifying ramen with lots of garlic topping (most likely, it's probably called wedding because it's completely white). However, those Hirasaka-gumi members were dumb, and their tongues were insensitive as they slurped up all the ramen delightfully. After finishing the ramen, they ordered beer and gyoza. It's only 5pm, and the doors of 'Hanamaru' suddenly became a monkey hill in a zoo. If I showed up, I would have been dragged off by them for some unbeneficial conversations, so I decided to hide in the kitchen.
“But who exactly is Master going to marry?” Rocky's voice could be heard.
“I heard it's the heir of a certain clan.”
“So isn't that referring to Narumi-aniki?”
“Isn't aniki just 16?”
“You idiotic bastard, some big shot like aniki will be fine!” How's that fine!? Speaking of which, how did the misunderstanding up like like this?
The sun set, and the usual customers of real estate agents and used car dealer uncle were at the shop.
“Are you really getting married, Min-san?”
“So will the shop be closed?”
“I forced myself to finish the ramen here just to see your boobs, Min-san.”
“What did you say, you bastard?” Min-san angrily raised her chopper and swung it around. Employees from the companies nearby began to visit, and even a flower shop sent a flower ring for some reason. Until the last order time, the shop remained buzzing.
“Which idiot started spreading such rumors? That's enough already! Is it you, Narumi?”
After closing time, Min-san was busy washing the dishes, her face flushed red from anger, and I beside her could only shake my head frantically. The dirty plates and trash were 5 times the usual amount, and Ayaka alone wasn't enough to handle them all, so even I had to stay behind to clean up.
“Min-san, the talk about your marriage isn't real?”
Ayaka brought a whole stack of bowls over as she asked.
“Didn't I say that I don't have any intention of getting married? Hong Lei never mentioned it at all...”
“But if you're really going to marry that man, you won't be able to continue running the shop, right?”
Ayaka looked a little forlorn.
“Stop spouting nonsense and get to work! Where did Hiro go off to? I thought he'll work for real, and he's absent without a valid reason...”
“I couldn't get through with him on the phone either...” I answered. Since yesterday, I was unable to contact him.
“Most likely, the rumors were by Tetsu and Hiro. When I see them, I'm going to beat them up good. Narumi, don't you dare spread the rumors!”
But contrary to Min-san's expectations, the one who escalated matters further was actually Ayaka. Practically all the girls from class 2-4 came to the shop.
“Min-san, you really aren't going to run 'Hanamaru' anymore?'
“You can continue after your marriage.”
“We'll come by more often!”
“It's fine if you don't make ramen, but at least continue with the ice cream.”
Min-san replied impatiently,
“You girls are annoying. I'm not closing down. Hey Ayaka, come here for a while!”
“I-I just told everyone that the shop might close down.”
Min-san grabbed a scampering Ayaka, and flicked her forehead hard a few times, before summoning the girls into the kitchen and taught them how to make ice cream like usual. Hiro didn't show up again, so I had to prepare the ingredients.
That night, most of the customers visiting were female, cabaret girls, hostesses, office ladies, and high school girls.
“We heard from Hiro. Is this place really going to close down?”
“When are you getting married? Where's the ceremony?”
“Min-san, you should just get married with me.”
All kinds of customers entered the shop, and I couldn't help but wonder, the regular customers here really come in all shapes and sizes! The night got darker, and there were not only street workers and security guards but even homeless wanderers coming all. In the end, all Min-san could do was to give a wry smile, and served up all kinds of ridiculous ingredients to serve the customers.
And upon closing time, I, Min-san and Ayaka were lined side by side at the basin, washing, wiping and keeping the utensils in order. At this moment, three shadows appeared outside the metal shutters that were half closed.
“...Those idiots of mine caused you guys much trouble, didn't they?”
Yondaime was dressed in a fancy jacket as he ducked under the shutters and entered the shop. Following him were Testu-senpai and Major.
“What? Are you guys here to celebrate the closing of the shop or my marriage? I'm going to beat you up.”
Min-san puffed her cheeks, saying that,
“No, well, we never expected rumors to become that ridiculous.” Tetsu-senpai scratched his head, “I just had a chat with the uncle next to me when I was queuing at the pachinko parlor.”
“I just mentioned it carelessly at the research lab in college.” Major too was terrified.
At that moment, Min-san actually showed a smile, having worked out a sweat after some satisfying labor. She stopped herself from wiping, and looked around the greasy shop. Ayaka and I too followed her stare.
This was no longer a place Min-san simply inherited from her dad, but a shop she carefully protected and managed. To us, this was an irreplaceable place.
“Oh yeah, where did Hiro go to? Those ladies of all professions must have came by because of his nonsense, right?'
“But we couldn't contact him at all.”
Tetsu-senpai shrugged, and sat on the guest chair.
“Tetsu-san too?” Major said. We exchanged looks. Speaking of which, none of us have seen Hiro since two days ago. I thought of Hiro's figure that seemed to become transparent as he vanished, and even his voice when he called Alice to cancel the request sounded fractured.
“Where did he go...”
Ayaka's voice again caused everyone unrest.
“This is worrying. Is Alice able to track him on the GPS?” Tetsu-senpai asked. Right. There's that move, right? I gave Alice a call immediately.
“Him? ...Got it. I'll find out immediately.”
I waited slightly as I kept the line active, and heard an immediate response. “Shinguku.” Alice spoke on the other end of the phone.
I responded. My throat was parched, a little pricky.
“In Shimo-Ochiai. Hiro's phone is in Huang Hong Lei's house. Hurry!”
I gulped, and shut the phone.
“Hiro's in Hong Lei's house.”
