Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 6 Chapter 4
Hiro started plying his trade of fooling girls ever since he was in Middle School, and that the number of girls he caused to cry was in triple digits, so I heard. Of course, this number was going to increase, but it seemed there were a few exceptions. In other words, though they were rare in numbers, a few women would make amends with him again.
Like for example, Yi Ling-san.
“Seriously, I never thought you would actually do such a stupid thing, Hiro. What if there's a scar left on your face? Your livelihood depends on your face!”
Yi Ling-san continued to grumble, but she continued to change the bandages of Hiro, lying flat on the bed, and applied ointment on his wounds.
“Ow ow ow! Be gentle, Yi Ling. I was always being gentle to you on the bed!”
The swelling on Hiro's face never subsided, yet he was already joking.
“After I'm done with your wounds, shall I stitch your mouth?” Yi Ling-san narrowed her eyes.
“Then I won't be able to kiss you!”
“A light one will do. That's fine, right?”
It seemed they were playing slap and kiss. Also inside this cramped bedroom was my existence, so I really hoped that they show some restrain. It was a little old-fashioned, but I cleared my throat to remind the duo that I was present.
“So, can we have Hiro stay here under your care, Yi Ling-san?” I said as I scanned this apartment of two bedrooms and one living room. This was one of the rooms located beside the Embassy, called the Hello Palace, and the owner Yi Ling-san was a hostess from China, Hiro's ex-girlfriend. After some questioning, I heard that Hiro had been here recently, asking everyone to investigate on the Hong Kong mafia, so naturally, he often ended up dating Yi Ling-san and living in her house. Looks like these two haven't learned anything...
“Didn't I just start a fight with Huang Hong Lei?” Hiro muttered. “After such a tough situation, you're the only one I can rely on, Yi Ling.”
Hiro nonchalantly touched the back of Yi Ling-san's arm as he said this, and she, who showed an impatient look, couldn't help but be flustered. This guy's a natural gigolo after all!
“Oh yeah, I heard that...Min-san, made a request to Alice?”
Hiro aside. I glanced aside at Yi Ling-san, and nodded without any doubt. Was it really fine to mention this in front of his ex?
“Speaking of whihc, Hiro, I heard you proposed to her?”
Right when I was feeling skeptical, Yi Ling-san suddenly took the initiative and attacked Hiro first.
“Hm? But when I propose to you, I'll definitely book a classy restaurant in Hilton beforehand!”
Ah, so this can be resolved just like this...I really learned quite a bit. No, I don't think this is necessary! “Enough already, you're always being so cheeky!” Yi Ling-san said as she stuck another gauss on Hiro's face, before wrapping up his naked chest with bandage again.
“So, what happened during the two days I passed out?”
Hiro exhaled, and asked me. Yi Ling-san too was sitting by the pillow on the bed, giving me a look that practically says, I have the right to know too, right? Of course, I didn't come here just to visit Hiro, but to brief him on the situation. However, where do I begin?
It had been two days since Hiro barged into Huang Hong Lei's house and got beaten up. Actually, a lot of things happened during two days.
First off, the detective agency began talking action because of Min-san's request. Tetsu-senpai and Major were going around in an unusually active manner, but at this moment, I had yet to hear of any specific plan.
Ultimately, Min-san decided to participate on the first day of our culture festival. November 3rd, the day Huang Hong Lei planned to hold the wedding. “Since Hong Lei intended to pull a fast one on me, I have no obligation to help him now, right?” so Min-san said. For Hiro, this was good news.
However, the biggest news would probably be that we received contact from Umeda Kouji.
“Umeda...that thug of a boyfriend?” Hiro asked.
The biggest cause to this incident was because Huang Hong Lei's actual fiancee—Huang Xiang Yu had a Japanese boyfriend, the man called Umeda Kouji.
“So he's still alive?”
“Yeah. I heard he went to Kobe.”
Hanada Masaru pretended to kill Umeda Kouji, but in fact, had him escape to Kansai. It was said that the latter had been looking for a place to elope to, and just the previous day, he gave a call to Xiao Ling-san. Rather, it would be more precise to say that he gave a call to Huang Xiang Yu, who was audaciously hidden by Xiao Ling-san in the Zodiac Entertainment Company.
“From what Xiao Ling-san said, Umeda said something to the line of 'I'll be picking up Xiang Yu soon'.”
“What do they intend to do after they elope? Have they found jobs?” Hiro folded his arms, feeling quizzical. At this moment, Yi Ling-san, who remained silent the entire time, suddenly interrupted.
“That girl called Xiang Yu will go out to earn a living, right? There's a soapland in Fukuhara at Kobe.”
“Ehhh...then wouldn't that be a gigolo? That Xiang Yu is the princess of the Huangs. Ah, no, I don't have any intention to criticise you, Yi Ling-san.”
“I'm born in a poor family and background anyway.”
Yi Ling-san spat a tongue out at me, and then reverted back to a serious look.
“But, it doesn't matter even if she's a princess. Women are often a lot stronger than men when it comes to being in an environment of no support. Even the Huang Coalition had to rely on the women to send their men over to Japan, and finally establishing their territory.”
“Is that so?”
Speaking of which, if I recalled correctly, she's from Hong Kong, right?
“These creatures called men will just die by the roadside if they sudden move to a place without any support, right? Women can continue living on even when alone. All men are just leechers.”
These words certainly seemed convincing, coming from Yi Ling-san.
“Even now, the situation remains the same. The Chinese women in Kabukicho outnumber men 5 to one!” Hiro said so proudly for some reason. “Most of them do all kinds of businesses, and have unstable incomes, so that's why they would work together and form a trust fund together.”
“Ahh, I heard about that from Min-san.”
The trust fund itself is a civilian style of financial system, a pool of money with contributions from everyone, that could be used by anyone in times of need. It's said that many Chinese ladies living in Japan participate in such funds. This fund itself was managed by the Huang Coalition, and was said to rival the major banks.
“I participate in one too!” Xiao Ling-san said. “I'm thinking that if I get married one day, I'll open a shop.”
So she intended to work in all kinds of professions to earn enough money to open a shop. That's dedicated of her. Why would such a firm-willed person be attracted by a scumbag like Hiro? This is really unbelievable. Hiro himself showed a perfect smile, answering,
“What love?” Don't you talk to me about love! And you have the cheek to freeload here all you want. Yi Ling-san shot him a cold look.
However, Huang Xiang Yu really had no hesitation in betraying her mafia family just to elope with the man she loved. Maybe, like Yi Ling-san, she was prepared to live on in a city of night life?
In any case, these aren't things I should be worrying about.
I walked out of Yi Ling-san's room, and heard quick footsteps coming from the other end of the corridor.
“Mr. Assistant, Mr Assistant!”
The voice of a girl of tender age reached me, and I found a brown shadow flinging at me.
It was Meo, the Thai girl who lived in an apartment here together with her dad.
“This is bad this is bad! A lot of girls are trying to enter! It looks like they know that Hiro's here!”
Meo pointed at the outer corridor handrail, and I hurriedly poked my head out to look. There were a few cars parked in front of the apartment, forming a human sea of vibrant colors. I guess that's almost 20 of them? They're all females, and of different ages and profile. The only common point I had a bad feeling about, was that they were all finely dressed, holding paper bags and carriers. The chatter was mostly Chinese, it seemed, and I could only identify Yi Ling-san and Hiro's names.
“Meo told them already! Meo said that Hiro wanted Meo to keep it a secret and not let anyone know he's here! But they definitely wouldn't leave!”
If you say that, they're definitely not going back...
Finally, the many ladies finally become impatient and broke through the doors. I clearly heard a rash of fierce footsteps passing by below up, and they scaled the staircase, closing in on us. Seeing the massive army appearing on the other end of the corridor, Meo ducked behind me, cowering in fear.
“Hiro! Where's Hiro?”
“He's definitely hiding in Yi Ling's room, right? I head that he's hurt!”
“Why did he come over to Yi Ling's place? Didn't Hiro break up with her?”
“We're just here to visit him. Why chase him away?”
After observing from up close, I noticed that most of the furious looking ladies closing in seemed to be rich wives, and I nearly blurted, If he hides in your houses, you'll get caught by your husbands!
Hearing the conversations of mixed Japanese and Chinese, I could vaguely hear that a girl working in the same shop as Yi Ling-san leaked the news about Hiro. In other words, amongst the hundreds of lovers Hiro had, only the Chinese girls knew of his whereabouts. Guess this really is a silver lining. If everyone knew that he was here, Hello palace would end up in an endless hell.
“Well, Hiro's hiding here and told Meo not to say anything, so he's not here!” Meo said as she hid behind my back. I put a hand on my forehead, sighing. You should have just kept quiet.
“He doesn't spare such a young girl either?”
One of the madames was huffing her shoulders in fury, while Meo clung to my back tightly, swaying her twintails.
“That's not it! The only ones able to get Meo to confess are dad and Mr. Assistant!”
“Stop talking, Meo! This will only make things more complicated!”
I took a step forward, racking my brain at full speed as I thought of what I wanted to say. All I could do was pray that saying some logical words would convince them.
“Eh actually, Hiro's really injured badly. I guess he'll be very happy that everyone's here to visit him, but you know, he really has a sense of responsibility. He'll definitely hear you out when he meets you, and might say that he'll take you out without caring about his own injuries. So, erm, if you really care about Hiro, can you please wait until his condition improves?”
I said as I looked up at the madames expressions. Their agitated looks obviously looked a lot more relaxed, and I discreetly heaved a sigh of relief.
“...Alright, I understand.”
“Well, I can relax if he's in Yi Ling's care.”
“Then, can we hand over our gifts to you?”
Hiro's lovers left a large pile of gifts even I couldn't handle fully, and finally returned back. It's common to see melons and Muscat grapes, but there were also Asian Ginseng, Cordyceps, snake gallbladder, fois gras and crab oil. Rather than have him recover, I wonder--
“Mr Assistant, Mr Assistant. How do I read these words?”
Meo pointed at the box of Chinese medicine with the words 'peerless vitality', asking me,
“Meo, it's alright for you not to know how to read this...”
I got the feeling that handling these matters alone were tiring me out.
I turned around to nudge the door slightly, seeing Yi Ling-san put her hands together and telling me, 'thank you'.
Outside the back door of 'Ramen Hanamaru' was an unapproachable atmosphere.
The gap between the buildings was narrow enough, and at this point, there were massive 3-4 figures clad in T-shirts, members of the Hirasaka-gumi;
“Aniki, good work!”
Upon seeing me approach the shop, the few of of them came to me and greeted me. The shop was yet to begin business at 4pm; Ayaka and the other girls from my class were wearing the school sailor uniforms like usual, with aprons on, happily making ice cream. The atmosphere inside and outside the shop was really different; it felt that my left eye was seeing a different world altogether.
“Nothing strange at the moment!”
“With the few of us over here, we're like an iron wall.”
“If anyone approaches the shop, we'll beat them all up and shoo them off!”
Now no customers will die to approach.
“Ah, erm, have the guys from the Huang Coalition been watching this stretch?”
I had the Hirasaka-gumi send a few over to avoid anyone from obstructing the business. The few guys in black T-shirts nodded.
“Haven't seen anyone today.”
“But they did come by yesterday.”
“Their faces were obviously Chinese.”
“In that case, please continue to be on the lookout.”
I stepped on the emergency staircase, and suddenly, light footsteps were running up to me.
Ayaka caught up to me at the stairwell.
“Min-san said that she'll be coming on the first day of the culture festival, but is that fine? Does she have any issues with her family?”
I was a little hesitant, not knowing how much I should explain to Ayaka.
“It's fine! She definitely won't cause our classmates much trouble.”
“That's not what I'm worried about! I'm worried about Min-san and you, Fujishima-kun.”
I shrank my neck back.
“Sorry, but I'm really fine...”
I wasn't confident at all, but this was all I could only answer.
