Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 8 Chapter 2
He was born as the son of a Gunma's second generation Diet member. Eight years ago, he enrolled into T Pharmaceutical University. When he was 19, he went studying abroad to Iran. That's where it all started for him, when he happened to encounter a mutation of a poppy flower. No one can know what name did he give to that flower anymore.
When he returned home, he extracted and purified an alkaloid from that flower, making a new psychotropic drug. That drug that could make you see angels and hear the music from Heaven, those pills with wings carved on them, were scattered on the streets we lived in.
Unlike the sorrowful flower that served as the raw material, people actually knew the name of the drug.
“I wonder why he named it that...”
Holding that deceased person's printed data, I asked Alice that question. The girl on the bed turned her face from the faint light of the countless monitors.
“This is a very unpleasant guess, but...”
Alice started talking with a voice colder than the conditioned air.
“It's probably taken from a James Tiptree Jr. short story. It seems like that man, Hakamizaka Shirou, had the same strange tastes as me.”
“...Is it a story about narcotics?”
“No. It's a story about aliens who take only good people with them to another world. It's a wonderful story, but I don't really know if he thought about it that far.”
Sighing, I threw the data to the bed.
Anyhow, Hakamizaka wanted to be taken by the angels. Most of his companions have also died from overdosing, so his thoughts will remain in the dark for all eternity.
It should have ended that way. Everything should have died out already.
“Two people survived.”
Alice's mutterings made me raise my head.
“Don't you remember? From the seven people of the group in charge of manufacturing and selling Angel Fix, five of them died in the hospital after the incident. But two of them survived.”
I knew one of them. Shinozaki Toshio—Ayaka's older brother.
“Tetsu went to talk to Toshi. The other person is Chigasawa Teruhiko. Yondaime is going to find his whereabouts.”
“...To ask them if there are leftovers of the drug, right?”
“It would be good if it's just that.”
Saying that, Alice turned her back on me and started typing on the keyboard.
“What do you mean?”
“It's been a year since then. Why has Angel fix appeared now, after a whole year? If those mahjong bears just found a stock by chance, it will be okay once that stock is used up completely.”
I understood what Alice was trying to say. The season would change, the flowers would bloom, their petals would scatter and they would finally bear fruit. Maybe someone was manufacturing it again: That's what she meant.
I shivered and felt goosebumps, so I rubbed both of my arms with my hands.
That red powder I had asked Major to examine was indeed Angel Fixed. My wishful thinking had been useless, and the nightmare was still stuck somewhere in the darkness.
“There's a big possibility that the mahjong group is in contact with the manufacturer group.”
Letting my eyes wander, I nodded at Alice's voice.
Those guys cheated by marking the back of the tiles with a transparent ink. They kept winning at the parlor because of that. They probably stuck the ink with their fingertips. What a time-consuming underhanded trick.
Angel Fix greatly enhanced their visual sensitivity. In that world where one could see angels, a mark that should be colorless and transparent rose to the surface, guiding them. That special ink was probably the same ink that was used by the people who sold the Fix directly during that incident a year ago. What kind of connection do they have?
Possibly the mahjong bears weren't the only ones on the move, the manufacturer group too. Why did they start breaking into mahjong parlors this time?
I don't understand. There's not enough information.
“Right now, there's nothing we can do.”, Alice muttered. “We won't have enough information unless we found the group of manufacturers or the mahjong bears. We'll have to wait for Hirasaka-gumi's results.”
I squatted on the cold floor and stared at Alice's dimly lit back, asking her yet another question.
“Shouldn't we leave this to the police?”
“Yondaime and Tetsu won't allow that.”
Without turning her back, Alice answered me with a dry voice.
“Have you forgotten? Fix is a bitter enemy for those two. They're not taking part on this for profit, but for their anger and their honor.”
A Fix addict once stabbed one of Yondaime's underlings. Tetsu-senpai once lost one of his friends because of the drug. However, there was also another deeper and more ambiguous reason. Those red angel wings had corrupted the lives of the NEETs of this city—outcasts just like Senpai and Yondaime, that in a way were like siblings to them.
Senpai and Yondaime didn't blame the people who reached out their hands to the drug on their weakness or stupidity. If the cycle changed only slightly, the darkness they would fell into would probably be themselves. Maybe they even wanted to rescue Hakamizaka Shirou. But that was beyond their power, so they could only keep running... To the angels.
“So, do you intend to poke your nose into this again?”
Alice's voice finally had a little bit of feeling in it. An ill-humored feeling.
“Don't tell me to retreat.”
“Hmph. It's pointless, so I won't say it.” Alice puffed out her cheeks. “Meddle all you want. With your learning abilities, I'm sure that if you were burnt to death and then reborn as a chicken, you'd gladly jump into an oven.”
I scratched my head.
“But, aren't you the same, Alice?”
“What-!?” Alice sprang up on the bed and quickly faced my way. The mountain of stuffed toys crumbled.
“No, I mean, don't you get involved no matter how dangerous some things are? It's the pot calling the kettle black, isn't it?”
“I do not do that kind of stupid things, if I had to look for something in the fire, I'd make sure to use pliers!”
“Then, those 'pliers' would be me, right?”
Alice froze for a few seconds with her mouth half open.
“I was thinking it was unusual for you to try to win an argument against me, but just now the grip on your fists disappeared inside your heart, didn't it?”
She trembled and spoke in a spiteful way, with her cheeks flushed.
“Not true.”, I lied. I wasn't thinking about disproving her, though.
“But what are you saying? That sounds like I'm leaving all the dangerous things in your hands while I shut myself in a safe place, doesn't it-!?”
“It's not like that... Okay, maybe it is like that, but, ahh... Uhm, you see”
I outstretched my hands to calm the furious Alice down and chose my words.
“It's fine that way. I think you and I are fine like this.”
“You're worried because I always end up at the crime scene, but you know-” “I'm not worried, I'm just amazed!” “Don't you occasionally show up there too? That's really worrisome.”
Alice hugged her teddy bear, leaving only her eyes unhidden.
“So, let me handle all the dangerous stuff. I'm happy to do that for you, because I'm your assistant.”
She stamped both white sock-clad feet.
“Limit those embarrassing lines of yours to your poorly written chronicles!”
“Embarrassing, why? I'm just saying that for your sake I--”
“Idiot! Don't repeat it!”
Alice hid herself under her mountain of stuffed toys. It was a little fun to see her, though I really didn't understand what part of what I said was so embarrassing, but then Dr Pepper cans started flying, so I decided to leave that matter alone already.
When I finished picking up the empty cans, I left the Detective Agency. The quickly setting sun of the winter afternoon was awfully bright.
“Fujishima-kun, you skipped the afternoon class again!”
When I went down the emergency stairs, the kitchen door of the ramen shop I was in front of opened, and light brown hair and lifted eyebrows came in sight. Ayaka appeared in front of me, tying up a black apron to her hips.
“Shouldn't you be careful with your attendance? What if you repeat the year?”
“U-uhmm? I have my absences well calculated, so it's okay.”, I lied.
That's right, it's the third term already. At this rate, I won't be able to become a third year student. It was just that the results of the investigation of the powder would come out today and I wanted to know it as soon as possible, so I ended up skipping all the afternoon classes.
“I was absent during most of the first term, but I already caught up!” Ayaka puffed out her chest with pride. That made me feel taken aback, and my body stiffened.
Yes, from January of last year, Ayaka spent four months slumbering in a hospital bed. Vegetative state. Not only those four months were stolen away from her, but also all of her memories.
Those angel wings had harmed her, hurt her.
She would no longer be able to remember. That's why when Ayaka asked “Are you getting into something troublesome again?”, I spoke deceiving words naturally, surprising even myself.
“Yeah, something like that. Yondaime earned quite a lot with that mahjong matter, so he has to launder that money... Ayaka, do you know what money laundering means?”
“No clue.” Ayaka hit her temples with her index fingers and rolled her eyes.
“Oh. Well, anyway, it seems like Yondaime really needs a hand. I can't tell you much more than that.”
“That's fine, but...”
There was some surprise mixed in Ayaka's tone, and that made me feel relieved. Surprise is always good. Since what I said wasn't a complete lie, and in fact about 80% of it was the truth, my lie went smoothly. I've been lying quite a lot lately, I thought. I really didn't feel good about deceiving Ayaka.
“So it's not particularly detective work, is it? You could come to class, right?”
“Ah-- Well, yeah...”
Right, I did say something like that originally.
“Everyone in class were talking about how you're going to become our kouhai and started discussing how they should greet you when they run into you on the corridors! That's so mean.”
Yes, that is mean, so don't tell me about it.
“I wonder if I should just drop out now...”
“What are you saying? No, don't!” Ayaka hit my arm. “At least keep going until the end of the term... The homeroom teacher always goes through the trouble of collecting the prints to hand them over to you and all that...”
“I can just pick them up the next day, so isn't it okay?”
“Not if you completely skip that next day!”
I curled up.
“And someone from the Student Council was looking for you today. You weren't there, so she was very troubled.”
“You're also in the Student Council, I didn't know.”
“Aah....” Right. She didn't know I had joined the Inspection Committee. The person looking for me was probably the head of the committee, Kousaka Yukari-senpai. “A petite, rabbit-like girl?”
“Yes, exactly. She was with a girl with long hair that was wearing a headband showing her forehead. They said they were from the Student Council.”
Kaoruko-senpai too? That kinda makes want to vanish from the school completely. Well, it's not like I hate her or anything like that, but she's so stern that I can't really deal with her.
“It seems like they wanted to ask you favor, so go to school tomorrow and show up at the Student Council, okay?”
“And Sayuri-sensei said that she wanted to help us studying again. I'm also still doing pretty bad, but let's do our best so we can graduate together!”
“Yeah, let's, I guess.”
“I can't hear you!”
“Let's do our best...”
Ayaka firmly raised her thumb and then went back to the kitchen.
I sat on the bear crate and looked up at the winter sky, sighing.
So, getting my head filled with concern about narcotics in a mahjong parlor is easier for me than worrying about studying for high school... This is a serious illness already.
The next day during the lunch break, I showed up at the Student Council room. The number of people in the Student Council had increased since the last time I had been there, so there was a lot of unfamiliar faces. Looking at their class lapel badges, I noticed there were a lot of first year students. Neither Kousaka-senpai nor Kaoruko-senpai were there.
