Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 9 Chapter 4

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Chapter 4[edit]

It felt like I was seeing the agency without Alice.

There was the cold bed, and dozens of doll eyes staring at the void its master disappeared from. The power to the six monitors remained shut, and the air conditioning continued blowing cold air for no reason.

I sat by the large Mogagdid Bear, and reached my hand onto the bed, towards the indentations right above it. Of course, there wasn't any physical warmth or anything left behind. I calmed down, and the various stupid thoughts came lunging in my mind. I shook my head to rid myself of them, pick up the empty cans, removed them, and brought the scattered pajamas to the washing machine, but I had no strength to activate it.

I knelt by the wall, and searched the national news on my phone. It seemed news of Shionji Mitsuki’s death was yet to be revealed. Not a day had passed, and he’s not particular famous in the financial world, so it won't be reported that early.

The fact of his death will most likely disappeared with the wind. Shionji Keiichi, who was maintained in a vegetative state before dying for real, would be stored in a coffin and cremated. He once said that he did not want this to become a criminal case, that everything would be settled in the hospital.

A criminal case.

A murder, Alice’s father was murdered.

But so what? Why did they have to suspect Alice?

The doorbell rang. I immediately ran to the corridor, and opened the door.

“Alice?”

Ayaka, standing outside the door, widened her eyes and jolted back.

“Ah…sorry.” I lowered my eyes awkwardly, having thought Alice had returned. There’s no way she would have pressed the doorbell to her own house..

“What about Alice? She’s not around?”

Ayaka entered the agency, and looked into the bedroom.

“I heard from Min-san that a few people came by yesterday, and took her away…”

I nodded, and weakly returned to sit on the bed. Ayaka picked up the dolls scattered on the floor, and put them onto the bed. The capybara, frog, otters looked on worriedly at me, just like Ayaka.

She didn’t ask me what happened, just waiting for me to speak up. This kindness left me more unbearable, and I ended up looking between my legs, unable to say anything.

“Alice’s isn’t around? This really is a rare chance!”

Ayaka pretended to sound cheery, saying,

“I’m going to clean this place up!”

She then dug out the towels and dirty socks stuck between the gap between the bed, yapping away as she wiped the dust behind the computer rack with a cloth. Seeing Ayaka act this way, I gradually sensed that Alice was really no longer around, so I checked the pipes to see if they contained any residue, and did any mundane tasks to distract myself.

“That’s how it is, Fujishima-kun!”

Ayaka was cleaning the room when she opened the fridge, saying,

“Let’s drink some of Alice’s Dr. Pepper while she’s not around! She can’t tell if there are two fewer cans, right?”

“Didn’t you say it’s not nice?”

“Drinking what’s given to me is different from stealing and drinking when nobody’s around!”

So we sat side by side at the wall, grabbing the dark red cans that were so cold and sticky, pulled the ring, and an unspeakable sweetness stabbed at our brains.

Some said it tasted like tonic water, chemically synthesized lychee, or melted almond tofu, but I felt none of those hit the mark. If I really had to describe, it’s as complicated as the life of that petite NEET detective , rich, mysterious, and unforgettable, yet indescribable.

“Doesn’t taste good though.” Ayaka said with a chuckle. “I should have mixed in water and divided it into two.”

Ayaka probably didn’t mean anything beyond that, since she’s not someone who thinks that much. However, I could interpret her unintentional words another way. If I can’t finish by myself, I’ll just share with someone else. That’s what Ayaka often told me..

“How does Alice live on a diet basically consisting of this?”

“The doctor found her strange too, and treats her as a lab subject, testing this everyday. Thinking about it, she’s really a strange specimen in the biological world.”

“I see…so you met Alice’s doctor?”

“Well, erm, I’ve been to the hospital.”

“Is Alice feeling unwell?”

“Not really ──”

Ayaka’s really a nice person. She’s able to get me to talk what I think, like fingertips prying out split ends.

But this kindness is really a drug.

The drug quickly passed through my body, and I ended up weakly saying what I shouldn’t have.

“Alice’s father died. Just yesterday.”

Ayaka stared at my face, blinked several times, and muttered.

“…I see.”

There was no shock or surprise in the tone. There’s no anguish or anger, but it’s no empty emotion. It’s like I’m calling for my own dog.

Thus, what I said next would be lured out by her.

“—Heard it was murder.”

Without thinking, I got Ayaka involved in this. I told her the truth, death, and shared it with her without holding back. Sharing this poison wouldn’t reduce the chances of my death by half, just relieving myself a lot more instead. That’s all, and nothing else.

“And then, the suspected murderer is Alice.”

After saying that, I found myself to be really stupid for saying that. If I kept talking, I would end up as a lackey thrown out after a terrible night, shiveled in a towel, trying to run away by sleeping, and just waking up moments ago with my mind still in a daze.

After spacing out for quite a long while,Ayaka asked, somehow hesitantly,

“…Do I call everyone here? Hiro, Tetsu-senpai?.”

I weakly nodded. In the end, that’s all I could do. Alice’s issue isn’t just my own issue.