“Is there anything you need my help with?”
Ayaka was being so close, her knees were practically touching mine as she earnestly said this.
“No, Ayaka. There's nothing you can—” I was about to reply this, but was startled by Ayaka's serious expression, and suddenly thought of something. “Ah, right, there seems to be something. Well, about the one in charge of food hygiene, does the person need to be present all day?”
“Eh? Probably not? Right now, I'm not too sure...”
Min-san just needed to show up if someone was to inspect, and at other times, it's safer to hide her. Nobody knew whether the Huang Coalition would take action.
“I'll clarify with the committee. Anything else?'
“Anything, erm...” There's nothing I thought of, so I said half-jokingly, “Personally, I hope that we can have tiramisu in the menu.”
“Got it!” Ayaka flipped her apron as she teetered down the stairs lightly.
Obviously, Alice was being unhappy.
“I never thought that everyone would be so focusing on breaking up; where have we abandoned our pride as NEET detectives at?”
The tapping at the keyboard sounded like an ice block being shaved. We were entering late October, and the temperature had decreased quite a bit. Even if it was to match the temperature outside the room, the air conditioning in the detective agency was a lot colder than usual. Only recently did I realize this, that when Alice was feeling moody, she would set the air conditioning temperature to a very low level.
“Tetsu and Major said that they wanted to forge proof of Master's divorce, or that they'll throw tear gas at the ceremony. They were even planning this so seriously that they went off to scout the location! This is too unbecoming of them!”
“But you're now working for Min-san's now, aren't you, Alice?'
“It's not for Master. Shouldn't I have just rejected that kind of request straight away?” Alice continued to turn her back on me. “What I'm investigating now is for Hiro's request.”
Alice's definition of a NEET detective was one who dug for the truth, to be the speaker of the dead. That was why she would not accept requests a private investigator would take up, like wrecking marriages. Despite this, Alice continued tapping at the keyboard, all for the sake of Hiro's request.. No, to be precise, for the request she asked Hiro to make.
This strange girl really had all kinds of self-restraining rules in her lives. She wouldn't take action until there was a request, and that itself was another shackle she placed on herself. The truth a detective finds would dig up, decipher and sculpt a certain person's life, and create a fatal change.
Furthermore, Alice had an obsessive concept—though I didn't know if this was the right way to put it—anyway, she had a strong fear of the unknown. Sometimes, this would sink her into despair, and she might even crumble.
That was why Alice had to beg Hiro to make a request to her.
“Alice, do you really just want to know what's up with Hanada Masaru?”
“Haven't I said this countless times already?”
Alice dejectedly noted.
“I have no interest in such a stupid wedding commotion. The only thing that attracts me is Hanada Masaru. I have no idea of that man's intentions, his whereabouts. What does he intend to do? I really have no idea.”
And I didn't know why Alice was so obsessed with Hanada Masaru. It was infuriating that he created this unavoidable mess, and I couldn't agree with him dragging his own daughter down even if it's to help someone else elope. However, it appeared Alice wasn't obsessed about that.
But that there was a firmer discord.
The crux to this issue was likely to be Xiao Ling-san.
I too felt that she had some unspeakable doubt to her. She was not a party involved, yet was so closely involved in this, and I couldn't determine her actual objective, or how did she intend to direct this scenario to a certain outcome. Furthermore, she didn't seem to have any malice to her, which made things more uncomfortable.
“The fact Huang Xiao Ling's hiding is likely to be the crux to this incident. However, it appeared she already knew that this hacker here exists. As to be expected of the Zodiac system developer. I couldn't investigate on news about Hanada Masaru no matter where I struck. Even the call log Hanada Masaru made was hidden by her with some unknown method...”
This too was another reason why Alice was frustrated. The NEET detective had always been invincible in the ocean of electronics, only to be on her back foot in the face of a network security specialist.
Alice suddenly lifted her head to look at a monitor high up a rack, and on it was the simple Zodiac portal site. Every month, the site logo would switch constellations, and at this point, it changed from Libra to Scorpio. October would be over, and soon after, the culture festival.
“However, I do have some clues on Hanada Masaru's whereabouts.” Alice muttered.
I inadvertently leaned my upper body forward while holding the frame of the bed. This was the first time on this day that Alice turned back to look at me, the faint smile on her face clearly showing reluctance and fatigue.
“Do you remember the doctor Hanada Masaru went to on that night? The family name's Choi, a Korean doctor without a license. I tracked down his whereabouts.”
“Found it in a jiffy. He booked a ticker on the internet, and two days after the incident, flew to Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong. Why Hong Kong?'
“Back to the Huangs' headquarters.”
“That's not the Huangs' headquarters, or it can be said that it's the most suitable place on Earth to hide from the Huangs. The Huang Coalition lost territory in the clan wars, and was finally removed from the Hong Kong Triad, chased out of their hometown.. This means that practically all of them moved to Japan. The territory, headquarters and houses were practically taken over by an enemy force called the Bengya Association.”
Right, I believe Huang Hong Lei said something similar too, that he wanted to expand the Huang Coalition in Japan several times before counter attacking on Hong Kong again.
“So Hanada Masaru went to Hong Kong as well?”
“That's a likely possibility.”
Alice again turned back to face the screen.
And then? I swallowed those words.
If he really flew to Hong Kong, then not only would the Huang Coalition be unable to do anything, but the NEETs who could only grumble in a corner of Tokyo couldn't do anything either, and it was pointless to inform anyone of this.Even if we were to tell Min-san, you can relax now, your dad is in Hong Kong where nobody can catch him, I didn't think she would be happy about that either.
No matter how unbearable the truth might be, Alice had no qualms in digging it out.
Alice muttered. It seemed her voice was unable to withstand the cold air too, and was about to be snapped apart.
“Actually, I know very well in my heart that this fact is just firewood for a cremation. A detective can't possibly do anything for the living.”
I merely shook my head. Alice could not see. Even though she denied it, I had no choice but to admit, till this point, Alice saved me several times, but no matter how much I tried to express it, it was useless. In fact, I mentioned it to her several times, but my feelings probably never touched the inner most part of her heart.
Why was that?
I did not speak up, and merely stared at the petite figure under the black hair, quietly asking,
Why must she lock herself in this cramped, cold glass shoe-like place? Why must you always wait so bitterly for the dawn that would never come? What exactly robbed the rhythm of life from her petite body, and swapped it for the premonition of death?
I counted my pulse in the breeze blown by the air conditioning, seeking the suitable words.
The shoulders beneath the blue pajamas shook beyond the curtain of black hair.
“Can you think of Min-san's request as being accepted by me? Besides, I'm a member of the agency...”
I uttered these words one by one, peering at Alice's back.
“...And also, when we have lots of cases in the future, we can work together. Won't that be convenient? Maybe you can leave some of the work to this subordinate of yours.”
Alice shook her head slightly.
This isn't it, Alice,, I didn't mean that. It'll be meaningless. If I'm to do anything by myself, nothing will change. Even if it's a little trick. I hoped to be the link between Alice and this world.
“Can't just let me do whatever I want. You need to command me as the leader.”
“You're too noisy!”
Alice shook her long hair as she turned her head around.
“Speaking of which, didn't you say that! I rejected this request already, so now—”
Once Alice's eyes met mine, she was suddenly at a loss of words. Her large eyes reflected my earnest expression, and I knew that a certain truth behind my lousy lie was figured out. Her pale face was like a brand new candlestick, and at this moment, it was slightly reddened. She seemed a little sorry as she lowered her head.
I hesitated slightly for a while, and continued,
“If it's not work you ordered us to do, the payment Min-san gives will be split equally between Major, Tetsu-senpai and me. Is that okay?”
Alice grabbed the doll lying beside her, one, another, and another one. She hugged the dolls in front of her chest, blocking her reddened face as she answered,
“Didn't I tell you not to taunt me in such a stupid manner? Now I'm embarrassed!”
“Hm...then shall I be a little more honest? I think you're important to me, Alice, so, even if it's just to encourage you, I hope—”
Alice continued to flail her legs, and grabbed another two dolls to hug.
“Argh, I'm getting embarrassed here as well...”
I guess...even I'm starting to be embarrassed too.
“Whatever. You only pay attention to such details in such unnecessary places, and careless in important moments. Since you're going to handle it as a job the agency accepted, all the reward goes to me, and you all will just accept your meager pay that's lesser than alms! Explain this to Tetsu and Major!”
I held in the urge to broke out a grin, and nodded before I stood up.
“Got it. Thanks.”
“Why are you thanking me?”
Alice again turned her back on me in a huff, and through her long hair, I could only see her reddened ears. However, right when I got up and was about to exit the door, Alice again called me with a stern tone,
“About that Doctor Choi...”
“Hm?” I turned my back back. What about that?
“Go tell Huang Hong Lei about that.”
“Er, eh, why?”
Wouldn't that basically be telling the Huangs about the clues to Hanada Masaru? Maybe Huang Hong Lei would have secretly agreed to have his fiancee elope on him, but he might not let Hanada Masaru go, right? This concerned the Huangs' pride after all.
“The Huangs can't do anything in Hong Kong right now. I think I have a rough gauge on Hanada Masaru's intentions too.”
Surprised, I walked back to the bed.
“...What do you mean? Didn't you say that you don't understand his objectives at all?”
“I don't know what he's intending to do! But I know what he wants us to do. Think about what happened in April. That guy had plastic surgery to alter his appearance, and even avoided all the surveillance cameras around and in the building so that we couldn't catch him. He was so cautious interacting with us, and yet there are too many signs in this case.”
Speaking of which, that certainly seemed to be the case..
“He didn't just give a phone call to Huang Xiao Ling, but also called you and had you record his voice. He abandoned the bloodied car after escaping to that hospital, and left records when he booked the plane ticket for the doctor. Even if it was carelessness due to the suddenness of the situation, these acts were too careless of him. It's almost unnatural. I feel that it was deliberate of him.”
'”Hanada Masaru's is making use of us through Huang Xiao Ling, so we can just reveal any filtered information to the Huang Coalition.”
Was it possible to really do that?
It was true that we managed to track down Hanada Masaru a little earlier, and knew of the truth that happened that night, so we managed to avoid the worst case scenario, that of the Huangs knowing that Huang Xiang Yu was still alive. It wasn't implausible however. As long as we report, the only one knowing the truth would be Huang Hong Lei himself. But this was just a guess.
“I can't eliminate the possibility that it's just a guess. A man as amazing as Hanada Masaru probably wouldn't have to spend so much effort to escape to Hong Kong and manipulate the information from afar. Even if he stayed in Tokyo, there's a while to help others to elope and protect 'Hanamaru'. In any case however, reality's reality. He's not here now. It's an unpleasant feeling to be moving and controlled on his end however.”
“If we tell Hong Lei that the doctor flew to Hong Kong, what'll happen next?”
“At the very least, the Huang Coalition will divert its attention to Hong Kong, and the watch here will be relaxed.”
The problem was that even if they turned their attention away, they couldn't send so many people back to Hong Kong just to find Hanada Masaru, right? That wouldn't be too meaningful, would it? Or did he have another objective to this?
Seriously, this was really troublesome. Why did Hanada Masaru run away! He's an amazing mercenary, so in that case, he should at least take some risk to come back and explain to Min-san, right? It's because he wouldn't show that that we're being stifled here!
My impatience wilted in the stiff winds of the air conditioning.
Finally, Alice lifted her head and looked at me with a stoic look.
“Anyway, it's your choice as to whether you want to inform them. This is your case now.”
I boldly declared that I was going to accept Min-san's request, but I didn't know whether to inform Huang Hong Lei of the doctor's whereabouts, even until the next day after school. In that end, i had to discuss this with Tetsu-senpai and Major at the back door of the shop, which made me feel helpless.
“It's doesn't matter, right? Just tell him! Masaru-san will definitely be able to do something. Even if a hundred of those mafia goons are to go find him, they'll definitely just be sent back all shaved and packed in containers.”
