Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 8 Chapter 3
Toshi-san, who I hadn't seen in a year, was like the root of a tree that can't rot, twisting and drying up completely in the soil.
“...Aah. Narumi, huh?”
Switching his gaze from the TV to my face, Toshi-san spoke in a hoarse voice.
“Why the hell is everyone like this? Dad's the same. I told you not to enter, what the hell?”
When he clutched his face, some hair between his fingers came out, falling onto the dark floor.
I gulped and looked around inside the room. Magazines, convenience store bags, half-eaten snacks and opened videogame packages were lying around, and I almost couldn't know where the bed or the chair were. Dust was languidly floating in the light that slipped off from the hem of the opaque curtains.
“No. Tetsu-senpai is waiting outside.”
Toshi-san made an ominous sound and coughed, then he opened his mouth again.
“Ayaka... Does she still not remember me?”
I nodded, remembering the dull pain in the pit of my stomach.
Toshi-san's surname is Shinozaki, the same as his sister, Ayaka. After their parents' divorce, the siblings had been under the custody of their mother, but since the Angel Fix incident a year ago, Toshi has been living in this apartment in Sedagaya, with his father who had a different surname. Just because of that, one can imagine their everyday life must be suffocating.
That twisted daily existence was for Ayaka's sake. Because of Toshi-san—well, actually, it can't be stated definitely whose fault it was, since it was a complicated incident, though—She was injured and lost her memories.
Toshi-san was part of the Angel Fix's manufacturing and selling group, so he had been taken by the judicial authorities and then put on probation. His mother was deemed unable to take care of him as she didn't have enough parental authority, so a number of adults discussed the matter and took this desperate measure.
“Ayaka must be having fun, huh. It's such a pain in the ass that I'm here, and it's such a pain in the ass that she can't remember a thing.”
Toshi-san muttered, looking at his own knees. Since he was wearing a jersey and was sitting all curled up on his chair, he resembled the shell of a bug.
“So, why are you here? You're one of them, so you probably want me to talk about something?”
An unpleasant laugh came from his throat. I licked my lips; they tasted like aluminium.
I replied in a hushed voice. Seeing Toshi-san acting like that, I couldn't relax. He raised his gaze. Those two eyes were staring into nothing.
“I don't care about you, Toshi-san. The only thing I want is information.”
I'm not interested in how many times they fired you from your part-time jobs, or how long did you have to crawl in the mud until you could wash it away. I let my voice out, adding:
“Weren't you in contact with Chigasawa Teruhiko?”
Chigasawa Teruhiko is the other survivor of the group of Fix manufacturers and sellers. Just as Toshi, he was in a low position within the group so his sentence was suspended, but he was now missing.
“I already said I know nothing. I lost count on how many times I told Tetsu-san that.”
“Wasn't there any other people related to the group? Someone who could have stored some Fix somewhere.”
“I told you I don't know anything. I only sold the thing to people that approached me on the city center. That was the use that guy had for me. Anyway, the police must have told the whole story already...”
“But, in the end nobody understood Hakamizaka.”
He was the son of a Gunma's second generation Diet member. He had graduated with honors and they had great expectations on his future. He received a large allowance, lived in an apartment in Nerima and did as he pleased. This superficial information was blabbered about in variety shows and weekly publications, but no one was interested in talking about what he was thinking, or with what purpose did he distribute the Angel Fix in the city.
“Toshi-san, don't you know anything? You talked to him face to face.”
“I don't know. Who cares either way? He's dead.”
“Maybe he's not dead.”
Toshi-san's dull gaze focused completely on my cheeks and my eyes.
“That man might still be alive inside someone else. What I'm saying is, that man's words, his wishes, his desires, maybe they're still living somewhere.”
“...The hell are you saying?”
“It just feels that way, somehow. In this case, the people using Fix are doing it under the pressure of necessity, to earn money. Moreover, they're all doing it just now. We don't know where the money that person earned through threats is yet.”
“Didn't he use use it to buy Fix?”
“If he was just buying it, wouldn't he just need to manage a compensated dating group normally? Why would he use Fix to buy Fix? It doesn't make sense. That way of doing things wouldn't last long.”
“Well, I already say I don't know anything at all! If that's all, just go home already!”
I firmly swallowed my words. Indeed, that's all. To hell with you. That time, the wounds carved on my fists were the very cause of Toshi-san being imprisoned in the dirty mud, but I don't regret it, I'm not thinking about apologizing or making up for it. For no one else's sake but for myself, I hit him, hurting him and getting hurt.
Even then, I still continued my words:
“Doesn't Hakamizaka Shirou still live inside you, Toshi-san? Stuck, obstructed, unable to move?”
Toshi-san's gaze crept about my face like a sea louse.
“To know is to die. Shouldn't you die one more time?”
There was no answer for some time. A rebroadcast of a police drama was being transmitted on the TV. A gunshot resounded, but there wasn't a single drop of blood on our side. When I gave up and was standing up, Toshi-san opened his mouth.
“...Yeah, that's right. Hakamizaka-san didn't tell me anything.”
Half-kneeling, I drew a few centimeters closer to Toshi-san.
“That's why even now, I'm still thinking. Why didn't he take me with him? Where did he go?”
He died, I answered in my heart. He vomited everything in the concrete, and writhed in pain in a hospital bed until he died. Then he revived through you, the two survivors. Why won't you notice that?
“Why was it scattered in that city? Was it? Was it there? Oi, what the hell? Why did you leave me behind...?”
My throat stiffened and I stared at Toshi-san.
Why was Angel Fix scattered in our city...? Even now, that question hasn't been solved. Did they want to lead the metropolitan area's business districts? If so, then why didn't they spread it around Shinjuku or Ikebukuro? Hakamizaka Shirou's home was in Nerima, so he wasn't particularly near our streets.
“Toshi-san, was Hakamizaka's father the owner of the building where the drug was refined?” I inquired, sidling up to the chair. For a moment, Toshi-san didn't seem to understand the meaning of the question, flapping his mouth open and closed a few times.
“...No. I heard he rented it.”
“Did he rent it because you joined him?”
“What the hell? That's not important—”
“Please answer me!”
“The factory was there before I entered...”
Toshi-san drove me away with his hands, looking annoyed.
So, it wasn't a building he owned but an especially chosen and rented place. If it was prepared before Toshi-san joined, then it couldn't have been because it was near the place were the poppy flowers were planted, M High.
Why did they use that place to purify the drug? Why did he chose our streets for his experiment? Did it have a particular meaning?
The question Toshi-san dropped from his lips started to swell up inside me.
“Shushuri. Hakamizaka-san, you surely went to see Shushuri long ago...”
I stood up and grabbed Toshi-san's shoulders.
“Shushuri? You just said Shushuri, right?”
I shook his shoulders, and Toshi-san curved his lips, looking displeased.
Shushuri. That word, I'm sure I heard it from that Oshima's mouth.
“It's the angel's name. Hakamizaka-san always said that.”
A connection. Hakamizaka and Oshima are connected. I knew it, Hakamizaka's words and desires were alive inside someone. My voice trembled.
