Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 7 Chapter 1
Take me to your heart Feel me in your bones Just one more night, And I'm comin' off this, Long & winding road
I'm on my way, I'm on my way-- Home sweet home...
"Home Sweet Home" Nikki Sixx
Having lived for 17 years, I lost a lot, but never did I once thought of myself as unfortunate. Those things that hurt me were all failures I caused, damage caused by my bones piercing through my skin, caused by me scratching my parched throat. These aren’t considered misfortune. What really forces people down the abyss of misfortune is something more realistic, a flaw in reality that renders people powerless. Simply put, it’s money, health, and the loss of family.
That 17th Winter, I spoke with quite a few homeless folk.
“Some call us wanderers, unemployed, or beggars. Some stand up for us, saying that those are words of prejudice, that we should be called street buddies.”
One of the homeless ones said to me.
“But I think calling us ‘homeless’ will be the most accurate in this case.”
He pinched the cigarette that’s as short as a fingernail, staring at the smoke as he mutters.
“There’s also those without a house, but that doesn’t refer to us.”
“What’s the difference?”
He rolled his sleeves, showing the red pellet marks on his arms. Those were the scars caused by the BB bullet attacks.
“Whether we have a home or not, we don’t have a place to go back to. Those brats are the same. That’s why they can only wander the streets at night, and shoot us with the air guns. I really want to beat them up really good, but I can’t say that I don’t understand the feelings of those brats.”
“Of course. The part that they have no place to return to.”
That’s what it means to have no place to return to. His mutter vanishes into the cigarette smoke, drifting with the wind to the metal fence opposite, crushed by the incoming train.
I could not imagine how it felt to have no home to return to. It was because we have a place we belonged to that us NEETs could easily give up on ourselves and run away, lost and not knowing what to do. For those who lost the place they belong to, what environments do they enter dreamland, and what are the scenes they see in the dreams?
“It’s not that hard. That’s just all.”
His voice sounded as though it came from a distant place.
“It’s just that we have no place to return to. That’s all.”
I recalled the words of my employer, the detective when we first met, what she said to me.
Just as earthworms do not fear darkness and penguins are not ashamed of their inability to fly. That’s the meaning of life, is it not?
At that moment, I could not answer.
Early Winter, everyone was busy preparing for the change in weather, and even the NEET detective who heads in the dark, server room that had air conditioning blowing all day long was no exception.
A certain day after school in late November, I received an order from my employer to head to Tokyu Hands and some electronics shop to purchase a large amount of stuff before heading to the office. The office’s a fair distance away from the bustling area near the station, located at the 3rd floor of a building crammed with all kinds of shops. One of the doors had the display ‘NEET Detective Agency’ on it, and that would be my workplace. No matter the season, the air-conditioning would always be switched on, and once I entered the corridor, I felt my nose would crash into something cold. The 6-tatami sized room beyond that was crammed with computers and all kinds of gadgets. The three walls were filled with shelves of cases, monitors and cables that reached the ceiling, and the place was way beyond cyberpunk, almost a religious place even. However, the most eye-catching thing was the petite girl in pajamas seated at the center of the bed.
“Watch the windows; don’t let a single flea jump in. Put up 3 layers of soundproof curtains, and amplify the speakers! Play Haydn’s Oratorio  all day long, make sure it’s loud enough for the brain cells to shrink!” The girl continued to command me on the bed. She has sickly white skin, black hair that flows like a river at night, and was dressed in teddy print pajamas and white socks on her slender legs. She’s my employer, Alice.
“Hey, why must you lock yourself in that much?”
I asked as I pasted duct tape at the narrow space behind the shelves.
“Why? You ask? I’m a NEET.”
Alice proudly lifted her chest as she answered.
She declared herself as the NEET detective, and would rather keep herself confined to this cramped detective agency than to head outside due to her fear of doing so. But what’s the reason for her being so wary?
“Tomorrow’s November 23rd. Got to increase the thickness of the wall.”
“So I say, what’s November 23 about?”
“It’s Labor Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, of course! That’s when everyone start praising each other wildly, the day where NEETs are robbed of their rights to even breathe.”
“Ahh…” Labor Appreciation Day wasn’t some major festival, so I often forgot about this vacation.”
“Us NEETs end our year on this very day, so we have a duty to spend this most important day praying, like the Jews celebrating the Passover. After enduring this Labor Appreciation day, the next day will be a new beginning.”
“Stop enduring and express your thanks to the laborers.”
“Shut up and get working!”
Yes yes, but it’s way too much of an exaggeration to say that it’s the end of a year. The moment I had such a thought, you’re an idiot, Alice gave me such a look, and said,
“What’s exaggerated about this? You’re the one being ignorant. For the Japanese, Labor Thanksgiving day is supposed to be a festival to celebrate the end of a year.”
With duct tape in hand, I turned my head around.
“The reason why November 23rd was chosen as the Labor Thanksgiving Day was due to it being a Royal Family festival, the New Rice Tasting Festival. As to why the weird name of Labor Thanksgiving was given, it was because the Allied General Headquarters after the war wanted to lower the Royal Family’s Shinto influence.”
“Rice Tasting Festival…” I seemed to have heard of it, or not.
“Simply put, when the harvesting season ends, that’s the Rice Tasting festival. Even someone as royal as the Emperor himself can’t taste the rice harvested this year before this day. Using the Lunar calendar, most of the time, the New Rice Tasting festival is around winter or so. That’s why the timing of this festival is as implied as its name, a New Year festival. It’s also an important festival for Japan, so dependent on the harvesting of rice, to celebrate the end of a year, and the beginning of a new one.”
“So us NEETs have to stay still and not do anything for the entire day.”
“You don’t work at all for the entire year anyway.”
“Who do you think gives you your pay!?”
The following day was November 23rd, and naturally, there was a school vacation. I was summoned by Alice early in the morning, and I rode my bicycle to the office.
Alice’s room was located in a building with many shops, and at the first floor of the building was a ramen shop called ‘Hanamaru’. The owner’s a young woman called Min-san, and before she inherited the ramen sop, it was said that she was aiming to become a ice cream maker, so her ice cream was of professional standard. Even till this day, she has been researching on it. The ramen shop enjoyed a rare holiday due to the Labor Thanksgiving Day, but the electricity in the kitchen was in use, and the ventilation fans were spinning as there was a sweet fragrance coming out from the back door. It looks like Min-san’s busy making ice cream this year.
I opened the back door and sat on a round seat. Min-san, with her hair tied in a ponytail, turned towards me.
“Oh, it’s you, Narumi. You’re early today.”
Min-san said as she placed the bowl she was holding onto the table. On this day, Min-san wasn’t wearing a tank top, just a sarashi wrapped around the breasts, and I didn’t know where to look as a result. Like usual, she’s really defenceless. This lady with G-cups should at least know that just wrapping a cloth around her large chest will show a huge cleavage that’ll really garner attraction.
“The ice cream isn’t done. You can come by at evening.”
“No, I’m not here at 10am in the morning just to eat ice cream.”
“You came to help too, Fujishima-kun?”
A girl with short brown hair suddenly popped her head out from the kitchen corridor. She’s Ayaka, my classmate, an employee of this shop. The ramen shop’s closed today, but the boss and employee are both here, and I really don’t know for what purpose they’re closed for. The only thing different is that Ayaka’s wearing a purple one-piece dress. I guess Min-san has no interest other than making ice cream.
“I’ll go to Alice in a while.”
“Why do you have to go to her at such an early time?” Ayaka tilted her head in scepticism as she held onto the blender.
“Ah, because it’s Labor Thanksgiving Day, right?” Min-san said. “Oh yeah, thank goodness we have Narumi starting this year.”
“What about Labor Thanksgiving Day?”
Min-san started to explain to Ayaka how on this day, Alice would shrink up in a corner of the room or on the bed and not move at all. She typically would not eat much, and would rely on the potent carbonated drink Dr. Pepper alone as nutrition, but on this day, she would not drink any. Thus, she would end up as a living corpse, and for every trivial matter, she would call Min-san for help. Starting this year, this would be my job.
“So-so that means Fujishima-kun gets to spend the entire day with Alice on the bed?”
“Well, that’s right—wait, what do you mean on the bed? I can’t do anything if I get onto the bed, right?”
“You can comb her hair and keep it nice.”
“That’s your job, Ayaka.”
