The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village:Volume4 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Hishigami Enbi // The Present Fluctuates Freely
“Takenoko takenoko nyokiki!!”
“Nya ha ha! You were taken out right off the bat!”
“It’s a bit of an old game, so I forget how to play it☆”
A group of five men and five women on a group date was having the time of their lives at a table a short distance away. They must have been drinking a fair bit of alcohol because they were roaring with laughter at conversations that did not seem even remotely funny to me. Nevertheless, their laughter reached the table my sister and I were eating and drinking at.
For this twintailed middle school girl of the Hishigami family, a bar with only dim indirect lighting was a new experience. It made me wonder if I should really be there. Still, I hadn’t ordered any alcohol and my adult sister was across the table from me, so no one was going to warn me away or anything.
“There’s nothing on this menu but greasy meat. I don’t think this kind of food is right for a farming race with length to spare in their intestines.”
My sister was a large-breasted woman in her twenties who still wore a tank top and hot pants. She held a glass filled to the brim with spirytus (a harsh drink that could do just fine fueling an alcohol lamp) and frowned as she replied to me.
“They have salads down at the bottom.”
“What kind of salad has ‘plenty of beef tongue’!? The vegetables clearly aren’t the primary part of these dishes! A girl with lots of subcutaneous fat can’t carelessly eat this kind of thing.”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry. You’re in middle school, aren’t you? At your age, your metabolism won’t leave any fat behind. Did an instigator of some kind of health boom scare you on TV or something? And if you’re that worried, just take a run after eating.”
“That may work for you, but you’re a monster that chases after an Italian sports car to drag some villain out of it.”
“I only managed that because it was a winding road on a mountain ridge. I couldn’t do it on a straight city road.”
The fact that she thought that showed she was normal proved just how much of a monster she was. At any rate, she was someone I didn’t want involved in the schedule mysteries that were fun for their logic.
Meanwhile, excited voices were still coming from the other table.
“Huh? You’ve only been ordering oolong tea, haven’t you?”
“No, no. I’m fine. This has shochu in it.”
“You don’t have to say that. If you don’t drink, just say so. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I won’t force you to drink, so don’t worry. Nya ha ha ha ha!!”
While the voices sometimes jumped up in volume and stabbed into my ears, I reached for the large plate of beans.
“Ahh, edamame is delicious. I think these have to rank at #1.”
“No, that would be dadachamame. And do you insist on only eating vegetables!? What’s this!? Is my sister actually a girl or something!?”
“Of course I am!! And what’s with that fried beef!? Girls are supposed to think even chicken is too greasy!”
“Sorry, but it’s looking like I have a big job coming up. Once it begins, I don’t know when I’ll next get any proper human food, so I want to fill my head with as many memories of civilization as I can.”
“Oh, is that so? I’ve got a troublesome issue at hand too.”
My sister winked while downing the clear liquid with 90%+ alcohol content as if it were cool water.
“Let’s hope we don’t run into each other.”
“That’s for sure. If two Hishigami women ended up involved in a single incident, it would feel like the end of the world. I’d imagine everything would get resolved, but no one involved would be around to tell the tale.”
“I’ll be right back. I need to go to the bathroom!” said someone from the other table.
“Oh? Guys don’t use some kind of euphemism there?”
“Eh? Do you seriously say you’re off to pick flowers? I thought that was an urban legend.”
A young man in a business suit stood up from that table.
Due to the layout, he approached our table and so I spoke up.
“Detective, what are you doing here?”
The instant I did, the man in the cheap suit froze in place. That detective from Investigation Department 1 of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department slowly turned toward me like a doll needing to be oiled. He was Detective Uchimaku Hayabusa and he was single. An unpleasant sweat covered the expression of a man who had just made the worst mistake of his life.
And he suddenly tried to cry his way out of it.
“Noooooooooooo!! I’m not asking why you two are here! I’m just not!! Let’s keep to ourselves here, okay? I really don’t get a chance like this often!! Pleeeeeeeease!!”
“Detective, your friend Enbi-chan here has the kind heart of the Virgin Mary, so I won’t count this as cheating on me. …But only if you kiss me right here and now.”
“Enough nonsense! Just promise me!! A police detective has a harder time meeting women than a uniformed police officer! Even people who haven’t done anything wrong shut me out because they say I look too scary! But this time is different. There’s a flight attendant who kindly reached out to me!! This is the only paid vacation left, but she went out of her way to schedule this on my day off! If I miss this chance, it’s all over! My days of youth will end and I’ll be a lonely middle-aged man instead!! So please!!”
You’re supposed to be a police detective, so what on earth are you talking about?
Of course, a normal love life was impossible for this man. Even on his day off, he wasn’t drinking. It was probably his way of making sure he was ready if something did happen.
“Detective, it pains me to say it, but I don’t have to do anything here. It’s already too late.”
“Don’t be so ominous!! Mai, stop your sister’s rampage here!!”
“(Sparkle, sparkle, sparkle.)”
“What’s with that glitter in your eyes!? You want to destroy this group date and cause a commotion just for fun, don’t you!? I won’t let you! I won’t! Defense!! Defense!!”
“Detective, look over here.”
I diverted my future darling’s eyes as he posed like a basketball player for no reason.
“Your cell phone is going to receive an emergency call soon. This fun love comedy part of the night will end without our interference. So let’s go dive headfirst into the serious and bloody suspense part of the night☆”
“Please wait!! Let me recover my energy! I’ll break otherwise. I really, really will!”
“Sure, sure. But the countdown has already begun. Three, two, one.”
At that moment, his cell phone produced a normal ring tone.
He brought it to his ear in annoyance and a grim male voice came out.
It was the chief of Department 1.
“You have a case, Uchimaku. You’re back on duty, so get to the scene.”
“………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Me no speak Japanese.”
“I already know you’re just about the biggest idiot out there, so you don’t have to remind me. I’ll send the details in an email.”
The detective then reached for the glass on our table.
More specifically, he grabbed the glass my sister had been using and gulped down the clear liquid inside.
“Ah! My spirytus!”
“Gwaaaaaahhh!? You got an indirect kiss with hiiiiiiiiiiimmmmmmm!?”
He completely ignored our shouts.
“Bh!? Spiry-gwah!?” he choked.
He was immediately left unsteady on his feet as he spoke into the cell phone.
“I can’t, chief! I’m out drinking right now!! I’d love to make a dashing entry, but unfortunately, a police officer can’t exactly drink and drive.”
“Take a cab. And no, we won’t reimburse you for the fare.”
The call ended there and the detective remained motionless.
There was only one kind of case an off-duty police detective would be called to.
Plenty of incidents both large and small occurred in Tokyo on a daily basis, but it was not often they were sent straight to the metropolitan police and had off-duty detectives called in. This clearly had some kind of dangerous circumstances that brought it behind a normal incident.
I lent my shoulder to the detective who was about to collapse from something other than the alcohol and I spoke my thoughts as we waited for a taxi to pass by the nighttime street.
“In Odaiba, the idol group Tarot Girls 22 was having a live broadcast event as guests on an internet radio show, but a man burned himself to death. It may be called net radio, but they tend to have videos these days, so the footage of the human pillar of fire’s death throes was sent all around the world.”
“Why do you know all this?
“I said it was a live broadcast, didn’t I? This isn’t classified police information. The broadcast station has apparently stopped transmitting the footage, but it’s everywhere on the video sharing sites. Every message board I’ve looked at is filled with dangerously titled threads.”
“But when I say this was net radio, I don’t mean it was a studio rented out by amateurs. It’s a division and subsidiary of Japan’s most well-known national broadcast station. The top levels of the station were afraid newspapers and TV wouldn’t be necessary in five years’ time, so they bought up a successful netventure to gain the knowhow. It was less a way of gaining actual profits and more preparations for dealing with the new age that would weed them out. Think of it like an investment to learn about the enemy.”
The combination of a drunk man in a suit and a middle school girl must have been a problem because we didn’t seem able to catch a taxi.
“The victim was a twenty-four year old man named Usuta Manabu. He was on the net radio’s sound staff, but he was a freelancer with a bottom-level position. It isn’t known if he left any kind of will behind. From what I’ve seen on the video sites, he dumped a plastic bottle of a flammable liquid over his head and set himself ablaze with a lighter. It might have been an organic solvent for paints that isn’t as flashy as gasoline. Art staff could easily bring some into even a heavily-guarded TV station, so there would probably have been some lying around for Usuta to grab.”
“That’s…hic…sad to hear. He probably regretted his decision as soon as he lit it.”
“Probably. The weak flames from a solvent take a while to kill you. Then again, there wasn’t much hope of saving him once he was entirely engulfed in the flames. If he was going to go that far, he should have prepared some gasoline and died a less painful death. That might have killed him instantly and wouldn’t have lasted longer than a few minutes.”
Incidentally, the detective’s Investigation Department 1 had a section dedicated to fires. It was a bit of a stretch to say a suicide qualified, but the special circumstances of this case kept anyone from immediately labelling it a “mere suicide”.
The spread of the flames to the broadcast station’s equipment and the interrupted live broadcast would likely be treated as more important than the man’s death.
In the worst case, it could be registered as arson against the station rather than suicide.
If that happened, Usuta Manabu would be treated as a perpetrator rather than a victim. Of course, it was a lot the same when a train hit someone. The focus was always more on the delayed schedule and cost of the damage than on the person killed.
It was said that the law prioritized public welfare over the circumstances of individuals, but it was important to remember that was harsher than it sounded.
“Then what are saying?” asked the detective with a suspicious look in his eyes. “Some grotesque footage that violates the broadcast code might bring social unrest, so the well-known Department 1 has to send all its forces out to quickly fix it? Hic.”
“Well, it was a net broadcast, so the codes don’t really apply and I’m not sure if the Broadcast Something-Or-Other Committee will do anything about the scandal. Then again, this was related to a subsidiary of a national broadcast station, so who knows.”
We finally caught a taxi.
I stuffed the detective into the back seat and then sat next to him.
The middle-aged female driver looked displeased when I told her we needed to get to the broadcast station in Odaiba.
“What’s this? Are you trying to get a peek at tonight’s hottest murder scene? Sorry, but I can’t let you do that. If you’re just interested in what doesn’t concern you, I’ll refuse to drive you.”
“He’s a detective from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and I’m a freelancer, so we need to get there ASAP to solve the case.”
“What’s this!? You mean the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department? And what do mean by a freelancer!? Sh-should I be getting your autographs or something!?”
God, how annoying!! You’re the one that’s too interested in what doesn’t concern you!!
The detective who reeked of alcohol was of little use.
“Hic. Anyway…can you get going?”
“Sure, sure. This is when you ask me to follow that car, right!? I’m on it!!”
The woman seemed to be on a high because she drove us quite recklessly from the Shinbashi drinking district to Odaiba.
“Hic. By the way, driver.”
“What is it!? Ask me anything! Do you want to know about any suspicious passengers I’ve had!?”
“You called it a murder scene just now, didn’t you? What do you mean?”
“That’s what everyone’s saying. They say there’s no way it was just a suicide.”
Let Enbi-chan handle that one.
“The social unrest you mentioned before might not be too far off. This is going to be more than just dealing with a suicide.”
“Every message board out there has a flood of posts coming in, but there’s clear malice mixed in at a pretty good frequency. A lot of people are saying there was nothing wrong with the sound staff member and his suicide was caused by something else.”
“Something else? You mean like someone assisted or instigated the suicide?”
“I told you the guest was Tarot Girls 22, remember? They’re the most popular national idol group right now and it seems the blame is spreading to them. People are saying they’re cursed or that a woman’s cries are mixed in with their latest song.”
“Hee hee hee☆ The mystery voice on the CD, huh?” added the driver.
“Well, it’s a common urban legend.”
The TV industry had a way of gathering occult stories. Some would say everyone related to the production of a certain advertisement was meeting bizarre deaths one after another, some would say they caught a glimpse of a corpse floating in the pond behind the reporter in the instant they switched to the outside camera on the weather forecast, and some would say a porn video was playing after the station’s broadcast time had ended.
One genre of those was the mystery voice on a CD. Those rumors usually said a female screaming or crying was recorded along with the artist’s voice. There were a few famous songs with that rumor.
“So instead of Tarot Girls 22 being caught up in the sound staff member’s suicide, those people think the sound staff member was killed due to the problems surrounding Tarot Girls 22.”
“Do you think that’s possible?”
“It’s hard to say.”
If this was a fictional mystery novel, I would have laughed and said it was obviously some kind of clever trick made to look like the curse had done it, but unfortunately, this world was filled with irregular beings known as Youkai.
Not that this was any time to give a proud snort and say something as obvious as “truth is stranger than fiction”.
“Was it a suicide or something more? Was it done entirely by human hands or was an elusive Youkai involved? And if a Youkai was involved, was it an intentional act of the Youkai’s or was a human using its power via a Package? We have no choice but to investigate every possibility.”
However, I could only glean so much information from the excited message boards and video sharing sites. Without heading to the scene of the crime and investigating myself, I couldn’t even plan what to do next.
The taxi crossed a brightly lit bridge.
“Would it really be that hard to just seal off this bridge?”
“Try learning a thing or two about economics.”
“I bet I could get it immediately sealed off by attaching a kitchen timer to a cylindrical container, duct-taping it to the bottom of the bridge, and calling the police.”
