Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 7 Chapter 3
When Tetsu-senpai was in his first two years of Middle School, he had a glorious record of attending more than 30 counseling sessions. He kept fighting every day until the president of the boxing club spotted his potential. He was already a legend by the time he was 15, and the legends got more exaggerated; for example, he single-handedly sent 50 people to the emergency ward, or that he crushed an entire school year of students. It got to a point that whenever there was a gang fight involving middle school students, the police would first haul him in for questioning. All in all, the total number of times he had been taken to the police station was more than 50.
Tetsu-senpai spent such a life unbefitting of a teenager, but he got a rare lead as a result--he became good friends with the local policemen.
Once, Pole of Hirasaka-gumi told me excitedly.
"Tetsu-aniki is really strong! He's able to knock down a bicyle just by breathing at it! I heard that the stripes would look for him whenever they had trouble."
I didn't know how much exaggeration there was, but it was certain that the police, especially the investigators, seemed to owe Tetsu-senpai a favor, His links with the police had come with handy in several cases for the NEET detective agency.
But this time, the situation was different.
"...The police aren't talking. It's a murder case after all..."
On the afternoon following the incident, a weary looking Tetsu-senpai was seated on a beer crate used as a chair, patting his shoulders. There was a rich stench of tobacco smoke coming from his shirt.
"You came back from the police station?"
At the same time, Hiro showed up. Tetsu-senpai nodded, saying,
"It's tense there, and I got chased out immediately."
After that, he turned to me.
"Narumi, you saw everything, didn't you?"
I nodded silently.
The previous morning, I was the first to respond to Major's call; Tetsu-senpai and Hiro only got there after the police cordoned off the scene completely, so Major and I were the only ones who got to see the corpse."
"...Was it really Ginji-san?"
The corpse was beheaded, but the clothes and body profile were familiar to me.
"Not sure. I'll try to get them to talk."
I rubbed my roughened face with my hands, still unable to digest the reality. What's going on? Why was Ginji-san murdered? How do I explain this to Yui-san?
"What's going on with Major now? I couldn't contact him on the phone." Hiro said worriedly.
The police took Major away afterwards. Major and I hardly spoke, so I wasn't too sure as to what was going on. I guessit was because he was the first one to discover the corpse, Also, I saw a few other homeless folk being pushed into the police cars.
"They're just being taken in for questioning, right? There's no need to detain them for investigations."
"Ahh, I heard of the reason why though." Tetsu-senpai answered, "There were some metal bullets found in the corpse's hand."
"Metal bullets?" Hiro frowned.
"Right, the investigator said those were metal BB bullets."
Hiro and I both gasped in unison. BB bullets?
"There are such things around?" Hiro asked. Tetsu-senpai grimaced, shaking his head,
"Of course, there aren't those kinds of BB bullets sold in the market. Maybe they were modified from ball bearings."
"Can they be fired from an air gun?"
"I don't know either. However, I guess Major should be able to figure out whether they can be shot. He's always modifying them."
"If those are metal bullets, they can kill."
Only after he said this did Hiro realize the gravity of the situation, and he hurriedly covered his mouth.
In fact, someone was killed. This wasn't to be taken as a joke.
"And that's why Major is a suspect here."
"Looks that way."
I felt a little intimidated as to how those two were able to continue with the conversation so jovially.
"I-isn:t there a group out there shooting at the homeless? They should be the ones who did that, right?"
But despite my interruption, Tetsu-senpai didn't react much, "Maybe." saying that,
"But there's another reason. The head was severed, right?"
Hiro said with a frozen look, and I gulped down the sour saliva.
"A human head isn't something that can be chopped off that easily. According to the investigators, it appeared the neck of the corpse was hit by a powerful trauma, and the severed part was worn out. Maybe it was done by a shovel car. Anyway, human strength alone isn't enough to do that, so Major might know something, I guess."
A shovel car? There wasn't any such giant machinery in the park. The construction company wanted to build up the foundation, but they had to stop work temporarily because of the civilian protests.
Why? Who did this, and for what reason?--And also, how?
"Even Major can't figure out how to bring a shovel car around in his pockets."
"That's what I said to the police too."
"..Still yet to find the head?"
The conversation between Hiro and Tetsu-senpai sounded vague, as though it came from the bottom of the water. Why could they both continue talking like this? Everyone knew Ginji-san. He's not dead, right? Just the head got lobbed off. My thoughts started to be mired in mud."
Suddenly, there was something hot on my shoulder.
I turned to look up, and found that it was Tetsu-senpai. I recovered, and found that it wasn't that hot. It's just human warmth, the warmth of flesh and blood.
"Narumi, it'll be fine once you calm down."
Tetsu-senpai said tenderly with a stoic look on his face.
"Just think of the client's matters, and don't think about anything else."
I was already worn out just trying to hold my lips from quivering.
"We too found it ridiculous, since this is the first time everyone encountered such a case."
As a detective assistant, I encountered several cases of death. Not the medical term of death, but actual deaths.
But this was the first time I personally witnessed a corpse.
I found myself to be--unexpectedly calm.
This calmness left me more terrified than anything. I guess I was deliberately trying to get myself to puke, giving that gaudy look. When Tetsu-senpai grabbed me by the shoulder, my body chilled. To be precise, I found out that my body wasn't being hot in the first place.
I took a deep breath, and exhaled all the air vented in my throat. Once my chest relaxed slightly, I started to think of the requestor. Right, I just needed to think about Yui-san's matters. What do I do? First off, we could only wait for the reports to come in. We can't be sure that it was Ginji-san's body. Maybe someone deliberately had his shawl and clothes placed on him, and chopped the head off so that nobody else would find out...
Who did it? And for what reason?
I buried my face in my hands; there were too many mysteries. There was nothing I could report to Yui-san, and since the matter did not appear on the news, I could only remain silent.
At this moment, I head little footsteps from between the buildings, and lifted my head.
"Yo? What happened to you? Scared out of your wits when the police detained you? Had a good night sleep at the detention cell?"
"It's heaven compared to the camp at the foot of Mt. Fuji in the winter."
Major shrugged as he answered, and sat beside me. Like the day before, he was dressed in a trench coat and a Russian styled cap covering the ears, and the eyes under the goggles seemed to have thick black rings beneath them. Major put his hands in his pocket, and scanned us three.
"I have something to report to Alice. Come along."
It has been a while since the NEET detective agency was filled with five people. The tall Tetsu-senpai and Hiro stood at both sides of the bed, and the room looked as though it had shrunk by 10 times. I sat by the bed, and Major was at the fridge, not far away from the bedroom.
"You didn't inform the police that that was Katsuragi Kenji's body, didn't you?"
Alice glanced aside at Major when she said this, and Major replied,
"They kept pestering me about the identity of the corpse, but there aren't any documents proving Ginji-san's identity. Pe-san and the others didn't know anything,so I played dumb as well."
I looked back and forth between the duo, looking skeptical. Why did Alice and Major not affirm that it was Ginji-san's body beforehand?
Alice gave me a cold look, saying,
"Did you think that Major was just fooling around after calling you?"
"Fingerprints." Said Major. "I collected them from the corpse and the camera belonging to Ginji-san, and sent the files to Alice. When I found him, there wasn't a head, and no passers-by around, so collecting fingerprints was the only thing I could do."
"You're fast. Were you discovered by the police, and detained for a day as a result?"
"Of course I was. I had chalk all over me, and even my backpack was checked through completely."
Major snorted, but I felt a chill. Major was actually able to do such a thing to a headless corpse, and even managed to carefully touch a corpse's fingerprint."
"I only got released once I used Tetsu's name."
"What's going on? Is it because you're my friend that those idiot investigator friends of mine think it isn't strange for you to do this?"
"I guess that's what it means. Thanks to your infamy, I was saved."
"I wasn't fooling around.."
Tetsu-senpai ruffled his needle-like hair. I looked back and forth between the sidelong, gloomy face of Major, and the stoic face of Alice as she continued to tap at the keyboard.
"In other words." The voice pricked at my throat, "That really was Ginji-san's corpse, wasn't it?"
Alice's reply echoed heavily in the dried, frigid winds of the air conditioning.