“Or you can hug her and take a nap with her.”
“That’s what you want to do, Ayaka!”
Min-san gave a mischievous smirk as she interrupted,
“Alice today is very interesting; she’s as obedient as a cat with flu. If you hug her today, she’s not going to make a fuss. You can try, Narumi.”
No way. What’s interesting about that?
It seemed that if I continued to stay in the kitchen, we would be getting further away from the topic, so I hurriedly climbed the emergency staircase towards the detective agency office on the 3rd floor. Alice was dressed in mourning clothes, knelt in front of the bed as she prayed. Why’s she wearing mourning clothes? Because it’s a rest day and she wanted to create a Church-like atmosphere? Also, the newly installed 5.1ch amplifier was playing Haydn’s Oratorio. My head ached as I heard it, and I hurriedly got onto the bed to lower the volume.
“What are you doing?” Alice lifted her black veil, raising an eyebrow as she asked.
“Nothing much. It’s noisy, that’s all.”
“Can’t you hear the lamentations of all the NEETs outside the wall?”
If I could, I wouldn’t be here. I’ll be looking for an ENT doctor.
“I was downstairs, and heard that Min-san had been taking care of you up till last year?”
“Master’s different from you. She pressed the air conditioner remote without me having to say a word.”
That’s because you’re so demure compared to usual that Min-san found it amusing.
“Or are you going to ask Min-san for help? I’ll just call her in then.”
Like usual, I returned with a sigh, and right when I was about to leave the bed, I found the sleeve of my shirt being tugged at. Shocked, I turned around to look, and saw Alice give me an earnest look.
“Are you really serious about going back?”
“Eh? You wish for me to go back, so I will. I’ll get Min-san up.”
“Did anyone ask you to do so!?”
“Nope, so you prefer me?” Was she really scared of being played like a fiddle?
“I didn’t say you’re better!”
I placed my hand on my forehead. What in the world.
“So you want me to go back without calling Min-san up?”
“How did you end up deriving such a conclusion!?” Alice slammed the mattress hard as she yelled. At this point, I started to feel that nothing mattered.
“Erm, then, what do you want me to do?”
Alice puffed her cheeks, pulled the hem of her mourning skirt, and pointed at the computers behind her.”
“Start shopping on the internet.”
I had been Alice’s assistant for almost a year, but I was not sure how Alice would spend her days if there were no cases present. Until this Labor Thanksgiving day, that was.
Alice shoved the keyboard to me, and ordered me to search information on all kinds of dolls on the internet, and post on the forums. She really reviewed the designs of the dolls, the feeling when she hugged it, and the sewing.
Following that, it was to collect all kinds of information regarding Dr. Pepper. I had to search through everything about Dr. Pepper, and even spend wildly on it. Thus, Alice did not like the band Guns and Roses, but she had 5 copies of the ‘Chinese Democracy’ album. If she found any message criticising Dr. Pepper for not being nice or too medicinal, she would refute him in a logical manner (on first glance). Of course, Alice only narrated this today, and I was in charge of typing at the keyboard.
“…You do this every day?”
I asked in a worn out voice, and my fingers on the keyboard were already trembling.
“Of course! I have to protect the reputation of Dr. Pepper no matter what!”
Isn’t the beverage company protecting that already? I really wanted to retort back, only to swallow my words back in. Even if I did say the appropriate things, it did not mean that people would be happy. This was a fact I learned, having worked as a detective’s assistant for a year.
But even so, why did I have to type instead of Alice?
“God decreed that nobody is to work the Sabbath, so we can’t operate any machinery. It’s said that the Jews can’t press the elevator buttons.”
“…Isn’t commanding me verbally about the same thing?”
“Actually, the work here refers to the ‘Assembly of the Tabernacle’ mentioned in Exodus Chapter 35. The only taboo the Bible originally stated was that we cannot create fire, and not much explanation to anything else. Thus, the scholars are confused about this explanation. However, the chapters listed after the Sabbath records lots of work about setting up the Tabernacle, so the scholars felt that it’s a ‘job’ forbidden by God. Of course, after 3,500 years, the definition of work expanded, sometimes stricter, sometimes looser.
“Ah…” And so?
“Work doesn’t include talking. I’m just talking now.”
“You really can wiggle your way out of this!”
And with Alice bombarding me, I left my mark on various websites. At this moment, I decided to seize the opportunity to ask something I had always been curious about, but was unable to do so for some reason.
“Alice, are you a Christian?”
“Impossible.” Alice shrugged. “I’m an Atheist. This so-called religion is something created to answer the doubts of little children, like why we can’t kill, why we can’t steal, why do we go to Church on Sunday. Belief can give a clear answer to these questions. In other words, we’ll be lectured by a certain Someone stronger than we are. But when our adolescence, we need to bid farewell to religion.”
It was an ironic viewpoint, I felt, but really how Alice would look at things.
“So why are you going about with that Sabbath?”
“Because I’m a weak kid too. I need to make use of it from time to time.”
“Right. The definition of religion is ultimately to get us to relax, to entrust our thoughts and frustrations to an Absolute Entity. Even you probably had someone you prayed too.”
“Hmm…I did, actually.”
“So I say, my definition of religion is the same as most Japanese. I don’t think religion is something special. God should be an absolute existence, but both of us aren’t so free that we can be caring for each other all day long.”
“So today’s the day we pay attention?”
“Right, just as how you will only care about God on Christmas and Hatsumode, I spend November 23 living in purity.”
I felt that I was forced to listen to an answer completely unrelated to me, but I mostly agreed. However, there was something I was curious about.
“Speaking of which, Alice, you don’t seem to care if what form God appears in, do you?”
“I don’t. Even if it’s a sardine head.”
“But you really use a lot of Bible scriptures.”
Hearing that question, Alice immediately quit down, and averted her eyes. It was a rare reaction.
“Back when I was at my old home, I was forced to recite them.”
Old home. Alice’s old home…
I had no idea about how Alice end up coming to this room on the 3rd floor of a building filled with shops, and she only indicated that she wanted to leave her family. In the end, I was unable to clarify about it, not simply because Alice showed a smile as gloomy as a cloudy day in November, and also because Ayaka suddenly opened the door.
“Alice, Fujishima-kun, here’s some ice cream!”
Bursting into the office with life was Ayaka, holding the tray of ice cream with one hand, her round eyes widened as she stood at the bedroom room.
“Fujishima-kun, you said all that, but you spent the entire day on the bed, you know?”
“Eh? Ah, ahh, no, Alice asked me to do a lot of things.”
“W-well, how do I put it.” Alice pushed her aside, and ducked under the bed to hide from Ayaka. “I didn’t let him smell me, didn’t let him sleep with me, didn’t let him touch my underwear, socks and pajamas. You don’t have any reason to lecture me.”
Those words really hurt my pride as a human. Can you please don’t refute to that specific level…
“Really? Not even a cuddle?”
“O-of course not!” Alice kicked my leg away, avoiding me. Even beyond the black veil, I could tell that she was blushing furiously.”
“Then I’ll cuddle you instead!”
With tray in hand, Ayaka got onto the bed, left it on the side table, and rushed towards Alice. Before the latter could resist, she was turned around, and seated on Ayaka’s thighs.
“Why do you have to hug me every single time?”
“Because this is the only position I can feed you ice cream.”
“I can eat it by myself.” Alice was furious.
“And when I’m hugging you, Fujishima-kun won’t come over to hug you.”
“What’s with that weird reason!? And why do you look like you accept that explanation, Alice!?”
I slammed the bedsheet a few times, but the two girls had already diverted their attention towards the ice cream.
“This ice cream is made from rice.”
“Hm. It’s really rice. I never thought that I would one day be move by the taste of rice.”
Alice muttered, I can only be amazed by Master’s techniques
“You see, today’s that new tasting day or Rice Tasting day or whatever, right? That’s why Min-san made this rice flavoured ice cream.”
“So it’s thanks to that that we get this nice Eye?”
“Eve?” Ayaka looked confused, and Alice turned around to meet Ayaka in the eyes, repeating everything she had told me.
“I see. That means you can’t be a detective today, Alice?”
“That’s right.” Alice shrugged. “For a Sabbath, any work that result in reward is a taboo.”
“So what happens if a customer visit?”
“He’ll have to return for the day.”
