Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 7 Chapter 2
Thus, we soon found Ginji-san. Sunday afternoon, at around 4pm or so, right when I took a step out from the door and was about to ride on my bicycle, the cellphone in my pocket rang. It was from Major.
“Ginji-san, Mori-san, Conductor and Marienkhof-shi are together with me under the bridge. I only intend to chat with everyone. Oh, remember to buy some beer.”
But I’m underaged. Right when I was about to protest, the phone line got cut off. It appeared everyone forgot that I was still in high school, though there were times even I would forget.
Leaving aside the fact that I’m underaged, Conductor and Marienkhof-shi should be the names of some other homeless folks. That’s what they would casually call each other. Right, if Ginji-san’s really Yui-san’s dad, he probably has a real name.
I would be meeting him later, and I had to be cautious when I affirm this.
Are you Katsuragi Genji?
I bought cans of coffee from the convenience shop, and went towards the station. The world under the railway was a strange world; every 30 seconds, the train could be heard passing by above, and there were a lot of small bars and stalls cramped there. The sun had yet to set, and most shops had yet to open. The nauseating stench from the hill of trash bags, the crows pecking at the trash, a large number of abandoned, rusted bicycles, homeless seated on them, smoking, being like the precipitate of the city. All these scenes hastened a pedestrian’s footsteps.
However, the situation today differed slightly. There was the face of an elementary school kid tucked amongst the homeless, dressed in camouflage suit and a helmet.
“Vice Admiral Fujishima! Over here!”
Major spotted me opposite the road, and waved at me. The quartet of men chatting away turned to look at me. While wary of the surrounding stares, I pulled the collar of my jumper, and hurried across the road.
“Everyone, please have some coffee.” The old men reached into the convenience store bag I opened for them, including Ginji-san.
“Why isn’t it beer?” “Well, good for this cold weather.”
“Why are you treating us now, Narumi? Are you planning to end up homeless anytime soon?”
“You can follow Hiro and be a gigolo yourself, guhaha.”
I was flanked by two men, and they ribbed me. Conductor-shi’s was dressed in a suit, his hair a color of black sesame and salt, and might be mistaken for a salaryman. The one with the little beer bottle behind his overalls was probably Marienkhof-shi. I could only obtain a vague impression of everyone, but everyone could remember my appearance and face. What’s going on?
“Narumi, which yakuza are you going to challenge next?”
“The payout was 24 times the last time you challenged the Chinese mafia. Thanks to you, I made a killing.”
“Gamble? I’m not a race horse!”
“Eh? You aren’t talking about that today?” “We heard from Major that you’ll provide us some intel.”
Shocked, I turned to Major. He seemed to be discussing something furiously with Ginji-san and Mori-san, and only for a moment did he look up at me. Through the stare under the visor, I could tell he wanted me to make up something. This guy spread lies using my name to gather the homeless. Left with no choice, I could only speak up.
“Eh, there hasn’t been much going on recently. When we took on the Huang Coalition the last time, Hiro—”
I made up some heroics, and peeked aside at Ginji-san. Really, I couldn’t help but be curious about what they were talking about.
“…I see. Those living in the park and under the bridge were already wiped out. Nobody heard any gunshots, so we can’t tell the gun make from the sounds and the frequency there—”
“Who’s able to tell! It’s not like everyone’s a military nut like you.” Ginji-san noted.
“And it’s so dark. Who’s able to tell whether it’s an air gun or something. I thought I got hit by nails.”
Mori-san rubbed his shoulders as he answered,
“Let’s go check the scene of the crime. Do you know what shoes and equipment were worn?’
“As we said, it’s too dark, and we can’t see.”
“We’re not soldiers. Who cares about such things?”
“In that case, can everyone please carrying this recorder along with you.”
Major seemed to be investigating something with the homeless, and Ginji-san cautiously inspected the watch-sized recorder Major took out from his backpack.
“What’s this? How many microphones have you set up inside?”
“16 directional microphones. I caliberated the angles; it’s my best work.”
“This is too much cost. If you want to mass produce this, you should modulate the recorder and the power source at least.”
“Your thoughts are really profit-oriented, Ginji-san. I never thought of that.”
“How about using the electromagnetic reception from before?”
“Ohh, that can work.”
It sounded as though they were happily chatting. I approached Major silently, pretending to be interested in the conversation, and stared at the devices in their hands.”
“…Ginji-san, you seem to know electronics well. Did you study engineering before?”
It was a straightforward question. Major inadvertently stared right at me; it was a taboo to ask a homeless’ past.
But Ginji-san merely snorted, and answered,
“It was a long time back. Technology has advanced so much though, and I can’t catch up to Hitoshi now.”
“But the thought process will never age. It’s after hearing your words that I’m starting to think going to a research university might be a good idea. Though this will delay my time as a NEET…”
Hearing these words, I suppressed the shock and conflicted feelings within me. Major wanted to go to a research university? He originally declared that he would keep repeating his year until he couldn’t, drop out and become the strongest NEET. On the other hand, it felt as though we were talking about someone else’s matter entirely, as Ginji-san was calling Major Hitoshi. No, the important thing wasn’t about Major, but to hear out from Ginji-san.
“Do you know how to make a recorder, Ginji-san?”
I glanced aside at the recorder in Major’s hand, and nonchalantly asked,
“I can, but it’s not in my expertise.”
“E-erm, your expertise?”
“Making spare parts for cameras.”
I gulped. It was as Yui-san told us, that he worked in a spare parts factory.
“You also mentioned cost and such…were you the owner of a company or something?”
“I did run a business before alright. But why do you seem as though you know?”
“E-erm?” I coughed a few times to hide the awkwardness. It appeared I asked too much, “Just thought of it.”
“If there’s something you want to ask, do it.”
My voice was frozen deep within my throat, bringing some pain. I barely forced myself to swallow it.
I glanced at Major, and found that he had already slipped off to the abandoned bicycles where Mori-san, Conductor and Marienkhof were, explaining how easy it was to picklock them. He sounded aloof, but he was serious in assisting the investigation.
Again, I faced Ginji-san, and quietly inhaled.
One day, I would have to state the truth to him. Better give up on any tricks now. I rather gain his trust and continue with the investigation than find definite proof on him before explaining about Yui-san.
“Erm, actually, I’m the assistant to a private detective.”
“I know, and so?”
Ah, I guessed so. He knew my name after all.
“A while back, our agency had a customer called Natsuki Yui-san. She’s an artiste. Her actual name is Katsuragi Yuina…she requested us to search for her father.”
I stopped, and watched Ginji-san’s expression. However, his face only showed a stoic look.
“Katsuragi Keiji, that’s the name of the father she told us.”
Again, I paused, waiting for Ginji-san to reply. However, he would not say anything, and I could only hear the noise from the train, the voices of hawkers in cellphone shops, background music from the drug store, exhaust sounds of the passing vehicles, and countless footsteps.
“Yui-san said that she once saw you when she went filming at the park. She suspected that you’re her father.”
“I don’t know.”
Ginji-san sounded as though he was crushing a ball of dirt onto the wall. I was certain that this man was Yui-san’s father.”
“Yui-san says that she wants to be reunited with you.”
“I have no daughter.”
“Just meet and have a talk.”
“I told you I don’t know.”
“Yui-san said that she doesn’t hate her father. She just wants to meet you again. Right, she said that she can help repay the debt.”
Ginji-san threw the empty can of coffee into the basket of a abandoned bicycle, got up, and wrapped the muffler around his neck.
“Thank you for the invite, but I’m leaving.”
”Wait! Please wait!”
I wanted to give chase after Ginji-san only, to hit my thigh onto the bicycle, and nearly toppled over an entire row of them as I barely managed to hold onto it.
“Ginji-san, where are you staying right now?”
“I don’t have a place to stay. Are you an idiot?”
“I-I know that. That’s not what I mean. I’m asking how to contact you again.”
I couldn’t allow the conversation to end in such dire situation. Even though I felt that I could be rejected, I had to seize my only chance.
“Go ask Hitoshi.”
Ginji-san straggled a trolley of dirty bags, and went towards the shadows under the bridge. For every step he took, I felt the silhouette of his back shrinking. Thus, I could only stop my hands from holding the bicycle and watch him leave beyond the horizon.
Ginji-san’s departing footsteps were finally overcome by the noises of the train.
I inadvertently hugged myself and shivered. Was the sudden cold due to the buildings, or because I just recalled that it was Winter already?
“Ginji-san left already?”
I turned to look at the source of the voice, and found that Mori-san and the others were already behind me.
“It’s rare to have a young guest treat us, and he went off.”
“That man’s always scowling.”
“I never saw him smile before.”
“When was that time when Ginji-san went to the job agency in all our stead, and we treated him? Even then, he wouldn’t smile…”
“Let’s have a bet! First to make Ginji-san smile will take all.”
“That’ll be a huge wager!”
The old men stared at everyone’s tanned faces, and grinned.
The trio probably sensed that Ginji-san and I were talking about something serious, but nobody asked us. Everyone’s deliberate obliviousness gave me a real sense of warmth, which I guess would be similar to keeping something warm with vacuum? Impossible. What exactly was I thinking?
Immediately afterwards, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around, and found Major with his goggles and helmet lifted, looking on with innocent eyes.
“The sudden investigation failed?”