Tetsu-senpai answered with a relaxed tone.
Senpai spent the longest time here at 'Hanamaru'. It seemed he knew best how amazing Hanada Masaru was.
“I agree.” Major chimed in too. “As Alice said, the Huang Coalition will divert their attention. Even if there are people staying behind to investigate that hospital or keep watch there, there'll be fewer numbers. It'll be easier for us to begin our operation.”
“Begin operation...what do you mean?”
With a beaming smile on his face, Major opened a small notebook computer. The screen showed the blueprint of a certain building or something.
“Right now, we're still investigating any possible entry routes and target locations...”
“W-wait wait wait, what do you mean by entry? What building is this?”
Why are you asking such a question? Major's face was practically crying this out.
“We're checking on all the companies under the Huangs and the Zodiac! Won't things be settled if we steal the documents that proved Master's loan?”
“That definitely won't work!”
We don't know where they're hidden, and furthermore, this is criminal, isn't it?
“You're right...” Senpai nodded. I was about to say that it's a good thing this guy wasn't as immoral as Major, but he unexpectedly followed up with, “I'm still able to handle opponents wielding Qinglong swords, but facing handguns will be a little problematic...”
“Both are tough to deal with! Anyway, that's not the problem!”
I slammed Major's computer hard, and he curled his lips like an elementary school kid.
“It's fine as long as we aren't found out!”
“You idiot, you'll definitely be found out!”
A voice suddenly rang from the kitchen's back door, and Major nearly rolled over from the old tire he was sitting on. Unbeknownst to us, Min-san opened the door and poked her head out.
“Say, I did make the request, but I'm not telling you to do anything criminal.”
“No, but that's the easiest way.” Major was about to say, only to be smacked by Min-san.
“I want to continue running 'Hanamaru'! I prefer my current lifestyle now. What can you do when you steal and forge documents? That'll make the Huangs more unwilling to let me go, right?”
Min-san's proper words were right on the money, and I thoroughly realized we need people like her around us to remind us.
“What do you intend to do, Narumi?”
Tetsu-senpai asked, and Major too turned towards me. Even Min-san did.
“Alice doesn't want to handle the request, so you're now taking over, Narumi? I heard from Alice yesterday. How are we going to take action anyway?”
I leaned my back on the wall, and slowly slid down, before squatting on the damp dirt, sagging my shoulders. My boastful words from before left me with no choice but to think of a solution. I didn't have that kind of time on hand, but I spent an entire day just thinking of whether I should provide the information to Hong Lei.
In the end, I didn't think of anything.
“So Min-san, let's give up on the plan A to steal the document, and go with plan B, right?” Major.said.
“What's the plan B?”
“Get married with Hiro as soon as possible. Then you won't be able to get married with Huang Hong Lei, right?”
“Are those all the stupid ideas you can think of? Hong Lei will just add another request for me to 'get a divorce'. Think harder.”
“I thought it was a good plan...”
Tetsu-senpai too felt dejected.
“Oh yeah, where did Hiro go?” Min-san suddenly asked. “After that incident, I handed him over for Sou to handle, and now he's playing dumb with me. Which hospital is he at now? He should be fine, right? Did he get hammered in the head too much?”
Tetsu-senpai and I exchanged glances. We had to keep Hiro's current whereabouts a secret from Min-san; this was something we realized we didn't have to talk about. That guy went to propose to Min-san, and now he's hiding in another woman's house...
After seeing us give ignorant looks, Min-san said.
“Haa, I guess he's probably staying at some woman's place.”
“Eh? N-no, that's not true...Hiro didn't go to any woman's place, and well, Yondaime had him at a doctor he knew. That doctor has a complicated background, so we kept it a secret and didn't tell you...”
“Narumi, you really can't lie. Mind realizing that?”
Min-san shot me down with that one line. Major and Tetsu-senpai gave up on trying to lie and cover this up as they reined back their necks.
“Whatever. His wounds aren't that serious, right?”
“...Eh? Ah, yeah...he's a lot better now.”
So much better that he's able to say some cheesy lines to his ex, I nearly blurted.
“Good enough then. Next time, when I see him, I'm going to beat him up good.”
Min-san lectured everyone, but as she returned to the kitchen, she looked over her shoulder, saying,
“I'll leave it to you guys think of some way to get me out of this.”
The ice cream making lessons our class 2-4 girls were participating in finally ended yesterday, and the preparations for the ramen shop finally gained some peace. The school festival loomed, and everyone was in the classroom, helping to decorate. On this day, Ayaka had to stay till late at school, so I had to come and help open the shop.
And because of that, when business started at 5pm, a rare customer came.
I greeted the figure ducking under the curtain and into the shop, and at the next second, I was rooted in shock.
Walking in was Huang Hong Lei, with slick hair, sharp eyes, a dark colored suit under his suite coat, and a bright opened sleeved shirt. Furthermore, what was surprising, or if I thought hard about it, wasn't really surprising, was the other person behind Hong Lei—Xiao Ling-san. The latter was holding what appeared to be a large, flat box.
“What? You came to this shop...”
Min-san walked out from the corridor, asking in confusion, Xiao Ling-san stood behind a stoic looking Hong lei, glanced aside at me, and whispered to Min-san. “Sorry for coming uninvited...”
Hong Lei took the box from Xiao Ling-san's hands, and opened the lid slightly.
“This is the custom made dress. Just made today.”
Min-san merely glanced at the box.
“Sorry, but I don't need to wear this. Didn't I say that I'm attending the school festival on that day?”
Was that the dress to be worn at the wedding ceremony? I noticed it slightly. Speaking of which, back then, when Min-san was called over by Hong Lei, did they have it custom tailored back then? Back when Min-san was in the dark, naively thinking that she was just a substitute.
“I don't care what you intend to do on that day. I'll be picking you up at 11.”
Min-san had already stated it so clearly, yet Hong Lei placed the box on the counter, and showed the content within. As he was pinching the side and pulling it out slightly, I only see the shoulders and the torso part, but I could immediately tell that the purple dress was of top notch quality.
“Why not a Chinese dress...”
“Even though we're Chinese, we don't have to be wearing that, right?”
“But is that able to support Master's huge breasts?”
“I think she needs to wear a cosette underneath.”
Tetsu-senpai and Major peeked in from the gap in the backdoor, and Min-san heard their chatter, looking furious as she slammed the back door hard, and turned back to Hong Lei.
“How did you explain it to the guests? Nobody had anything to say when you said you're going to bring me along?”
“It was originally a ceremony where I am announced as the Hong Lord. The wedding's just a side event.”
The Hong Lord here would refer to the leader of a Chinese mafia. In a larger organization, there's the Dragon Head who's higher ranked than the Hong Lord, and at this point, the Hong Lord is the equivalent of a Japanese yakuza lord. Because of this case, I learned a lot of unnecessary knowledge.
“I'll just introduce you to the guests as the granddaughter of the Dragon head, since that's a fact. Practically nobody in Japan knows your background, or Xiang Yu, so there's no real need to explain.”
“What about grandfather and the others?”
“The Dragon Head was really positive about it, especially since he never took a particular liking to Xiang Yu, and preferred you instead. My father and grandfather weren't too willing, but since only I can take over the Huang Coalition, nobody can grumble. Once lunch's over, it'll be a meeting with the relatives, and you'll have to show up. I'll make sure everyone accepts you at the wedding.”
“But I'll grumble!”
“At that moment, you won't.”
Xiao Ling-san appeared to be sighing. Min-san merely shrugged.
“Whatever. You got nothing else for me, right? If so, hurry up and scram. Don't stop me from opening my shop and doing business.”
Hong Lei kept the clothing back in the box, closed the box, and sat down by the counter.
“Serve something. I'm here as a customer.”
I inadvertently widened my eyes, yet Min-san pretended to remain calm as she asked,
“What are you planning exactly?”
“This shop's going to close because of me. Thus, I have an obligation to taste the flavor here?”
Min-san turned her eyes to the entrance of the ramen shop.
“You too, Xiao Ling?”
“...yeah, it's a rare chance.”
A conflicted look remained on Xiao Ling-san's face, and she sat down beside Hong Lei.
The next 20 minutes was likely the most surreal time I ever experienced working in 'Hanamaru'. The siblings who were to inherit a mafia were seated on relatively unclean, cramped counter seats, and Min-san was opposite them, watching the noodle strands fly in the boiling water, while I was beside her, tentatively preparing the roasted pork, the boiled onions, and chopped green onions.
“Kept you waiting.”
Min-san served two bowls of soy sauce ramen, and Hong Lei practically finished one entire bowl in one shot. Beside him, Xiao Ling-san was slowly moving her chopsticks, yet he finished even the stock in the soup, down to the very last bit.
“The flavor now feels different from Masaru's.”
Hong Lei muttered as he put down the bowl. I stared at Min-san face from the side in shock.
“You ate my dad's ramen before?” Min-san asked.
“Xiao Ling and I knew him for a longer time than you do. I ate the ramen he cooked a few times when I was a brat.”
“If he's to eat this, he'll definitely be happy. Such a fool.”
Hong Lei waited for Xiao Ling-san to finish, and get up, put a few notes and coins on the counter, and put on his coat.
I simply felt some unknown heat burning deep within my heart. Huang Hong Lei was supposed to be a man who would kill anyone if he found it to be necessary, yet I saw something so clear and transparent in his heart. If I were to express it in a word, it could only be described as 'sincerity'. Maybe, on the other end of the sea, there's a better term that would describe this unique characteristic.
So I hesitated.
Just this current situation alone cornered me, and in fact, I didn't have the time to worry about the man who was supposed to be our enemy. However, I couldn't help but think, if we're to wreck Min-san's wedding, this guy will be utterly humiliated, right? I'm an idiot. Got to pull myself together. How can I be worried about the enemy?
But right when I peeked at Min-san from the corner of my eye, I found that she seemed to be thinking the same things as I did, for she was staring at the back of the coat that was holding the curtain up, about to leave the shop.
I called out without thinking. Xiao Ling-san, who was about to get up, looked and me, and Hong Lei too turned his head back.
“...Ah, ahh, erm.”
I was so nervous, the words that were stuck in my throat were finally squeezed out.
“We might be able to find out where Masaru-san is. That doctor flew to Hong Kong.”
Hong Lei's response was unexpectedly calm, and I could clearly hear Min-san gulp.
“Hong Kong? Humph...”
I ducked under the counter, and chased after Hong Lei out of the shop.
“Aren't you going to send people after him?”
“I'll do that without you telling me to do it. I don't know what you're planning, but my plans won't change.”
I lowered my shoulders dejectedly. He's right; it'll definitely take a lot of time if he couldn't send lots of people back to Hong Kong. By then, even if they did find Hanada Masaru, Hong Lei would have gotten married with Min-san, and 'Hanamaru' would close down.
So, what was the purpose of that?
As Alice had said, it was a mean Hanada Masaru was using to manipulate information, but what was he—
The answer soon came. Huang Hong Lei was about to drive the car off, only to reach for his cellphone in the inner pocket of his suit, giving a perturbed expression.
“Yes...Huang Hong Lei speaking...Masaru? Is that you, Masaru?”
I was taken aback, or rather, I felt something a bit off about it. Hanada Masaru? Did that man really call? Why would Hanada Masaru choose to contact Huang Hong Lei at such a moment? Did he really have an eye on everything, and was watching us from the opposite coast?
“Why are you calling from the main family's phone...oh...I see. The Bengya Association? You're thinking that I won't be able to take action in Hong Kong?”
I heard some footsteps, and turned back to look. Min-san came running out of the shop.
“Hey! Did my dad call? Hey! Hong Lei!”
Hong Lei glanced aside at Min-san, nodding as he continued to talk on the phone.