“Ehh? But isn’t that a pity? Isn’t there Fujishima-kun? He’s an assistant.”
“I rather have them do a phone call consultation than leave Narumi to the customers.”
For Alice, this level of spite was courteous of her. For Alice, that is,
“First, a detective’s assistant is only an assistant, and not a replacement detective, just like how the moon can’t replace the sun. I told Naurmi 500 times or so that he’s not suited to be one.”
“Then, then, someone just needs to be the replacement detective, right?”
“I want to be a detective for a day!”
And so, on this day, Ayaka was in charge of being the substitute NEET detective, and my first order of business was to stick a ‘fake’ label at the front of the ‘NEET detective agency’.
“If the customers come by thinking that I’m a real detective, it’ll be fraud!” Ayaka said, “I’ll be a detective, you’ll be a doll, Alice. Try your best not to talk or mouth.”
Alice, dressed in mourning clothes, sat obediently on Ayaka’s lap, really resembling a doll. As for why Alice would agree to this proposal obediently, it was because Ayaka threatened Alice, that if she didn’t get to be a detective for a day, she’s going to make Alice take a bath.
“Well, whatever. I decided to have a rest day today. Customers won’t come by that easily.”
“Then, Fujishima-kun, how about making a few promotional calls?”
Both Alice and I exclaimed in madness.
And thus, I exited the office, down the emergency staircase to the first level. The first one I called was Tetsu-senpai. He dropped out from the high school I was studying at, and a Pachinko pro now, an undisputed NEET.
“Ahhn!? A request? ” senpai’s disgruntled voice could be heard from the cellphone.
“Yeah. If you got any troubles right now, fake detective Ayaka can solve it for you, it seems.”
“Hey! What day do you think it is today? It’s Labor Thanksgiving day, you know? The day us NEETs stay at home and shiver. Tell Ayaka that I’ll play with her tomorrow.”
I could only hang up the phone and give up on Tetsu-senpai. Up next was a call to Hiro, a gigolo who specializes in conning girls for a living.
“Eh? Now? I’m in a hotel. Yes, I won’t be going out. Ahh, that girl’s bathing now. No, I met for the first time today. She asked me out. Right, it’s Labor Appreciation day, so I won’t take the initiative to ask girls out, I’ll just accept.”
I sighed, and hung up the phone. Next was a phone call to Major. He’s a college student, but always skipped classes, so he’s partially a NEET.
“I won’t take a single step out of the house. Of course? If I’m to accidentally do some labor, I’ll be thanked. Then I’ll lose my right to be a NEET, right?”
I had enough, and hung up. Finally, after much deliberation, I called Yondaime. He’s yakuza.
“Idiot, a holiday’s a holiday.” Guess it’s a holiday.
He hung up on me. I exhausted all my options. Whatever, not having any customer now is a sign of peace. I laid down on the large wooden stool placed at the empty space outside the back door of the ramen shop, staring at the greyish skies. The atmosphere of Winter appeared as though it’s going to fall from the clouds. As Alice said, I should be spending my time peacefully on such a holiday.
But after the sun set, there was a customer who came by. It’s Meo.
I heard a girl’s voice from the entrance of the ramen shop. I put the broom and the dustpan at the door, and went to the road. The thick bouncing braids and the coffee-colored skin were coupled with a beaming smile that got bigger once she saw me.
Meo turned towards me happily, and hugged my arm. She’s wearing a thick jumper on top, but like usual, she’s wearing denim hot pants. It’s already November. I started to worry if she’ll be cold.
“Why is ‘Hanamaru’ closed? Did something happen?”
“Ahh, it’s closed for today. Min-san went out to drink.”
“Mmm, too bad. I wanted to have some ramen and ice cream.” Meo curled her lips, staring at the pulled shutters of the shop. Suddenly, she tugged my arm towards her, “Good thing you’re already, assistant-san!”
Meo’s two years younger than me, born in Thailand. Her mom remarried a Japanese, so she came to Japan in her youth. Her Japanese’s a little weird at times, but there’s no real communication problem. Because of a certain incident, she came to request us, and after it was solved, she occasionally dropped by at ‘Hanamaru’.
“What about papa?”
Meo’s papa wasn’t really a member of the yakuza, but he got some involvement. His main job was to take care of the foreigners working in the brothels. To be honest, I’m not willing to meet him.
“Papa has to go around to all the shops he often goes to today and have some thanksgiving feast. Because of that Labour Thanksgiving or something? Right now, he’s going around to the shops Meo can’t enter.”
I see. So the world of yakuzas too have a Labor Thanksgiving day.
“I want to meet detective-san! Let’s go! Let’s go!”
Meo dragged me by the arm towards the emergency staircase. I didn’t even have the time to say that Alice wasn’t available.
“Chairman-san’s here too? Wah! Why’s detective-san dressed in a blac, pretty dress? Meo wants to hug too!”
Once we entered the detective agency, Meo got really excited. Alice, in her mourning clothes on the bed, was on tenterhooks like a cat, and Ayaka inadvertently hide Alice behind her.
“Meo-chan, you need to wash your hands before hugging Alice!” Ayaka said, “Okay!” And Meo went straight for the basin.
“Don’t say it like she can hug me just because she washed her hands!” Alice was furious, but Meo was already running back and got onto the bed.
“Chairman-san, did you comb detective-san’s hair?”
“I did. It’s my job after all.”
Their first encounter was during the basement match back then, and ever since then, Meo often came by to play, so they’re on very good terms. The reason why Meo would call Ayaka ‘chairman-san’ was because Ayaka proudly introduced herself as “I’m the chairman of the school gardening committee!” In Meo’s imagination, it seemed all the plants in school would greet Ayaka whenever the latter stepped into school.
“But chairman-san, why do you have detective-san’s pajamas on you today?”
Very good question, Ayaka immediately leaned forward. The blue bear pajamas on her shoulders fell off.
“I’m going to be a detective for an entire day. Though I’m just pretending.”
Meo’s eyes dazzled.
“Then, chairman-san, please do something like detective-san!”
Ayaka opened her legs wide and stood on the bed, tugging Alice under her armpit like a doll, and lifted her chest proudly saying,
“I’m the NEET detective, the shitter of the dead.”
“Speaker.” The dead can’t poop anyway 
“And you’re remarking on this, assistant-san! This is great!”
She’s actually delighted…Alice too was unable to speak due to shock and despair as she remained limp under Ayaka’s armpit. I guess there’s no point for me to be here anymore. As the kanji infers, 3 ladies coming together causes a lot of noise. I felt that it was time for me to go home, and so I stood up, only for Alice to lift her head and lament.
“Narumi, why are you trying to go home!?”
“No…well, right now, I don’t feel okay staying around.”
“I’m the same here. You’re planning to push all the suffering to me and run away? Who’s going to stop these two from going crazy if you go back?”
I shrugged, and sat down on the icy floor in front of the friend.”
“So, Meo-chan, what’s your request?”
“Leave it to this fake NEET detective!”
“Then, I wanna get married to papa!”
“You’ll need to ask stork-san.”
Why ask the stork? Isn’t that too much of a leap!?
“Then, I want to get married to assistant-san.”
“There’s only one Fujishima-kun around, so no.”
Don’t you feel there’s something strange with the whole conversation!?
Meo and Ayaka returned home, and I stayed behind to handle the duties of the assistant. Thus, the sky was completely black when I left the office, and even the breath exhaled was solidly white. I checked the time on my watch, and found that it was already 1am. I heard an entire day of ‘Oratario’ and ‘The Four Seasons’, so I was feeling groggy, so much that I couldn’t describe it other than suffering.
I walked down the emergency staircase, and casually looked over to the train station beyond the low buildings. On the other end were bustling streets, and the shop lights continued to dazzle, the passers-by moving about. The lights shone upon an actress on a building billboard, holding a chocolate product and smiling at everyone. The red and green lights hanging on the trees by the road flickered, and Jingle Bells could ostensibly be heard.
November was coldly forgotten by the city.
It was to be expected. Once Halloween was over, the merchants waved their flags, directly everyone’s attention towards Christmas. Well, Winter was beginning.
I brought my bicycle between the buildings, and tugged at my duffle coat.
I pedalled my way out of the alley. Once I got out, I found a group of people huddled around, seated on the road, chatting furiously. The wine cups and cans of beers dazzled in their hands, and at the center of it was an oil can lit with leaves and newspapers.