“Angel? Wha-what do you mean?”
I unintentionally strangled Toshi-san's neck a little. He made a fed up face and brushed my hands off.
“I said I don't know. I was just an underling. Other guys from the group said that they could actually see Shushuri sometimes.”
They could see Shushuri sometimes? Does that mean the angels they saw when they were high? But wasn't Toshi-san high really often?
“System, my foot. Why was I the only one that wasn't taken? Only me... Me...”
Toshi-san's voice sank in a sea of bubbling oil.
Hakamizaka Shirou didn't distribute Angel Fix in the city with the goal of making money. I also heard some of the words that came from his mouth with my own ears: They used a system, he said. A system that made the drug circulate by its own power. How stupid, I think even now. Circulation, my foot. Wasn't that just advancing a spiral of neglected junkies? Would something happen beyond that point? Is there still other goal left?
“Where? Where's Shushuri? Is Shushuri in that city? Is that why you scattered it there? Hakamizaka-san...”
Toshi-san was hanging his head, so I stared at the nape of his neck.
Shushuri. The name of the angel.
But I thought Oshima said “Money, to Shushuri”. Does that mean Shushuri is not something abstract, then?
Could it be... Someone's given name?
No matter how much I waited, inquired, or shook him up, Toshi-san wouldn't answer any more than that. I put on my duffle coat and stepped off the room.
Toshi-san's father was watching TV and smoking a cigarette in the small dining table, and turned his head when he noticed me.
“...Seems like you talked a lot with Toshi. Uh, you don't seem like a violent guy. If you can, would you drop by and talk to him from time to time?”
“...Eh, ah.... Okay.”
“It's getting difficult for me to keep supporting him. If he doesn't start working again soon...”
Toshi-san's father turned towards the ashtray and let the smoke out along with a sigh. I bowed and exited the apartment.
The clouded sky that was announcing a lot of snow increased the darkness; the day was already ending. I took an extensive view of the residential area from the second floor of the cheap apartment building, and just about everything looked like it was covered with ashes.
Tetsu-senpai was leaning against a roadside tree, staring at a notebook written in his own handwriting. He was wearing a jacket over his T-shirt, which was unusual for him. His muscular arms and shoulders made his body look around a size smaller. He raised his gaze as I was arriving, closing his notebook and stuffing it into his back pocket.
“How did it go with Toshi?”
“...I talked a bit with him.”
“Is that so...”
Gloomy words flowed from senpai's mouth.
“I see, I should have taken you along from the start, Narumi. I was thinking it might be tough for you to see him and stuff.”
“Well, it was tough to meet him. But...”
Ever since I beat him up until his face was distorted, we had been separated. I never thought I would see him again after that. We didn't have anything to talk about. But in this suffocating second reunion, the Toshi-san in my heart and the me inside Toshi-san's heart knew that they couldn't let things that way forever.
“I should have came even earlier.”
Tetsu-senpai nodded and started waking.
“I'm no good. Toshi just curled himself up. Every time I spoke, he had this scared expression that said are you going to hit me? Seems like you got a little closer to Toshi.”
Even though you're stronger than me, Narumi, Tetsu-senpai added, laughing.
“Let's not bring up that subject...”
“But you still stole a win from me!”
Tetsu-senpai hit my shoulders. I didn't really want to remember that boxing match, so I forcibly went back to the main topic.
“As I was saying, I heard something related to Fix from Toshi-san.”
However, Tetsu-senpai stopped walking, made a curious face and looked my way, perplexed.
“...Aah, yeah. Right, Fix. You came here to get information about Fix out of him, my bad, my bad.”
“Why does it look like you are remembering that just now?” I was shocked. Tetsu-senpai slipped his hands into his jacket's pockets and started walking again, outdistancing me.
“It's just that I was satisfied just knowing that you talked with Toshi. So I couldn't think about anything but when and how would I take you again, what kind of conversation did you guys had and all that.”
While walking half a step behind Tetsu-senpai, I sighed without letting him notice. This person is also softhearted. Even though his hatred for Angel Fix would make him show his teeth, right now the feeling of concern for Toshi-san was taking precedence.
“So, what did he say? He's not doing Fix again, is he?”
Come on. The first conclusion you draw is something that worrisome? I shook my head.
“Of course not. Not at all. It seems like he remembered a few things about the manufacturing group.”
I briefly spoke to senpai about how Toshi-san had said something about Shushuri.
“...Shushuri? What's that?”
“I don't know, but Oshima mentioned that very same name. Only me and that girl Toritani could hear him back then so I can't really say for sure, but...”
Tetsu-senpai's face clouded, and he took out his cellphone.
“...Hiro? Where are you now? ...Aah, I see. ...No, we already finished with Toshi. Yeah, he was fine I guess. ...Yeah, with Narumi. ...Yeah, got it. By the way, can you tell me where's Toritani Shinobu staying?”
Shushuri's matter was explained to Hiro-san on the phone.
After Tetsu-senpai hung up, I asked:
“The paid dating case hasn't gone public yet, right?”
“No, not yet. Oshima is napping at the place of that unlicensed doctor that Yondaime knows. The car of the accident was somehow dealt with, and the girls who were doing paid dates are attending school as usual.”
Hiro-san reunited with the eight high school girls from the paid dating group and got information out of them. They only knew that Angel Fix was a drug that made you lose your mind, and didn't know anything related to last year's incident either. However, now we probably had new information that would help us to ask further into Oshima's connection to Hakamizaka. At any rate, as long as Oshima was still unconscious, we could only hold on to this thread.
“Should I leak this to the police...”
Tetsu-senpai made a reluctant face.
“If you do that, won't you and Yondaime get arrested?”
“No, I'd limit the information. I'd tell them there wasn't paid dating, and that it was confirmed that Oshima was taking Angel Fix...”
Can you really lead the police on like that?
“I've done it countless times already.” Tetsu-senpai quickly said. “I have failed some other times too. Well, Yondaime and I are already used to get arrested anyway.”
I only sighed in response. I wouldn't be able to do that at all. I don't have neither the ability, nor the courage, nor a reason.
Tetsu-senpai and I parted ways at the train station; he said he was going to the police station. After I saw senpai's back slipping into the crowd, I directed my steps to the Detective Agency. The night had fallen already, and I walked along the freezing asphalt.
The thought it would have been good if I had talked a bit more with Toshi-san was now surfacing in my mind.
If things had been a little different, the one hugging his knees going crazy in a room filled with garbage could have been me. I just had good luck. I just met the right people at the right time.
I want to help Toshi-san. It was an absurd thought, but I wanted to continue talking until it became a forgotten thing, sinking in the bottom of my heart. I'm really selfish, aren't I?
Alice said, turning around while taking a swig of Dr Pepper. With my report interrupted halfway through, I nodded. Her expression was indescribably bitter.
“I see... It seems like my worthless conjecture was correct.”
“I told you about it before. About the name Angel Fix being based off Tiptree's short story. Shushuri is the name of the alien that shows up in that story—In other words, the name of the angel. It doesn't feel good to have the same tastes as that man...”
After that, Alice's gaze fell to her own kneecaps.