For a moment, there was silence everywhere, only countless fans spinning, their noises booming.
"Alice, what do you intend to do next?"
Hiro asked in a reluctant tone, and the black hair swayed,
"Of course, I'm going to continue investigating. We accepted the request after all."
Continue investigating? Investigate what? The man's dead, what else is there to investigate?
Alice seemed to have detected my voiceless question, for she turned her eyes towards me.
"Right now, the objective we are seeking has changed to the words of the dead, and that means it's no longer just your words. Following this, it will be like before; I will take over."
My voice got incessantly anxious. I suppressed this emotion, and continued,
"The client requested for us to reunite her with her father, didn't she? That father's...dead now. What are you going to do right now?"
"And so what if he's dead?"
With a cold tone, Alice continued,
"We'll simply have her meet the dead."
I felt a voiceless emotion coagulate, stuck inside my ribs.
Being a detective was such a profession. They are the reviled grave diggers, unearthing the words of the dead nobody looked forward to encountering.
"...Where do we start?" Tetsu-senpai asked in a business-like tone, "Find the culprit?"
Culprit The term caused the frosty atmosphere in the office to be really stinging.
Who exactly was the culprit who murdered Ginji-san and chopped his head off? And why did he do such a thing?"
"Are we going down the line of tracking the homeless?" Hiro spoke stiffly, "Ginji-san was attacked by BB bullets, and this line is the most probable."
Alice too nodded in agreement,
"For the time being, this is the case. Tetsu, continue to coax the police into talking. Hiro, search for any witnesses on that day. I heard there are some hostesses in the busy crowds. Major, help analyze the surveillance visuals for me--"
"I'm working independently this time."
Major hissed. I was startled, and looked at his face. Tetsu-senpai and Hiro too were looking over at the little soldier standing outside the door."
"Maybe I'll be able to provide some intel."
"...And your reason?"
Alice's voice got harsher.
"I'm not saying." Major noted quietly.
Surprisingly--no, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised by this--but the detective merely nodded,while Tetsu-senpai and Hiro watched Major walk out of the office. The little body in the trench coat vanished behind the door, and I shrank back as the door closed.
"I'll be off then. I'll try my best to get the damned police to talk..."
|I better get ging too. It'll be great if there are some people I know who were there."
I watched Tetsu-senpai and Hiro head for the corridor, "Erm," and inadvertently called out to them. The duo turned their heads around in unison, looking nonchalant, and I was left stammering, not knowing what to do.
"...What's with Major's attitude? Don't you find anything strange about this?"
"We're curious too." Hiro answered, "But he's unwilling to talk, and we can't do anything about this."
"He had been like this for this particular case. He probably has something on his mind, I guess." Tetsu-senpai shrugged/
I felt a headache; this always happened. The NEETs gathered at Hanamaru were like splinters gathered together. I thought they would be on close terms with each other, but through a magnifying glass, I could find a void bigger than an astronomical unit. No matter how many times I experienced this, I couldn't get used to this.
Tetsu-senpai and Hiro left the agency, and I squat down beside the bed.
Should I get used to this?
I lifted my eyes slightly, and saw the long black hair draped and scattered on Alice's back, shaking slightly as she continued to tap at the keyboard. Every single time, I was scolded for similar reasons, causing others to be dumbfounded for similar reasons, pitied for similar reasons. But despite this, I was hoping for Alice to say something to me.
But when Alice stopped and turned towards ne, my consciousness rippled on the surface. By the time I realized, I was already standing, meeting Alice in the eyes, and at that moment, I realized that she was hoping for me to do. With a sigh, I pulled the collar of my duffle coat.
"I get it. My job is to ask Yui-san now, right? ASk her not to remove the request, isn't it?"
Being a detective was a shackle that bounded Alice. What terrified Alice would be ignorance. The only things able to fill this void would be the requests.
Alice looked at me weakly, and nodded. I wanted to tell her to stop, to not look at me like a drowning person grasping for straws, to command me like usual with her usual haughty tone. Ask me not to get Yui-san to remove the request? Are you kidding me? Ginji-san's already dead. How do I communicate this to her?
Ah--I got it. I just had to continue hiding this from Yui-san. Even if it appears on the news for a while, nobody knew whose body it was. Yui-san would only hear that one of the homeless died, and she just needed to think someone else died instead.
I sighed, and shook my head. I wasn't sure if I could continue bluffing her until the very end. The reality was that Ginji-san's dead. Where's my father? If she's going to ask me that, how should I answer?
He's not around.
He's no longer around.
The frosty air of the air conditioning finally got through my sense of surrealism, seeping into my skin. I grabbed my shoulders, and shivered. He's dead, he was murdered. Who did this atrocity? And why?
Alice muttered, and I lifted my head,
"Why was the head chopped off? Why..."
Why was the head chopped off? Is that the point you're most curious about? But it was to be expected, since Alice's the detective. If it had been a normal death, there wouldn't be a need to solve this mystery. My heavy heart sank to my gut. Why chop the head off? It's the 21st century in Japan, not the Edo period! Who knows?
But at this moment, I suddenly recalled something.
Major said that the police still couldn't identify the corpse, and there was nothing left behind to prove the identity of the corpse. How was that possible? That was strange. What about the ring I left to Ginji-san? The ring has his full name engraved on it, and is an important clue. Did Ginji-san throw it away? Or--
Was it stolen?
Again, I lifted my head, and found Alice staring at me the whole time,
"Maybe the head was chopped off--so that nobody would realize that it was him."
The petite detective shrugged a little,
"That's a possibility too, but I can't be sure of that now."
There wasn't enough information, so we couldn't be too sure about that. The detective was as cool and collected as the frosty winds. I went away from Alice's back, and head towards the corridor of the office. Right when I was about to put on my socks, Alice said,
"Narumi, there's always been something I'm apologetic to you about."
With socks in hand, I turned around. Alice was seated on the bed, covering most of her face with a large bear as she stared right at me.
Thinking about how there was something she wanted to apologize to me for at this particular moment, I could only let out a wry smile.
"What is it? You did too many bad things that I don't know which one is it."
I joked, and Alice, hiding behind the doll, chuckled,
"I always need an excuse just to see a certain person lower his head, hear the sound of the train at dawn and touch the water by the glass windows."
I answered, it was cold of me, I thought, and so I continued,
"Me too. I was always using you as an excuse, Alice."
I felt slightly embarrassed to continue on like this, and so I averted my eyes.
"I'm the detective assistant hired by you Alice. There aren't that many facts out there...more obvious than this now."
I left the office, and went down the tracks towards the station, and then, I stopped in my tracks at the stairs of the park, for there was something I never saw before. I initially assumed it was a flower bed, but on a closer look, I found three pots of flowers lined by each other.
The first were dried flowers placed in a normal basket, and the next were white Pansies in a plastic case with the shop name of Pachisuro. The third one was an old Japanese military helmet used as a flower pot, containing Christmas Roses.
I stood at the stairs, and stared at the flowers for a while. My feelings were as rock solid as frozen wax, trickling from my ears.
When would it be that I could be as strong as the others, I thought. Could I really hold in the pain in my heart and continue taking action to investigate the actual problem? Could I really become this strong?
Already, I could not summon my courage to open my cellphone. I wanted to create a new message for Yui-san, but I did not know how to do so. How do I go about doing this? No matter how I would start off, it would end up hurting her in the end. Better explain everything by mail then. I can settle this without meeting her. No, what am I doing? I should be thinking about Yui-san's feelings.
And so, I could not write the message. Guess I had no choice, better do it the next day. I closed the cellphone, and intended to go on, only to hear footsteps running towards me.
I turned around, and found Ayaka. The winter uniform on her had a bright cream colored coat on her, and she was holding 4 bottles of beer under her armpits.
"Ah, these--" Ayaka noticed my stare, and said, "Min-san told me to bring them here as an offering. I heard that someone died here...someone who frequented our shop, right?"
Ayaka laid out the beer bottles by the flower pots, and clapped her palms together before praying. I looked up at the stairs, and could see the police pulling the yellow cordon tape and some figures in deep blue clothing taking action. How much did Ayaka know exactly? Even if the incident did not make the news, anyone could tell that there was a questionable death here, and it's likely that the rumors of a head being severed was spread. But so what? If there was nothing else she could do, she could only pray. I had better knowledge of this incident than Ayaka, but was this not what I could only do too?