“…So I say, that old man’s inside intel can’t be trusted.”
“Shut up, yuou idiot. I was winning until the fourth race.”
“But didn’t you believe in that weird level 6 information and run around since morning, Tetsu?”
I found that one of the 4 men was Tetsu. Leaving aside his physique, there weren’t many who would wearing just a short-sleeved shirt in this weather of howling winds. The other three old men were dressed in a worn out jumper, a thin dean’s jacket or an oil-stained trench coat.
“Oh? Narumi, you’re still around?”
Tetsu-senpai was the first to find me, and raised the wine cup towards me. The others too turned to look at me. They’re all tanned rather dark, and their untrimmed moustaches had some white in them. I suppose I saw their faces before.
“What are you doing here? The fire department might be called here because of you setting a fire in the middle of the night.”
“Don’t be so stuck up. Labor Thanksgiving Day is over, and we’re having a party here. We were betting at the race tracks. Pe-san took a huge loss, and Mori-san got a huge win, so it’s like we’re celebrating and consoling here.”
“Heh, why do I have to toast with gutter water in such a cold weather?”
The Pe-san Tetsu-senpai mentioned was dressed in a Hiroshima Carp cap, grumbling softly. On a closer look, I found that the PET bottle that was supposed to contain tea was completely clear.
“If only ‘Hanamaru’s open, we’ll be able to have some ramen.”
Mori-san was a strange looking man with a few band-aids plastered on his bald head. He had a beer can in one hand, and grilled chicken in the other.
These guys are the homeless ones close to Tetsu-senpai and the rest of the NEET detective agency. I remember they stayed at a nearby park, but I had not seen them recently.
I was not too familiar with them, and nodded, ready to cycle off. However, “Come here for a while, Narumi.” Tetsu-senpai suddenly grabbed me by the collar.
Left with no choice, I could only park my bicycle by the road, and crouch down beside Tetsu-senpai, looking around at the trio. Pe-san didn’t looked happy, while Mori-san’s completely drunk red. What did he want me to do, asking me to join in on their drinking party when I couldn’t drink?
And they’re all homeless, the kind of people I didn’t want to get close to. Tetsu-senpai, Major and Hiro’s always able to chat with them so easily though. What were they talking about?
There was an awkward atmosphere as nobody spoke up, so I broke the silence.
“…E-erm, it’s been a while. I thought you moved somewhere else.”
The 3rd person spoke quietly. He had glasses, messy hair, and a whisky flask in hand. If he had a white coat on, he would resemble a reviled college professor. I remember this man as Ginji-san, one of the leaders of the tent city.
“Some weird people came to the park and forced us out. Construction should be starting.”
“Don’t you know, Narumi? You see, that place’s about to be renovated into a ‘Hercules Park’. Looks like the entire park’s going to be rebuilt into futsal courts.
I remembered. So it’s that park?
That incident warranted a fiery discussion in the media. The multi-national sportswear company ‘Hercules’ bought the park from the town council, hoping to rebuild the place altogether—or so it was reported, “But what about the homeless living there?” and the residential committees began to protest.
“So, what’s the outcome of that?”
“None.” Ginji-san curled his lips, and took a swig of whiskey. “Can’t do anything about it. All we could only do was wait and get chased away, that’s all.”
“Didn’t you all go protest or something, Ginji-san? Something about human rights.” Senpai asked.
“How can we possibly do such a thing?”
Ginji-san stared back at Tetsu-senpai, and took another swig.
“What’s the point of protesting? It’s just adding on to our troubles. All we can do is wait and have others kick up a fuss for our sake to delay the construction instead. We don’t have to do anything.”
I felt that he seemed to be talking about someone else’s matter entirely. No, maybe I should have said that he’s being rational. He’s right anyway,
“And there’s some conmen amongst the volunteers.”
I looked at GInji-san’s face.
What could the conmen gain by scamming the homeless? They don’t have money anyway.”
“We don’t have an address, and are unable to obtain living protection fees.”
Mori-san smiled at us saying that,
“Some people pretended to be kind to us, saying that they’ll provide a place for us to stay, but actually, they’re planning to trap us and take the welfare money that was supposed to given for our sakes. A few of our buddies got duped, and it’s thanks to Ginji-san keeping an eye on those conmen that they’re finally gone.”
“Su-such things actually do exist?”
In this world, there are such people who would come up with such devious ideas.
“There are also those who wanted us to take up queuing work, but instead, we end up paying for stuff.”
“Ginji-san’s very familiar with such matters, so he negotiated these for our sakes.”
“It’s because you’re too ignorant that you’re duped by them.”
This queuing work refers to the people who are called in to queue up on the day some popular game or product’s being released However, there are some scam companies who wouldn’t pay the homeless money to buy. Just hearing everyone mention this caused my heart to feel heavy, and even the saliva stuck deep within my throat was in lumps.
In any case—they’re homeless, so the weight they bear is obviously much more than the happy-go-lucky bunch of NEETs. I felt that there were a lot of things I couldn’t ask, and just approaching them was causing me to feel depressed.
“It’s late. I’ll make a move first.”
And just when I said this, a strong light shone in from behind me.
“You guys already gathered!? I want a toast too!”
The light vanished, and there was a diminutive person entering the softer street light. He has a baby face of an elementary school kid, wearing goggles and a helmet with camouflage colors. It’s Major.
“Captain GInji! Pe-san! Mori-san! Vice Admiral Fujishima too! This painful day of November 23rd is finally over, so let’s get down to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Wealt and bombard it with 21 cannons!” Somebody, hurry up and arrest this guy.
“You’re carrying a lot of stuff, Major.”
Tetsu-senpai noted as he stared at the large backpack Major was carrying. That backpack seemed large enough to stuff another 3 of him.
“Our team’s going to Mt. Fuji this winter for a month to engage in a large scale gun battle, so I’m starting my training now.”
He’s talking about survival games. Just to note.
“Is it really okay for a college kid to not show up for classes?”
“That is that. This is this.”
“Hitoshi, didn’t you say that you’re planning to become a technician? Did you take the exam this year?”
Ginji-san’s sudden words caused me to turn around in shock.
“That’s too troublesome, so I gave up on that. The professor has been telling me to study, but setting up a business is better than doing research.” Major came to my side and reached out for the fire.
“Well, that’s right. You’re still in your 3rd year, aren’t you, Hitoshi? That professor will just use you as a free maintenance worker, and you’ll just be his servant when you enter the lab. That professor won’t help you, and will steal the authorship of your thesis.”
“I’m not so terrible that I need you to lecture me, Ginji-san. I won’t be going to work though.”
I looked back and forth between the duo. Hitoshi’s the Major’s given name, right? I didn’t know they were on such good terms, and though I couldn’t understand their conversation, Ginji-san might have done some research related matters before, right?
“Major, didn’t you say that you want to make a missile or something?” Pe-san then interrupted.
“I want to invent a fighter jet nobody can see or touch.” Then nobody’s going to sit on it.
“Then help us uild a machine that’ll kill those damn brats for us when we sleep.”
Mori-san, seated on the other side of the fire, leaned forward, looking serious as he told Major this.
“…Did something happen?” Major asked.
“Didn’t you hear? It’s about the attacks on the homeless. Didn’t the news report about them?”
Major glanced aside at Tetsu-senpai and me. Speaking of which, I supposed I saw it on the internet. I hardly watch the TV, so I’m not so familiar with the current news.
Inquiring further, we learned that the homeless around the station had been bullied by some scoundrels. Splashing cold water or throwing rocks into cardboard houses would be child’s play of a prank; others threw firecrackers, sparklers, or even scatter nails and thumbtacks. It’s said that some were already seriously hurt.
“Didn’t you call the police? You can’t just let it go on like this.”
“The police did do something, but we’re homeless, and the police can’t be patrolling for our sake for entire nights. The pranks have been escalating recently. I went to the area below the railway as it’s getting harder to stay in the park, and then 7-8 of them attacked me together. I heard some really loud sound, and then my head seemed to be burning.”
Mori-san said, and Major lifted his goggles, moved around the fire, and went to Mori-san. He reached his hand, and grabbed Mori-san’s bald head.
“O-o-ouch! What are you doing, Major!?”
Major peeled off a bandair on Mori-san’s head, and touched the wound with his hand. He licked his fire, and we’re unable to say anything.