“...Ha. I understand. I'll let you do whatever you want for the time being. However, I won't be staying in Japan forever. Remember, once I land on Kowloon again, that day will be your day!”
Min-san snatched the cellphone from Hong Lei's hands, and placed it by her ear.
“Dad! Where are you? In Hong Kong!?...I know that. Stop joking around. Are you an idiot? You're still worrying about others...for such a stupid reason! Hey,, hey! What nonsense are you saying? Dad! ...dad!”
Gasping, Min-san reigned in her urge to yell, and once the phone call was over, she stuffed the phone back into Hong Lei's hands.
“I give up. Forget about that guy. Just think of him as dead already.”
Min-san muttered with an utterly repressed voice.
“This is my shop, and it got nothing to do with that man now. I'm definitely not going to let this shop close.”
The frown on Hong Lei's forehead eased slightly, and he continued,
“The wife of the Hong Lord is very busy, but if you insist to continue keeping the ramen shop running, just hire people. Your ramen tastes won't vanish completely.”
“You really don't understand me.”
Min-san showed a faint smile.
At this moment, two construction workers and a few tired looking salarymen in suits were chatting and laughing as they crossed the road.
“Oh? What now? Still busy?”
“You haven't opened the shop yet, Min-san?”
“I'm so hungry that I'm all weak here!”
“It's fine, come in and wait. I'll get ready immediately.” Min-san ushered the customers into the shop, and merely turned back to look at Hong Lei.
“To be honest, if you had said that you wanted to run the ramen shop with me, I would have considered it a little.”
Leaving those words, Min-san's ponytail vanished behind the curtain, and Xiao Ling-san walked out.
“...Let's go, Hong Lei,.” Xiao Ling-san grabbed her older brother's arm to prompt him to drive. She passed by me, and again glanced at me, seemingly intent on wanting to say something.
It was later that night when I was briefed by Alice of the contents of that phone call. Alice hacked into Hong Lei's phone, and extracted the call record.
After the audio was played, Alice and I never recovered for a while as we heard the sound of the air-conditioner buzzing. All I felt was the fatigue seemingly about to trickle out for my ears along with my blood.
“The call log definitely originate from Hong Kong...”
Alice muttered, breaking the deadlock.
“It was called from the Huangs' old residence in Kowloon Tasi. But...this kind of phone call is easy to fake.”
“In other words...Hanada Masaru betrayed the Huangs and defected to the enemy?”
“If we believe what he says, then yes...”
The Huangs' house in Hong Kong was occupied by a rival group called the Bengya Association, and Hanada Masaru called Huang Hong Lei from the phone there.
Hanada Masaru was a mercenary, and had relationships with mafias everywhere. He probably defected to the enemy with intel on the Huang Coalition, and served under them. Truly, this was an unscrupulous betrayal.
“The truth doesn't matter now.”
Alice's wavering eyes turned towards me.
“Anyway, there's only one thing he wants to tell the Huangs, and he has already escaped to a place they can't get to him.”
Alice revealed that the whereabouts of the doctor who flew to Hong Kong, and that made things much more convincing.
“But here's the problem.”
Alice suddenly said, and I, pondering deeply, lifted my head.
“This is the strangest part to me. Don't you find the timing to be too coincidental?”
“You informed Huang Hong Lei of the news that the doctor went to Hong Kong, and then Hanada Masaru, who was supposed to be in Hong Kong, called immediately, right in front of Master...”
I folded my arms, and groaned. Speaking of which, that certainly seemed to be the case.
“There might be another catch to this. The timing's too coincidental, it's intriguing.”
“You're saying that...Hanada Masaru might still be in Japan?”
“That's a possibility.”
Not only in Japan, but even observing the actions of Min-san and the Huangs, and calling occasionally to control the entire situation? If that really was the case, then it's a bigger question mark as to what Hanada Masaru was really planning.
“Well, whatever. Huang Xiao Ling continues to remain clammed up, but Huang Hong Lei has a few weaknesses to capitalize on. I'll continue investigating, and you just need to do your work.”
I cupped my legs as I stayed by the side of the bed. Alice suddenly stopped typing and turned her head back to look at me, looking a little displeased as she narrowed her eyes.
“I guess you still have no idea of the work you took responsibility for.”
“If we can't finish the request and receive the payment from Min-san, we still need to pay Tetsu and Major their salaries. That money is going to come from you since you agreed to it so brazenly! Once you understand, get up. And throw the empty cans outside!”
I was given a verbal lashing, and I hurriedly stood up, cleaned up the empty cans of Dr Pepper scattered all over the bed and carried them in my clutches. I left the agency, and leaned on the door, sighing.
It seemed senpai and Major were serious in trying to use illegal means to get rid of the loan evidence. Even Hiro too was going around, trying to amass money when he just recovered a little. I wanted to say, stop, these ideas won't work! But I couldn't think of any alternatives. Did I really have the right to stop them?
3 days later, Umeda Kouji returned to Tokyo. It was early in the morning on a holiday, and I was woken up by Yondaime on the phone, so I could only move out to the Hirasaka-gumi office.
Almost all the members were squeezed inside the small room, and Yondaime to stood up from the desk.
“Things are as how I explained to you on the phone just now. Who do you think is most suitable as bait?”
I did a rough scan of the black T-shirted guys, and chose someone most similar to Min-san in body size, and another two as smokescreen.
Yondaime nodded, and brought the 3 chosen people out of the office along with me.
“Where's Min-san?” I asked as I went down the stairs.
“I gave her a call.”
“Is there a need to protect her with that much effort?”
“It's possible that there are mafia members keeping watch on 'Hanamaru'.”
I see. If they realized what was going on and tailed us, there would be a chance of the news being leaked. Better be careful just in case.
The 5 of us sat in a wagon car, and we drove off to 'Hanamaru'.
It was a bright morning, and the slightly dirtied buildings and concrete bridge looked so dazzling. The rare few pedestrians had their hands on the front of their coat, their backs arched as they walked down the street. The car windows became foggy in an instant. October was about to end, and Autumn was about to descend into Winter.
We reached the ramen shop, and didn't enter from the front entrance, but to the residence entrance at the back of the building. I brought the 3 guys in black T-shirts into Min-san's house, and she too walked out from the corridor.
“Good morning, Master!”
“Be quiet, you idiot! Where's my T-shirt?”
I handed a black Hirasaka-gumi T-shirt over to Min-san. On that day, Min-san had her sarashi tied really tightly, and the busty chest really left large lumps on the shirt. She put down her hair into the collar, and put on the gang's baseball cap. In other words, she was disguising herself as one of the members. I wonder if this disguise could work.
The remaining two members flanked Min-san in the middle, and the trio walked out at the same time. We quickly sat in the wagon car at the parking lots in the back, and Yondaime immediately drove off.
Yondaime's preparation was more cautious than usual. Once we approached the boutique he ran, he had everyone switch over to another car he had prepared beforehand in the basement parking lots. After lots of this troublesome process, we arrived at a certain building that was a little away from the office area in Shinjuku.
We entered the basement parking lots, and Xiao Ling-san immediately came out to greet us. It was a holiday, but she was still dressed in a tidy business suit. There were two people behind her. I couldn't see the faces clearly under the dazzling sunlight, but I could barely make out a man and a woman.
Min-san was the first to get off the passenger seats, and I followed suit.
“Thank you for coming all the way here, Ming Li. Xiang Yu said that she wanted to meet you no matter what, so...”
Min-san shoved aside Xiao Ling-san who approached her, and went right at the duo, grabbing the baseball cap on her head.
I once saw the duo on the photos. The woman was wearing a cheap half-coat and faded jeans, and didn't have the princess-like presence seen on the photo, but I could tell that it was her.
“...You're Xiang Yu.”
Min-san's voice and face showed utter impatience.
“Yes, I'm really sorry that we're meeting in such a situation.”
The woman who started this entire chain of events lowered her head, answering this.
The man beside her held her by the shoulders. This unimpressionable looking man had eyebags filled with fatigue, and looked as though he wanted to say something to Min-san, only to hold back as he bit his lips.
This guy was Umeda Kouji, right?
Once he saw Yondaime in the driver seat, he immediately left Xiang Yu and went over to bow deeply towards the latter.
“Sorry to cause you trouble, Hinamura-san.”
“It's fine. I just brought them along.”
I heard their conversation. So the friend taking care of Umeda Kouji (probably another yakuza) was a friend of Yondaime in Kansai.
“I told you not to mention the past, right?” Yondaime told me. “Don't ask me anything.”
I gulped, and nodded before turning back to Min-san. The latter continued to stare at Huang Xiang Yu with wide eyes, the expression on her face not of utter fury or reproach, but more like despair or of one who gave up.
Huang Xiang Yu looked at Xiao Ling-san, and then at Min-san, timidly asking,
“Erm, what happened about that, between Hong Lei and me?”
Min-san let out a long sigh, and shrugged.
“Nothing much. It's still not confirmed, but this isn't something you should worry about.”
“But, but! Masaru-san—!”
It appeared Xiang Yu wanted to continue saying something, but Xiao Ling-san grabbed her shoulders firmly, showing an unbelievably vicious expression as she shook her head. Xiang Yu remained teary as she muttered,
“I think I should just return to the Huangs once, and explain everything to grandfather and everyone else to avoid causing you trouble, Ming Li.”
Xiang Yu's voice stopped as her throat let out a whimper, for Min-san grabbed her by the collar.
“Hey, you got to be kidding!”
Min-san brought herself close to Xiang Yu as she glared, saying with an axe-like voice. Even Xiao Ling-san, who wanted to step forward and stop Min-san, was terrified by the beast-like face, and stood rooted there.
“You're dead! You're killed by my dad! I know that my dad's always been thinking about you, and he did everything for you sake! Now you're saying that you're going to show up and ruin all his hard work? Enough with that nonsense! If you really feel sorry for me, play your role as a dead person! And then forget all the Huangs and live a new life!
Min-san vented, and shoved Xiang Yu over to Umeda Kouji. She picked up the baseball cap on the floor, put it on, and went back to the car. Xiang Yu continued to whimper in Umeda Kouji's clutches, thank you, muttering over and over again.
When I recalled this incident a long time later, I realized that Min-san might have realized the truth at that moment. She's a smart one, but so smart that it was sad.
Back then, I didn't realize this.
Until the very end.
On the car ride back, Min-san showed what could be described as a look of despair, and she merely stuck her cheeks by the windowside. I was seated beside her, staring at my own knees, not knowing what I should think.
The next day, Hiro finally returned to 'Hanamaru'. Min-san and I were preparing the ingredients in the kitchen, and the back door sudden opened, followed by a familiar, carefree grinning face.
“Sorry to make everyone worry.”
Hiro said as he entered the kitchen. He was wearing a host-styled white suit, and the swelling was finally gone from his face. I really couldn't tell that he was just beaten up a few days back, lying limp on the floor like a puppet with strings snapped.
“Nobody's worried about you at all. You disappeared just like that. You hid in a woman's house, didn't you?”
Min-san stopped her hand from twirling the soup as she lifted her head up to look at Hiro, saying this unhappily.
“And what's with that gaudy get-up? Since you're all recovered, hurry up and head to the kitchen. Having Narumi help worries me too much.”
“Ah, right, before I work.”
Hiro entered the kitchen, took out a folded piece of paper from his pocket, and handed it over to Min-san. The latter opened it, and immediately frowned.
“The valuation slip of that BMW. I went to a few second-hand car dealers, but the prices on an online auction were better. Also, I auctioned all those watches, but the money earned isn't much...I have around 5 million Yen in savings...”
“Why mention this to me?”
“It's the money owed by this shop...16 million yen, right? If you pay the money, you won't have to let the mafia do anything to you.”
Min-san tore the valuation slip into the trash bin, and right when Hiro wanted to say something, she rewarded him with a slap. I cringed back in shock, and Hiro too lifted his face in shock.
“Did anybody ask you to do that? Or do you really want me to owe you a favor?”