“Well, yeah…” I lowered my shoulders. I felt apologetic to Major, who finally managed to bring Ginji-san to me. “Ginji-san can’t go back to the park now, can he? Hasn’t the construction work started?”
“No, he’ll come by once in a while. It’s a little complicated though.”
Major started to explain the situation of the park to me.
The construction started 4 days back. There were still many homeless huts in the park, and they started work in a somewhat threatening manner. It’s only due to the civilian groups increasing the frequency of protests that the construction work got delayed again. At this point, the park was fenced up, and the plan to modify it to a sports park was paused again.
“Hercules can’t possibly give up on its business plans just because of some protets, and it’s now the cooldown phase. They’ll start work again, so Ginji-san had to move away before then.”
“That’ll be bad. If they move, how can I find them?’
Major tapped me on the shoulder.
“I’ve grasped the waste recycling company and the shops Ginji-san frequent, and I have Mori-san’s contact, so I’ll be able to find out where everyone lives. Also, for the time being, I’ll be patrolling around specific places.”
“Eh?” I stared at Major’s face. Specific places here would refer to the places the homeless stayed at. “Why patrol? Because of this request?”
“What are you saying now? I’m investigating on the one who shot the homeless.”
I glanced aside to peek at the three old men, holding coffee and chatting about gambling eagerly.
“I investigated all the places this week, and obtained lots of evidence.”
Major took out a few transparent plastic bags filled with BB bullets and dirt-covered metal scraps.
“These aren’t things any ordinary person will throw. Must be some maniac who loves to play survival games. This is a small world for us gamers, I’ll be able to catch him soon.”
I felt something was amiss. Why was Major so insistent on figuring out who shot the homeless? He was on good terms with Ginji-san and the others, and he naturally would be angry about it.
But despite this, it wasn’t like Major.
…Why was Major not being himself?
I shook my head to shake off such thoughts. What did I know about Major? We only knew each other for more than a year, and only met at the detective agency. How could I possibly understand the passions and darkness hidden inside his diminutive body.
“…Anything I can help with?”
Major stopped, and turned his head back.
“I can’t ask you for help, Vice Admiral Fujishima. This isn’t a request.”
“I know it isn’t, but—” I was at a momentary loss of words, and tried to find excuses, “Anyway, I just hope that you’ll let me participate. If we can nab the culprit…it’ll be like owing a favour, but I guess Ginji-san would be more willing to talk to me.”
It was an excuse based on the heart. But actually, what I was really curious was—why was Major being so anxious?’
“Vice Admiral Fujishima, have you heard of the organizational theory by General Hans von Seeckt?”
“No, I don’t.” I muttered. Why this out of a sudden.
“Your lack of hard work really is something to lament. Seeckt was limited by the harsh regulations of the Treaty of Versailles to downsize the military, but with his intelligence and indomitable will, he managed to rebuild the German Army, and insisted on the military being a pillar of civilian governance. He resisted defied Hitler until the very end.”
“W-wait, Major. Don’t make a speech in the middle of the streets. Everyone’s watching.”
Major ignored my protests, and raised 4 fingers in front of me.
“According to Seeckt, soldiers can be classified into 4 different kinds. The lazy and smart, the hardworking and smart, the lazy and stupid, and the hardworking and stupid.” For every category he listed, Major bent a finger.
“The lazy and smart ones are suited to lead the frontlines. Scared of death, that guy will try his best to think of a way to win easily. For example, I’m of this category. The Major’s a camp commander.”
In other words, a willing NEET. Anyway, what’s Major talking about? Did this have to do with me?”
“The hardworking and smart are more inclined to be advsiors. They need smarts to come up with plans, and willingness to work hard for the preparations . For example, Yondaime’s this kind of person.”
Really? Right when I was being sceptical, Major pointed at my nose.
“As for the lazy idiots, they’re suited to be commanders. Never doing anything, and just need to nod and what others say. In other words, you’re the type of person, Vice Admiral.”
I gulped, unable to refute. In any case, I let Major finish what he wanted to say.
But despite this, I cautiously asked,
“…Then, what about the fourth kind? The hardworking idiots?”
“it’s better if they don’t exist. They work for the wrong purpose, and only serve to spread the damage. What I want to say is that I don’t want you to go from being a lazy idiot to a hardworking idiot.”
I knew I shouldn’t have asked…feeling limp, I sat down on the backseat of a bicycle.
“Well, only the Japanese would have known of such stupid words. Guess it’s made up.”
“What’s with the long talk then!? You wasted my time!”
Major waved at me, and left. I watched him vanish down the path below the bridge, and again sat back on the back seat of the abandoned bicycle. Looking back, I found the 3 other homeless folk had vanished. The sun was setting, and the long shadows of the bicycle and I fell onto the railway. A chilling wind ruffled the convenience store bag.
I buttoned up my duffle coat, and stood up.
I waited until the following day, after school, before deciding to give Yui-san a call.
She’s the client this time, and no matter the outcome, I had to report to her. However, when I went to ‘Hanamaru’, there would surely be people trying to talk to me. Thus, I called Yui-san immediately once I got out of the classroom.
“Sorry, I’m on the road now!”
I could hear the noise of a road in the background of Yui-san’s voice.
“I’ll call you again later. Sorry.”
I stared at the phone right after the call ended, and reflected on my actions. She’s a blooming idol, and very busy at that. Calling her at this point would be harassing her.
I sent her a message, briefly reporting on Ginji-san. It was about how I confronted Ginji-san about Yui-san, only to be denied. However, we got intel on his whereabouts, and I would continue to try and convince him. These words were difficult to express directly, but after conveying into a message, I could easily send it to her.
I rode the bicycle out of school, and the cellphone in my pocket vibrated. This time, it’s from Yui-san.
“I’ll have some time later. I’ll be going to the ramen shop later. I have something to hand over to you.”
I remained leaned on the pillar of the school gate, bending over from the bicycle as I read the message thrice. I sighed, and closed the phone.
I guess I had to explain to her directly after all.
There was the silhouette of a tall, lanky man in the kitchen of ‘Hanamaru’ that was preparing to open. Black rubber bands were used to roll up his lemon yellow shirt, and he was sorting out the dried goods in the cardboard boxes. Only Hiro could wear such a striking shirt without feeling out of place, and even in the entertainment industry, not many could do so.
“Narumi-kun! I heard that there’s some really amazing person with the request this time?”
Hiro noticed me pass through the curtains, and lifted his head, saying,
“Alice told me, and I was shocked. When that girl debuted on a gravure photo on Young Jump, I knew that Natsuki Yui would strike it big one day.”
Hiro’s the only one in my circle of relations who was familiar with the entertainment circle, I think I should really leave everything to Hiro, for a moment, that was my thought.
“I’ll come back to work again. This time, I’ll be able to get a chance to meet Yui-chan.”
“I’m definitely not letting you to meet her….” I sighed, and sat in front of the counter. “So you aren’t going to be a gigolo leeching on Yi Ling-san now? She’ll be angry knowing that you’re popping by at ‘Hanamaru’ often, right?”
“Ahh, I was shooed out from Yi Ling’s room.” Hiro chuckled, “Well, I know a Chinese madame, you know? Right now, I’m living in an apartment she bought for me. I haven’t lived alone for quite a while, so I got really bored.”
“You’re utterly terrible!”
“No, Narumi-kun, I pale in comparison to you.”
What? Don’t say such things that can be misunderstood, okay? However, Hiro went back to the cardboard boxes.
“Min-san, do I wash the turtle leg? I can grill the fish jaw.”
Hiro shouted into the corridor of the kitchen, and at this moment, a lady with a ponytail showed up from there. It seemed Min-san was inside, preparing the broth.
“Then you can boil the pork belly—” Min-san instructed, only to stop midway through and walk out to the kitchen, “…No need for that. Why did you enter the kitchen again, you gigolo bastard?’
“No, I just thought I should help you with work.”
“You’re no longer an employee. And how are you able to just show up in front of me without a care in the world?”
“Why not? That madame bought an apartment for me, but my heart belongs to you, Min-san.”
After that, Hiro got chased out, literally kicked up and sent rolling from the back door. I hurried out, and went to the back.
Hiro rubbed his backside, and I helped him up onto the old stack of tires.
“That punch from Min-san’s really powerful. That’s worse than when I got beaten up by Hong Lei.”
“You reap what you sow…”
Didn’t he propose to Min-san? What was he thinking?
“Well, as long as I don’t give up, Min-san will understand my feelings.”
“You’re saying such innocent words for a gigolo.”
A fuming Min-san suddenly rushed out from the back door, and Hiro instinctively raised his hands to protect his head.
But Min-san did not show up to beat him, instead putting a large metal bowl on the wooden table between Hiro and me. There was a hill of garlic there, some even falling out.
“Hiro, peel them all! Narumi, don’t you dare help him. Let him finish.”
And then, she slammed the back door with enough force to rattle the entire building.
Hiro-san cautiously lowered his arms, and heaved a sigh of relief, before he began to happily peel the garlic.
It’s a strange relationship between those two. Nobody around us gave Hiro a chance of succeeding in his pursuit of love, but Min-san never rejected him outside, and seeing them like this, I felt a vague feeling of both gaudiness and relief.
I felt that Hiro would continue wandering around the many girls out there, and occasionally come back to ‘Hanamaru’ from time to time. In other words, this is Hiro’s home. It’s not the posh apartment the filthy rich madame bought for him, and neither was it the simple apartment of a hostess. His home was at Min-san’s shop.