“Hic. Do that and you’re on your own.”
Once we had crossed the bridge, we were on obviously reclaimed land.
There was a large-scale park and shopping mall, but it still looked like a kingdom ruled by a ridiculously huge national TV station. From one end of the rectangular area of reclaimed land to the other, it all looked like an unreal TV set.
I was pretty sure the area had lately had an Edo-style revival campaign. They had tried to raise the water quality of Tokyo Bay to properly bring back the old Edo-style sushi or something like that.
The word “ecological” tended to make people think of being less wasteful, but the introduction of new facilities for the environment had placed industrial complexes all along the bay’s coast. Madoka had likely been delighted with all the money and rights being traded around.
The woman driver then asked a question.
“Where should I stop? Will the shopping mall’s parking lot work?”
“We’ve got an actual police officer with us, so there’s no need to hold back. Pull right up to the front of the TV station like a VIP’s limo.”
“Heh heh. I’ve always wanted to do that.”
I don’t know where she learned how to do it, but the tires screeched as she brought the taxi around the front entrance circle.
Despite how late it was, the area was filled with people.
Irritated security guards were keeping normal people from entering, but they could not keep the media away. And a close glance showed one young man carrying a camera with the TV station’s own logo. I guessed they had been unable to stop the flood of people after the following scenario played out: Their own reporters made their way in → Why does that station get in and no one else? → This isn’t fair! It’s a violation of the freedom of the press!!
The showy arrival of the taxi was met by the bright stroboscopic flashing of the SLR cameras.
They took picture after picture hoping it was a famous celebrity, a station VIP, someone related to the incident, or just anyone they could sell to a sports newspaper later.
But it turned out to be none of those.
Okay!! It’s time for the arrival of the (future) most lovey-dovey couple in the world!!
As for Police Sergeant Uchimaku’s reaction upon getting out of the back seat…
“Yay!! Are you getting some good shots? Hello, everyone! Or should I say good evening? Department 1 is on the scene!! Ugh. Oh, no. Here it comes… Oehhhhhhhhh!?”
I hope this shocking footage isn’t released so soon after the suicide by burning.
Tarot Girls 22 was the most popular idol group in Japan.
As their name suggested, their primary group was made up of 22 girls from the Fool to the Universe. They also had a second group of 56 girls that had 14 each of Wands, Cups, Swords, and Coins.
They could be seen as the first of the fusion of beautiful girls and occult mysteries that were common in idols these days. Some people had gained an odd popularity through fortune telling and spiritualism and this was the result of the already-popular idol industry taking that in for themselves.
The most distinguishing feature of Tarot Girls 22 was how they were divided between the Major Arcana group and the Minor Arcana group, but the members were always split up and rearranged for a new song release or a national tour.
Each member represented a tarot card and the optimal card arrangement for the day’s work determined the participating unit, so which group they were in made little difference. The way the idols were used without taking into account their individual popularity or sales helped increase their “credibility” from a spiritual standpoint.
The choreography of their dancing and their positions on stage during concerts all had tarot meanings included, so after any event, enthusiastic fans known as Arcana Readers would give their personal interpretations on video sites or message boards. Of course, sometimes intense “religious disputes” would break out.
We entered the TV station and the detective seemed to be feeling better after vomiting a spectacular amount, so he asked me a question.
“Hic. How did some suspicious mystery freak get into a heavily guarded national TV station that’s been designated a possible terrorist target?”
“Try actually reading the documents. I’m from Bug Breakers! Some young help was called in as an emergency worker to search for bugs set up in the station☆”
“You’re setting up your own bugs while pretending to look for them, aren’t you? Ugh…. And then you ‘find’ them so they trust you.”
“Bugs aren’t illegal if you just carry them around with you. I’m never even switching them on.”
In truth, I had to begin by using cold reading to make them believe their most important information was being leaked out, so it could be a lot of trouble.
The detective looked annoyed and doubt gradually appeared on his face.
“Wait a sec. Ugh. When did you begin preparing for this? It couldn’t have been after the suicide. Hic.”
“And that means this began before that.”
“A part of it did anyway. Want to hear about it?”
I attached earphones to my smartphone and put one half in his ear.
Eh heh heh. I’ve always wanted to share a set of earphones like this!
“Ugh. What is this?”
“Tarot Girls 22’s latest song. It’s titled Summer Vacation, Again and Again. Shh. Listen carefully at 1:55.”
At that moment, he clearly frowned.
It sounded like silk being torn.
No, it sounded like a young woman had someone grab her by the legs and tear her entire body in two. That was how ghastly the scream mixed in with the song was.
“Let me ask again. Hic. What is this?”
“Who can say? The rumor online is that Tarot Girls 22 angered something best left undisturbed by using spiritualism for their business. For a while, strange phenomena have been occurring around them and this is just one of them.”
“Are you serious?”
“If a single person’s grudge would do things as obvious as this like on an insane spiritual TV special, no one would need people like us. Things are different with a collection of grudges that takes form as a Youkai, though.”
As we whispered to each other, a young female staff member walked over to us. Her name was Akashi Mitsu. Her job title was assistant director, but she was actually just a part time worker and it seemed she would be showing us around.
“You are from the police, aren’t you? The scene is this way. Oh, Enbi-chan. What are you doing here?”
“Bug Breakers needs to do our thing before the inspection can begin☆ If the murderer set up a device before leaving, they can listen in on what the police are saying. And if they know what the initial investigation turned up, they can come up with a countermeasure.”
Akashi Mitsu-chan’s face grew obviously pale at my made-up excuse. She rudely bit at her thumbnail and quickly showed us down the hallway as if something was bothering her.
“(Hey, mystery freak. Hic. Are you kidding me here?)”
“(That AD didn’t even question it when you mentioned a murderer. Hic. I thought this was supposed to be a suicide.)”
“(Then do your best to catch up to me☆)”
Whether as an anti-terrorism measure or a way of keeping stalkers out, we did not head down a straight hallway and take a single elevator. The hallways took turn after turn and we repeatedly switched between elevators before finally reaching our destination.
We passed by people famous from TV a few times, but the detective wasn’t familiar enough with them to get excited. Or perhaps he was just that much of a professional despite being drunk. Either way, it was cute.
A girl leaving a kitchenette spoke to me and the detective actually stopped this time.
The fourteen-year-old girl was the member of Tarot Girls 22 corresponding to the Empress of the Major Arcana. Her body was quite well-developed for her age, but there was a heavy look across her entire face. It was as if she walked around with a label saying “At school, I’m the inconspicuous library committee member.”
Her name was Anemura Kaede.
As far as the mysterious suicide case was concerned, she was not all that important.
However, I was a bit interested in the fact that she had left the kitchenette alone.
“Where’s your usual manager?”
“You mean Itano-san?”
Just as she finished asking that, a woman in a suit poked her head out from the stairwell.
She was the Itano Ryou we were just discussing. She looked to be in her late twenties and she had a nice enough body and a beautiful enough face to make some money if she changed into a swimsuit, but she was far too unsociable for that.
Currently, she spoke quietly.
“Is there a refrigerator in the kitchenette? If not, we’ll have to head out to buy ice.”
“Oh, there is one. Are the other girls really doing that badly?”
“Two or three of them are still in complete shock after seeing that corpse. Although that may be better than the ones that are getting far too excited about it all.”
Would that be the military-obsessed Chariot or the brown-skinned Sun?
It seemed some people had made inappropriate threads using the frightening footage of the suicide to vote which idol had the best reaction. When seeing a man burn himself to death, it seemed some people lost their cool and others kept up the mask of an idol. The question was which was more unnatural.
Meanwhile, Kaede-chan the Empress crossed her arms restlessly and asked a question. The shy girl may not have realized it, but the pose pushed her breasts up with her arms.
“Um… How long do I have to stay here?”
“Oh, can you not relax at the scene of a suicide? There’s a futon in the dressing room, but you could probably relax more back at home.”
“Um, there is that, but it’s been several hours since it happened. Just staying in the station this late makes it hard to relax.”
Akashi-chan the AD opened her cell phone and let out a scream.
“Oh, crap! It’s this late!? I think I’m violating the Labor Standards Act!!”
“Come to think of it, should you be working this late, Enbi-san?”
“This doesn’t fall under the category of ‘labor’. If you’re a volunteer, you can slip through all sorts of loopholes. Help me out, detective.”
As I spoke, I pointed to the detective’s chest with my thumb.
The lovely young man in a suit responded halfheartedly to my demand for an explanation.
“Eh? If the police are keeping you here to help, hic, you won’t be punished even if you stay too long. Um… How far did I get? If you aren’t being paid, it doesn’t violate the Labor Standards Act. Hic.”
But something else surprised Kaede-chan the Empress.
“Eh? Um… He’s a police detective? But he looks like he’s drunk.”
“Yeah… If you’ve got a problem with it, I can always leave. In fact, I’d much rather leave. This was supposed to be my day off! Hic!!”
“You still haven’t gotten over that horrible group date? It clearly wasn’t going anywhere.”
“Um… Why is he crying?”
Either because this completely went against their image of a police officer or because a middle school girl like me was being so friendly with him, the AD and the Empress looked utterly shocked.
“I or one of the other officers should explain the situation to you later. Hic. If there’re no problems, please remain in the building. Ugh, I feel sick.”
“Oh, yes. Please make it quick if you can. I don’t want to miss school tomorrow too.”
Manager Itano Ryou glared at Kaede-chan the Empress before speaking.
“Anemura-san, as I said before, stay away from the dressing room for the moment. As the single calm girl, the panicked girls could easily snap at you.”
We left that show business pair and once more started toward the scene of the incident.
Just hearing the term internet radio made one think of a small recording studio and mixer room separated by soundproof glass, but this had been a live broadcast event with an audience. They seemed to have rented out an entire event studio used for song shows on television.
Having someone burn themselves to death during such a major performance had likely been a complete disaster for the producers.
The entire stage was sealed off with yellow tape, but the audience seating was not. What appeared to be a forensics team was already taking photos and checking for fingerprints and footprints with chemicals. I was apparently not the only one trying to get a look at it all because a girl with slender pants under her miniskirt tried to get some photos, had her cell phone confiscated by a uniformed police officer, and was now jumping up and down as he held it just out of her reach.
Isn’t that Eternity of the Major Arcana?
As I approached the scorched-smelling stage, I called out to the detective.
“The victim, Usuta Manabu, was a member of the sound staff.”
“You already told me that in the taxi. Hic.”
A blackened mass sat near the right wing of the stage. Right from the perspective of the audience, that is. It was curled up in the fetal position and was the Usuta Manabu I had mentioned. In life, he had been a chubby young man and the vestiges of that of that could still be seen in his corpse. Of course, that was nothing more than the yellow and half-cooked fat sticking out from his blackened skin.
The floor was burnt black for about three meters around the corpse.
“What do you think?”
“Hm? From the state of the body, the flames must not have been all that strong. A sprinkler probably could have put them out. Hic. The stage floor was waxed until it shined. That’s why the flames spread there.”
The detective went ahead and lifted up the yellow tape and stepped onto the stage.
I, on the other hand, sat in a front-row seat like an audience member.
“There was no room for any kind of trick in this case. The live worldwide broadcast proves that. He suddenly interrupted the event by running out from the right wing of the stage, dumped a plastic bottle full of liquid over his head, and ignited it with a cheap lighter.”
“We still can’t say that for sure. Burp. The flammable substance could have been dumped on him backstage and he ran out onto the stage to escape. Maybe the bottle only contained water.”
“That doesn’t explain the lighter.”
“It could’ve been a prank. Hic. He could have been pretending to kill himself to surprise everyone, but it ended up actually setting him alight. Hic. It’s possible the man didn’t know the bottle contained a flammable substance.”
“If that’s the case, we won’t find anything investigating the scene.”
I tried crossing my legs in the seat, but the detective refused to be seduced.
“But it might not a bad idea to look into.”
“Usuta Manabu had borrowed money from several different consumer moneylenders. In other words, he had a lot of debt.”
“You mean he had a motive for suicide? Hic. What about it?”
“There was suspicion surrounding him before this. People said he gathered and sold information on scandals concerning the station’s performers to pay back his ridiculous amount of debt.”
“And what does that have to do with the suicide?”
“This has created a scandal for the national idol group Tarot Girls 22.”
He seemed to reflexively turn toward me in the audience seating.
“Do you really mean that?”
“There were a few signs.”
With my legs still crossed, I shrugged my shoulders like a foreigner.
“For example, the voice on the CD mentioned in the taxi. Usuta Manabu was a freelance member of the sound staff, so he could have snuck the scream into the song and spread the rumor online. But it didn’t work. No matter how many times he scattered the sparks, the flames wouldn’t spread. And as his situation grew worse and worse, he finally-…”
“That doesn’t add up. Hic. If he was setting up the scandal to save himself, why would he kill himself to create the scandal? Hic. That doesn’t make sense.”
“Ih oh ai ah. Ih ih ee oh-ee ay oo ay ee.”
“People have read his lips just before his world broadcast suicide scene. He was shouting something, but his voice couldn’t be heard. What I just said were the vowel sounds read from his lip movements, but if you run through all possible patterns with a program to find a text that actually means something in Japanese, you get…”
I had gone to some effort to get this info, so I made sure to put on a bit of a show.