“However, it's not likely that the Shushuri that settled down on our streets was an alien or an angel. Why in this city—Indeed, we overlooked that.”
“So what could Shushuri mean? The name of a person?”
“Perhaps. I am now following the the flow of Oshima's saved money.
Alice's eyes were fixed on one of the monitors where a bunch of numbers were displayed.
“Based on the information Hiro got through the women, he should have earned approximately 8,000,000 with the badger game. However, at least in his account there hasn't been movements. There was almost no cash in the apartment where he lived, either.
“....Right, he said... 'money, to Shushuri'.”
It wasn't some metaphor? Was it something real, was it someone? Was Oshima earning money for the sake of that someone? Were the guys from the mahjong parlor and the like the same?
“Why was on these streets? And why did they let a year pass?”
Alice ruminated over my words.
“There's still not enough information. Did Toshi look like he knew anything else?”
“Eh? A-aah, no... He probably didn't have anything else to say.”
That was my wishful thinking, if anything. I didn't want to mince Toshi-san anymore.
“Hmph. Then it's no longer necessary for Tetsu and you to go back to Setagaya. We're extremely short-handed now, and now you--”
“Ahh, actually, I've been wondering if I should go to Toshi's place again...”
Alice looked at me with steady eyes.
“Well, because it's worrisome and dangerous. He stays confined indoors and all that.”
“I'm also a shut-in, what's so dangerous according to you?”
“No, you're different, Alice... Or not?” Or maybe his danger had a different meaning. “Anyway, that's not the point. Toshi-san is in a more critical condition. I think he needs someone to talk to.”
“Is that so?” Alice turned her back on me. “Do as you please. Of course, prioritize your duties when you have them.”
That's so cold, I thought. I assumed it was because he once turned into our enemy.
“Alice, you still can't forgive Toshi-san?”
“Forgive? What are you talking about?” The sounds of keys being pressed started, strings of characters appearing in the monitor. “I'm not a judge nor a priest. I'm not a victim nor an assailant. I'm a detective. I don't forgive nor I am forgiven. If he comes here and says he needs help, I'll accept the request. If he stays confined in his room, it's not my problem.”
“...But, he used to come to Hanamaru often, right? He was one of your friends. You don't care that he's became like that?”
“He's not my friend.” Alice said. “How many times do I have to tell you the same thing? I don't have friends. That kind of ambiguous bonds of ambiguous sentiments are unneeded for me.”
I took a step back from the bedroom and leaned my back on the side of the refrigerator.
That's right, when Min-san's case happened, she clearly said Min-san was her landlady and her tenant, but not her friend.
She lives concealing herself under unnecessary shells. Is it because she's not even able to stand up without those shells?
But, thinking about how Alice was before, I suddenly ran into a memory about the people surrounding her.
“...Didn't you say Tetsu-senpai was a close friend?”
Alice's shoulders twitched, and looked at me from the spaces between her hair.
“...Me? When? There's no way I'd say—”
“Come on, when the boxing match happened, and you intruded...”
Alice hugged a frog stuffed toy to her chest and hid half her face.
“Y-your memory is worse than that of a goldfish, why do you remember all that useless information with such detail!?”
“I think it's important, actually...”
“T-that was a state of emergency, so I had to choose short and concise words!”
Making that terrible excuse, the NEET Detective looked at me for the first time, and then she turned her back again. The state of emergency made you blurt out your real feelings, right?
“Tetsu, Hiro and Major are just detective companions, they're not my close friends. This is unnerving so stop already!”
I sighed and scratched my head. Then, something came to mind and I asked.
“Mh?” Alice stopped typing and looked my way.
“Well, I was just thinking 'what am I to Alice?', you know.”
A collapsing sound rumbled, the bed shook, and a great number of stuffed toys rolled on the floor. Alice had suddenly jumped back, and her back hit the mountain of stuffed toys.
“W-w-what is this all of a sudden-!?” That's my line. What is this all of a sudden?
“It's just that, we see each other really often, but I'm not sure of what you think about me.”
Alice's face turned deep red like a habanero pepper.
“A-about you? W-why are you asking this now!? you're my assistant, an assistant detective! From the day you were born until the day you die, you're my assistant!” No, I was just a baby when I was born.
“I know that already, but I don't mean that- In other words, uhm, it doesn't seem like we're friends, right? And we're kinda different from companions, it doesn't feel quite the same as with Tetsu-senpai and the others...”
Alice spoke, burying most of her body among the stuffed toys:
“What is this? D-do you want me to think differently about you?”
Being asked that felt bothersome.
“No... Sorry. Sorry for bringing out this topic.”
I picked up the empty Dr Pepper cans to step out of the bedroom.
“Carry on! U-um.”
When I turned around at the voice, the blushing Alice with only her eyes visible in the stuffed toy rampart spoke:
“What do you think?”
“I-I'm just curious. What do you, uhm... think.... about...”
“You mean, what do I think about you?”
When I completed her question, Alice hid her face completely behind a bear and a dolphin.
“It's nothing! Just get going!”
What the heck? With the cans still under my arms, I pondered for a short while on the side of the refrigerator, and said:
“I can't really say it in one word. I'm really grateful to you, but that isn't all. And of course, it's not just because you employ me. Anyway, I'm with you because I want to be with you.”
Alice pushed out the stuffed toy mountain and stamped her feet. What? Just get out of here? You were the one who asked. No, actually, I was the one who started with the subject, but oh well.
Just when I stepped out of the agency to the corridor, I noticed a figure on the other side. Bleached white hair and a red jacket were made visible under the weak fluorescent light. Yondaime.
“We caught hold of some Chigasawa Teruhiko's movements.”
Yondaime said that and pushed me back into the Agency with just his gaze.
“He sold his car? For how much?” Alice turned around on the bed.
“He made an individual deal for 1400,000. Chigasawa was rich, so he had a used Jaguar.”
Yondaime threw a report with photographs on the sheets.
“Is this that transaction?”
“Yeah. It was with a guy Chigasawa knew from University. It seems like he was in a hurry to find a buyer. 1400,000 is considerably cheap.”
I don't know much about the market price for foreign cars, but it did seem like he wanted to sell it cheaply and get the full payment.
“Did you find out how that money was used?”
“Hm. A great sum of money is vanishing into the darkness. And the whereabouts of the cultivation notes from M High's Gardening Club that was stolen under Oshima's orders is unknown.”
Alice looked at Yondaime and then at me, who was sitting on the edge of the bed.
There was no more words after that, but we knew what she wanted to say. There's someone out there growing those poppy plants again. I shivered.
The scene of the blue flowers I had never seen swaying in the wind of a greenhouse appeared on the monitors of Alice's bedroom.
Alice let out a small sigh and turned her gaze to Yondaime again.
“Do you have a cruel request for me beyond this point?”
“...Don't say stupid things. I'll do it myself.”
I looked at their faces in turn without understanding what they were talking about. Cruel?
Yondaime turned his gaze from the monitors on the side of the the bed to the screens of the security cameras on Hanamaru's surroundings. Sitting on the bear crate by the kitchen door, Ayaka had already untied her apron.