Thus—this was the difference between the NEETs and the homeless.
“…Did you talk to Ginji-san?”
Hiro stopped, and asked me.
“Eh? Ah, yes. Sorta.”
It seemed Hiro already knew about the request somewhat, and I didn’t have to explain.
“Is he really the father?”
“I couldn’t be sure. Ginji-san insisted that he didn’t know, that he doesn’t have a daughter. Looking at his reaction though, I guess it’s him.”
I added on to convince Hiro, and looked down at the ground between my shoes. A brief silence was interrupted by the peeling sounds of garlic.
Hiro muttered. I lifted my head.
“It’s been 10 years since he left his daughter and home. It’s going to be difficult for her to salvage anything now.”
I too understood this logic. Time would gather all kinds of precipitates, bury wounds and flaws, and coagulate them. It was completely impossible to revert matters to normal. By removing the burden of the wounds, all that would be revealed would be more wounds.
“Even if Ginji-san’s really Natsuki Yui’s father, the daughter earns enough money for her dad to pay off the debts, and start a new life, it won’t be settled that easily.”
I know. Right when I was about to answer, I swallowed back my words. Did I really understand? What feelings did Ginji-san have when he left home and wandered all the way to Tokyo? What feelings did he have when I mentioned about Yui-san to him while he was holding that can of coffe? I didn’t understand anything at all, I guess.
I guessed Hiro would be more suited for this case. I never heard Hiro mention about his family situation, but he was always wandering around like a drifting plant, and probably understands the homeless better than I do. I guessed he’ll be able to explain the conversation Ginji-san and I had to Yui-san without much difficulty.
At this moment, Hiro patted my shoulder,
“But you’re the detective’s assistant, Narumi-kun.”
Hearing that, all I could only do was nod deeply. I felt ashamed for trying to toss a hot potato to Hiro.
“But Major’s helping with this case, right? Both Tetsu and I aren’t taking action because Alice hasn’t told us to, and it looks like Major has been running around alone. I haven’t been able to get him on the phone recently.”
“Ah, erm, that’s because.”
I explained to Hiro the cases of the homeless being shot at, and his beautifully shaped eyebrows scowled slightly.
“Looks like Major’s involved in some trouble again.”
“What was he really serious about? I thought he was joking about the pride of a soldier, but he looked really angry about what the culprit did.”
“Really? I always thought he was serious.”
“Always? He said that attacking non-combatants is the worst possible crime, but this is 21st Century Japan, and an airgun was used.”
“He’s for real, but—”
Hiro stopped peeling the garlic, and his eyes drifted coldly, aimlessly.
“I guess this isn’t the only reason as to why he’s so furious.”
I followed Hiro’s stare, and the grey sky between the buildings got gloomier.
I did see a strange, dangerous presence in Major’s eyes, despite him trying to bluff with some crazy general’s talk.
‘Hanamaru’ was at its busiest after 8pm, filled with all kinds of customers, including the salarymen returning from work, the workers at the construction sites, the guards, the college students headed for the next stall, the old man managing a block of apartments, and some hoodlum-like property dealers. The 5 seats in front of the counter were occupied by the regular customers of drunkards, and the customers unable to enter had to sit on beer crates turned upside down. The cold drafts from the buildings blew in, and only a small electric heater provided some warmth. Despite this, the lights and red curtains at the doors seemed to attract lots of pedestrians. The crowd showed no signs of abating, and Ayaka alone could not cope with them. Thus, when Min-san popped out of the back door, stating that she was willing to hire for 700 Yen per hour, Hiro giddily put on the short black apron and ran into the kitchen. I guessed the rumors spread fast, for an hour later, a large group of young women came by later.
Yui-san just so happened to show up at the ramen shop’s busiest moment. Outside the lights of the shop was a silhouette looking around. Looking at the shape of the wool cap, I could tell it was here.
“Over here, over here.”
I waved my hand from between the buildings.
Yui-san called me with a voice audible to everyone else, probably because she was relieved to see me, and came running over. I put a finger at my mouth to shush her, dragged her to a dark corner at the back door, had her sit on the old tires, and peeked into the shop. Some customers noticed the back door, but none of them noticed that it was Natsuki Yui.
“You can’t be loud now. What’ll happen if others notice you?”
Yui-san shrank back, lowered her sunglasses slightly, and looked up at me, apologizing. I grabbed Yui-san by the shoulders just when she wanted to peek into the shop, dragged her back, and had her sit on the tires.
“The one who drove you off on that day was your manager, right? Did he say anything?”
“A lot of things. Is that your boyfriend? It’s a crucial moment now. What are you thinking?”
Ah, I guessed so. She’s a rare breed of proper idols in this day and age after all.
“Bu-bu-but don’t be mistaken! You really aren’t my boyfriend though.”
“I know. I’m the victim here!” Why explain this to me?
The back door suddenly opened, and the humid air suddenly blew at my neck.
“Fujishima-kun, is that a customer? Anything she’ll like to order?”
Yui-san lifted her eyes, and just so happened to exchange looks with Ayaka, poking her head out of the door.
“H-huh? E-eh? Th-this is, Natsuki—”
I frantically got to my feet and blocked Ayaka’s line of sight.
“So-sorry, Ayaka. Please pretend that you didn’t see anything.”
And appearing beyond Ayaka’s shoulder was Hiro.
“I heard Yui-chan showed up? Take my place in the kitchen, Narumi-kun. I’ll take over.”
While Ayaka and Hiro stood side by side, a terrifying growl could be heard behind them, and a fuming Min-san came out to grab her two employees by the back of their collars.
“No skimping on your work! We’re not done delivering the customer’s dishes! She’s not one of our customers!”
Hiro and Ayaka were dragged back into the kitchen, and I really expressed my thanks to Min-san before closing the back door.
“…Sorry, everyone wanted to get involved.”
“W-was I found out? That’s weird. I switched to yellow sunglasses on this day though.”
That makes it more obvious! I really wished Yui-san had some awareness as a celebrity. I brought her to the first stairwell of the emergency staircase.
“But this ramen shop owner really seems amazing.”
Yui-san muttered as she leaned her back on the handrail.
“The lady with the ponytail’s the shop owner, right? I met her the last time I came by. She’s really a beauty.”
Beauty…? Hm, well, Min-san’s pretty, no doubt about that. I recalled the image of her wearing the wedding dress when she got engaged, and if I did help take a photo of her, it’ll be beautiful. Photos can’t talk or beat people up after all.
“The girl helping at work’s cute too, and there’s also that employee who looks like a Johnny.
“Erm, I’ll be serious about this, don’t you ever approach that guy. He’s not a Johnny, just a gigolo.”
Yui-san blinked a few times, probably overwhelmed by my serious expression, and smiled. I then added on,
“No, this isn’t a laughing matter. He’s really a terrible gigolo.”
“Sorry, I’m laughing because you said the exact same words as Washio-san.”
Washio would refer to that fierce looking manager, right?
“He said he could tell from your face that you’re a gigolo, Narumi-kun, that I shouldn’t be approaching you.”
“From my face!? We only just met!”
“Ahh, I don’t have the time to chat. I came out for a while after an event ended. I still have to rush back later.”
“Next time, say that earlier! Erm.”
I hurriedly pondered about what to say next, and continued on,
First, about that homeless man called Ginji-san.
I did tell Ginji-san that we accepted a request from Natsuki Yui—Katsuragi Yuina.
And Ginji-san’s response were, “I don’t know.” “I have no daughter.”
And finally, though he had no fixed place to live at, we could find him if we did some investigations.
Yui-san kept biting her lower lip as she listened to my report quietly. Once I was done, she merely nodded,
“I’ll go back to talk to Ginji-san later. Anything you want me to say to him? Oh yeah, didn’t you say you have something to pass to him?”
Yui-san reached her hand into her handbag, and took out a box smaller than a palm. She opened the box that was wrapped in red velvet, and there was a ring embedded halfway in it.
“…So the thing you said you want to hand him is this?”
“Yes. This is my dad’s wedding ring. He left this ring by my bedside before he left home.”
The words ‘Kenji Katsuragi’ were clearly imprinted on the inside of the ring. I looked up at the side of Yui-san’s face; did she see her dad leave home?
“I was awake back then, but I overslept, and I wasn’t sure what dad left behind, or why he left home…and I just went back to sleep.”
Yui-san’s eyes were hidden under the sunglasses, and she looked up at the distant night sky.
“Every day, he would work until it was late at night, and mom and I were used to sleeping early. My biggest impression of him would be him sliding the fusuma slightly to peek in, and see my upside down face. He would head to the factory every morning, and it wasn’t uncommon to not see him for 3 days straight.”
Her voice sounded as though it was beyond a curtain.
“But back then, I was just a kid, and I didn’t know the factory was in dire states, or that I ever thought that dad would vanish. It was almost Christmas, and I kept telling him to stay at home when it was Christmas. Ahaha, I was like an idiot.”
Yui-san wiped her eyes with her fingers a few times.
“Mom seemed to have known too. She knew immediately what happened on that day. There was the ring by the bed, and the money at home was gone.”
But she didn’t request to look for him. Yui-san showed a hollow smile.