“...That's not it. Once I get married to you, the debt owed by 'Hanamaru' will basically be mine. It's to be expected that I'll pay it off with my own money, right?”
This time, there was none of the sweet talk in Hiro's words. Thus, Min-san looked at her raised palm, and again looked at Hiro's eyes, asking impatiently,
“Are you serious when you say you want to get married with me?”
“Right, very serious.”
Hiro nodded. At this moment, the smile on his face, not the honey wine-like smile that caused the hearts of the triple digit number of women to flutter, but that of a teary youth who experienced something new and harsh.
That was why he did it, right? Min-san averted her eyes with some awkwardness.
“Alright, I'll beat you up at least. Hurry up, change up and get in.”
I handed the apron over to Hiro. Right when he stepped into the corridor, Min-san muttered,
“It's not an issue of money.”
Min-san lowered her head at the wok sadly, while Hiro and I stared at her sidelong face at the same time.
“You guys dealt with the yakuza many times already, and you guys should know, right? The Huang Coalition found my weakness. Actually, they don't care about the initial reason. They'll just attack the weakness for their own objectives. That's how the yakuza play. Repaying the debt won't solve anything. If we're not careful, they'll set another trap to trip us again.”
That was why Min-san made a request to the NEET detective, and I accepted it.
Hiro and I exchanged a glance, and we silently went out from the back door. I sat at the emergency staircase, my cheeks on my knees.
Min-san became weak.
But it was not because the yakuza got a hold on her weakness, but because the incident caused by her own dad caused her own life much turmoil, and she was mentally worn out. I could tell from her face. That person, who I knew was stronger than anyone else, was actually...
She might tell him off harshly, but Min-san probably left a large space for her disappeared dad in her heart, I guess? That space would give off a cold, empty feeling from time to time. I knew that feeling very well.
What could I do exactly?
What could I do for the woman who was so important to me—for us?
Think. Think. Think of something.
As Min-san said, there was a 'trap' laid out. Right when I was leaning by the railing of the emergency staircase, Min-san's anxious voice could be heard from the back door.
“...What's going on? ...How can you do this without a reason? ...No, no, this isn't an issue of repayment. We worked so long together, so at least explain this to me! Please wait! I'll go over now!”
Following that was the phone receive being slammed. What? Did something happen? I nudged the back door slightly, and saw Min-san hurriedly put on a shirt, about to duck out of the counter and leave the shop.
“Hiro, I'll leave the preparations to you. I'll be right back!”
Min-san's footsteps could be heard leaving, and I asked Hiro.
“What happened? Did something...”
“Ah, yeah. The noodles weren't delivered, so Min-san called the noodle manufacturer Okada, but it seems that they don't want to do business with us anymore...”
Don't do business?
The noodle manufacturer Okada had been working with 'Hanamaru' ever since the shop opened. Why did this happen?
And right when Min-san personally went to the manufacturer to negotiate, the situation got dire. The food suppliers called one after another, causing Hiro much distress.
“Please listen, our owner isn't around right now! It's difficult for us to accept such a sudden request. Do you mind explaining the reason to us?”
I heard Hiro continue to question them on the phone, thinking that I should at least do what I could do, and I went ahead to prepare the ingredients.
However, it was all a waste of them. Min-san returned from Okada noodle manufacturing, and once she heard Hiro's explanation, she remained by the phone, negotiating with the suppliers.
The sun set, and all the members of the NEET detective agency were gathered at 'Hanamaru', a rarity.
“I never thought that they'll pull this method. I thought they would be more direct...” Tetsu-senpai folded his arms, showing a grim look.
“Thinking about it, this is the most direct method...”
Major took off his military cap, and scratched his head.”
“The problem now is that we have no proof that it was them who did it...every supplier remained vague and refused to explain. But there's no doubt about it.”
Hiro looked extremely frail.
All the suppliers to 'Hanamaru' requested not to provide the ingredients. Some of them angrily indicated, This will cause us distress, so stop calling us again. Some suppliers begged, We didn't hope for this to happen, so please understand. However, when the reason was asked, all of them remained silent.
We looked at the kitchen through the opened back door. Min-san was twirling fried rice in the Chinese work, nonchalantly chatting with the customers.
But for the time being, the shop wouldn't be able to open tomorrow.
It might not even be temporary...the shop might never be opened again.
Hiro cleaned up after our finished bowls, and Tetsu-senpai suddenly brought his forehead over to me, saying,
“Looks like we can only attack head on!”
“To where?” Major asked. “To the mafia's base? Negotiate with them?”
“That's all we can do now, right? I don't know if the Chinese mafia has a tradition for one on one battles..”
“But I heard that Huang Hong Lei went barefisted and beat that Yondaime with speed.”
“You idiot bastard. Do you think I'll be weaker than Yondaime? I'll definitely beat that bastard of a slick hair and show you.”
Right when the duo bickered, a long figure appeared in the alley. Speak of the devil, it was Yondaime, followed by Pole and Rocky.
“Are you going to fight, Tetsu-ojisa?”
“Time to take action! We're not going to lose to some Chinese mafia! We'll send them packing back to Hong Kong?”
“Speaking of which, where's Hong Kong?”
“In the North, I guess? Isn't there a nursery rhyme that the snow continues to rain, and so is the ice?” 
“Hong Kong's a lot more south than Okinawa...”
“What's the matter, Vice-Admiral Fujishima? Your retorts are slower and weaker than usual.”
“No, I'm not it the mood...”
I knew I shouldn't have said anything. Yondaime beat up Pole and Rocky, getting them t shut. He sat down beside me, and I couldn't help but ask,
“Since you came all the way over, did you think of a good plan?”
“Are you an idiot? That's your job.” Yondaime spat back. “I came by since I thought that since I might never get to eat the ramen again.”
For some reason, Yondaime's response was the most reassuring to me. Just a bit more comforting though.
Starting from the next day, I went home immediately after school. There was a logjam of people preparing for the culture festival, and even though it was late, many classrooms remained lit. The corridors and the back of the stairwells were littered with cardboard and decorations used for the outside, the arts-type clubs took turns rehearsing in the school, the committee members with armbands were patrolling the school, and the entire school was filled with a vibrant atmosphere. However, I was so busy with my part-time work the entire month that I didn’t participate in the set up of class 2-4’s tent, so there was no need for me in the classroom. Furthermore, if I remained in school, I would be questioned by my classmates, “Fujishima, why is ‘Hanamaru’ closing down?” “Is it our fault?” “Is Min-san feeling alright? Did we tire her too much?” but I couldn’t explain matters to her, and it as really tough on me. That was why I immediately went home after classes ended.
Also, I couldn’t bring myself to show up at the detective agency. For some reason, I knew I’ll see a notice the words ‘we’re temporarily closed’ pasted on the shutters of ‘Hanamaru’. Seeing that would certainly depress me. That also didn’t take into consideration that as a member of the detective agency, I proudly accepted the case, but I couldn’t think of any solutions, and I couldn’t bring myself to see Alice’s face.
I cupped my knees as I laid on my bed, pretending not to notice the winter that was slowly closing in as I draped the blanket over my shoulders as I tried to figure out everything that had happened in this messy situation.
And so, the sun set, the days passed by, and October was about to end.
I heard on the phone that Hiro had been going around looking for new food suppliers, but at this point, ‘Hanamaru’ used rare ingredients for its ramen soup, and so the search wasn’t going on.
“But what’s more serious now is.” Hiro said, “Min-san hasn’t been able to cheer up recently.”
If it had been the usual Min-san, she probably would have charged up to Hong Lei, beat him up good, and warn him not to do anything to the suppliers. At this point however, it’s good to have a little break, she merely smiled and said that.
I hung up the phone, and laid on the bed.
That person had always been supporting us, and we never expected a day when she would show weakness and ask us for help.
That person was our sun, and it was at this point that I realized this fact emphatically. Once she hid in her cave, we could only remain in the dark day, unable to adapt, moving around without a cause, not knowing our rhythm or hearing any music.
I buried my face into the pillow, crushing away at these useless thoughts.
On the last day of October, I remained groveled in my room, letting time pass by meaninglessly, only to hear a hard knock on the door. I got up from my pillow, and stopped playing the music from the computer.
“Narumi? Have you woken up? You got guests!”
It was my older sister’s voice. Maybe she realized that the music had stopped playing, since she opened the door and stepped in.
“I think that guy came before, that dropout called Kuwabara. He’s really wearing some tacky clothes.
I went down to the first level, and opened the door at the corridor. Once I saw Hiro standing there, I was left speechless.
He was wearing a cocktail suit and a silk hat, holding a short staff with a golden ball, and said something like ‘bonsoir’ while dressed like that, which caused me to instinctively retreat and close the door.
“W-wait a sec! Sorry for shocking you, but I’ll explain! Wear this, Narumi!”
Hiro slipped through a hat and some folded clothes through the gap at the door.
“…Well, no need for that. I don’t know whose Princess’ party are we going to, but you can ask someone else…”
“No no. It’s Halloween today, you know?”
I see, it’s Halloween. My slow consciousness was able to digest this fact. And then what? Why did I have to celebrate this pumpkin festival? The clothes handed to me were too heavy, and my doubts were gradually sinking in fatigue and helplessness.
“Change up and come out. I’ll be waiting.”
A few minutes later, I was wearing a frock coat and a round bowler hat, and this made me look like a proper English gentleman as I exited the house. There was a deep blue foreign car parked outside, and Hiro, dressed up in an idiotic manner, opened the back seat of the door. I looked inside, and was immediately left speechless.
“…Hiro’s the one who chose it!”
Alice was seated there, looking really displeased as she wore an Inverness coat and a wide cape, a deer fur hunting cap, and holding a thick, short cigar in hand. The bear plushie pressed on her tummy looked more outstanding than usual.
I could only feel that my consciousness was about to drift to the land of the elves, and to drag myself back into reality, I turned my eyes to Hiro to be sure.
“Alice is dressed up as Sherlock Holmes, so this plain attire of mine is Watson, right?”
“Correct! Detective and assistant. I thought of other clothing to fit the Halloween theme, but Alice’s so cute wearing this that it’s not fun at all!
Speaking of which, I guess the reason why Hiro bought a whole bunch of clothing for Alice was for her to wear it this Halloween? Explains all the Tokyu Hands bags.
“So, I thought of having a detective dress up as a detective. I think that’s an innovative idea.”
“What’s innovative about this?” Alice muttered. “What’s with this crude getup? This is a humiliation to Conan Doyle. Who wears a hunting cap in town? More like Jeremy Brandt.”
“But if you don’t dress up like that, nobody’s going to tell that you’re Holmes. It’s a festival, and the most important thing is to identify easily.”
Hiro chuckled as he slipped back the driver seat, and I sat down beside Alice.
“And then? Why are you dressed up as Arsene Lupin?” It’s like there’s some relationship between him and Holmes, and not at all. Really interesting.
“Nothing much. Just for easy identification too. If I’m to dress up as Professor Moriarty, nobody can tell, right?”
Right…I was starting to feel that nothing really mattered at this point.
The car drove off, and Alice remained furious and silent. It seemed she really didn’t like her dress-up, so I tried saying this to her,
“Actually…you kinda look cute.”
“Wh-wh-wh-why are you saying this out of a sudden? How can I be thinking about that kind of that!”
And so Alice lowered the hunting cap further, covering her entire face.
That night, the devastation at ‘Hanamaru’ was akin to a witches’ party celebrating the return of demons to the mortal realm. The entire shop was lit, and at the place where the curtains used to be, there were a few pumpkin lanterns hanging there, while girls wearing maid outfits and bunny ears were giggling and having fun. I really wanted to hide in the car along with Alice until daylight, but alas, it was a pity that Hiro, who first got out from the car, immediately yelled out, “I brought them here!”
The real identities of the bunnies were the girls from our class. Ayaka came hopping to us happily, and I couldn’t help but feel a migraine.