“Is Ayaka staying until the shop closes today?”
When Yondaime asked that, I blinked.
“No... She's probably staying until nine.”
I saw Yondaime's face from the side after he gave a small nod and turned to the door, and I sprang up from the bed.
“W-wait! Please wait!”
I quickly grabbed the sleeves of the red jacket. With dreadful strength, he shook me off, making my hand hit the wall. The wolf's gaze sew me to the wall. I finally understood the meaning of their conversation. They were going to ask Ayaka for information about the poppy flowers' cultivation.
“It's useless to ask Ayaka, she doesn't remember anything!”
“I won't know until I actually ask her.”
“Please don't make her remember! She's able to live peacefully because she forgot about everything!”
“Not my problem.”
For a second a pitch-black crack appeared on my field of vision.
“Are you going to tell Ayaka what's going on to chase after the drug!?”
“Of course. Any problem with that?”
My face was covered in raging fire. In just an instant, Yondaime caught hold of my collar and forcefully pushed my back against the wall.
“What are you doing!?” Alice tumbled off the bed and rushed to us. Yondaime glared at her and said “you shut up”, then he fixed his gaze on me again.
“That's not some club activity. This is an important matter. I don't have time for your stupid concern for a classmate.”
I gritted my teeth and tried to remove Yondaime's hands from my throat, but I couldn't make him move one finger. Alice grabbed the cuff of his jacket and screamed with teary eyes:
“You barbarian! Get your hands off my assistant!”
The pressure on my neck disappeared. I collapsed on the floor with my back against the wall. Choking, I looked up at Yondaime.
“If you're going to defy me, at least be resolute.”
“I'm not defying you... I just want you to be kind to Ayaka...” I answered in a choked voice.
“I'm just gonna talk to her.”
“That's why I'm telling you to stop, Ayaka finally returned to her ordinary life!”
“So, what do you wanna do? Are you gonna stop me with your fists?”
My words were blocked. I felt the weight and the heat of another body on the left half of my body. Alice was clinging to me. But even then, I couldn't take my eyes off of Yondaime's gaze. From the beginning, him and me didn't have the same views. He's the king of the street youth, Hinamura Souichirou.
If I stood in his way he was going to beat me to death right now, and he made me fall silent with just his glare, but he hesitated a little. He averted those eyes from me to the monitors of the security cameras and clicked his tongue. 9 o'clock in the evening had long passed, so the monitors showed Min-san delivering ramen by herself; in other words, Ayaka had gone home already.
Yondaime lifted that strong pressure on my chest, turning to the entrance. Narrowly opening the door, he turned around just once.
“We went through a sake ritual together, so I'll give you a little more time. Are you gonna become my enemy, or are you gonna keep trembling in a corner? Take your pick.”
Just those words were enough to throw me to the frozen floor. When the door closed, only Alice and I were left under the cold wind. Alice transmitted me her shaking from her arms. Unconsciously, I gently patted her head to calm her down.
“...I'm sorry, Narumi.”
A frail voice sounded under my hand. I couldn't reply.
“I won't say anything. I don't approve nor disapprove of Yondaime's words. I don't choose, I don't know. As I am a detective, I would normally be willing to hurt someone for the sake of the truth. But this is Ayaka. And Ayaka is my... what? I don't know, but I won't choose.”
She is your friend, I informed with my silence. Ayaka is your friend. Isn't that fine? I knew those words wouldn't reach the detective, so my voice wouldn't come out.
If you thought about it, Alice has been with Ayaka for a much longer time than me. Ayaka took care of her, touched her skin, shared her warmth with her. But Alice was a detective who had accepted Yondaime's request. She couldn't choose to go far off the truth to protect Ayaka.
If that's the case, what should I do?
Indignation was filling my heart. Opposing Yondaime to protect Ayaka, or letting Ayaka be hurt? Why do I only have those two choices? There must be something else I can do.
Isn't it fine if we investigate only the people related to Ayaka? Do we really need to crush the last remnants of some drug producers that quickly? Is a matter of pride more important than Ayaka? The answer to that question was already swirling like deep black smoke inside my chest.
“Narumi, t-that hurts.”
Alice groaned under my arm.
I had unintentionally pressed my fingers tightly on Alice's arm. When I let go of her, she pushed my body with a jerk and returned to the bed.
Sitting in front of the stuffed toys, Alice muttered.
“I think it's unfitting for a employer, but I won't choose.”
I silently nodded, but I didn't know what to choose either.
For that reason, I didn't go directly to Hanamaru after school, but I appeared at the Central Gardening Meeting first.
“Fujishima-kun, are you going to help out? Why? What's with this curious turn of events?”
With exaggerated surprise, Ayaka took me along to the greenhouse.
“It's winter so there's not much to do, but there's lot of people who haven't grown accustomed to the greenhouse yet!”
Inside the greenhouse, there was several students on duty wearing the armbands. They were mostly first years, and they bowed when Ayaka and I entered, whispering things like “Oh, look...” “Aah, Fujishima-senpai” “Shinozaki-senpai's friend” “This is unusual, what's going on?”
“Fujishima-kun came to help out! Even though he looks like this, he used to be a member of the former Gardening Club, so ask him whatever you want!”
Oi, don't hurdle me up. It's obvious there's nothing I can teach to the first years.
“Senpai, if you water them too much, the stems of the flowers won't grow, you just have to spray them a little!”
“Senpai, don't cut it to the stalk!”
“Senpai, it's winter, so increase the concentration of the liquid fertilizer, please!”
I could no longer put up with all the things they were trying to teach me. Ayaka was looking at me, giggling.
“It's seems like Fujishima-kun forgot...”
No, it's obvious that I never knew anything from the start.
When the maintenance finished and the first years left, Ayaka spoke, taking an extensive view of the neat greenhouse:
“It must have been a while since you worked in the greenhouse, right, Fujishima-kun? It's somewhat refreshing!”
I hesitated, staying by Ayaka's side. It hasn't been a while, it's the first time. Because when the Gardening Club still existed, Ayaka tended the greenhouse by herself, and I wasn't allowed to enter. The reason was because Hakamizaka Shirou had asked Ayaka to cultivate those poppy flowers in secret. That memory was sunk at the bottom of the sand.
“--But, why did you come to help out today? Could you possibly want to join the Central Gardening Meeting? Sorry, but only one person for each class is allowed to enter, and you also have your duties at the Inspection committee and as Alice's assistant...”
“No, of course not. I was just thinking it would be good to go to Hanamaru with you from time to time, and I didn't want to be waiting around like an idiot so I came to help.”
Ayaka's face reddened in shyness, diagonally leaning her upper body forward and looking at me from below.
“What does that mean?”
“Uuhm, you see...”
Then, I used my special swindling technique: selfishly conveying a part of the truth.
“I don't know why, but lately the guys from Hirasaka-gumi have been starting to show interest in gardening. I accidentally told them you taught me lots of stuff, and they were even in the mood to intrude into the school. If those guys come here it would be troublesome to Ayaka... So, if they come—It's not like I'm a bodyguard or anything like that, but I thought I should drive them away.”