“Fujishima-senpai!” The short girl with short hair who was sitting closest to the door eating her bento looked my way and sprang up. “You came all the way here!”
She ran up to me, so I stepped back to the corridor.
“You left early yesterday, what happened? Were you feeling bad? Are you okay already?”
“Eh? Y-yeah... They told me someone was looking for me.”
“Ah, that would be me.”
Eh? Wasn't it Kousaka-senpai? Well, this girl is certainly small, and Ayaka didn't ask me about my abstract 'rabbit-like' description... Was it because of that rabbit-shaped barrette?
At that moment, someone who was sitting in a desk further into the room got up and ran up to us. She was a long-haired first year student.
“Chinatsu, Fujishima-senpai is here?”, the long-haired girl said, and then she pushed the girl with the rabbit barrette aside and went out to the corridor. When her gaze met mine, she made a sullen face.
“You're in the Inspection Committee but you don't show up at all, what are you thinking!?”
She suddenly thrust her finger in front of me, so I bent backwards.
“Kaya-chan, he finally came here, so don't be mad...” The short-haired girl nervously interposed.
“You're the head of the committee, do something about it!”
“Kaya-chan, you're not even in the Inspection committee, so there's no reason for you to be mad...”
“I'm the Student Council president, so it's my duty to oversee everything!”
Student Council president. Is she the Student Council president? I see, just as Ayaka said, she was a girl with long hair and a headband, showing her forehead.
Right, both Kaoruko-senpai and Kousaka-senpai have long retired already to fully concentrate on their university entrance examinations. I borrowed the power of the Student Council a few times because of an incident at the end of the year, so I was under the impression that I would still see those two there.
Hereupon, this girl called Chinatsu was now the head of the Inspection committee. She gave out a similar aura to that of Kousaka-senpai.
She hesitatingly spoke to the student council president:
“We have a favor to ask Fujishima-senpai, so--”
“Chinatsu, be quiet.” the president said flatly. My jaw dropped at the intense feeling of deja vu.
I was dragged to the Inspection room that was beside the Student Council room. There was no one in that room. It was surrounded by coarse steel shelves, and the heat didn't reach, so it was also unpleasantly cold.
“By the way, Fujishima-senpai, you really don't remember us, huh.”
Saying that, the president glared at me.
I've seen them before somewhere, right?
“I see. It's just like Hayano-senpai said. He just doesn't care about anything or anyone related to school.”
'Hayano' is the former Student Council president, Kaoruko-senpai. Seems like there's no decent comments about me at all...
“Senpai only came to help out at the Inspection room once last year!” Chinatsu-chan said, looking like she was about to cry. “Even though Kousaka-senpai took the trouble to introduce us! Even though you gave me your autograph!” I'm sorry, my memory is bad... Wha- Autograph!?
“I'm Kenzaki.”, the Student Council president said in a sullen manner. “Kenzaki Kayako. The Student Council President. And this is the head of the Inspection committee, Ayukawa Chinatsu. She's your superior, so at least remember her name, please.”
“I'm Ayukawa! Don't forget anymore, okay?”
I looked at them and nodded faintly, thinking about what should I say in response.
“...You're both first years. Isn't it tough to be the president and the head of a committee?”
“Second year students like Fujishima-senpai are unreliable.”, Kenzaki-san replied immediately, not losing her chance to criticize me again.
“Kaya-chan, this isn't the time to be bullying senpai... The main problem, the main problem!”, Chinatsu-chan grabbed Kenzaki-san's arm.
Kenzaki-san cleared her throat and looked at me again.
“You're right. I'm sorry, senpai.”
“D-don't worry... But, main problem?”
“Senpai, do you deal with compensated dating?”
“...Excuse me-!?” I unintentionally let out a weird cry.
“Wait, Kaya-chan, don't ask it like that!”
“Be quiet, Chinatsu.”, Kenzaki-san pushed the short-haired head aside. “Fujishima-senpai, you have connections with a gangster organization, so you must manage many love hotels, clubs, karaokes and the like, right?”
I looked up at the two dust-stained fluorescent lamps on the ceiling. Instead of repeating the year, I should just quietly drop out, I decided in my heart. I don't want to be thrown into these weird rumors for an extra year.
“Err... It's nothing like that. I'm just a high school student.”
“But Chinatsu said--” Kenzaki-san glared at Chinatsu-chan who was by her side.
“I-I didn't say that! I only said that Fujishima-senpai was the number two of a gang that manages all the night shops!”
Isn't that pretty much the same? In fact, that way it sounds like I'm showing off!
I felt like I didn't have the energy to explain, but I didn't want the first years to keep spreading that big lie, so I summoned up my patience and spoke:
“You know, Hirasaka-gumi is not a gangster organization. It's more like a delinquent-vigilante group. They're all in their twenties, and I'm not a member, I just help them out from time to time.”
“But, they do manage clubs and things like that, don't they?”, Chinatsu-chan asked.
“Aah... I think so?”
I help Yondaime out with his business really often, but I don't know much about them. He's a VIP at lots of clubs, so it wouldn't surprise me if he actually managed two or three of them.
“So you are well informed about paid dating, right? Right?”
Please stop asking like that. Do I look like someone who would know about paid dating?
“No, I'm not informed at all. What about it?” These two couldn't possibly involved in something like that, right?
“We heard a rumor.” Kenzaki-san sat on the long desk and lowered her gaze, muttering. “Someone from this school meets up with... An adult man, at karaokes and places like that...”
I breathed out from my nose and scratched my head.
“That's, uhm... Uh, why is the Student Council worried about that?”
“Doesn't it worry you, senpai!?” Kenzaki-san slapped the desk. “It's illegal!”
Come to think of it, I have been involved in several illegal matters, so I'm really not in a position to go proudly preaching about morals.
“Uhm, besides...” Chinatsu-chan couldn't help opening her mouth to interpose. “If she's found out, she'll be suspended from her club activities, the teachers won't shut up about it, and it will be really troublesome. Right now, the female basketball, tennis and softball clubs are doing really well, so...”
Even so, is that something the Student Council should be concerned about?
“And what do you want me to do?”
I noticed after I spoke that my way of talking had been extremely cold.
“W-well, I was wondering if you could use your connections to check up on the karaokes and clubs and all that... We still don't know if someone's doing paid dating or not.... And if you found someone doing it, you could indirectly warn her...”
Do you even know how many karaokes and clubs this city has? I was about to tell her that, but actually, if I asked Yondaime, maybe he could do something.
They both bowed their heads at the same time.
“...Did anything else happen?”
It's just, no matter how you looked at it, something was weird. It didn't seem like these high school girls were poking their noses into something like this just because of their sense of duty as members of the Student Council.
Chinatsu-chan and Kenzaki-san exchanged glances and hesitated, staying silent for a moment. The first one who decided to finally open her mouth was Kenzaki-san.
“Haven't you heard, senpai? About... That.”
She hesitated midway through her words, so it was difficult to understand what she was saying, but I had a hunch that I knew what she meant.
--She was talking about those assaults.
They both explained alternately. Since the winter break, there had been several rape attempts, the targets being high school girls from the neighborhood. Two of those incidents had ended in an uproar, so quite a lot of rumors were spread. All of the perpetrators had escaped and none of them were arrested.
“But, it's more than just a rumor.” Chinatsu-chan said, knitting her brows.
The victims were all previously flirted at and had accepted money: In other words, compensated dating. If the girls reported the crimes they would be found out by their parents and their schools, so they could only resign themselves, and the police didn't move.
“Do you know the victims?”
When I asked that, both of them shook their heads.
“But, there's actually someone who was present at the crime scene.”
Just when Chinatsu-chan said that, I heard the sound of a door opening behind me.
“Sorry I'm late. Still working?”
I turned around upon hearing the voice of a girl, and my eyes met a figure in an awfully short uniform skirt. Her hair was completely bleached into light brown, and she was wearing flashy lip gloss. She covered her mouth with a hand when she saw me; her fingers were adorned with nail art. She looked liked one of those stylish girls you usually see loitering around the city center.
“Ah, Hana-chan, sorry for calling you all the way here! This is Fujishima-senpai whom I told you about earlier.”, Chinatsu-chan said. It seemed like this other girl had been called on the phone before I came to the Inspection room. When she saw me again, she put a plainly frightened expression.
“Eh- F-fujishima? ...Uhm, -that- Fujishima from Hirasaka-gumi?”
The fact that a high school girl I was meeting for the first time had that impression about me me made me feel depressed.
“Senpai, you're famous!”
Chinatsu-chan looked happy for some reason. Kenzaki-san cleared her throat in displeasure again, making Chinatsu-chan shut up instantly. The light brown-haired stepped back to run off the Inspection room.
Chinatsu-chan hastily rushed through my side and grabbed the wrist of the girl who was trying to run away.
“It's okay, senpai is a tight-lipped person!”
“Come on, just enter!”
Chinatsu-chan pulled her back into the Inspection room and closed the door, introducing us. Her name was Hishida Hanae, and she was Chinatsu-chan and Kenzaki-san's classmate who had been helping out with the Inspection committee lately.
“Since Fujishima-senpai doesn't do anything, there's lot of work piled up.” Kenzaki-san said, glaring at me.
“....Eh? Fujishima-senpai was on the Inspection committee?”
Hishida-san widened her eyes.
“Yes, but since senpai can't do Inspection work at all, I've been asking you to do the tasks he should be doing... Sorry about that!”
Upon hearing Chinatsu-chan's words, Hishida-san looked at her and me in turn a few times.
“More importantly, Hana-chan, uhm, you see! About... That incident. I was wondering if you could talk to senpai about that...”
With a look of uneasiness on her face, Hishida-san intermittently glanced at me.
“Talk? Is that okay...?”
“It's fine, you can trust Fujishima-senpai!” Chinatsu-san, what do you know about me? “Senpai is so awesome that not even the police could catch him!”
Chinatsu-chan, that's... Kinda wrong. Yeah, well, I still don't have a criminal record even though I occasionally do some stuff that could land me in jail, but it's still wrong! Look, Hishida-san is looking discouraged already.
“Mmh.” Hishida-san pursed her lips. “But I was actually just being a rubberneck back then...”