“…This is probably the 031g semibio super fine bullet sold by the ‘Hiraya Model shop’.”
“What are you saying?”
Tetsu-senpai stared at Major’s face worriedly.
“I’m talking about the bullets that hit Mori-san. Production of these bullets stopped two years ago. This is unbelievable.”
What’s unbelievable is your observation skills. No, that’s not the important part.
“Probably fired from an air gun, looks like it’s a wound from a modified gun.”
“Hey, stop touching my head already.”
Mori-san shook off Major’s hand.
“Those homeless guys should be armed, right? What about your numbers and equipment?”
“How do I know? I suddenly something stinging on my head in the darkness, and when I got up, I found the others rolling about, yelling that it’s painless and such. Didn’t see anyone other than us.”
“Long ranged sniping, huh? If it’s the 0.31g, it’s possible. Looks like they got some nightvision scope ready too. I need to have a look though.”
“Hey, Hitoshi, this has nothing to do with you, right?” Ginji-san said, and Major turned around, sliding his goggles down again. Under the lenses were a contorted, icy glare.
“It has something to do with me. This concerns the pride of a soldier.”
“What’s that about?” Tetsu-senpai muttered, and Major continued,
“Attacking non-combatants is the worst sin a soldier can commit. As someone who also wield guns, I never, ever forgive them for this.”
However, I’m not a soldier (and there’s doubt as to Major can be considered one), and I don’t really have deep ties with the homeless.
For me then, the real start of the incident was a phone call that occurred a few days later—after school, on the first Wednesday in December. I was in ‘Ramen Hanamaru’ when that happened, and I parked my bicycle at the back of the shop, taking out my cellphone with my hand that was holding the handlebars before this.
Calling me was a rare customer. I took a deep breath, looked up at the clear winter sky, and opened my cellphone.
“Boy? It has been a while. How are you doing? I sent you a ticket for our October performance, and you didn’t show up. We’re lonely, you know.”
“Ah, so-sorry about that. I’ve been busy.”
In the prior Summer, I was asked by Yondaime to coordinate a concert event, and the one calling this time was the vocalist of that band. She’s an interesting lady, but when she continued to yap on, the listeners will be easily brainwashed by her, so I really had to exert a lot of effort just to talk to her. Again, I took a deep breath, and switched the phone to my left hand.
On the other hand of the phone, she lowered her voice, saying,
“It’s another investigation request from me this time. For my friend.”
I parked my bicycle with my other hand, and returned to the back door of ‘Hanamaru’, sitting at the pile of old, worn out tires.
“Eh? For someone in the industry?”
“Yes. She heard rumors about you, and want to ask you about something.”
I drew a few circles on the dirt with my foot. Because of rumors about me.
Once, I was introduced by this person to solve another artiste’s problem. It involved a threatening letter and some illicit photographs taken, and it was an incorrigible event. In the end, I had to solve with a last resort, but I’ll leave the details to another day. The most important matter at this point would be that the detective agency’s famous in the entertainment circles for some weird reasons.
“Hey, someone once said that the industry’s filled with cold, bright lights and sounds. In this world, all pleas for help will be drowned out painfully, and nobody can hear us.”
With bated breath, I heard the voice over the phone. Her voice’s really unique, and not limited to her singing alone; even when talking, I could feel her voice as being akin to snowflakes seeping into skin before they melt.
“That’s why we need someone like you guys, who are willing to listen to us.”
The client she introduced to us dropped by at ‘Ramen Hanamaru’ at midnight. The shop was about to close, and both Min-san and I were cleaning the kitchen. There’s a polite knocking on the shutters that were halfway down, and when I lifted my head, I could find a slender figure.
“…Erm, is this Hanamaru?”
I could hear a female voice from beyond the glass.
“We’re closed—” “Ah, that’s likely to be my customer.”
I cut off Min-san’s voice, and went off to open the door. I ducked under the shutters, and found a face right in front of me. Stars scattered as we knocked into each other.
I fell on my butt, and rubbed my forehead. Seeing that she too fell onto the floor, I realized that we knocked into each other because we wanted to duck under the shutters. The young girl put on the sunglasses that slid off, “S-sorry, are you oka—” Saying that, she wanted to stand up, only to stop on her own muffler and trip over again.
“A-are you okay yourself?”
I pulled the girl up, and she blushed as she picked up her sunglasses, lowering her wool cap to hide her face.
“I’m really sorry. Really sorry. I really am.”
The girl lowered her head about 7 times or so, and after that, she kept rubbing her hands together, not looking at me at all. Her fluffy hair’s dyed a bright brown, and I couldn’t tell the age due to her lowering her head and wearing sunglasses and the wool cap, but I guessed that she’s probably the same age as me, or a year older.
“I heard on the phone. Erm, you’re Natsuki Yui-san, right?”
At this moment, she finally lifted her head. She was wearing a pair of light brown sunglasses, but when our eyes met, I felt a sugary pillar hitting at my chest. She’s an idol. I could tell on first glance. She’s not just an ordinary beauty, she exudes a glamor that could only be refined under the stares of thousands of people, at least.
Also, I had an impression on her face, but where exactly? Normally, I hardly watch TV, and I only learned of her name on this day.
It’s probably because I was brazenly staring at Yui-san’s face that she lifted her jacket collar and hid her blushing face and retreated. At this moment, Min-san’s voice could be heard from behind me.
“Hey, Narumi, what are you doing? Oh, a customer?”
Min-san pushed the shutters up, “Huh?” and muttered upon seeing Yui-san. “You…have been on the posters at the station recently.”
“N-no, no no no, that’s not me.”
Yui-san jolted in shock, her hands raised to her face as she flailed them about. Even her face was increasingly red.
“No, well, that’s actually me, but please don’t say that to me directly.”
And so, I recalled. Recently, there has been posters on the station’s pillars and walls with her photos on them. They’re probably from a certain sportswear manufacturer. No wonder I knew despite not watching any TV or reading magazines.
“I’m not too used to being recognized on the spot. Erm, can you please pretend not to know me?”
Yui-san’s voice was so soft. Min-san and I exchanged looks. She’s an idol, right? Was such a bashful person really suited to be an artiste?
“E-erm, may I enter the shop? If others are to find me now, I might cause you much trouble.”
“Ah, yes. Please do so.”
Min-san stared at me surprise. I clapped my hands together in apology, and brought Yui-san to the back of the shop. Climbing up the emergency staircase in the darkness, I heard interrupted footsteps behind me. The silence made the atmosphere unbearable. Before bringing her to Alice, I was hoping to explain to her the agency’s background and ask what her request was about, and thinking that, I turned around at the stairwell.
It was at that moment that Yui-san lifted her head as she wanted to ask me something. As we spoke in unison, I could tell, even in the darkness, that her face was turning red, flailing her hands wildly. Thus, she lost her balance, and stumbled backwards, nearly falling over. I hurriedly grabbed her hand, and pulled her back.
Yui-san grabbed my arm firmly. I had been wondering if this person was fine all this while. Once I pulled her up to the stairwell, she hurriedly let go of me, and retreated to the handrail.
“Erm, I guess you think, tha-that I’m a strange one, right?”
“Yes, definitely.” Oops, I actually let loose what I was really thinking. Yui-san covered her face with both hands, and collapsed on the spot.
“I-I-I‘ve always been prone to getting nervous. An-anyway, well, I heard that the Fujishima-san I’m going to ask later is some really amazing freeter.”
“I’m not a freeter. How exaggerated have the rumors spread?”
“Ah, no, well, sorry for the late introductions. I’m Narumi Fujishima.”
The weak lights from afar shone upon the emergency staircase, and a cold silence immediately enveloped us.
And immediately, Yui, squatting on the floor, finally lifted her head, asking me with a look of one seeking the Pole Star.
“You? Erm, Fujishima-kun, I heard that you’re able to summon about 500 men on a single command, right?”
“That’s just a completely baseless rumor!”
“B-but, I heard a lot of things about you, like how the hoodlums who came to mess up a concert ran away terrified once they heard your name, that you crushed a Chinese mafia bank, and managed to figure out a drug trade before the police could—”
“Please use some common sense. I’m just a high school boy!” I slapped my own blazer. I heard a little of the details, but I was sure what she was referring to, and it really troubled me. Now there’s an additional tail to the story, and also a whole lot of feathers, propellers and machine guns added to it.