My muscles froze as I was talking. Every single word I said was nothing but a lie. Ayaka smiled bitterly.
“But I don't really mind? But those people seem awkward, so teaching them might be hard.”
When we were going to Hanamaru from school, I was walking beside Ayaka while pushing my bicycle, harboring the feelings of guilt and that something wasn't right about the things I couldn't say. Walking by her side, I observed Ayaka's transparent smile and I couldn't say anything in return, only postponing my conclusions.
When we were reaching Hanamaru, my cellphone rang. I looked at the name displayed on the screen: It was from Yondaime, so I stuffed the phone back in my pocket.
“...You're not going to answer?”
Entering the kitchen from the door, Ayaka tilted her head.
“Ah, no, it was just a text.”
Ayaka stepped inside with a face that said 'ohh'. I sat down on the old tire while feeling the phone vibrating. It felt like there was a living scorpion wriggling inside my pocket. I didn't know if I should pick up or not, so I could only ignore it.
What do I do? He told me that he was going to give me a little more time, but still.
By the time when the winter sun was looking like it was hiding behind the shadows of the buildings in front of the station, Tetsu-senpai and Hiro-san arrived.
“I got something about Oshima from the police. They still don't know he's sleeping.”
“Where's Oshima? Shinobu-chan, Hitomi-chan and the others are worried.”
Hiro-san's current task was asking the girls that were doing paid dating under Oshima's instructions their situation, but apparently Hiro-san was inferior to Oshima regarding lady-killing.
“He was transferred to the general hospital ages ago already, but don't tell the girls. It seems like the police hasn't found out about the paid dating and the badger game stuff.”
“I know. I'll fill the cracks on those eight high school girls' hearts in his place.”
“Don't forget your own work. And Min-san is going to hear.”
“Ahaha, it's okay. I saw her inside making sherbets so it's unlikely that she'll hear---”
“I am hearing though, Hiro.”
Min-san's face appeared from the kitchen door, and Hiro-san slipped down from the bear crate where he was sitting.
“What was that about eight high school girls?”
After hitting Hiro-san who could only smile bitterly without replying, Min-san returned to the kitchen.
“I offended Min-san, so it doesn't seem like I'll be able to fill the holes in her body--”
Hiro-san muttered words he shouldn't have, so the kitchen door opened once again and Min-san's kick thrust Hiro-san's back.
“Senpai, Hiro-san, are you going to order something?” With her black apron, Ayaka poked her head from the back door too.
“It's cold, so, miso ramen.”
“Ahh... Me too.”
“Okay! Miso is the most popular in winter! Fujishima-kun, are you going to eat too?”
“Ah, no, I'm fine. I'm not hungry.”
I looked over my shoulder, Ayaka smiled and nodded and then she returned to the kitchen. When the door was closed, Hiro-san and Tetsu-senpai turned their gazes at my face at the same time.
“...Do you know already? ...About Yondaime?”
I asked in a way that gave myself an unpleasant feeling. Tetsu-senpai nodded imediately, while Hiro-san showed a facial expression like he was hesitating about which words he should use, but he nodded silently in the end. My gaze fell to my own feet.
I couldn't help but asking Tetsu-senpai and Hiro-san what should I do. However, unlike those two, my investigation abilities weren't anything special, and I could only waste my time, so I needed to face my own problems.
When both of them were slurping their miso ramen, I suddenly remembered something and stood up.
“I'm going to see Toshi-san.”
With his bowl on the wooden table, Tetsu-senpai arched his brows.
“Didn't we go just yesterday?”
“Yeah, but I found something I can ask him.”
I shifted my eyes to the kitchen door. The irregular sound of a kitchen knife wasn't from Min-san but from Ayaka. I was worried that she would hear, so I lowered my voice.
“Toshi-san actually received the harvested poppy flowers from someone else. In that case, he might know something about the cultivation.”
Hiro-san and Tetsu-senpai looked at each other's faces.
“...Yes, could be.” Hiro-san said.
“I'll come along too. Someone has to restrict him if he starts to get violent.” Tetsu-senpai muttered. I shook my head.
“I'll go alone. It would be easier to get Toshi-san to talk that way.”
If I found out information connected to the production of the narcotic through another route, it could all come to an end without having to get Ayaka involved. For that purpose, I felt that I was even able to hit Toshi-san again.
“We're obeying Alice.”
Tetsu-senpai said that, and Hiro-san nodded with a solemn expression.
“In other words, everything depends on Narumi-kun.”
Hiro-san said like he was talking to himself.
“Because we're NEETs. We don't know what to do at times like this.”
I heard those same sad words before. Even if they knew how to start rowing, these people were at a loss about how to grab the oars. So, it was up to me, the only one who wasn't a NEET.
“...See you later.”
I dragged out my bicycle and sat on the saddle.
Toshi-san's face looked better than the former day. There were several PET bottles of carbonated drinks lined up on the desk. But when I opened the curtains, I noticed his cheeks looked gaunt.
“...You haven't eaten?”
“Not hungry.” Toshi-san crushed one of the PET bottles with his hand.
“You kinda look like Alice...”
I didn't want the exchange of words to turn oppressive, so I started with striking some frivolous conversation on purpose. Toshi-san snorted and thew the PET bottle to the trash bin. There was a lot of trash already, so the pitiful green plastic that resembled a caterpillar tumbled on the floor by my side.
“What do you usually do? Do you watch TV all the time?”
I looked around the inside of the messy room.
“I mostly sleep.” Toshi-san replied, raising his knees to the chair. “I also surf the net, play games, and I go to the convenience store from time to time.”
“Oh, you're a bit healthier than Alice.”
Toshi-san didn't smile, but he narrowed his eyes as if dazzled, and unnaturally cleared his throat a couple times.
I could have a conversation without being told to leave, so I was relieved.
“Isn't this Powerebo GR?”
I picked up a game software package that was lying around. It was the home version of the baseball game that Major, the others and I got into during last summer.
“Do you play it at the arcade too? Short Pennants are very mainstream lately, but since Hiroshima is really strong, there's nothing but Hiroshima in the high scores.”
“No, I only play here online. Huh, so you play Powerebo too, Narumi.”
We started talking about the baseball game for a while. I was a quite well-known uniform designer there, so he seemed to know my designs and my nickname, and he was surprised when he found out it was me.
“If you're okay with a simple emblem, I'll draw it right away.”
“Really? I've been losing a lot and I don't have points at all, so I can't buy an emblem. Can I ask for it now?”
Then, I borrowed Toshi-san's computer, and when I showed him the emblem that looked just like Apple Corp.'s mark, he finally smiled. After that, we talked a lot about games. I can't stay like this forever, I told myself in my heart, but I didn't want to destroy conversation that was like a balancing toy on top of a soap bubble, so I continued talking about Toshi-san's hobbies.
But the end would come soon.
“--So, let's go together to the arcade like before some other time. Powerebo 2MAX will come out soon, and it seems like you will be able to import your data.”
When I said that, the expression on Toshi-san's face disappeared. Aah, I crossed the line, I felt. Toshi-san's face steadily darkened.
Why am I apologizing? Am I stupid? Can't I resume the conversation?