“With just the time and the place, Fujishima-senpai will definitely settle this, so don't worry! That's why he's called the No Hint Detective.” You got only the first N and the last T right!
“U-uuhm, senpai, so you look for criminals and all that?”
“No, well, I don't think I could go so far, but I might be able to investigate things like who was the victim, or if she was a student from this school...”
In the end, I got carried away because Chinatsu-chan and Kenzaki-san insisted.
“Uhm, when you investigate, please don't tell anyone I was the one who spoke...”
I nodded at Hishida-san's words. He could trust me on that one. Hishida-san's eyes wandered, then she took a deep breath and began speaking while twisting up her light brown hair.
“The third day of the New Year, when I went to the karaoke with a friend--”
After school, I went directly to Hirasaka-gumi's office. All of the men in black shirts were absent, which was unusual, and just Yondaime could be seen inside in his desk.
“High school girls that were attacked?”
When he heard what I said, Yondaime knitted his brows.
“You mean the one attacked at the karaoke during the third day of the year, or the one that was attacked last week at the hotel behind E-Space?”
I widened my eyes. Not only he already knew about the incident I was told about, he also knew about another case. Right, Chinatsu-chan did say two of the cases had ended up in an uproar.
“Aah, uhm, the karaoke one. A kouhai from my school happened to see the disturbance.”
I didn't inquire about Hishida-san's story as there wasn't anything conclusive. She was singing with her friends and heard the sound of a glass breaking, and then the loud noise of something collapsing. When she went out to the corridor, the door at the end was broken, and inside the room there was a girl with her clothes roughly torn apart who had broken down crying. An employee rushed in immediately, but the criminal had ran away already. The employee was then going to call the police, but the victim persistently said “It's nothing, don't call them”.
“I'm listening. So what?”
“These girls asked me if I could find out if the girl was a student from my school, and...”
“So no one knows who the girl they attacked was?”
“She said she caught a glance of her uniform, but couldn't see her face clearly. There's no way she would know the faces of all the students, anyway...”
“Hmph. If you want to prevent those crimes, call the whole school to an assembly and tell them 'wear your uniforms when you're doing compensated dating'.”
“...Why?” I seriously asked that question. As if I could do something like that!
“If they wear their uniforms, at least they can't be taken to hotels against their will. Or they end up like that girl at the karaoke, mere attempts.”
I see. I haven't thought about it that wait. ...Wait, that's not the point!
“Err, then, what about the incident at the hotel behind E-Space? I don't know about that case, though.”
“It was a similar incident.”
That other case happened at midnight last weekend. The receptionist heard a scream, so when he broke into the room, he found a girl who had collapsed with red strangling marks on her neck and wrists. The bed stand and the modular sound system had been knocked over, and the ones who cleaned up the disastrous scene also saw her. Since the girl was a high schooler, the hotel didn't contact the police. It was indeed a similar incident.
“This is just a guess based on rumors, but the girl from the student council told me that the criminals could actually be the same person in both cases...”
Yondaime glared at my face in a bad mood.
“Do you know the common methods in compensated dating? The first one or two times are usually consented, then they force them to drink alcohol and suddenly attack them...”
“Wow, you're way better informed than me...”
As expected from the king of the street youth. Obviously he would know about that kind of stuff.
“That's just what I heard. None of the shops told me to do anything about that so I won't meddle. It's not my problem if dumb girls want to sell themselves cheaply.”
As usual, he drew a cool-headed line.
“If you want to investigate, go ahead and do what you want. I don't have connections with the karaoke, but I know the people from the hotel so you can talk to them.”
“Really? Thank you.”
I didn't know why he was being so kind, so I was perplexed. Then, he added in a low voice:
“Compared to be poking your nose into the Fix matter, it's a lot less troublesome for you to investigate some unrelated pervert.”
I bit my lower lip and fell silent, then I let my words out together with a sigh.
“...This time, I've been wondering if I shouldn't get involved too much on that...”
“That's strange. Thought you'd want to meddle.”
“I'm bad with secrets, so if I help I could end up blurting out something to Ayaka...”
“I don't care about your boring problems. I'll report my progress to you, too. We don't know what could happen so you have to be aware of the situation.”
I sighed and nodded. Helping Alice to arrange the news was my duty as an assistant, huh.
“Chigasawa Teruhiko is missing. His last trace of activity was a phone call to his parents in November of last year.”
I raised my head and was pierced by Yondaime's drilling gaze.
The last survivor of Angel Fix's production group.
“He wasn't involved in the production because he was just an underling of the group, so he's on probation. He dropped out of university, so he was a NEET living only on allowance in an apartment bought by his parents. My men are searching that apartment now.”
And don't even ask how we got Chigasawa's parents to hand us the key, he said in a lower voice.
“I heard about Toshi from Tetsu.”
This time, I couldn't nod nor shake my head.
Ayaka's older brother who was involved in the selling of Fix. He was the only member of the group who was less than 18 years old at the time of the incident, so he was now put on probation. Since their parents are divorced, Ayaka lives with their mother while Toshi-san lives with their father.
“Anyway, we still know next to nothing. The guys from the mahjong parlors have also disappeared. No matter how many pictures from the security cameras we printed and distributed to look for them, it's a war of attrition.”
“...Has the drug appeared again since then?”
“I still won't talk about that, I only said I'd tell you about the information at hand.”
You said you wanted to chase after that pervert so go focus on that, you idiot, he said and then kicked me out of the office.
When I showed up at the NEET Detective Agency, Tetsu-senpai was already there, sitting on the edge of the bed. Alice glanced at me and typed on the keyboard. It seemed like they were playing an audio file. The file was rewound and a voice was heard.
"No, I don't know.... They're selling it? Isn't it someone buying stockpiles?"
That hoarse, slightly loud voice made my memories creak like a dusty splintered old door opening. Toshi-san. Toshi-san's voice.
"The other guys.... Chigasawa-san? Isn't he the only one alive...? A-ah, ah, yes, right. ...No, I don't know him at all. I only told him guided him to the greenhouse."
"It's true. I don't know anything!"
"Hakamizaka-san.... He was not right in the head. It was kinda like he... Yeah, like he wanted to create a religion. I didn't know what he was thinking."
Toshi-san's voice gradually turned into whispers to the point I couldn't hear him quite clearly. Alice let out a small sigh and stopped the file.
“This information is practically useless, huh...”
Alice shrugged when she said that, and Tetsu-senpai nodded.
“But, well, I made him promise he would call me immediately if something happens.”
“Since it's Toshi, he's probably shut in alone.”
“I go to see him once in a while. He never lasts long at part-time jobs and all that and mostly stays shut in.”
Tetsu-senpai got up. When we passed each other near the fridge, he grabbed my shoulders and pushed me aside.
“Leave this Fix thing to me. If possible, you don't do anything.”
Not doing anything if possible.
That choice of words had a weird feeling of kindness, so I couldn't say anything.
“That thing is my prey. To be honest I didn't want Yondaime to take part on this either, but as expected, it's impossible not to rely on Hirasaka-gumi's power.”
The sound of Tetsu-senpai's footsteps walking away behind my back grew distant until they were cut off by the sound of the door opening and closing.
Tetsu-senpai lost one of his friends—Minagawa Kengo, to the Angel Fix.
His hatred for those red angels might be even stronger than Yondaime's. Only once I caught a glimpse of Tetsu-senpai's inner beast. It was the first time I felt real murderous intent directed towards me.
“Yondaime told me on the phone just now. It seems like you're moving onto a different case, huh?”
I came to when I heard Alice's voice and I entered the bedroom.
“Y-yeah... Some kouhais asked me.”
“Is there a remuneration?
“No, it's just a favor. Since I never do anything at the Student Council, I couldn't exactly refuse.”
“Be a little more conscious about your job as a professional detective's assistant.”
Alice turned around. There was no anger in her big round eyes, just surprise.
“Well, it doesn't matter, as long as you give priority to your tasks here. If you need me to cooperate with that other case, I'll deduct the investigation fee from your salary. With interests and in advance.”
No matter how you look at her, this NEET Detective is a really greedy person. I sighed. Wouldn't it be easier to just tell me that it's absolutely unthinkable for me to neglect my work as an assistant?
Now that I thought about it, being busier meant less time to think about unnecessary stuff. If Ayaka gets suspicious about the NEET Detective Squad being on the move and asks 'Another case?' I could just say 'We're chasing after a pervert'.
When I knelt in front of the bed, Alice opened her mouth again.
“I understand the reason why you changed your mind.”
“You have decided not to get too involved in the Angel Fix matter, haven't you?”
When I came here yesterday, I told Alice that I would be her hands and feet for this case and showed her a great fighting spirit, but today I was saying the exact opposite. And now it seemed like the guilt smoldering inside my chest had been seen through.
“It's for Ayaka's sake, isn't it?”
“I'm glad I have such a sharp employer.”
I tried to make fun of her, but it didn't go well.
“I don't need your boring sarcasm. I'm simply lost.”
“To know is to die. But a part of Ayaka is already dead already. What should I, a NEET Detective, do? Should I use my words as a sword and kill Ayaka once again?”
I placed my hands on the edge of the bed and stared at the detective's face without understanding.
“....What are you talking about? Killing Ayaka again? It's fine if we just don't let Ayaka know anything, what are you saying?”
Alice brought a raccoon stuffed toy and a blanket close to her chest.
“For now. And I also pray that it continues that way forever.”
“You mean, without having to get Ayaka to remember something about Fix?”
“In other words, it means the possibility exists.”
I climbed up to the bed and edged close to Alice.
“Why? That's impossible, isn't it? And the guys that made the drug that Ayaka had contact with were also Toshi-san's acquaintances, so what Ayaka would know, Toshi would know it too. There's no need for Ayaka to cooperate.”
“That's why I'm praying that it stays that way.”
Alice hid her expressionless face under her black hair and turned her back to me.
I exited the Detective Agency. The short winter day was quickly ending and it was already getting dark. As I was going down the chilly emergency stairs, I thought back upon every single word Alice had said.
A part of Ayaka was already dead.
Killing her again.
The possibility... of making Ayaka remember things related to those red angels? What the hell. I don't understand. I shook my head. My white breath coiled as I sighed, and ran down the last steps of the stairs.
From the next day on, I immediately started investigating the assault incidents, because I really didn't want to think about Ayaka and the possibility that Alice had talked about.