Ayaka gave a call, and within a minute, the trio arrived at the office.

“Actually, we’ve been waiting downstairs for a long time. We just sent Ayaka up first to see what’s going on.”

Hiro said it as if I deserved it for falling into their trap.

“Heard that you returned home late last night. We came by earlier to have a look at you.”

“Oh, I see …”

So they knew that I would try to come to the agency alone. It’s really embarrassing to be figured out.

…Eh, huh?

“How did you know I returned home late last night?”

Keiichi drove his car to my house last night. Hiro probably didn’t know what time I returned home, right?

“Well. I gave your sister a call, Narumi-kun. I was worried.”

“My sister? Wh-when did you know about my sister’s phone number, Hiro?”

“When? Ahh yes, when I went to get you at your house on Halloween’s. Just so happened to get it.”

…Don’t put it that way. And seriously, you’re way too quick there. Was there an opening back then?

“As to be expected of you, Hiro. Getting phone numbers from women is as easy as breathing to you!”

“Not at all. I don’t know Min-san’s phone number.”

“You know ’Hanamaru’ number, right?” Tetsu-senpai asked, sounding really sleepy.

“I can’t use the shop phone when we go out for a date.”

“Can’t you just date in ’Hanamaru’?”

“So that, I’ll do. I’ve been greeting Min-san everyday with ‘I love you’, and got beaten real good by her.”

“As to be expected of you, Hiro. Proposing to women is as easy as breathing to you!”

“Ugh, you three!!”

Ayaka threw a tantrum.

“This isn’t the time for your stupid skit. You’re here to hear what Fujishima-kun has to say, right? Alice isn’t here now, get it?”

Who could have imagined that there would be one day when Ayaka would command the NEET detective gang? Tetsu-senpai, Major and Hiro immediately knelt before the bed in a prostration, and that made it more difficult for me to talk.

“Alright, Fujishima-kun! Tell everything about the murder of Alice’s father!”

I gave a stunned look, and so did the other three of the detective gang.

“Why are you taken aback too, Fujishima-kun? Didn’t you just mention it?”

“N-no, that’s right..”

I never thought such demanding words would come from Ayaka’s mouth.

But thinking hard about it, there’s nothing to be surprised by this. She saw a lot of deaths in various forms, and in a certain sense, understood more about various deaths than I did. Is this determination, or obliviousness? Maybe it’s a mix of the two called something else entirely? I don’t know.

I held my breath, and recapped the long day yesterday. Just a nigh passed, but no matter which scene I tried to recall, it all felt fuzzy. Did these events really happen? Did that hospital and those infuriating Shionjis really exist?

I coughed a few times to interrupt my delusions.

Face reality already, Alice is no longer here.

Everything I heard and saw at the hospital, the quarrels started by the Shionjis’ inheritance, the death of Alice’s father, and Shionji Keiichi’s words. Each and every one of them caused the air in the room to freeze.

“…So what about Alice? Why didn’t she come back too?”

Tetsu-senpai asked with a hushed voice, and I shook my head,

“All I heard was that she was taken back for questioning, and I didn’t hear where she was taken to. Maybe she’s still in the hospital, or at the Shionjis.”

“Questioning, or you mean, interrogation?”Senpai said while folding his arms. “Why did they think the culprit was Alice?”

Hiro showed a gloomy expression as he asked.

“Because when her father’s artificial ventilation was removed, the alarm rang, and Mari-san was at my room. Shionji Keiichi then asked Mari-san, who said that she was with Alice, which contradicted the nurse’s claims that she was seen on the corridor. So she’s lying.”

“All that to create an alibi for Alice?”

Major narrowed his eyes, sounding bitter. I nodded and continued,

“Shionji Keiichi did think that was the case too. That Alice was really in the room back then.”

“But does that really mean that Alice did it? There were a whole bunch of Shionjis there overnight. Does that mean they all have alibis?”Tetsu-senpai asked.

“So I said, but the patient electronic lock has a log. Soon before the artificial ventilation was removed, Mari-san’s card was used on Shionji Mitsuki room. Since Mari-san was at my room, the only one who could have done that was Alice.”

Major heard it, and scowled,

“That’s just what they say, right? It’s not like the police did their investigations too. Besides, isn’t that hospital this prestigious because of the Shionjis?”

“You can say that …”

“Also, does Alice have a motive to kill her own father?” Major asked again. “Shionji Keiichi said, Alice has a motive.”

“…Is he not saying that Alice killed her father because she doesn’t want the inheritance?”

Hiro lowered his voice.

“He did say so, actually.” I lowered my arms weakly.

“This is a mess, Saying it doesn’t exactly mean doing it.”Hiro lamented, ”How can she possibly have killed for this reason? If a motive’s needed, aren’t there loads with motives? Alice’s father dies before he gets the inheritance, so the next in line is the younger brother of the Head, right? That makes them more suspicious.”

That too was what I thought.

“Sorry, I’m a little lost here…we got so many names here called Shionjis…” Ayaka tearily noted. It’s no wonder, since even I who had met them was all confused. It’s impossible to remember them all.

So I drew what I knew of the Shionjis on the notebook Major handed over to me.