“...Well then, what do you want to ask today?”
Toshi-san spoke in a sinister voice. His eyes were firmly staring at the thirty centimeters of empty space before my face. I turned my gaze away, hesitating.
“There's something you want to ask again, right? ...About Fix, huh?”
I started talking and faltered. What do I gain denying it? Why am I lying? This isn't the way. I came here to find a clue to unravel this incident. I didn't come here to happily talk with Toshi-san. I was so indifferent yesterday, why am I forcing myself to laugh today? Of course, that's because my sense of purpose is a lot clearer than yesterday. Because I was thinking about deceiving him to get information out of him.
“...Yes. It's about Fix.”
I didn't look at Toshi-san's face anymore, I turned my gaze to my own lap and released my words.
“Toshi-san, you entered M High's greenhouse through the back door and talked to Ayaka, right? Did you talk about something related to the cultivation?”
There was no response for a while. A strange feeling of disgust was seeping, and I twisted my body to brush it off. I heard a snort, a violent cough, and the creaking of a chair.
“I didn't do anything. I was just an underling, I already told you.”
“But you entered the greenhouse lots of times when they were being cultivated.”
“Just ask Ayaka.”
“I'm asking YOU because I can't ask Ayaka!!”
My voice suddenly turned rude. I sat back on the floor and hung my head in shame.
“Sorry for shouting.”
Toshi-san wiped my saliva with a tissue and threw it in the round trash bin.
“I don't want to make Ayaka remember. Do you understand?”
“Yeah. That girl's quite lucky. Hanamaru's favorite.”
Toshi-san spoke in a dispirited complaining voice.
“I couldn't do anything. Anything at all. Things just.... turned out that way.”
They didn't 'turned out that way'. You took the drugs yourself. I pushed the need of telling him that back into my throat, and inquired with all my patience:
“Anything about the greenhouse will do. Whatever you remember, please tell me.”
“Nothing at all. I don't know anything you would want to know. I only passed over the reports that Ayaka wrote every time to Hakamizaka-san. Then the guy plucked the flowers that had turned blue and that was it.”
“Reports? About what?” I sprang up again.
“I caught a glimpse once but I didn't understand a word. I know nothing about botany. Obviously.”
I chewed up the words and sat down once again.
“Hey... You get it, right? I was treated as small fry under Hakamizaka-san. He never entrusted me with anything important. Haha. That's why I didn't take the last amount of drug left, I was put on probation, and now I'm like this, alive. I survived. Shit. What a joke. Why? Why...?”
Toshi-san buried his face in his kneecaps. His voice that didn't turn into words fell to the floor.
When I exited the apartment, I noticed another call from Yondaime. Hearing the 'Whatever, I'll go to Hanamaru later' recorded in the answering machine, I squatted at the side of the bicycle and hid my head under my arms. Cold was started to creep up, so I straightened my duffle coat. After meditating for a while about my behavior, I thought I'm the worst no matter how you look at it. I informed Alice about my conversation with Toshi-san by mail, and then I decided to go home.
“Why are you here so early? I didn't cook for you.”
As soon as I opened the front door, the cold words of my sister flew to me. However, since I'm so disastrous that it was indeed unusual for me to return home early, I couldn't complain.
Slurping cup noodles while leaning on the kitchen's sink, I felt extremely regretful. What am I running away from? What do I gain by running away? Would the current situation change for the better if I delay it?
I glanced at the cellphone on the table. I won't get a phone call from anyone. No one else except me would make a choice to speed things up. But now I can only keep this stubborn silence stretching tortuously. Alice, Tetsu-senpai and the others told me that the decision was up to me, so since right now I haven't chosen, I obviously don't have any words to say.
When I finished eating, I crushed the cup and threw it to the trash bin and fell prostrated on the sofa. In my fatigue, I got immersed in Toshi-san's sticky eyes and Yondaime's completely passionless voice mixed together. Like that, I fell asleep.
The next morning, when I showed up at the classroom of the 2-4 class, Ayaka noticed my evident mood change.
“Good morning, Fujishima-kun.”
I was just being greeted, but an uneasy feeling crept up my back.
I know this fake cheerfulness quite well, I thought. The way she smiled while slopingly turning her body around, I've seen that gesture some time ago. Oi, please stop that, I thought. The slow me from the past wouldn't have noticed, right?
“You didn't go back to the shop and went home directly yesterday, right?”
“Everyone was worried about you, Fujishima-kun.”
“Because, you know-”
When Ayaka said that, the bell rang.
The classroom was filled sounds of the chairs being pulled back, making us swallow our conversation. I reluctantly sat down.
While in class, Ayaka glanced at me from her seat looking like she wanted to tell me something, but that day we had P.E. and elective classes, so in the end we didn't get a chance to exchange words until school ended.
“Fujishima-kun, Fujishima-kun” Ayaka called me. “There's no activities at the greenhouse today, so let's go to Hanamaru together.”
I mumbled, but didn't say anything in the end.
“Those two are getting along really well lately...” “It feels like a stable period” “But Fujishima-kun should be more...” “No, he seems more like a lolicon.” “I heard he's gay, though.”
Turning me back on my classmates' inexcusable conversation, Ayaka pulled my arm.
“Hey, hey, Fujishima-kun, why do you never bring your bag?”
As soon as we passed the school gates, Ayaka indiscreetly asked something ridiculous.
“That's not true, I do bring it from time to time.” I replied while pushing my bicycle. “It's just that I overslept and left home as quickly as I could. All the textbooks are at school anyway.”
“If you don't review the lessons, you'll repeat the year!”
Ayaka showed me her knitted brows as if purposely, and then she immediately patted my shoulders with a broad smile.
“What are you going to do if you really repeat, Fujishima-kun?”
“Hmm. I'll probably drop out...”
If you have something to tell me, why are you going around in circles?, I suspected, but on the other hand I felt relieved that she didn't get straight to the point.
“You'll drop out and become a NEET? A gigolo like Hiro-san? If you're going to do that, I'll tell Min-san so she'll give you a huge scolding.”
“Why do you take becoming a gigolo as my first option!? It's obvious I couldn't do that!” I made a displeased look. “Well, I don't really have a clear aim, though.”
“Aren't you going to continue your job as an assistant detective?”
“You can't call that a job. It's not stable at all. Alice apparently earns quite a lot, though.”
“But, but, Fujishima-kun, everyone's been relying on you a lot lately...”
Ayaka's tone of voice and the color of her smiling face changed just a little.
“You're already a splendid assistant detective. If you become a NEET like this, that job is perfect for you.”
I'm not splendid at all-, I replied in my heart. I even ran away from Yondaime yesterday. Even though I've been entrusted with a decision that only I could make, I'm still running away. It's always like that. I'm unable to hide this weakness at the most crucial times. I'm only capable of deceiving and deceiving, and that won't make the world Alice lives in any gentler.
“That's why, I... Won't stand in your way anymore.”
“...Stand in my way? What are you--”
“I won't say things like 'it's dangerous, so stop' anymore. In exchange for that, I want you to solve this case quickly, there are things that only you can do to help, aren't there?”