“I-is that so?”
Yui-san grabbed her ears with her hands, and took an exaggerated deep breath, allowing herself to calm down.
“Sorry, I’m completely confused. I’m always…prone to panicking so quickly.”
“All the time? And to think you’re able to work on TV.”
I really tried to endure the urge, but I let out an annoyed tone. Yui-san shrank back once she heard that.
“During live shows, my head will always blank out. I have to perform in front of a large group of strangers during concerts, and sometimes, I would faint.”
There has to be a limit as to how terrified you can be, right? Why’s such a person working as an idol that requires more people to look at her? Was it that the job request was to change the bad habit of her being easily tense?
“So, the freeter we’re going to find isn’t you, but someone else, Fujishima-san?”
“As I said, it’s not a freeter. A detective.”
Right when I was about to ask how the NEET detective agency was introduced to Yui-san, I could hear a frenetic sound of the door being opened above me, and so Yui-san and I were quiet. Soft footsteps stopped at the stairs before they could descend. Appearing in front of us were blue pajamas and glossy black white reflecting the weak street lights. It’s Alice; her eyes were widened as she stared at Yui-san and me, her face showing the gradation of a sunset.
“—Wh-what are you dithering for? You should hurry up and bring the customer up to the office.”
“Ah right, doing so now. You don’t have to welcome us.”
Hasn’t she been coming out more often recently? So I thought.
“Who’s welcoming you now?”
“Am I wrong? Then why did you come up?”
“It’s because you didn’t bring the customer up that I came out to call you.”
Wouldn’t that be welcoming us?
“U, uu, anyway, hurry up.”
Alice swung her hair, turned back to return to the office, and slammed the door hard. I sighed, and turned around to look at Yui-san.
As I expected, Yui-san was rooted to the spot, slack-jawed.
Following this would be the one most important job for me as a detective’s assistant, even though it’s really, really stupid.
“Erm, I know it’s really impossible to believe, but she’s the detective.”
“I’m not just a detective. I’m the NEET detective.”
I could hear Alice’s voice from behind, and I turned around in shock. A tiny slit was opened at the office door, before it closed.
“…E-e-erm, that little girl?”
Yui-san finally spoke up, pointing at the door with the number 308 on it.
“She’s little, but she’s reliable in her work, so don’t worry.”
Explaining this, I thought,
If Alice’s willing to wear the Sherlock Holmes outfit as she did on Halloween, the customers will be more inclined to believe her.
I led Yui-san into the office, into the bedroom located deep inside the office, and she removed her sunglasses, widening her eyes. However, her gaze was not stuck on the air conditioning howling cold winds like Mount Rokko, not the monitors that filled up three different walls, but at the pile of dolls on the bed.
“…Woah, this is a Steiff Peter rabbit! I-is it authentic? Woah! This white bear! Is that a new product by Kosen? It’s supposedly not sold yet!”
“H-hm? You know?”
Alice was seated on the bed, and put down her keyboard as she stared at Yui-san’s face.
“My room’s about the same too! But you have a lot of dolls I want but can’t get! This is great! This black cat is a limited edition product by Jellycat, right?”
“I got it by using an automated bot on an auction. A prize I won after 7 days of continual battles.”
Alice proudly puffed her chest.
“How nice. Can I touch it?”
“Sure, of course. Get on.”
Yui-san got onto the bed cautiously, and raised the rabbit, kitty, bear and dolphin dolls, hugging them firmly in order.
“This doll here has a tag, and is old. It’s pretty expensive, right?” “Fabrics invented after the Sixties are really rough. I don’t like them.” “A serial number!? Ehh, how do I buy one?” “I got a Norwegian buyer…”
The two girls started to get excited over something I couldn’t understand. Can I just go home already?”
“I got a new color version from this bunny series.”
“Hmm? How did you get it? I didn’t know they released a new color.”
“A coordinator I know has a relative who designed this bunny. Do you want one?”
“Of course!” Alice was jumping about. “If you have any dolls you want, just tell me. As exchange.”
“Then, I want the same owl doll here!”
“I’ll contact you when the goods come in. If there is, it’ll reach me directly.”
Yui-san rolled about on the bed. Seriously, what’s she here for?”
“Ohhh, I always wanted to live in such a room! Having a pile of dolls, rolling around on the bed, with bear-san, cat-san and rabbit-san…” “L-let go! I’m not a doll here!”
Ah, she ended up hugging Alice after all. I thought she wasn’t that kind of person.
Finally, Alice noticed my stare, and calmed down, deliberately coughing.
“You didn’t come all the way here for the dolls, but something else, right? Let’s hurry into the issue.”
Yui-san got off the bed with a teary face, and again stepped onto the her skirt, tripping over. “Woah!” I hastily went forth to support her, and she kept apologizing as she slid down my body, sitting on the floor.
“I-I really do trip often…”
Isn’t it better for you not to go out? I nearly let slip those words. And to think she’s able to make it to the entertainment industry. By the time I realized it, I found Alice glancing aside at me, giving me a cold glare.
“You’re usually so dull, so what’s with that reaction?” Alice puffed her cheeks.
“Wh-what are you being angry for?”
“I’m not angry. Get Dr Pepper for the guest and me.”
No, she’s angry, right? But I knew that if I said it, I would just make her angry. I moved away from Yui-san, and went to get the drinks from the kitchen. Yui-san saw the red can of 350ml liquid, “Ah, I don’t need it.” And smiled as she said it. It’s to be expected.
“If not, I’ll drink both. Tell me your request.”
Alice drank the two cans of carbonated drinks, and Yui-san fidgeted about, putting her hands together, and opening them. I suppose she was sorting out her thoughts. Only when Alice finished the second can of drinks did she finally speak up.
“…There’s a town park around here, right?”
I sat near the door of the room, leaning my back onto the fridge, and cautiously listened to the conversation.
“The park near the railway, that place is going to be built as a ‘Hercules Park’. I came by a few times for photo shoots and activities.”
“Um. You’re the campaign girl for ‘Hercules’ this year, right?”
“Of course I do. Even though I’m not a NEET detective who can survey all three thousand years, just a simple search on the name Yui Natsuki gets me thousands of sportwears poster images.” “Ah, ahh, p-please don’t look.”
Alice was shocked to see Yui-san blushing and waving her hands.
“What are you saying? It’s your job to be watched. Stop dancing, keep talking.”
“O-okay. Right, and then, when I passed by my park that day, I saw dad…or at least, someone who looks like me dad.”
I stared at the back of Yui-san’s head that was covered by the wool cap, and I couldn’t understand what she was saying. What happened to her dad?
But Alice seemed to realize what Yui-san was getting at, and coldly stared at her, asking,
“So you’re saying that one of the homeless folk is your father?”
Yui-san nodded quietly. I gulped, and looked back and forth between the brown hair under the wool cap and Alice’s black eyes.
Yui’s father was one of the homeless…?
“…He left home when I was very young, and I didn’t see him for a few years. It’s only a while back that I so happened to spot him at the park.”
Yui-san grabbed the leg of the bed, and her words were filled with sobbing as she got agitated.
“I went to look for him several times, but the homeless in the park are gone, and I couldn’t find him. So….”
Yui-san’s unable to continue, and Alice stared at her for a while, before saying,
“Can you please tell me the reason why your father left home?”
Yui-san’s eyes were wandering in the cold winds, seemingly seeking the lead cast by Alice.
“My dad once ran a spare parts company, and that company went bankrupt…I guess it’s because of this, and all the creditors kept coming to our house, even stationed here long after he vanished.”
“I see. You’re from Aichi prefecture, right? So your father came to Tokyo to escape from the creditors, and there’s a high chance that he’ll become a homeless, but is that really your father?”
“I can’t be mistaken. That’s really dad.”
“…I want to talk to him. Please look for him.”
Alice stared at Yui-san’s face, and turned her face to the keyboard by her hands.
“Do you have a photo of your father?”
“From more than 10 years back.”
Yui-san took out a large, old photo from her handbag, and on that photo were a few men in uniforms, standing side by side. Yui-san pointed at the man in the middle, and I peered in from behind.
I let slip a voice.
I did see that person before. I etched the face of a middle-aged man with healthy skin color and brimming with a rational mindset upon the gruff, arduous image of a man who wandered and suffered for more than 10 years.