“It’s not my fault. This is the only way to save me.”
“Was he afraid of something? But…”
“It doesn’t feel like a suicide anymore, does it? Maybe he was trying to burn the Tarot Girls 22 to death but his hand slipped and he covered himself in flames instead.”
“But this isn’t connecting back to a scandal for them anymore.”
“Oh, isn’t it? There are rumors about strange phenomena occurring around those idols. Like the voice on the CD. A lot of people online are calling Usuta Manabu a victim. They’re saying someone who wants to eliminate the Tarot Girls 22 possessed him in order to attack them. In that case, it’s like a forged email and he’s a victim being treated like the perpetrator.”
“Hic. It’s certainly a possibility, and it certainly seems like a popular theory at the moment.”
“Regardless, it’s almost certain that Usuta said ‘this is the only way to save me’. Whether suicide or attempted murder, it was brought on by extreme fear. …And that makes me interested in what that fear was.”
“If he had a lot of debt from consumer moneylenders, burp, I would assume shady thugs.”
“Perhaps, but there are some interesting rumors about Tarot Girls 22. To give credibility as a fusion of idols and spiritualism, they’ve filmed PVs in a few spiritual locations. The rumor is that the strange phenomena are following them because they angered some kind of dangerous Youkai.”
“Youkai? What kind?”
“A relatively new and deadly one that was first confirmed during the Meiji era. It dresses as a farmer, appears in villages of the Tohoku region, and kills children. Even though no one ever sees it abduct the children, rumors later appear that it was seen in different places a day or two before. It’s a type of pure fear that causes that sort of mass hysteria.”
“Just get to the answer.”
“It’s called the Aburatori. Have you ever heard of it, detective?”
“Is Tarot Girls 22 really cursed?”
“They were filming PVs at spiritual locations to help sell their spiritual image. They were treading on famous suicide spots in swimsuits.”
“It’s called the Aburatori, right? I hear they couldn’t finish their pinup photo shoots because a strange blurry shadow appeared in the frame.”
“Oh, you mean the one that appeared to say hi from between Nabiki-chan the Hermit’s breasts of all places?”
“And now someone’s actually died because of it. But I’m sure they’ll keep doing it because they want those sales numbers. Is the stuff in convenience stores not enough for purification salt? Is there some special way to make that?”
After listening to that much, I shut down the audio app on my smart phone.
Those were the conversations I had recorded while sitting in the café at the shopping mall attached to the TV station. Day or night, the people of the station always needed caffeine, so you had a good chance of finding conversations of those involved at a nearby café.
“But there’s nothing useful in there.”
The involvement of a Youkai called an Aburatori could also be found in the many comments on internet message boards.
I heard a sparrow chirping outside the window.
Is it morning already?
Light gradually filled the room that contained nothing but case files. It had no refrigerator, no microwave, and no sink. Then again, the first floor of the building contained a convenience store and a 24-hour leisure spa was only a 100 meter walk away.
I had yet to find a real clue on the case and I wouldn’t be able to focus on my classes if I went to school like this.
I decided to skip school and focus on the case.
And that meant there was a possibility of running into the detective again. I hadn’t slept at all, but I needed to carefully groom myself.
Just to be clear, girls didn’t take such long baths because they soaked until they were boiled red.
In order to visit the leisure spa, I grabbed my usual bath set and also operated my smartphone.
I had to tell at least one classmate I was skipping.
But thirty seconds after that email, the phone rang.
“Hey, Tomoe. You clearly don’t know how to use a cell phone if you’re replying to an email with a phone call.”
“That’s because you sent me such a weird email. You’re skipping again? What are you up to?”
I wanted to tell her it was a problem as big as the incident she had been a part of, but I swallowed the words. I could be so kind.
“Oh, right. Despite how you look, you’re into the popular groups like Tarot Girls 22, right? Do you know anything fun about that?”
“What do you mean despite how I look? And the internet’s having a field day with that suicide. They’re all saying ‘it was like this before’, ‘it’s always been like this’, or ‘I knew this was happening from the beginning’ even though they only thought this stuff up five seconds ago.”
“Yeah. No one knows what’s accurate anymore.”
“And the Tarot Girls 22 aren’t all that bad. You never hear about them getting caught smoking or with boyfriends. But the internet is ganging up on them and saying that’s actually creepy.”
That’s the thing, Tomoe. Just like there’s no such thing as a pure evil villain, doesn’t a completely pure idol seem kind of suspicious?
With 78 of them in all, there are going to be fights and I’m sure at least one of them would get into some kind of trouble. And yet there have been exactly zero incidents.
“I wonder if Mio likes that kind of thing,” continued Tomoe. “She looks quiet and she’s good at dancing.”
“What’s Tsumada Mio doing now?”
“She’s going to school like normal. I don’t know if it’s an aftereffect, but it seems people sometimes forget she exists. Still, she says she’s generally getting along well.”
After finishing the conversation, I hung up.
I had two things to look into: Tarot Girls 22 and the loan sharks that the suicide victim named Usuta Manabu had borrowed money from.
It was only a trivial connection, but due to the previous conversation, I decided to start with Tarot Girls 22.
“Hello, this is Hishigami Enbi-chan of Bug Busters. Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary since last time? Maybe a bit of static in a cell phone call or momentary dip in quality on your TV?”
While stirring up fear by mentioning natural phenomena that occurred at least once a day in any home, I slipped past the muscular guard and into the staff entrance. They must have been interested in tech or the underworld because the ponytailed High Priestess and the gothic lolita Death watched me with a glitter in their eyes.
I was not in Odaiba’s Hachi TV.
This was a giant company building in the coastal area of Shinbashi. The entire twenty-story building was owned by Tarot Girls 22, so it was quite a spectacle.
The many elevators were completely divided between two systems. One system only travelled between floors one to ten and the other only travelled between floors eleven to twenty. The lower floors contained a gym, an editing room, a photo studio, and other facilities for external staff while the upper floors contained the legal and management offices for internal staff.
As I tried to decide where to investigate first, Anemura Kaede-chan the Empress poked her head out from around a corner.
She must have been in the middle of some sort of practice because she wore a tank top and short pants that left her midriff completely exposed. To make them easier to move in, they were made of a material that stretched easily, but that made it look like she was wearing sports underwear.
“What are you doing here today?”
“Making a quick check for bugs. If I don’t make unscheduled visits at random intervals, someone could remove the bugs on the inspection day and escape detection.”
You probably already know this, but the whole bugs thing was a bluff meant to get me close to the people involved in the case. This had nothing to do with the case, so don’t get confused.
Kaede-chan the Empress walked down the hallway with me and we passed by two girls holding a lid on a cup of noodles. The slender one in a black pantsuit and a monocle was the Magician and I was fairly certain the one who was secretly suspected to be a trap was the Magic. I was surprised to find even idols ate cup noodles.
“They’re probably on their way to be filmed for a behind-the-scenes video.”
Kaede-chan was incredibly blunt.
Both the lower floors and upper floors were worth investigating, but I decided to go with the lower floors since Kaede-chan was being talkative. I spoke up while walking alongside her.
“That’s quite the outfit there.”
“Eh? Oh. The choreography person said it was easier to see the charm of our own dancing if we can see the movements of our muscles in the mirror.”
We were on our way to the dance floor on the fifth floor.
However, this was not some outdated club. It really was a place to practice dancing. It had an empty flat floor with two adjacent walls covered with giant mirrors. Ten or more of the Tarot Girls 22 would dance at a time, so they needed a large space to practice.
I had investigated the place a few times already, but I hadn’t found anything strange.
Needless to say, there were no bugs or hidden cameras anywhere.
“We’re on a break right now, so it would probably be best if you finished your check before practice starts up again.”
Three other girls were gathered at one end of the room in the same outfit as Kaede-chan. They were bickering and playing a handheld game system…no, a smartphone app. I could hear quite a few clicked tongues from where I was, so they seemed very irritated.
Destiny with her twirling ringlet curls was in the center with Desire, the older sister type, and the Star, the hesitant small creature type, gathered around her.
“Everyone gets antsy before a concert, so try not to provoke them.”
There were posters here and there on the walls for something called the Autumn Happy Self Festival.
Wow. Not only is it sponsored by Hachi TV and Hishigami Auto, it lists Madoka’s name too. How much does she sponsor under her own name?
“Where’s that being held? You’re using a new place I assume.”
“Y-yes. It’s at the Toyosu Outdoor Concert Hall. I think they said something about it being recently built for the…Edo-style revival, was it?”
“This says the concerts begin the day after tomorrow.”
“It’s not as bad as a national tour, but we have performances morning, noon, and night for three days straight. That’s nine in all, so we’ll collapse if we don’t gather strength like a bear before hibernation.”
“Sounds tough. Anyway, I’ll make a quick check for bugs.”
Nothing, just like before.
But that means it’s time to see if anything has changed after that suicide.
As I thought that, my smartphone rang.
Oh, how unusual. It’s my beloved darling, Detective Uchimaku Hayabusa.
“What is it, detective?”
“You usually pop up when I’m investigating, so I’m surprised you’re not here.”
“Heh heh heh. Can you not calm down without me there?”
“It scares me when someone as creepy as you does something out of the ordinary.”
Hee hee. He’s so shy.
He is being shy, right?
“I’m in Usuta Manabu’s apartment and this place is horrible. The rooms on either side are empty. The debt collectors must have been really violent because his front door is so dented that it took me a second to figure out how to open it.”
“I’ve found a few pieces of evidence pointing to his strange actions. The walls of the room are crammed full of tiny writing, he has an undecipherable journal, and there’s blood in the bathroom drain. The blood is his, so he may have slit his wrist.”
“But they’re all too obvious. They’re like hints for children.”
“I thought it was an act at first too. He was using his ability to enter the station to search out scandals, right? I thought he was setting things up so he could go for an insanity plea if he was caught. …But that isn’t what this is. It may have started that way, but it’s gone beyond an act. It looks like he wasn’t able to stop his own actions.”
“Still,” I said with an exasperated sigh. “Even from outside, there were signs of debt collectors kicking at his door, right? Why didn’t he call the police? The level of interest had to be illegal. Even if the amount he borrowed remained, he maybe could have eliminated the interest that kept piling up.”
“That’s the thing. I had an expert in profiling look at the insane interior of his apartment, and…”
“I have to ask. This wasn’t a beautiful investigator with a nice body, was it? Take my jealously lightly and you’ll regret it later.”
“I’m going to ignore that nonsense. Anyway, according to that expert, Usuta Manabu was apparently driven into a state of mind where he couldn’t tell anyone else about the disastrous state of his life even if he wanted to. It’s what you call psychological abuse.”
“It’s the same thing that keeps children or the elderly from leaving the house when they’re being abused. They’re not handcuffed or anything, but they can’t move. No matter how horribly they’re treated, they can’t fight back. Even if they’re deprived of food and grow weak, they just accept it without even crying out. Usuta Manabu was in that state, so he felt cornered and unable to consult anyone about it.”
“Wait a second.”
I slowly crouched down while holding the phone to my ear.
I looked like I was peering under an invisible bed and Anemura Kaede-chan watched me in confusion.
“Detective, you said that term refers to a state where you can’t leave a building despite not being chained there?”
“What were you picturing when you thought about it? The Hungry Ghost Case where a woman starved to death while locked in a room filled with food she had been convinced was poisoned? Or the Avici Case where a man destroyed his own body trying to tunnel through a concrete wall by hand because he had been convinced the door would not open and that was his only choice?”
“I’d rather not remember those.”
“The representative example of psychological abuse is being unable to leave a building, but on a smaller scale, it could limit the target to a room or a bathtub, right? Criminals have enjoyed robbing the victim of their freedom like that in past cases.”
“What about it?”
“I found something like that here.”
According to my classmate Tomoe, Tarot Girls 22 had such perfect behavior that they were never caught smoking or with a boyfriend.
But there were 22 of the Major Arcana and 56 of the Minor Arcana. This was a large group of 78 girls in all which was two school classes’ worth. It was only natural for some kind of fight or trouble to crop up. If there was none of that whatsoever, there had to be some kind of restraint.
And I had found a trace of it.
It had not been there before. After that suicide, the number of traces had increased as if to tighten control over the organization.
In this case, it was a sticky residue as if some kind of tape had been laid out along the floor.
It was shaped like an L and it was placed in four spots.
If the four Ls were thought of as the corners of a shape, it created a square with two meter sides.
It was a lot like a non-existent cage.
It was as if someone was reminding someone else of a fear or reapplying an invisible lock. It was as if they were attempting to bind the idols in a square space with no chains or locks.
“This is pretty similar.”
“This cage might be based on a past case. This reminds me of equipment used to artificially set up that psychological abuse to test it out.”
Part 6 (3rd person)
Detective Uchimaku Hayabusa had the fatal flaw of no cooking skills whatsoever despite living on his own. When he thought of a dinner, it was a pack of white rice heated in the microwave, pre-packaged salad or vegetables that were on sale, and miso soup that only needed hot water added.
“Wait, wait, wait. Have we finally reached the age where mackerel tartare is on convenience store shelves? Now that I’ve seen this, I’ll be stuck with chazuke and sake tonight!!”