“Fujishima-kun! …Erm.” Ayaka said, only for her smile to be frozen on her face, and she looked aside, not wanting to see my gentleman garb. “Your hat’s as cute as a steamed chocolate hat.”
Couldn’t you just say that it didn’t suit me? I looked at my classrooms, and said,
“Why is everyone dressed up as bunnies?”
“Eh? I didn’t tell you? That’s the waitress attire for the culture festival.”
I didn’t know…even though the culture festival was coming up in 3 days.
“You don’t have any awareness as a member of the class.” The girls in my class noted.
“You’ve been going home recently.”
“But you had nothing to do if you stayed behind, and you’ll get in everyone’s way.”
The vicious bunnies surrounded me, at for a moment, I was on tenterhooks. I slipped to the back alley, and found Major dressed up as Nazi soldier, which Tetsu-senpai was dressed as the Incredible Hulk (more or less, since his outfit didn't look any different from usual, just that his skin got colored green), licking away at ice cream.
“What's with that get up of yours? A mook in a Ghibli film?” Tetsu-senpai asked.
“It's Watson!” As expected, nobody could recognize this outfit if I didn't explain.
“My get up's the most unique today.”
Major gleefully noted. Diminutive he might be, he had a uniform cap with a crossbone marking on it that really seemed off.
“Such a shallow get up will normally be laughed off by me, but it does fit in the atmosphere for this festival.”
But in Halloween, we have to dress up as ghosts or demons, right? If we're dressed up like this, it'll just be an ordinary clothing party! I looked aroundd at the buzzing crowd that's enjoying themselves, and inadvertently felt really relieved that Yondaime wasn't here.
“If we invitied Yondaime here, there'll definitely be 20 or so guys who don't need to dress up just to look like King Kong or Chewbaccas, so I didn't tell him about this.” Tetsu-senpai noted proudly. Smart move.
I looked at the back door through, and Min-san was dressed up like her usual self, the tank top, a black apron around her waist as she continued cooking. I heaved a little sigh of relief. This person was still most suited to work in the kitchen.
However, I was a little sad that the food she was preparing wasn't ramen.
“You're not dressed up, Min-san?”
“Of course not. What a stupid question. How am I supposed to work in a kitchen wearing such crazy things?”
Min-san retorted as she continued stirring the contents of the pot. Hiro stood beside her, and said,
“I'm Lupin, and Min-san's dressed as Mine Fujiko.”
“It's just the hair let down!”
“Look, big breasts too!”
“My chest's always like this, you idiot.” Min-san sent Hiro flying with a kick.
And so, Tetsu-senpai suddenly grabbed me by the collar.
“Hey Narumi, go get Alice here, alright? We're really excited to see her!”
“Narumi, it's Watson's job to escort Holmes, you know?” And now even Lupin's saying that while standing at the back door. I had a look at the parking lot, and it appeared the hunting hat was still in the car. I could only sigh, and stand up.
I brought Alice over, and the bunnies were strangely agitated. Alice was hugged and fondled by the girls, appearing to be on the verge of tears.
“So cute! Who's this who's this?” “Let's take a photo together!”
“Let go of me! I'm not a doll!”
“I know! You're cosplaying as Conan!” “Detective Conan, right? It's exactly the same!”
That's not it. It's the original Conan. Young people nowadays...
“Narumi, aren't you the same age as them?” Tetsu-senpai pointed out, and that really devastated me. Now that he mentioned it, it's true, but I really, really forgot about it.
“Oh yeah, how old are you already, Narumi? 17? Right...you're in high school!”
Hiro said this, and the atmosphere quiet down for some reason. My classmates, with Ayaka leading them, Alice surrounded by my classmates, and even Min-san, standing at the kitchen counter, was looking at me.
“It's your birthday today, right?”
Birthday. October 31st. It's definitely my 17th birthday today.
“You see, Fujishima forgot about it after all.”
“You were right, Ayaka!”
“Don't tell me you forgot which month is it tomorrow?”
The bunnies' mutters entered my ears. Despite this, I couldn't relate myself to today's date being both Halloween and my birthday, merely twirling around in my mind.
At this moment, Ayaka dragged Alice along and opened the back door.
“You ready, Alice? 1, 2, 3—”
The crackers in their hands exploded, and the ribbons landed on my face.
“Happy birthday, Fujishima!”
And once Ayaka said that, my classmates pulled the crackers in their hands, and I was immediately covered with thin ribbons.
And as the explosive smoke lingered, I sat on an old tire, stunned, not knowing how to react, and suddenly, Min-san served a tray of large orange blobs.
“20 servings of pumpkin ice cream coming right now!”
The girls cheered.
That night was the first time I saw Min-san being completely wasted.
All my classmates had already left, while Tetsu-senpai and Major were holding empty bottles of rum, sleeping on the emergency stairs. A little brandy was used in the ice cream, but it's now empty, so I guess Min-san drank it all. Completely red faced, she was cuddling Alice firmly, rubbing her face on the latter's cheek as she muttered some words.
“Narumi, hurry up and drag her away from me! She reeks of alcohol! It stinks!”
Alice stumbled and fell on the corridor, appearing to be on the verge of tears. She was fondled by the girls in our class, and was embraced firmly by a completely drunk Min-san. The cape on her Inverness coat was completely crumpled, and the hunting cap fell who knew where, and even her long, black hair was ruffled into a mess. It was no wonder then she was about to cry. However, both Hiro and me alone weren't able to pull Min-san out, and whenever we touched her shoulders or arms, we would be kicked away.
“Stop messing around, you bastards! Don't touch me!”
“Are you treating me as a bolster or something?”
“How can you be one when you're so skinny? I should have fed you more.”
We had no choice. We could only drag Alice and Min-san together to the bedroom and put her on the futon.
“I'll get some water.” Hiro went to the kitchen.
“What's wrong, Master? Are you fine letting us see how unrestrained you can be?”
Alice fiddled with Min-san's hair that was let down, asking with a gentle voice of disbelief.
Min-san rubbed her cheek on Alice's thigh. To be honest, I never saw Min-san being so relaxed.
“I just had a little thought.”
“That I might as well stop running the ramen shop, and that I should just, make ice cream or something. I accepted the ramen shop begrudgingly, so now, I can change it to the ice cream shop I wanted to open...right?”
Alice and I exchanged looks, and we never said anything. Hiro just so happened to return to the room, holding a cup as he stood at the door.
“The photo album...on the table there...”
Min-san remained sprawled on Alice's legs, weakly raising her hand as she pointed at the table.
We saw a photo under the faulty, flickering light, and there appeared to be a mother and a daughter in the photo, beaming away. The teenage girl was obviously Min-san, but surprising to me was the mother. When did I have an impression of her?
“My mom. Really resembles that woman, right?”
I nodded. Alice and Hiro looked at me, the expressions on their faces clearly asking, Like who?
That was the woman I only met once. The one who triggered this entire sequence of events and was most likely on the way to Kansai to live a new life, Huang Xiang Yu.
Again, I stared at the little Min-san bending down in the photo, and the smiling Huang Wen Li. She was exactly the same in appearance to Xiang Yu, Thinking about it, she was the aunt to Xiang Yu, so it wasn't strange for them to look so alike.
“That's his reason. That damned dad of mine was willing to cause me so much trouble because of this reason, all for the sake of letting the woman he was protecting leave the Huangs!”
I didn't know what I should say.
Did he leave his own daughter and the shop he left behind be in jeopardy just because the woman he was protecting resembled his deceased wife? Because he recalled his younger self? Was that simply all? A strange feeling arose deep within my throat.
“Thinking about this...I really am stupid. There's no reason for me...to cling onto this ramen shop.”
Hiro crouched by Min-san's pillow. Min-san turned around, met Hiro in the eyes, and smiled, saying,
“It's just a passing thought! Don't give me that look. I'm not serious here. I'll think of something, either to make Hong Lei kneel in front of me, or that I'm going to cry to grandpa who I never met over the last 10 years or so...”
Min-san reached her hand out, patting Hiro's face lightly.
That hand lost all strength, and fell.
We left the sleeping Min-san to Hiro, and I decided to escort Alice back to the detective agency. The emergency staircase was completely pitch dark, and after climbing halfway through, the detective wearing the Inverness coat muttered,
“I understand now.”
I didn't ask her what exactly it was. Having passed my 17th birthday meant that I knew Alice for an entire year. I was used to doing many things, and used to the work of a detective assistant.
Rather than ask stupid questions, it was more important for me to stand beside the detective and shield her from the chilly night breeze.
“I know where Hanada Masaru is now, and what he intends to me. I know it all.”
Alice's voice was as usual, no, a little more delicate this time, appearing to break down at any given moment.
“But this truth, is meaningless to Min-san, just like the tens of thousands of cases handled in the past. Don't be surprised, just listen to me. Actually, I don't want to lose 'Hanamaru' either.”
“I'm not surprised. What are you saying?”
I patted Alice's trembling shoulders. It had been 4 seasons since she met me, and she probably changed somewhat, right? When she again ascended the stairs slowly, I could see her faltering from behind.
When we arrived at the door to the agency, Alice turned back, her hands pressed on the torso of my flock coat.
“...Eh? Ah, me?”
“John H Watson is a doctor, and an author. You should know that, right?”
“And on the other hand, Sherlock Holmes is a detective. Nothing but a detective.”
What's she trying to say? Were those words really appropriate?”
“In his life, Holmes only wrote two novels, but he always lamented, “I miss my Watson'. It's boring without Watson around, no surprise without Watson always asking questions, and unable to convert the thoughts perfectly into words.”
I sighed. Alice moved her hands away from me, and leaned on the door to the detective agency.
“A detective can only face the world as a reader, only able to accept the complexity of this world, and read it as fact, analyze, digest and accept it. But...”
Alice lifted her head.
“But an author's different. I once read a bulletin written by an author on how to write a manuscript, and what he wrote was, a novel can be written in reverse from the last scene—or to be precise, this is the right way to write a story. Do you understand? An author can deduce the world.”
Deduce the world, the author could piece together all the paths leading to the ending for the sake of his expected ending, and connect it to reality.
Alice uttered each word forcefully,
“I can't do it. Only you can.”
Those words reached my heart after a very long time. Alice quietly waited for it to enter my heart, and opened the door before letting her petite frame slip through the gap, whispering to me in the end,
“Good night, my Watson.”
My elbows were leaning on the railing of the stairwell, staring blankly at the night scene between the buildings, pondering over what Alice and Min-san said. The chilly breeze of the night caused the tips of my nose and ears to become chilly.
Not to make complicated matters simple, but the opposite.
From the simplistic final scene, I should direct what we should do.
Of course, what we wanted to protect are Min-san and 'Hanamaru'. In other words, to continue with that boring, steady yet warm life, the usual life of boiling chicken bones, dicing onions, cooking noodles, marinating roasted pork, frying vegetables.
And the ones posing a threat to our daily life is the Hong Kong Mafia, the Huang Coalition, the yakuza. How it all started didn't matter anymore, and in any case, Huang Hong Lei intended to have Min-san to himself.
The chilly winds blew upon my head, and I had a strange feeling of my brain cells almost becoming crystalline.
Right, this matter itself was all because the yakuza wanted trouble with Min-san. There was no need to solve any mystery, and also no risk of misidentifying the enemy. The enemy was crushing us with brute force and economic power, so we just had to shut them up, and make them unable to speak up with a power that surpasses them. This was the only method.
A power to surpass the Huang Coalition?
Starting from the Hirasaka-gumi, I started listing out all the gangs I could think of. It's not a good thing, but I did know of a few delinquent gangs. However, these powers alone probably won't be enough, since we're dealing with the Hong Kong mafia here. Then...do we call the police? If we explained thoroughly that the gunshot incident that night was—no, this won't do. News of Huang Xiang Yu and Umeda Kouji being alive would be revealed. Didn't Min-san say that to Xiang Yu? Forget everything about the Huangs, and live a life anew? Even if Min-san did say that in the spur of the moment, I couldn't just trample on her feelings. Also, that wouldn't guarantee that 'Hanamaru' would remain fine in the future. Maybe they might look for trouble through other excuses?