Yondaime had told me he knew the people from there, so I skipped the afternoon classes and went to the hotel where one of the incidents had taken place. It was on the outskirts of the city center, in a noisy, crowded corner. I'm not old enough to be allowed in a love hotel, but I've walked this hotel district countless times already, and lately, for some reason I've unfortunately been remembering the names and locations of the hotels.
The love hotel Juliana had a tasteless European castle-styled exterior, but if you went around it, you could see it was a sloppy, dirty building with cracked concrete, as if the facade was some kind of splendid papier mache. A great number of vinyl bags were piled up on the side of the back door squeezed inside a linen sack.
They should have brought this case to Yondaime by the time of the incident, I thought. If they had moved faster, maybe the identity of the victim would had been found out in the blink of an eye.
If I go right now, there might still be something left.
On the way, I started doubting. I'm just a high schooler. I really don't want to be seen around love hotels in broad daylight, let alone at said hotels' back doors.
When I mustered up my courage and stepped in front of the steel door, I heard a heavy and loud cracking noise coming from above that caused me to look up and gasp. It came from the window of the second floor. The window's frame was entirely bent from the wall, and something that looked like sand –rust, probably- was sprinkling down.
The voice of a young woman surged through the crack of the window frame. The next second, the sash creaked loudly and came off completely. A half-naked girl fell down together with the glass and the sash. For a moment, I was unable to move my legs or any part of my body.
Fortunately for her, the linen sack was right below. The stiffled collision sound echoed, and I quickly turned my face away. The metal and glass continued creaking, so I rushed in hot haste.
“Are you okay-!?”
The girl in underwear was collapsed face up over the broken glass, and she looked in my direction. Her back had probably collided strongly against the window, and then the sash came off.
When I got closer to her, I noticed she looked really young; she was either a university student, or in the worst-case scenario, a high school student. Blood was flowing from under her shoulders, she had probably been cut by the glass. I lifted her up from the sash by the armpits.
I heard a small 'hih-!' from above and looked up at the hole in the wall, result of the disastrous circumstance, and saw a fat middle-aged man peeking in with a frightened face. He was naked, abnormally goggle-eyed, his lips were purple and he had thick reddish black bags under his lower lids. When his eyes encountered mine, he let out a high-pitched cry again and ducked his face.
What's with that guy? Was he... The one who attacked this girl? Should I chase after him? But what should I do with this girl? It could turn out bad if I call an ambulance.
With those thoughts in my head, I finally called Yondaime.
“Yes, in that hotel's back door... It's seems like a girl has been attacked.”
In the middle of my conversation on the phone, the back door opened abruptly, and a man in a shirt and a vest appeared; probably an employee from the hotel.
The employee halted mid-sentence and was startled when he saw the girl in my arms, then he quickly looked up and noticed the hole in the wall.
“Please catch that guy-!” I shouted, pointing upwards, and the employee went back inside.
The girl squirmed, and I covered her body with my duffle coat.
She opened her eyes and quickly tried to get up, moaning because of the pain in her back.
“Don't move! You might have broken bones.”
The girl bit her lip and shook her head, supporting herself with her hands to try to get up again. She rose her upper body and looked around restlessly, like she couldn't accept what had just happened. She had black hair and wore light makeup; I assumed she was probably around a year younger than me. Her whole body was trembling because of the cold.
“Ah.... M-my clothes....”
“Let's go inside for now...”
“I have to escape.... gh-, ugh.....”
“No, you can't!”
Was she doing compensated dating? Does she want to run away so badly because it will be bad if she's found out? Anyway, she might be related to the case so I can't let her get away.
“I won't call the police and if your wounds aren't serious I won't call an ambulance either! Calm down!”
My words didn't quite seem to get to her, and she started crawling on the concrete floor, dragging my duffle coat.
At that moment, I heard a voice behind me.
When I turned around, I saw two huge men in black T-shirts running to me from the top of the deserted slope. I let out a sigh of relief: I'm saved.
Yondaime and the owner of the hotel who was a skinny man with a 'rural yakuza' aura also appeared at the same time. The girl was taken to a tight-lipped doctor Yondaime knows.
The young man I had seen for just a moment on the back door seemed to be the receptionist, and he was between Yondaime and the owner in the office.
“Sorry, the man ran away...”
The receptionist looked depressed as he said that.
“Oshima!! You idiot, that was a high schooler again, wasn't it!? Imbecile! Just reject them at the entrance! Are you blind or what!?”
The owner flew into a rage and scolded the receptionist, then he turned to see Yondaime and bowed his head to him.
“Sou-san, I beg you not to say anything about this. They'd cancel my business permit...”
“More importantly, do you remember the face of the man?”
“Eh, ah, no, not much....”
The receptionist curled up.
“I saw his face. I'll draw a portrait.”, I interjected.
Yondaime glared at me, and then he told “get us some pen and paper” to the young receptionist called Oshima. I took the pen and paper and calmly started to reconstruct the face of that middle-aged man from my memories in my mind.
“We should have footage from the security cameras from the time he walked through the front right?”
“Ah, right, I'll rewind it now.” Oshima ducked his head.
“Do you have any footage of the other uproar left?” Yondaime inquired.
“Y-yeah, there should be a week worth of footage, probably.”
“Let's compare it with that, then. It could be the same man.”
Could it really be the same man? I mean, after causing an uproar with a paid date and running away from this hotel, would he come back and do the same thing again?
“T-that, I-I'll look for that too, right now.”
I'll make it up to you, he said with his face pale, bowing his head countless times.
When I grabbed the pen nib and stared at the white paper while hearing them converse, I suddenly got a feeling of uneasiness. The face of the man who was peeking out from the hole in the wall caused by the torn of window frame. There was something about his face. Trying to find that clue, I remembered his face. I started sliding the pen nib over the paper. A gourd-shaped face, double chin, slightly pushed out thick lips and sunken eyes, and his lower lids---
His lower lids.
My hand froze on the spot. I closed my eyes and recalled that instant once again. The man had pronounced bags under his eyes. Dry blood-colored, reddish-black bags.
The bitter taste inside my mouth was revived. My brain had flashbacks of that feeling of intoxication, that feeling of being peeled off the reality, and that tremendous brightness.
It can't be.
Are you related this time, again?
“...What's wrong, Gardening Club kid?” Yondaime said.
The chair rattled as I stood up.
“Was the man like this?” I showed the portrait to Oshima.
“A-ah, aah, yes, that looks like him.”
Hearing his answer, I quickly slapped the paper against the desk and drew over the lower lids with so much strength that I almost broke the pen nib.
“He had blood congestions on his lower lids.”
Yondaime lowered his brows in a grim expression.
That reddish-black blood congestion on the lower lids is the evidence left on the people who can't understand the angels' whispers--
Angel Fix's rejection.
The night of the same day, the whole team was reunited at the NEET Detective Agency for the first time in a while. Tetsu-senpai was at the right side of Alice's bed, Hiro-san at the left, Major was sitting at its feet, and Yondaime was standing by the bedroom's entrance with his arms crossed. There was no more room, so I was sitting on the bed by Alice's side.
“Once again, this is a request from Yondaime. We have to catch the paid dating molester.” Alice said, looking at all of us.
“Since the group of mahjong bears couldn't be caught, the investigation resources are no longer unrelated. Tetsu, Major, Hiro, you three focus on the molester. If he's related to the Fix, that might lead us to the mahjong group.”
“Is it confirmed that the same pervert rapist bastard committed all the crimes?” Crossing his arms too, Tetsu-senpai asked in a low voice.
“Not confirmed yet.” Yondaime answered. “Two of the incidents were at that hotel Juliana, so the guy from the hotel said he was gonna look for the footage of the case from before. Hiro, you look for the victims of the other times and confirm it.”
“Okay. Narumi-kun, you said you knew a girl who heard rumors about one of the incidents, right? From the Student Council, was it? Tell me her name.”
Chinatsu-chan's classmate who helped out at the Inspection committee, I think her name was Hishida Hanae-san.
“But I can talk to her when I go to school...”
“No, leave it to me. This is my field of expertise.”
That shine in his eyes is incredibly suspicious. This guy is definitely taking advantage of the circumstances. I should warn her not to get close to Hiro-san.
“There's also the girl who was attacked today...”
“I'll go see her. I want to find out about her identity.” Major said.
“I'll go to the police again. If they know his face, they can try tailing this guy too.” Tetsu-senpai's gaze fell into the copy of the portrait I had drawn. “I wonder if this old man decided to take the Fix and attacked the girl by himself, or there's someone behind this...”
“There might be a crazy person playing god and distributing it again...” Hiro-san said. “They could be intending to get people to take the drug and assault people, or something like that... Didn't that Hakamizaka have that kind of motives?”
“We can't know what that man was thinking anymore. We can only speculate.” Alice bluntly interrupted Hiro-san's words. “Yondaime, go to the hotels, karaokes and clubs and thoroughly find out if there have been similar incidents. The victims could have arranged their compensated dates through their cellphones or the net, so I'll look into that, it should be easy.”
Long hair slipped off the light blue pajama-clad shoulders. The detective stood up. When she turned around, her hair spread up like a jellyfish, gently brushing my cheek as I was still squatting by her side.
“I won't tell you to cast your hatred aside. I can't do something like that. But threaten the second law of thermodynamics, and efficiently change that hatred into your ability to take action.”
The four people surrounding me nodded at the same time.
“Oh, and leave from the front.”
Upon hearing the words Alice added, everyone's gazes turned to the monitors of the security cameras for a moment.
“Yeah” “Understood” “Alright”
The four backs full of confidence were sucked into the darkness of the door frame of the entranceway.
No one asked the reason they should leave from the front door that was never used. Everyone knew already. I also saw the silhouette of the person reflected in the security cameras: Ayaka was carrying empty beer bottles and trash bags from the kitchen door.
If they used the emergency stairs that gave onto the kitchen door and passed in front of Hanamaru, Ayaka would see the furious-looking detective squad and would surely sense the tension. She's always been sharper than me. If possible, I didn't want her to see anything concerning this case. The others wished the same.
...At least in that occasion.
Yondaime pierced me with his gaze before leaving, and I was left behind in the cold darkness by Alice's side.
Wouldn't it be better if I wasn't here?, I suddenly thought.