Yui-san was shocked, and turned around to look at me. Alice too lifted her eyes slightly, and turned around to face the screen. The slender fingers danced upon the keyboard as she used the hi-specs application to find the specified person in the images. There were 6 surveillance cameras set up near the office, so the fortress of computers shielding Alice could search 2 months worth of images.
Alice turned around, and pointed at a crude, enlarged figure on the monitor.
Ginji-san and his homeless friends at the park would occasionally drop by at ‘Hanamaru’ to eat, so there was such a distinct image left behind.
I compared the image on the monitor to the photo crumpled by Yui-san. Are they realy the same person? Looks similar, but might not be the same. But Yui-san nodded several times.
Yui-san’s murmured vanished in the strong breeze of the air-conditioning.
Alice set the keyboard again, hugged a large bear doll and turned to Yui-san.
“Before I accept this request, there is something I need you to decide on.”
The ball of wool on Yui-san’s cap sook uneasily.
“…What is it?”
“How much do you want us to help? The homeless call this man Ginji, and he’s one of our friends’ acquaintances. If you simply need me to find him today and tell you where he is, I can do so with a snap on the fingers.”
Yui-san leaned forth, her hands on the edge of the bed, and she sounded optimistic.
“But if you want to bring him to you, that’ll be a different case.”
Alice’s eyes were pointing right at Yui-san’s eyes, and the latter’s eyes lost luster due to her perplexed emotions.
“Your father left you on his own will, right? He might not be willing to meet you.”
“Uu…” Yui-san lowered her shoulders dejectedly.
“The price will be determined on the scope of the work. Decide then. What do you want?”
I could tell from the back that Yui-san was pondering with bated breath, and turned my eyes to Alice’s cold expression.
Alice today seem a bit like the day when Meo came running in with 200 million yen in her clutches, I thought.
Alice would only ease upon on the cramped jail or borders in her whenever she accepts a Alice. Despite this, she would cautiously swing the sword of words to avoid the blade from intruding upon a designated boundary. In contrast, even if some things would hurt certain areas within her, she would reveal the truth.
Alice wanted Yui-san to determine this boundary, but I guessed Yui-san probably couldn’t understand the intend behind Alice’s words.
She nodded, albeit in confusion,
“…I want to talk to dad. I have a lot to talk. Please bring him to me.”
Alice briefly looked at me, probably seeking my opinion as the detective’s assistant, I guess. Before nodding, I turned back to look at Yui-san.
The petite detective buried her chin into the head of the bear doll, and softly noted,
“Understood. I accept.”
The hour hand ticked towards a new day, and I sent Yui-san to the station.
The area near this place was the bustling area in town, but the East exit, where ‘Hanamaru’ was located, had no night attractions to mention, and only the lonely street lamps stood by the roads with few people. The weather was so cold, my ears were hurting, and I pulled up the collar of my duffle coat.
“E-erm, that girl.”
Yui-san, walking beside me, glanced aside at me as she said,
“Is a girl like her really a detective? Her room’s filled with dolls. Ah, but I too got excited about dolls like an idiot…also, why’s she wearing pajamas.”
It appeared she really wanted to ask Alice, but never did, and held it in. But even though she asked me, I didn’t know how to answer.
“As you can see, she’s a NEET, and a hacker. She can infiltrate all over the internet to gather information, but this time, she can’t really use this ability.”
“Is...that so? I’m really surprised. A little girl like her…”
“I saw a lot of beauties since entering the entertainment industry, but this is the first time I saw someone with such blazing eyes.”
“Huh?” I seemed to understand, and yet not.
“If the chairman is to see her, he’ll definitely scout her.”
You got to be kidding. No, Alice certainly appears interesting. I suddenly had an imagination of Alice appearing on Tamori’s afternoon show ‘Iitomo’, and if Tamori asked her, “Did you cut your hair?”, she would certainly snap back, saying, “I have never had my hair cut, not since I was born. You should at least consider my age and the growth speed of the human hair”, and all I could do was shiver in fear and laugh sarcastically.
Yui-san’s voice beside me interrupted my stupid thoughts.
“But why would such a little girl choose to be a detective?”
“Ah, erm...I'm not actually sure myself."
"Aren't you her assistant, Fujishima-san?"
"No, but, first,"
The saliva and disorientation swirled in my mouth in unison.
"Please stop calling me Fujishima-san. I'm younger than you, right?"
"But I heard that you're the go-to freeter here, Fujishima-san."
"I said I'm not a freeter! Are there really such rumors spreading in the entertainment circle? Did you mishear it?"
"Then...are you a boxer?" "I'm not a boxer!" Even though I did once!
"A victor?" "That's the company releasing your CDs, isn't it!?"
"Uuu, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. A minor character like me can't play dumb in front of you, Fujishima-san."
"I'm not an entertainer! Is that dumb act of yours just an act?"
Yui-san looked really terrified, probably because I went overboard with my retorts. Reflecting slightly upon it, I went silently, and turned to look at the dark street, where two long shadows shone upon.
"Actually, I'm just an ordinary high school boy. If you're nervous, I'll get nervous too. Just stay normal."
"But if you're just an ordinary high school boy, why did you become—her name's Alice, right? Why did you become her assistant?"
"Let's just say things turned out that way."
If I were to really explain, the story would be long enough for Arabian Nights.
"Is that so?" Yui-san glanced aside at me, "...Good thing we're of the same age. I thought it would be some terrifying place like a yakuza den, filled with scary muscular men."
How much has the detective agency been misconstrued as? However, it's true that I do know of such people.
"And that detective's so cute. We even agreed to exchange dolls. I'm really looking forward to it! Oh yes, I forgot to ask for her contact!"
"Ahh, then, you can give me a call if you need something." I stopped, and was about to fish out my phone, only to stop. She's an idol. She can't be exchanging numbers with ordinary people, right?
"It's fine, it's fine."
Yui-san smiled, and started the infrared transmission.
"...Narumi? That's a unique name." Yui-san said as she stared at the data shown on her phone.
"Everyone calls me Narumi."
"I see..Narumi, kun? Can I call you that?"
Woah. I'm embarrassed to be called that now. I kept my cellphone in my pocket, and continued to move down the dark pedestrian pathway towards the station.
The pedestrian pathway's finally approached the railway, and the black trees in the park entered my eyes. Yui-san inadvertently hastened her steps, and walked in front of me. Her eyes remained upon the yellow, black fence in the forest, and in the shadows, one could see some abandoned sheds of cardboard and blue vinyl sheets. There were no residents to be seen from the sheds, and they probably would be torn down and redeveloped into futsal courts.
For me, that was a place I had some painful memories of. Back then, due to the issue over taking down the gardening club, I called out Tetsu-senpai and we had a fight on this futsal court to settle things. Thinking back about it, it was embarrassing, and I didn't want to approach this park. Thus, I never paid attention to the homeless living here.
"I came here a few times, but after that, I never saw him again."
"...So I'm a little worried, worried if he's really my dad…"
The silhouette stopped at the stairs branching off from the trees in the park, and the ball on the wool cap shook and stopped in a forlorn manner.
"...Once you meet your father, what do you intend to do?"
I could not help but ask. The wool ball shook to the right.
"E-erm, I might, if you do meet Ginji-san and get a chance to talk to him, what do you intend to say to him then, Yui-san?"
"I earned a little bit of money."
Yui-san said, her back still turned on me.
"I guess I can help pay off dad's debts."
So please come back, was it really such a simple wish? I kept hoping for Yui-san to continue, but answering me in turn was silence. The night wind brought over the exhaust sounds of vehicles from opposite the railway, coupled with the music from the late night bars and drunkards making ruckus, sounding really forlorn when they passed through the filter of the fence.
"—I don't know."
Finally, Yui-san spoke with a feeble voice that could be blown away by the freezing winds.
"I don't know what I'll do once I meet my dad. When he left, I was still in elementary school; we were harassed by the creditors, and pushed around by our relatives. Until the very end of her life, mom was badmouthing dad."
Yui-san continued, her tone akin to dried dirt.
"So, I don't know what I'll do. I don't know what I should say."
Whether to hate him, or to reunite with him; that certainly applied to Yui-san's predicament.
For some strange reason, I could understand her feelings. if I were to return home and find my dad there, if someone's to ask me what I would say to him in such a situation, I probably would leave the living room without a word, and grovel in my blanket. After such a long absence, our hearts would have been so stubborn.