“After dad vanished, mom spent the next 3 days spaced out on a chair, sometimes laughing. She hardly did anything, and the people at the factory helped report to the police to search for him.”
The weather got colder, and I looked away from Yui-san’s face as I leaned on the handrail. The bustling lights between the buildings looked surreal.
“So, please hand the ring over to him.”
Yui-san pushed the box to me.
“And told me that mom’s ring is with me.”
I heard from Yui-san that her mother kept cursing the husband for leaving such a huge debt behind and abandoned the factory and family. I firmly held onto this hard sensation in my palm, and it still continued some warmth from Yui-san.
“I know it’s bad to ask you to lie, but please ell dad that mom wasn’t angry with him, that she wanted to meet him until the very end.”
Yui-san and I looked over at the night sky, in the same direction, and I nodded to her.
A lazy idiot like me would be more suited to convey such a stupid, harmless lie. It would be great if Ginji-san could open his heart a little to me.
The sound of a cellphone echoed in the chilly night, and Yui-san’s shoulders shook in shock as she hurriedly took it out. However, she merely stared at the phone, and did not receive the call.
“…Ahh, what do I do? Washio-san’s definitely angry with me now.”
“You got to go back now, I just said that there’s still things to do, more or less.”
Yui-san closed her phone, and slipped into into her handbag.
“What do I do? Do I have some ramen before going back? I heard that the ice cream here is really good, right?”
“What are you saying? Your manager’s going to come right at us!”
“Well, I have to go back, I guess…”
Yui-san leaned her back on the backrest, and bent down. What’s with her? Did she not want to return to her manager than much? I couldn’t see her expression, but that ball of wool on her cap was still bobbling.
On the other end of the silence were the cheerful sounds of the customers, mixed with the vibration of the phone. Yui-sna shrank even further, and waited for it to stop.
“…I’ll rest for a while longer. Washio-san won’t know that I’m here.”
I sighed, and scratched my head.
“Erm, Yui-san, did the company issue the phone to you?”
I asked, and Yui-san tilted her head slightly towards me, showing a shocked look.
“I guess the company had a GPS function installed in the phone.”
“A function that uses the satellites to check on a phone’s location—erm, anyway, the manager can figure out where you are through this function, Yui-san.”
If this idol talent was being so unstable, there would be no doubt she would be forced to use this phone, and thus, it would explain why the manager would suddenly show up in front of us that weekend night. Hearing this from me, Yui-san got pale, and stood up.
“Wh-what do I do? Just destroy the phone?”
“I said, just hurry back now! Also, give a call to your manager later!”
“U, uu, yes, I guess…”
Yui-san lowered her shoulders dejectedly, and began walking down the stairs.
She’s a dangerous one, I thought as I watched her leave from behind. Her emotional state was highly unstable, and how was she like in front of the cameras? I never saw her on TV before, but I could imagine her going crazy. I got increasingly worried, hoping that she could report good news to me next time.
I looked back at the little box in my palm. Thinking about it, I was really entrusted with something really significant. Would Ginji-san really accept this? Even if I made a flawless lie, he might be able to see through it.
I supposed I should at least report to Alice, but right when I was about to head up the stairs, I heard frantic footsteps from above. Following that was a blue petite body, and glossy black hair swaying in the night.
“Narumi! Why are you taking your t—”
Alice exchanged looks with me, and stood on the taller stairwell, looking too embarrassed to say anything. She looked beyond me, and down the stairs. I turned around to look, and saw Yui-san peeking outside before walking out of the alley.
“…You spent time talking with the client again?”
I turned back due to the seething anger in Alice’s voice.
“Seriously, you would rather talk to Natsuki Yui than report to me whenever she shows up…”
“Not at all. Yui-san didn’t have much time, and I didn’t have anything to report to you directly, so we had a talk here.”
“You threw a tantrum and came running out of the office the last time.”
“I wasn’t angry.”
“Yeah, maybe, I get it.”
I had an idea, and after peeking at the back door of ‘Hanamaru’, I found that Yui-san was gone.
“W-what is it?”
Alice’s voice got shrill.
“You’re Natsuki Yui’s fan, right? You wanted to talk to her, right?”
Alice froze, her mouth partially agape, and even late at night, I could tell her face was turning beetroot.
“…I-I had enough! Why are you coming up with such stupid ideas!? Even a Russian who drank two bottles of Vodka is able to talk better than you!”
“I just had a thought…”
“Whatever, don’t you enter the office for the time being. Report to me through mail, so that I won’t be infected by your stupidity!”
“Got it.” I shrugged. I was always infuriating Alice for some strange reasons anyway.
I heard Alice teeter up the stairs, and turned my back on her before returning to the back door. I would not do as she told me, to send her a mail once I got home. Having been her assistant for a year, I could deduce what she would do next. Thus, I sat on a beer crate in the cold, damp darkness between the buildings, wheezing.
And as I expected, 5 minutes later, I had the intro melody to ‘Colorado Bulldog’.
“I ran out of Doctor Pepper. Get me two crates of them and come back! Ah, I didn’t call you because I knew you were downstairs, and not because I was watching you on the surveillance cameras!”
Okay, okay, I said as I stood up. Even I was feeling confused as to why I was relieved by this.
The next day, after school, I met Ginji-san at the park. A fence was set up at the steps of the park entrance, but there was a man in trench coat opposite the abandoned cardboard house. I parked my bicycle by the road, and wanted to slip in through the fence, only to find someone else talking to Ginji-san.
“…So right now, it’s an important moment for Yui. Do you understand?’
I heard a man’s harsh voice, and stopped going up the stairs to crouch down instead.
“Getting suspected would be a bad thing. I don’t want someone like you to show up beside her now!”
“I said that I understand, didn’t I? This has nothing to do with me.”
“Then, please hurry up and leave. If the civilian groups start protesting again, the TV stations will start filming here again.
“Don’t you understand? Hercules is promoting Yui heavily right now! Soon after, there’s going to be a large display out there airing advertisements and promotional videos of Yui. If you got caught on camera, anyone who knows you may recognize you as Yuio’s father.”
The man closed in on Ginji-san, and only then did I see his face clearly. It was the manager, Washio-san.
“You’re annoying. Just go back already.” Ginji-san shoved him on the shoulder.
“Is it money? If it’s money, I have as much as you need.”
“I don’t need it. I do have my own situation. It’s not as simple as me moving just because you say so.”
But despite this, Washio-san took out a large bundle of notes from his wallet, and shoved it into Ginji-san’s coat.
“Anyway, hurry up and go! Don’t show up in front of Yui-san again.”
Washio-san poked a finger at Ginji-san’s chest, and then turned around to head down the stairs, resulting in me being unable to hide. He got down the stairs, and stopped in his tracks, meeting me in the eyes while I was foolishly trying to hide by getting down onto the ground.
“Are you still doing your investigations?”
Washio-san nudged his glasses, sounding really frustrated. He walked towards me, and I could only stand up to dust the dirt off my knees.
“Yui told me everything the previous day.”
“Everything, as in?”
“Whatever Yui requested to you. Don’t go overboard in your detective games, we’re being serious about work here. It’ll probably get Yui hundreds of millions.”
I merely shrugged. As a detective assistant, I had an obligation to keep secrets for my clients. It was possible that the manager was just trying to fish something out from me. He coughed, and returned to the stairs.
“It would have been fine if Yui was mistane, but that homeless man really appeared to be her father. Damn it!”
Washio-san bitterly grumbled, and turned back to look at me.
“Listen, there’s a lot of ways to get you to shut up.”
He went by me, and descended the stairs. During the entire time, I did not look back, and quietly stood on the stairs, waiting for the footsteps to depart. Only when I heard the sound of a car engine being activated did I turned around, and the blue-purple car, parked at the dirt road at the bottom of the hill, exited through the pedestrian walkway, accelerated, and shrank.
I continued climbing the stairs, and saw Ginji-san standing under a treet, his hands in his pockets as he watched the car leave.
“What do you want?”
Ginji-san said those words, and returned to his cardboard house. I ducked past the fense, and caught up to him. There were lots of evergreen trees grown in the park, and between the trees were plywood, blue vinyl sheets and cardboards everywhere. The sun shone above us, but the place was filled with a gloomy atmosphere. The water cooler in the middle of the park oozed no water, for the tap was wrapped in metal wire and tape. There was no other person to be seen around here.
“You’re going to say the same things as him, right? Stop bothering me, leave.”
Ginji-san said, and ducked into the entrance of the cardboard house, starting to sort the empty cans he picked up from the black trash bags. I slowly approached his slender self.
“Yui-san—Yuina-san asked me to give something to you.”
The figure dressed in the trench coat did not waver because of my words. He maintained his usual poise, and continued searching for empty cans from the trash bags, and once he found some, he put them into a transparent plastic bag. I sat down beside him.
When I took out the ring box to show Ginji-san, he finally stopped. The heavy look in his eyes caused me to be unable to open it.
“You left this behind when you left the house. To give it to dad, she said.”
The black stained hands started sorting the empty cans. I ostensibly tasted aluminium as I continued,
“Do you know…that Yui-san’s mother has already passed away?”
Ginji-san again stopped what he was doing, and stared at my face.
He combed his messy hair backwards, stood up, took out a cigarette from his mouth, stared at the metal fence, and had a smoke. I waited for a while, and he remained silent. The purple and white smoke remained stuck on the thin lens of his glasses and the dried hair, almost in a longing manner.