I went next to Ayaka, lowered my head next to her, and clapped my hands together.\
However, I, who knew more than Ayaka did, was not praying towards the flowers, but towards the space I front of the stairs, towards the ground where the bloodied Ginji-san had fallen towards.
I really wanted to talk with him some more.
I wanted to ask about everything he lost, everything he rejected.
I pretended to know everything, but I knew nothing. Why did he abandon his family and child? Why did he refuse to meet his daughter? And why did he choose to live in the chilly atmosphere of the streets?
Everyone lost the opportunity to the answers of these questions.
Ginji-san was murdered, and this incident was completely different from what I experienced, since the head was chopped off from the corpse. This met that the killer undoubtedly wanted to do the job. With a shiver, I opened my eyes, and climbed the stairs. Appearing in front of my eyes was the cloudy sky, the bare ground, and the ominous yellow cordon tapes cutting through the trees.
Did I really want to know?
The outstanding police of this country would definitely unearth everything and put the culprit in prison. But did I really want to know?
"Eh?" Ayaka called for me, and I turned towards her, who was showing an anxious look on her face.
"Are you investigating?"
Ayaka pointed at the scene.
"Nn..." I averted my eyes from Ayaka, hesitant as I replied. From the corner of my eyes, Ayaka's face got gloomier.
"It's a little inappropriate for me to say this...but isn't this dangerous?"
So Ayaka too knew that it was a murder. Trying not to let her suspect anything, I gave a little sigh.
Strangely, I was not terrified by this.Seeing a headless body seemed to have robbed all form of reality from by body over time. I guess it was probably because I did not see the severed part though. If I did see the disgusting bit, I probably would have gone crazy. However, the corpse I saw beforehand had faded in my mind, like a sculpture with no concern of life and death. That was not a corpse without its head, but one that did not have any--
I shook my head to rid myself of the useless delusions.
There was someone with a murderous intent, still on the run from the law. This was the unchanging fact.
"It's dangerous." I answered nonchalantly,
"But you'll continue to investigate, right?"
My eyes gave chase after the white breath as Ayaka spoke, and slowly nodded,
"Because we have a request."
Of course, this was a lie. Nobody asked us to investigate a murder. Was my answer not similar to what Alice would do? Fear trickled down the darkness of ignorance, and I could not move forth on my own limbs, only able to continue investigating based on a certain person's wishes.
"You're becoming more and more like Alice now."
I was seen through by Ayaka, and I covered my face with my hands.
"Eh? Eh? You aren't happy about it?" Ayaka peered at my expression from below.
"Why would I...?"
"Because you're just like Alice! Don't you really admire her?"
"A-Admire? When did you have such thoughts?"
"Didn't you become her assistant because you wanted to become more like her?"
I sighed into my hands, put them into the pockets, and looked at my own feet.
"...I can never become a detective. After being an assistant for so long, I understand this. I can't become like Alice, but it's just..."
I just wanted to be by her side, bear the burden she couldn't; that's all.
So, ahh--I see. That would be ample reason. I did not want to see her show the lonely expression of a desert at midnight. No matter how hollow the reason would be, I would always but in, digging for the truth everywhere like a dog.
Before I knew it, Ayaka narrowed her eyes and stared at my face, agreeing with me. Embarrassed, I turned my back on her, and took out my cellphone. I sent a message to Yui-san, with only one message, I want to meet you. Are you free?
I was about to close the cellphone, only to find Ayaka staring at my palm.
"...So, the client this time..."
"Wah!" I hurriedly stuffed my cellphone into my pocket, turning away.
"So this time, it's that person who came by our shop, that Natsuki--"
"E-erm, Ayaka, forget about that. Just pretend that you didn't see anything, and don't say anything about that."
"I won't say anything, but then, actually,"
"You know that artistes are really cautious about various things, don't you?"
"I know that, but at least be aware of Alice's feelings, Fujishima-kun."
"If she wants to, Alice can check the phone logs, Fujishima-kun. That message might look like it's an invitation for a girlfriend!" Then don't look at it. I have my rights to maintain my privacy.
"We're pretending to be lovers because her manager might be checking on us, so we're sending vague messages."
"So you'll care about the client's feelings, and not Alice's? Anyway, delete that message. I'll warn Alice not to check on your phone too."
I'll be going back to work then! Ayaka shouted, and ran back to the shop. If she's going to warn Alice, then Alice's just going to do it, right? This was the job Alice instructed me to do, so there's nothing to hide in any case...
I sat down on the stairs facing the park, and my backside felt the concrete, causing my body and my head to chill. Well, I already sent my message to Yui-san, and there's no turning back at this point. Got to sort my feelings out.
First, I had to tell her that Ginji-san died. However, I couldn't tell her that he was murdered. Looking at the body, the only conclusion would be that he was murdered. However, the police might not have disclosed that the head was removed, so I shouldn't try to shock her too much.
And then, I had to tell her that we intended to continue with the investigations. That we wanted to discover the words of the dead, that we want to be his messenger.
But if she refused, what should I do?
In any case, it would be expected that she would reject us.
I suddenly had a thought of getting Alice to continue with the investigations alone, and then, maybe I should pay for this out of my own pockets, I guess?
However, I cupped my knees, and pondered a little, before shaking my head. If that alone would have been enough, Alice would have swung her sword around without any restraint right from the beginning, just to satisfy her own curiosity. Right now, I knew that the reason the petite detective chose to do all these was to save anyone. She had no friends, and said that she had no power to save anyone, but she was a humanist who really liked people. That's why she would always dress up in mourning clothes at the very end, leave her room, and personally face the particular people she might end up mortally wounding. This was neither out of reservations nor courtesy, but that she wanted to alleviate some of the pain by bearing it.
However, Alice was unable to interact with anyone. She did not know how to help anyone. She did not know where her battlefields were. To make up for the deficiencies, she labeled herself as 4 letters of the alphabet, and sealed herself in the office of the same name. For she did not know what other methods she could use.
And thus, this was where I come in.
Even if it was a clumsy reason, I want Alice to interact with the world.
Looking at reality, there was a huge possibility of Yui-san recalling the request. The one she hoped for us to find and bring to her had died. If she chose to give up, what do we do? Who should we continue investigating for?
Mori-san and Pe-san really admired Ginji-san, and they probably wanted to know who murdered him. It would have been fine if we could investigate for their sakes, but they were penniless, unable to request us. One of the self-imposed rules by Alice was to be a professional detective; she would never work for nothing.
I looked up at the grey, gloomy skies, letting out white breath.
Right, there was Major too. He had been working for Ginji-san's sake, and was working alone. I didn't know what he was hiding, but he too probably wanted vengeance.
At this moment, another chill engulfed me.
At the very least, Major should know something about the culprit. He was the first to discover the corpse, and had the time to collect the fingerprints of the headless corpse, but would not explain the situation back then. Also, he had been investigating on the culprits who shot at the homeless. If the culprits were the murderers, Major should have gotten quite a fair bit of information, so why did he hide them from us. I rubbed my arms on my duffle coat, wanting to rid myself from the cold.
Thinking harder about it, I really didn't know anything about Major. Even Tetsu-senpai and Hiro knew nothing of what Major was thinking, or his past, and they never tried to. The NEETs just wanted to remain as buddies, lazing around at the back door of 'Hanamaru'
But I'm not at NEET, just a brat, someone who had meaningless pebbles and crystal balls in my drawer that I couldn't throw. Thus, I had to really ask Major what exactly he was thinking about. What did he see, what did he know, and--if there was anything we could help with.
I stood up, patted the sand off my frozen arms, taking out my cellphone as I went towards the station, but unable to think of whatever message I should send to Major.
The next day, events developed in a way I did not anticipate. Around 8 p.m. or so, the manager gave me a call,
I heard him shriek the moment I picked up the phone, and in my shock, I nearly fell from the beer crate that was a makeshift chair. I was worried that Min-san or Ayaka would overhear us, so I peeked back up the kitchen through the back door of 'Hanamaru'. Luckily, they were busy dealing with the shop full of customers, and had no time to bother.