I stood still. Walking three steps in front of me, Ayaka looked over her shoulder with a curious face.
“Help? Why? Why are you saying that, Ayaka?”
My ears buzzed, and the sounds of the world felt far off.
“You know, everyone reunited yesterday, and Yondaime came too, and asked me lots of things. About the time I grew those poppy flowers, and about that florist that used--”
I grabbed both Ayaka's arms. The bicycle lost its support and collapsed on the sidewalk, but I didn't feel like stopping it from falling. Ayaka's face half buried in the scarf stiffened, and she widened her eyes.
“Yondaime asked what!? About... The past? But Ayaka, Ayaka is--”
“I-it hurts, Fujishima-kun.”
Ayaka twisted her body, escaping from my hands and she picked up the bicycle. With her eyes averted, she spoke difficultly:
“...You see. ...I remembered a little bit. I used to take care of the greenhouse, and...”
She was remembering. Little by little, Ayaka was remembering those days. Up to what point?
“I was really surprised when he told me that I have brother... Ahaha. I do, huh...”
I snatched the bicycle's handle from Ayaka's hands and jumped upon the saddle.
“Fujishima-kun, what's going on!?”
I rejected Ayaka's voice behind me, and turned to the opposite direction of Hanamaru. In the cold wind, the pedals felt as heavy as packed snow.
Yondaime was at Hirasaka-gumi's office. When I pushed the iron door open and rushed into the reception room, the large underlings who were surrounding the executive desk turned around, bowing at the same time.
“Aniki, thanks for your hard work!” “Thanks for your hard work!”
Sitting further in the middle of the black-shirted men, Yondaime glared at me, making me freeze. But Yondaime immediately removed his gaze from me and returned to give instructions to his underlings.
“These are pictures of the whole crew. This is Hakamizaka, this is Chigasawa, and these are the mahjong bears. Ask around thoroughly. Don't assault the florist.”
“Understood!!” “We shall now hone out manly aura!”
The lackeys took a step back and glanced at me. I gulped and mustered up enough courage to get close to Yondaime.
“Why are you here?”
“What did you ask Ayaka?”
“Didn't she tell you herself? Isn't she your classmate?”
“Didn't I tell you that I didn't want to get Ayaka involved!?”
“I also told you I'd give you time to make a choice.”
Yondaime stood up. I realized the noisy black shirts behind me were stepping back closer to the wall.
“You didn't answer your phone, and I stayed at Hanamaru until 24:00 but you didn't come. How would I know what you had to say?”
I bit my lip until it bled. It's true. I ran away.
“Cool your head. What's so bad about her getting her memories back? Leaving that aside, Fix--”
My field of vision was dyed red for a second. I slapped the executive desk with both hands. Yondaime didn't move an inch, but Pole and Rocky were startled and jumped up.
“...You're saying that because you didn't see how Ayaka was back then!”
A threatening voice that made even myself shiver leaked out from my throat.
“That's true. I don't have time to waste caring about leaving things out. I asked you why are you here.”
Why—Why am I here? I hardened my fists on the desk. Did I come to moan in anger like a brat? No, that's not it. It's Ayaka. It's for Ayaka. Didn't I come here to know what I could do for Ayaka's sake?
But the words wouldn't leave my throat. The sound of the iron door being opened hit my withering back.
“Ah...” The black-shirted men groaned.
“Ane-san, Ojiki, thanks for your hard work!”
“Thanks for your hard work!”
I widened my eyes and straightened my body, turning around. Walking forward dressed in a gown, Alice's swaying black hair didn't have a sense of reality at all. Even though she came by my side and tightly grabbed the hem of my coat, her warmth seemed far away, making me feel like Alice wasn't really here. I looked at Hiro-san who was leaning against the side of the entrance and I understood that he probably took her along in his car, but I still couldn't recognize Alice's existence in this reality.
Why—Why is Alice here?
“Ayaka called me on the phone. You fool.”
Alice muttered, leaning closely, and I averted my gaze from Yondaime.
“Why are you here too? You came to fetch your pet cat?”
Yondaime cursed, correcting his posture on the chair.
“I only came to ascertain my assistant's decision.”
Alice answered in a shaking voice. After that, she looked up at me, and spoke in a tender voice:
“It's okay, Narumi. It's your own decision and that's fine. We are failures anyway. This is what was written on our pages in God's notebook. Nevertheless, you can decide.”
What the hell is this? I thought. Why did it turn out like this? Why don't we have an option other than being cornered in that hopeless place?
Why, indeed—Alice's following words soaked my overheating heart.
“Because this is your case. A case you still haven't put an end to. Isn't that correct? So, go ahead and choose.”
In order to end the sequel of the winter when I was sixteen, I can only make a decision. Even if my only choices were immensely stupid.
I firmly swallowed. My dry throat felt rough. I stared at Yondaime right in front of me, accepted the blade of his gaze, waited for the pain to be deeply impressed in my heart, and released my words:
“If he intends to get Ayaka involved beyond this point, Yondaime is my enemy.”
I heard Pole or someone else gasping. Yondaime spoke:
“I won't adhere to your stupid assumptions. We're still not at the last stage, of course I intend to involve her.”
Why did it turn out like this? Shouldn't it be other ways to handle things? Those thoughts washed away that empty anger.
“I take back our sake ritual.”
“Aniki-!” “Aniki, that's-!”
Pole and Rocky edged closer to the right and left side of the executive desk and looked at me with pales faces. At that moment, Yondaime swung his fists downwards on the desk. The dreadful sound of wood cracking made the whole office gasp.
The wolf eyes turned to Alice.
“Fine. The go-between is also here.” His gaze returned to me. “From this moment on, you're a complete stranger. Hurry up and get lost.”
“Sou-san, please calm down!”
The instant Pole spoke, Yondaime's fists punched his bulky chest, making his large body hit the wall, and a picture frame fell with a crash. The sound of broken glass made me draw back my body.
“Our business haven't finished yet.”
Alice said peacefully.
“What are you going to do with my request?”
“Isn't it obvious it's canceled? Calculate the research expenses.”
Alice's hands weakly tightened their grip.
“Understood. Give back the manuscripts and the original data, please.”
Alice picked up the profile sheets from Hakamizaka, Chigasawa and the mahjong bears and a DVD-R, handing them to me. Those were all things that came from the Detective Agency.
“I already printed and distributed them.” Yondaime narrowed his eyed.
“I don't mind. Let's go, Narumi.”
As soon as we stepped out of the office, I heard the sound of rough footsteps going down the stairs.
“Aniki!” “Aniki, please wait!”
The black shirts stepped into the road and surrounded me. I got scared and pushed Alice into Hiro-san's car.
“Aniki, what's going on!?” “What's that about taking back the sake ritual!?” “Did something happen with Sou-san!?”
I hesitated. I'm not your Aniki anymore, I said in my heart. When Yondaime told me that I was a complete stranger, it felt like rain was pouring in my face, but now I felt tormented by the downhearted feeling of loneliness.
“I'm sorry.” I bowed my head.
Why am I apologizing? This is nothing I should apologize for, what good will apologizing do? I condemned myself again and again.