“Yui-san’s mother didn’t begrudge you for leaving…she always wanted to meet you again.”
“Did Yuina ask you to make such a stupid lie?”
I gasped, and swallowed a sigh. As expected, I was seen through.
No, well, there was still some development. At the very least Ginji-san admitted that he’s Katsuragi Yuina’s father.
“I don’t know whether that’s a lie or not.”
I continued on with a stoic face,
“But Yui-san really wanted to meet you again. Even if it’s just once, please meet her again and talk with her.”
Ginji-san slowly puffed out some smoke, gnawed at the cigarette, squatted down, and placed the plastic bag full of cans onto a cart.
“Do you want to know why I left home?”
“…I heard that it was because of the debts. The factory didn’t seem to be performing well.”
Ginji-san turned his face away from me, and snorted,
“Because I got sick of it all.”
I stared at Ginji-san’s sidelong profile.
“It wasn’t as bad as being unable to issue payslips to the employees, and I didn’t explain to them about it. I could try and go to a few more loan sharks, but I got sick of it. I left simply because I got sick of bearing responsibility for my family and company.”
Ginji-san threw the cigarette onto the sofa, and stomped on it a few times.
“Do you think I’ll be happy to meet her again? Don’t be stupid.”
Ginji-san pulled his muffler up, and pushed the cart towards the stairs at the exit of the park. I gave chase after him.
“Please wait, at least—”
“Stop pestering me.”
“The ring! It belongs to you, at least. I was told to hand it over to you.”
“I don’t need it.”
At this moment, I finally found myself to be slightly furious. You’re the one who abandoned your family, took a huge debt and ran off, right! Do you know how much that mother and daughter suffered? It’s all your fault, and you’re acting like that! That Yui-san too, why didn’t she request us just to be able to beat her dad up and grumble a bunch? If she said that, I could have gotten Tetsu-senpai involved without worry to tie him up alive. Why did she just want to meet her father and talk a little?
The unexpected surge of rage left me speechless. Ironically, what I did this time was exactly the same as that manager Washio-san. I merely grabbed at the hem of Ginji-san’s coat, and shoved the ring box into the pocket.
Ginji-san raised his hand, and slapped my hand away.
His dirty eyes were glaring at me, and I, left with nothing to say, could only retreat. He glanced at the pocket that was a lump at this point, and turned his back on me, lifting the cat as he headed down the stairs. The sound of cans clashing echoed emptily, gradually departing.
The next day, the homeless returned to the park. I received a notification from Major at around 8pm, and brought some Japanese beer and ‘Hanamaru’ dumplings to the park. I could see a weak light shining on the blue vinyl sheets and several people beyond the fence that to cordon people away.
Even till this point, I was worrying, Is it fine to come in? We won’t get scolded by the police?
“Vice Admiral Fujishima! Over here!”
The smallest silhouette waved at me. I had no choice but to duck under the fence, and climb up the stairs.
“Oh, Min-san’s dumplings.”
“Aren’t the dumplings made by Hiro nowadays?”
Major and the homeless scented upon the fragrance coming from the plastic container in my hands, and approached me.
“Beer too. You’re getting smart there, Narumi.”
I scanned the dark park, and found that the tent village was still quiet. The only ones present were Major, Mori-san and Pe-san.
“He went somewhere to do some teardown work.” Pe=san said. It appeared that he was lucky enough to have some work on this day.
“I too finally managed to get a picking job at a logistics center.”
Mori-san patted his bald head with his hand, and grumbled,
“There wasn’t much work, so I was shooed back before noon, and got only half the salary. I was so angry, and I could only snatch lots of cardboard from the furnace.”
Looking down, I found that there were a lot of cardboard that were slightly charred in Mori-san’s cart. The homeless were really a bunch of determined people. It was only recently that I realized that the homeless were really hardworking, not to be lumped with the NEETs.
“Will Ginji-san return here after he’s done with work?”
“Probably, but I don’t know what time it will be.” Mori-san scratched his head as he said this.
“He was sick, so he didn’t have to force himself to do manual labor. He could work as an instructor instead.”
Hearing Pe-san’s words, Mori-san and Major nodded. Ginji-san was sick? He didn’t look well, but Mori-san and Pe-san both had wrinkles and ash on their faces; they didn’t look healthy either.
“Ginji-san hasn’t had a fixed home these days. When he can’t sleep because it’s too cold, he would just walk around.”
Major grabbed a dumpling with his hand and gnawed at it as he said this. I widened my eyes; no wonder he was sick.
“We can only stay here until next week.”
Pe-san said that, and turned around to inspect the tents behind him.
“No matter how delayed the work is, they’ll definitely start work at the end of the year, latest.”
“How’s the situation of the park now? Any developments?”
Major shrugged upon hearing my question.
“Sooner or later, they’re going to use the administration laws to lock down the park, remove the fence and start work. It might look like it has nothing to do with the protests, but Hercules said that they would keep the old name of the park.”
“…Why’s everyone so against rebuilding the park?”
“I don’t know. Ask them.” Pe-san chuckled. Mori-san looked a little gloomy, and told us the details,
“This place has always been like this, and not really a park. The only area that could be used was the futsal court, and at night, we would be the only ones passing through. The city council had been trying to chase us out for a while already, actually.”
Mori-san took out a wrinkled cigarette, lit a fire, and took a smoke.
“It probably started from Sprig this year, when the city council started beautifying the park. You see, the street lamps are new now, aren’t they?”
I lifted my head up, and looked at where Mori-san was pointing. The mini crystal-like lamps were glittering atop a tall pillar beside the fence. It was true that it felt out of place here.
“They cleaned up the graffiti on the wall, the murals and had more flower beds planted here. Of course, we wouldn’t move away that easily.”
“This guy here is really stubborn. Pe-san pointed his chin at the tents, “They can’t be moved easily, and the city council hasn’t really chased us away, so we ignored them.”
“But the town council only started chasing people away for real after the fire in August, right?”
“Ahh, yes. It’s probably due to the fire in August.” Pe-san said, “The trash, cardboard, and a house got burned down. So this fire was blamed on us…”
The homeless felt that the city council hardened their stance after the fire, and quickly sold the land to Hercules Company as a park in name to renovate into a sports park.
This announced plan for this area was to develop this place into ‘an area for youth culture to be expressed’, and the renovation of the park itself was probably part of it. Ironically, the spokesman for this plan was Natsuki Yui, the daughter of a homeless, Ginji-san, who had his home robbed by the plan.
“If they really start tearing down the place for real, what will you do?”
Major lowered his voice, saying this,
“If you need any weapons to fight back, I can lend you some and teach you some fighting techniques.”
“Idiots, we won’t be doing anything.” Mori-san puffed some smoke out of his nostrils. “Once our houses are taken down, we’re running away.”
“You’re running away? But isn’t this your home?”
“That’s not a home. We’re homeless. Listen. We’re home, less.”
I was taken aback due to Mori-san’s sudden aggressiveness, and stared at his face.
“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. But I think calling us ‘homeless’ will be the most accurate in this case.”
It was about half an hour later when Ginji-san returned to the park. Mori-san, Pe-san, and Major gulped down what was about a liter of beer, and they, being all drunk, were starting to excitedly discuss exaggerated topics like covering Himeji Castle with carboard, building a Rolls Royce with vinyl sheets, and empty cans to build an F-22 and so on. I had enough of it, and got up to turn away, only to hear footsteps.
The silhouette entered my sights, and I saw messy hair and the glasses reflecting the flect.
“What are you doing? Stop fooling around.”
“Ah, Captain Ginji’s back! Sorry for finishing all the rations!”
Major saluted to Ginji-san with a reddened face. They really did finish up all the dumplings. Ginji-san glanced at the drunkards, and glanced at me.
“…What? More things to talk to me?”
I averted my eyes swimmingly. I did say what I had to, but I had yet to report to Yui-san.
“Can I message Yui-san right now? Tell her that you’re here, Ginji-san?”
“You can, but I’ll be gone after this.”
Ginji-san looked annoyed, and sat on a cardboard box laid on the floor. Mori-san and pe-san were drunk and collapsed onto the floor, while Major offered the bottle of beer that was almost finished to Ginji-san. The latter received it, pulled his muffler down, and took a swung at it. I, still perturbed, continued holding the phone.
“You’re being foolish here. Couldn’t you have just sent it discreetly?”
Ginji-san lifted his eyes and said to me, but I shook my head. Even if I did send the message discreetly, it was pointless. Yui-san’s request wasn’t just about us finding someone. I sighed, and closed the phone. With Yui-san being so busy, she wouldn’t be able to make it in time even if I did send a message to her.
“Just ignore the obtuse Vice Admiral Fujishima for now.”
Major pushed me aside, and sat in front of Ginji-san.
“I have something ask of you, Captain Ginji.”
“What is it?”
“It’s about the shooting of the homeless, of course!” Major took out a flat laptop from his backpack, and the monitor showed a map near the station. “I haven’t been able to gather the intel successfully. I can’t grasp where all the homeless are, and everyone isn’t willing to help you.”
“That’s because everyone feels that you’re like those brats, Hitoshi. When you’re dressed up like that, you’ll be mistaken, and your bag definitely has a whole lot of air guns.”
Major was shocked, and lowered his head to look at his military getup, furiously patting the chest of his camouflage uniform.