Yui-san inadvertently muttered, and looked towards me. Even with the backlight on, I could see her blushing.
"it's nothing! Let's hurry!"
She didn't look fine to me. Yui-san slammed my chest with both hands, but I looked over at where she was looking—the top of the fence separately the park and the railway, and I found my answer. Shown in my eyes was a huge billboard at the top of the building, and on it was a sidelong image of a determined looking woman bending down to tie her shoelaces and the logo of Hercules. There was no lighting, probably because it was not fully set up. Despite this, I could determine the female artiste on it.
"So-so I say, please don't look at me!'
Yui-san grabbed my shoulders with both hands, trying to change where my body was facing. Despite this, I compared the hidden, bashful face under the wool cap with the determined face floating in the night sky. Though not to the point of misidentifying them as two different people, I was impressed that there was such a huge contrast in demeanour.
"There's already a large-scale promotion activity near the station with lots of my photos. I'm feeling more embarrassed than ever."
Yui-san covered her face with the muffler, even her mouth. Really, could she actually handle the work in the entertainment industry?
Suddenly, I realized something.
"...When did the promotion begin?"
"Eh? Ah, ahh, yes, it started around last month when the billboard was up there."
If it started last month, it meant that Ginji-san could have seen it.
Did he find his daughter? They never met since her days in elementary school, so it's a little tougher now, right? It'll be great if he found out that it was his daughter. Even if he wanted to play dumb, he might let slip due to a moment of carelessness.
I instinctively realized that even if Ginji-san was Yui-san's father, he probably wouldn't be too willing to meet Yui-san. Thus, I had to cautiously ask him, but how? Was it really okay to ask about the homeless' past?
While ponder and walking behind Yui-san, a sharp glare of light stung my eyes, and the shrill braking sound hit the guardrail.
"—Yui! What are you doing here!?"
A blue-purple car immediately parked right by us, and appearing was a tall, skinny man in his thirties or so. He shoved the door of the driver seat, and stormed out. A black shirt was matched with his leisure suit, and frosty eyes were behind the pale green glasses. He didn't appear to be an enemy, but he was fuming, and I inadvertently took a few steps back. Yui-san cringed back, wanting to cover her face with her muffler.
"B-b-b-b-b-but I'm on leave today!"
"I said that you have a rehearsal early in the morning tomorrow. There's a need to have a meeting!"
The man glared at me angrily.
"Who are you? Yui, did you...what are you thinking, having a boyfriend at such an important moment?"
"That's not it! Erm, Narumi-kun is erm, well, Pixar?" Pixar's an animation company, but this isn't the main point here. I exchanged looks between Yui-san and the glasses guy's faces, trying to grasp the situation as well as possible. He's probably someone related to the animation industry, I guess? Is he Yui-san's manager?
"Anyway, get onto the car! The chairman's worried too! Hurry back first. We'll talk on the car!"
The glasses guy grabbed Yui-san by the shoulder, and dragged her into the co-passenger seat. He then gave me a threatening glance, and went to the driver seat.
The blue-purple car drove off, leaving only the stench of car exhaust all over the place. I sat on the railing, and sighed.
I assumed it would be a very simple request, but at this point, I had an annoying premonition. The entertainment industry's a messy world, putting billions of corporate funds into unstable personalities. This weight will unknowingly torment the idols, and then crush them at a crush point, an abrupt moment.
Thinking about how I didn't want to get too involved with him, I couldn't forget Yui-san's helpless expression when she failed to close the co-passenger seat.
I returned to the office, and Alice kept her scowl as she went to the corridor, saying,
"Why are you here? Didn't you go home?"
"Eh, eh? Why? My bicycle's still parked here at 'Hanamaru', and I still need to report something to you."
"And you were sending her off so happily…"
Alice immediately returned to the room. I just got the feeling that she was feeling under the weather, but why?
I too followed her into the bedroom, and reported about the glasses guy.
"He's probably Natsuki Yui's manager, called Washio Kazuto."
Alice simply answered as she tapped at the keyboard, her back facing me.
"It's this man, right?"
She pointed at the monitor at the top left. Shown on it was a crude image, probably a magazine photo. On the top left was an enlarged Yui, and there was a man in suit behind her, about to exit the glass door of a building. The sharp glare under his glasses really was unique, and I could identify him despite the crude image. I guess he's Yui-san's manager after all. Doesn't look decent. Did he remember my appearance?
"Did you inform the manager of the request?"
"Of course not." I answered, somewhat peeved. A detective's most important duty would be to maintain a client's secrecy.
"Good. Remember to remain so at all times."
"A noble NEET like me typically wouldn't accept this kind of cases, but we're looking for someone. I shall let you handle everything about this case. I don't have any affinity with the entertainment industry, after all."
Once she said that, I recalled what Yui-san said.
"Maybe you do have some affinity, Alice."
"What are you saying?'
I stated how Yui-san felt that the chairman would invite Alice into the entertainment industry, and the latter stopped what she was doing, turning around to face me. She looked as though she had just swallowed a live chick whole.
"...Wh-what nonsense are you saying?" Alice uttered those words, "Even if I do reincarnate 7,000 times, I can't possibly enter the entertainment industry."
"Well, I thought so, but you might be unexpectedly suited for it."
She hugged the largest teddy bear, and buried her face into it.
"In other words, you'll go buy idol magazines with photos of me, fill my A1 posters to the ceiling, and preorder limited editions DVDs of me being filmed for 90 minutes?"
"I don't need to. The actual one's in front of me."
"Or are you going to bid for clothes I wore, queue overnight for a handshake meeting with me, and buy wax figurines of me?"
"I've never seen wax figurines of idols."
"Y-y-you just said such a long spiel of shameless folly!"
"You're the one talking about it!"
Alice hide behind the doll, huffing and puffing. She rubbed her palms onto her reddened cheeks, "Anyway, stop thinking about such stupid things."
"I just thought of it though. If you're to appear on TV, you might start some strange topic there...I wasn't being serious there, you know?"
"Of course. I'll be scared just thinking about thousands of anonymous people seeing me through the television. How am I able to speak out? A NEET detective's words don't exist for the sake of appearing on television."
Alice's words caused me to imagine her appearing on 'Tetsuko's Room' . If Kuroyanagi Tetsuko is to ask, "What interesting things shall we discuss today?", Alice would surely reply, "A detective is the speaker of the dead, only able to hurt the living, and humiliate the dead. Are you willing to listen?" All I could do would be to break out in cold sweat and force a smile.
"Well, it's not a good thing for you to show up in public, so you can continue being my detective, Alice." I was saying that she would cause trouble for the likes of Tamori and Kuroyanagai Tetsuko and the other television network people, the hill of dolls suddenly collapsed. It was due to Alice rolling about on the bed.
"Y-your detective? Wh-wh-wh-wh-wh-what are you saying?'
"What I'm saying...just what I think." If you're going to talk to others with the same tone you talk to me, you'll definitely anger them.
Alice looked up, a rare act in that, and tried to probe me, asking,
"...I-is that how you view me?"
"Well, sorry for saying the truth."
"Why are you apologizing!?"
"Why are you angry!?"
Alice stuffed her blushing face into the dolls, and ducked under the blanket.
"Even without you saying, I'll support you for the rest of your life with meager pay! I don't intend to increase the number of stupid assistants!"
"Alright, I get it." It would be great if there were bonuses. Anyway, what were we talking about?
"If you understand, go home. I'm not giving any overtime pay."
Alice lashed out as she peeked out from under the blanket. Sighing, I placed the scattered dolls back onto the bed, and walked out of the door. If I had to continue working and talking like this for the rest of my life, I guess it would be a wonderful life. At this point, all I could do was grimace and sigh.
Translator's Notes and References
- The Creation, an Oratario by the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn
- the first Shinto shrine visit of the Japanese New Year
- Pooping in kanji is 大便, taiben, while 代弁者, taibensha, is more as a ‘messenger’, but given that Alice’s role is basically ‘Speaker of the Dead’ by Orson Scott Wells…
- Woman: 女, chaos (or raping): 姦)
- By Vivaldi, of course
- Baseball team
- Located near Kobe
- A Japanese TV celebrity
- A long running show hosted by Kuroyanagi Tetsuko, an esteemed actress. Think of it as a Japanese version of Oprah.r
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