If I returned to my normal existence for a while, going from home to school and from school to home, I'd end up not keeping up to date with the progress of the investigation, and I could smile naturally to Ayaka every morning when I saw her in the classroom. I wouldn't need to nervously chose my words as if I was picking them up with tweezers from a printed paper. And there was nothing I could do, anyway.
“What's the matter? Are you that displeased by the fact that I didn't assign a task to you?” Alice said, still by my side. “Didn't you say you wanted to stay as less involved as possible with anything related to the Fix? You have contributed to the investigation with your portrait anyway, so you can be proud of yourself.”
“Uh.... Mh, you see...”
When I told her I was thinking about not coming to the Detective Agency for a while, Alice's black hair suddenly sprang up, hitting my cheek. It was because she had abruptly turned around. Various facial expressions danced on her face, and a sullen one remained in the end.
“D-do as you please!”
Alice turned to the keyboard.
“If you want to return to your useless, meaningless, lethargic, Mughal Dynasty existence, then by all means, do it!” “What was that about Mughal?” “That was just an alliteration!”
The keys being hit started to sound as if she wanted to punch a hole in concrete.
“For each day that you don't show up here, I'll deduct it from your salary, your debt will swell up as gloriously as the Napier Number.”
What the hell. If you want me to come everyday you could just say it.
“N-nobody said such thing! I'm just talking about money!”
Uwah. It's been a while since the last time I accidentally leaked out my thoughts out loud. “Aah, okay... Sorry.”
“Whatever. If I use a stool I'll be able to do the laundry without falling into the washing machine, if I use the handle of a spoon I can easily pull the tabs of the Dr Pepper cans, and if I use Major's specially designed hydraulic chopstick splitter I will be able to split the chopsticks myself!”
“No, well, if you grab the end of the splittable chopsticks and open them slowly, you'll easily split them.”
“Wha--, y-you should have said that sooner! Do you know how much money I invested in the development of that equipment—No! That's not the point!”
“Sorry. I was really being an idiot. I'll surely come over to help you from tomorrow on, Alice.”
“When did I say I was lonely!?”
“I didn't say that either. You just said it, actually.”
“A-a-ah....” Alice turned dark red and trembled, embracing Lililoo and hiding her face behind it. “F-forget about that immediately!”
Why? Doesn't everyone already know you're lonely?, I thought, but if I carried on with this subject, it would turn complicated, so I cleared my throat and spoke again:
“Anyway, I reconsidered. I said it was for Ayaka's sake and all that, but I can't skip my duties as an assistant.”
Because I have to become a windbreak for Ayaka's sake. If I just cover my own eyes and shrink down, what good will that do? I have to stand up and see what the wind brings with my own eyes.
“Hmph. Are you saying you just want to wiggle up and down? If you want to become a street performer, then do it in front of the station. Go knock some empty cans, I don't care in the least.”
“I said I'm sorry...”
But when I turned around and walked to the entrance, I heard Alice's voice behind my back.
“Stay until 19:00 when you come. If you don't, Ayaka will ignore my orders and bring me whatever food she wants, so she will force me to eat a lot of noodles and meat.”
She suppressed the happiness in her voice, trying not to sound cheerful, but she still did.
The next day after school, I went to the Inspection room in order to talk to Chinatsu-chan once again. The Inspection room and the Student Council room are on the third floor where are the first year classrooms are, and a relaxed atmosphere could be felt on the corridors after the bell rang. Watching my innocent juniors happily chatting and coming and going at a quick pace, I once again thought I really can't afford to repeat the year.
I was surprised by the face I saw at the entrance of the Inspection room. The one who was coming out was Hishida-san, the witness of the karaoke incident. Well, it wasn't really unexpected. She did say she helped out at the Inspection committee.
Hishida-san was more surprised than me. She closed the door behind her in confusion. Why are you so scared?
“Is Chinatsu-chan here?”
“No, she's not... Didn't she go back to the classroom?”
Should I wait then? No, I can just talk to Hishida-san.
“Uhm, you only told Chinatsu-chan, Kenzaki-san and me about the incident you witnessed, right?
Hishida-san nodded with dubious eyes.
“That's good. Please don't talk about it to anyone else. Specially at school.”
I said that because I didn't want anything to appear in front of Ayaka's eyes, but Hishida-san suddenly drew closer to me.
“I-isn't that obvious!?”
The raising of her voice made me step back, surprised.
“Of course I won't say anything, I wasn't even sure I should tell you, senpai!”
I extended my hands to calm her down. Hishida-san bit her lip and lowered her gaze. I felt her anger vaporizing from her shoulders.
Muttering that, she went running through the corridor. I thought about chasing after her, but then again, I just wanted to warn her.
I blew it. I should have let Hiro-san deal with it using his skills. I really don't know what to say to people I don't know, but Hiro-san had always been a lot better than me at it.
But what the hell was that? Was what I said really something to get so mad about? I really don't understand the first year girls' involvement in this matter at all, like Chinatsu-chan and Kenzaki-san---
When I turned around at the lively voice, Chinatsu-chan was skipping towards me, with her bunny barrette in her hair.
“You came to report your progress!? I'm thrilled!”
Right, I don't fully understand the reason behind Chinatsu-chan and the other girls' request. The other day, I got carried away with the serious topic about the serial paid dating incidents, so I can't really ask any further anymore. Well, it could be a simple school-loving spirit.
Chinatsu-chan entered the Inspection room with me.
“I didn't make any important progress, but before that-” I closed the door behind me. “I don't think you have told anyone, but don't tell anyone else about this case. I don't want rumors to keep spreading anymore...”
When I showed up at Hirasaka-gumi's office, I was greeted by two of the black-shirted men with an “Aniki, thanks for your hard work!” and a respectful bow. Lately, the lackeys are always out and the office is really quiet.
“Just now, a guy called Oshima brought a DVD, saying that you or Sou-san would understand or something like that.”
“He said something about a hotel and paid dating, so it must be a video from that, uhehe”
I remembered. The receptionist from the Juliana hotel where the assaults happened. He probably brought the footage from the security cameras.
“That Oshima was a youngster, his eyes were all red and he had green bags under his eyes, so he probably spent the whole night making this video--”
“No, he probably spent the night looking for the corresponding section... Where's that DVD?”
“Ah, everyone's watching it inside.”
The men in black shirts were swarming like cockroaches around the PC desk of the storage room/bedroom.
“It's been showing the front for some time now, what is this shit!?” “Get to the stripping scene already!”
“Shouldn't we just hit the H key?” “Alright, leave it to me!” “Click on the woman's tits!”
“What are you doing...”
“Ah! Aniki, perfect timing! Please use your god hand to make the high school girl from the video strip!” “It doesn't ever get to the sexy scene!” “Aniki, we beg you!”
I first thought about using my expulsion method on the black shirt men: Drawing a woman in a sexy pose on a piece of paper, show it to them and throw it out the window. But I wasn't in the mood to do that, so I took out my cellphone.
“Ooh! Aniki took out his cellphone!”
“Awesome! He's writing a mail with just his thumbs!” Using other fingers would be difficult, you know.
“He's writing a mail to Sou-san that reads 'Please come right now'!” “As expected from Aniki!” “The only people in this world who could send such a mail to Sou-san are Nee-san and Aniki!” “Sou-san will come running!”
Nine minutes later, Yondaime really did come, and the men in black shirts were knocked out one by one without exception.
“Stop slacking off, you good-for-nothings! Didn't you have to ask around the hotels?!”
As I saw the guys scurrying away, I started to worry that their stupidity was growing bigger every day.
“Have you watched the footage already?” Yondaime said, glaring at me.
“Ah, n-no, not yet, I was about to.”
When I played it on the PC, I noticed it was a really short video.
“What? Did that receptionist take the trouble of editing it?” Yondaime let out a shocked voice.
The image projected in the monitor was of a rough black and white. The front counter of this love hotel looked like a ticket seller from a zoo, and it was filmed obliquely from above. The date and the hour displayed at the lower right were from a Saturday a week before, at midnight. Perhaps this is the time when the incident happened. The person paying at the front and taking a key was the plump middle-aged man I had drawn. He had a gray down jacket and old-fashioned corduroy pants. Standing at a little distance was a flashy young woman with sun burnt shoulders; a different girl from the one I had seen yesterday, of course. The video stopped when the couple that looked like a parent and a daughter because of the age difference disappeared at the right side. After some static, the image started again. The date and hour were yesterday's early afternoon. The middle-aged man paying at the front was wearing a worn out trench coat and a suit. With the exception of the black-haired girl that was now in the video, it was the same as the first half; obviously, since the camera had a fixed position. That black-haired girl was without a doubt the girl who had fallen from the window.
Yondaime who was standing beside the PC desk stretched his hand and stopped the video.
“Looks like it. But, why would he go to the same hotel twice...?”
“Maybe he's just stupid, I don't know.” Yondaime said. Then he told me about the girl from yesterday. After she was attacked, she was examined by the underground doctor Yondaime is acquainted with. Her only injuries were bruises and lacerations, nothing serious, so she could go home.
The doctor then explained the situation to Yondaime. The girl's name was Toritani Shinobu, a 17-year-old who attends an all-girls private school in the metropolitan area. Her connection with the man who was with her couldn't be known at all, and what was worse, the cellphone he had left at the hotel room had disappeared.
“Did the offender dispose of it?”
“Do you think he could be so calm to do that in that situation? And he's someone stupid enough to use the same hotel after causing an uproar a week before, too.”
I nodded at Yondaime's words. He was possibly high on Angel Fix, and even if he wasn't, he had been seen by me, so he was in a situation when he could only think about running away quickly. The thought of disposing of the girl's cellphone should have slipped off his mind.
“Anyway, that man won't sneak out that easily. Alice is now tracking the log of the dating web site Toritani Shinobu used, so it's just a matter of time.”
At that moment, the throaty voices of the lackeys were heard from the other side of the office.
“Ojiki, thanks for your hard work!” “Thanks for your hard work!”
The one who opened the room's door was Hiro-san, clad in a cashmere coat.
“Wow, it's been a while since I came here... Oh, Narumi-kun is here too.”