If we could throw out something that was purely stronger and make Huang Hong Lei give up. But where exactly could we find this strength? The power that could overwhelm the king of Kabukicho was—
Suddenly, I thought of something. Right. There was something within my reach. But...would that really work?
I quickly descended the emergency staircase, jumped over Tetsu-senpai who was lying on the floor, and Hiro, dressed in a cocktail suit, walked out from the back door of the kitchen.
“Min-san's asleep now. She doesn't look uncomfortable in any sense, so don't worry.”
Seeing how anxious I was, Hiro tilted his head in confusion.
“I want to ask you something, or rather, affirm this with you. I want you to do something, but if things don't go well, it may be bad for you. You might not be able to follow Min-san—”
“Narumi, calm down.”
Lupin's hands were on Watson's shoulders. He removed his monocle and silk hat, his face showing an honest smile befitting of his usual self as a gigolo.
“...You thought of something?”
I nodded frantically. There were only 3 days left, not enough time at all. With a searing tone, I explained to Hiro, and the cheerful smile gradually became a wry smile of grimace.
After finishing my explanation, I finally heaved a sigh, and I lifted my eyes to observe Hiro's face. The dark shadows under the dim road lights meant that I couldn't see his face clearly. I inadvertently felt a distinct chill climbing from my arms to the pit, and anxiety rose into my heart. I exerted myself and explained the entire time, but I didn't know if his could work. I didn't know how many people I could mobilize for this, and I didn't know whether it was a power that had enough stopping power.
However, the worry on Hiro's face vanished in front of me, and appearing next was a smile I never saw before.
As expected—this guy could still smile in such a moment.
Hiro took the silk hat and placed it on his head, the inexplicable smile hidden under the shadow.
“I'll try. Nobody else other than me can do this.”
The figure in the cocktail suit vanished into the night, and I felt two presences getting behind restlessly behind me.
“And I thought you finally had some motivation, Narumi.”
“You want us to do clean up work?”
I turned back to look, and found the little Nazi and the Incredible Hulk leaning by the stair railing, gulping down the rum in their bottles. I couldn't help but give a wry smile.
“You heard it all?”
“We did. Really to be expected of you, Narumi, it's not a healthy one...”
“Can't accept the fact that Hiro just needs to stand by the sidelines and get all the goodies.
“What's bad about it? He's the one talking all the bad too.”
“That's true. “I nodded. “The protagonists in the story are Hiro and Min-san...”
But I was wrong. It was only much later on that I realized this.
The protagonist of this story had been Hanada Masaru all this while.
To make it to the appointment, Min-san was dressed up in the purple dress, tied her hair into an elegant knot, and appeared like a Hong Kong movie star.
“...What? Why are you spacing out? Is anything weird about my outfit?”
Min-san lowered her head awkwardly as she looked at her clothing, and glared at me. I flusteredly shook my head.
November 3rd, the day the culture festival of M high school was to be held, and also the day Huang Hong Lei was to hold the wedding ceremony, and I dropped by at 'Hanamaru' early in the plan.
Based on the plan I came up with, the first step was to have Min-san attend the ceremony as usual. Soon after, Huang Hong lei would be there to get her.
“That Hong Lei had the dress tailored so nicely. I'm never going to wear this again.”
“Eh? That's a pity though.”
“What pity, you idiot?'
I got flicked hard in the forehead. Strictly put, Min-san's dress up was really a stark unbefitting contrast to the ramen shop.
“Anyway, isn't it your school culture festival today? Is it really alright for you to be here?”
“Erm...yeah, I guess.”
I had Ayaka tell my classmates that Min-san was in a little difficulty. Thus, everyone had a common understanding and indicated in unison, “Then let's have you focus on Min-san's stuff, Fujishima.”
“You really got left out by the class.”
“I wasn't! A-anyway, didn't they celebrate my birthday with me!?”
At this moment, the phone in my uniform pocket vibrated.
“Fujishima-kun?” It was Ayaka's voice.
“How's the situation over there?”
“Business is great! We prepared a lot, but we probably will be sold out in the afternoon...”
“Sorry for being unable to help...”
“Don't worry! It's fine even without you around. Nobody's really bothered by it!”
Ayaka...you don't really mean anything with those words, right?
“But we got ourselves a little problem here...what time can Min-san make it?”
“Eh? Erm...around 3pm or so?”
Did something happen? Didn't they say that the teachers would come by to inspect after the activities were done? The food hygiene specialist just needed to be there for a little while, right? (even though in theory, she should be there the entire time)
“The principal and the education committee inspectors heard of the rumors and wanted to visit our shop, saying that they want to meet Min-san personally! What do we do? I lied to them saying that we don't have enough ingredients, so Min-san went out to buy, and they said they'll be back in the afternoon...”
“Well...” Now this is troublesome. I had a look at the clock, and it was almost 11. “I'll think of something.”
I hung up the phone, and informed Min-san, who merely shrugged.
“I should have left earlier anyway, so it's fine for us to go early, right? Speaking of which...”
Min-san grabbed my collar.
“What are you planning? You aren't saying anything even at this point?”
“Eh? Ehh, no, that's...”
I wanted to avert my eyes, but my face was being clamped such that I had to look right at Min-san. Such a terrifying expression...
“Hiro never contacted me ever since that day, while Tetsu and Major pretended not to know anything. You're not going to say anything?”
“Well, that's because, we're trying our best to solve this without worrying you, and we aren't sure whether it will work...Anyway, we'll send someone to the scene first, so just go along with his instructions.”
“Didn't you ask Sou for help? Are you intending to charge into the place?”
She's really sharp. Guess it's hard to hide everything from her.
“It's fine. We won't be that reckless.”
Thinking about it from another perspective, our plan might be more reckless. To be honest, I really hoped for everything to be settled down. If possible, I really hoped to tell Hong lei before the ceremony and settle this peacefully. Too bad I only thought of this plan 3 days ago, and didn't have enough time to plan, so I had to take action first.
Furthermore, even if the plan goes well, the outcome was meaningless.
Min-san glared at me fiercer than ever, and nearly lifted me by the collar. At this moment, a heavy exhaust sound on the other side of the ramen shop shutters echoed, and Min-san clicked her tongue, shoving me into the back door of the corridor.
“Not a good thing to have Hong Lei see you now, right? Get out by the back door.”
I pushed the bicycle between the buildings, and when I got out to the road, I glanced back. There was a black foreign sedan parked outside 'Hanamaru', and the chauffeur dressed in a black suit and white gloves opened the door. I didn't know whether it was a coincidence, but Huang Hong Lei got out from the back seat, dressed in a flock coat, much grander than I did when I wore it on Halloween, and I felt so sheepish I wanted to die. Seeing him standing alongside Min-san in the purple dress, it really resembled a scene in a movie.
I turned my bicycle handle around, and pedalled hard. The gloomy skies appeared to snow, and as I sped up, the cold seeped into my body.
The Zodiac Group manages an Esthétique and a sports gym, and it owned a very tall building in Ebisu. The wedding would be held at the hall at the highest level of this building.
I parked my bicycle by the roadside, and discreetly observed the entrance, only to felt such great despair I was giddy. A few savage looking men dressed in black suits were clearly standing at obvious places, two of them guarding the atrium, while another two were standing guard at the reception and the elevator respectively. It felt as though they would draw their Qinglong blades at any given moment and pull of some stunt, and seemed that they had no intention of keeping a low profile as it was their own turf. Ordinary civilians were so terrified, they avoided the elevators and took the stairs. It's bad, could we achieve our objective?
I took out the transmitter microphone, put on the earphones, and called for major.
“Everything at hand is ready. We're ready to take action.”
“There are 4 mafia guys at the entrance. Switch to the stairs.”
Tetsu-senpai's voice interrupted.
“We got people watching the stairs too! I'm hiding in the toilet now. Every corner at the corridors of the roof is guarded. I just saw Master and Hong Lei enter.”
“Eh...this is...” really troubling. How many men did he arrange for? Added security was to be expected to protect the guests attending the ceremony, but the savage glances at the lobby entrance were obviously not guards. It appeared that Hong lei understood that we wouldn't go down easily.
“Take the emergency staircase.”
And then, Yondaime's voice too could be heard,
“Looks like there's a lot of Chinese outside watching the vehicles parked. We can only drive around before we take action.”
“I'll leave it to you. Min-san will escape from the back of the building where the emergency staircase is.”
“Anyway.” Tetsu-senpai interrupted, “Why did you tell Master to join the party? Couldn't you have ignored them and get her to attend the school festival?”
“We aren't just dealing with the Huang Coalition here. We got a lot of topshot Chinese who were invited. If Hong Lei's going to get embarrassed in such a moment, this won't be a problem he alone can settle. If the Huang Coalition continue to cause trouble, the situation will get tougher for us.”
That's why we couldn't embarrass the Huangs during the lunch gathering. However, the gathering later would be between relatives, and there was no need to play nice. Of course, he wouldn't let her leave that easily either.
That's why we'll just have to kidnap the bride.
“...Hong Lei's speech is beginning.”
Major muttered. I folded the map back into my pocket, and stood up.
At exactly 1pm, Yi Ling-san called. I was at the Starbucks opposite the building, and immediately got up from my seat.
“We're in the restroom. Min-san said she isn't feeling well, and slipped out with me.”
My heart was starting to kick at the inside of my ribs. Yi Ling-san's our first trump. We had her on standby deep in the enemy camp by registering and be a receptionist for the ceremony.
“Once the power goes out, run to the emergency staircase, about two minutes later!”
I exited the shop, went across a road, and ran to the back of the building. I switched on the wireless microphone, and spoke to Pole.
“Target's at the emergency staircase. I'm betting that there should be mafia guarding the back. Once you see Min-san get down, start causing disturbance.”
“Yes! Allow us to refine our manliness!”
Don't be so loud, you idiots! Right when I went around to the road at the back of the building, I saw a few Hirasaka-gumi members in black T-shirts scurrying towards the Zodiac building like cockroaches.
“Drive the car over!”
And finally, I communicated with Tetsu-senpai and Major at the same time,
“Its time. I'll leave it to you!”
“Oh!” A baritone echoed back. Once Min-san and Yi Ling-san escaped, he'll be in charge of guarding the emergency stairs. As for Major—
“Let's begin. We'll meet at Yasukuni.”
I looked up at the roof of the building overlooking the gloomy skies. At that moment, I saw all the lights at the roof go out.
A black sedan ran by me while I ran. It was Yondaime. At the back of the Zodiac building was a wide green patch, and visibility was bad. Furthermore, the emergency staircase wasn't outside the building itself, and we couldn't tell if Min-san managed to escape successfully. The intense heartbeat meant that I couldn't hear my own footsteps. Yondaime's car was parked by the fence of the greenery, and I caught up, holding my breath as I watched.
From a corner of my eyes, I saw several black figures, and my impression of the ground was contorted. They were not Hirasaka-gumi members. The black T-shirt guys had already passed through the woods, and was about to assault the back door of the building, while the many strong black figures closed in from the flanks of the buildings, seemingly intending to surround them. Seeing this, Yondaime wanted to open the door immediately.
“N-no, please stay in the car!”
I shouted as I ran to the greenery, towards the back door. I felt the melting brain juices spurting from my ears. 5-6, no—there were more of them. Why were there so many people? There shouldn't be a lot of people standing guard at the back of the building, right? My mind was filled with skepticism, confused by the growls of Chinese and Japanese.
I went across the green patch, and in front of me was the end of the fence. The emergency staircase to the building was right within my reach. At this moment, a person in cream colored suit barged into my sights, and I nearly fell limp immediately.