“…It's no wonder that Gorou-sensei so wanted to leave that house. It's seems really troublesome.”

Hiro spat his tongue once he saw the family tree. There was a ‘dead’ written beneath Gorou-sensei’s name, but it’s just that he faked his death and ran to Australia. He should be alive, but for this succession crisis, we’ll have to assume he’s not around.

“The wife of Head Mitsutoshi. Half of the inheritance goes to her, right?” Hiro asked as she looked to me.

“She passed away many years ago, and they have no children.”

And that’s why the succession crisis got a lot messier. . “And also, what about the husband of this Terumi? Didn’t the Head want Terumi to inherit? If she’s still alive, that means it’ll be his things, right?” Tetsu-senpai asked.

“Ahh…nobody mentioned this, and we don’t know if he’s still around …”

“Doesn’t matter.” Hiro said, “Spouses cannot be heirs. In this situation, the only heir to Terumi is Mitsuki. Following that, third parties like the siblings will only be limited to children. The grandchildren, Mari-san or Alice can’t take over the inheritance. If it was the heir who passed away after receiving it, that’ll be a different case. This is the opposite though. Unless the will has clearly stated to whom it goes to, this old man called Mikitsugu will take everything.”

“Hiro, how are you so familiar with this inheritance thing …”

Tetsu-senpai noted with disbelief.

“This is what I learn from chatting with the madams, and I do need to hear them grumble about this from time to time. Like the father of their husbands about to die, or the inheritance tax. I did my own research and memorized it all down.”

Enough with the bare facts. Still, thanks for the clarification.

“Eh, so…” Ayaka didn’t sound too confident as she said,” Alice’s father died before the Head, so Alice won’t get to claim the inheritance. Is this true?”

“Yes she doesn’t.” Hiro nodded, ”But she doesn’t need to. She just needed to give up her rights. How could she kill her father just because she got involved in an inheritance dispute with her relatives? What is that man thinking?”

“Also, if they didn’t want to escalate this to the police, they could have settled this themselves. It doesn’t matter who the culprit it.

“The Shionjis might think this way.”Hiro said, “But how can the relatives of his wife accept this?”

“Oh, yeah …”

“Objectively speaking, isn’t the most suspicious on this old man called Mikitsugu, and his grandchildren?” Major sounded furious as he continued, ”Or maybe that Keiichi’ has a bigger motive. Is he shifting the blame to Alice?”

“Narumi, what do you think? What kind of person is this Keiichi? Vicious?”

“…Eh? Ah, what?”

The sudden question hi me, and I jolted, squealing in surprise.

“Vice Admiral Fujishima, are you awake yet? Good thing I came prepared and invented a machine that fires sixty cans of energy drinks in a second.” “Thanks, but no thanks.” I hurriedly stopped Major from taking out something weird from his bag again.

“Hey, you’re the only one who met the Shionjis. Buck up..”

Tetsu-senpai’s words got me cringing.

“You’re right…”

“Fujishima-kun, is there anything troubling you?”

“Not really.”

I scanned everyone, saying,

“It just feels surreal.”

Once I said it, I regretted it. If I, having stayed at the hospital had said such words, surely it would be all the more surreal to the others.

But I never got to see a corpse, and never spoke to Alice after that. It feels like I’m reading a story. Right, after that conversation I had with her last night, I didn’t talk to her again, or even meet her. How’s Alice doing? That inheritance and bloodline issue has nothing to do with me. They can be fed to the dofs or all I care. I just want to meet Alice. What’s she thinking with her annoying family around her? Did they do anything to her? Is she being abused in any way, or forced to take the blame for no reason? These unhealthy thoughts shackled my limbs, and stopped me from moving. Without Alice, I really couldn’t think of what I should do.

“You’re useless when Alice isn’t around Fujishima-kun.”

With Ayaka saying this, I was taken aback.

“Ah, ahh…yeah…”

I rubbed my arms that were cold due to the air conditioning, and said,

“I don’t know what is going on right now, and I don’t know what I should do.”

I could only eke out this weak voice. Having hear myself say this, I felt my strength weaken.

“Actually, we’re about the same as you.”Hiro said with a frown.

“It’s the first time we don’t have our leader around after all…” Major too sounded gloomy.

“You can’t contact Alice? What about her phone?”

“I called her lots of times, but I can’t get through.” I shook my head, saying, ”I remember she brought a computer along, so I sent her a message, but she didn’t reply.”

“I’ll check with the police if there’s anything then.” Saying that, Tetsu-senpai went to the corridor.

“I’ll go check out that hospital.” Hiro tossed his car keys.

“I’ll come along too.” Major too followed Hiro out of the agency.

And Ayaka, who was left behind, sheepishly stated,

“It’s about time for me to open shop …erm, Fujishima-kun. If there’s anything I can help with, please do tell me immediately.”

I nodded in a daze.

“…Thanks.”

I’ll be going! Ayaka said enthusiastically, and left the room.