“What’s this? Has the world started automatically throwing you in to cancel out anything good I happen to find? You haven’t attached a GPS tracker to me, have you?”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. For someone who lives in Tokyo, you don’t know how to have fun. You stop by the same places every day, so it’s super easy to find you without an appointment.”
Another voice then cut in.
“Um, excuse me…”
Both of them jumped away and turned around to find a girl shrinking down as much as possible. Her clothes were plain, but she was Anemura Kaede the Empress of the Major Arcana.
“A-Anemura-san? Why are you here? This exhibitionist wasn’t dragging you around, was she?”
“Who do you think I’m wearing these kinds of clothes for!? If you’ve noticed, then fall for me already!!”
“If you realize those clothes are revealing, then please stop!!”
“N-no. I just happen to live near here.”
After flinching back from the detective and mystery freak who moved further and further off topic, Anemura Kaede hesitantly opened her mouth.
Hishigami Enbi blinked a few times.
“Anyway, I’m surprised to see an idol from the biggest group out there uses a convenience store. And all alone too. You don’t have a manager with you?”
“Ah ha ha. There are 78 of us, so there are ten of us to each manager. And they don’t stick with us while at school or anything.”
The idol poked at a pack of vegetable juice on the shelf.
“And they told us to assertively buy these cheap products.”
“You haven’t heard, Enbi-chan? The internet is full of veg-idol flaming right now.”
Vegetable idol – or veg-idol for short – was a term for idols who advertised Intellectual Village tomatoes or pears by taking a big bite out of them with a smile.
Someone with too much time on their hands had calculated it out and posted the following on a message board: “Eh? We can never afford those high-quality vegetables, but how many of them do those idols eat in a year if you count unused takes? They eat them for free and get paid on top of that.” That had done severe damage to the image of some idols.
“But isn’t it dangerous?” asked Uchimaku while sounding legitimately curious. “Wouldn’t people surround you and cause a huge panic if someone recognized you? Of course, it’s the job of the police to deal with that kind of thing if it happens.”
“Surprisingly, that doesn’t happen. The Anemura Kaede everyone knows is covered in makeup, under a bright spotlight, and put together with camerawork where each and every instant has been calculated out. What makes everyone think I’m so special is only the product of what all the adults do.”
“I see. But I think you’re pretty enough how you are right now.”
Anemura Kaede looked completely taken aback by that unexpected response.
And for some reason, Hishigami Enbi began secretly jabbing her knee into the back of Uchimaku Hayabusa’s hipbone, but the Empress did not notice.
The girl grabbed some vegetable juice and yogurt and gave a bit of a lonely smile.
“Also, the car my driver takes me around in is convenient and safe, but it’s a little restrictive to only use that. When I ride my bicycle or take the train, I can blend into the background noise and forget all about the adults’ system or the monster of numbers.”
“I was the one that chose to do this and to come this far, so I shouldn’t say its restricting me, should I?”
That evening, the detective and I made our way to Hachi TV in Odaiba.
“Detective, why are we gathering here?”
“To review the technical term ‘psychological abuse’. Then again, I don’t remember asking you to come with me.”
As we wandered around outside the TV station’s entrance, the thick glass door with a man guarding it opened and a woman in her mid-twenties wearing a short dress and jeans walked out.
When she saw the detective, she gave a childlike smile and waved at him. I spotted the glittering of a ring on her left ring finger.
“Hey there, Hayabusa-kun. I haven’t seen you since you had me check on Usuta Manabu’s apartment today.”
“I will admit the police weren’t sealing it off very well because this is being treated as a suicide, but there’s still something wrong with walking in so boldly right in front of a police detective! Are you a thief as well as a journalist!?”
“You can’t find the truth if you’re afraid of taking risks. Anyway, who’s that girl?”
“Hi! Hachi TV has hired Bug☆Bust-…”
“That’s a lie, isn’t it? But if the higher ups believe you, I can’t just fire you. Are you the mystery freak Hayabusa-kun mentioned?”
She cut me off and moved on!?
The word “enemy” flashed in the back of my mind, but neither the detective nor the TV station woman seemed to care.
“Don’t worry about her. Now, will you help out your old underclassman and show me that material you mentioned earlier, Atou-san?”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Hayabusa-kun, we may no longer be upperclassman and underclassman, but feel free to call me Minori-chan.”
“In other words, you want me to call you an idiot?”
Atou Minori, hm?
Based on the company ID hanging from her neck, she was an assistant producer in charge of the high-level documentaries often seen on commercial satellite broadcasts. It was basically a summer project that adults spent tons of money on while pretending it was all perfectly serious. They generally played things pretty safe, but they would sometimes make waves when they went all out and took an overseas trip to a country no one had ever heard of.
A lot of people wondered what exactly a producer did and what the difference between an assistant director and assistant producer was, but they were usually a misleading title for someone who took care of odd jobs.
Then again, it would be pretty suspicious if she was a full blown producer at her age.
She guided us into Hachi TV.
We were on the way to the video editing section where even the entertainers from the same station never went. Balled up cables and obsolete hard disks filled the rooms and even overflowed into the hallway. It was such a chaotic scene it felt like it had a sign warning anyone who entered to prepare themselves not to take a bath for three days.
“Wait! What are we going to do about this!?”
“Shut up! Those damn critics are completely ignoring what led up to that! Shut it all off!! Do those morons know how much a single ad costs during Golden Week!?”
“Chief, his balls! His balls are in plain view on this video!”
“He let his guard down because he thought we’d cover it all up, didn’t he? Leave in a quick glimpse so I can see the look on that damn comedian’s face! This is how you create television history!!”
A deluge of terrible angry shouting came from all of the rooms.
Even an elegantly swimming swan was frantically moving its feet below the water.
“That sounds exciting,” I commented.
“Well, it is mid-September. We need to finish up some of the new shows for fall. This is actually quite peaceful compared to when we do the 48-hour TV. We may be competing with the ones that created the concept, but I do have to question why that variety program gets longer every year. I want to tell them that isn’t how to improve it.”
Atou Minori called out to a female assistant director walking down the hall.
“Hey, Mitsu-chan. Did you dig up that tape?”
“Y-yes. You mean this, right? But why do you need something from the cursed storeroom?”
“I have my reasons. This is why we don’t destroy all those tapes.”
“Don’t blame me for whatever happens.”
While Assistant Director Akashi Mitsu-chan bit her thumbnail like a child and walked off, the detective tilted his head.
“The cursed storeroom?”
“That’s what we call the room where we keep all the problem tapes that have been locked away for some reason or other. Honestly, we’re just making documentaries, but if you touch on the wrong genre, you’re not allowed to air it. It feels just like being the one person kept out of a group photo.”
In other words, it was a storeroom filled with the station’s history of losses.
Atou Minori opened a nearby door and led us into a dimly-lit room filled with monitors and editing equipment.
“The digital tape doesn’t use a normal format, so you can only play it on the station’s equipment.”
The rectangular cassette tape was the size of a playing card and it had a few things written in permanent marker on the side: a date from three years ago, Atou Minori’s name as the creator, and “Control Experiment Using the Wheel of Suffering”.
However, the detective focused on something completely different.
“Huh? You use glasses now?”
“These are only for when I’m using the computer. Haven’t you heard of blue light?”
What’s this? What’s this? Are intellectual glasses girls right in the detective’s strike zone!?
Come to think of it, he was pretty hot-blooded during Tomoe’s case!!
I’d let my guard down because of that wedding ring, but it looks like she is my enemy. My woman’s intuition is telling me not to let my guard down!! Grr!!
“Just to be clear, this is nothing fun.”
It appeared Atou Minori had no idea what I was thinking as she brushed her hair over one ear and operated the console.
The footage was displayed on one of the monitors.
It showed a white room.
The room had a circle about three meters across drawn in permanent marker or something similar.
The wheel of suffering, hm?
A girl of about fifteen was curled up in the center of the circle.
The girl wore pajamas.
In the footage, she glanced fearfully toward the edge of the circle again and again. It was a lot like she was holding onto a plank floating in the ocean with a shark circling her.
Someone must have been standing out of view of the camera because a calm adult man’s voice spoke.
“Tabata-san, please come outside the circle. Outside. It can just be a single step, but please come outside.”
“N-no. I-I just can’t…”
“ ‘Those people’ are gone, so there is nothing to worry about. Now come outside, Tabata-san.”
“I know that!! I know this doesn’t make sense…but I can’t. I can’t leave. I can’t go anywhere outside!!”
Some men and women in lab coats stepped into frame. They easily stepped over the drawn-on circle and approached the girl named Tabata.
“Stop… Stop! Don’t drag me!!”
“Ghhh!! She just bit me!”
After a struggle, the men and women in lab coats were knocked outside the circle.
Next, a high-pitched bell rang and dark smoke entered from the door in the back of the white room.
“Tabata-san, this is an emergency. There’s a fire. This is not a drill.”
“I can’t leave.”
“I see. Well, we’re going to evacuate. You please hurry out as well.”
“Wait! Wait!! Why are you messing with the camera? Did you really turn it off!? But…but I can’t leave. You must know that! I feel dizzy. I can’t stop shaking!!”
“Then erase the circle! If you wipe off just one spot, I can leave!! Wait! Please don’t leave me! I don’t want to die! But I still can’t leave! I can’t leeeeeeeaaaaaaave!!”
The video ended there and the detective spoke with pure gloom in his voice.
“How much of that was a set up?”
“Think of it like a cruel hidden camera show. If we didn’t truly scare her, we couldn’t film the truth. If we didn’t go all the way, the viewers would think it was a joke.”
Atou Minori looked completely unconcerned as she said that, so she may have been a professional in one sense.
She pursued the truth in a different way than the detective.
“When you get down to it, it’s the same as a fear of heights or of needles,” she readily concluded. “They have an extreme fear of breaking the rules set by the perpetrator and that fear fills their entire body. Every time they come close to breaking those rules, they find themselves unable to move. Chains and handcuffs aren’t needed to restrain someone. You just need the right kinds of memories.”
Whenever a case of abuse showed up, people always asked why the victim hadn’t consulted anyone sooner.
Or they would ask why the victim had returned to that house everyday despite knowing they would be abused.
But the answer was simple. It wasn’t that they didn’t. It was that they couldn’t.
If they disobeyed those established rules in the slightest, something horrible would happen. When someone was yelled at or beaten for spilling a little bit of food or talking back, they had concrete examples of what would happen. That fear would keep them walking along that same path even when they knew it led to a cliff.
And eventually, they would fall off that cliff.
“Hey, hey. If you’re a specialist in this field, I’ve got a question. Can you make a manmade version of this?”
“Nothing this horrible could happen without human intervention.”
It seemed I had phrased my question poorly
I changed my way of thinking and spoke again.
“Normally, the perpetrator’s violence incidentally causes the victim to fall into that state, but I was wondering if it could be ‘installed’ in someone based on a certain theory.”
“Well, in a way, I suppose. In a broad sense, a drill sergeant’s foulmouthed insulting of recruits is a form of psychological abuse. But…” She shrugged. “That probably isn’t perfect.”
“It’s easy to cause it, but there’s too much individual variation in how long it lasts. There’s a chance it will suddenly vanish one day. You could say people have different aptitudes for it. You might be able to construct a specialized manual for individual people, but it would be tricky to perfectly control hundreds or thousands of people with the same system.”
Come to think of it, there are plenty of soldiers who break military regulations and are dishonorably discharged despite going through boot camp.
“Then are you saying it would be impossible to control a certain group using psychological abuse?”
“Even a cult’s group brainwashing only works because it’s only used on those who accept their invitation either online or around town. In other words, the invitation is a way of preselecting the people to be brainwashed. Controlling every last person of a group truly chosen at random would probably be impossible. …With a normal method anyway.”
“So is there a non-normal method?”
“The trick to psychological abuse is how you carve a vivid ‘symbol of fear’ into the target. As long as you do that, you just have to remind them as if rubbing salt in the wound and you can re restrain as many times as you need. You would need a symbol so powerful that it would cause anyone to fall into fear. That would have to be Satan or Hades or some other mythological lord of demons from the realm of the occult, but if you had something like that…”
Without worrying about individual aptitude, you could carve psychological abuse into every last person of a group as if uniformly overwriting their minds at the flip of a switch.
You could create a human controller.
And it would be so absolutely powerful that they truly would die if you told them to.
That would have to be quite a symbol of fear. Atou Minori had used a mythological lord of demons as an example, but it seemed fitting to me. No normal Youkai would work.
Some Youkai could fly and some could transform into anything they wanted.
But this would have to be an extremely unique Youkai that was simply a “vague sense of fear” and could bend the laws of physics.
“Some people suspected a Youkai was involved with the girl in that video. You could say that’s why I pursued the story.”
“What?” asked the detective.
Atou Minori gave a bitter addition to her statement and the detective looked even more displeased than before when he heard it.
“I was never able to prove it, but it was rumored to be an Aburatori. That’s a name we can’t exactly ignore, isn’t it?”
After we left Hachi TV, we entered a nearby shopping mall for a strategy meeting.
They must have had some kind of filming today or were simply there for fun because the Hierophant and the Moon were sitting at another seat while disguised with glasses and hats. They were easily distinguishable by viewing one as the big one and the other as the little one. Oh, and that’s referring to their breasts.
“Let’s set aside how much the Youkai called an Aburatori is involved in this.”