“Don’t lump me with them! This is the uniform of the famous British Army!”
“Anyway, Ginji-san, can you please help me sort out every homeless around here? They’re your subordinates.” “They’re not my subordinates.” “I’m willing to be a military advisor and explain what to do when they’re attacked, so please lead them.” “I said they aren’t my subordinates.”
Suddenly, a sound interrupted that conversation that was going nowhere. The dried pelting sound could be heard in the knight, flicking the sand grains. Major was the first to react, and put his little body in camouflage suit onto the ground.
Major shouted, and I too cupped my head with my hands, while Ginji-san clicked his tongue and hid at the trees. Major remained on the ground as he dragged Mori-san and Pe-san, still rolling about on the ground, to a cover of the shelter. A dry sound again grazed by my ear, and I found a stinging hot pain from my neck to my shoulder, causing me to collapse onto the sandy ground.
“Vice Admiral Fujishima!”
Major came running over, grabbed my arm, and at the next moment, I was dragged forcefully into the shadows. I remained lying on the ground, touching my aching neck. Was that really the damage from an air gun? I could feel an icicle stabbing at me despite me wearing a duffle coat. Was that really just a toy gun?
The shooting sounds got dull, and I found that it was because the bullets were shooting through the wall on the other side. At this moment, I was startled, the other side? Opposite the fence was the railway! Where’s the shooter firing from?
The sounds of the passing train overwhelmed the gunshots. I stopped breathing, closed my eyes, and quietly waited for the passing train to move down the tracks. Finally, it was quiet all around again.
I opened my eyes.
5 people frozen in fear were hidden in a corner of Ginji-san’s tent. Major was the first to stand up, and he poked his head out from a corner of the tent to observe the railway opposite the fence; beside me, Ginji-san coughed a few times.
“U…n?” “It’s noisy…”
And the two drunkards continued stleeping, rolling about.
“It’s too dangerous. Don’t show yourself now.” Major said, “Ginji-san, can I check your tent?”
“What do you want?”
The bullet shot through the tent, and I want to take back the bullet. Looking at the angles they’re fired, I can guess where the shots came from.”
“Do whatever you want.”
“They’re probably fired from a building opposite the railway…” Major glared at the shadows opposite the fence, and I felt a chill.
“Can an airgun really fire that far?”
I rubbed my aching neck as I asked. Major turned around, pulling down his goggles for some reason, and narrowed his eyes.
“The largest effective range of an air gun is 50m, and impossible to shoot through cardboard. In other words, they aren’t using toy guns now.”
Major grabbed my collar, opened my coat. From the reflection of his goggles, I could see red marks on the neck.
“Looks like there’s another reason as to why I can’t ignore this.”
That Saturday evening, I received a message from Yui-san.
Ever since the last time I reported to her, I couldn’t call her, and I did not receive a reply to my message. I thought I finally managed to get through to her, but the message stated 'Come to the studio so that we can talk directly’. What was she thinking? I’m not involved in the entertainment industry.
But it was a request from the client, and I couldn’t ignore it. If I went off without telling Alice, she would be infuriated for some strange reason, so I decided to report beforehand.
“Then hurry up and go! Enjoy yourself while you watch an idol live performance.”
Alice, still on the bed, glared at me as she said this,
“I won’t. I’m not interested in that. I’m going to work.”
“How passionate you are about work.” There was spite in her words, “Then bring these things over to her.”
I tucked the things Alice prepared into the bag, and left the office.
The slope linking to the west side of the station was filled with lots of people and vehicles, and as I rode the bicycle up the slope, I got honked at, while the hem of my duffle coat latched onto some pedestrians from time to time. A slight turn to the left in the middle of the slope was the office of Hirasaka-gumi, so I was familiar with the area. However, I hardly went beyond there. I made a wrong turn, and was lost for quite a while.
By the time I arrived at the studio building, it was way beyond the 5.30pm meeting time we agreed on. The intimidating, new building was at least 10 levels tall. I could not find a parking rack, and could only park my bicycle by the road before entering through the automatic doors. Once I entered, I felt stares from the people I passed by, and I was inadvertently grateful that it was a Saturday. If it had been an ordinary weekday, I would be chased out due to my school uniform.
The atrium hall was 3 levels high, akin to a posh hotel, and there were several large chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The four escalators right in front of me reached high up like black waterfalls. I saw the bulletin board, and found that not only were there studios, but also event stages of all sizes, offices and gyms. Many people were passing each other in the hall, and I was momentarily overwhelmed by the atmosphere in the hall, unable to move.
I recovered, and went to the reception to the right. The lady receptionist nodded at me with a completely professional face, but when I timidly said, “Erm, I’m looking for Natsuki Yui-san. This is Fujishima.” The receptionist’s smile seemed to be stained by a fog.
While the receptionist was making a call, I leaned at the edge of the counter, watching the crowd moving in the hall. Suddenly, I heard a voice behind me, “Hey, you.”
Me? I turned around, wondering, and found a fierce looking man with light shades standing behind me. I was so startled, I nearly exclaimed and jolted in shock.
“Quiet. Come with me.”
It was Washio, the manager. He was dressed in a cream colored suit and a mustard colored shirt, not wearing a tie. He really resembled a yakuza member. I never expected him to show up out of a sudden, and cringed, only to be grabbed by him on the arm and dragged to the elevator.
“Eh, ah, I-I just so happened to come by today.”
“Enough with those stupid excuses. Yui ltold me.”
We were the only two inside the elevator, and Washio gave me a bare-faced glare.
“I thought it was strange. Why would she make a request to you, an unknown high school boy playing detective?”
“Listen up. From now on, don’t you meet up with Yui outside. Only when I allow you to meet her.”
I didn’t know what Washio was getting at. What exactly was going on? This man hated the idea of Ginji-san and me getting involved with Yui, so why did he become so straightforward?
The elevator stopped at the 9th level. Washio led me to a restroom around the corner of the corridor, and there were several chairs in the cramped space, arranged in 3 sides of a rectangle. On the right were lockers, and there were 3 dressing tables to the left. There was no one in the room, just a 40 inches or so TV on the room opposite me, airing a music vido. IT seemed the laughter and image visuals on the other side of the corridor were connected here, which means it was a live telecast of the studio. I endured the displeasure in my heart, and went for one of the chairs.
“Don’t you dare get out from here.”
Washio said those words, and left the room.
I had nothing to do, so I watched the monitor. There were many young men and women seated in a fan shape, while a veteran host and a particularly eyecatching girl were seated in the middle of the first row. I was wondering where I met this girl before, before realizing it was Yui-san. She had her hair tied up, her shoulders exposed in a sporty manner, and with some suitable amount of makeup, she looked more dazzling than she did at the ramen shop. She wasn’t wearing sunglasses too.
But that was not the only reason why I couldn’t recognize her immediately. Yui-san on the monitor was being sexually harassed by the host, but she easily sidestepped it and directed the topic to herself, before diverting it to others again; she could smile at the harsh retorts, always giving an adorable charm. For the first time, I understood that Yui-san was a professional idol, understanding this clearly without the posters and word of mouth. To be honest, Yui-san was more interesting that the host talking.
I guessed the cut was shouted, since the actors began leave their seats. Someone probably opened the door to the studio, since I could hear buzzing and applause from the audience.
I was frozen.
I sensed that there were two sets of footsteps approaching behind me, followed by the sound of the door knob being turned.
‘Listen. You get only 15 minutes.”
The manager leaned in from the door, and sternly warned a certain person on the corridor. Once door, he escorted her into the room.
Yui-san, who was just on the monitor moments ago, entered the room, and upon seeing me, gave a look of relief.
“Don’t let anyone else hear your conversation. Talk, and don’t do anything funny.”
Washio pointed at me, gave Yui-san a nudge on the back, closed the door, and went out. I couldn’t understand what was going on. Why was Washio-san helping us out of a sudden?
“Narumi-kun, I’m really sorry about this!”
Yui-san stumbled into the room, and sat on the chair beside me. Our knees touched, and I jolted in shock, causing the chair to make a weird sound.
“I was busy, and Washio-san was monitoring the phone and messages, so I couldn’t contact you.”
“E-erm, so, why did he allow it today?”
Yui-san’s eyes were swimming around.
“Actually, Washio-san was suspecting if you are, erm, my boyfriend, Narumi-kun.”
“I guessed, so why—”
“So I just lied to him and said that, yes, you’re my boyfriend.”
I could not help but exclaim madly, and Yui-san panicked, covering my mouth with both hands.
My heart raced due to Yui-san’s soft hands, and I left the chair.
“B-but, why did you do that?”
“I told him I felt lonely not meeting my boyfriend, and looked a little broken down. I even stubbornly said that I couldn’t sing if I can’t meet my boyfriend. So I just so happened to be able to meet you.”
Stunned, I look up at the ceiling.
I see. Looking at how well it worked on this day, that really was a great idea. This could explain the change in the manager Washio’s attitude. That really was kind of bold.
Ahh, this isn’t the time to be moved. I got only 15 minutes.
However, I didn’t have the courage to move on to the main topic. First off, I handed what I received from Alice to her. Yui-san opened the layers of protective papers, and appearing there was a little owl doll.
Yui-san’s eyes dazzled, and she pressed her cheeks onto the owl up. This was something she requested from Alice, and I knew the name and origin of it.