I sat down by the bed. How did I end up so wasted like this? Even I felt so weird. The assistant who’s always told to do things is lost without a detective. This shouldn’t be the case. Since she’s not back, I just need to find out where she is, and why. Tetsu-senpai, Hiro and Major are all doing this so decisively, but I can’t pull myself through.

It seemed that Alice didn’t wish for me to look for her.

I could still recall the tragic look on Alice’s face when she talked about being scared of ‘knowing’ herself. Back then, Alice probably understood the truth she didn’t dare approach. Given her smarts, she should be able to predict that she’ll break up with me, but she never said anything about it.

Does she not want me to get involved with her?

*

My gut feeling came true. That evening, when I returned home and opened my computer, I received an email from Alice. There was no text, just a large attachment file. With my trembling hands, I clicked on the mouse to unzip it, and found it was a video file.

“Yo, Narumi.”

In the video was a smiling Alice, wearing a red and white dress different from yesterday. I guess the camera’s set on a monitor, and I can tell that she’s facing a table.

“Sorry for getting you involved in that troublesome matter yesterday. If you’re seeing this video, that means you’re home now, right? Kei nii-sama wouldn’t say what he did to you. I tried calling you directly, but they wouldn’t allow me to give a call. The network’s connected to Kei nii-sama’s, encrypted everywhere. I managed to send this video to you only after begging them for a long time.”

I brought my face to the monitor, seeking everything in the background. White walls, metal doors at then back, lights switches, that’s all I could see.

“I don’t know what Kei nii-sama said to you. He’s basically aloof to everyone, but he asked a lot of things about you. It seems he’s quite impressed by you. You’re really likeable.”

Alice paused for a little more, looking at her own opened hands, seemingly looking for a mark that had vanished.

She lifted her head, and with a feeble smile, she said,

“My father died yesterday…I killed him.”

Once I heard that, I gasped, my hands grabbing onto the monitor, my thumbs twisting the monitor, the black shadows dissipating.

“You should know why I did that, don’t you?”

I shook my head. Alice wasn’t really looking at me, but I kept shaking my head. She killed him? For what reason? Why did she kill her father? I didn’t want to know about this. That’s not important, I just wanted to know where she was, and why didn’t she return? That’s all.

“I don’t know if you can understand my explanation. Thinking about it, ever since I met you, half my work time has been spent on explaining things to this dull-witted assistant of mine. I shall take this as the last time, and explain everything accordingly to you.”

Final? Alice, what are you saying? What do you mean, the end? “I wanted to release my father, and also myself. I had no choice, and it’s so simple, nobody will be hurt. Of course, I’m starting to pay the price for my actions.”

Nobody will be hurt? Who are you trying to bluff? Haven’t you lost your freedom? Aren’t you locked in you room every day, just like before?

“You can do whatever you want with the agency. Kei nii-sama will be sending people over to move the stuff out, so it doesn’t matter whether you let it be or not, just clear out all the empty cans, the trash, or anything that will smell. You can finish up the Dr. Pepper in the fridge, think of it as a severance package, or maybe Ayaka and the others have already drank from it?”

What do you mean, severance package? Why are we talking about dealing with the agency?

Several times, I wanted to pause the footage. I didn't want to see this, and I didn't want to hear these words. However, my fingers wouldn't obey, and I couldn't open my eyes.

“You probably won't believe me, and you may think this footage is scripted and recorded by Kei nii-sama.”

My saliva finally entered my stomach after much difficulty/ Right, you're the scapegoat offered by the Shionjis, right?

“But I already made up my mind before I went to that hospital, to take away the thing I forgot to take back eight years ago. This is completely out of my own volition, and the only way out I could think of. The proof is in the ribbon on Lilicu's neck.”

Taken aback, I looked towards the foot of the table. The teddy bear Alice left me had been there ever since I brought it back from the hospital.

“Actually, I too wanted to end up like ‘her’, and end my own life as it was. Later on, I don’t think there’s a need, for I won’t see you again. You’re dead to me. Separation and death is a little similar after all.”

Who is the “she” referred to here? Kill yourself? What are you getting at?

“The matter isn’t complicated at all. It’s all about redemption. I’ve went beyond the point of being the speaker of the dead. I have used an actual blade to remove this life of mine. I can no longer be a detective. ──”

   


I can no longer be a detective.

So I, as a detective’s assistant, is…

   


“That’s how it is, Narumi. Convey my words to everyone. Don’t ever look for me again.”

Saying that, Alice reached her hand over. At that moment, I thought she was going to hold mine, so I reached out. However, that was impossible, for it was a recorded video. She was pressing a button, and the video ended.

Following that, my mind was completely blank.

It took me a long time before I could muster all my strength to pick up Lilicu, as I inserted my fingers under the red ribbon, and fished out a hard piece of folded paper.

I opened it, and saw the words ‘translator afterword’. It appeared to be a page torn from the book, and the more I read it, the more stifled I felt.. This was written in the afterword──the author James Tiptree Jr., real name Alice Sheldon, shot her Alzheimer-afflicted husband before shooting herself…

It was the afterword in Tiptree’s ‘The Only Neat Thing to Do’.

Alice’s final message.