So as to not make Ayaka feel nervous, this time the investigation headquarters wouldn't be the NEET Detective Agency but Hirasaka-gumi's office. Hiro-san sat on the bed and took off his scarf, showing Yondaime and me a cellphone memo. A profile with the address of someone called Fukamachi Hitomi was displayed on the screen.
“I finally found one of the attacked girls. I've been really busy with madams lately and I haven't been playing with high school girls, so it was hard to warm up the line here and there.”
I couldn't help but to feel admiration. From yesterday to today? That's quite a discovery.
According to Hiro-san, Fukamachi Hitomi had accepted a just holding hands for 20,000 deal with a man in a club's toilet, but then he suddenly strangled her neck and tried to undress her. Other people saw them, so the man escaped. Seems like it's the case from the end of the year.
“So, I showed the portrait to Hitomi-chan, and bingo.”
Yondaime and I looked at each other.
“Then it's settled.”
“According to the rumors, not many girls have been attacked yet, with the exception of Hitomi-chan.”
“It has been happening in succession. And we already know the face of the victim of the hotel.”
“I know, I know. Then we have our infiltration tactics and net approach, so we'll find them.”, Hiro-san said, looking at the paused video on the PC. “We kinda know that old man's job, and Narumi-kun saw his face and drew him so he can't run away.”
Hiro-san saved a picture of the girl from the footage of the earlier week's incident and left the office at a quick pace.
I pulled out the DVD from the PC and put it in my bag, straightened the sleeves of my duffle coat, and sat down again.
This is full of tricks. Moreover, because of a countless number of little thorns, I can't be certain.
Yondaime looked over his shoulder at the storage room's door.
“Go and take the DVD to Alice. Reporting to Alice is your job, isn't it?”
“I... have a feeling that something's weird.”
Yondaime narrowed his eyes and glared at me steadily, and immediately leaned his back against the wall, folding his arms.
“Anything in concrete? Tell me.”
“No, I can't say it clearly, but there's something weird about what this man's doing. There's the thing about using the same hotel twice, but first of all, even though he caused several uproars, was discovered and had to run away every time, why would he do it again? And how did he successfully run away each time? And being high, too. All these little things are making me uneasy.”
There was something else that didn't fit, but I was unable to put it into words. Yondaime snorted sullenly and said:
“Go to Alice's place.”
“...Eh? Ah, o-okay.”
“You might not notice, but since I've been hanging out with Alice for more than three years already, I know. This last year, the speed with with she solves the cases has increased dramatically.”
“Huh?” What is he talking about?
“And that's because she made friends with an idiot who jumps into the river holding a rope in his mouth before the bridge is hanged.”
I blinked, and then I finally understood what Yondaime was saying.
“If some silly thing comes to your mind, don't tell me. Tell your owner. That's your way of doing things.”
Yondaime opened the door to the main room with his foot and nodded over at me. I ducked my head and pushed the PC's power button, exiting the store room.
When Yondaime opened the office's iron door, his cellphone rang.
“...What? ...You found it? ...No, don't bring it here, take it to Alice's place directly, I'll be there in a minute.”
After hanging up his phone, Yondaime looked at me.
“They found Toritani Shinobu's cellphone.”
I opened my eyes. Toritani Shinobu—Yesterday's victim.
“It had fallen under the hotel's bed, it seems the receptionist found it first. It looks like they didn't dispose of it after all.”
With this, if Alice analyzes the phone's history, the identity of that middle-aged man will be discovered easily.
Yondaime and I exited the building and got into a car. When I leaned my back against the cold passenger's seat, my impression that something wasn't quite right felt stronger than ever.
When I passed in front of the ramen shop's kitchen door to go up the emergency stairs, Ayaka came out from there. She wasn't wearing her black apron yet, so she had probably got there just now.
“It seems like you're doing your work properly at the Inspection committee, Chinatsu-chan looks really happy.”
“Eh? Ah, y-yeah.”
“You're practicing to not become a NEET, right? Do your best, Fujishima-kun!”
Sorry, Ayaka. The job Chinatsu-chan asked me to do is a yakuza-like business that will make me a NEET at full speed. I joined my palms together in my heart.
“Well, I also have something to ask you...”
“I was wondering if you could make armbands again...”
Ayaka was the leader of a Student Council organ going by the weird name of Central Gardening Meeting—Which was in fact just the Gardening Committee—so she wore a black armband with an orange logo.
“Huh? There were forty of them at the start... Are they no longer there?”
“You see, they... Somewhat disappeared.” Ayaka said, making an apologetic frown. “They were together with the copying equipment and the activity diary, but god knows where the case is now. I was sure I had left it in the Inspection room's shelves, but... I wonder if it's in the Student Council room...”
“I can do those armbands anytime, so it's okay. And I'll look for the case in the Inspection and the Student Council rooms when I have free time.”
Ayaka immediately cheered up and went back through the kitchen door. I softly stroked down my chest. I had gotten here on Yondaime's car, and Yondaime had entered the Detective Agency through the building's front so that Ayaka wouldn't notice him. Ayaka didn't suspect anything about this case.
I went up the emergency stairs while thinking It would be nice if this case gets solved quickly. I hope everything goes as expected, without Ayaka knowing anything. But with every step I was taking, that feeling of uneasiness was sticking to my shoe soles, like an ivy sprouting and spreading, twining around my feet. What is this? There was some kind of connection, but I couldn't find the clue.
Yondaime was sitting in the kitchen of the Detective Agency, talking to someone on the phone.
“Right. Mi-ya-gi-shi No-bu-o, Miyagishi Nobuo. I mailed you his address, it's in Oota. Send four people go there and the company he works at too, it's possible he arrives carefreely. Alice is now tracking Miyagishi's cellphone's GPS. It's just a matter of time.”
Is he giving instructions to his subordinates? Yondaime nodded at me and I passed through, entering the bedroom. Alice was on the bed with her gaze fixed on the monitors.
“As you can see, we've found that man's identity.”
Alice said with her back turned at me. I gulped. They just brought the girl's cellphone here and she already finished cracking it and analyzing it? A phone is a cluster of private information, and a seriously dreadful amount of information can be obtained through it.
“Miyagishi Nobuo works as a designer at a design office called Meguro.”
Above Alice, the best monitor in the room displayed Miyagishi Nobuo's private information. There was also a picture of his face. The second monitor at the left displayed showed a still from the love hotel's front security camera's footage. It was the same man on both pictures. It was the same face.
“He earns a great income and is single, so he's completely absorbed into compensated dating.”
I sat on the edge of the bed and sighed. So, once she finishes cracking his GPS, Hirasaka-gumi's men will probably break into his house and his company and Miyagishi will be found and done for.
The conditioned air revealed the outlines of the bad feeling sticking to my arms. It's definitely weird. Alice turned around:
“You think it's strange, too?”
“Me too. I'm unable to stomach this conclusion. We're progressing at an incredibly good timing.”
Alice's words forcibly thrust the cold into my skin. Yes, everything is going too smoothly. Something's weird. We're overlooking something.
That something was on the upper left of my field of vision.
I held my breath and raised my gaze. The bedsheets got stranded in my knees as I stared at the monitor: The security camera's video from the front.
“Alice, rewind this.”
“Hm? I'm in the middle of an operation, do it yourself.”
She left the mouse to me. I moved the video's seek bar from left to right countless times to be certain.
There's no doubt.
I pointed, and Alice turned her body and followed my gaze.
“There's a potted plant in the entry hall on the video.”
“What about it?”
“This potted plant's shadow is almost directly on the right, on the video from yesterday and on last week's too.”
“Well, obviously, it's a fixed camera--”
Alice gulped down halfway through her words. Her gaze met mine for just an instant, and then she jumped at her keyboard. A heavy rain of key hitting started. She scrolled through a great number of characters on the monitors.
Just when Yondaime finished his long phone conversation and entered the bedroom, Alice's hands had already stopped. Alice and I were staring at the expanded reality in the monitor.
“Miyagishi Nobuo has been absent without permission since yesterday. A guy from the company said that they can't communicate with him either. His house is also completely empty. He ran away... Were you able to get into his cellphone's GPS?”
Alice answered Yondaime's question with her back at him.
“I was. Miyagishi's cellphone is at his house, so we can't use it to pursuit him.”
Yondaime slightly tilted his head and clicked his tonge.
“He left his cellphone behind and ran away? We're at the starting point again? Where could he ran off to?”
Just like Alice, Yondaime probably noticed upon following my gaze, and he was quiet for a brief moment.
“...What's that list?”
Displayed in that monitor there was a list of eight girls, their names, phone numbers and schools they attended.
“A list of the paid dating women?” Yondaime said. I nodded slightly. We already knew three of the names on that list:
Toritani Shinobu: The girl who feel down the window.
Fukamachi Hitomi: The one Hiro-san found, the club victim.
And the third one... Hishida Hanae.
Alice began hitting the keyboard with both hands again.
“We can find Miyagishi. From now on I'll deal with everything related to machines and focus on cracking GPS; Yondaime, prepare the car and urgently meet everyone at Hotel Juliana! I wonder if we'll be in time...”
“Oi, what do you mean? Did Miyagishi do something?”
“I'll explain later, hurry up!”
Yondaime clicked his tongue at Alice words and quickly turned to the Agency's entrance. I dialed Hiro-san's number on my cellphone and went behind Yondaime.
The car we were chasing after was going towards South Sakurada Avenue, near Meiji Gakuin University. I was on the passenger seat of Yondaime's Maserati, and Hiro-san's dark gray BMW was a bit ahead.
“I saw it, the number is.... From Shinagawa...”
The short day was ending, and I was reporting to Alice while looking through binoculars in the twilight-drenched road. I had this hands-free system for a while, but I never thought I would find it so useful. After a short silence only crushed by the sound of the accelerating vehicle, Alice's voice came back.
'That's the car, there's no doubt. Do you see who's on that car?'
Among all the tail lights that were like banks of fish at the bottom of the sea, Hiro-san's BMW swiftly got closer to the targeted car by the left side. Said prey was a red Suzuki Alto Works.
'There's a girl on the passenger's seat.'
'That's probably Toritani Shinobu.' Alice said. From all the paid dating girls, she was the only one whose whereabouts couldn't be confirmed. 'This is bad, she's also in danger. Can you look a bit more into the car's interior?'
'It's a bit dark...'
None of us could see clearly inside the car. I heard Tetsu-senpai's voice, as he was on the same car as Hiro-san.