“This owl is called Minerva, right? The goddess of wisdom and courage.”
“Alice-chan still remembers our promise. I’m happy. I couldn’t get my side quickly enough, so I guess I’m just receiving now. Please thank her, Narumi-kun.”
UnderstoodI nodded. An awkward silence descended on us.
For we both knew what we had to talk about next,
“…I wonder, if Alice-chan isn’t the detective, and I’m the requestor, and that if we’re both friends who bond over dolls…”
Yui-san showed a faint smile as she muttered to the owl doll.
“But we’re can’t just be that though. I was the one who requested Alice for help.”
I glanced at Yui-san’s sidelong face, and realized immediately. She had already known I came to deliver bad news.
But I had to tell her,
“…I gave the ring to Ginji-san—ahh, no, Kenji-san. He wasn’t willing to take it, so I shoved the ring box into his pocket.”
Most of the efforts of a detective assistant would be devoted to delivering painful news.
“I told him about your mother, but,”
He found everything to be a hassle, and ran off, leaving his family and factory behind.
At this point, he did not want to reunite with his daughter again.
I relayed what Ginji-san said, and heard Yui-san squirm, nodding as though her neck was frozen.
“B-but…at the very least, there are two good news.”
Saying that, I peeked at Yui-san’s face. As she appeared on TV, her face had some make up on, but even though she had a smile on, there was some frostiness.
“Ginji-san won’t deny that he’s your father, and it’s not like he’s trying to hide it now.”
Yui-san again looked at the owl on her knees.
“Another good news is that Ginji-san seems to be returning to the park recently. The protests caused the work to be delayed.”
“Then.” Yui-san lifted her head, her eyes regaining life.
“If you have time, please notify me when you can go meet him at the park, if he’s there.”
I probably had no more opportunities to show up, since I was an outsider. I had no weight in my words, and all I could only do was to honestly convey the necessary, tragic steps for a detective to take.
“If you find that there is no further progress after meeting him, this request will be considered over. You just need to make the day payment. We won’t be collecting the success bonus.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
It was troubling that the client would thank us at such a moment. Yui-san had her hands placed on mine, which were on the table, and this left me speechless.
I took out the phone, and checked the time. It was almost 15 minutes, about time for me to leave, and if I continued to drag on, Washio-san would get impatient.
But Yui-san’s fingers continued to latch onto my backhand, not letting go.
“Eh? Ah, y-yes.”
“It’s about time.”
“I-I, see. Yes.”
Yui-san stood up, and placed the owl doll on the table. She was dressed in a bareback dress and a short skirt, rendering me clueless as to where to look. However, this petite body would have the stares of thousands, the cameras and the spotlights on her.
Yui-san placed her hand by the edge of the table, not moving at all. What’s the matter?
“…Yui-san, are you?”
“Wh-what is it?”
“You’re being nervous, aren’t you?”
“Y-yes. But I’m always like this. Deep breathing, deep breathing.”
Yui-san kept tiptoeing over and over again. I saw the gloomy figure on her neck, and found that what was tormenting her wasn’t tension. Why did she look so similar to Ginji-san from behind.
“When you said you aren’t feeling well, you’re for real, right?”
Yui-san stumbled back onto the chair, and turned her head slightly, giving me a feeble look.
“…Did you find out?”
“I had a feeling.”
“I guess I’m not feeling well after all.”
The slender neck turned side to side for a few seconds.
“Narumi-kun, have you taken a boat before?’
“Have you taken a boat for an entire day?’
“If it’s a ferry, then yeah.”
“After wobbling on the boat for an entire day, you’ll feel like you’re wobbling at night, right? On a night after skiing all day long, you feel like you’re always skiing in your sleep, right?”
While I did understand that feeling, why did she mention this out of a sudden?
“Right now, I have that feeling going on. After entering the entertainment industry, whenever I close my eyes, or sleep, I just feel like I was dragged elsewhere against my will.”
Yui-san rubbed her bare shoulders, muttering,
“I don’t know whether this is a good thing or not, but I don’t know where I am, what I’m doing, whether I’m sleeping or awake. When I look at the recordings, I find a different girl there, that the one who’s been kindly treated by everyone else is a girl who’s similar to me in appearance and name. Where’s the real me, and what am I doing?”
I stood being Yui-san, trying to think of words to console her. I felt that she was stumbling towards a dangerous cliff, unable to hear anyone’s voice. I felt that my chest was being clogged.
I forced myself to exhale somewhat, and said to Yui-san,
Yui-san turned her head around, her little ear facing me. I sorted my messy thoughts into words, and continued,
“I like any aspect of you, Yui-san.”
Saying that, I felt ridiculously remorseful. Yui-san stared right at me, showing a perturbed look, and immediately blushed.
“Ah, no, that’s, well, I say that you look pretty on TV, but you’re cute wearing the wool cap and the sunglasses though.”
I kept rambling excuses, and Yui-san got increasingly reddened. She waved her hands, and said,
“Y-you can’t be saying such words without thinking it through!’
“Sorry, I couldn’t explain myself very well. Anyway, I hope that you don’t be too stubborn, and, in other words.”
At this moment, a heavy door knock could be heard.
“Yui, they’re done with the settings.”
Never had I been grateful for Washio-san’s appearances like I did at this point. Yui-san lowered her eyes as she hammered my shoulder, and I could not see her expression.
“…Thank you, Narumi-kun.”
She whispered her thanks to me, and turned around to leave the rest room.
Washio-san poked his head through the ajar door, and glared at me,
“Stay here. It’ll be troublesome if you’re spotted wandering around. I’ll be right back.”
He closed the door hard, and left me alone in the room. I could only sit on the chilly seat weakly.
The noise of the crowds, the drums and bass could be heard from the floor.
I turned around, and found there to be a different studio from the monitor before. At the bottom of the large stage were people in black. The blue lights flashed across the scene, and the spotlights crossed as the cheers echoed. Yui-san ran under the lights, showing a smile clear of any fog. Again, I realized the fact that she was a professional idol. The rhythmic bell sounds overlapped with the riffs. A snow crystal shone upon the stage. Yui-san held onto the microphone, beginning to sing as though she was exhaling.
That evening, when I walked out of the studio and head for the office, I again spotted Ginji-san at the park. As the days were short and nights were long in December, it was dark. I could see a silhouette under the dim street lamp, but upon noting the unkempt long hair and the muffler, I realized it was Ginji-san.
I parked my bicycle by a pedestrian pathway with few people, crossed the guard fence, scaled the stairs and entered the park. I unwittingly hushed my footsteps, but he noticed me immediately. Ginji-san stopped what he was doing, and his hand was holding tape. Due to the reflection, I could not determine the expression of the eyes under the glasses. He continued his work wordlessly, seemingly trying to patch up the holes caused by the air guns. In other words, he would keep the tent here for the time being, and I heaved a sigh of relief.
Next, all I had to do was to leave things to Yui-san herself, and I probably had no chances to show up again. Thus, I wordlessly nodded to Ginji-san, and walked out of the park.
I cycled slowly towards ‘Hanamaru’, and suddenly, I heard a melody from afar. I stopped, and turned to the darkness to my left.
On the other side of the railway, there was a large rectangular block of light to be seen in the middle of the buildings. I did not know when, but there was a large TV display on the wall of the building. Shown on the screen was a snowy background, and the girl was singing the song I just heard in the studio.
NATSUKI YUI NEW ALBUM 12/24 ON SALE…
A Christmas song.
The passing train blew aside the weak singing voice.
I affirmed my white breath, kicked the asphalt, and pedalled hard again.
“It seemed you don’t know what is going on.”
Alice was seated on the bed of the office, tapping at the keyboard as she said unhappily,
“Us NEETs pride ourselves on a 100% success rate, and use that as a guarantee. I left the case to you, and this is how you end up as.”
I reported to Alice that it might be impossible to fulfil Yui-san’s request, and was lambasted to such an extent. I was forced to kneel before the bed.
“And yet you act so shamelessly in asking for payment by days. Did anyone tell you to do such a shameless thing? If you fail, of course you won’t get a single penny!”
“Ah, is that so? You said that there’s a payment by days, so I thought I would get some.”
“That’s payment on the basis of success.”
“I see…you would pay Tetsu-senpai and me by days every time, so I thought that has to be included.”
“Of course I’m paying you based on what I earn. If you really want money, I’ll splash the cash now. Experience the humiliation of daring to claim money despite your failure!”
After being told off to such an extent, all I could only do was shrivel into a ball under the chilly winds.
“Of course, there was no time limit in the request, so you should continue to try until the client tells you to stop. You decided to stop this case without reporting to me. What were you thinking?’
Upon hearing my feeble voice, Alice stopped typing, and turned towards me.
“What? You have been as limp as boiled seaweed. It looks like you have given up any hope on completing this job. Did that manager obstruct your work?’
“No, that’s not it.”
I see. So I looked really looked dejected after all. Even I got to realize it.
I supposed that was because I saw that cold, dazzling world, where Yui-san was about to melt like a snowflake in front of me, only to show up under the spotlights minutes later, giving an elegant smile that could be seen thousands of kilometres away. Yui-san could take it, and yet I could not despite watching from the sidelines.
I reported everything to Alice. I was called to the studio, dragged by the manager Washio to the rest room, and saw the live recording.
Alice raised an eyebrow as she drank a sip of Dr. Pepper.