It’s unlikely this book would be available in the hospital. She probably tore off this page before leaving the detective agency, and hid it under the ribbon.

I lifted my head towards the monitor.

My fingers started to move on its own as I clicked to ‘replay’. Once again, Alice appeared on the monitor.

“Yo, Narumi──”

No matter how many times I repeated it, nothing changed, and the determined, business-like cold voice continued──

──But I already made up my mind.

── to take away the thing I forgot to take back eight years ago.

──This is completely out of my own volition.

You're lying.

You're lying, right?

Tell me you’re lying, Alice! There’s still a lot of different ideas, right? You’re not the kind of person to do something this stupid. I kept yelling silently at Alice on the monitor, and again, she repeated the cold, cruel answer.

──I had no choice.

── it’s so simple, nobody will be hurt.


It's just removing the artificial ventilation, just ensuring that a living corpse could obtain peace. The sight of Alice reaching for her father breathing tube in the dim room appeared vividly within my eyes.

── and end my own life as it was.

── It’s all about redemption.

──I can no longer be a detective.

Why?


Why?

I crumpled the book page.

I really really didn’t know what do. Till this point, even when the situation was chaotic, there was always Alice to guide me with her intellect and logic. She’s no longer around, and I can’t infer if there was anything more to this matter, who’s the foe, and what I should reveal.

With my last ounce of strength, I activated the software, and sent Alice’s message to Major. Of course, Major will then pass the message on to Hiroand Tetsu-senpai, and they’ll figure out what to do next.

Anyway, I’m tired.

So I crawled over the floor, scaled the bed, and slept like a sandbag.

*

Major replied first thing in the morning.

“Come over to ‘Hanamaru’, I called the Hirasaka-gumi over too.”

With my sleepy eyes, I scanned those words. Hirasaka-gumi? The Hirasaka-gumi wants to help too? They're acting a lot faster than I expected, and escalated things really quickly. I should have left it to the three of them.With my sleepy eyes, I scanned those words. Hirasaka-gumi? The Hirasaka-gumi wants to help too? They're acting a lot faster than I expected, and escalated things really quickly. I should have left it to the three of them. They’ve been part of the detective gang for much longer than me, and should be able to handle Alice’s absence.

Handle? How and what? Anyway, nobody seems to be disappointed, nobody’s asking for help, and there’s no real mystery to this though.

I couldn’t figure it out. Just thinking left my temples with a stinging pain. I dragged my dejected body into the bathroom, and slouched over as I let the hot water fall from the showerhead and onto my body. The feeling of drowsiness and burnout just couldn’t be washed away, and all I could feel was an important memory trickling away with the hot water, unable to stand upright.

I left home before 11am, and business started when I arrived at ‘Ramen Hanamaru’. 20 hunks or so in black T-shirts were at the entrance, seated on cardboard and the ground, chortling as they held paper cups. They are the Hirasaka-gumi guys, and it seemed everyone’s present . “I’m next! Time to train my manliness! One hand, five fingers down, push-ups while finishing a large glass of beer!”

“Hey, that’s not enough. One more!”

“I’m up!”

“Another three layers!”

“That’s too heavy!”

“Drink up!”

“Finish up and you won’t feel so heavy!”

“He’s down.”“Yeah he’s down.”

“Downed by beer and weight, puhahahaha!”

It’s an alley with no vehicles passing through, but it’s pretty unsightly for these guys to be wasted on the asphalt. Stop causing trouble for the neightbors.

“Shut up and drink up! I’ll send you guys to the police if you go overboard!”

Min-san lashed out as she tossed the noodles in the kitchen.

Seated on the beer crates by the door were Tetsu-senpai, Major, Hiro, and Yondaime. He was dressed in a fitting military fur jacket, having a few words with Tetsu-senpai. A few familiar uncles were inside the shop, their faces flushed.

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“Ah,aniki!” “Good work, aniki!”

Those black shirts found me before I got off my bicycle. I could smell the stench of beer so far away, and I really had the urge to cycle away, but the gorilla immediately surrounded me excitedly.

“Aniki, three prayers for arriving late!”

Which shrine am I supposed to pray at three times? Isn’t it three shots for coming late? Even though I can’t really drink.

“Should be three barrels!” “As we expect of your guts, aniki!” I’ll die. Please don’t.

“Everyone agrees, banzai!” “Great that the legislation can pass through!” What’s with your political sense rising right now?

“Let’s learn and perform manzais like Tsuneo Watanabe!” “Who’s going to do the retorts?” “Aniki of course!” “As to be expected of you, aniki. You aren’t scared of the Giants!” “If Tsuneo’s playing dumb, the readers are going to protest another way. Hey!”

No no no, I’m not in the mood to play manzai with you guys.

“Eh, erm, you guys…why are you having a beer party now? Aren’t we here to talk about something?”

“Eh, something? ”Pole blinked in surprise.

“We’re here to watch the flowers and drink some beer!” Rocky raised his cup to toast.

…Watch the flowers?

I turned around, and immediately understood. Looking out through the alley, I could see the cherry blossoms lined up in the park. The partially bloomed flowers were pretty and red under the sun.