"...Di-did something happen? Yui--"
"She didn't look for you?"
"No, she didn't."
" it's the live broadcast today! Rehearsals start at 8:30! Ahh, where did she run off to? Do you really have no idea?"
"The cellphone GPS--"
"The settings were changed! When did that happen? I didn't tell her about this!"
I pressed my hand on my chest. I was the one who taught her how to do that. However, why did Yui-san run away?
"What happened? Why do you think she'll look for me?"
"Well, aren't...you are boyfriend? I thought you'll know, more or less."
"Of course, I'll go look for her, but do you know why she disappeared?" At the very least, I needed some clue."
"I guess...eh, well..."
"But what? Clarify that."
I started to get anxious. For some reason, Washio-san was acting a little strange.
"I told him the homeless man died."
The buzzing of the drunkards that were beside my ears suddenly became distant and vague from me. The sound of my gulping my saliva sounded as loud as a wok landing in a hole.
"Wh-what, what the?"
"I had no choice! The stalling of the construction at the park caused an activity to delay, and even the police dropped by once. This incident will probably be on the news tonight. No way can it remain under wraps."
I suppressed my fury. At the very least, let her be mentally prepared!
"I told Yui that person might not be her father! That man might not be her father! Just have her think of the murdered homeless man as someone else, and forget about it."
"You said something that stupid? That he got murdered too?"
Washio-san went silent on the other end of the phone,
"I'm definitely wrong about this. I never thought that she'll disappear before the start of the show."
"I'll go look for her. Where was she before she vanished? When did she disappear?'
According to him, it was at the studio in the luxurious building I was at, and the last time she was seen was at 7.30pm or so, when the receptionist lady noticed her. I asked what attire Yui-san was in, and gave Alice a call.
"Yui-san's gone. Mind tracking her cellphone GPS?"
I seemed to hear a gasp, but Alice merely replied, "Understood. I shall notify you.", and hung up. I then gave Yui-san a call, but as expected, she didn't pick up the phone. How did she feel after being notified by her psychotic manager that her father just passed away? And furthermore, murdered--
Suddenly, an ominous feeling filled my entire body.
Something seemed really strange. Was it because of Washio-san? No, it's normal for him to panic when an idol under his charge vanished right before a live broadcast. However—
I didn't have the time to think of this chilling uneasiness, and hurriedly shook my head before rushing out of the back door. It took me less than two minutes to run from the ramen shop to the district park. I got up the stairs, and went around looking in the wide park surrounded by the yellow cordon tape. The policemen glared at me, but I could not see Yui-san. In any case, she was not here, so where else could she have gone to? Did she lose her mind? Because the impact of her father dying was too much—like she climbed up to to roof of some building, or rush out onto the road—I suppressed such negative thoughts, and ran down the stairs. Maybe I shoudl visit the studio first, since she was gone for just 30 minutes or so. Perhaps she was still nearby.
I ran past the station, and was about to climb up the overhead bridge, but the cellphone in my pocket vibrated. I took it out, and found that Alice sent a message to me. Attached to the message was a map, and an arrowhead at the intersection of the central, a large red circle there. Alice then called me immediately.
“Did it reach you? Alice hurriedly said.
“I see it.” The slight despair twirled along with the saliva in my mouth.
“The GPS error from Natsuki Yui's phone is about 30m in radius or so. I marked it with a red circle.”
“So that means she's probably somewhere in the building, right?”
“That should be the case. It's up to you to look for her. I've narrowed her down to a building, so you should be able to—”
“Don't make it sound so easy.. Do you know where that place is!?” I was about to burst into tears, “That's the 'Tokyu Hands' building,!!”
I forgot when it was when Major once said,
“All the directors will choose the 'Tokyu Hands' building when there's a need to film a movie of terrorists occupying an area.”
The Tokyu Hands building is a large department store so many varieties of products, it's a whoozy. It's built on an uneven slope, and the inside of the building has skip levels based on the slopes, so the structure's a mess. There's already 3 entrances at the place, and anyone just wandering inside for a while will get lost as to which floor it is. Also, there's a lot of customers and products crammed in there, the place so messy that it won't be strange for a circus or a huge procession to pass through. How in the world was I supposed to find a girl amongst them in an hour?
I climbed up the overhead bridge, and looked down at the massive cross junction beneath me. Lots of vehicles were crammed there, like a pulse beating. I hesitated for a moment, and fished out my phone to call Yondaime.
“What is it?”
“Are you in the office? How many people can you deploy right now?”
“I need to look for someone. At Tokyu Hands!”
I waded through the crowd on the overhead bridge, and quickly explained what happened.
“I'll be right there. Wait for me at the cross junction.”
Once Yondaime said that, he hung up. I ran to the stairs on the opposite side of the bridge, and the stench of the exhaust gases blew at me along with the chilly night breeze.
There were already intimidating looking black figures crammed at the entrance of Tokyu Hands. One of them noticed my arrival, and everyone immediately bowed to greet me in unison.
“Good work, aniki!”
“Good work!” “Good work!”
These burly men were all dressed in black long sleeved shirt, and were 12 years older than me. Their ferocious looking eyes and atmosphere would definitely terrify everyone from entering the Tokyu Hands in fear. They're the Hirasaka-gumi members, the gang led by Yondaime.
“Sou-san went to park the car.” Pole answered. Right, once we find her, we have to get her to the studio immediately!
“Erm, well, does everyone know Natsuki Yui”
“Yes!” “I got all her CDs!” “I got her photo collection!”
Unexpectedly, everyone was interested in an idol, but in this situation, it really helped me. It meant that everyone knew who to look for.
“Listen up. She should be wearing a white one-piece, a fluffy black coat, and some sunglasses. Everyone spread out. Once you find her, don't approach her. Call me immediately. Don't let her or anyone else know.”
“Can I have her autograph?” Did you just hear what I said?
“Are you an idiot? Of course we can't!” That's it! Rocky told them off good. “Our shirts are black, no way can the signature be seen.”
“That's not the problem here!”
“Tokyu Hands stationery shop sells pens that can be written on shirts!” “It's Tokyu Hands! They sell everything!” “Even machine guns!” “They don't sell them! Hurry up and go!”
It's awkward having the passers-by and the customers stare at me, but I did my best to command them. The Hirasaka-gumi members went out in three groups. One went to the entrance in front of me, while the other two went to the other entrances.
“You go to 1A, you go to 2A, I go to 3A.” “Right!” “Right!” The black-shirted members obeyed Pole's command and spread out, while I went down the path to the roof, looking for Yui-san. I still could not forget this possibility of a fragile heart Yui-san doing anything possible because she lost it. Oh, better get Alice to affirm her position.
Alice quickly texted me that Yui-san was still in the building, and my cellphone rang immediately.
“Aniki, we found her. Eh, which floor is this...4th? The place selling furniture and lights.”
“I'll be right there.”
A man dressed in black shirt waved at me from short staircase between 4B to 4C. It was the gang member who just notified me.
He pointed at a corner of the shop selling decorative shelves and lights, and standing there was a figure I was familiar with. She was standing in the bustling forest of various Christmas trees, staring at the lighting. I felt a huge relief, and nearly tumbled over on the chair.
“Please call Yondaime and tell him that we found her.”
I whispered to the gang member, and with bated breath, walked up the stairs, gently approaching the slender figure. There were few customers here, probably because the products were too pricey, or that it was almost closing time. Even though there was a shop attendant, he was serving another customer at the shelves area.
Despite this, as I approached the lighting corner, I stopped.
For I was dumbstruck. The lonely looking sidelong face of Yui-san mesmerized me as she stood under the red and green lights. Even with the dark colored sunglasses, I could tell snowflakes were falling from her eyes.
Yui-san had noticed me beforehand, and turned towards me, lowering her sunglasses. Her face showed surprise, reluctance and relief in order, before those emotions vanished.
“...I was found. How?”
Yui-san asked bashfully.
“I got a lot of buddies who are good at finding people.”
I deliberately hushed my voice, and answered as such.
“Really? Like that detective? You have a lot of acquaintances?”