“Please, don't apologize, Aniki!”
“Let's apologize together to Sou-san instead!”
Without raising my head, I shook it in refusal.
“No one did anything wrong. Please stop.”
I rushed to the roadside where my bicycle was parked. When I passed by Alice in the car, her eyes met mine for a second.
I threw the bunch of documents and DVDs into the basket and sat on the saddle.
If I had gone to Hanamaru and exchanged words with Yondaime, answering all his questions... I changed the events countless times in my head, repeated them, ruminated. There weren't mistakes anywhere. I made the right choice, and the regrets were necessary.
The pain oozing from my ribs rose to the surface. I knew it quite well, the pain of a loss carved deep in my body and my heart.
Before I knew it, being that person's sworn brother became something so important inside me, huh, I thought.
It all started with... Oh yeah, a play of words to get him to shelter Meo.
When did I start to depend so much on him? Always giving me his support without asking anything in return.
And like that, I destroyed that bond myself.
I destroyed it. I am now that person's enemy.
Unable to control my pain, I grasped the handle tightly and slowly slid downhill. Soon I became unable to straighten my body, and felt like I was going to fall into the basket. I couldn't care about the puzzled gazes of the people that passed by me from time to time.
When I reached Hanamaru's kitchen door and pushed my bicycle further inside, the door opened and Ayaka rushed in with her black apron.
“Fujishima-kun-! Wh-what's wrong? Did you go to Yondaime's place?”
“A-aah... Yeah... It's nothing.”
“What do you mean by 'it's nothing'?”
“It's okay, I already talked to Yondaime. It's nothing you should be worried about, Ayaka.”
“What happened? W-was it something I said--”
I shook my head and pushed my bicycle further between the buildings and Ayaka rushed over and caught hold of the basket to restrain me.
“Wait! I won't understand if you don't tell me anything!”
Why are you trying to make me explain something I can't explain? When I turned my back to Ayaka and forcibly turned the handle, the tire slipped, and the bicycle collapsed sideways. The documents and DVDs that leaped out of the basket were scattered on the ground.
“Ah-, I-I'm sorry.”
Ayaka became pale and leaned over to pick up the documents. I was taken aback and tried to avoid it, but it was too late. Ayaka's hands holding one of the papers were shaking. Her eyes widened unnaturally. The profiles printed on the paper were from Hakamizaka and Chigasawa—Members of Fix's manufacturing/selling group.
Ayaka let out a strange cry. I snatched those documents away from her and crushed them with my hands.
“A-are you okay-!?”
Ayaka curled up, frightened.
There was a picture of the very person who once forced her to take the drug. Even though I knew that she would end up remembering if I was too careless...
“Oi, Narumi, what are you d--”
The kitchen door opened vigorously and Min-san appeared. When she noticed Ayaka having muscular convulsions and vomiting gastric juice on the ground, she rushed in immediately and rubbed her back. She glared at me and yelled “Take that stuff away already!”
For a while, my knees were shaking and I couldn't move. I finally straightened my body when Min-san slapped my cheek, and I rushed up the emergency stairs as if running away.
The Detective Agency was locked; they hadn't returned yet. The traffic in the highway was probably congested. I leaned over in front of the washing machine. Until Hiro-san brought Alice back, I squatted on the corridor, drenched in lethargy.
Sitting on the bed of the Detective Agency, under the wind of the conditioned air, I hugged my knees.
Alice who had just returned was facing the keyboard without saying a word. Hiro-san returned from the kitchen with two cups of hot coffee, handing me one of them.
“Did something happen with Ayaka? She didn't look good, and Min-san seemed angry.”
“...Y-yeah. Just a little something.” I lied. I didn't know how to explain it. I drank a sip of coffee. The heat only reached the base of my tongue.
I certainly picked the worst choice for Ayaka.
Well, what do I do? Should I chase away the Hirasaka-gumi's lackeys who will probably come to get more information from Ayaka? What should I do if Yondaime comes himself? Who would be able to stop him?
Should I tell Ayaka to stop coming to Hanamaru? How stupid. I don't have the right to do that. What good will it do to meddle into Ayaka's daily life?
I pressed my forehead in my arms, hearing the sound of Alice typing.
What in the world have I done? What was the meaning of this? I turned Yondaime into my enemy, satisfying my own ego with the excuse of not wanting Ayaka to get involved so she wouldn't be harmed, but didn't that go nowhere? Where would my choice lead?
I wasn't thinking at all. I only discharged my fury. I snatched away Alice's reason to seek for the truth, because if there wasn't a request, the detective would remain a powerless bystander.
Sinking deeper and deeper into the mud, the surface of my heart was scratched by a shrill noise.
I raised my face and looked around, my head unable to comprehend what sound it was at first. But when I noticed Alice's gaze had turned towards the entrance, I understood it was the sound of the intercom.
Hiro-san rushed to the entrance with an 'I'll get it' and opened the door.
With both hands in his jacket's pockets, Tetsu-senpai's figure appeared.
When senpai pushed Hiro-san aside and entered the bedroom, he looked at me for an instant and immediately gazed at the small back wrapped in black hair.
Slipping his hands out of his pockets, he threw something by Alice's side. I gasped. When Alice turned and saw what that something was, she frowned.
“...What is that?”
“Take care of that for me. Don't ask how I gathered it.”
It was a roll of 10,000 yen notes tied with a rubber band. ...How much money is there? It looks quite thick.
“I am a NEET Detective, a messenger of the deceased. Not a bank.”
“It's an advanced payment for the investigation expenses. If I keep it I'll end up wasting it on horse racing betting tickets, so you keep it, Alice.”
Alice and I stared at Tetsu-senpai's face at the same time. A weak smile came from him.
“This is a request from me. Destroy Angel Fix completely.”
Alice picked up the roll of banknotes, pushing it against her pajama-clad chest.
A gooey voice overflowed from my throat.
“What's with that disheartened face?” Tetsu-senpai turned to me and showed his teeth. “This is not only your case, and it's not only Yondaime's case either. Don't you guys look down on me.”
“Quite the arrogant words coming from someone who just got covered in debts.” Hiro-san said, laughing.
“Oh, shut up.”
Debts... He got in debt to pay for the request fee?
“Hmph. Don't underestimate a NEET Detective either. This amount will vanish in a second.”
Alice threw the roll of banknotes to my knees.
“Hurry up and count it, Narumi.”
“...Eh.... Ah- okay.”
“However, since we won't use Hirasaka-gumi, it might last. Very well, I accept.”
We won't use Hirasaka-gumi?
I stared at Alice's face, and she looked back at me with an amazed expression.
“Why are you giving me that stupid look? Do you still not understand the way we do things? If we locate Angel Fix's last remnants without relying on Hirasaka-gumi, we will end this case completely. There is no other option.”
Alice's words slowly soaked into my swelled up consciousness.
Yes. It's just like that. There's no other way.
We need to force out the truth with our own hands before Yondaime.
I quietly picked up the roll of banknotes. Those scraps of paper drenched in Tetsu-senpai's blood and will felt incredibly heavy.
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