It’s this season already. Loads of things happened these past days. I am not in the mood to note the seasons. Only after they mentioned it did I recall that it was April starting yesterday.

“We were watching the flowers in the park last time.” Pole said, looking drunk, “But you see, didn’t they rebuild the place as a sports park last year? We can’t go there to drink anymore, so that’s why we’re hanging out at ‘Hanamaru’ this year.”

“We ain’t exactly watching the flowers though.” “Just eating and drink away!” “Master〜 this cherry blossom ice cream is nice! Can I have another bowl!?”

“One person gets one bowl only! It’s limited for this season!”

Min-san yelled from the kitchen.

I dragged the bicycle to the back door, and sat next to Yondaime hesitantly.

“Erm…what’s the situation now?”

“Watching the flowers.” Yondaime glanced aside at the gang members, scoffing.

“Eh, I know that. What I’m saying is ──”

“Major showed me the video, and I heard what happened. Those idiots of mine don’t know yet.”

“Well…I see. So, I guess this isn’t really the time, right?”

“Whether Alice is around or not, the flower viewing still happens.” Tetsu-senpai’s slurry voice interrupted. There was an empty bottle of 720cc Japanese wine.

“Yes, how can we not drink at this moment?”

Hiro too was drinking with much enthusiasm. Seeing the color of the liquid, I’m guessing it’s most likely whisky. He’s another one whose face won’t be flushed even when drinking, but his eyes looking a little dazed. He seemed rather drunk.

“You〜and I in the same〜batch〜the sakuras〜”

And Major started singing an army song while drunk. What’s with these guys?

”Erm…aren’t we hear to discuss about Alice?”

“Discuss what?” Yondaime scoffed, “Didn’t she tell us to leave her be?”

“Y-yea, but…”

“To be honest, I don’t know what to do either.”

Hiro’s words left me dumbfounded.

“Look, if Alice was abducted, I’m going in to save her even if I have to get the Hirasaka-gumi guys to barge in. But after seeing that video, I …”

“Aren’t you guys going to save her?”

“Please, Narumi…”Tetsu-senpai looked at me in the eyes and said, ”If it was Alice who killed him, and if we’re to get her out from her house, the issue will get worse. Do you understand? They’re hiding her because they don’t want to involve the police. If we make a careless move, we might alert the police, and what happens in the hospital will be revealed.”

Senpai’s words took a long time before they finally sank into my mind.

Alice’s not in a fix. She’s alright.

Those that aren’t in trouble can’t be helped.

No, it’s likely that if I save her and be reunited with her, she might really kill herself. For her, not meeting me again is a replacement to death. This thought left a shiver in me, It’s pointless to convince myself countless times that she couldn’t possibly do such a foolish thing, since she already did.

“We’ll meet again at Yasukuni! Meet again at Yasukuni!”

A completely drunk Major was shouting some ominous stuff at an empty place. The drunk uncles and guys in black T-shirt too created a ruckus.

“…But even so, there’s no need to be watching flowers at this time, right?”

I asked, sounding unconfident.

“Now’s the time to watch the flowers.” Hiro smiled, “When we’re at a loss on what to do, we need to smile and do happy things. It’s pointless to keep a glum face.”

I lowered my eyes and shook my head. I couldn’t be so carefree, and I wasn’t in the mood to receive the cup before me.

I returned to my bicycle parked at the back door, picked up the Lilicu in the basket, went up the staircase, and thought of sleeping in the office.

“Hey, gardening kid …”

I arrived at the turnaround, and turned my head around once I heard a voice from downstairs. I found Yondaime climbing the stairs, so I stopped, looking tense as I said,

“Right…sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing?”Yondaime frowned.

“I-it’s nothing. I thought I made you angry.”

“You idiot.”

Yondaime said, point at the teddy bear under my armpit,

“It’s falling off.”

“Eh?”

“The nose is falling off. Hand it over.”

Yondaime snatched the doll, stormed up the third level, and entered the detective agency. I hastily gave chase.

He sat on the corridor, and took out a black plastic box from his coat pocket. There was a needle, a pair of scissors, and a spool of thread. It’s a sewing box. So he brings that along with him every time?

I knelt next to Yondaime, watching him skillfully repair the fallen bear nose.

Once he was done, Yondaime straightened his collar, and stared at the amber eyes of the teddy bear. I had throught he would talk about the ‘evidence’ Alice mentioned in the video, but he merely put the bear on my knees.

“…She owed me a lot.”

Yondaime sighed, and muttered,

“And I owe her as much.”

The score’s settled. It seemed he intended to say that he hasn’t repaid the favour, so it didn’t matter that Alice wasn’t around, right? I cupped the doll onto my tummy, my chin on the knees.

“You sent the video to Major, hoping for others to think up ideas for you, right?”

Yondaime wasn’t really chiding nor mocking me, just flatly stating the truth.

“…Yes.”

“Now that’s your problem. Stop relying on others. If you are personally asking to save her, your sincerity might get everyone to help you out, as long as the situation allows for it. This goes for me, Tetsu and the others, but you’re the one who has to make the decision.”