I got the uncertain information out of the way first and then got into the real issue at hand.
“There are two types of psychological abuse in this case. The first is with Tarot Girls 22. Most likely, the reason they don’t cause any trouble with smoking, boyfriends, or anything else is because they’re bound by invisible chains.”
“Is that really possible? Psychological abuse may be a hard-to-spot method of control that doesn’t use any noticeable violence or restraints, but the psychological state is a lot like being abused or imprisoned for long periods of time. If they’re under that kind of pressure day in and day out…”
“Yeah, they probably won’t last if it goes on for years. But idols have short lifespans. No one questions it if they say they’re quitting because they’re getting older. And there are 78 members of Tarot Girls 22. The organization can continue as long as the few who reach their limit are replaced. Also, no one pays any attention to an idol after they quit. A few wrinkles and everyone loses interest.”
“So the idea that they’re expendable is built into the system?” groaned the detective.
The system certainly had its problems, but I wasn’t so sure the current laws could punish them for it.
On the surface, they were only placing tape on the practice room floor to create a completely open yet “sealed” room.
“So is the other one Usuta Manabu? Did he end up with psychological abuse because of all the debt collectors stopping by?”
“C’mon, detective, did you forget? Because he was in so much debt, Usuta worked for them by searching for a scandal related to Tarot Girls 22.”
“Are you saying it wasn’t incidental? So that was ‘installed’ in him to attack Tarot Girls 22? He was turned into an expendable underling of the black market moneylenders?”
“From the beginning, the multiple black-market moneylenders he dealt with…or rather, the people above them had a system to keep their men in line using psychological abuse.”
I smiled and mixed my iced coffee with the straw.
“It’s still a mystery why they were after Tarot Girls 22, but Usuta Manabu had been brought under control of psychological abuse using System A and he began acting oddly once he came into contact with Tarot Girls 22 which was being controlled by System B. It’s like two pieces of software came into conflict.”
In other words, this case seemed to involve two Packages with similar effects: System A that black market moneylenders used to restrain those indebted to them and System B that prevented any scandals in an idol group.
When the two Packages controlled by different people came into conflict, it accidentally caused Usuta Manabu’s suicide or murder.
“This is a case of the black market moneylenders interfering with Tarot Girls 22 who were stable at least for the moment. Usuta failed, but the moneylender might not give up. What if they use more of their blacklisted customers to attack Tarot Girls 22?”
“Then there will be more suicides in the future. No, the type of panic it causes may not be the same in everyone. Usuta burnt himself to death, but it’s possible it was a failed murder. And someone in an extreme state of mind might try to harm the people around him.”
“In that case, we might need to speak with the moneylenders…or rather, the group that controls them.”
“The group that controls multiple black market moneylenders.”
The detective muttered those words and brought a hand to his forehead.
That was what lurked in the depths of the darkness. This felt like the hidden “other half” of this case.
“A large criminal organization.”
Part 8 (3rd person)
At eleven at night, two police detectives wearing cheap suits sat next to each other in a Shinbashi bar.
One was Detective Uchimaku Hayabusa of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s Investigation Department 1.
The other was Detective Sotobori Gaku of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s Organized Crime Division.
While sitting in the stools, they both made their separate orders.
“A martini. Shaken, not stirred.”
“I’ll have a frozen daiquiri.”
Sotobori, who was often called a tank, snapped his fingers and made fun of the other detective.
“Do you think you’re James Bond or something?”
“Shut up, Hemingway.”
Already annoyed, Uchimaku took a sip from the cocktail glass.
Sotobori gave a grin that made him look as much like a thug as the people he pursued.
“Anyway, it’s never a good sign when a murder case specialist asks me for help. Did some kind of ‘organization’ dump a corpse in the sea or on a mountain?”
“That’s what I want to know. You know all about those large criminal organizations, right? Then you know about the Comfort Association, don’t you?”
“The Comfort Association, huh? That’s the Japanese branch of one of the top four networks, so you’re getting into some dangerous territory here.”
Despite his words, his tone was carefree.
Sotobori specialized in organized crime like this, so bringing in guns or explosives was not enough to surprise him.
“It began in the confusion at the end of the war. They’re a bodyguard group that was created in that chaotic time on the pretense of supplying weapons and soldiers to protect the weak. In modern terms, they were an arms dealer and PMC rolled into one. At first, they worked to be the allies of women and children.”
“And how did that end up ‘expanding’?”
Sotobori mixed up his drink that was a lot like shaved ice made from alcohol.
“Changes always come from outside stimuli. It started as a conflict with another organization that was growing in the narcotics business. To gain more weaponry and personnel, they began doing more dirty work. The Comfort Association ultimately won that conflict, but by that time, not even a shred of their original ideals remained.”
He told the story like he was reminiscing to a child.
“And after that, they took the standard course. Once they had ‘expanded’ to the entire country, stricter laws prevented them from running their business any longer. Some of them were angry enough to join with overseas gangs and mafias and they built up an international criminal network. And thus a large criminal organization was born. Japan’s traditions don’t matter to them at all. They build up their strength by smuggling in tons of assault rifles and grenades. If they begin a real firefight, it’ll turn the city into a warzone.”
“But I thought the Comfort Association was a part of the lowest ranked of the world’s top four networks?”
“Where did you see that? On some suspicious online encyclopedia that anyone could’ve written? It’s true the higher ups of the Comfort Association may not have the most personnel, weaponry, or funding, but there are also some dangerous rumors. For example, some say they’re the world’s first civilian organization with nuclear weapons.”
“They supposedly stole a MIRV warhead from an abandoned Soviet facility, dismantled it, and recovered a few of the small nukes clustered inside. It’s also come to light that they’ve been threatening an overseas civilian spaceflight company. Put those facts together, and they might have the capability for a nuclear ballistic missile attack. Can you really call that the lowest ranked? The worst part is, you can. These networks gather such dreadful people that even with those doubts, they still rank the lowest.”
Uchimaku Hayabusa brought a hand to his forehead.
This was not at all the world of swords and modified firearms he had been imagining.
“You can take on the Comfort Association if you want, but call me when you do. There’s a type of etiquette for dealing with this kind of criminal organization. If you don’t know how it works, even a police officer will end up dumped in the sea or on a mountain. A dead cop is a big deal, but a missing one doesn’t stand out much.”
“I understand that.”
“Do you really? You remind me of the middle-aged detective that lived in my neighborhood when I was a kid. He tried to make his way through this business with his own naïve reasoning. One day, he tried to save a kid and ended up being killed by that kid. The kid was a hitman. Believe it or not, the kid was only about ten. I told the police, but they refused to believe me to a disturbing degree. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but that’s what led me to become a detective.”
“I said I understand.”
Uchimaku waved a hand and Sotobori downed the rest of his sherbet-style alcohol.
Uchimaku glanced over at him while asking another question.
“Oh, right. You’ve heard of the idol group Tarot Girls 22, right? Does it make any sense businesswise for a large criminal organization to target entertainers like that?”
“Not a bit,” replied Sotobori Gaku without a moment’s delay. “Whether you’re threatening them or luring them, the top of the industry stands out too much. How many paparazzi do you think are following them around everywhere? It’d be impossible to contact them in secret. And national idols who have a solid position that earns them tons of money won’t need to ask villains for help. If anyone, they’d go after the idols in fifth or sixth place. They wouldn’t have all that much money, there wouldn’t be too much focus on them, and the idols themselves would be desperate for more. They’d be the perfect targets.”
Then what circumstances had Tarot Girls 22 found themselves in? He thought for a bit, but could not find an answer.
Afterwards, they mocked each other’s drink choices while drinking a few more cocktails.
“Samurai rock? Ga ha ha! Uchimaku-chan, do you think you’re the last samurai or something!?”
“Shut up! And stop troubling the bartending by ordering fruit punch!!”
They also grabbed at each other’s ties in a fight over the cured ham one of them had ordered, but then they began getting along a little better.
Five steps after he left the bar, Uchimaku heard a voice from behind him.
“Oh, god!! Where did you latch onto me, mystery freak? Don’t tell me a minor like you was hiding in that bar!”
“You’re a pain to deal with when you’re drunk, but you’re also cuter when drunk. Anyway, it looks like you’re still sober enough to talk, so let’s have a strategy meeting.”
“A strategy meeting?”
“Right. We’re only going to get one shot at this large criminal organization, so we have to make sure it counts. It would be best to prepare as much as possible beforehand. You probably don’t even know what to ask if you charged into their office, right?’
“Sotobori said they’d have no reason to get involved with Tarot Girls 22.”
The drunk did not realize how loose his lips had gotten.
He would normally have insisted this was confidential investigation material.
“In other words, something out of the ordinary is going on with this large criminal organization. They have a reason that requires they get involved with Tarot Girls 22 even if it isn’t the safest thing.”
“Usuta Manabu committed suicide because they used their black list of indebted people to search for scandals on those idols, right? But he felt so cornered that he tried to make his own shocking scandal, whether it was attempted murder or his own suicide. Is there any doubt here? The large criminal organization was simply after a scandal, weren’t they?”
“When investigating a case, there are two types of people with important information.”
Enbi lightly waved her index finger.
“The perpetrators and the victims.”
To make things more difficult, this case was centered on a certain Package. Different people had been using different versions of the Package and the problem had grown more complex when the two interfered with each other.
That meant they could not see the whole picture without attacking on both fronts.
Uchimaku was trying to work toward the large criminal organization where a single mistake could mean his life. It made him feel on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Who had done what?
If he did not know that, he could easily find misleading evidence at some important point.
“I guess I have to check with the Tarot Girls 22 first.”
“Yes, you need to fill in the holes there so your preparations are complete when you confront the large criminal organization. You might find something unthinkable lurking there.”
The following morning, I snuck into the Tarot Girls 22 building in Shinbashi. As expected, the detective showed up.
“Why are you here?”
“Do I really have to spell it out? It’s because I love you.”
The Devil, a girl obsessed with taking memos, must have liked rumors because I saw her ears twitching with an innocent look on her face, but the detective only brought a hand to his forehead.
Yes! This issue is already settled, so spread it around some more!
While holding a quick conversation, we boarded the elevator. The elevators were divided between floors one through ten and floors eleven through twenty, but this was the latter system.
“This is so much easier with you around, detective. I couldn’t get into these top floors even when using the Bug Busters name.”
“You really don’t play fair. If you keep repeating the same thing until I give in, it makes me feel like I’m the one in the wrong.”
Once we arrived at the president’s office on the top floor, the reception secretary led us into a large room. There we found the unsociable manager named Itano Ryou.
The detective looked surprised.
“Huh? Um, I asked to speak with the president.”
“Detective, she is the president. She’s the type that likes to stand on the front lines.”
This was a company that had grown enough to own an entire coastal building in the city center while only having the one idol group. It wasn’t large enough to need to step back to see the big picture.
Itano, who wore a suit, was glaring at us.
“Most troublesome meetings can be dealt with using a smartphone and camera and working on the scene fits me better. There are a few other managers, but I supervise all of them.”
“More importantly, who is that girl? I had only heard she was volunteering to eliminate bugs.”
Before the detective could say anything unfortunate, I waved around an unnecessarily bulky radio.
“Well, you wouldn’t let me investigate the upper floors, which is dangerous. I don’t have time to search now, but I can send out a jamming signal. Now, then. Have a nice chat☆”
Itano Ryou sighed and sat on the desk rather than the luxurious leather chair.
She slowly crossed her legs.
It looked like a high pressure attitude, but I had an inkling it was actually a defensive thing.
“What do you want to know?”
“There are just a few things I want to check about the suicide of Usuta Manabu from your sound staff.”
“We had nothing to do with that. He clearly committed suicide and he was not even a full member of our-…”
“Three years ago, Tabata Rin, Control Experiment Using the Wheel of Suffering.”
Oh, well done, detective.
Just after she had thought she had cleared all the questions, he went straight for the heart of the issue.
Itano Ryou stopped breathing for a moment and crossed her arms.
“You know what that is, don’t you?”
“Not a clue.”
“You do. The way you crossed your arms after being asked was meant as a defensive posture. The way you subconsciously tightened your lips is dead giveaway too. If that isn’t enough for you, how about I set up a proper polygraph?”
Everything he was saying was accurate, but none of it really mattered here.
It was all an act to draw out some further sign from the president who thought she had been found out.
“Where did you hear about that?”
“It is a device that artificially embeds psychological abuse using the power of the Youkai called an Aburatori.”
“That was never aired. More importantly, you in the police can’t do anything just because I copied it. I am not using any physical abuse and I believe there is no law concerning psychological abuse.”
“But putting that unnecessary pressure on the idols nonstop will wear down their psyches in only a few years. Smoking? Boyfriends? Is avoiding scandals really that important? Your method destroys people and throws them out when you’re done.”
“Do you have any idea how short the lifespan of an idol is?”
“Did you think that meant you could use them up and no one would notice?”
“The girls I am left with have their entire lives judged using just those few years. Do you get what that means?”
Itano Ryou glared at us with some pressure oozing our way.
“An idol that doesn’t sell meets a sad fate. They have to return to a normal life, but they can’t. Once you’ve lived this bright life, there is no going back. And if they try to remain in this world of luxury without making the money they need, their financial situation will naturally crumble. These few years are what decide the next seventy or eighty years of their lives! Doing whatever is necessary to help them succeed is the kind thing to do!!”