'A huge man in a suit got into the car.'
I gulped, briefly exchanging glances with Yondaime on the driver's seat. Is it Miyagishi? Yondaime pressed the accelerator, meandering through the width of the road and surpassing car after car. When we saw the Alto Works small rear and the big BMW's back, we heard Hiro-san letting out an 'Ah-'.
“What's wrong?” Yondaime asked.
“They saw me. I've been noticed, kinda.”
It was as Hiro-san said. The Alto Works quickly accelerated, its rear lights becoming smaller. Yondaime clicked his tongue and slowed down. The Alto Works completely ignored the traffic lights changing to red and rushed through the intersection.
“Hiro, I'm going to kill you! If you don't wanna die, get back!”
Yondaime shouted. I knocked the back of my head against the seat's head rest. The cars rushed away side by side from left to right on the intersection, and the bank of headlights advanced on. The noisy car horns beat my consciousness. Hiro-san didn't say anything in reply, but the car that was ahead of our Maserati and crossed over the traffic light was the big BMW's back. Before that, its back lights that were like hidden in the darkness had caught a glimpse of the red Alto Works. Avoiding the cars ahead of us on the left and the right, Yondaime lowered his speed almost completely. I was feeling as if I had been thrown into a washing machine. I didn't really feel dizzy, but it was as if my brains and my gastric juices were mixing and blending together, I couldn't know for sure if I was having nausea or a headache.
Before long, we passed Hiro-san's BMW. What was unbelievable, however, was the Alto Works running away. Although it was a light motor vehicle, it forcibly made its way through the small space between both cars in front of it, making it impossible for us to chase after it. Isn't he scared to cause an accident?
The second time it ignored the traffic light there were cars turning to the right, so it simply thrust its muzzle, forming a perfect letter S and running through. The horns increased, obviously sounds of collisions were heard, and I ducked my head. As expected, Yondaime put his foot on the brake. He accelerated again throwing his Maserati into the messy row of cars from the left. As if it was sneering at us, the twilight-colored Alto Works' back approached another traffic light. Driving recklessly was now out of the question.
“That bastard, is he stoned?”
Yondaime cursed. I was taken aback—That possibility existed. Angel Fix sharpens every sense to its limits. If that was the case, the fellow passenger was in even greater danger.
The Alto Works's back quickly slipped into the darkness and disappeared, narrowly turning to the left. The GPS pursuit application in the car navigation system's marker blinked.
'Yondaime, stay there, Hiro, go to the bypass, we're going to narrow down his route!'
Alice shouted. Yondaime turned in the direction of a building on the left, and the tires made a shrill noise. I bumped my head against Yondaime's left shoulder. The tail light concealing itself in the darkness was dimly visible. Cutting a swath through the on-street bicycle parking, the Maserati accelerated again.
The Alto Works' movements were strange; even though it was a straight road, it kept scraping against the roadside trees. Is it because of the drug?
What will happen if an angel takes him away while he's driving? Do we... Do we have a way to stop him?
“--Alice!” I squeezed out my voice. “Can you crack that guy's cellphone? Can you tamper with his ringtone?”
“Ringtone? What are you--”
“Bob Dylan's! The one that calls them!”
I heard the detective letting out a small gasp. Holding the steering wheel, Yondaime's face contorted. The sound of the keys being hit was stirring up my consciousness, but it ceased before long.
In the stifling silence, the Alto Works slid into an alley at its right, disappearing from our field of vision for a moment. The instant the Maserati turned to the right street, time stopped inside me. Like diluted ink, the small red car's right tire emerged from the darkness and could be seen dimly, unmoving. It was almost inaudible, but the piercing guitar and organ of Knockin' on Heaven's Door's intro could be heard resounding from the cellphone. It pierced through me, knocking the door of a far-off memory. I couldn't breath.
The Alto Works' body started leaning to the left, by inches. The bass pulsed, the chorus heaped. Soon, Dylan's singing voice reached out to me from that distant, distant night.
I breathed out. At that instant, time melted at once. The fierce fricative sound was piercing my ears, and the small red car swung and spun. Yondaime stepped on the brake. I covered my face with my hands. From the gaps between my fingers, I saw the Alto Works crashing sideways into a concrete wall.
Under the dim fluorescent lamps of the narrow alley, the red light motor vehicle was caught between the BMW and the Maserati, its hood showered with fragments of the concrete wall.
Tetsu-senpai was the first to rush out of the BMW's passenger's seat, thrusting his hand into the Alto Work's torn window and unlocking the door, dragging the fat man out from the back seat.
“Oi, Narumi, what is this? No one explained anything to me!”
Tetsu-senpai cursed, looking down at the suit-clad middle-aged man who had tumbled off the car. He leaned over, unfastening the tower that was gagging his mouth.
Miyagishi Nobuo. That man whose face I saw only once at the hotel, and then two times on the security camera's footage. His hands seemed to be tied behind him, and he was coughing violently, twisting his constrained body.
“Isn't this old man the criminal? Why is he all tied up? Why---”
Tetsu-senpai looked at the Alto Works driver seat. It was the exact part that had crashed into the wall, so it was the part that was crushed the worst.
Hiro-san turned to the passenger seat and opened the door.
“...It's alright now. Are you hurt badly? It's okay, you can get off.”
Saying those kind words to the girl in a uniform, he reached his hand out to her and helped her out of the car. It was indeed the high school girl who had been hurt for falling off the hotel's window, Toritani Shinobu. She was looking downwards, embracing her own chest, trembling like a rabbit drenched in the rain.
Lastly, Yondaime went into the car from the empty passenger's seat, dragging out the body on the driver's seat. His deep blue jacket, his hair, forehead and nape were covered in blood.
That person was Hotel Juliana's receptionist, Oshima.
“Why is this guy here?”
Yondaime said along with a rough sigh, glaring at me as I was getting off the Maserati.
“Because that Oshima is the real criminal.”
My dry voice seemed to vanish, mixing up with the wind blowing on the city's night into the alley. Yondaime, Tetsu-senpai and Hiro-san looked at me with bewildered eyes.
“Are you saying this guy is the one who assaulted all those girls?” Hiro-san inquired, quickly glancing at Oshima.
“No. This isn't a case of serial assaults in the first place.”
While I was speaking, I glanced at Toritani Shinobu's face.
“Then what is it?” Tetsu-senpai asked. I let out a warm exhalation and gulped down.
“It's a systematic badger game.”
Toritani Shinobu's shoulders shook, suddenly but subtly.
Hiro-san took Toritani Shinobu and the still blood-drenched Oshima aboard his BMW's back seats. I was also transferred to that car's passenger seat. Miyagishi's large body was corked up on the back of the Maserati, and Tetsu-senpai was sitting beside him. I heard Yondaime talking with Hirasaka-Gumi's lackeys, giving them instructions to deal with the broken car left behind. With that, both cars got going.
Toritani Shinobu had Oshima's head on her lap, showing a pitiful look as she wiped his blood with a handkerchief. They're probably lovers, I thought. It's possibly one-sided on the girl's part, though.
Shortly after the car had started, Hiro-san said with a sigh:
“...It was all a frame-up from the start, then?”
“Oshima probably managed the compensated dating group. That's why all the incidents were similar in prices and conditions. Then, he thought this method would be far more profitable than normal prostitution. He made him assault girls in places he knew, using the camera's footage to blackmail.”
At any rate, if it was made public, it would become a criminal case, making it a much more effective threat than a normal badger game.
To go that far, he must have wanted a large sum of money sooner rather than later, I thought. Why? What on earth stimulated Oshima that badly?
'Hey, wait a second.'
I heard Tetsu-senpai's voice coming from the speakers. The voice system was still connected with the car behind us.
'Why were the men conveniently violent every time? Did he only pick perverts with a hidden sadistic side or something?'
'Are you an idiot?' Yondaime interjected in a shocked tone. 'They were drugged.'
Tetsu-senpai became speechless.
“He made them take Angel Fix!?”
Hiro-san turned his gaze to the reflection in the rear mirror, looking at Oshima on Toritani Shinobu's lap.
“Is he stupid? That's incredibly dangerous. Did he want money that badly? What was he thinking?”
For the first time, Toritani Shinobu's voice was heard.
“...Whenever we met with men, he always stayed in the room next door and things like that, and immediately went to stop them, so...”
“The one who turned the cameras and also hid the men when the disturbances occurred was Oshima, right?”
I confirmed it with her. Her black haired suddenly fell to her face. She must have nodded. When the incident at the karaoke happened, the paid dating man using the room at the end ran away successfully, probably because Oshima probably let him into his room next door and hid him. But this risky thing wouldn't go smoothly forever. Before long, Oshima got the joker. I became an eye witness—In yesterday's incident. The way the man attacked the girl, and the fact that the window would break wasn't expected at all. It was just bad luck to Oshima; the eyewitness was me, Yondaime's companion, so in the blink of an eye, the danger of Hirasaka-gumi investigating the matter rose to the surface.
“And then, Oshima thought about making it look like serial paid dating assault incidents, framing Miyagishi Nobuo as the criminal.”
A throaty cry came from the speakers. Was it Miyagishi, who was on the other car?
“The scheme consisted on making it seem like there was no such thing as a paid dating group, but a single perverted man who assaulted the girls he went out with one after another.”
“...So, that security camera footage was made up by Oshima. I've been careless too, huh.”
Yondaime said in a pained voice. It was just as he said. The video from Hotel Juliana where two of the incidents took place that Oshima submitted saying it was footage from last week's incident was fake. First, the paid dating group members called a different girl, threatened Miyagishi Nobuo who was confined, and made him act with the girl in the front.
“It's like that, right, Miyagishi-san?”
When I inquired, a twitchy cry came from the speakers again.
'...Y-yes, but, who are you guys...?'
'Don't say unnecessary stuff' Tetsu-senpai interrupted in a threatening tone. 'So, they framed this perverted old man as the criminal, they were going to take him out and disappear with him, but what did they intend to do after that?'
Who knows, I don't know that either. Perhaps they didn't even think about it.
Oshima might have been just walking a tightrope, but he did it quite well. Hiding Toritani Shinobu's cellphone at once, deleting all the dangerous messages and the received calls history and reporting to Hirasaka-Gumi that he had found it today was a really clever plan. Because of that information control, Yondaime and I half believed that Miyagishi was the only criminal.