I stared blankly at Yondaime’s sidelong face, blinking a few times. On that face was the cold, hard ruggedness that always nudged me from behind.

“Mine…? No, that’s…Alice’s problem. So that’s everyone’s problem.”

Yondaime stood up.

“That has nothing to do with Alice, or us. It’s your problem.”

Without looking at me again, he left the office, leaving me alone in the dry air with the cold air breathing, and Lilicu staring at me worriedly.

Why does it have nothing to do with anyone else? Isn’t that too harsh on Alice? No, he’s always been like this.

Relying on others.

I guess it’s true. Without Alice around, I was lost, scared of making my own decisions, just wanting to shirk responsibility.

I staggered to my feet, removed my shoes, returned Lilicu to her companions, and removed the pajamas hanging in the bathroom to fold. In this room that contained Alice’s remains, all I could feel was a sweet, gentle pain in my teeth no matter what I saw or touched.

I carelessly recalled the words Alice said, and compared the patterns and colors on the pajamas. I see, so the bear patterns and blue fabric do differ slightly, and they all have what looks like a chrysanthemum logo. She’s right. They’re all of the same brand, with such minor difference. No wonder I didn’t realize it…so I tried to excuse myself, but it didn’t comfort me in any way. How did I not realize it? I’ve been by Alice’s side for a year and a half, serving as her assistant, yet I knew nothing about her.

This time, she wouldn’t tell me anything beforehand. I tried taking the initiative to talk to her, but she wouldn’t utter a single word.

What have I been doing over the last year and a half?

I’ve been saved by Alice countless times, and learned lots of things. With her encouragement, I got my battered body moving, but I couldn’t do anything to repay her, always asking dumb questions, doing things without thinking, and making her worry. Whenever I ferried her on the bicycle, she would wail away. Whenever I gave her a can of Dr. Pepper without gas, I would be scolded by her. These really weren’t things worth being proud of. What detective’s assistant am I being? This really is a bad joke.

──Leave me alone.

That was the final order the detective left…for her foolish assistant.

Tears were about to fall. Yeah, Alice…someone as stupid as I am can easily execute this.

I left the detective agency, and the Hirasaka-gumi gang members continued to make a ruckus downstairs. Leaving aside whether Alice was around, the flowers continued to bloom. I felt a sudden moment of rage, reviling the fact that Spring had arrived.

*

I returned home, and snuck into my head. I thought I couldn’t sleep as I slept at an irregular time, so I was trying to space out, lying on the bed. The sky was dark when I woke up. I looked at my cellphone by the bed, and found that it was 7pm. My sister sent me a message, telling me to settle my own dinner.

There was some noise downstairs, and it seemed I woke up due to it. Since my sister isn’t returning home that early, it probably means dad’s back. I lowered my head dejectedly on the bed. Recently, he had been returning home more frequently, just twice or thrice every month instead of the usual once every two months.

I felt melancholic being alone with my dad in the house. I put on the blanket, wanting to sleep. However, as I had just woken up, I really couldn’t sleep.

So I gave up, and got off the bed to face the situation.

My body was soaked in sweat, so I removed my shirt. There was a grimy sense of dirt and grease clinging to my skin, so I opened the drawer, grabbed a shirt, and out it was a T-shirt Mari-san gave me.

Right, I wonder what happened to her? She tried to speak up for her sister once she learned the latter had killed their father. Is she accompanying Alice? No way. Alice hates her—so I thought, before I noticed something.

There was a chrysanthemum shaped logo on the label at the back collar of the T-shirt. The brand was different, yet it was the same design as Alice’s pajamas.

I hurried to the table, and opened my laptop. Just entering my login and password left me frustrated. I searched for the name ‘Shionji Mari’, and found her official website under the first result. Opening it, I found an entire photo of Mari-san dressed in a white dress on the front page, and the photos by the popup menu showed the names of her three brands, female, male and children clothing. All of them had that chrysanthemum logo.

How was it that I only realized at this point?

Feeling dumbfounded, my eyes lost all focus as they wavered across the monitor.

Alice’s pajamas were all Mari-san’s brand, and I took her words literally, not seeing beyond the surface. I had assumed Alice really hated her older sister. It was stupid. I really didn’t understand anything at all.

They really missed each other that much.

I’ve been so close to Alice for so long, yet I never read her thoughts. I had no right to be her assistant.

What else did I miss?

The various things that happened that night reawakened clearly in my mind, one by one.

I suddenly got to my feet, so agitated that I didn’t realize the chair had fallen behind me. Various colors and words swirled in a vortex, crumbling, scattering into fragments, and fusing together again,

A short fiery breath was eked out between my lips.

My heart calmed down, beating firmly and vigorously.

I understood.

I understood what happened that night. It was so easy to understand. It’s not just one hint, all of them were revealed before me, just that I didn’t know how to open my eyes.

I put on my T-shirt, grabbed my cellphone, and exhaled to calm myself down.

However, there was one point I did not get. Why did ‘she’ do it? That could be left for later however; I had to take action. I couldn’t remain where I was, I couldn’t back down. I had to advance in a direction.

Which?