The detective and Itano Ryou glared at each other for a while.
However, this was not what we actually wanted to hear.
We were enraging her so that she would admit to a certain truth.
“In other words, this ‘setup’ really is based on the Wheel of Suffering method from three years ago. It hasn’t been proven, but if that truly had an Aburatori involved, it would be a Package to control humans. You controlled the Tarot Girls 22 with the same method that perverted criminals use to bind their victims. Is that it?”
The documentary had not been aired.
There were no laws governing purely psychological abuse.
Those were good enough excuses if you only needed to find fault.
“The Aburatori is a Youkai that attacks children. It slips into Tohoku villages while dressed as a farmer, abducts the children, stabs them with metal skewers, cooks them over a fire, and takes their oil. But the most frightening aspect is its lack of any direct characteristics.”
Itano spat out her response.
“No one has ever seen it. And yet rumors will spread of people having seen it in one village the day before, in another the day before that, and so on. It grows to an unstoppable group hysteria of the sort you might see in a newspaper. Needless to say, that will naturally develop into a witch hunt. It is a Youkai that spreads fear without even showing itself. That is the true form of the Aburatori.”
“What you need is information and an unseen enemy. In my case, I used the numbers of the hit charts.”
“The exact numbers don’t matter. If your ranking drops, you’ll naturally fear rivals. Even if you maintain the #1 position, you will feel pursued by your own past records. That is how this Package automatically brings an unseen enemy to mind whenever they see the numbers. No matter the result, they feel equally cornered. Once you create a system like that, they are unable to head down any unnecessary side roads.”
It sounds simple enough, but the actual pressure has to be something else.
It was like forever taking entrance exam after entrance exam where any imperfection would negate all the past work and dropping below the passing line just once would end it all immediately. What would happen to a human mind if that continued for months and even years?
The thread of their tension would be stretched to pieces.
“But there was no obvious sign of a Package anywhere.”
“It was assembled to remain in a state of ‘not being there’. For example, placing tape on the floor and removing it to leave a slight trace of something having been there. If they can see the size and shape of their enemy, their fear is limited by that. It’s being unable to see it and unable to know the truth about it that makes it so frightening. Just like no specific person in the villages the Aburatori supposedly showed up in would say they had seen it.”
The detective fell silent for a while.
He seemed unsure how to continue on from there.
“Your Package to control the idols has come into conflict with a different system used by…a large criminal organization. That is what caused that suicide. An explosion of pressure led him to take his own life. Any ideas about why that happened?”
“If this was a clash between similar psychological abuse systems, it would affect more than just the throwaway soldiers made from indebted people. There is a danger of it affecting the Tarot Girls 22 members as well!!”
That was precisely when an electronic tone played from the internal phone line.
Perhaps out of habit, Itano Ryou hit the speakerphone button but immediately reached for the receiver instead. However, it was too late.
“Maezono the Tower and Uosawa the Temperance have started fighting! P-please just get down here! Should we call an ambulance!?”
Itano clicked her tongue with the receiver off the hook and the detective shouted at her.
“This is no time to be hiding this!! Doesn’t stopping it come first!?”
“Detective, did you see the internal line display? It was the photo studio on the ninth floor.”
He practically tackled open the door to the president’s office, ran past the surprised secretary, and rapidly tapped the elevator button. He soon clicked his tongue and ran to the stairs instead.
I followed him, but I could not keep up. I obediently waited for the elevator and got off at the eleventh floor as that was as low as that one went.
When the door opened, I could hear hurried footsteps disappearing down below.
He sure is amazing.
I followed him down the last two flights of the emergency staircase and arrived at the ninth floor.
The photos studio was the size of your average office floor and the walls, floor, and ceiling were all covered in white cloth. Despite its name, its equipment looked like what you would find in an apartment or multi-tenant building.
The adults holding expensive-looking cameras and reflector boards had their backs to the wall as if to show they were uninvolved with what was happening.
When they saw me enter, they seemed to finally realize there was an exit. No one was guiding them, but they all rushed out into the elevator hall.
“Are you okay, detective!?”
“I went too far!!”
That strange answer made me frown and look to the center of the room. A high school girl with short blonde hair dizzily lay face up on the floor. Another girl with a large ribbon around her head had fallen to her butt. I was also curious about the fountain pen on the floor.
Did he punch one of them and then the other was so shocked she forgot all about her anger and sat down on the floor?
“You sure made this exciting.”
“That’s how pressing a situation it was. And I wanted to avoid having to handcuff them.”
As he spoke, he held a handkerchief against one hand.
Ahh, ahh. He got hurt protecting someone, didn’t he? Did he use himself as a shield so he wouldn’t have to file a damage report?”
I heard a quiet voice and found Anemura Kaede-chan the Empress standing pale-faced by the wall. She stood out more now that the adults had left.
“Unlike the photo staff that wasn’t doing anything, she tried to stop the fight between the Tower and Temperance. Are you okay, Anemura-san!?”
That means she’s the girl you protected. She isn’t trembling because of the violence she saw. It’s because you were injured.
“They started talking about the solo singles we’ll be putting out soon,” said the Empress with her teeth chattering and while looking the detective in the eye. “One of them said the first single would be a test and only those that sold would get a second single. …Why do they have to twist things around like that? No one said that, but whenever we start talking about numbers…we…!!”
It may have seemed terrible, but the detective and I knew the truth. This was an unease and fear intentionally planted inside them to effectively control the group.
“We’re all on the same team! We’re all part of Tarot Girls 22 and this group is all part of the Major Arcana!! And yet…this happens. Is something wrong with us? …It’s just that none of this is any fun!! We’re always pursued by some number or another and we smile to make sure our rank doesn’t drop even a single place. This…this isn’t what I wanted to do!!”
The detective shouted right in her face to snap her out of it.
She shifted her focus outward as if she had been struck with a wall of noise.
“I don’t know what got you into this and you don’t have to tell me. But think of that thing. It doesn’t have to be anything noble. It can be that you wanted to be on TV, that you wanted to be popular, or that you wanted money. But I doubt you had run into any actual numbers before entering the business. Right!?”
“In other words, those numbers aren’t what drive you. You’ve just been trapped in a deception and lost sight of your true reasons. There’s no reason to fear this nonexistent ‘monster’. Right!?”
“I can’t do that… Not anymore.”
With a crumbling smile, Anemura Kaede-chan slowly shook her head.
“We know that ‘monster’ now. Once it starts chasing you, you can’t go back.”
“Yes, you can. The pure power that drove you in the beginning has to be the strongest thing of all. At the very least, it won’t be defeated by some deception. The start is the scariest with everything, but you came knocking at this industry’s door even if you had to push your way in. You must possess something powerful enough to let you do that!!”
I wanted to hit him in the back with a jealousy kick, but I decided to remain silent for the moment.
“What is going on?”
Finally, President/Manager Itano entered the photo studio. Regardless of what she had done, she was a skilled manager. She had sharp eyes, so she immediately spotted the handkerchief covering one of the detective’s hands. In a way, that was a weakness.
Without it, she might have found some reason or another to throw us out.
“I don’t know what conditions are causing the conflict,” said the detective. “That means we have no way of stopping it at the moment. The system meant to prevent any scandals now holds the risk of making your idols kill or harm themselves or others.”
“Please end the human control Package using an Aburatori! You want to avoid any of your people becoming victims or attackers, don’t you!? While under the direct influence of the Youkai’s power, these girls can’t use normal stress coping mechanisms to avoid an ‘explosion’. There’s no predicting when the next one will burst!! Are you fine with that!?”
“I will monitor the signs that they are reaching their limit and remove any of them that I deem dangerous. Fortunately, Tarot Girls 22 frequently rearrange what members take part in shows and concerts, so no one will mind if a few of them do not appear.”
“The signs? Do you think they’re going to start killing small animals around their neighborhood or setting fires in empty houses or trash dumps? And you think you can always catch these 100% of the time before anything more significant happens?”
“When Anemura the Empress speaks with people, she frequently and repeatedly crosses her arms. That is the kind of defensive pose that magicians and fortune tellers use in a cold reading. Uosawa the Temperance was the one to cause this commotion and I had been worried about her because she had recently lost her filter on what she posted on the SNS that uses her real name. If I keep up my detailed observations and thorough care, I can overcome this.”
“What about the other one that caused this bit of trouble? What about Maezono-san the Tower? Had you seen the signs in her?”
“You also overlooked Usuta Manabu’s signs and we all know what that led to. Monitoring even a single person isn’t easy and you think you can constantly check a group of 78? With all this going on!? Not to mention that none of your staff is involved in their school lives! You have to know there are holes in your management system!!”
Itano fell silent for a while.
Despite being one of those involved, Anemura Kaede-chan looked confused because she did not know the whole situation.
Finally, that female president let out a heavy sigh.
“I said I can’t. Not that I wouldn’t if I could. I am not rejecting a request from the police and there is no crime you can charge me with.”
The detective snapped his fingers.
“Did you hear that, mystery freak?”
“Eh? Well, yes.”
“Anemura-san, you’re a witness too. Don’t forget what Itano-san just said.
“What are you trying to say I said?”
The female president latched onto this before the Empress idol could say anything.
The detective replied with a cruel smile on his lips.
“You made an official statement that you want to help but can’t. In other words, if we find a way to eliminate that Package, you will work to help us. That would leave you with no reason to get in our way. Isn’t that right?”
Itano Ryou remained silent for a moment but finally spoke.
“If there is a way. But once you test it out, you’ll see that there is no way to remove this Aburatori human control Package.”
The main point of this Package was to create a system that produced an unseen enemy by forcing psychological abuse on anyone regardless of their psychological aptitude.
She had encoded that by…
“Detective, there’s one example of those ‘remnants’ on the dance floor on the fifth floor. Four L-shapes made from tape create a square area that acts as an imaginary cage. However, the tape has been removed to leave only the sticky remnants.”
“Look above you, mystery freak. There’s a small hole in the ceiling. It looks like the remnants of a metal hook or something similar stabbed into the ceiling. It’s like what you would use to hang someone from the ceiling after tying them up. There are also extension cables bundled up in the corner of the room.”
But there was nothing there in reality.
This entire building contained nothing but the “remnants”.
Those remnants showed something that did not actually exist. They were the pieces giving form to the Aburatori Package. When the actual objects had been removed, those pieces would never vanish no matter how much you tried to erase those remnants.
After all, it was normal for the objects to not be there.
Just as some depressing past could not be erased, the already-removed objects could not be destroyed no matter what one did. To erase a truth that once was, you would need a time machine.
In that case, no one could destroy them.
This Package had absolute strength as it could not be destroyed even if you understood everything about it.
“Detective, do you know what you need?”
“Duct tape, a metal hook, and a few other things. Just the standard equipment for some home improvement.”
“What?” asked President Itano.
He threw his words back at her.
“The objects are meant to be missing. The remnants that make you think they were once there are the pieces the Package is made from. In that case, we just have to destroy that equilibrium. Destruction is not the only way to erase those remnants.”
“You don’t mean…”
“We just have to put more duct tape over the floor were the previous tape was removed. If this ceiling used to have a hook stabbing into it, we just have to stab a metal hook into it again. If we return everything to how it was before the remnants were created, we can erase those remnants. We’ll bring out the objects that existed in the past and then destroy them ourselves. That will destroy your Package and prevent it from drawing in the power and traits of the Aburatori!!”
The color of Itano Ryou’s face changed before my eyes, but it was too late.
“You can’t stop us from doing this. After all, you yourself said you were willing to help but couldn’t!!”
No visible change occurred.
There was nothing different about her complexion.
Anemura Kaede-chan the Empress looked blankly down at her hands. Not even she seemed to know what had happened to her. There was of course no way for those of us on the outside to understand.
“Detective, do you think this settles everything?”
“I wish it was that easy, but the mystery surrounding the large criminal organization remains. We may have stopped the Package on the Tarot Girls 22 side, but if anyone on the large criminal organization side has already had their file corrupted due to the conflict between systems, someone might lose control like Usuta Manabu did.”
Yeah, we have to actually check on all that, don’t we?
We once more faced President Itano Ryou.
Seeing her Package destroyed may have felt like watching her kingdom crumble before her. She had a distant look in her eyes as the detective spoke to her.
“Will you help us? Do you have any ideas about this large criminal organization? Why are they sending throwaway soldiers to search for something concerning Tarot Girls 22? I doubt they just want your everyday scandal.”
“It was while working with Hachi TV on a project that I originally learned about the Wheel of Suffering method that uses the Aburatori. To bring some focus to a boring documentary, they wanted to use one of our girls as an announcer.”
“At the time, our office did receive a few threatening emails telling us not to make the documentary. We looked into it and found it was an address used by someone hired by a dating site to pretend to be a girl and email men to attract them to the site. It was also connected to a large criminal organization. We continued working on the show, but since it was never aired, there may have been some pressure from another direction,” she said. “In other words, the incident used in the documentary may have been a large criminal organization’s experiment in controlling people so they could use indebted people as their pawns. If so, it means our control systems use the exact same individual Youkai. It makes sense why that would cause the systems to clash.”
Part 10 (3rd person)
Uchimaku Hayabusa asked Detective Sotobori Gaku, a specialist in organized crime, how to deal with the large criminal organization and he was readily told to meet up the following day. He did not know the details, but it seemed that was the perfect timing.