Huang Hong Lei passed through the potted plants, grabbing a Hirasaka-gumi member by the shoulder, and slammed him down with a punch. He turned back, and knocked down another.
Why—why's Hong Lei here? Didn't Major stop the elevator?
Right when I tumbled as sat by the fence, the door to the emergency staircase opened. Yi Ling-san showed up first, her face completely frozen as she stayed rooted. Min-san in her Chinese outfit shoved her aside, and walked out from the back door.
She bellowed sharply.
“Don't move, you brats! Do you want to die?”
Some of the black T-shirt guys were trampled onto the brick floor, some were shoved into the potted plants, and some had their arms locked by the mafia, frozen there. At this moment, the number of mafia members was at least ten or so, double that of the number of Hirasaka-gumi members. All of them stopped kicking and punching, staring at Min-san silently.
Huang Hong Lei moved past his subordinates to approach Min-san. I collapsed on the floor, backtracking, calling for Major in the transmitter. There was no response. Why?
Hong Lei suddenly turned towards me.
“Hey! What are you yelling for?”
He said as he glared at me, raising a hand. I saw him holding the intercom with the goggles on, and felt darkness appear in front of my eyes, my organs practically froze. That was Major's communicator. Was he found out in the electrical room? How? Is he safe?
“I thought you wouldn't be so stupid...”
Hong Lei tossed away the goggles in his hands, and narrowed his eyes as he sized me up.
“What's with this commotion? Do you think you can accomplish anything with these brats?”
Min-san too gave me a scathing look, practically saying, isn't this just a reckless scuffle? No, this isn't what you think. I wanted to explain, but I couldn't let out a voice. Min-san appeared to have given up as she looked at the floor, and apologized to Hong Lei. Sorry, I'll go back with you, so let go of these brats! You can't do that! All our efforts will be wasted. But what do we do now? I intended to start a scuffle first before rationalizing everything. Everything still waiting to sprout, and they're going to be trampled before they're discovered. What do I do? Come up with excuses to pull a fast one? But I don't have anything at all. It's impossible. If I try to bluff, I'll be seen through. See. My legs are so weak, I can't even stand up right.
But at this moment, someone spoke up.
Hong Lei looked away from me towards the voice. Min-san was about to return to the emergency staircase, and stopped, while the mafia members holding down the Hirasaka-gumi members too lifted their heads.
Gentle footsteps entered the thick shadows of the trees and the building. Appearing around the corner of the building was a group of middle aged women wearing posh semi-formal dresses with a corsage and scarf.
“My apologies, madams.”
Hong Lei sighed, and tidied his ruffled clothing.
“It is my inappropriate service that you saw such an unruly scene, so i do apologize for that. Ming Li and will return immediately.”
Those middle aged women were here to attend the ceremony, and I could tell from their faces that they were all Chinese. There were 10 of them...maybe more of them? The dangerous charisma emitting from their eyes showed that they were rich, but not ordinary women, and furthermore, there were some faces I seemed to recognize.
Ah, right, I met them at 'Hello Palace'—they were the group of older ladies who went all the way to the entrance of Yi Ling-san's room.
So—they made it?
“No...please allow Ming Li-san to return...”
One of the ladies said this. The fins she showed when she smiled resembled a raptor, and I wiped my sweaty palm onto my pants. Hong Lei frowned.
“...May I inquire what you just said?”
“Actually, we intended to inform you a few days later...”
Another madam hushed her voice.
“We hope that you reconsider your marriage with Ming Li-san.”
“Why mention that now?”
Hong Lei's voice became that of a dying beast groaning. Despite that, the madams never once frowned. As to be expected of the queens ruling Kabukicho at night.
“This is an internal matter for the Huangs. There is no need to abide by your wishes.”
One of them, an oldest looking plump madam in a red ruqun, walking to the front of all the ladies.
“We heard that Miss' father has returned to Hong Kong, and is hired by the Beng Ya Association. If you are so insistent on getting married to someone of that indecent organization, we can no longer believe in the Huangs or even hand our funds over to you. I want to void my contract with the Coalition.”
Hong Lei widened his eyes in shock, and the ladies voiced their threats one after another.
“Our company and employees are all looking to void the contract.”
“Right, our retail chain will do likewise.”
“Our family members too will like to void the contract.”
Hong Lei appeared to be impatient, and he cursed quietly.
“Ming Li already broke all ties with Hanada Masaru, and has no contact with him. How can she possibly have any relation to the –”
He stopped midway through, sensing something was amiss, and shut up. After pondering for a little while, he spoke up unhappily.
“...No, that's just an excuse, right? What is the real reason?”
The atmosphere shook slightly, and the temperature seemed to rise.
The madams looked at each other, and snickered.
“Always the sharp kid there.”
“Young Lord, we can't explain the real reason. This is shameful for us after all.”
Huang Hong Lei really had a keen, wire cutter-like instinct. He turned back, and glared at—
Me, lying limp by the fence.
“...Did you do this?”
His voice and expression terrified me, and it felt as though I had a frozen ice pillar impaled at my gut. Hong Lei, and even Min-san widened their eyes at me. I really regretted not running away earlier, but it was all too late. If I remained silent, I definitely wouldn't be able to settle this situation.
Thus, I pulled myself up from the fence, barely straightening myself, and my limp knees were limber as I stood up.
“What did you do?”
Hong Lei approached me, and I hastily lifted my chest proudly as a facade, staring at him right in the eyes.
“I didn't do anything.”
My voice was trembling. Calm down. Think what I have to say first. It doesn't matter whether I anger him now; I need to agitated him some more, and deliver the final blow.
“Just request all the madams earnestly, and accept their goodwill.”
“Actually, it wasn't me.”
Hong Lei stood still, the skeptical look on his face spreading into frozen astonishment.
There was no need to explain, Hong Lei probably knew what we did exactly, and understood where his weaknesses were.
You guys now looked as though you own everything as you walk down the most bustling area in this country, but you were just hoodlums in the past. You were chased out of your hometown, went far beyond the seas to a foreign country where you had no support, and could only rely on your compatriots—the women who lived on strongly in the night cities, using their bodies as weapons. No? And so you guys protected them from violent threats, and absorbed wealth, solidified your territory, regrouped your organization, and built your own fortress. However, just by looking down at your feet, you'll understand that the ones supporting you till this point had been the women making a living through the night lives. You guys still remain under their control, and this is the power I found, the power that surpassed yours.
“Please don't forget.”
I uttered each word, and felt heartbroken at the same time. Despite this, I continued staring at Hong Lei, saying.
“You need to trample those women below your feet to survive, but in this city, there's one person who can bring several hundred women like them to heaven with a single smile.”
I didn't say that person's name, but Huang Hong Lei probably knew who it was.
Please don't forget,
The name of the man who opposed you.
We were on a car headed towards M High School, but Min-san was utterly fuming.
“So what's different from charging in and causing a ruckus? You idiot!”
I, seated at the co-passenger seat, pulled my neck in. Luckily, Min-san was driving, and had no hands to beat me.
“Tetsu's probably caught now, and Major's definitely going to get murdered. Couldn't you have thought of a better plan?”
Again, I underestimated Huang Hong Lei. That man's instinct was way beyond our imagination. He probably understood what was going on the moment the electricity went out, contacted the people on the first floor to provide support in the basement. I wonder if Major's okay? The Hirasaka-gumi members were also trounced badly, and Yondaime's still there to clean up the mess. Because of my clumsy plan, everyone involved got battered hard. Luckily, those madams showed up to save us.
“So, where's Hiro?”
“I really don't know. Hiro's not in the operations, and I didn't tell him the plan on that day. But, he's probably—”
At that ceremony. That was the only logical explanation.
Besides the few madams, there were a lot of Hiro's female friends in the welcomed guests, so it probably wasn't hard for him to sneak in as one of the supposed guests.
It had been 3 mere days since I thought of the 'kidnap the woman', and Hiro no only contacted all the Chinese madams he had affairs with, and even boasted that he was going to start new relationships. However, even Hiro had targets he couldn't contact, or couldn't invite because they were busy. 3 days soon passed, so I had intention to forcefully interrupt the wedding on the day itself, stop the Huangs' wedding gathering at at night, and a few days later, bring the madams along to negotiate.
But Hiro didn't think of this way.
He was a natural at wooing ladies, a hunter of love, and of course, he would choose the perfect opportunity when all the targeted ladies were gathered, today's gathering, to take action. It was probably during the short time, less than two hours, that he would duck through the ladies at the crowd, say a few words to get on their good side, and successfully get everyone to opposite this wedding. This godly act was really unbelievable, but I couldn't think of any other possibilities.
However, that godlike skill was a double-edged sword.
“That irresponsible guy!”
Min-san slammed the steering wheel a few times.
“He actually proposed to me so earnestly, and to think...those ladies were all married too! What was he thinking!?”
Well, it's true that this would surely wreck Hiro's love, and that both him and Huang Hong Lei took their losses. When I first thought of this plan, I really didn't know how to request Hiro.
“Seriously! I saw he was doing decent in the ramen shop, and thought he had a real change of heart to do well. And then, argh, ahh damn it.”
However—I nonchalantly heard Min-san's grumbles, and thought,
He probably still had a chance, I guess?
At this point, Min-san showed no signs of hating him, and was simply, just completely furious. If she had no feelings for a man, she wouldn't be so angry at him laying his hands on a few hundred women...right?
“Narumi! What are you grinning away for?”
Min-san's growl his my right ear.
“Call Ayaka right now! I'm going to speed up and reach in 15 minutes or so!”
The car accelerated, and I nearly dropped my phone.
We reached the school in less than 10 minutes. The school gate was glamorously decorated, and the banners hanging from the roof practically covered all the walls of the school. There were the classes' booths in the yard, and the visitors packed the place so much it was impossible to get through. The bustling school broadcast had some background music playing, but I couldn't tell what it was at all. There were sandwich men and bunny girls holding placards to attract customers, even touting outside the school.
The bustling celebratory activities were about to begin, and I had a feeling that I was going to faint.
Min-san and I got out from the car at the parking lot, and we attracted a lot of attention. Min-san came directly from the wedding, and she was wearing a glamorous dress no inferior to a Bond girl.
The moment she stepped into the classroom of 2-4, the commotion increased by 5 times, or even 10 times.
“What's with that dress up, Min-san?”
“Did you participate in a photo shoot?”
“I want to take a photo! Is that fine?”
“Shut up. The customers are queuing up! Hurry up and work!”
The problem here is that the customers were excitedly drawing their cellphones out and taking photos of Min-san too...
As for me, I collapsed at the front end of the classroom that was segregated as the work place. The bunny maids holding the trays and going in and out were giving me stinging looks, but it was really worn out.
“Welcome back, Fujishima-kun!”
The bunny ears and the hem of the apron dress swayed as Ayaka came running towards me.
“Thank goodness Min-san made it in time. I'll go get the principal and the teachers.”
“Yeah, made it...can I have a little break ? Is there still some work for me?”
“Ah, it's fine. You can sit for your next work, Fujishima-kun. Actually, the committee wanted to do a review writeup for all the classes, so you can try all the ice cream our class made and write something like a food report?
Ayaka said that the review would affect the performances tomorrow, so I had no choice but to take this job. Back then, I completely forgot something critical. Our class 2-4 had 31 different flavors of ice cream sold.
And so, after eating the 5th ice cream, I had such a severe migraine that I collapsed, and had to finish the report in the infirmary.
Translator's Notes and References
- 崩牙会...which, when translated from Chinese would mean...Crumbling Teeth Association
- continues to rain ホンコン, honkon sounds like Hong Kong.
- Yasukuni Shrine, where the fallen Japanese during the wars since the Meiji Restoration in 1869 were recorded. Of course, this includes the top generals who led Japan during World War 2
- traditional Chinese dress https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruqun
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