I left my room, and went downstairs to the first floor, seeing a silhouette on my corridor. It’s my dad, his back facing the lights in the living room. He probably came out from the toilet, since I could hear some soft water sounds.

Our eyes crossed. He passed me by, holding the door handle to the living room. I too endured the awkwardness, but after one step, I stopped, my toes creaking on the floor.

The few words nailed to my chest sizzled again, throbbing my heart.

It’s my own issue. I just refused to face it directly.

So I turned around, and said to the frail figure behind that closing door,

“──Dad.”

My dad had his hand on the door that was going to close. He didn’t turn his face around, and I couldn’t see his expression. When did he have so much more white hair? So I thought as I saw the back of his head. No matter how he tried to run away from reality and hasten the time in his heart, he couldn’t lie to his body.

“Sis sent me a message saying that she’s doing overtime…I’m going out now. She said we’ll have to settle dinner for ourselves.”

Dad didn’t reply, and remained still at the door that was centimeters ajar; I wondered if he would dissolve into sand at that moment, gone with the wind. Finally, I gave up hope, and turned to sit at the corridor, wearing my shoes.

“──Narumi…”

Finally, a voice rang.

It took me a long, laughable amount of time to understand that it was my dad’s voice. What I saw as I turned around was the aged sidelong face of my dad through the gap at the door, covered with wrinkles left behind by the many fleeting years.

“What about your dinner?”

I chewed upon the somewhat intangible answer in my mouth.

“I’ll go out to eat. There’s a ramen shop I frequent.”

In the end, that’s all I could say.

“…I see.”

Dad’s flat reply was cut off coldly as the door shut.

Once I exited the house, the faint night breeze grazed my hair. The darkness didn’t seem cold to me. The branches of the tree swayed, and between them, the lights of the buildings flickered. I could hear cats fighting somewhere, and crickets chirping, impatient for summer. The breath of life lingered in the atmosphere. It was the smell of Spring filled with birth and rotting.

Once I got on the way, I took out the phone from my pocket, hesitated on who to call, before choosing to call Yondaime.

“…What is it?”

Soon after, I got his cold reply, with a bunch of loud people in the background.

“…E-erm, are you guys still drinking?”

“At the fourth shop. We’re at a bar in Sakuragaoka.”

I could hear incoherent, brash singing. I guess the Hirasaka-gumi are also gathered there.

“I…want to ask you for help.”

“If you have anything to say, hurry up.”

I took a deep breath, intending to rally myself, only to hear some glass and large objects tumbling over, causing me to move the phone away from my ear.

“Tetsu, what are you going?” And senpai’s drunk voice interrupted Yondaime.“Hey Narumi? Why are you calling Yondaime? You should be calling me first!”

Major’s voice rang as well.“All of you are soldiers, none of your logic applies to me!”Hiro too spoke with questionable sobriety, “I’m your senior here. Why didn’t you discuss it with me first?” Well I called Yondaime because I knew you guys would be dead drunk.

“Ignore those idiots, talk.”

Yondaime seemed to have finally gotten his phone back as he prompted me. Having lost have my motivation to the drunks, I took a deep breath, and started over again.

“…I want to get Alice back from her family. I need your help.

“What about payment?”

As expected, Yondaime would start talking about the money issue. This business-like attitude really had me grateful, and I didn’t have to look back to how empty I was 10 minutes ago.

“Alice says that she’ll pay once she’s back.”

“Didn’t she say to leave her already? Doesn’t that mean that she doesn’t need saving? We might be unable to settle payment then.”

“I’ll get her to pay. I don’t care what she thinks right now, but once we get her back, I’ll get her to pay as thanks”

Right, it’s not Alice’s issue, not Yondaime’s, Tetsu-senpai’s, Hiro’s or Major’s, but what I want.

I hope that Alice can return.

No way do I accept that I can’t see her again, leave me alone. She can say that all she want. If she really hopes not to get involved with me, she could have vanished without saying anything. Why leave a message for me? Such an idiot. No matter how awkward I might look, I’m going to grab you and pull you back. I managed to lie and outtalk many, but I can’t lie to my own heart.

I don’t want to lose Alice.

“You’re pretty confident. I’m here to talk to you anyway, and what Alice thinks is none of my business.”Yondaime said emotionlessly,

“What do you think will happen if you take her back? What if her actions are revealed──”

“It wasn’t Alice who killed him.”

A long silence beckoned. So even Yondaime will hesitate on how he should talk.

“──I see, good.”

He said nothing more. I heaved a sigh of relief, grateful that he’s really my sworn brother.

“Meet me at my office, we’ll be right there.”

The call ended. I slipped the phone into my pocket, thinking that I should retrieve my bicycle that’s at ‘Ramen Hanamaru”. While leaving the agency, I was scared of seeing everyone, and feeling unbearable, so I left my bicycle there, and went back. If I could decide back then to ask everyone to retrieve Alice, I wouldn’t have to make a long detour.

No, making detours is how I always lived. Haven’t I always been like this in the past? If I want to regret, I’ll do it once I enter my grave.

It’s now time to keep charging forward.


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