I never thought I would be found so quickly, Yui-san said feebly. I could not look at her, and could only approach her little by little. The glass angel sculpture spun on the massive shelf, glittering.
“There has been a lot of fine lighting, and I find every one of them to be nice. But when I buy them home to decorate, I just feel lonely.”
Yui-san said as she scanned the lighting. Colorful lights sparkled on her sunglasses.
“Because...there's only me at home.”
With her fingers, she touched the pure white lighting that was shaped like a tree.
“I always wanted to live such a Christmas, that when I return home, the Christmas tree is dazzling at the entrance. Mother and I making dinner, and father returning home late with a large package of a present...”
The room was so warm, yet I felt a chill.
“But my dream can no longer be fulfilled...when I heard father passed away, I thought that my dream will never be fulfilled again. I just feel, just feel...by the time I noticed it, I found myself running out of the studio.”
With both hands, Yui-san cupped a reindeer decoration with a a shining nose, muttering,
“I know that there will be real trouble when I run out of the studio. But even though I know...”
She hugged the decoration in her clutches, and knelt down in front of the shelf.
“But I just feel that even if I'm not around, during the rehearsals and live airing, there'll be another obedient me running out to finish all my performances...”
The back draped in black tweed coat seemed as though it would crumble upon contact. I was left helpless, and could only kneel down beside her. I could not see her face as I did so behind her, and appearing in my eyes were the frame of the sunglasses and the nicely shaped ears.
“Was Washio-san angry?”
“Most likely—well, the rehearsal started. But it'll work out somehow.”
Yui-san smiled feebly, and put the reindeer back onto the shelf. However, she had no intention of standing out, and as she knelt down, she did not tremble.
Her father died; right before they talked, right before she decided on whether to forgive him or continue hating him. Once there was a huge hole in the human soul, once a little hit crumbled a person, the only thing one could do was to shrink back and remain silent. Even I knew this very well.
So I said to the back in black coat.
“It's fine. You don't have to go back.”
The hair at the back of Yui-san shook slightly.
“I'm not going to watch the TV or hear any music, and I didn't come here looking for you because of Washio-san's request. Even if you fail to show up for the live broadcast, lose your chance to work in the entertainment circle, unable to release any CDs, it has nothing to do with me. Once I'm sure that you're safe, my work today is considered done. Tokyu Hands is about to close for the day, but if you want to continue Christmas shopping, I can accompany you. Do you want to have a meal once we're done? You haven't had 'Hanamaru' ramen and ice cream before, right?”
Yui-san lifted her face. Her sunglasses nearly slipped off, and I could see her large, moist eyes.
“...You're unexpectedly kind, Narumi-kun. I thought you would tie me up and drag me back to the studio.”
Yui-san said that in a half-joking manner, and rage slowly arose within me.
“I didn't say this just to be kind. It's what I really think. I don't know how your moment of stubbornness will cause trouble for others, but those are issues for Washio-san and the TV broadcasters to handle, nothing to do with me. You might think I'm stupid, but I was really worried as to whether you went to jump off a building. I've seen too much people who didn't care about their lives, and requested a whole bunch of people to look for you. I didn't look for you for your sake, or for others.”
I kept quiet, and waited for Yui-san's response. However, she merely took off her sunglasses, and stared at me. Her eyes were as dark as a starry night.
Your dad's dead, I thought. His neck got chopped off too. Why are you able to remain so calm? Any ordinary person will cry out in sadness, or yell angrily. Just say whatever you want to say, why can't you do it? Is it because you'll ruin your makeup just because you cry?
For no reason, I felt anger venting up within me as I silently took Yui-san's stare. Why do people get angry at others for doing what they couldn't do? Was this too some form of self-loathing?
“...Sorry for such stupid words.”
Saying that, i looked down between my legs.
“No, thank you.”
Why thank me? Didn't you hear what I said?
“You're really a kind person after all, Narumi-kun.”
I shook my head, my forehead almost touching my knees. Don't care about me here. It's your dad who died.
“I-I...don't really know, what should I do...”
Yui-san's voice was sinking in icy water. It's fine. I thought. It was such a dire situation, and even if the bottom of the water was cold and hard to breathe in, sometimes, people could only sink.
But at this moment, a bell rang in our ears.
I lifted my face, followed by Yui-san. A familiar melody and percussions overlapped each other, followed by a singing voice.
It was Yui-san's voice.
We looked around, searching for the source of the voice. Finally, at the top of the shelf, we found the TV monitor airing an advertisement of a Christmas product. Yui-san on the monitor was seated on the railing of an ice rink, singing, looking so dazzling and transparent. I understood that it was an illusion caused by make-up, camera technology and the music, but my heart could not help but clench.
I found sense Yui-san standing up beside me, but I continued to stare at the TV monitor.
“...I should get going, I guess.”
“Thank you, Narumi-kun.”
I turned my head around to look at Yui-san's face once she called me. Before she putt on her sunglasses, I seemed to have seen tear marks beside her eyes. The figure in black coat walked towards the stairs, out of the shop, and I hurriedly gave chase after Yui-san.
It'll be great if you don't make it in time, I prayed quietly.
I followed Yui-san out of Tokyu Hands, and ushered her to Yondaime's car that was waiting at the cross juncction. I continued to pray as I watched the car's taillights vanish. If Yui-san could not make it for the live performance, she would probably be scolded by the producer or a fuming artiste, and chased out of the entertainment world. This was the rule I understood. Or perhaps, in this world where a flying kiss or wink from a certain person would be worth millions, there would be a special rule to overturn this? If that was the case, the eyes under those sunglasses did not seem to belong to the residents of that world.
Yondaime drove the Maserati off, vanishing in the sea of flickering lights, and I put my hands into the pockets of my coat, walking off.
“Aniki!” “Please come to the office with us, aniki!”
Some people called me from behind.
I turned around, and found men in black shirts swarming out of the Tokyu Hands that had closed for the day. I forgot about them, and really, I wished I did.
“Good work, everyone. Thanks for your help. I should be going home now.”
Contact Alice, contact Washio-san, I had a lot to do. At this moment, the one thing I really wanted to do was to lie on the bed.
“No, Sou-san want us to calculate the pay from you this time, aniki.”
Ah, settle the bills. No matter how I remained on good terms with the Hirasaka-gumi, I could not let them work for free. Yondaime really drew a line here.
I led the hunks of the Hirasaka-gumi down the bustling night street, and at that moment, it probably was a necessity. The sharp glares from the passers-by got me to think that I should not fret the deatils. Even if I did tell them to return to the office first, they would say stuff like “We can't return and leave you behind, aniki.” or “We'll be by your side, aniki”, and so, they followed me in single file.
“But that Natsuki Yui's really pretty. I heard Pole and the others mutter this between them.
“As to be expected of you, aniki.” “Are you aiming for the entertainment world next...?” “Aniki's really popular, able to make any beauty pregnant within two seconds of looking at them.”
“This has nothing to do with popularity! Anyone who can do that is a demon, okay?”
I could not help but turn around to retort.
It was an hour later when Yondaime returned to the office. During this hour, I was teaching the Hirasaka-gumi members on basic sums. No matter how I explained to them, they couldn’t understand how to write a request bill, so I asked them if they knew how to do basic sums. Pole said “I don’t know how to do sums at all.”, while Rocky gleefully answered “I know how to do addition of points”, and someone else pointed out “Then what about subtraction?” Those words left the 12 black-shirted men, intimidating enough to shut up a crying kid, grimace in agony.
“Aniki, why do you need to reverse the numerator and denominator?”
“If you reverse it, you can easily change the numerator and the denominator over!”
“You’re good!” “6 became 9!” “Amazing!” “Won’t our salary increase then?” “6000 Yen became 0009 Yen!” “Isn’t that a decrease, you idiot!?”
I had enough. I want to go home. Right when I began to start packing up, Yondaime, dressed in a large red Chinese jacket, opened the metal door, and walked in. At that moment, the office went down to below freezing point. The ice cold young gang leader glanced at the stupid sight of several of his subordinates at the sofas behind the table, and wordlessly kicked at it.
Pole and Rocky collapsed onto the floor, letting out loud thuds.
“No time for you guys to play. Gardening boy, come here, I got something to say to you.”