The next morning, Uchimaku travelled to Shinjuku via train. On the way, he met up with Sotobori and walked down a road that was crowded even on a weekday.
“How are we going to get in to speak with them?”
“We just need a justification.”
They were in an area of Kabukichou crammed full of small multi-tenant buildings. A black luxury car was parked there as if ignoring the width of the road. Naturally, no one paid any attention to it.
Sotobori smiled and waved as he approached it.
“Hi there. It’s the police.”
“What do you want? We aren’t looking for anything obvious like protection money.”
A young man with short hair stepped forward. He seemed to be a driver, a bodyguard, or both.
Sotobori ignored him and tried to peer inside the car.
“Is there someone important in here? This is a G550 class, isn’t it? These cost 20 million yen.”
“Get your hand off the door! This is no different from a searching a home. Bring a warrant first!!”
“By the way, did you know this is a no parking zone?”
“You’ve left yourself wide open, you goddamn idiot.”
Sotobori Gaku’s smile never wavered as he kicked the luxury car with enough force to bend the bumper.
“You piece of-…! What the hell do you think you’re- Vggah!!!??”
The young man tried to grab at him, so Sotobori grabbed his neck with the opposite arm.
And he lifted him up.
“Here’s a little lesson, you thug. If you park on a downward slope, step out to pick something up at a shop, didn’t put on the hand brake quite enough, and the car rolls down and hits someone, it’s your responsibility.”
“This is a no parking zone and your parked car just injured my leg. That’s 100% your responsibility. Sounds like a case the police should get involved in, doesn’t it!?”
With that said, Sotobori tossed the young man onto the hood of the car. The man’s butt broke off the emblem that symbolized the luxury car and he looked as upset as a child on the verge of tears.
The tinted glass on the back door then slowly lowered.
A middle-aged man inside had a troubled frown on his face.
“How about you stop teasing him? He only joined us last month, so he doesn’t know how to treat people yet.”
“You got anything dangerous in there?”
“Avoiding anything that can be traced is the key to a long life. Instead of pointlessly threatening you, that fool should have just let you through.”
The car door opened and Sotobori Gaku and Uchimaku Hayabusa climbed inside. Unlike a normal car, the seats were situated around the perimeter of the back area which was completely separated from the driver’s seat by glass.
Sotobori did not hesitate to pull out a handgun and tap the muzzle on the glass divider near the driver’s head.
“If this thing moves a single millimeter, I’ll blow his brains out for abducting us. Make sure he knows that.”
“He is well acquainted with our rules. Now, what would you like to discuss?”
“Usuta Manabu,” said Uchimaku. “The sound staff member who burned himself to death. He was heavily in debt due to your ‘affiliates’. You had ordered him to investigate Tarot Girls 22. …But you weren’t actually after a scandal, were you? I’ve also heard the top of the industry stands out too much for people in your business.”
“The Wheel of Suffering. That’s a human control Package that uses the Youkai called an Aburatori. You were investigating that so you could crush it.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“This is no time to be searching out how much I know.” Uchimaku let out a gentle breath. “Tarot Girls 22 was using the Wheel of Suffering method to control the idols, but what about you? Was it to control the poor customers who were hopelessly in debt? No. If that’s all you wanted, you wouldn’t need a Package. You could’ve just used their debt. …So where were you using the Wheel of Suffering method?”
“That one’s not too hard to figure out,” said Sotobori with a grin. “To fight the new systems put in place to eliminate organized crime, you built up an international network connected to gangs and mafias from countries around the world. China, Columbia, Italy, Africa, Eastern Europe… Your forces are spread out over a vast area to prevent any one nation’s police from reaching you, but that makes it easy for different parts of the same giant organization to come into conflict. You’ve gathered together different countries and cultures from around the world, so you never know when or why some kind of trouble will break out.”
“And so you used a human control package to gather together your criminal organization under a unified set of rules.”
Uchimaku slowly presented that card while convinced of their victory.
And he was naturally watching his opponent’s face as he did so.
“But did you really have the foreign members’ consent in this? Did they understand you were using a Package that includes a Youkai, a concept that can’t be translated into any other language? If the Japanese Comfort Association started it without telling them anything, that would be a problem. If they viewed it as a coup d’etat to take full control, it would trigger that internal conflict you fear so much.”
The middle-aged man fell silent.
He did not confirm or deny the accusation, so Uchimaku continued speaking.
“In that case, Tarot Girls 22 was a thorn in your side. You wanted to keep things as hidden as possible, but any contact between the idols and members of your large criminal organization would cause conflict and send your Package out of control. If it had been a normal person, you could have just killed them and buried them in the mountains, but an idol group at the top of the industry stood out too much. That’s why you had someone investigate Tarot Girls 22, no matter how dangerous it was. You wanted to destroy the idols’ human control Package and then slip back into hiding.”
Tarot Girls 22’s human control Package had been destroyed, but there was no guarantee its effects would fully vanish right away. It could take days or even weeks. As long as the large criminal organization’s Package was still running with those negative effects remaining, there was still a risk of something unpredictable happening.
“Whatever the case, it looks like we don’t have much time.” Sotobori shrugged. “If this comes to light, your Japanese branch is the one that will suffer. You don’t want to experience the varied torture and execution methods the international community has to offer, do you? And we would prefer for our peaceful country to not end up at war. Public servants don’t get a pay bonus for enemies defeated and those foreign groups tend to use rocket launchers and armored trucks. We also don’t want any civilian victims.”
“Are you asking me to cooperate?”
“End your Package right this instant. Also, hand over a list of the blacklisted debtors who may have come into contact with Tarot Girls 22. They’re having a concert at the Toyosu Outdoor Concert Hall soon and it’s all over for you if any of them die or go crazy in the middle of that, right?”
The middle-aged man gave a heavy sigh and tossed a clipboard to Uchimaku.
As soon as the two detectives left the luxury vehicle, someone spoke.
“That was a quick decision.”
This new voice seemed to slip into the vehicle. A slender young man was sitting inside. Not only had the detectives not noticed he had been sitting there the entire time, but the middle-aged man who had known he was there had completely forgotten until just now.
He was a fortuneteller hired by the Comfort Association and he was the one who had actually put together this Package.
The middle-aged man spoke with clear annoyance in his voice.
“Your method would never have settled this. The members were automatically infected by the Package from the top levels down, so there was still a danger of a conflict of some sort. There was never a safe way of infiltrating Tarot Girls 22.”
“I truly apologize.”
“No, I was wrong to rely on you for this. And we still need a specialized advisor to revise the Aburatori Package. I look forward to working with you in the future, master.”
“Any success, detective?”
“You idiot! Why are you standing around this dangerous shopping district wearing not much more than a swimsuit!? Well, I can get after you for that later. Hey, Sotobori. Copy this and send it out to everyone! We need to call all these people and check their residences!!”
The detective was shouting something while photographing a number of documents with his cell phone camera. It looked like he had made some progress inside that luxury car.
I peered over and pointed at something.
“Look, detective. This list has that AD we saw at Hachi TV. It’s Akashi Mitsu-chan.”
“What!? But this is a list of people heavily in debt to the consumer moneylenders involved with that large criminal organization!”
“Hah hah hah.”
The guy who looked like he was wearing armor made of muscles spoke up from the side.
“Did the TV industry look that nice to you, Uchimaku-chan? It brings in a lot of money to the top earners, but it isn’t easy reaching that point. Those who never make it anywhere will never earn more than your average part-timer. And since they have to go along with the extravagant industry rules and events, it isn’t uncommon for them to make use of loan sharks.”
“Then it’s possible she was being used by them. And due to the conflict between Packages, the puppeteer’s strings will have snapped.”
“Akashi Mitsu. She would bite her thumbnail when we spoke, wouldn’t she?”
“Infantile regression is a type of defense mechanism. It’s a lot like how Anemura Kaede-chan the Empress would cross her arms when she felt awkward, so that AD might have been trying to force down a similar sort of pressure.”
“You mean the competition between Packages was affecting her? Dammit!!”
The detective frantically pulled out his phone and called the number on the list.
But after about ten seconds he clicked his tongue.
“She isn’t answering!!”
“Detective, for three days starting today, Tarot Girls 22 is having concerts at the Toyosu Outdoor Concert Hall. Hachi TV is supporting them, so she must be at the TV station! What is she in charge of and what’s her schedule!?”
“How am I supposed to know!? …No, wait.”
He began calling another number.
I glanced at the screen and saw the name Atou Minori.
“You want to know where Mitsu-chan is?” said the voice over the phone. “Hold up. Have you started going after younger girls now? You’re going to make me sad. I feel like I’ve been thrown out to die.”
“What? I already know you’re an idiot, so please understand that this is an emergency!!”
“She should have been at the concert hall in Toyosu since this morning. She’s part of the filming team, but she’s more or less a security guard meant to guide the audience.”
After ending the call, he waved down a taxi.
The other detective who looked like the captain of a judo team was taken aback.
“What am I supposed to do!?”
“Check the residences on the blacklist. Akashi Mitsu is the most suspicious, but there might be others who could be set off at the same time. Check out all the other possibilities!!”
I used the confusion to slip into the back seat of the taxi.
“What are you doing, mystery freak!?”
“If you don’t scoot over, I’ll sit on your lap.”
The taxi started on the way to the outdoor concert hall.
Now, then. Now, then.
“That AD can get in and out of the concert hall more easily than anyone else. Will we actually make it in time?”
“If something happened, the news would reach the taxi’s radio. Also, if a member of Tarot Girls 22 is killed like this, gangs and mafias from all over might start a war inside Japan.”
The result was completely anticlimactic.
The detective pulled out his police badge and forced his way into the staff entrance, but the facility was completely carefree. We found nothing remotely resembling an incident. A temp worker glared at him while clearly suspecting he was abusing his authority to get a signature.
There was a concert every morning, noon, and night and they were currently on a break.
“Where is Akashi Mitsu?” asked the detective while looking all around in a corridor. “Akashi Mitsu, an AD from Hachi TV, should be here. Does anyone know where she is!?”
The sweaty staff members who had towels around their necks all shook their heads.
However, they did not simply mean they had not seen her.
“We haven’t heard anything from her. She normally never misses a day, so she must’ve been really unlucky to oversleep on the morning of such a major event.”
It was not that everything was fine. It was because everything wasn’t fine that Akashi Mitsu-chan wasn’t here.
The difficult part of this case was how we could not predict how the conflict between human control Packages would show itself. The person might try to kill Tarot Girls 22 or they might secretly commit suicide. In the latter case, it was possible she was no longer alive.
At that point, the detective received an unexpected phone call.
It was from the muscular detective we had parted ways with earlier.
“This has gotten dangerous, Uchimaku. You need to get out of there right away!!”
“I checked Akashi Mitsu’s apartment. It was empty, but I found her on the surveillance cameras of the nearby stores. She stole a tanker truck refueling at a nearby gas station!! It was full of the waste liquid used in gilding. In other words, a high concentration of cyanide. If she even gets into an accident and the truck catches on fire, it’ll spread a deadly gas over the entire area!! Smoke that will kill anyone who inhales even a little will cover several hundred meters!!”
“Seriously? Do you know where she’s headed!?”
“The truck’s GPS is still active and she’s headed straight for the Toyosu Outdoor Concert Hall! Even if she drives the speed limit, she’ll be there in less than ten minutes!!”
It seemed Akashi Mitsu-chan went on the attack when she felt cornered. Just swinging around a knife would only kill one or two people, so she had chosen to drive a tanker truck of poison into the concert hall so she could kill every member of the group.
I asked a question just to be sure.
“Do you think we can evacuate everyone in time?”
“The midday concert is about to begin, so there are fifty thousand people in here. She’ll ram into the building while we’re slowly guiding everyone out! Unlike a dome, this is an outdoor concert hall, so the wind will carry the poison gas in even if we stop her with a barricade!!”
After shouting his answer back at me, the detective focused on his cell phone again.
“Hey, Sotobori. Where’s the closest police box to here? Or the closest police car! There’s gotta be one driving around to look for scalpers, right!?”
“Wh-what? There’s probably one at the train station near there. If they don’t put a police box there, all sorts of shady people would gather.”
“Send the GPS signal to my cell phone. Please!”
“Wait a second. What are you planning!?”
“I have to do what I can.”
He ended the call, clicked his tongue, and kicked the corridor wall as hard as he could.
Some people must have heard the commotion because a few heads poked out from behind a corner. They were Tarot Girls 22 members. The Lovers, the Emperor, and the Hanged Man were all wearing their stage outfits and Anemura Kaede-chan the Empress was mixed in with them.
It was a fairly trivial thing that led people to truly resolve themselves for something.
The detective brushed a hand through his bangs and finally spoke to Anemura Kaede-chan.
“I’ll do something about this, so don’t lose to those numbers or that monster or whatever. What you’re doing here is worth risking one’s life for. And all the people gathered here think the same thing.”
With that, he ran off somewhere and left me behind.
One of the staff members with a towel around his neck gave a dumbfounded comment.
“He was asking where a police car is, wasn’t he? Don’t tell me he’s going to run off on his own.”
I heard a loud sound.
It was only after I heard it that I realized my hands had grabbed at the man’s neck and slammed him against the wall.