Min-san widened her eyes.
“Sou, the car?” Min-san asked Yondaime, who nodded. Min-san leaped over the counter, “Get me there now. Hurry!”
I frantically gave chase after Min-san, and dashed out of the shop. Why—why did Hiro go look for Huang Hong Lei? When did he go? Two days ago, after he left? If that was really the case, did he stay there the entire time? A fearful premonition seemed to ooze out from my ears. The bandage on Xiao Ling-san chest, the thoroughly wounded boss of Matsugahara Tradings being beaten up, and the numbing taste of the knife jammed into my mouth; such terrifying memories became a dense vortex in the gloomy darkness.
Yondaime raced the Mercedes under the dim streets lights of the Shimo-Ochiai residential area, and stopped in the middle of an uphill road.
On the other side of the wall was the Huangs' residence shrouded in the darkness of the night, and the ominous cut was like a rotting elephant carcass. Min-san got out of the co-passenger seat, and slammed hard at the interphone by the door.
The lights between the main gate and house doors lit up. After the gate was open, Huang Hong lei, dressed in an opened black shirt and a purple suit, walked down. He did not have slick hair this time, probably because he was on vacation, but that only served to emphasize the viciousness of his eyes. Once the door opened, Min-san immediately ran into the garden and grabbed Hong Lei by the corner.
“What? You haven't been at my house for quite a while, and now this is a passionate greeting...”
Hong Lei narrowed his cold eyes, saying so,
“Oh? You tracked him down here already? He came in the evening, and is lying in the garage. Good timing, I can save the hassle of contacting you. Take him away, he's in my way.”
Min-san knocked aside Hong Lei, and sprinted to the right of the dim garden, while Yondaime and I hurriedly gave chase. The cool, intimidating footsteps from Hong Lei followed suit.
At the very end of the concrete slope leading underground was a shutter, and Min-san pulled it up violently. Yondaime caught up, searched the entrance, and switched the lights on.
In front of us was a rather spacious garage. The spotlights gave a chilling glare, and there were two cars to the right, and one to the left, but there was enough space to hold a few more cars. What appeared to be a human was collapsed in the deepest part of the garage. Min-san and Yondaime went running over. I too instinctively hastened my steps.
“Hiro! Hey! Hiro!”
Min-san got on her knees and carried the collapsed Hiro, and the sight in front of me was bone-chilling. His cream colored jacket was covered in blood patches, and the source of it was obviously from his nose. Also, his eyebags and cheeks were swollen purple. He showed no reaction even when leaning on Min-san's thighs, probably because he passed out. I remained rooted, unable to move. A set of footsteps went by me from behind. It was Hong Lei.
“Just a bare fisted confrontation. He won't die.”
Yondaime turned around, ducked low and stamped on the concrete floor. “Sou, stop it, you idiot!” Min-san yelled. I widened my eyes, dumbfounded by this unbelievable scene. I barely saw a punching motion from Yondaime; a feint with the right to Hong Lei's face, and the real target was a left to the chest. However, I couldn't see Hong Lei's punches at all. I felt an electric jolt-like power pass through Yondaime's elbow.
By the time I recovered, Yondaime was already on his knees in front of Hong Lei, his limbs quivering slightly.
“Wha...” A dumbfounded Yondaime eked out a voice of disbelief, while I couldn't even voice out. He dodged Yondaime's swift attacks, and even struck Yondaime with such precise strikes—probably on the shoulders.
He was trained in some special martial arts. At the very least, I could understand that.
“You idiot.” Min-san spat as she chided Yondaime. “You're no match for him. Are you looking to get killed? Hey Narumi, hurry up and bring Sou to the car!”
“...Eh, ah, y-yes.”
I ran over to Yondaime and carried him by the shoulder, and I found that his arm was still numbed. I tried my best not to meet Hong Lei, who was in front of me, right in the eyes, and supported Yondaime to his feet.
Min-san carried Hiro as she stood up, her eyes filled with a firm will.
“...You aren't planning to have me as a substitute fiancee, but looking to get married with me for real?”
Unexpectedly, Min-san's voice and expression had no anger in them. Hong Lei too stared right at Min-san's eyes without averting them.
“If I wasn't planning on that, I wouldn't have gone for a one on one duel with that small fry of a host, right?”
It took me a lot of strength to let out a heavy sigh. Why did Hiro come to this place alone? Did he really do it to see who could take Min-san's hand, for this really dumb reason?
“I won't be able to find a fine woman like you anywhere now. This is a great chance, of course I would do anything.”
At this moment, I felt a strange chill rising from deep within my abdomen, and strangely, there was some pleasantness in this chilling feeling. Hong Lei basically said the same words as Hiro.
Min-san looked down at the bloodied face in her clutches, and back at Hong Lei again.
Her face was smiling.
“In that case, are you prepared to run the ramen shop with me?”
And more shockingly, Hong Lei actually smiled back at Min-san.
“You said the exact same thing as that small fry of a host!”
“That idiot said that if I don't intend to run the ramen shop, he won't agree to our marriage. Who does he think he is? I'm going to be the one inheriting the Huang Coalition, and I'm going to expand it to at least 5 times the present before attacking Hong Kong again. Ming Li, for this objective, I'll need your strength. I don't have the time to manage some ramen shop.”
Min-san looked down at her toes. When she looked up again, her eyes were staring at me for some reason. In other words, at this detective assistant.
“Narumi, give Alice a call. Here's a request form me.”
And Min-san said,
“Wreck this marriage.”
Translator's Notes and References
- Veteran actress. One of the shows she had a leading role in was called 'The housemake saw it, 家政婦は見た!
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