Yondaime led me to the door to the left of the table, the room that was a storeroom and the place for sleeping in. The room was filled with bookshelves, and unopened boxes, the place was so crammed it was hard to breathe in. There were a simple bed by the wall deep inside, and the little table beside it had a computer with some dust on it. Yondaime sat on a chair, while I sat on the bed.
“How’s Yui-san? Made it in time?”
Yondaime shrugged, and opened the cellphone. He showed me the TV programme that was airing. There was the word ‘live’ shown at the bottom right of the screen, and I could see the camera move around the scene along with the introduction of the emcee. The camera scanned the audience filled with young men and women, and finally stopped at the stage. Waving at everyone under the many spotlights was definitely Yui-san.
I bit my lips, and averted my eyes. Like before, Yui-san was standing in the rectangular dazzling world, giving a smile that did not comprehend any tears. Just an hour ago, she was knelt before me, almost crushed by anguish.
Yondaime closed his phone.
“Tetsu already briefed me on the killing of a homeless.”
Killing of a homeless., the term left my entire body frozen. This guy never beat around the bush when talking.
“Alice hasn’t given us the command. What do we do?’
Slowly, I stammered as I explained. There was no reason to continue investigating, but I wanted to find an excuse to continue helping Yui-san.
“Still the same old idiot, huh.”
Recently, I found that the word ‘idiot’ Yondaime would use recently had a certain gentleness to it, so I nodded.
“What do you want to do?”
I did not know how to answer, and I clenched my fists hard on my knees. I already made up my mind, yet I had no self-confidence. It was all because I just saw Yui-san on that screen. Should I really go save her? I don’t know where I am, what I should do—She said several times before. I always thought that the knit cap and sunglasses covering the pretty face of Yui-san as she tried so desperately to wipe her tears was the real her. Maybe the Natsuki Yui shown on the TV however might be the real her, and that Katsuragi Yuina was just a shadow of her. If that was the case, I guess all the efforts I put in was for not. Better not get involved with her; I should just forget about her.
No, I weakly clenched my fists.
The world I interacted with was small and limited. Thus, I could not do anything other than to set a destination, close my eyes, and head out. Even if I did do this, I might end up hurting the client or my friends.
But did I not do this several times already?
When I lifted my head, Yondaime, who got impatient form waiting, spoke up, and our voices overlapped,
“About Major.” “Listen, Major.”
We kept quiet at the same time. With a bitter grimace, Yondaime averted his eyes.
“…What, did you know already? Why are you pretending to give that confused look.”
“I’m not pretending. I’m really confused.”
However, that was only all I could do. Could I only go to check on what exactly Major knew? And what was he hiding?
“Do you know what’s the worst possible situation now?”
“Eh? I do! I’m guessing that the worst would be that Major won’t trust me again. I’ll just bear that sin though.”
“That’s not what I’m getting at.” Yondaime gave a frustrated look, and ruffled his hair, “He’s a suspect.”
Shocked, I stared at Yondaime’s face.
“…No, I already knew that the police is suspecting him.”
“You don’t understand where the problem lies here. I don’t care what the police is thinking. Tetsu and Hiro are doubting Major, and so am I. He’s the first one to discover the corpse, is a military nerd, familiar with airguns, and should know how to chop a head off. How can we not suspect him?”
I was speechless, and my mind kept repeating Yondaime’s words.
My throat felt pain from the increasing dryness.
“Why, why would Major want to kill Ginji-san? Ginji-san really likes Major, they’re on good terms, and Major isn’t the type of person to do this. Everyone is friends, so why couldn’t trust each other?”
Yondaime’s icy galre caused me to shut up, and I understood what stupid words I just said. I sighed, and sat back onto the bed again.
“Based on your definition, I do not trust Major.” Yondaime asked, “But we don’t completely understand major as a person, so why can you say that he didn’t kill?”
I shook my head, but I did not understand what I was trying to deny.
What Yondaime said was right. I understood this really well. Tetsu-senpai, Hiro, and even Alice were doubting Major. It’s like back when we investigated on Tetsu-senpai’s past; nobody said that ‘Tetsu won’t do such a thing’. Trusting others and trusting their innocence were two different cases.
If Major’s impulsive actions were based on selfish immaturity and simple trust, no matter how many crimes he made, the NEETs should have a strong trust that he would not be abandoned.
But I couldn’t do it. I could not make such a clear distinction.
“if it’s me, I’ll beat Major up.” Yondaime said.
He said the same thing during the situation about Tetsu-senpai. Maybe he was just joking, but I could not laugh. Once I calmed down somewhat, I spoke up.
“I have been thinking.”
“Thinking about what?”
“You’re smart, and strong, Yondaime. If you’re Alice’s assistant, I guess all the cases can be solved in 3 days.”
“You got to be kidding.” Yondaime scowled. “Who else can serve such a troublesome person except for you?”
Even I couldn’t do it that well.
“You’re different from me, and different from Alice and the other NEETs in the first place. You can barge into other people’s inner hearts without any care, and we need someone crazy.”
I lowered my eyes, and sighed. I was this kind of character anyway.
At this moment, Yondaime narrowed his eyes, and stared at me, saying,
“If a stray cat slips in through the gap in your window, will you get angry and tell it off to not come in with dirty feet?”
“That’s the kind of feeling you give. I can’t get angry at you even if I want to.”
I blinked, and lowered my eyes, before lifting them again to look at Yondaime’s face.
“You’re like a poet today.”
“Shut up, you bastard.”
Yondaime gave a ferocious look. Recently, I figured out that whenever he shout the word ‘bastard’, it really indicated that he was angry.
The surroundings was filled with darkness as I walked out of the Hirasaka-gumi office, and the weather got colder. The narrow alley was divided from the outside road, and few people went by this place. Down the steep slope, there were a few flickering street lamps. Under one of the lights that were about to be extinguished, I took out my cellphone, and decided to call Major before I changed my mind.
However, the word ‘suspect’ by Yondaime again lingered in my ears, and I could not open it.
I’ll call tomorrow. It’s late already.
Right when I was about to slip the cellphone back into the pocket, the cellphone suddenly rang in my palm.
“I have something to request from you, Vice-Admiral Fujishima.
Major said on the phone, and I leaned my back on the icy wall, unable to let out a breath.
“You may think it’s a little strange from me, but mind listening?”
I never expected Major to actually take the initiative, and all I could only do was to look up at the night sky devoid of stars, saying, “right, anything I can help with?”
After some silence, Major started to explain. It really was a strange request.
I had not shown up at the student council office for a while, and the student council office was more empty than a beachside in late Autumn. There were crumpled posters and pamphlets on the desks, two printers whose rollers were spewing out papers, and the boxes lined side by side contained promotional bulletins for the stalls and stage performances.
There was a petite, bespectacled girl at the desk, carefully compiling the documents and putting the rubbish into a plastic bag like a squirrel preparing for the winter.
She noticed me enter the office, and lifted her head to call out to me. This girl’s called Kousaka Yukari, the inspection committee chairperson of our school’s student council.
“Sorry to ask you for such a strange favour.” I bowed to apologize.
“It’s really a strange favour. I was shocked.”
Now that she mentioned it, all I could feel was trepidation.
“Do you mind telling me the truth? Does it have something to do with that detective?’
“That’s how it is. Sorry.”
Atually, it was not that I chose not to say it, but that I really did not know. Major would not explain, and merely requested me.
“Do you know R High School? It’s a private boys High School near the M High School you study at. Think the students can visit at certain times. You know the people in the student council, don’t you? Ask them if we can visit R high school.”
I merely relayed Major’s request to Kousaka-senpai, and I thought it could not be done. The next day, when Kousaka-senpai said that it was already done, I was shocked.
“We’ve known the student council of R High School for a while, and recently, we just had a change, so I thought we should go visit. Your request just so happened to be at the right moment.
Once I mentioned it, Kousaka-senpai immediately jumped up.
“Didn’t you know? Our school just had a student council voting last month. Our student council has a change of personnel every year after the culture festival, and we’ve retired.”