“Why did the manager allow you into the rest room? Hearing your report, that man called Washio probably wouldn’t want you to meet Katsuragi Kenji or Natsuki Yui. Why did he help you today?”
“Ah, that’s because.” It was a little difficult for me to explain, so I paused, “Yui-san said that I’m her boyfriend for some reason.”
The crimson red can slipped from Alice’s hand, and the drink inside was splattered onto her knees. “Hyaa!” she let out a strange noise.
“Alice, yo-you alright?”
I got up, and Alice quickly placed the can back onto the side table, before throwing the soaked blanket at me. Good thing it was just the blanket, socks and pajamas, and not the bedsheet.
“I’ll get new pajamas for you.”
“Y-you don’t have to do that!”
“No, but your pajamas are soaked in Dr. Pepper. Ants might crawl on you.”
“Someone like you can just agonise 3 days and 3 nights by the large ants of South America! My wet pajamas don’t matter; more importantly, wh-what did you just say, that you’re Nasuki?”
“So I said, I’m her boyfriend for the time being.” Isn’t it more important for you to have your pajamas washed instead of this? So I thought.
“Yo-you dare do such uncouth things on the basis of your work? You shameless scoundrel!”
Alice’s black hair was levitating as though it was powered by static electricity, and she was furious.
“I didn’t see you being determined enough to work towards your goals. I underestimated you!”
The little fists smacked the pillow a few times, ruffling up dust.
“C-calm down, Alice. I said that Yui-san made such a lie.”
Alice’s fists lost strength, and sank into the pillow, her already large eyes widened further.
“Yeah. It’s an idea she came up with to bluff her manager and continue contacting me.”
I tried to explain, and Alice showed a perplexed look, before her face became completely beetroot.
“Why didn’t you say that at first!?”
“That’s because you always kick up a fuss without listening to others!”
“U, uu.” Alice patted her knees and groaned, “It’s because your reporting method is too terrible! Next time, do it orderly! Repeat again.”
“Ah, right. But before I do that, there’s something more important to do.”
“You need to take a bath and wash your clothes! Your feet and pajamas are sticky now.”
Alice’s lips were quivering, and the dolls behind her collapsed like a landslide.
“Y-yo-you’re going to bathe me?”
“I didn’t say that. I’ll get Ayaka here.”
I walked out of the office, hearing Alice’s lashings behind me that were no longer Japanese. The nighd winds cooled my heated ears, and I could see lights afar. I could hear bells for some reason, and felt a pious heart.
I shall pray for the father and daughter who had to be separate from each other, hoping that they could have some moment of peace in their sleeps.
And unknowingly, December passed little by little. Yui-san was so busy, she practically forgot how to breathe, and I could only contact her by messages. She only told me that I was to contact her once I saw Ginji-san. We also had to continue sending messages as apparent lovers so that we could continue bluffing the manager Washio.
“Are you free to meet now?” Whenever I sent such a message, it was an indication that Ginji-san was at the park.
“I want to, but it’s impossible now!” Yui-san would answer in an exaggerated manner. For some reason, I felt embarrassed, and shut my phone after readin it.
However, it seemed the manager Washio understood the hidden meaning behind the messages, and called to scold me.
“Are you still thinking of ways to get Yui to meet her father? Stop right now.”
His growls stabbed at my ears, and even after pulling the phone 15cm away from my head, I could hear him.
“Don’t you understand how important this is for her now? As least think about Yui for a moment!”
“E-erm, what do you mean?”
I felt that it was pointless, but I continued to play dumb.
“That homeless man is still wandering around the park. The manufacturer decided to ignore the protests and continue work. If the photos capture them while he’s being chased away, what will you do?”
“No, but I don’t think this has got to do with me.”
“You know you, don’t you? Convince him to leave right now, and explain to Yui later.”
Why do I have to be the one explaining? I thought of saying it, but I felt it was a bother, “I’ll try.” So I answered.
“…Damn it…that old geezer. Why has he been staying there all this while? Anywhere’s a good sleeping place for the homeless, right? Is it because of the money? Money?”
Washio-san muttered as he hung up the phone.
In fact, the rest of the homeless were no longer present at the park, and only Ginji-san would drop by at the park to rest from time. I met Pe-san and the others under the railway, and they too looked worried.
“We aren’t going anywhere near there because of the airgun shootings recently.”
Pe-san said, his face red from drinking,
“I got rid of my tent.” “Ginji-san’s left.” “Well.”
Conductor and Mori-san too nodded at each other with some intrigue.
“But Ginji-san’s tent is quite big, and can’t be moved away that quickly.”
“They’re going to start work soon however. What if he gets crushed by the bulldozer?”
“In any case, there’s no way this can happen.”
“He’ll be beaten up by the cops, right?”
“I did say to Ginji-san to head to the Central Plaza.” Mori-san, “Those guys know him, and won’t dispute over territory, but he just wouldn’t move.”
The train moved by above us, and the uncles looked up at the dark ceiling.
“We should start finding a place to pass the winter then.”
“It’s likely to be cold this year.”
“How long does Ginji-san intend to hold out there?”
They tugged at the dirty jumpers and coats, dragged the carts and wagons, and walked towards the night streets again. I turned around, stared at my white breath, and walked to the crowd in front of the ticketing gantries.
I passe the East exit, and the frosty winds blew at me along with a familiar singing. It was Natsuki Yui’s Christmas song.
I suddenly thought of what she said. What was her father—Ginji-san thinking when he promised to spend Christmas with his daughter? Did he decide to abandon his family back then? Did his wife figure it out beforehand? If that was really the case, the adolescent, innocent Yui-san was too pitiful.
Right, I did lie to Ginji-san, and he probably realized it.
I should have conveyed the two facts to him.
Your wife hated you and grumbled about you until the very end of her life.
Your daughter never hated you, and wanted to meet you again.
The second one was an idealization of mine. Yui-san kept it vague the entire time, but I guess she really missed Ginji-san. If she never missed him, why would she work so hard?
I lifted my eyes towards the dark sky, and the starry light overpowered the bright lights on the ground.
However, I thought about how I did not actually accept this request. I was the detective assistant, and Yui-san was the client. Alice warned me time and time again that my words were a double-edged blade. It could sever and cause a person’s words to form shape, and at the same time, wipe out the parts that were yet to be tangible. Thus, a detective could only be a spokesman, and not create new words.
Alice’s voice, Yui-san’s teary face, and the Christmas song I kept hearing continued to merge and rub at my heart. I was not sure about my next step, and I walked into the icy night.
However, that answer would forever remain an unknown.
On a certain Sunday morning in the middle of December, I was woken up by the incoming ringtone. It was dark all around, and only the LCD of the cellphone by my pillow was lit. It was Major.
“Get down to the park immediately.”
Major’s voice was filled with overly dire bitterness, as though a caterpillar had trekked onto an electric pole.
“…What…happened? It’s so early…”
I rubbed my sleepy eyes, and checked the time. It was only 5am.
“Ginji-san is dead.”
I fell from my bed.
I changed my clothes in the darkness, unable to see my limbs, put on my jumper and rushed out. The bicycle rolled down the slope, and the white breath floated from my lips to the cheeks and neck, before vanishing. The sun had just shown itself, and the streets were so dark, it felt as though they were submerged in blue ink. The weather was so frigid, I could hear my joints creaking. I felt that my consciousness was drifting 15cm away from my body, and Major’s words continued to echo in my mind.
Ginji-san was dead. That Ginji-san.
I approached the building by the station, my consciousness still groggy. There were few vehicles, sparse crowds, and only the crows were pecking at the trash bags. Once I got to the roads by the railway, I heard the sirens of the patrol cars, and I felt a shiver.
Considering this time, there were quite a few onlookers at the park. There were the homeless, hostesses who just got off work, the working class headed for the first train to work, and the employees of the convenience store nearby. I spotted Major, threw my bicycle onto the pedestrian pathway, crossed the fence, and rushed up the stairs.
“Leave, don’t come in!”
Two young policemen charged at me at the same time, and their arms were spread wide, shouting something into the communicators. The onlookers backed away—except for Major, a small fiure who was dressed in a grey trench coat and goggles, staring at the intersection between the concrete and the dirt. His lips were squirming. I got to his side, and stared at where he was looking.
There was a man collapsed on the metal floor decking sheet used for construction.
Ginji-san, I immediately thought. He was wearing the usual oil stained coat, his hands, stained in blood, were holding the ends of the muffler I was familiar with. Despite this, I could not be certain that it was him, for I could not see his face.
No—that was not the case.
I gulped, and stared at the collar of the blood-stained coat.
It was gone.
What should be a human head was empty.
Disgust, nausea, and heat that suddenly came arose from my organs to my throat.
“I told you two to leave! Get out now!”
One of the policemen pulled Major and me by the shoulders, but I couldn’t move, merely staring at the corpse from beyond the policeman’s shoulders.
There was no head. The body vanished.
The policeman’s growl, what sounded like a siren, and my own nauseating heartbeat corroded my consciousness. My knees wobbled, and I was about to collapse to the floor, only for Major to grab my arms firmly. The eyes under the goggles continued to stare in the direction of the corpse.
Translator's Notes and References
- In context, the minimum wage in Japan back in 2010 was 713 Yen
- Johnny and Associates is a Japanese talent agency for male entertainers
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