“You don’t seem to understand a thing about this, so let me enlighten you.”
But I did not care.
I had seen all sorts of crimes, but I simply couldn’t stand it when someone survived after standing around without a thought in their head and without making any effort whatsoever.
“He was asking about the police cars because he plans to stop the tanker truck by ramming it with his own car, you idiot!!”
Part 13 (3rd person)
Uchimaku Hayabusa ran off the outdoor concert hall’s grounds, descended the steps of a pedestrian bridge, and climbed into a police car parked on the side of the road. The uniformed police officer who had gotten out to look for scalpers cried out, but Uchimaku ignored him and drove off.
He ignored the law and pulled out his cell phone while driving.
“What’s wrong, Sotobori!? Where’s the tanker truck data!?”
“Are you serious, dammit? Giving you that is tantamount to cop killing! And you have to be crazy to think you can stop a tanker truck with a small 4-door!!”
“I know that. I’m going to hit the connector from the side and detach the rear tank. Unlike in movies, that tank is solid enough to stand up to a bullet. We don’t have to worry about it rupturing unless it’s enveloped in flames and the internal pressure builds up. And the tank is only being towed along. If it’s separated from the engine on the front, we can avoid the worst case scenario!!”
“But what about you!?”
“If I don’t do this, fifty thousand people will be dragged into this. And putting up a barricade to stop it would sacrifice all the people on that area of the road. The only way to end this cleanly is to use an intersection to ram into the side from a right angle! And to do that, I need the truck’s location. Are you going to help me or not!?”
That shout was followed by a simple message from the map service. He displayed the map instead of the call and saw a new dot added.
The Toyosu area was made by several areas of reclaimed land connected by bridges. It was easier to predict the tanker truck’s path than in Shinjuku or Shibuya which were filled with a complicated network of intersections between large and small roads.
“It looks like these three intersections would be the best ones. Sotobori, I’m going to ram the tanker to stop it, but I want to avoid any civilian deaths from secondary damages. There are more uniformed officers around the concert hall for security, right?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Report a bomb threat or whatever it takes. Just have those officers evacuate the pedestrians from the intersections. Right now!!”
In truth, Anemura Kaede the Empress had not liked singing, dancing, or gathering attention.
She had developed better or faster than her peers and the focus from her male classmates during PE had frightened her and brought about her current withdrawn personality.
She had wanted to overcome that part of herself.
She had been afraid that the part of herself she did not like would determine who she was.
That was why she had steered herself in the opposite direction she would have normally taken and that had just so happened to succeed. She had gradually come to enjoy singing and dancing, but she had never been working toward any original hope or dream like the police detective had said.
But what was it she had originally wanted to do?
What circles had she wanted to join once she had overcome her insecurities?
After thinking that far, she gave a small smile.
She had never thought about it.
Ultimately, that was her answer. She could not find anything she wanted to be proud of or that she wanted to protect, but that did not matter. She suddenly felt incredibly foolish for having feared those numbers or that monster.
If those things wanted to surpass her, she could let them.
Even if they did, she could continue on with what she believed would change her.
All of the people here proved that. She did not need the “number” of fifty thousand. If even a single person arrived wanting to see her performance, that was enough to prove it.
“U-um, what are we going to do? We can’t evacuate everyone, but can’t we at least evacuate the girls?”
The adults were discussing something, so she gathered her strength and cut in.
“No, let’s do this. If the crowd panics here, it could lead to deaths. We too should risk our lives for the people who have gathered here.”
She faced straight forward as she spoke and she had a quiet thought.
Now, let’s head out onto the battlefield that has been prepared exclusively for us.
The tanker truck was closer than expected.
It was ignoring traffic lights and signs and it was performing reckless U-turns, so horns were sounding all over.
It was five hundred meters from the intersection and it would arrive in less than thirty seconds.
Uchimaku gave a heavy sigh and stepped on the gas pedal.
He let out a true scream when he saw a girl’s face in the rearview mirror. The police car weaved a bit while moving at full speed.
“Wha- You- Why the hell are you here!?”
“This whole incident has left me feeling exhausted. When you get involved with people who are still alive, you have a way of getting seriously reckless. If I hadn’t climbed aboard, you would’ve gone off to die, right? I won’t get mad, so just tell me.”
Hishigami Enbi the Mystery Freak could still grin despite saying she was using her own life as a shield.
“Now, detective. You aren’t going to get a middle school girl killed for your own selfishness, are you? Then what are you going to do? How are you going to protect all these innocent people’s lives?”
He punched the steering wheel.
But then he switched over his train of thought.
“Thank you all for showing up even though we started on a weekday!!”
A girl shouted as loud as she could with a microphone in hand and with the Fool and the Universe on either side of her.
Anyone who did not know might think this was a safe zone filled with people who would only show kindness to Anemura Kaede the Empress, but in truth, this kind of audience was cruelly honest and frank
In a year or three or five, the same people here might not gather like this. The most trivial of things had brought them in and an equally trivial thing would have them leaving in droves. The lifespan of an idol was truly short. That was the first truth they were taught at their debut.
For that reason, this was a battlefield.
If she failed even once during these three days…no, during the three performances for this day alone, it could set a fatal series of events in motion.
“To be honest, I worried about a lot before today. I was exposed to baseless rumors, pursued by unseen numbers or monsters, and just about lost sight of what made this so enjoyable.”
At this crucial moment, she completely removed her mask for once.
And then she smiled.
This was not a fake smile. This was an expression that could only be seen when the mask was lowered.
“But in the end, I just can’t let all of this go. I was reminded of that fact! I love this stage to a lowly, shameful, and disgraceful degree!! And I won’t give it up to anyone. I am doing this for the fans who showed up today, for the staff who prepared the stage for me, and for the people who are secretly fighting to protect this stage!!”
The first song’s intro began to play and the lighting clearly changed as she gave one last shout.
“I will not back down!! No matter what!!”
“Whatever the case, I can’t change my plan now. I have only one shot at this and fifty thousand lives are on the line!”
“And? You aren’t someone who will tell a minor to die because of that, are you?”
Uchimaku clicked his tongue and removed his seat belt.
“We can use the reclining lever. But let me be clear. Even this only has a fifty-fifty chance of survival! I’ll do what I can, but don’t blame me if you die!!”
“Sure, sure. I like the look in your eyes. That’s the detective I love.”
They were approaching the final intersection.
He kept the police car at full speed despite the traffic light.
And then a giant form entered from the side and blocked their way.
“She looks pretty surprised.”
Someone with a clearly shocked expression sat in the tanker truck’s driver’s seat. And it seemed even someone trying to kill fifty thousand people would honk their horn.
But it was too late.
With two people aboard, the police car rammed into the side of the tanker truck’s connector at full speed.
The small, cute police car almost seemed to slip below the truck and it was turned to scrap in an instant. The sounds of shattering glass and bending metal exploded into the air.
Its height was literally crushed down to less than half of what it had been.
Meanwhile, the truck’s connecter had a great strain put on it as it was lifted up from below. As it twisted, a solid sound of snapping burst out. The rear tank rolled along like a toy and scattered orange sparks as it scraped along the asphalt. The front portion slammed into the pole for the traffic light and stopped moving.
There was no explosion or poison gas.
All that remained was the continuous sound of glass shards falling onto the asphalt.
The police car had been smashed flat and nothing remained of the driver’s seat or the back seat.
A clanking sound came from within the back door that had been crushed beyond recognition. Someone was kicking it. The door’s latch must have been broken in the impact because it opened with a loud creak.
Uchimaku Hayabusa and Hishigami Enbi were embracing each other in the back seat’s foot space.
Just before the impact, Enbi had pulled the reclining lever and pulled Uchimaku toward her when his chair had fallen back.
“Ow, ow, ow,” said Uchimaku. “H-how’s the outdoor concert hall?”
“It’s fine, of course.”
“Any damage to the surrounding area?”
“There was a good bit of destruction, but it doesn’t look like anyone died. The tank’s contents are fine too.”
“Can we even get out of here?”
“Eh heh. I’m fine with staying in here like this for a while longer.”
“This is no time for cruel jokes.”
The Aburatori human control Package surrounding the Tarot Girls 22 had been stopped. The one used by the large criminal organization was still an unknown, though. It was unclear how far the data corruption from the competition had spread, so the risk of a future incident remained until they confirmed that the Package had been completely brought to an end.
Part 14 (3rd person)
The national TV stations did not provide special news broadcasts unless something truly major happened. The internet news sites received information faster, but they lacked credibility.
Surprisingly, radio was treated as the medium that had both immediacy and credibility.
That was why the old system still remained after so long.
Inside a black luxury car caught in a traffic jam, a middle-aged man breathed a sigh of relief while listening to the announcer on a special-order audio system that included vacuum tubes.
“So they somehow managed to avoid the worst case scenario.”
As a part of the Comfort Association, the Japanese branch of a large criminal organization, they had secretly completed a Package involving an Aburatori. Due to growing to a global scale, conflicts could break out between the members of different nationalities and cultures, so this human control Package was meant to bring them all together. The Comfort Association wanted nothing more than to keep their business running smoothly, but the foreign members could view it as the Japanese branch attempting to take control of the entire organization.
They had needed to control the underlings who could lose control and reveal the Package’s existence.
A slender young man known as a fortuneteller sat in the car. A voice slipped out from between his lips that could barely be seen moving.
“It is too soon to say everything is over. The AD behind this, Akashi Mitsu, will be taken in by the police. She will be thoroughly investigated, including her mental state. If they find any trace of the Package, the risk of the foreign members finding out returns.”
The middle-aged man pulled a bottle of red wine from a small refrigerator.
“But risks we know are easy to eliminate. There are countless ways to make it look like the vehicle transporting her was in an accident. If we eliminate her, we can eliminate any trace of the Pack-…”
“More importantly, this is where it all begins for me. The risk of competition with a similar Package has now been eliminated.”
The middle-aged man frowned at being interrupted.
But he realized he could not move his face. His body would not even make the slightest of movements. While in the awkward pose of grabbing the wine bottle, he desperately tried to move his eyes that could not even blink, but his body would not even accept that command. He felt the pain of his eyeballs gradually drying.
His mouth could move, but he did not realize this was because the man behind it was toying with him.
At some point a thin tablet had appeared in the young man’s hands.
“Have you gone senile? Why would you have someone outside the organization assemble the human control Package to manage and manipulate every single member of your large criminal organization? Countless backdoors can be placed in something like that.”
At least three handguns were hidden within arm’s reach, but he could not even move his fingertips.
“You don’t mean…you betrayed us? What are you after!? Are you with another organization…or the police?”
“Have you forgotten?”
The young man opened a free website creating app on the tablet. He could lay out the text and images to freely create his own online news articles.
The Aburatori they had used was a rare sort of Youkai that had actually been mentioned in newspapers during the Meiji period. This young man had used that fact to control the Youkai by writing fictional newspaper articles on a closed network that no one else could read.
“Perhaps your everyday life is just so bloody that you have forgotten.”
The fortuneteller’s tone changed as he spat out those words.
He brushed up his bangs and his face was covered in silent hatred.
“Long ago, there was a child hitman. The child was altered accordingly and forced to bear that fate he did not want. A certain old-fashioned detective truly tried to save that child. …Have you really forgotten why that detective died?”
Most people were unaware, but that old-fashioned spirit had been carried on by the police officer named Sotobori Gaku and it had pulled the trigger that drove a man known as a fortuneteller. Even a dead man who was only spoken of in bars as a distant memory had a life and that life could influence how others lived their lives.
Most people were unaware that a certain life someone had found precious had been cruelly taken.
And it had been taken by the young hands of a sobbing child who had been forced into the role of hitman.
“I have been waiting for this moment.”
The young man who had once been a child gave a thin smile.
“If I ran around assassinating people with a gun, killing one or two would be the most I could manage. That would end with those who truly set up that killing realizing what I was after. And even if I crushed the nearby Japanese branch, I would only be damaging a single leg of a global criminal network. So I have been waiting for the moment when I could grasp it all and crush it. I have been waiting for so very, very long.”
The man shouted and shouted and shouted.
But it was already over.
There was no way to overturn it now.
“I have only given a single instruction. Every member around the world will turn themselves into the police and answer honestly when asked what they have done wrong. I doubt anyone will be saved by a malfunction due to that conflict with the other system. I will not even allow you to die. You will get a front row seat to watch your empire crumble before your eyes.”
The wine bottle slipped from the middle-aged man’s hand.
It shattered on the floor and the red liquid scattered everywhere.
The young man opened the black luxury car’s door and slowly stepped out.
The traffic jam was showing no sign of ending.
As he weaved between the lines of cars on foot, someone called out to him.
It was a taxi driver.
“What’s this? Is it actually faster to walk?”
“Yes. Moving ahead bit by bit on my own two feet may be better.”
“I’ve got a passenger in the back. I feel bad having the meter go up as time goes on, so maybe I should ask if they just want to get out.”
“Perhaps. This congestion seems to be due to an accident, so it is unlikely to clear up anytime soon.”
“No way! Really?”
“Yes. A police car and tanker truck collided at a large intersection. Fortunately, it seems no one died.”
The fortuneteller said that with true jealousy in the bottom of his heart and he walked off through the traffic jam.
He silently vanished while leaving behind the result of his revenge.
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