“I didn’t know…”
The school had a student council voting? I didn’t really remember much about the culture festival, so naturally, I didn’t know an election was held. I didn’t know whether I voted, so I guess I skipped classes on that day. Last month, I was quite busy due to Min-san’s engagement.
“What’s this about retirement?”
“We’re already in our 3rd years. We need to prepare for the Test.”
“Ahh, I see.”
I almost forgot how a high school student should be living their lives.
“Then why are you cleaning up the student council office?”
“The new members and committee don’t seem to be able to clean up, and the office has been messy for a while, and the 3rd years have fewer lessons…right, don’t you have 6th period lessons?”
“Eh? No, it’s so happened to be self-study.” I barely managed up a lie; of course, it was obvious that it was a lie.
“You skipped classes anyway, right?” Suddenly, a voice rang behind me, causing me to jolt up in shock. I turned around, and found a long haired girl standing at the door of the office, with a hairclip, and a sharp glare. She’s the student council president, Hayano Kaoruko-san. No, I should say she’s the ex-student council president.
“Listen up, you’re representing us to R high school, so don’t do anything unruly. Right, go visit the teachers at the office to greet them, and then, greet the new student council president of R high school and the culture committee members. This is our report for the culture festival and sports festival, so remember to exchange it with them. This camera belongs to the student council…”
Kaoruko-senpai tasked me with several frivolous stuff, and stuffed lots of stuff into my bag.
“Kaoruko was the one who helped with the procedure this time.” Kousaka-senpai whispered at my ear. I see. I could not bring myself to lift my head at senpai.
“You couldn’t tell us the reason anyway, right?”
Kaoruko-senpai folded her arms as she said this.
“…Is it about the incident that happened at the park in front of the station?”
I was shocked, but did my best not to show it on my face. Kaoruko-senpai was exceptionally sharp at strange aspects. The murder incident of a homeless at the park was already reported on the news—except for the strange state of the corpse. I might have been seen hanging out with the homeless by the other students, and the smart ones might have noticed.
“Try working a little harder and do some things a high school student should be doing, you know?”
Kaoruko-senpai sighed as she said, obviously because she had enough. Kousaka-senpai did not seem to understand what Kaoruko-senpai was saying, and turned back and forth between her and this intimidated me.
“Can this guy really represent us M high school?” Kaoruko-senpai asked Kousaka-senpai.
“Fujishima-kun is fine! He’s in charge of taking over from me, so he should get used to dealing with outside work.”
“…Take over from you, senpai?”
“Eh? Didn’t I tell you? You’re chosen as a inspection committee member.”
This was the first time I heard that. No, I think senpai mentioned it before summer break, but I never thought she would be serious.
Right—our M High School has a very troublesome school rule, that the students had to join a club, and because I never participated in any club activities, it was breaking the rules. I thought nobody bothered me because they never pursued the matter, but it was because I became an inspection committee member. I heard that by participating in student council activities, I didn’t need to participate in club activities.
‘The new committee leader may be looking for you, so do your best!”
Shocked, I walked out of the school in a daze. I was more stunned to see Major’s attire when I found him waiting outside the door.
“What happen? You look like your head got blasted by a 84mm Carl Gustav.”
“If I really had my head blown apart, how would I have a face? And that’s not the important point!”
The dark blue blazer was matched with grey pants, loosened tie, and a shirt that was not tucked in. It was clearly our school’s boys uniform.
“Why are you dressed like this?”
“You can buy this thing on the internet.”
So anyone could buy it…
“They have sizes for an elementary school kid?”
“Enough jokes. Time to get down to business.”
Major pointed his chin at the station, and walked on.
R High School was located about 2 subway stations away from our school, a Boys High School located in a quiet residential area. It’s one of the rare few schools in Tokyo with a high rate of those that advance to college, and even I, who transferred schools, and was unfamiliar with the high schools in Tokyo, heard of it. When the school grounds facing the trees by the pedestrian pathway entered my eyes, I was already overwhelmed by its majesty. For some reason, the school had glass walls, and 8 tennis courts, and the large school grounds probably could allow the baseball club, soccer club, handball club, volleyball club and track and field club to practice without any arguments. I really had to wonder if this place was really Tokyo.
“What are you scared of? If you’re a representative of the student council, act like one.”
Major patted me on the back as I stood still in front of the gates, but it was impossible not to be scared. Once I entered, the massive, gradual slope reached the second level of the school, and there were sculptures and flag poles by the sides. It looked like an art museum, or a foreign embassy. Also, it just so happened to be after school, and there were many students around.
Major nudged me to the guard house by the right. I showed my student handbook, and finished the guest registration. Major quickly shuffled into the school, and in a very familiar manner, took out the guest slippers from the shoe locker.
“The staff office is on the west side of the second floor.”
I let Major wait for me as I entered the offices to greet the teacher in charge of the student council. Once I got out, Major leisurely walked out from the staff toilet.
“Next, to the student council office. It’s on the second floor of the middle block.”
“Why are you so familiar with this place?”
“Of course it’s because this is my alma mater.”
Shocked, I stood on the corridor, and the few R high school students passing us by stared at us.
“…This is your alma mater? Th-then why didn’t you just go in yourself?”
Major dragged me to the stairs were few people were at, and explained the reason.
“It’s a little awkward for me to say this, but anyone, I’m not someone who should be in this high school.”
“Back when I was a student, I left a lot of rumors as Mukai Hitoshi. For example, I added flares to the bonfire during the culture festival, used the tables and chairs at school to create mobile suits, took photos of the P.E. teachers drinking hard in the staff room and spreading them out, and so on.”
“So to sum it up, the teaching staff really remembered you well…”
“Right. When I graduated, the past teachers-in-charge and the club advisor finally got together and celebrated with tears.” I guess they’re happy that the problematic student graduated. “That’s why I can’t show up in my past uniform and sneak into school. Just my back alone might cause people to notice me.”
So do you think you can slip past them wearing a different school uniform? With that unique body shape of yours, you’ll be discovered soon enough.
“But illegally sneaking in is already something really easy for you.”
Once I said that, Major shrugged,
“I can do it when it’s in the night, but it’s too bad that I need to do this during club activities.”
“This time, my mission is to enter when those guys are gathered in the clubhouse, so that’s why I need your help, Vice-Admiral. I’m grateful for your help, and you can go home once you’re done with the student council matters. What are you going to do next?”
“You’re still asking this now?”
At this point, I could not bring myself to get angry.”
“When you’re not telling me anything, of course I’ll go along!”
“I knew it.” Major showed a forlorn smile.
Who are these guys he referred to? Looking at the faint smile on Major’s face, I doubt he would tell me even if I asked him now.
The student council president of R High School was a shoddy looking boy with dyed hair, earrings, and a bright red T-shirt under his open uniform. Shockingly, he’s only a first year. Throughout this time, he was going “Ahh, too bad Kaoruko-senpai is about to graduated. I had my eyes on her during the culture festival, but looks like she’s going to a girls college.” I had assumed the president would be some aloof, elite bespectacled boy, and thus, I was shocked. But thinking about it again, this was Major’s alma mater. The school might be filled with students wasting away their intelligence.
Once I was done with business, we went to the clubroom building. I saw that their clubroom building was a majestic 3 level building like their school compound, and when I recalled how the little clubs in M High School were bullied, I could not help but shed some tears. The 3rd floor was filled with culture clubs, and Major went to the room at the corner.
There were all kinds of stickers on the door of that room, ranging from a golden eagle of the American army, the lion and crown crest of the English army, the Swastika of Nazi Germany and the flag of the sun, to a warning label of dangerous items and radioactive stuff, to stickers of helicopters, fighter jets or missiles, and even a sticker with some mantra or a heart sutra. Amidst the messy stickers, there was a little white doorplate with the words ‘History Research Club’.
History Research Club? Leaving aside the name of the club, it was obviously—
Major indicated for me to remain silent, and quiet his footsteps as he approached the door. There seemed to be people inside, not just one. I scanned the corridor, making sure that there were no passers-by, and held my breath to concentrate and eavesdrop on the conversation inside.
“…Stop it. I really don’t want to do this.” “I never thought…it would really end up like that.” “Did you see the news?” “The police…” “It’s…fault!” “No…fault!” “…anyway…” “I don’t want to.” “…In that case.” “Don’t joke around.”