'Gardening Club kid, when did you notice?'
Yondaime's questioning voice oozed bitterness.
“No, well, I didn't really notice until the last moment. It was when I looked at the video from the security camera again in Alice's room. The shadow of potted plant in the entry hall was the same on yesterday's and last week's video.”
'The potted plant's shadow? What the hell?'
“Don't you get it? Last week's incident was at midnight. There wasn't light from outside, so the potted plant shouldn't be casting a shadow to the opposite side of the entry hall. That was the evidence that it was a fake video filmed at daytime.”
The sound of a deep exhalation came from the speakers; most likely from Yondaime. His admiration probably wasn't aimed towards me but to Oshima. The desperate measures he took were a big deal. Even if it was just for a moment, he deceived Yondaime, Alice and me.
But that wasn't all.
I heard an 'U-uh' voice from behind. Oshima was trying to lift his head from the girl's lap. He opened his bloodstained eyelids just a little, peeking at the cloudy light.
“…Money, need money-”
“ Money- ……To Shushuri, money……”
What? What did he say just now? I turned my body from the passenger seat, trying to look at Oshima's face, but he had lost his energy and had fallen into the girl's lap again.
I sighed and returned to my seat, pressing my back against it.
Sobbing reached my ears from behind.
“...I told you... We should stop...”
Holding Oshima's head in her arms, Toritani Shinobu muttered while weeping.
“You can't run away anyways, you were even stopped...”
Oshima probably knew more than anyone that he couldn't run away. That's why he had been relying on Angel Fix lately.
A faint connection noise came from the speakers. Soon, the voice of a little girl was heard.
'—Is Oshima conscious?'
“No... Just now he opened his eyes for a moment, but...”
I answered that to Alice, and gazed at Oshima's face on the girl's lap. Under his eyelids, there were distinct reddish-black blood congestions.
He might not be able to turn back—I had that feeling. His wounds might not be serious, but his soul has been probably rejected by the angels already, thrown away into the depths of the earth. Those words have been probably lost for all eternity.
What was he saying just now? I clearly heard something about money. Then I heard some unfamiliar words... --Shushuri? Or something like that.
Once again, Alice's voice resounded from the speakers, interrupting my thoughts.
'Well then, Toritani Shinobu, do you hear my voice?'
The girl hugging Oshima's head trembled.
“...What... What? T-this voice, no....”
“She's just talking through the radio, so it's okay.” I said, comforting her. My words were just a reverberation inside an empty shell, serving no purpose.
But Alice's words were different, because they were blades.
'Toritani Shinobu. I only have one question for you. After you answer it, you can either surrender, or spend the rest of your life as a grave keeper—Do as you please. I'm personally not interested in the slightest.'
Alice's cold words minced the girl's body. She just shook her head. Her muffled crying voice had already ceased. Only the roar of the car running on the night street remained.
'Are the members of the compensated dating group socially linked with each other? Do you know Hishida Hanae from M High School?”
Toritani Shinobu fell silent. Then she raised her knees, bringing Oshima's face closer to hers, letting their foreheads touch. It didn't seem like she had nodded, and Alice couldn't have seen her either, however, the detective carried on with her questioning.
'That being the case, you probably know about a favor Oshima asked Hishida Hanae. Something completely unrelated to compensated dating, something that only Hishida Hanae could do.'
Holding the steering wheel, Hiro-san quickly glanced at the back seat. The car made an abrupt turn to the left, entering the national highway. It was noisy, and the night outside the window was studded with the lights of the cars that were running parallel to us.
'If you keep silent, Oshima's wish will keep buried at the bottom of the trash. His feelings will remain unreachable.'
The detective's sophistry, I thought.
The detective can't guarantee that she can reach the exact place where those feelings are. We don't know what kind of man Oshima is, pr what is he thinking, we know nothing. What was he so impatient about? If he continued managing the paid dating group, and if it gave him a stable income, why would he kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? Something must have driven him to the wall. Just who, and with which words did they let him hear the whispers of the red angels' wings?
I don't know.
In the first place, we don't have a reason to give form to his words.
Before long, she opened her mouth.
I like the fifteen minutes after the bell that signals the end of the class rings. When everyone draws their chairs back, sounding like they're hitting a galvanized plate, reverberating like a sudden shower rain; the footsteps and friendly chatting voices gradually filling the corridors; when the bell rings, the atmosphere changes into a relaxed mood—The kind of feeling you get when you're gazing at the ebb tide rising in the shoal.
The thing was, lately I had been feeling nothing but this outside the classroom. I skipped the sixth period again. When I gazed at the corridor, students were coming out one by one from the doors of the first year classrooms aligned on the left side. With my back against the Inspection room's door, as if I was hiding my body within the shadows of the lockers, I waited. The scenery in sight from the third floor's window that was partly the sky and partly the city wasn't calm.
“Fujishima-senpai.... What is it? Geez.”
When I separated my body from the door upon hearing a voice, I saw the Student Council president, Kenzaki-san, rushing over my way, holding her bag.
“Sending something like 'come immediately after class'... How do you know my mail address in the first place--”
“Aah, sorry for looking it up without permission. You see, there's a reason for it.”
I had to get Kenzaki-san to be the only person to come in front of the Inspection room, so I asked Alice to find out her cellphone's mail address.
“You're not going to enter the Inspection room?”
“I sent Hishida-san out to fetch the key just now.”
When Hishida-san's name was mentioned, Kenzaki-san's facial expression clouded slightly. What a sharp perception this girl has. She sensed the reason why I had called her to talk.
I took a deep breath and continued talking.
“I solved the case you asked me to look up.”
“W-wait a minute, please, talking about this in this place is--”
Kenzaki-san looked around nervously.
“It's okay, the talk will be short. The manager has been caught, so the group is done for.”
Kenzaki-san's gaze fell to her feet. The fact that no questions were asked even after I said such ambiguous words were more evidence than anything.
“Kenzaki-san, you knew already, right? Chinatsu-chan knew, too.”
Her gaze turned to my face again. Her facial expression looked as she was holding back any sentiment from taking form.
“Hishida-san wasn't a witness of the karaoke incident. She was the victim.”
There weren't any eyewitnesses, just the victim herself—Because she was also part of the compensated dating group managed by Oshima.
Kenzaki-san tightly caught hold of her left arm with her right hand, turning her face away from me.
“...It's just... Isn't that just wrong? It happened to her, but she talked as if it was someone else's business, saying things like 'I'll consult it with my friends'... We went along with that. I somehow understand that much, because we've been friends with Hanae since a long time.”
Those were the true colors behind the uneasiness I felt towards Kenzaki-san and Chinatsu-chan's motives.
The Student Council members' wanting to do something about the paid dating rape attempts occurring in the city was indeed something unreasonable. But these girls didn't do it to protect the peace at school in their role of staff members. They just wanted to help their friend.
Bowing her head and saying 'Thank you very much, excuse me', Kenzaki-san entered the Student Council room.
Once I made sure the door had been closed, I turned on my heels and pulled the Inspection room's door open.
Sitting on the desk surrounded by steel racks of the Inspection, Hishida-san was sobbing. A little earlier, I had called her here, telling her to wait. I'm glad that my words reached her.
I closed the door behind me, waiting until her weeping was almost indistinguishable from the after-school noise.
I don't know the details about how he got to know Oshima and started doing compensated dating. Alice or Yondaime probably would be capable of squeezing out more information about her connection to Oshima, but right now I don't have the willpower to do so.
Hishida-san wanted to quit doing compensated dating, but she couldn't speak her mind about it to anyone, so to ease her pain, she decided to talk to her two friends pretending it had happened to someone else. That SOS signal properly reached her friends.
For that reason, no detective-like words would come out of my mouth at that moment.
Hey, Hishida-san. You started helping out at the Inspection committee under Oshima's orders from the start, right? He ordered you to steal something that was stored somewhere within M High, right?
That question withered inside my throat.
“Are you going to continue helping out at Inspection?”
With her eyes red from crying, Hishida lifted her head, just a little.
“You were helping out to make everyone happy—You told a lie of that kind, right?”
For that reason, I want her to continue helping out at the Inspection committee. I want the lie she told Chinatsu-chan to not be a lie. Besides, I can't do Inspection work at all.
Hishida-san jumped off the desk, passing by my side, and she walked out of the Inspection room at a quick pace. That's still fine for now, though. It's just a matter of time until her tears dry.
After that, I heard the sound of the contiguous Student Council door opening vigorously, and a voice resounding clearly from the other side of the wall.
“Kaya-chan! Is it true!? Is the case closed!? ...Uwah, awesome! As expected from Fujishima-senpai! I have to tell Hana-chan right now!”
It was Chinatsu-chan's voice. Kenzaki-san's rebuking voice was also heard immediately. Yes, if you suddenly go and tell her so joyfully, the effort you put into pretending you didn't notice she was lying will go to waste.
It would be bothersome if Chinatsu-chan saw me now, so I also left the Inspection room. Straightening the sleeves of my duffle coat, I carried my bag on my shoulders and started going down the stairs, passing by the the cheerful first year students.
“...Sorry, I couldn't confirm it with Hishida Hanae.”
As soon as I showed up at the NEET Detective Agency, I reported to Alice.
“I thought so.” She said with her back turned on me.
“What do you mean by 'I thought so'?”
“Your employer can't properly calculate your bottomless softheartedness. The information obtained through Toritani Shinobu is enough. In addition, the Gardening Committee's armbands were found in Oshima's room, so it's settled.”
I sighed, leaning my back on the bedroom's doorframe.
“How's Oshima's condition?”
“He's still unconscious.”
As I thought, huh. My mood became dark.
“That's why we still don't know who gave it to him. Anyway, inside the case found in Oshima's room, there was the armbands, a pen, vinyl tape and safety pins only. The copy of the activity journal from the Gardening Club times has completely disappeared. There's hardly any doubt...”
Alice turned around, her cold gaze piercing through the pit of my stomach.
“--Their objective is the cultivation notes for the poppy flowers Ayaka grew.”
Translator's Notes and References
- Japanese for ‘useless’, ‘meaningless’ and ‘lethargic’ are ‘muda’, ‘muri’ and ‘mukiryoku’.
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