Were they arguing? Police? News? What were they talking about? Why did Major come all the way here?
At this moment, Major knelt before the door, gently inserted a crooked piece of handle into the knob, and spent only 10 seconds or so to open the door.
Major got up, and opened the door.
There was the sound of chairs colliding, frantic footsteps, magazines being torn up, and even muffled voices stick in the throats from the room.
“Such poor security from you. Didn’t I say this is an armory, that you need triple locks?”
Major said as he scanned the clubroom.
Looking at the devastation in the room, I could imagine how messy the clubroom was. The shelves were crammed with magazines and mangas, while the TVs had many game consoles gathered around them, the CDs and DVDs could be seen being left everywhere, and there were all kinds of weapons, either model guns or air guns by the wall, hanging under the ceiling, or stuffed into cardboard boxes. There was also the stench of cigarette linger. In this chaos, there were some chairs. 3 of the 4 students in uniform were seated on the chairs, and the last one was surrounded by the trio, collapsed on the floor.
Two, three of them asked with shrill voices. Major kicked aside the rubbish on the floor, and I could even sense his killing intent from behind him.
“Why are you looking so lazy? Have you forgotten the basics of managing your guns? Don’t eat in places with guns and bullets, and no smoking.”
“Senpai, why did you come today—what’s with your uniform?”
The boy standing at the frontmost, taller than Major by two heads asked. His messy hair covered half of his spectacles, the eyes under the shadows giving an unhealthy glint.
“I wanted to say that I want to retrain your morals and patriotism, but there’s no time for this today. Anyway, what is Private Hirabayashi doing?”
Major asked as he pointed at the youngest looking boy. The boy at the deepest corner of the room was buried in trash, collapsed on the floor.
“Nothing!” “I just got a little angry, and wanted to teach him a lesson.”
The boys standing at the front seemed to be the seniors, and impatiently answered Major’s question. The boy called Hirabayashi awkwardly got to his feet, and patted off the dust on his arms and knees. If all of Major’s self-confidence was stripped away, I guess this boy would resemble him. Hirabayshi’s a diminutive, baby-faced boy who looked really weak.
Hirabayashi wanted to say something, but someone beside him gave him a whack.”
“Enough with the unnecessary stuff..”
“Mukai-senpai, I don’t know why you came here today, but your sudden appearance will cause us trouble.”
Near to Major was a tall boy. He glanced aside at me, and then at the uniforms we were wearing, giving a troubled look.
“Which school uniform is this? They’re watching every outsider closely, whether they are alumni or not. It’ll be troublesome if the teachers find out. Please leave.”
“Answer my question, and I’ll leave. How many of you in the club now? Not just the 4 of you, right? What about the chairman?”
“There’s 8 of us altogether. The third year seniors didn’t come by as they’re busy preparing for exams.”
“Is there anybody from outside school who join in on the mock battles?”
“…Eh, sometimes, yes.”
“Where are your main fields?”
“The place in Saitama you recommended us, Mukai-senpai, and my dad’s building.”
“You also did some illegal survival games on the streets, didn’t you? Stop fooling around with me. If you played in those fields, you wouldn’t need these tools to unlock.”
Major kicked at a black leather pouch that was rolling on the floor, and wires and pliers rolled out from the opened bag. The boy near Major turned beetroot.
“So what, this has nothing to do with you, right, senpai? Please don’t bother with that too much.”
“Late at night, December 16th, you had another mock battle, didn’t you?”
I was quietly startled.
December 16th, the day Ginji-san was murdered.
“I don’t remember much. Recently, we’ll just go out to play as long as we have numbers, and we didn’t really specify any dates. I guess we played like 3, 4 times a week?”
The boys tried to act calm, but I did not miss out on the members glancing at each other, giving signals the moment Major stated that date. I felt a chill up my spine; did Major get some evidence? Did he come to R High School for this reason? Did these people really—
Did these people really kill Ginji-san?
So Major posed as a student of M High School, and visited them during club activites, all for the sake of uncovering the plot these guys have?
“Let me have a look at the latest bullets you guys are using.”
I stood behind Major, and thus, was unable to see his face. However, the boys who were 20cm taller than him looked really terrified as they shrugged took out the bullets from the paper-wrapped bags on the shelves or in the plastic bags. I guess he really was giving a terrifying look.
Major glanced at the 5 types of BB bullets, and asked them,
“Are these really all you used?”
The club members nodded unnaturally a few times. Major snorted, and walked deep into the classroom. I spotted some things that was inserted along with the umbrellas, and inadvertently held my breath.
Major took them out one by one, unsheathed them, and checked the blades. Those were fake. Everyone knew that, but upon seeing the blades reflect the ceiling lights, nobody in the room could move. Major checked them again, put the swords back into the shelves, and turned around to check the shelves. Amongst the many magazines introducing survival games and air guns catalogues, there were a few terrifying books regarding swords and the murder methods the USSR special forces employed.
Major scanned the members, and asked,
“You didn't put any real swords, did you?”
“...There's no way we'll have them.”
Once he heard the reply, Major turned around.
“Vice-Admiral, we're done here. Let's go.”
I signed out at the school gate, and Major immediately removed his clothes, scaring both the guards and me. Under the shirt and pants were the usual camouflage army jacket Major would wear. Once he was done, Major rolled the uniform up, stuffed it into a trash bin, and stormed out of the school gate. I had never seen Major so angry before.
On the way back, Major remained silent as he sat on the train. I held the onto the straphanger, unable to say anything. I had so many questions, my head was about to burst, yet I was unable to convert them into words. I was yet to be mentally prepared on how to hurt Major, and where.
Major is a suspect. My mind again recalled the words from Yondaime.
I had a premonition that the truth would be more shocking than I thought. My mind kept switching perspective, recalling the history research clubroom filled with killing toys, and the expressionless boy.
We got off, and passed through the crowd towrds the East gate. At this moment, the short day of Winter had vanished to the opposite side of the station building, the streets covered with long cold shadows. The colorful lights were like fake stars, flickering sharply above our eyes. I seemed to hear Yui-san's Christmas song from somehwere. It's a topseller now.
We passed by the bottom of the overhead bridge, and Major muttered,
“They're my juniors.”
I walked silently beside him.
“I taught them everything from guns to wars to army, and they're wonderful subordinates. 2 years after I graduated, I still continued to check on them, and whenever I return, the club would have new members.”
I looked forward, and nodded. The passers-by on the road by the railway were fewer in numbers. At the tall place, I could see large black shadows, shadows that surrounded the forest in the park. The few street lights taller than the trees were dark, and one could sense that life was gone from them.
“So, their wrongdoing is my responsbility as a commander.”
Major stopped at the short staircase leading to the park, and turned around to face me, holding some little things in his hand.
Little beads contained in a plastic bag. Were they bearings?
I lifted my eyes to look at Major. I guess this was the first time I saw his face up close without his visor or goggles. It was a baby face that had forgotten what aging was.
“When I found Ginji-san's corpse, I took the fingerprints and these things from the marks on his palm.”
I exhaled the stiff air inside it, the breath filled with the taste of metal.
“Ginji-san had bullet marks on his hands, probably because he was trying to protect his face. The metal bearings can be fired from toy guns in the shop, but the power and precision isn't that strong. This indicates that they illegally imported guns, and the sources of such guns are few in numbers. Also, every time they attack the homeless, the guns will improve as they continue.
Major's knowledge of the related realm was not to be underestimated. Given the clue that there was progressive improvements in the guys—
One could be certain which people bought which guns.
“I went there today to be sure of this. Thanks for your help.”
It's those brats from the history research club? Those high school kids killed Ginji-san?
“I'm not too sure.” Major answered. “You can deal with that evidence however you want, but you do not do anything to the R High School history research club. The wrongdoings of the squad is something the leader has to deal with.”
Major turned around, and walked off towards the dark street. The wavy street lights continued to shin on his back, until the camouflage pattent became a little stain in the darkness, vanishing before my eyes.
I put my hand on the railing, the other hand gently holding the plastic bag containing the bullets. Major had been saying everything the entire time, and I could not refute. He came to raid my base, and I could not squeeze the trigger.
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